Obama, Israel and the new Middle East
U.S. President Barack Obama’s first presidential trip to the region was in April 2009, only a few months after the 2008 Gaza bombings. Once again, Obama is set to visit the Middle East only months after the Gaza bombings. It’s not just Obama, the president’s new secretary of state will also visit nine countries, including Turkey, next week. The political dynamics of the Middle East have been almost completely transformed since the U.S president’s first visit.
New political equations were formed and new actors emerged in all Middle Eastern countries, except Israel, since Obama’s first round of visits to the region. The current apparent tensions between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu and the Obama administration, whose recent actions left no doubts about its support of Israel, are only rhetorical. There is no longer a Hosni Mubarak regime in Egypt. Bashar al-Assad is struggling to survive beneath the ruins of a collapsed Baath regime in Syria. Most importantly, the status quo Washington expected to see in Ankara no longer exists.
The Nouri al-Maliki administration that emerged out of the 2010 elections in Iraq as the incumbent, with American support, is now facing serious tensions with almost all groups in the country. The Jordanian government is struggling to survive because of changing regional balances. Iran is facing more damage today from having exhausted all its credit in the region because of the support it lent to Syria than because of the damage caused by the economic sanctions and its acrimonious relations with the U.S. Two political actors that represent the old Middle East, namely Saudi Arabia and Israel – especially at a time when the Camp David order is being transformed, affected by the winds of change in the region – are drawing attention.
Israel has lost allies in the region, first Turkey, followed by the Mubarak regime in Egypt, and finally its comfortable enemy, the Baath regime. Obama will soon visit Israel – a country that only communicates with its neighboring countries via Washington, which is an ocean away. The only message the American government can give to the new Middle East with a visit to Israel is its longing for the old Middle East. It is not clear what the Obama administration expects to gain from a visit to Israel only months after its attack on Gaza. Reviving the Middle East peace process comes to mind as one of the objectives of this trip. Although what kind of peace process can be achieved with Mahmud Abbas, who has lost all legitimacy after the Palestinian Papers were leaked to the media, and Israel, which has bombed Gaza twice in five years and has bolstered its occupation of Palestine even more with new settlements, is a complete mystery.
The United States, which has completely ignored what could be considered the first spark of the “Arab Spring,” namely, the electoral success of Hamas seven years ago, is having difficulty today in communicating with the Arab Spring. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, there is a new Middle East and its new political actors. As long as the U.S insists on the old order of the Middle East via its support for Israel, it will soon no longer possess the necessary political software to deal with the new Middle East.