(January 5, 2021 / JNS) The Middle East continues to produce headlines at a hectic pace, and Sunday was no exception. On the one hand, Iran announced it had resumed enriching uranium to 20 percent purity at its Fordow nuclear facility, and on the other, the Americans helped achieve a breakthrough between Saudi Arabia and Qatar that is likely to end the three-year Gulf crisis.
That crisis was sparked in 2017 when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic relations with Qatar over its ties with Iran, the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism. They were later joined by Jordan and supported by the Maldives, Mauritania, Senegal, Djibouti, Comoros, Yemen and the Tobruk-based government in Libya.
In all likelihood, the deal between Riyadh and Doha will be the last one brokered by the Trump administration, and while it will end the animosity between the two it will also—and more importantly—allow the moderate Gulf states to present a united front against destabilizing forces in the Middle East.
The price of the deal—in aid funds or arms sales—will surely surface in the coming days and weeks, but its advantages are already clear: Qatar is a key player in the Muslim Brotherhood axis, something that has been at the heart of its dispute with its neighbors, and as such now stands to be a major moderating factor vis-à-vis Turkey and Hamas.
Qatar is not short on reasons to pursue rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, as on top of the obvious diplomatic and economic benefits doing so would also grant it the peace of mind to focus on something it holds dear—hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Doha wants to arrive at the games a winner—not a sheikdom mired in a myriad of regional conflicts.
The end of the Gulf crisis also holds opportunity for Israel. Having inked peace deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, there is no reason why Jerusalem and Doha cannot do the same.
Israel operated a bureau in Doha in the past, which was manned by Foreign Ministry officials. The Mossad intelligence agency also has extensive ties in Qatar—and in fact, had it not been for its conflict with Saudi Arabia, Doah would have probably already boarded the peace train.
Rapprochement with Qatar will also advance peace deals with other Gulf states, chief among them Saudi Arabia. Israel still believes that the Saudis would prefer to wait for the incoming Biden administration; with only 15 days remaining to it, it is hard to believe the Trump administration could announce an Israeli-Saudi accord.
This tight window of opportunity is one Iran is also watching, especially given Monday’s announcement about Fordow, which constitutes the Islamic Republic’s most significant violation to date of the 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran’s move may shorten its path to a bomb, but it is still a long way from having a nuclear weapon. It is likely that Iran is not seeking to make a mad nuclear dash at this point, but rather to accumulate assets ahead of the new nuclear negotiations with the Biden administration.
This is, in fact, a classic “somebody stop me” warning to Washington, signaling that progress better be made if the international community hopes to slow Iran’s nuclear pursuits.
Iran will gladly relinquish enriching uranium to 20 percent in favor of a nuclear pact that would lift the crippling economic sanctions off the Islamic Republic.
Tehran has likely been waiting with this move to make sure Trump was in his last days in office and will not be able to mount a military response.
This is exactly the Iranian weakness that Israel needs to exploit: We need to make it clear to the Biden administration that Iran is violating every understanding and every agreement, and playing not just with fire but with weapons of mass destruction.
Israel must also have an available and reliable military option, and make it clear to the Americans that it is ready to use it. Unlike the 2015 agreement, this time Israel will not really stand alone—its new friends in the Gulf will stand by it. In this respect, the agreement with Qatar is excellent news for the “good guys,” but a little less good for Tehran.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.
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