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Israel and Saudi Arabia in a jam in Gaza

The US decision to launch limited air strikes to check the The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in Iraq and the Gaza initiatives in Cairo are obviously linked.

Ever since King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia came out of convalescence from Europe in February 2011 to see the first two casualties of the Arab Spring — Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali — his heart sank. Logically, next to fall would be monarchies and Emirates — Saudi, Jordan, Qatar, Morocco, Bahrain, the GCC in general. “Never!” screamed Abdullah.

Dmitry Medvedev in the Kremlin and Amr Moussa in the Arab League provided an enabling provision in Security Council Resolution 1973. First the Europeans and then the Americans got involved. Well, Qaddafi’s ouster has led to the current state of affairs in Libya. Then began the destruction of Syria. Qatar and Turkey were alongside Saudi Arabia in this project of regime change.

A clever psychological moment was chosen to lure Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan into the trap. Here is his chance to play a pan Arab role by, to begin with, facilitating Assad’s ouster from neighbouring Syria.

Erdogan took off his secular clothes (mandated by the Kemalist constitution), slipped into his Muslim Brotherhood garb and turned up in Tripoli and Cairo joining congregational prayers with such frequency that the Saudis panicked.

The idea was to dethrone Assad, not strengthen the Brothers whom Saudis fear more than even the Shias ever since they laid siege to the Grand Mosque in Mecca in November 1979, soon after the Ayatullahs came to power in Iran.

On the Syrian operation, Qatar too was mobilized by the Saudis for two reasons: Riyadh was keen to compose traditional differences with Qatar so that regional monarchies could provide a united front. Secondly, the credibility of Western mainstream media was being questioned. Qatar’s Al Jazeera was therefore required.

But as soon as Qatar started talking to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Hamas in Gaza, the Saudis panicked again.

Qatar, with its Muslim Brotherhood affiliation, had to be pushed out of the equation. Al Jazeera’s support was concurrently lost.

The Saudis then bankrolled Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to oust Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and become president.

In the summer of 2014 the line-up in West Asia was: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain and Emirates, fiercely opposed to the Brothers. Israel is most comfortable with this grouping, now more than ever. Egypt has coordinated with the Israelis in keeping the Refah crossing closed for Gazans unless Israel winks.

This inspired Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to float an alliance of the countries listed above. Even in normal times, an Israeli overture towards an Arab regime shows diminishing returns among the population. After the Israeli bombing of Gaza, such an overture would greatly accentuate popular anger against their own regimes.

Should the ceasefire fail and bombing of Gaza resume, regimes whose support Israel seeks may not be able to withstand popular unrest at the plight of Gazans.

Consider the alternative line-up, Hezbullah, Syria, Iraq are all a huge moral support for Hamas. But at the moment they are overdrawn either in Syria or against the ISIS in Iraq. Turkey and Qatar, along with their Muslim Brotherhood affiliation, are openly supporting Hamas. Their regional influence has not been overlooked: Secretary of State John Kerry invites them for a meeting in Paris to consider a way out in Gaza.

Either the Gaza ceasefire will break down or the Americans will have to prevail on Saudi Arabia and Egypt to accommodate Qatar and Turkey. Qatar meanwhile has set the cat among the pigeons by announcing that Bahrain’s opposition members can seek Qatari citizenship.

The ISIS, running wild across Syria and Iraq, also has a Muslim Brotherhood link. Two days ago their blackshirt troops moved into the enclave of Arsal in Lebanon, abutting Syria. Immediately the Saudis turned up in Beirut with $1 billion to enable the Lebanese Army to contain the ISIS.

To placate Qatar, President Obama presses Sisi to release three Al Jazeera journalists in Egyptian prison for having supported the Muslim Brotherhood when Morsi was being ousted. Meanwhile, the ISIS, encouraged by its own successes, begins to uproot some ancient church congregations in the Kurdish part of Iraq. Enough is enough, says Obama, and orders limited airstrike on ISIS positions. If Americans are bombing one set of Arabs, can their friends, the Israeli, resume bombardment of another set of Arabs?

A senior commentator on diplomatic and political affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached on saeednaqvi@hotmail.com
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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