Speaking last night via satellite to the AIPAC policy conference gala, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hailed a new era of cooperation between enemies — against a greater enemy:
Friends, there is something significant that is happening today in the Middle East, and I can say that for the first time in my lifetime, I believe for the first time in a century, that Arabs and Jews see a common danger. This wasn’t always the case. In the ’30’s and ’40’s, many in the Arab world supported another country believing that that was their hope. In the ’60’s, ’70’ and ’80’s, they supported another country that was at odds with the Jewish state. But this is no longer the case.
There is a great challenge afoot. But that challenge also presents great opportunities. The common danger is echoed by Arab leaders throughout the Middle East; it is echoed by Israel repeatedly; it is echoed by Europeans, by many responsible governments around the world. And if I had to sum it up in one sentence, it is this: Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
From the perspective of Netanyahu’s own political interests, it’s understandable why he should try to push this sort of cooperation against Iran: In addition to responding to a genuine threat, it makes him look like a uniter. Perhaps just as importantly, it draws attention away from his refusal to explicitly endorse a Palestinian state. From the perspective of America’s interests, however, it seems potentially very troublesome.
Over the several years, Iranian President Ahmadinejad has had considerable success in positioning Iran as the standard bearer of Islamic “resistance,” against the U.S., Israel, and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. In a recent interview, University of Tehran professor Hossein Seifzadeh, who is now a fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said that Iran’s anti-Israel rhetoric has been “a successful exercise in public diplomacy in the Arab world.”
“The whole image of Iran in the Middle East has changed. Ten years ago, Iran was regarded simply as a Shi’a state.”
Because of his high profile position on Israel and the Palestinians, however, Ahmadinejad has now become “the most popular figure in the Middle East”, according to Seifzadeh.
We’ve often heard concerns from conservatives about President Obama’s outreach to Iran potentially tipping the scales in favor of Iran’s hardliners, led by Ahmadinejad. It’s hard to imagine a more effective strategy for doing just that than Bibi Netanyahu promoting an Israeli alliance with Arab regimes — who, as Israeli representatives never tire of reminding us, are authoritarian, undemocratic, and unpopular — against Iran.