For the first time since its creation in 1948, Israel is sitting pretty. For all practical purposes it has been let off the hook by once-hostile Arab governments who are now busy fending off internal turmoil or feuding with their fellow Muslim neighbours. The Palestinian issue is well and truly forgotten and several Arab nations are quietly cosying up to their arch-Zionist enemy.
The latest development that must have warmed hearts in Tel Aviv was the break in relations between two of West Asia’s most powerful countries — Saudi Arabia and Iran. Of the three staunch anti-Israeli leaders two are gone — Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. The third, Bashar al-Assad, is fighting a losing battle.
Iran, which proved to be a tough nut, took a while to be cracked. After a decade of arm-twisting it on the nuclear issue, a United States-led caucus finally managed to break Tehran’s resolve, signing a deal which effectively prevents Iran from making any progress on this front. Washington’s closest ally, Israel, would have wanted the US administration to continue sanctions, lay siege to Iran’s economy and do an Iraq on it. But the US, chastened by its experiences in Iraq, chose the simpler alternative of striking an agreement with Iran, which still effectively dilutes a possible threat to Israel.
Yes, the Shia-Sunni divide in the Muslim world is deep and seemingly irreconcilable. At the heart of the simmering long-term hostility between the Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, and Iran is this theological disagreement that since the 1979 Ayotollah Khomeini-engineered Iranian revolution has dominated political discourse in this region. Under the Shah, Iran had friendly relations with Israel. But the new Iranian government made it clear that Israel was its arch-enemy and it would go all out to free the occupied Palestinian territories.
In the last 35 years, however, the narrative has changed completely. In 1980 no one could have imagined that a time would come when West Asia would end up so bitterly fractured and that the Palestinian issue would be relegated to the dustbin. It is simplistic to blame it entirely on the Shia-Sunni divide as global politics itself has changed dramatically since that time, the key markers being the Soviet demise, the 9/11 attack, the US war on terror, the invasion of Iraq and the Arab street uprisings.
The 80s were still the time of the Cold War and the region was aligned either with the US or the Soviet Union. But, the US proved to be a better strategist, presiding over the Soviet disintegration. Having egged its protégé Saddam on to go to war with Iran following the Khomeini revolution, Washington commenced a process of emasculating the Arab world.
But this does not absolve the Arab nations. Instead of seeing through the machinations of Washington the big powers in the region have turned against one another. And the spawning of al-Qaeda and ISIS worsens the region’s instability.
Caught in the crossfire are millions of innocents fleeing to distant, mostly hostile, Europe. And the Palestinians are now at the mercy of Israel. The conclusion is inescapable: The wheels of time have ended up favouring the US and its client state Israel, thanks to the political naivete of the Arabs and the Persians.
KS Dakshina Murthy is a journalist. The views expressed are personal.