Reprinted from Consortium News
President Barack Obama's quest for Middle East peace must navigate very tricky geopolitical straits, with some traditional American enemies emerging as possibly his best allies and usual U.S. allies arrayed as adversaries.
To the surprise of some analysts, Obama is finding greater interest in a Mideast breakthrough from Russia, Iran and Iran's clients in Hamas than among regular U.S. "friends" -- Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan -- whose resistance is backed by influential neoconservatives in the United States.
On one side, Russia sees a peace deal as an opportunity to reassert itself on the global stage and to remove threats of instability; the Iranian government (including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) wants to be viewed in the Muslim world as the ones who finally forged a Palestinian state; and Hamas foresees a dominant role for itself in such an entity (and is dependent on Iran's largesse).
On the other side, Israel's Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bridles at Obama's pressure for a viable Palestinian state and balks at dismantling Israel's West Bank settlements, which Likud helped establish over the past three decades in a strategy of changing "the facts on the ground" and achieving a "Greater Israel."
Israel has behind-the-scenes support in its resistance from Saudi Arabia and Jordan, two Sunni-led countries that are suspicious of a peace initiative pushed by Shiite-ruled Iran.
The Sunni-Shiite schism dates back almost 1,400 years, but the animosities have deepened in the 30 years since Shiite fundamentalists gained control of Iran, fought a long war with Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led Iraq, and pulled Iraq into Iran's orbit after the United States deposed Hussein in 2003 and paved the way for Iraq's Shiite majority to take command.
Iran also had built alliances with Syria, Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. So it wasn't hard for President George W. Bush to rally the Israelis, the Saudis and the Jordanians into an anti-Iranian coalition with the goal of countering Tehran's growing influence.
Bush's policy of isolating Iran, which he had counted in his "axis of evil," drew the strong support of American neocons who echoed Israeli fears about an Iranian nuclear bomb and cheered Israel's threats to attack Iran's nuclear sites, if the United States didn't act first.
Though the Bush administration is gone, its anti-Iranian coalition remains, now representing an obstacle to Obama's plans for reengaging with Iran and trying to leverage Iran's influence, especially with Hamas but also with Syria and Hezbollah, to achieve a breakthrough on Middle East peace.
A Dark Prism
Indeed, much of what has happened in recent months in the region can be viewed through this dark prism of one coalition seeking to damage the other.
Iran's June 12 election, for instance, could be seen as pitting Mir Hossein Mousavi's "green revolution" -- which drew strong support from neocon elements throughout the world -- against Ahamdinejad, whose decisive reelection would strengthen his hand in pushing for a Mideast peace initiative.
Mousavi -- along with his top allies, ex-President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former House Speaker Mehdi Karoubi -- have had longstanding covert connections to Israel because Israeli governments in the 1980s set up crucial military supply lines for Iran to fight its war with Iraq, which Israel then saw as the greater threat to its security.
Israel's Likud governments of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir oversaw those secret -- and lucrative -- arms shipments to Iran staring in 1980. Iranian leaders involved in this arms pipeline included Rafsanjani, then parliamentary chairman, and Karoubi, who served as a foreign policy envoy for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. [For details, see Ari Ben-Menashe's Profits of War.]
However, in 1984, after Shimon Peres of the Israeli Labour Party assumed the post of prime minister in a Labour-Likud coalition, he wanted in on the action. So, he dispatched his assistant Amiram Nir to work with White House aide Oliver North in opening what became known as the Iran-Contra arms channel.