Belmont Club

The No-Fire Zone

The Guardian says President Obama is attempting to set up a missile defense ring around Iran to 1) protect the Sunni allies from possible attack and 2) to disincentivize Israel from attacking Iran.

The US is dispatching Patriot defensive missiles to four countries – Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait – and keeping two ships in the Gulf capable of shooting down Iranian missiles. Washington is also helping Saudi Arabia develop a force to protect its oil installations.

American officials said the move is aimed at deterring an attack by Iran and reassuring Gulf states fearful that Tehran might react to sanctions by striking at US allies in the region. Washington is also seeking to discourage Israel from a strike against Iran by demonstrating that the US is prepared to contain any threat. …

An unnamed senior administration official told the New York Times: “Our first goal is to deter the Iranians. A second is to reassure the Arab states, so they don’t feel they have to go nuclear themselves. But there is certainly an element of calming the Israelis as well.”

This would be the threat that didn’t exist, according to those who accused the last administration of scaremongering about Iran. The very same New York Times to whom a senior official is now the latest defensive measures wrote in 2007 that:

A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb. …

Rather than painting Iran as a rogue, irrational nation determined to join the club of nations with the bomb, the estimate states Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.”

The immediate reason for Washington’s deployment were Iranian missile tests. The Wall Street Journal describes the shift in the President’s policy towards Iran as “after months of attempting to engage Iran in nuclear diplomacy, the administration has been working in recent weeks to win an international consensus for a new round of sanctions against Iran.” Far from having abandoned the policy of engagement in favor of containment, the Obama administration is actually using the missile deployment as one more tool in its arsenal to entice Iran to the bargaining table. A few more missiles and few more sanctions and Ayatollahs will as it were, have their “come to Jesus” moment.

But not everyone is buying it. One subtle sign of how the region is responding to Washington’s policies is examined by Lee Smith who notes that several Sunni majority countries are refurbishing synagoguges as cultural symbols and as messages that the Jew is no longer the enemy it once was. He writes:

And yet if you listen closely there is a deeper and more important subtext to the Arabs’ strange and sudden fascination with the remains of the vanished Jewish communities of the Middle East. These restorations of Hebraic antiquity are not simply a safe way of acknowledging the longevity, and thus legitimacy, of the Middle East’s oldest surviving religious community. They are also the means by which Arab governments have begun to recognize that community’s influence and power over their fates. For it is Jewish warplanes, not Jewish remains, that have Arab princes and presidents captivated. Nowhere has this been made more explicit than in the recent valentine to Mossad chief Meir Dagan published in Egypt’s semi-official daily newspaper Al-Ahram, calling him “the Superman of the Jewish state.” Dagan is worthy of Cairo’s love insofar as he “has dealt painful blows to the Iranian nuclear program.” Thus the only question Egyptians ask a visitor from Washington: When will the Israelis finally bomb the Iranian nuclear program?

Egypt and its Arab allies believe that Obama’s engagement with the Iranians will fail, that the Russians and Chinese will not join a sanctions regime, and that the Americans will eventually move to a policy of cold war-style containment and nuclear deterrence. The American president and his Middle East adviser, Dennis Ross, intimated that the Israelis might take dramatic action against Iran’s nuclear program, confirmation for many Arab observers that the United States has taken its own military options off the table. This is not the case, these same observers believe, for the Israelis, who have acted against Iran’s eastern Mediterranean allies—Hezbollah and Hamas—and will, with luck, take action against Iran itself.

Israeli strength and Arab weakness are therefore seen as part of a common pattern that will yet bring about the defeat of a common enemy: Iran. Here in Beirut there’s talk that Prime Minister Hariri’s recent trip to Syria, where he was coerced into humbling himself before the regime that allegedly assassinated his father, was merely a maneuver in a holding pattern until the Israelis strike. Sources close to Hariri explained to me that Saudi Arabia, the young prime minister’s patron, believes an attack is imminent and that there is still time to wrest Syria away from the Iranians. Hariri’s visit was seen as a down payment on an expected Syrian realignment.

Of course the touching Sunni belief that the Jewish state will save them from Iran — something that must rank as among the most astounding ironies of history — may prove to be completely unfounded. But it is indicative of the degree to which the administration has abandoned the traditional American role of hegemon that the Arab states are clutching at such straws. The President campaigned on the promise that he would restore America’s stature in the world. What he has actually transformed America’s stature into will presently be shown.

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