The Tehran Syndrome

In the post-Iraq War Middle East, everything is regional and all roads lead to Tehran. Here’s Laura Rozen on George Mitchell’s debriefing to American Jewish “community leaders”:

Mitchell said that on the plane back from his recent trip to the MiddleEast, he had re-read his eight-year-old report on thePalestinian-Israeli conflict, and was struck by how much the situationhad changed. Among the changes he noted, Mitchell said that eight yearsago, no one talked about Iran. But this time, everyone mentioned it,both Israeli and Arab leaders.

What’s interesting is the way the Iran bogeyman, whether real or imagined, is reshaping everyone’s strategic calculations, and revealing the ways in which many of the internal alliances and faultlines are irrational. The alliance, for instance, between secular, Baathist Syria and revolutionary Islamist Iran is contre nature. So, too, is the Arab-Israeli conflict, where the two sides’ interests converge on all fronts, and where according to many accounts the actual conflict exists in lip service only (Egyptian and Saudi support for the Gaza operation targeting Hamas, for instance).

Also significant, and which I wish I’d had the time to discuss yesterday on France 24, is Bashar el-Assad’s emphasis in his Guardian interview on a return to the Madrid format and Arab peace initiative — that is, an Arab, as opposed to bilateral, solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In light of the urgent moves towards Arab reconciliation that Marc Lynch has been flagging, Syria re-entering a reconciled — if not unified — “Arab camp,” which Assad seems to be signaling as a goal if not a predetermined outcome, would be an enormous realignment, whether or not Syria subsequently rejects its ties to Iran (which is unlikely).

Fantastic as it may seem, if relations between the U.S. and Iran are subsequently improved, the result could be something that resembles a stable regional arrangement. For all the ambient pessimism, and despite George W. Bush’s disastrous and reckless regional policies, we seem to be at a crossroads where the Middle East might either descend into further conflict and chaos or else shape-shift like a Tetris block into a coherent whole.