The Middle East seen from within: interview with prof. Uzi Rabi

(To Gino Lanzara)
09/05/22

When you are lucky and have the opportunity to interview a Middle East expert such as prof. Uzi Rabi would be unforgivable to miss the appointment.

Witty, lively, profound connoisseur of an area that extends from the Mediterranean to Iran, the professor gives concrete life to the concepts he expresses, animates them, makes them alive and throbbing subjects of a reality that dominates in complexity, structure and above all speed. , slow observers and analogue policy makers; scholar of modern history, of Middle Eastern states, politics and society, of Arab-Iranian relations, of Sunni-Shiite dynamics.

The professor. Rabi, thanks also to his own Iraqi Iraqi ancestry, brings together all the useful aspects to grasp the smallest details, the most infinitesimal hints of otherwise indecipherable situations.

We will try to give a complete, agile, compelling picture, with the premise / promise of following the same objective and realistic line of logic with which prof Rabi outlined the panorama of one of the most interesting and complex regions on the planet, outlining the salient features of the most relevant players.

The beginning is obligatory: the Agreements of Abraham.

A fundamental event in contemporary Middle Eastern history, politically dramatic for some, it has seen for the first time Gulf countries come to a entente with Israel but without however placing conditions, in particular that relating to the Israeli-Palestinian quarrel. The significant political aspect lies precisely in the fact that it is the first time that Muslim countries have realistically placed their interests before intra-Arab or intra-Islamic solidarity, penetrating the dynamics of a century, the XNUMXst, which reserves difficult political agendas and made even more complex from the pandemic, and without forgetting the environmental issues that lead to considering water shortages and common climatic problems in that area.

As Professor Rabi said, beginning to have relations with Israel, a state with a lively political dialectic, is equivalent to crossing the Rubicon, taking a historic step. The Abrahamic agreements, in constituting a realignment in relations between Israel and the Arab states, entail a different role for the US from the one it has played up to now.

Assuming that the last 3 American administrations1, although so different from each other, they found a common denominator in placing as a condition america first, the Abrahamic Agreements found a rationalization by Washington in having been perceived as an instrument of conciliation between Arabs and Israelis, useful for laying the functional basis for the withdrawal of its forces from the Middle East; all in the perspective of avoiding repeating the mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan, of which the images of the hasty withdrawal of troops evacuated from the USA are still alive.

This approach actually constitutes a message for many countries which, in the region, cannot fail to have concerns about geopolitical evolutions. States such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, even Israel, have considered the XNUMXst century as a natural time base for the continuation of Western domination, or at least as a pillar of US leadership after the fall of the USSR. The events that followed, however, have led to moments of great upheaval such as the present one: while the US shows a hesitant policy, Russia and China are filling the regional gaps that have been created.

From this point of view, the Abrahamic Agreements constitute a political keystone for Israel, also marking red lines that indicate with certainty who can be considered as an antagonist: Iran certainly becomes an enemy, as do the members of the Muslim Brotherhood, to whom the groups operating in Gaza cannot be considered strangers.

Taking into account that the affiliates of the Brotherhood come mainly from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE who consider them an illegal terrorist group, for a logic of exclusion these same countries have concluded that Israel cannot be the enemy; it is obvious that none of the Arab countries adhering to the agreements can be considered Zionist, also because there are still points to be defined and on which to find shared agreements, however there is a concrete denominator that has not only helped to identify common enemies, but also to find effective forms of collaboration, as with regard to renewable energies, an element that should not be neglected since it can be traced back to rentier states petroleum.

It can be said that there is a conscience that, although the price of oil is notably levitated, the next energy changes cannot be ignored, all diversifying alternatives that the technological proximity to Israel will allow to exploit. The geopolitical and geo-economic importance is evident, given that the chessboard of international relations, between the XNUMXth and XNUMXst centuries, has changed making the Middle East unrecognizable.

Since 1979, the Ayatollahs' regime has made Iran a de facto problem that sees the marriage of a purely Shiite brand between religion and concrete goals of a geopolitical nature. Iranian ambition and will to power in the region intimidate Arab countries; it is not just a geopolitical struggle, but since most Persians are Shiites and Arabs are Sunni, it is also a religious confrontation. The Iranian regime has at its top the religious authorities who have at their disposal Pasdaran, guards of the revolution, which many countries recognize as members of a terrorist group.

Against the background of the evolution of international relations, and as regards the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, agreement on Iranian nuclear power, ed), while the US would gladly return to the 2015 agreements, the Iranians perceive American weakness, but remain in a state of profound uncertainty as regards the Ukrainian scenario.

What is certain, according to a view probably shared across the board, is that energy and food crises are upon us, with all that this socially determines.

Tehran, as a condition for the closure of the JCPOA negotiations, is pressing for its Pasdaran to be removed from the list of terrorist organizations, a request that has unacceptable both Republicans and many American Democrats; the position expressed by the USA should not be too surprising: the classification which terrorist group derives from the fact that i Pasdaran, powerful because they are a direct expression of the state, they act on a planetary scale. Al Qaeda, Black September, Isis, despite their dangerousness do not have an institutional apparatus as the one attested by the symbiosis between Ayatollah and the Revolutionary Guards, a Liaison lately exalted by the statements of Ayatollah Khamenei during the feast of al Quds when he qualified Israel in diplomatically and geopolitically unacceptable terms, calling it an illegitimate state destined to be wiped out, as if it were some kind of cancerous formation.

At this moment Iran can feel satisfied that it has only been lapped by the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan; moreover, it may be perceived as necessary if not almost indispensable given the sanctioning regime applied to Russian oil and gas exports. The hypothesis of an effective blockade of Russian energy exports cannot exclude the American intention of resorting to Iranian gas for Europe2.

The generation of prof. Rabi was educated in a country that had to think in dyadic terms of us and them; now Israel has the capacity, not only geopolitical, to negotiate and discuss with anyone the economy of renewable energy, strategic resources such as water. But in the meantime the Iranians are getting closer and faster to dispose of the nuclear weapon. The general picture therefore sees an Iran close to becoming an atomic power, with Israel capable of responding to the threat, a pungent aspect also known to the Ayatollahs. And it is as of now that the Arabs are beginning to have a concrete fear due not so much to the fact that Iran can use the nuclear weapon directly against them, but rather because the power thus acquired will allow Tehran to put them in perennial check.

This is a de facto exercise of power that has already begun, suffice it to see Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, all countries annihilated even (if not above all) due to Iranian interference. In short, in an area where countries are based on often limited de facto sovereignty, Iranian penetration can only lead to further problems in increasingly large areas, where Lebanon and Syria remain a threatening Iranian corridor that opens up to the Mediterranean and to Israel.

The picture thus outlined explains why Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco with the Gulf monarchies have begun to have normal relations with Israel. There is no doubt that if Iran intends to lead proxy war against Israel thanks to Lebanon or Syria, Jerusalem will not stand by, as it is able to act by having information and connections throughout the region. Regardless of the colore of the current government, Israel therefore remains the only political option, the only country with which the leaders of the Arab countries can actually speak.

By further expanding the radius to the west, Erdogan's Turkey is touched, one of the most controversial players in the region, interpreter of a volatile policy which, over the years, has led him from highly critical positions bordering on anti-Semitism to realistically review the negativity of Ankara's increasingly isolated position.

From travel you know how it was formed, and you think you know what it has in mind; president of a bankrupt country Erdogan has challenged the flag of the Muslim Brotherhood because he is seeking regional hegemony and legitimacy. Erdogan is a political animal, an actor who has the pages of Machiavelli's Prince in front of his eyes every day: he changes position, gives sudden accelerations that characterize his changes of course. No more than two years ago he appealed as traitors the countries that had signed Abraham's agreements with Israel, now he is visiting there and he himself is an interlocutor with Jerusalem, inaugurating a renewed political and diplomatic commitment.

Interesting in this quadrant is the policy of Israel, which has implemented relations with Greece and Egypt in a perspective that not only favors the creation of economic relations linked to the exploitation of gas, but which allows for the shaping of a sort of homo mediterraneus that is characterized by a common feeling.

But the Middle East does not end there, Jordan still remains, Other case study of extreme interest that requires to keep in mind numerous aspects. The Jordanian monarchy once again plays a pivotal role in preventing the spread of radical ideas from Iraq and Iran.

The binomial constituted by Israel and the Hashemite monarchy represents an essential unicum for Jordan in the persisting and serious economic situation aggravated by the presence of almost 2 million refugees from Iraq and Syria; the Jordanian Crown is poor, certainly not as rich as the Saudi one, and needs constant external support; in addition, it should be remembered that a large part of the Jordanian population is of Palestinian origin (Queen Rania herself belongs to a family from Tulkarem). The Jordanian social crisis is made even more serious by the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood and Palestinians once again on a collision course with the Jordanian elites present on national soil even before the Palestinian arrival in 1948.

The Hashemite Royal House must preserve the relationship with Israel to desalinate water and to obtain tangible results from renewable energies; but it is also the House descended from the Prophet Mohammed, which is why it must maintain a strong link with the sacred Islamic places of Jerusalem, which at the moment is the geopolitical point where the main pressure is exerted starting from the Al Aqsa Mosque. Not from Gaza or from the border with Lebanon, but from Jerusalem the fire can start again capable of setting the Middle East on fire once more: in Israel there are groups of Palestinians in contact with the Muslim Brotherhood in the north and with Hamas in Gaza.

As in the Turkish case, the Jordanians are certainly not Zionists, but the preservation of good relations with Israel remains fundamental precisely in relation to the custody and protection of Jerusalem's sacred places; the fear not too veiled is that the Al Saud house, taking advantage of the improved relations it maintains with Israel, could replace the Hashemites thus becoming the protector of all the holiest places, therefore Jerusalem included, starting from Medina and Mecca.

The benefit of Israeli-Jordanian mutual support should lead us not to consider situations too rigidly according to the realist perspective that leads to placing the security collaboration between Abu Mazen and Israel, and more generally between Ramallah, Amman and Jerusalem in a favorable light. order to prevent yet another precipitate of events by preventing Hamas from taking control of the West Bank perpetuating the risk of repeating the same dramatic experience with the Islamic state, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims.

There is no doubt that Israel is now an interlocutor to be considered, as long as the respect between political subjects is mutual. More generally, we could say that the whole Middle East is now in a state of evolution such as to have to be constantly updated on regional maps also and above all as a function of the variations in the balance of power modified by the change in US policy and the consequent creation of political spaces. to be necessarily filled.

Professor Uzi Rabi, Ph.D (Tel Aviv University, 2000) is the director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies and senior researcher al Center for Iranian Studies, both from Tel Aviv University. Previously, he was head of the Middle East and African History Department at Tel Aviv University. From 2004 to 2005 he held a visiting professorship at the Lipinski Institute of San Diego State University. He is regularly invited to the Knesset and other government forums to hold briefings and lectures on issues of national and regional importance.

1 Obama, Trump, Biden

2 The National Iranian Oil Company ranks third in the world for total oil and gas production, after Aramco (Saudi Arabia) and Gazprom (Russia).

Photo: Defense Online

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