Sunday, November 06, 2011

Arab League Confrontation with Assad May Bring U.S., Israel into Conflict with Iran

A Jewish proverb holds that since the destruction of the first Temple, prophecy has been given only to fools and children. With that caveat, the Kosher Hedgehog calls his readers' attention to an ominous development on the international scene, which could lead to a confrontation of the United States with Iran, in which the Arab League would back the U.S. in an alliance of strange bedfellows with Israel.

The Arab League is reconvening after the Syrian government failed to keep its agreement, reached last week in negotiations with the Arab League, to refrain from killing anti-government demonstrators. Instead, Syrian forces murdered 13 protesters today on the Id-Al Adhar Islamic holiday.

Today's Jerusalem Post quotes Mideast analyst Walid Phares as observing, "The Arab League has the intentions to support the uprising in Syria but needs a US commitment to support them if Iran retaliates." Unlike most Arab states, Syria is allied with Iran, as the photo above of Syrian President Assad meeting with Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei depicts.

Now here is the "prophecy." The Kosher Hedgehog believes that Iranian retaliation most likely would be directed, in the first instance, not at any Arab League nation, but rather at Israel. Here is one scenario: The Arab League enters into open support of Syrian rebels. To counter that pressure, Iran turns loose Hezbollah and Hamas to launch rocket and missile attacks against Israel. Such a move effectively dares the Arab League to publicly oppose Iranian and Syrian proxies when they launch attacks on Israel.

Israel is in no mood to placidly sit back and do nothing and absorb rocket and missile attacks as it did at the behest of the United States during the first Gulf War, when the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq launched missiles at Israel. For one thing, Israel does not trust the government of President Barack Obama to effectively defend it against Iran, in the manner that President George H.W. Bush defended Israel against Iraq, when the U.S. and its allies dispatched their forces to liberate Kuwait and launched air strikes on Iraq, and the U.S. sent Patriot anti-missile equipment and crews to Israel. Of course, President Bush's primary objective was to liberate Kuwait, and his principal concern in the wake of Iraqi missile attacks on Israel was to prevent Israeli military retaliation against Iraq that might drive Arab nations out of the anti-Hussein coalition. Nonetheless, regardless of the motives of U.S. actions, Israel knew that the might of the U.S. armed forces would be unleashed against Saddam Hussein, while now an American attack on Iran is far from a foregone conclusion.

Second, the people of Israel are far more vulnerable today to deadly attacks from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza than they were to Iraqi missiles in the first Gulf War.

Finally, Israel is itching for diplomatic cover for an attempt to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities, which pose an existential threat to Israel. The Israeli government might consider an Iranian-directed attack by Hamas and Hezbollah to present that opportunity. Yes, Israel would endure international condemnation, joined in publicly and vociferously by the Arab Gulf States. Secretly, however, those same Arab States would be delighted, and might even lend covert support to an Israeli attack. For example, Saudi Arabia might turn a blind radar eye to overflights by Israeli fighter-bombers and refueling of those aircraft in Saudi airspace.

Of course, the better strategic alternative would be for the United States to lead a sustained international campaign to dismantle the Iranian nuclear weapons program, by military force if necessary. But I have no confidence that the Obama Administration would lead such a campaign, and, sadly, I suspect that the government of Israel shares my view.

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