ONE OF the most famous lines in German poetry is «Don’t greet me under the lime trees.»
The Jewish-German poet Heinrich Heine asks his sweetheart not to embarass him in public by greeting him in the main street of Berlin, which is called «Unter den Linden» («Under the Lime Trees»).
Israel is in the position of this illicit sweetheart. Arab countries are having an affair with her, but don’t want to be seen with her in public.
THE MAIN Arab country in question is Saudi Arabia. For some time now, the oil kingdom has been a secret ally of Israel, and vice versa.
In politics, national interests often trump ideological differences. This is so in this case.
The area referred to by Westerners as the «Middle East» is now polarized into two camps, led respectively by Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The northern arc consists of Shiite Iran, present-day Iraq with its Shiite majority, the main Syrian territory controlled by the Alawite (close to Shiite) community and Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The Southern bloc, led by Sunni Saudi Arabia, consists of the Sunni states of Egypt and the Gulf principalities. In a shadowy way, they are connected with the Sunni Islamic Caliphate, a.k.a. Daesh or Isis, which has lodged itself between Syria and Iraq. Except for Egypt, which is as poor as a mosque mouse, they are all stinking rich with oil.
The northern arc is supported by Russia, which just now has given the Assad family in Syria a massive military boost. The southern bloc has been supported until recently by the US and its allies.
THIS IS an orderly picture, as it should be. People around the world don’t like complicated situations, especially if they make it difficult to distinguish between friends and enemies.
Take Turkey. Turkey is a Sunnite country, formerly secular but now ruled by a religious party. So it is logical that it quietly supports Daesh.
Turkey also fights against the Syrian Kurds, which fight against Daesh, and who are allied with the Kurdish minority in Turkey, which is considered by the Turkish government as a deadly menace.
(The Kurds are a separate people, neither Arab nor Turkish, who are divided between Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, and generally unable to unite. They are mostly Sunnis.)
The US is fighting against Assad’s Syria, which is supported by Russia. But the US is also fighting against Daesh, which is fighting against Assad’s Syria. The Syrian Kurds are fighting against Daesh, but also against Assad’s forces. The Lebanese Hezbollah strongly supports Syria, a traditional enemy of Lebanon, and keeps the Assad regime alive, while fighting against Daesh, side by side with the US, a deadly enemy of Hezbollah. Iran supports Assad and fights against Daesh, side by side with the US, Hezbollah and the Syrian Kurds.
Can’t make sense of this? You are not alone.
Recently the US has changed its orientation. Until then, the picture was clear. The US needed the Saudi oil, as cheaply as the King could supply it. It also hated Iran, since the Shiite Islamists threw out the Iranian Shah of Shahs, an American stooge. The Islamists captured the American diplomats in Tehran and held them as hostages. To get them out, the US provided the Iranian army with weapons, via Israel (this was called Irangate). Iran was at war with Iraq, which was under the Sunni dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. The Americans supported Saddam against Iran, but later invaded Iraq, hanged him and effectively turned Iraq over to Iran, their deadly enemy.
Now the US is having second thoughts (if all this mess has much to do with «thoughts»). Its traditional alliance with Saudi Arabia against Iran does not look so attractive anymore. The US dependence on Arabian oil is not so strong as it was. Suddenly the Saudi religious tyranny does not look so much more attractive than the Iranian religious democracy and its beckoning market. After all, against the 20 million native Saudis there are 80 million Iranians.
So now we have a US-Iranian agreement. Western sanctions on Iran are being lifted. It looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship, threatening to leave the multitudes of Saudi princes seething with anger and shaking with fear.