When considering the geo-political map of the current Middle East, not everything is negative or alarming, at least from an Israeli point of view. Although the Middle East is more splintered today than ever before, Israel’s political and diplomatic isolation in the region has faded. The Middle East is now composed of three main blocs and Israel is a partner with one major bloc, which also happens to be its immediate neighbors, or the inner circle of moderate-Sunni and hitherto pro-American Arab states: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates. However, what is counter-intuitive is the Obama administration’s choice of partners in the region. It is not the moderate Sunni-Muslim states and Israel that Washington sought out as mediators for a Hamas-Israel cease-fire, but the Muslim Brotherhood bloc of Turkey and Qatar.
David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister and one of the founding fathers of the Jewish State recognized early on that the State of Israel had no chance to develop friendly relations with its neighboring Arab states. Pan-Arab leaders such as Egypt’s president Gamal Abdul Nasser fanned the flames of hatred and revenge against the Jewish state, as did fellow Arab dictators in Syria and elsewhere. As a result, Israel’s leadership sought to develop friendly relations with its outer-circle non-Arab states such as Iran, Ethiopia, and Turkey.
The rise of the Islamic Republic in Iran under Khomeini following the Iranian revolution in 1979, and the departure of the Israel-friendly Shah of Iran ended Israeli-Iranian relations. Iran became the arms supplier of Israel’s Palestinian enemies and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and with its nuclear ambition, it constitutes an existential threat to the Jewish State.
Turkey was the only Muslim state to have a steady and rather friendly relationship with the Jewish state. Until the electoral triumph of the AK Party (Justice and Development Party) in 2002, Israel’s trade and military cooperation with Turkey was significant to both countries. The AK Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan changed all of that. His hostility to Israel intensified with each successive electoral victory. Following his second parliamentary victory in 2007, he began tangling with Israel. In late May 2010, Erdogan gave the green light to a Gaza flotilla headed by the Mavi Marmara. It was a deliberate provocation by Erdogan to break through the Israeli blocade. The subsequent AK victory in the 2011 parliamentary elections increased Erdogan’s arrogance and simultaneously his anti-Israel and anti-Semitic outbursts. His latest 2014 presidential victory and his unmitigated support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood severed the special relations Israel has had with Turkey.
Turkey is, in fact, part of the radical Sunni, pro-Muslim Brotherhood bloc, that includes Qatar and Hamas.
The radical Shia bloc led by Iran, which includes Shiite Iraq, the Assad regime in Syria, and the Hezbollah in Lebanon, comprise the third bloc.
The puzzling question is why Washington chose to align itself with the Sunni radical Muslim Brotherhood bloc (Qatar and Turkey), and not with the more moderate bloc led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia? Both the Egyptian regime under President Abdel Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the Saudi royals are upset with the Obama administration. Cairo resents Washington’s support for the deposed Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammad Morsi. Washington withheld arms delivery to Egypt because it considered Morsi’s removal illegitimate, albeit, over 30 million Egyptians demanded Morsi’s removal because of his gross mismanagement of the economy, his authoritarian style, his promotion of sectorial Brotherhood ideals and the erosion of civil liberties.
The Saudis resent the Obama administration rapprochement with Iran, and its November 24, 2013 nuclear agreement with Iran signed in Geneva. Israelis are also uncomfortable with the Geneva Agreement, albeit they are more skeptical than resentful. The U.S. “Red Line” against the Assad regimes use of chemical weapons that was never put into force has added to the Saudis sense of betrayal. Riyadh blames the U.S. for turning Iraq into an
Iranian Shiite satellite, and abandoning the Sunnis. The Saudis are also upset with Obama’s treatment of el-Sisi’s Egypt, whom they support.
The U.S. administration’s reasoning is hard to understand but for the fact that in 2003 Combat Air Operations Center for the Middle East moved from Prince Sultan Airbase in Saudi Arabia to Qatar’s Al Udeid airbase near its capital of Doha. Qatar currently serves as the host to major U.S. military facilities. The Al Udeid base and other facilities in Qatar serve as the logistics, command and control, and hub for the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of operations. Al Jazeera (the Qatari regime mouthpiece) reported on July 15, 2014 that “The United States has signed an agreement with Qatar to sell Apache attack helicopters and Patriot and Javelin air-defense systems valued at $11bn.” Qatar also has the third largest proven natural gas reserves in the world, and is the largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, benefitting mainly the Europeans.
America stands for more than multi-billion-dollar defense contracts. Its core values include human rights, religious freedom and democracy for all. The 2012 U.S. State Department Country Report on Human Rights in Qatar has concluded that “Inability of citizens to change their government peacefully, restrictions on fundamental civil liberties, and pervasive denial of expatriate workers rights” are just some of the human rights abuses by the Qatari regime. Political parties are not allowed to exist and forced labor is pervasive in Qatar, particularly in the construction and domestic labor sectors. Qatar serves as host to Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the radical Muslim Brotherhood ideologue that the Anti-Defamation League has called “theologian of terror,” and has provided a home base to Khaled Mashal, the Hamas political chief.
Particularly worrisome are the Qatari elites, including the ruling family, who support Al Qaeda and other extremist and violent Islamist groups. Additionally, Qatar’s embrace of Iran as well as Hamas and Hezbollah, deemed by Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states as terrorist organizations, requires a great deal of scrutiny by the U.S. Reuters reported (March 9, 2014) that “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of openly funding the Sunni Muslim insurgents (ISIS) his troops are battling in western Anbar province.” Lebanon’s Daily Star (August 14, 2014) quoted Hezbollah’s Chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah as saying “Turkey and Qatar are supporting ISIS (also known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and most recently as the Islamic State.), and I am convinced that Saudi Arabia fears it.”
Qatar, the hub of CENTCOM, and the recipient of top-notch U.S. weaponry, is the same state that enables Hamas’ terror against Israel by providing it with donations to buy its arms from Iran. Therefore, it was a surprise for the Israelis that Secretary of State John Kerry chose to adopt the pro-Hamas track offered by the foreign ministers of Turkey and Qatar. He ignored both the interests of Israel and Egypt who border the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Al-Monitor (July 29, 2014) summed up the divergence of interests between Israel, the U.S’s only democratic and most reliable ally in the region and the U.S.–Qatar axis. “The Israeli leadership estimates that the cease-fire initiative (regarding the Hamas-Israeli war in Gaza-JP) of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry responds well to the interests of Qatar, Turkey, Hamas, and its own interests with Qatar – but hardly addresses Israel’s security needs.”
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