Monday, June 15th, 2009

Ah, if only logic applied to the Middle East.

Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic, has a provocative piece in the July/August issue of the magazine, entitled “How Iran Could Save The Middle East.”

His thesis, well worth considering, is that based on the Mideast cliché, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” key states in the region like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt could form an alliance with Israel based on their common opposition to and fear of Iran, especially a nuclear Iran.

What many Westerners fail to realize, Goldberg points out, is that there is a deep and bloody divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims, going back centuries. The key Arab states are led by Sunnis, while Iran (which is Persian, not Arab) is ruled by a Shia theocracy.

“The remarkable thing about this moment in the Middle East is that Arab leaders speak about Iran more critically than even [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu does,” writes Goldberg.

He adds that it might be too late for an Israeli-Sunni alliance, in light of Israel’s battle against Hamas last winter, which makes it more difficult for the Arab states to enter into an agreement with Jerusalem.

But he suggests that if Israel made a significant overture, like freezing settlement activity, it could convince the Arab states to work with Israel in lobbying Europe, China and Russia against allowing the Iranians to build a bomb.

Mideast history suggests that such practical steps won’t happen, but just maybe the looming dark cloud of a nuclear Iran – an Iran in the ascendancy and seeking to assert its authority in the region — will convince pragmatic heads to prevail.