“With the assassination by Israel of Iran’s top nuclear warhead designer, the Middle East is promising to complicate Joe Biden’s job from day one. President-elect Biden knows the region well, but if I had one piece of advice for him, it would be this: This is not the Middle East you left four years ago.
The best way for Biden to appreciate the new Middle East is to study what happened in the early hours of Sept. 14, 2019 — when the Iranian Air Force launched 20 drones and precision-guided cruise missiles at Abqaiq, one of Saudi Arabia’s most important oil fields and processing centers, causing huge damage. It was a seminal event.
The Iranian drones and cruise missiles flew so low and with such stealth that neither their takeoff nor their impending attack was detected in time by Saudi or U.S. radar. Israeli military analysts, who were stunned by the capabilities the Iranians displayed, argued that this surprise attack was the Middle East’s “Pearl Harbor.”
They were right. The Middle East was reshaped by this Iranian precision missile strike, by President Trump’s response and by the response of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to Trump’s response.”
David Lindsay: Thank you Tom Friedman. You always have something useful and important to say. I quit carried by your words, until I wading through some very bad comments, to get to some very thoughtful ones. I will print a few of my favorites, which I recommended.
One thing Trump is not is a diplomat. Trump thinks he understands ‘deals’, but what he’s referring to when he says ‘deals’ are cheap transactions counted in dollars, not diplomacy, which is counted in saved lives, security, lasting peace and international engagement. Trump got something ‘right’ in Saudi Arabia by accident the same way a clock gets it accidentally right twice a day. Look at Trump’s ‘diplomatic deal’ with North Korea; some highly rated photo ops at the DMZ followed by absolutely nothing. All hat and no cattle. Joe Biden and his Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken have plenty of global experience and are believers in diplomacy, reasoned discourse and de-escalation. That approach may not always ‘solve the problem’, but it will have a better batting average than the ‘art of the empty deal’ that he who shall not be named championed. The whole world is looking forward to American sanity and alliance-building starting Jan 20 2021. Let’s give it the old college try.
The whole reason Iran needs threats (precision missiles, nukes, etc.) is to protect their sovereignty from the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Friedman flatly states that Iran is homicidal, but Iran expressly sought to minimize fatalities in both the Saudi oil strike and the American-Iraq base strike. In the past couple years, however, the Saudi crown prince had Jamal cut up, we precision struck Soleimani, and presumably Israel just assassinated Mohsen. Friedman also states that Iran’s preferred weapon for homicide is precision guided missiles, which, funnily enough, happens to be our favorite toy too. The deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia is not one made out of love, and I’m skeptical it will lead to a less polarized Middle East. Iran needs to be reintegrated into the world and the Biden administration would be wise to not fall for Saudi-Israeli manipulations.
Eventually, the point is to come to the negotiating table. Best not to have too many bodies to climb over to get there. Many homicidal drone strikes have Made in America written on them, even when they have not been launched by American forces. But when Friedman says ‘it’s complicated’ I don’t think he fully discloses how American and Israeli actions – including arms sales – are contributing factors.
By all means, restart the nuke deal with Iran. I don’t really think it matters whether Netanyahu, an undemocratic indicted criminal, and Prince Muhammad bin Salman of Saudi disapprove. Both nations badly need a shakeup in leadership, and while we are not and cannot be the agents of that, it’s important for US credibility that we be seen as returning to a responsible posture rather than accept Trump’s poorly-planned and poorly-executed policies as the new normal. The rest of Europe, also signatories to the Iran deal, would welcome our return to the table. As for the new Iranian missile capabilities, the way to address that is through negotiations and intelligence, not through the ham-handed bullying which has characterized US foreign policy in the Trump years. Iran is a democracy, if flawed, and Saudi Arabia is a monarchy. Israel is a democracy technically, but one currently led by a criminal in thrall to hardline religious elements – a criminal whose party’s vote total in the last election was insufficient to win without going into coalition with the Blue & White party. Like Trump, Netanyahu is a criminal whose continued freedom has been dependent on his political position.
Friedman doesn’t mention a key reason for Iranian influence in the gulf is the political disenfranchisement of the Shia minority ( Shia are majority in Bahrain ) giving the Persian Shia an opening to their Arab brothers. Likewise, Hezbollah came into existence and gained power in Lebanon as response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon ( shades of the Lon Nol coup coupled with the American/ARVN invasion of Cambodia that eventually ushered in Pol Pot Mr. Freidman also missed a second seminal event from a tactical military view. That is despite being armed to the teeth with worlds most advanced weapons systems by the US, the Saudi’s multi billion air force and African mercenary army (Saudi’s hate to engage their own men in Yemen ) has been given a thumping by a home grown guerrilla army, the Houthi’s. The UAE ( the only Gulf Army worthwhile) has pulled out and retreated. One can attach the word “homicide” to the Iranians, however it seems more appropriate alongside MBS and the Saudi’s for their carnage inflicted upon the people of Yemen.