The build-up of the US military might in the Gulf region is supposed to be taken seriously; as there has been big changes both in the Middle East and in Washington’s calculations of foreign and internal policies. Indeed, any observer of American politics realizes the strong interconnection between foreign and internal policies.
Even if one regards the relationship between Israel and any US administration as a foreign policy issue – as it should be, the reality of balancing interest networks and election considerations makes Washington’s support to any Israeli prime minister, any time, a strategic policy that transcends party lines. Interest networks and election considerations have been the main reason, even when Washington’s policies became indistinguishable from Tel Aviv’s, to the extent foreign and internal policies became one.
Far less, of course, was the bilateral agreement under the previous US administration, which not only chose to downgrade its relations with America’s Arab allies, but also turned away from the US strategic principles in order to rewrite its regional alliances. In this respect, the efforts of Barack Obama’s administrations concentrated on rapprochement with Iran, and cooperation with what Obama regarded as the moderate wing within ‘Political Islam’; but still, it was significant that warm US-Israel relations were terribly shaken while Obama’s negotiators were putting the final touches on a ‘nuclear deal’ whose sponsors intentionally ignored what was taking place on the ground.
Some people may say that ignoring Iranian expansion within the Arab world was intentional; so was ignoring the boasts of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) that “Tehran now controls four Arab capitals”. Moreover, such an attitude was not limited to the Obama administration that was extremely keen on normalizing relations with Tehran, but it was shared by the Israeli leadership which may have expected great benefits from Iran’s escalation, as well as sowing the seeds of sectarian and ethnic conflict throughout the Arab world.
The policies of the Obama administration, and its ‘cold’ approaches, also sent indirect messages of encouragement to Russia, which gained enough confidence in its ability to reclaim its old spheres of influence during the Soviet era. The Russians, who claimed to have been marginalized in Libya, went on to make impressive gains in both former Soviet territories (including Crimea and the Ukraine) and the Arab Middle East after the collapse of Obama’s non-existing ‘red lines’ to Bashar al-Assad.
With regard to Iran too, Russia has been free to maneuver at will. Its joint success in turning the Syrian popular uprising into an open ‘war’, hiding behind the excuse of ‘fighting terrorism’, has enhanced its negotiating and bartering positions with the US all over the Middle East.
The election of Donald Trump, with a political agenda that contradicts his Democratic opponents, was seen from the start as a sign of a radical shift in Washington’s policies in the Middle East. In fact, before the emergence of doubts about Moscow’s interests in Trump’s victory, and advances of the radical populist Right on Europe, many became convinced that the ‘US-Iran honeymoon’ was about to end.
True to form, as time went by, distinct differences appeared between Washington’s current and previous administrations’ approaches and reactions towards Turkey, Israel and Iran.
In Turkey’s case, Washington’s previous strident support of the Kurds, east of the Euphrates, slowed down a bit to the relief of Ankara; although the stances that have since been taken by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have not allowed for a positive new page.
As for Israel, the relations have been significantly strengthened, to the extent of moving the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem and unceremoniously recognizing Syria’s occupied Golan Heights as ‘Israeli territory’.
An even greater qualitative American shift was made in Washington’s Iranian policy. This shift included a series of escalations against the Tehran regime, beginning with its withdrawal from the nuclear deal (officially known as JCPOA), and tightening the noose of economic sanctions against Iran.
Today, the Gulf region is witnessing a serious US military build-up and mobilization that is being read, by many, as a stern warning to the Iranian leadership, with the intention of forcing it to curtail its regional ambitions. This has, actually, been taking place against the backdrop of several announcements by Trump’s officials, the latest by James Jeffrey, the US Special Representative for Syria Engagement, which confirmed that Washington was not seeking anything other than ‘changing Iran’s behaviour’, including the withdrawal of Iranian troops from Syria.
Jeffrey explained that the US wanted to see Russia support UNSCR 2254 and use its influence to guarantee the withdrawal of pro-Iranian forces from Syria. “We see no reason for the Iranians to stay in Syria once this war ends,” he stated.
Jeffrey also said that only Russia could help the US to remove the Iranians from Syria. “The United States will not use military force to get the Iranians out of Syria,” he added.
Finally, as for the fate of Bashar Assad, the US envoy emphasized that his country’s goal was not to remove Assad. “We will be happy if he leaves and declares his departure voluntarily; but this is not our goal. Our goal is a different Syria that does not threaten its people or neighbors, does not use chemical weapons, does not expel refugees and displace people from its territory, and does not provide Iran with a platform to launch rockets against Israel,” he noted.
Given the above, we may have to conclude the following:
1- There is no US-Russia disagreement on what Russian troops are doing in Syria.
2- Washington is now keen to get the Iranians out of the ‘new Syria’ after settling the Golan issue in Israel’s favor, as part the tacit regional and international agreement on the de facto, if not the de Jure partition of Syria.
3- The visions of US and Israel of a new Middle East have never been closer.
4- Washington does not mind that the Tehran regime remains in power if it is willing to negotiate and co-exist under certain conditions; which means that it still refuses to link the expansionism of Iran to the ‘chemistry’ of its regime.
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