Reprinted from Consortium News
The April 2 framework agreement with Iran represents more than just a diplomatic deal to prevent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. It marks a crossroad that offers a possible path for the American Republic to regain its footing and turn away from endless war.
Whether that more peaceful route is followed remains very much in doubt, however, given the adamant opposition from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Sunni Arab allies in Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich sheikdoms. On Thursday, Netanyahu continued his denunciations of the deal and no one should underestimate the Israel Lobby's power over Congress.
Despite blame also falling on Iran and the Shiite side in this sectarian conflict, the Iranians have emerged as the most effective resistance to Al-Qaeda, which carried out the 9/11 attacks killing some 3,000 Americans, and to the Islamic State, which has engaged in -- and franchised out to other extremist groups -- the practice of chopping off the heads of Americans, Christians, Shiites and other "apostates."
Though the Saudi royal family and other Sunni princes around the Persian Gulf deny that they support Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, few knowledgeable people believe them, since the jihadists follow Saudi Arabia's Wahhabist fundamentalist teachings and have consistently served Saudi interests as the frontline fighters in the Sunni-Shiite conflict. [See Consortiumnews.com's "The Secret Saudi Ties to Terrorism."]
Preference for Al-Qaeda
Plus, Saudi Arabia and Israel have made clear that they would prefer the Sunni fighters, even Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, to prevail over governments and other forces linked to Iran. The Saudi-Israeli alliance has provided real military assistance to these Sunni jihadists.
For instance, the current Saudi bombing campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen (who practice a form of Shiite Islam) has served to bolster Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, including aiding in a prison break that released scores of hardened Al-Qaeda militants. A source familiar with the Yemeni conflict told me that the Saudis also are giving Al-Qaeda weapons supplied by Israel.
In the Syrian civil war, senior Israelis have made clear they would prefer Sunni extremists to prevail over President Bashar al-Assad, who is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Assad's relatively secular government is seen as the protector of Shiites, Christians and other minorities who fear the vengeful brutality of the Sunni jihadists who now dominate the anti-Assad rebels and have absorbed the U.S.-trained "moderates" into the extremist ranks.
In September 2013, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad and the Shiites. "The greatest danger to Israel is by the [Shiite] strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc," Oren said in an interview.
"We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren't backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran." He said this was the case even if the "bad guys" were affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
In June 2014, Oren expanded on this Israeli position. Then, speaking as a former ambassador, Oren said Israel would even prefer a victory by the Islamic State. "From Israel's perspective, if there's got to be an evil that's got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail," Oren said.
This Israeli preference has extended into a tacit alliance with Al-Qaeda's Nusra Front in Syria, with which the Israelis have what amounts to a non-aggression pact, even caring for Nusra fighters in Israeli hospitals and mounting lethal air attacks against Lebanese and Iranian advisers to the Syrian military fighting Nusra forces.
Netanyahu himself has played down the danger from the Islamic State (or ISIS) when compared to what he claims is the greater Iranian threat. In his March 3 address to a cheering and hooting U.S. Congress, Netanyahu depicted ISIS as a minor annoyance with "butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube" when compared to Iran, which he accused of "gobbling up the nations" of the Middle East.
He claimed "Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran's aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow. ... We must all stand together to stop Iran's march of conquest, subjugation and terror."
But Netanyahu was engaging in hyperbole at best. Of those four capitals cited, Iran took none by force; no invasions had occurred. In the case of Syria and Iraq, Iran has been helping the established governments withstand assaults from the Islamic State and, in Syria, Al-Qaeda's Nusra Front as well.