President Obama came into office promising to change the world, a pledge that has largely been unfilled. But in one significant respect, he has achieved a truly revolutionary change. His misguided pursuit of détente with Iran has united two nations that were the most bitter of enemies only a few years ago: Israel and Saudi Arabia. But unfortunately for the administration, the rapprochement between two very different U.S. allies has only been achieved as a result of their mutual opposition to the president’s Middle East policy. So while the president can take credit for achieving something that was once unimaginable but in doing so, he has debunked some of the key assumptions about his view of the world.
That Israel and Saudi Arabia are now united in seeking to derail Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran is not a secret. But for the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry to share a stage at a Council on Foreign Relations event in Washington with a former top advisor to the government of Saudi Arabia confirms this amazing turnabout. As Eli Lake reports in Bloomberg, Dore Gold, a key advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu and retired Saudi general Anwar Majed Eshki both largely agreed with each other on Iran. Both see Tehran as bent on achieving hegemony in the Middle East and must be stopped.
Despite the bellicose reputation of the Netanyahu government, it was actually the Saudi who sounded more extreme in his prescription for a solution to the problem. Eshki recommended a seven-point plan that starts with regime change in Iran as well as creating an independent Kurdistan form territory carved out of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Gold endorsed neither proposal.
It must be noted that the two were not in complete accord on everything. The Saudi general said that Israel would have to accept the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative before cooperation between the two nations could be formalized. But if you want to know why Netanyahu spoke in praise of that proposal last week in which he said he liked the general idea behind it, you now understand why he’s changed his mind about something he once rightly dismissed as a stunt with no real substance. The Saudis have yet to recognize Israel’s existence, let alone endorsed its legitimacy. Moreover, as Lake points out, 12 years ago, Gold wrote a book detailing Saudi involvement in financing Palestinian terror and hatred.
But thanks to Obama, the behind-the-scenes relationship between Israel and the Saudi has now come out into the open.
The two nations have little in common. Israel is a vibrant democracy while the Saudi kingdom is a theocratic oligarchy with little freedom. But both understand that Obama’s Iran-centric foreign policy threatens their security. With the Iranians financing and providing military assistance to Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Assad regime in Syria, its axis of influence is growing. Once it signs a deal with the United States and the rest of the West, it will become a threshold nuclear power and have two different pathways to a bomb, one by cheating and one by patiently waiting for Obama’s deal to expire. All that places Israel and the Gulf states in jeopardy, requiring them to begin working together on finding a way to put the region back into balance now that the president has destabilized it.
That America’s two key allies feel they have no choice but to begin tentatively working together to thwart U.S. policy isn’t merely ironic. It’s tangible evidence to the bad faith of an administration that has always been obsessed with appeasing enemies and discarding friends. But there is more to be unpacked from that CFR event than that obvious fact about the danger from Iran.
Obama came into office convinced that U.S. influence in the Middle East, as well as regional stability, revolved around one problem: the plight of the Palestinians. Resolving their conflict with Israel was the president’s top foreign policy from his first day in office. His belief that the U.S. was too close to Israel and that by establishing more daylight between the two allies, he could help broker an end to the long war between Jews and Arabs. To accomplish that goal, he picked fights with Israel, undermined its diplomatic position, and did his best to pressure the Israelis into making concessions that would please the Palestinians. The failure of this policy was foreordained since the Palestinians are still unable to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.
But the events of the past six years have also shown that his focus on the Palestinians as the source of the problem was a disastrous mistake. The Arab spring, civil war in Syria, the rise of ISIS, and the Iranian nuclear threat proved that the Palestinians had little or nothing to do with the most serious problems in the region. Indeed, by forcing Israel and the Saudis to cooperate against Iran with little attention being paid to the dead end peace process with the Palestinians, Obama has effectively debunked the core idea at the heart of his foreign policy.
Israel-Saudi cooperation is certainly an example of how a president of the United States can create change. But it’s also proof of the bankruptcy of Obama’s dangerous vision for American foreign policy. His legacy won’t be so much an entente with Iran as it is the necessity of American allies having to band together to try to avoid the consequences of his disastrous misjudgments.