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by Martin Kramer


Martin Kramer made these remarks at the 8th Herzliya Conference on January 21, 2007.

Lately it has been said that the Arabs are in a panic over the growing power of Iran. We are told that Arab rulers so fear the rise of Iran that this fear has eclipsed all others – it's the sum of all fears. And it's making a new Middle East

That is what David Brooks, New York Times columnist, wrote last November:

"Iran has done what decades of peace proposals have not done – brought Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Palestinians and the U.S. together. You can go to Jerusalem or to some Arab capitals and the diagnosis of the situation is the same: Iran is gaining hegemonic strength over the region."

Martin Indyk of the Saban Center used the same language in a November interview. Iran, he said, was making "a bid for hegemony in the region."

The Sunni Arab states, and... Israel, suddenly found that they were on the same side against the Iranians. And so that created a strategic opportunity which the [Bush] administration has finally come to recognize, and that's, more than anything else, what's fueling the move to Annapolis.

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Just last month, Iran's President Ahmadinejad was invited to attend the summit of Arab Gulf rulers (the Gulf Cooperation Council) in Qatar. That was the first time an Iranian president had ever attended a GCC summit. Two weeks later, Ahmadinejad arrived Mecca, for the haj pilgrimage, at the invitation of Saudi King Abdullah. It was the first pilgrimage by an Iranian president since Iran's revolution. And as any travel log of Arab and Iranian ministers will show, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

What game are the Gulf Arabs playing? Pretend for a moment that you are ruler of a mythical state called Gulfistan, and I am your national security adviser. You have asked me to prepare a memo on our strategic situation. Page one:

Now obviously I've simplified things here. There is no typical Arab Gulf state like Gulfistan – different Gulf states have different interests and different policies. That is why we have Gulf experts.

But this isn't the place to explore what distinguishes, say, Kuwait from Saudi Arabia. The point I want to make is this:

We all know how little fuel there is right here to keep the Annapolis process going. At this point, Israelis and Palestinians are running on fumes. That's why Martin Indyk said that most of the fuel for Annapolis would have to come from a grand anti-Iran coalition. But the reality is that the coalition never formed, and now even its premises have disintegrated.

Assembling this coalition was bound to be difficult; after the NIE, it has become impossible.

We have been here before. Every few years, a prophet arises to proclaim a new Middle East, including Israel. In the 1990s, peace between Israel and the Palestinians was supposed to turn the Middle East into a zone of economic cooperation – including Israel. Then we were told that Iraq's liberation would turn the Middle East into a zone of democracy – including Israel. A few months ago, we were told that the Iranian threat would turn the Middle East into a zone of political and military alliance – including Israel.

This latest new Middle East has had the shortest life of them all. Apparently, new Middle Easts just aren't what they used to be.

Martin Kramer is. the Wexler-Fromer Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Olin Institute Senior Fellow at Harvard University, and Adelson Institute Senior Fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. Contact him by email on his website: This article appeared January 23, 2008 on

Thanks are due KAE for sending in this article.


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