Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How many times can you answer a question about Palestine with "Well, Iran . . . "

Unfortunately, if you're Jeffrey Goldberg from The Atlantic, pretty much every time. He was one of three guests on the Dian Rehm Show this morning (along with Daniel Levy and David Makovsky) in a segment on Mideast Peace. The transcript isn't available yet, but it was something to this effect: In response to a question about Isreali public support for a two-state solution Goldberg responded:

It's unclear whether Iran will even allow there to be a solution to the conflict, it controls Hezbollah . . . . . [the rest was hard to get since I was nearly stricken deaf by the first part]

Two issues: first, responding to a question about the issue of a two-state solution with a reference to Iran is counterproductive. The I/P conflict has gone on for nearly half a century, long before Iran started a nuclear weapons program. So blaming this issue for stalling the peace process is disingenuous to say the least.

Second, Hezbollah has outgrown its Iranian "suppliers" to become a participant in a unity government in Lebanon where it commands significant support from the Lebanese population. To treat it as a surrogate for Iranian interests in the region is misleading and ignores the last 15 years or so of political change in Lebanese domestic politics.

Goldberg also responded to questions about the "Arab Public" (distinct from Arab leaders, who reflect the opinions of their publics just about as much as Glenn Beck reflects mine) with stories about personal meetings with (probably Egyptian) intelligence officers who told him how concerned they were about the Iranian threat!

First, someone who specializes in torturing members of the public probably isn't going to give you a unbiased account of their sentiment. And,

Second, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are losing major ground in the region to Qatar and Oman (and to a lesser extent Syria). The two gulf nations have made significant inroads in regional peace initiatives (Lebanon comes to mind immediately) and Syria is getting some positive signals from the White House (exempting the continuation of the sanctions, which was unfortunate and probably unnecessary, since they are largely symbolic and make little difference in trade between the two countries anyway). Qatar and Oman have better relations with Iran than the other Gulf States and Syria is gaining legitimacy as an important player in lots of regional initiatives. This suggests that Saudi Arabia and Egypt may be losing influence with their US ally, especially given Egypt's democratic backsliding in recent years. Of course the Egyptian and Saudi regimes are going to play up fears of the Iranian threat - this would help them prevent a rapprochement between the US and Syria and prevent closer ties from developing between the US and other gulf nations.


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