Sunday, July 5, 2009

New Mideast War Threat

Saudi Arabia has reportedly made a secret agreement with Israel to permit an Israeli air attack on Iran via Saudi airspace. Publicizing the rumor could inflame tensions in Iran and thus endanger Saudi Arabia, but it might serve the purposes of Israeli hardliners willing to gamble everything on the hopes of a short-term victory.

If true, this highly dangerous agreement would give Iran a justification for attacking Saudi Arabia in self-defense. Given the current tension in Iran and the apparent victory of the militant war generation faction, this would seem to be the last thing the Saudis would want out in the open.

It is almost certain to further intensify regional tensions. Iranian hardliners will interpret it as further evidence that they are surrounded and threatened with an existential threat. This in turn may lead them, heady with their recent victory over domestic opponents, both to crack down on dissent at home and to engage in adventures abroad. Such a domestic crackdown would further exacerbate internal discord, probably making the hardliners feel even more isolated and threatened. Regionally, it could contribute to any number of tension-raising acts, from an intensified arms race to actual steps to “teach the Saudis a lesson.”

That would endanger the whole Mideast and benefit no one…except Israeli hardliners. Those Israelis looking for an excuse to attack Iran would get closer to their goal. Those who want to cement ties with regional Arab dictatorships would probably move closer to their goal as well. And if an incident does occur, all Israel’s shortsighted friends in Congress will rush to pour even more weapons into their arms.

As for the Israeli people, they lose in three ways. First, while war may be very useful for politicians, it is bad for people--they do the dying, and the probability of war has just risen. Second, this will encourage Israeli hardliners and thus make all the more difficult resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Third, both of these results will further undermine Israeli democracy. Democracy does not do well in an environment of rising militancy and racism.

Whatever else the publication of this rumor does, it directly undermines Obama’s professed policy of solving Mideast problems. It will be harder to reach accommodation with Iran. It will be harder to discipline hardline Israeli troublemakers. It will light a fire under the seats of the frustrated neo-cons still prowling the corridors of power in Washington. And it will put a gleam in the eye of al Qua’ida jihadists searching for a way to spread chaos.

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