How United Is the Arab Front?

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Arab stone design, courtesy of Eusebius@Commons/flickr

The Arab community has always publicly supported its Muslim counterparts. As a result there is an alliance among these states in opposition to Israel and the occupation of Palestine. However, it appears that behind the facade of Arab unity lies a game of dirty politics, where each state acts in self-interest often in contrast to the projected image of unity and loyalty.

A recent article by The Times publicized Saudi Arabia’s green light to Israel to use its air space to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.  This is surprising as it pits Muslim states against each other openly and brings the reality of Arab loyalty into question.

In order to attack Iran’s nuclear sites, Israel has the choice of three routes. The northern route involves passing the Syrian-Turkish border. The central route goes over Jordan and Iraq, while the third southern route goes through Saudi Arabia and Iraq or Kuwait. So let’s assess where these Middle Eastern states stand.

Turkey, split between the eastern and western world, was the only state to recognize Israel in 1949. Following the recent flotilla incident the option of using Turkish airspace is off the table. In 2007, however, Turkey was suspected of having allowed Israel to use its airspace to attack a nuclear reactor in Syria, one of Iran’s closest allies. The Ministry of Defense dodged questions about this operation. Indeed Turkey appears to want to play the role of a double agent in the region.

Iraq, I believe, is the most interesting state.  Here it is not the Iraqi government per se, but US military forces that  control decisions regarding security and air space.  As the US wanted to use a policy of moderation with Iran, both the Obama and Bush regimes did not approve of Israel’s aggressive approach. But as the recent nuclear agreement failed, press releases reported that the US has caved into Israeli demands to use their bases in Iraq. Further, Jordan, Palestine’s ally, and home to the biggest Palestinian migrant population, is also suspected of having allowed Israel to use its airspace en-route to Iraq.

Finally, Saudi Arabia appears to have turned a blind eye to Israel using its airspace. In order for this to work they will temporarily deactivate their missile defense systems. As this decision was made with the consent of the US State Department, using Iraq, as mentioned, would not be problematic either.

The balance of power in the Middle East seems to be altering as states side with Israel against Iran. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan seem wary of the Iranian regime and fear its nuclear activities. It seems that these countries have hedged their bets against Iran and have decisively shifted towards Israel for strategic reasons. This alliance is undoubtedly influenced by the US as well. Such decisions, however, are reached behind the scenes, with few Arab nations openly admitting that naked self-interest increasingly trumps regional and religious loyalty.

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