10.12.2017 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

What Will Trump’s Recognition of Jerusalem Lead To?


With Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a new wave of both political and geo-political upheavals is likely to set in. This, however, is not going to simply unite the Muslim world in the name of religion; it might as well accelerate the processes of disintegration and fragmentation within the Arab world, creating a new logic for struggle and resistance against both Israel and its allies in the Arab word, particularly Saudi Arabia which is secretly strengthening its relations with Israel in its active pursuit of an anti-Iran agenda in the Middle East. Significantly enough, the decision of the US president Donald Trump, who along with his son-in-law Jared Kushner (read: Kushner’s “peace plan”) is the key link in the chain tying the House of Saud and Israel, could not have come about without a prior understanding between the House of Saud and Israel on the issue; for, besides many other things, the decision crucially involves a permanent end to the Palestine-Israel peace-process of which Saudi Arabia has been a key member.

Ending that process, therefore, means that the House of Saud does no longer give priority to this process and accordingly found it convenient to give it the nod. For Saudi Arabia, especially after the disastrous failure its policies in Syria vis-à-vis Assad have faced, Iran is the bigger problem that requires strong allies in the region—and no other state other than Israel could be that ally; hence, the convergence of Saudi-Israeli interests and the beginning of big geo-political jolts across the entire mid-eastern landscape.

That this decision is very much a part of new geo-political front against Iran is more than an open secret. Iran has sensed it as has Hezbollah and Turkey. “Trump had support from the Arabs or else he wouldn’t have been able to do this,” said Nasrallah. He also said that Donald Trump has issued “a second Balfour Declaration”, implying thereby the beginning of new era of armed resistance against Israel and its Arab allies; hence, his call for a new “intifada.” Clearly, with Hassan Nasrallah now calling for armed resistance—and by doing that he is also throwing the idea of potential alliance with the ‘disgruntled’ Arabs—is placing himself, as also Iran, as the vanguard of Arab nationalism under Persian influence.

This partly explains why Saudi Arabia has publicly ‘condemned’ Trump’s decision. In the wake of Hezbollah’s calls for “intifada”, the House of Saud seems to have calculated that it might have to pay a heavy price if it was seen as a force shying away from criticising its ally, the US.

Is then Trump’s decision his most crucial error, one that will significantly alter the Middle East’s geo-political landscape to the US’ disadvantage? Probably it is. Besides the fact that it is likely to provide Iran a leeway to extend its influence in the Arab world, the Arab masses themselves, who are already deeply anti-US, will find yet another reason to mount up their anti-US an anti-Israel sentiments and political action. This will difficult for the US to maintain its own influence. As the current US secretary of defence James Mattis noted in 2013: “I paid a military security price every day as a commander of [Central Command] because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel.”

Now this will accelerate given that relations between the Arab countries and Israel are also improving. Netanyahu himself didn’t hesitate to acknowledge this fact in his ‘victory’ speech when he said, “Peace treaties, no. Everything else below that, yes, and it’s happening.” And among other things happening between them, military co-operation against Iran is perhaps the most prominent. Hebrew markings have been seen on Israeli-manufactured ordnance used in the Saudi-led campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen. The UAE is known to have bought military equipment from Israel.

Iran, therefore, has every reason to see in this move a larger regional game beginning to be played. However, it isn’t just Iran that will potentially benefit from this ‘bond-in-the-making’ between the Israelis and the Saudia-led Gulf-Arab states. Turkey, too, is likely to use the scenario to revamp its regional clout. This is already on the cards. When Trump made his Jerusalem announcement, Jordan’s king was in talks with Erdogan and both jointly expressed their reservations over the decision. Jordan, which is also the custodian of Islamic holy sites in the city of Jerusalem, therefore has much to worry about, and the Jordanian king’s visit to Turkey was accordingly aimed at what the king said discussing “challenges we are facing in the region.”

While Turkey under Erdogan has long supported the Palestinian position, Jordon fears that the Jerusalem crisis will trigger new conflict, and seems to find in Turkey an ally to deal with that wave. Turkey, on its part, hosted Hamas officials as recently as July, and it is believed that if Hamas officials left Qatar they would choose Turkey for their base.

And, both Iran and Turkey, who have been working closely in Syria to out-manoeuvre the Saudis and the US, are likely to find in the Jerusalem crisis another reason to build on their still precarious relations and move towards a working, if not a full strategic, alliance.

The Israel-US-Saudi nexus has therefore, by declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, set in motion forces that might produce results of far reaching consequences, results which might not necessarily be favourable to either of them. Iran will get stronger as will Turkey in the Arab world, and this will only further provoke the nexus to propagate its war hysteria and feed it to the general masses, who in themselves remain caught between their ruling regimes’ policies and interests and their religious affiliations with Jerusalem and sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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