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Afghanistan Crisis | How US withdrawal has got Israel jittery

Any hopes of stabilisation towards the war-ravaged MENA will be set back if the US and Israel don’t let the events in Afghanistan to pan out on their own, and give the Muslim world a respite from conflict 

August 25, 2021 / 12:18 PM IST
Image: Reuters

Image: Reuters

The Taliban takeover has rattled Israel, disapprovingly watching the United States being ‘unreliable’ and ‘sensing an opportunity’ of arresting its retrenchment from West Asia — to focus on a new Great Power Contest with China — by raising tensions with Iran, that will force a US presence.

Israeli intelligence sources say they want to ‘leverage events there’ in their favour by pressing US President Joe Biden from re-entering the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA or Iran nuclear deal). While curbing Iran’s nuclear programme, Washington also lifted sanctions that gave Tehran access to international banking and commerce, which strengthened it economically and geopolitically before Israel’s rumoured-ally Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Believing Israel is now the “only significant force stable and determined enough to stand up to Iran,”, its Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett have talked about forming regional alliances against ‘Iranian terrorism’. Bennett said he would tell Biden “to not give (the Iranians) a lifeline in the form of re-entering into an expired nuclear deal” in his upcoming visit to the White House on August 26. Already under fire for being ‘weak’ on Afghanistan, Biden is expected to be under pressure to maintain the debilitating sanctions on Iran — which itself begins its ‘pivot to the East and Eurasia’ firmly part of Russian and Chinese grand design.

Pro-government Israeli media suggest the Jewish nation can offer itself for “close security cooperation (to) better defend themselves if the US will not be there in the end,” but (without expecting) “Israel will send troops to save their regime.” On August 12, Lapid said they were creating a “diplomatic axis of Israel, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) against Iran.” Of these, Bahrain, the UAE, Sudan and Morocco had signed the Abraham Accords in August 2020 normalising ties with Israel. Bahrain is key to Israel’s West Asia doorway.

Meanwhile, the spectre of the Taliban victory inspiring terrorists in West Asia is raised. The Taliban has denounced Wahhabism, long after its 1996-2001 regime when it was stuck with Saudi and Emirati funding and sheltering Al-Qaeda. The Taliban’s devout Hanafi and Deobandi Islam rooted in Afghan nationalism and ‘Political Islam’, is at cross purposes with the militant assertion and global power projection of Wahhabism.

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The Taliban shares this Political Islamic vision with the Hamas, which congratulated it on its victory, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Qatar — all three of whom rattle Saudis and the Emiratis. Qatar was the epicentre of the negotiations with the Taliban which had set up a political office in Doha, bearing how Riyadh and Abu Dhabi had lost control over the group.

The upcoming legislative assembly (Shura Council) elections in Qatar has exposed Saudi and Emirati insecurity with the democratic process threatening their lavish monarchies. The duo were ecstatic seeing Tunisian President Kais Saied’s populist coup against the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Ennahada Party — allegedly even backing it. Eight years ago, in 2013, it was then Egyptian Defence Minister (and now President) Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s coup against and subsequent execution of the brotherhood’s Mohammad Morsi.

Sissi’s General Intelligence Directorate chief Abbas Kamel met Bennett on August 18, carrying an invitation from Sissi that revealed the fervent efforts against a possible face off with Hamas — most likely over Tel Aviv that was holding up the distribution of Qatari humanitarian aid in Gaza, which it insisted be undertaken by the Fatah-controlled and Israel-friendly Palestinian Authority and banks. Israel had claimed the aid, that pays the salaries of many of Fatah and Hamas civil servants, also goes to the families of ‘terrorists’.

This is happening in the midst of unprecedented realignment in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region that involves a never-before-possible secret (yet inconclusive) rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Turkey and Egypt and Riyadh and Doha itself. Any hopes of stabilisation towards the war-ravaged region will be set back if the US and Israel don’t let the events in Afghanistan  pan out on their own, and give the Muslim world a respite from conflict.

With Yemen still burning, Libya’s fire put out and Syria lighting up every now and then, Afghanistan’s stability would be the first real end to a ‘forever war’, letting the weary pick up and mend the broken pieces of their lives.

Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.
Parth Satam is a journalist who has been covering India’s defence sector for more than a decade. Twitter: @ParthSatam. Views are personal.

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