The Iran Question

Tom Friedman is right. The Gaza War about who is going to join Israel as the regional superpower in the Middle East -- Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Iran? The answer is obvious. The Saudis and, particularly, the Egyptians have demonstrated such pathetically myopic self-interest to entirely discredit any claim to regional influence. Meanwhile, the Iranian investment in Hezbollah and Hamas is proving to be a brilliant political move guaranteeing that an Arab-Israeli piece runs through Tehran. 

Former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht reiterates Iran's central Middle Eastern role in this morning's WSJ. As Gerecht notes, Egypt's political future may well also run through Tehran:

Through Hamas, Tehran can possibly reach the ultimate prize, theEgyptian faithful. For reasons both ancient and modern, Egypt has perhaps the most Shiite-sympathetic religious identity in the Sunni Arab world. As long as Hamas remains the center of the Palestinian imagination -- and unless Hamas loses its military grip on Gaza, it will continue to command the attention of both the Arab and Western media -- Egypt's politics remain fluid and potentially volatile. Tehran is certainly under no illusions about the strength of Egypt's military dictatorship, but the uncertainties in Egypt are greater now than they have been since the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981.

But what neither Gerecht nor Friedman acknowledge is that the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East is for the Iranians to emerge as regional counter power to Israel. The Palestine problem will never be solved until there is some sort of strategic rebalance of power in the region. Without that balance, the Gaza War will beget more Gaza Wars, more civilian massacres, more mutual bloodshed.

The most significant foreign policy challenge for Obama is the question of whether to do business with Iran over both their nuclear ambitions and a viable Middle Eastern peace. It's in almost everyone's long-term strategic interest -- the Americans, the Palestinians, even the Israelis -- to bring the Iranians to the negotiating table. If Obama has the nerve, he could realign the region and force a peace that would, in turn, encourage political reform in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. If not, if Obama refuses to acknowledge the new reality of Iranian power in the region, then the situation will to degenerate to the point that an Israeli-Iranian war will be inevitable.