Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Shifting alliances in the Middle East

Will the U.S. become Iran's greatest ally?

Any war has seemed extremely far in recent months (if not years) but the situation in the Middle East, especially when it comes to Iran, seems to be shifting rather dramatically even though the exaggerated subtitle was only included to attract your eyes.

If you don't know, there are negotiations about the Iranian nuclear program in Geneva. It's more or less conceivable that they will end with an agreement that will freeze the Iranian program for half a year or so, soften the sanctions, but allow them to keep the enriched uranium and continue in the future (unless a tougher treaty materializes in the next 6 months).

The new Iranian president (R) and his boss (L).

This resolution wouldn't be enough for Israel. The election of the new Iranian president, Mr Rouhani, has made some impact on the impressions of many people in the West, including your humble correspondent, I admit. He looks sort of moderate; his country developed a charm offensive. It's possible they will achieve an agreement with the West that is pretty good for them. The Iranian official press already predicts an Iranian diplomatic victory. The mullah-in-chief promises that Iran won't back up by one iota.

On the other hand, I am increasingly worried that the whole West is just being duped. The otherwise agreeing Israeli at various forums are shocked if you (or I) present the opinion that Iran has become more tolerable after Rouhani took over. They are confident it is just a theater that we are naively buying.

Moreover, there are signs that this is not just the Israeli impression. Fox News just printed an insightful article about the new alliances in the Middle East. The enemy of your enemy is your friend, a proverb says. It seems to work right now because the Saudis and other Gulf (Sunni) states are arguably as worried about the possible Iranian (and Shiite) nuclear bomb as Israel.

Because of these worries, some behind-the-scenes collaboration between Israel and the Arabs has already begun to emerge. These bizarre shifts could lead to the situation in which Saudi Arabia is closer to Israel than the U.S. or other Western countries. Another sub-paradox is that the Western power that could remain a clear enough supporter of Israel is France whose socialist leader Hollande turned out to be quite a hawk in military matters. Do you remember his "conservative" predecessor Jacques Chirac who was the most arrogant critic of the U.S. activity in the region? Now it starts to make sense to talk about something that would sound really crazy a few years ago – the French-Israeli-Saudi front against Iran. ;-)

The remaining Western countries should probably ask the question whether we're not being collectively manipulated by Iran. Is the new "more human face" of Iran something that should affect us at all? Aren't we abandoning a unique opportunity to actually solve the Iranian nuclear problem?

Maybe if the U.S. diplomacy were working more efficiently, it could provide the Gulf states and Israel with the bonds they can't display and strengthen openly and create a huge coalition that would peacefully or not-so-peacefully guarantee that Persia won't represent a nuclear threat to the region or the world in the next 50 years.

The bizarrely diverging evolution of the West's and Arabs' attitudes towards Iran has two related reasons, I think. The first reason is that the West is much more likely to be affected by "nice[r] words". It cares about the P.R. while the Middle East nations are more likely to insist on the natural "biological or religious proximity to other nations or the lack of it". The second reason is that the West is unlikely to be "directly threatened" by the Iranian nuclear arsenal if it exists so it doesn't really care as much as the Saudis, for example.

At any rate, the checks and balances in the Middle East are clearly evolving. The big picture is changing and its small parts are changing independently of that, too. Egypt (and its military), for example, has removed the Muslim Brotherhood from the power again. The Muslim Brotherhood was an ally of Iran and wanted to erase the peace treaties with Israel. Now, when these brothers are gone again, Egypt would naturally become a member of the anti-Iranian coalition.

There's some possibility that the Western countries will sign an agreement with Iran that will be considered as "insufficiently safe" not only by Israel but also by other countries in the region. They may even decide that it's time to act. If a conflict arises, I hope and pray that the U.S. or other Western powers won't enter the conflict on the side of Iran! I am sure that Iran hasn't improved this much, to deserve such a support, not even if it were attacked by others.

Israel's PM estimates that Iran has enough low-grade uranium for 5 bombs. But I guess they don't have the bombs and can't produce them within weeks. In my opinion, a more conventional war of an "unusual regional coalition" against Iran (plus some less important allies) would lead to Iran's defeat.


  1. What, no redhead? The OED gives AD 1510 precedent for pheomelanin, and re the MC1R recessive variant gene and its Arg151Cys, Arg160Trp, Asp294His, and Arg142His alleles.

    The opportunity disparity is not the women, it is their expensive clothing. An honestly non-discriminatory contest must be conducted unclothed. It will have a lowered carbon footprint given no bras to burn. What militant girrls and wymyn could disapprove?

    'Tis a pity Czechia has socialist feminists. America has Feminazis - dumb women in smart uniforms. "8^>)

  2. "One may smile and smile and be a villain" Act1 Scene 5, Hamlet
    Given its past history, I would not take anything that comes out of Iran at face value. (or Saudi Arabia, for that matter.)

  3. No matter the recent rhetoric on all sides, I do not believe that anyone is going to war over this. No nation in the region can go it alone, and none can really partner with any other. Add to this the fact that there is no military solution to nuclear proliferation, and I foresee a tense peace in the region for years to come.

  4. "Many of the countries are governed by shamans who believe that
    thunderstorms are created by witches. Almost all of these countries are
    dominated by folks who just don't grasp science, not even at the
    elementary level."

    e.g. Al Gore.

  5. Damn, Lubos. That girl gives good coffee. Marketa For The Win!

  6. Remember Iraq? Over 10 years ago? The war was apparently won and only Sadam had to be caught (and the wepons of mass distraction where still hidden somewhere). Today the whole region is a mess, a few terror attacks a month would be a geat improvement...
    Think again and try to project what would happen in a complex country which, despite its human right abuses, is more democratic than Saudi Arabia.
    Its so easy to talk about it not being there...

  7. The Israelis and the Saudis have been in discussions over this matter for several years. The Saudis are seriously worried (some might say, to use an American colloquialism, "scared shitless") about Iran getting nuclear weapons. The Arabians have reportedly already established missile bases for potential retaliation (or, possibly, first-strike), but do not yet have the nuclear payloads, which they would presumably purchase from Pakistan. I have no idea if military means will be used to halt the Iranian goals, but I would bet lots of money that if such happens, both the Israelis and the Arabians, as a minimum, will be involved.

    Of course, if any armed conflict, what happens is highly unpredictable, in most cases. That's one of the [good] reasons not to go to war.

  8. America's policy will force a joint Israeli-Saudi attack on on Iran and a regional Mid-East war. This might become a world war. The utter insanity of Obama and Kerry might destroy much of the modern world. The Chec Republic will not be spared. Hopefully, the Central Highlands of Ohio will.

    I will pray for you, Lobos.

  9. This has nothing to do with Iran's alleged nuclear is about geopolitics. It is ultimately about the Anglo-American financial empire against Russia, China, and the emerging BRICS coalition.

    Just look back to what did not happen in Syria...The BRIC block stood down the EUSSR and USSA. If it were Syria alone, the "west" would not have hesitated to blast yet another nation into the stone age.

  10. What I find most interesting is that, in this new global economy we read so much about, real sanctions can work. I'd like to see OECD countries cooperating more like this in the future to enforce civilized norms. Beats armed conflict.

  11. The best analysis is coming from Walter Russel Mead over at Via Meadia. He is being very circumspect, cautious and diplomatic. but in this recent column he touched on the heart of the matter:

    It is likely that most Iranian diplomats and officials don’t really know what course the Supreme Leader will ultimately take. He himself may not know what is going to happen. He may not have made up his mind. There are good arguments for conciliation and for confrontation, and the Supreme Leader could be keeping his options open as he waits to see what comes next. One dour reality that American Iran-optimists need to keep in mind, though: whatever outcome the Supreme Leader seeks, he is not looking for a “win-win” deal with the United States. While stubborn facts may force him to concede on some points, he does not believe that our core interests are aligned. He wants his power to grow and ours to diminish, and that is the lens through which he will examine his choices.

  12. An Israeli-Saudi attack on Iran is not in the works for a whole range of reasons. You need to resume your medications, my friend.

  13. Dr Motl,
    Next week I will be subjected to a formal climate alarmist talk in my institute. Don't know how long before I go totally crazy. :-( The mail I got this morning:



    Should we be concerned about global warming?

    J. Srinivasan

    Divecha Centre for Climate Change, IISc, Bangalore

    Global warming is undoubtedly the most challenging environmental
    problem of the 21st century. The response to this challenge has been one
    of denial and inaction. Most people assume that global warming may
    cause a minor inconvenience but will not pose a major threat. Some hope
    that global warming is not caused by human beings but by natural
    fluctuations of the earth climate system. How will India be affected
    by global warming? These issues will be addressed in my talk.

    Thursday, 28 November 2013
    15:30 Hrs

    IIA Auditorium
    All are welcome

    Tea/Coffee at 10:30 AM Hrs

  14. Hi, have a strong stomach - and perhaps drink some alcohol (in a minor medial volume) before the event to be more relaxed. ;-)