Last week’s Warsaw Summit was a not-so-successful attempt by the United States to form a broad international coalition to support the Trump administration’s Middle East policies.
The US had a number of goals it wanted to advance with the conference. The first being putting an end to Iran’s nuclear and regional hegemonic ambitions — by means of a resolute international coalition and isolating the regime by economic sanctions, imposed by the US after they withdrew from the 2015 nuclear pact.
The Middle East countries that attended the conference fear Iran’s regional reach, are eager to receive US military and economic aid and are anyways in the United States’ pocket.
But the US also invited European and Asian countries in order to demonstrate to the Iranians that although some countries publicly opposed the US withdrawal from the agreement, they nevertheless intend to get in line and abide by the re-imposition of sanctions.
Another goal of the conference was the US’ desire to prevent Russia from becoming a dominant power in the Middle East and Eastern Europe by means of demonstrating American commitment to its (recently joined) NATO and EU allies, chief among them Poland, which has been threatened by Putin’s Russia for allowing the US (and NATO) to establish military bases on their soil, near Russia’s western borders.
A European cold shoulder
But the goals were not met. The EU’s dominant members — Germany, France, Britain, Italy — all refused to adhere to the unequivocal anti-Iran stance. Consequently, the US and Poland altered the conference’s stated goal and added a few others so as to diminish the anti-Iran aspect.
The Polish Foreign Minister declared that the conference’s goals are: the regulation of weapons of mass destruction — a whitewashed expression referring to Iran’s nuclear program; solving humanitarian problems —meaning solving the Syrian refugee crisis as well as the matter of Gaza; the war on terror — meaning the Iranian entrenchment in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon; energy security —meaning the necessity to provide a military solution to Iran’s ballistic missile threat toward the Sunni Arab states and Iran’s threats against the freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf and Straits of Hormuz.
As a result, member states of the EU agreed to attend the conference but they sent low level diplomats, embarrassing the organizers and to Iran’s satisfaction.
But the US sustained a real slap in the face during the conference itself when the EU refused to budge on its support for the Iran deal and refused to cancel the economic mechanism put in place to override American sanctions against Iran.
An Arab NATO
In order that the conference not be a complete failure, the Trump administration decided to add the goal of consolidating political and economic support for the “deal of the century” to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This goal is in line with the conference’s stated goal of stabilizing the Middle East and it gave Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt (the ones behind the scheme) an opportunity to enlist the moderate Arab states in support of the deal.
The Gulf states are expected to provide the economic aspect of the deal, which is based on dramatically improving the lives of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in return for a peace agreement and normalized relations between the Jewish state and the Arab world.
Nevertheless, the Americans failed to garner the support they sought even after softening the summit’s anti-Iranian stance. It was a public relations debacle for the US and a clear victory for Iran.
On the other hand, the conference did indicate a strong likelihood for the formation of an Arab NATO alliance of sorts that would include the Gulf states, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia.
Warsaw demonstrated that the Arab states are eager to include Israel as an important partner in the anti-Iran alliance led by the US, but only behind the scenes. As long as the Palestinian issue remains on the table, they are not ready to be seen as partners in any initiative together with Israel, despite the advantages for them.
Prime Minister Netanyahu often points to contacts and cooperation regarding the Iranian threat between Israel and the Arab states taking place behind the scenes, as he did in Warsaw, but these have been ongoing for some time and nothing changed in Warsaw. Keep in mind that during the term of prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, Israeli officials sat at the same table with Arab leaders at the Madrid conference in 1990.
Meanwhile, European countries who sent low level diplomats to the conference, still wish to maintain the Iran deal and continue doing business with the country, but they oppose Iran’s ballistic missiles program and are still seeking to make amendments to the deal.
No diplomatic breakthrough
Israel and the prime minister are the primary beneficiaries of the conference. The very fact that Netanyahu sat at the same table with senior Arab officials presents another crack in the effort to isolate Israel on the diplomatic front and serves as a psychological victory.
These states continue to support the Palestinian struggle and are not willing to normalize relations with Israel until there is a long-term solution to the conflict, but events in Warsaw were a significant step towards acceptance of Israel and eventual normalization. However, we ought to not get carried away by Netanyahu’s overstated excitement.
For Netanyahu the conference presented not only an excellent photo-op ahead of the elections, but also an opportunity to release self-congratulatory tweets and videos, sometimes irresponsibly, aimed at his electoral base and at voters deliberating between him and Gantz.
The main achievement of the conference, from the PM’s perspective, was that it portrayed him as a prominent world statesman in that he alone is capable of saving the country from the claws of the Iranians. It is understandable that the prime minister would do this ahead of the elections but some of his statements are better left unsaid and cause harm to national security.
There is no doubt that during his journey to Warsaw Netanyahu made unnecessary statements, including about the Polish role in the Holocaust, that have raised tensions in the region. He seems to have provoked Iranian officials to be eager for a confrontation with Israel in order to prove that Iran is not a punching bag.
So while Netanyahu retuned from Warsaw satisfied, US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo departed with far less than they had hoped for. The Gulf states were already seeing eye to eye with Washington on Iran and when it comes to Russia, the eastern European countries do as well. But Trump’s “deal of the century” did not make any progress.