Iraq horror hands Israel a dream coalition

By Anshel Pfeffer, August 14, 2014

The decision by the Obama administration to launch air-strikes against Isis in Iraq over the weekend has brought to the fore a new Middle East crisis that, at least for a few days, overtook Gaza as the world's number one story.

But beyond shifting international attention, the chaos in Iraq, which is rapidly redrawing boundaries in the region, could have major implications for Israel.

President Barack Obama's decision to support the Kurdish battle against jihadi forces and to back the replacement of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad is an indication that his administration may be prepared for the first time to forcefully take sides in the region's main conflict. This could well be a crucial stage in the disintegration of Iraq and the emergence of an independent Kurdish state. Israel already has discreet ties with the Kurds and at least one deal to buy locally extracted oil.

The threat now posed by Isis to Jordan and Lebanon could lead to a wider regional alliance taking in Saudi Arabia - which has already promised $1bn in military aid to Lebanon - the US and Israel.

Iran and its proxy, Hizbollah, also enemies of Isis, are already over-extended in their campaign to support the Assad regime in Syria. In this scenario, both would be isolated, along with their remaining allies in Baghdad and Damascus.

Israel already has discreet ties with the Kurds

Greater Saudi influence over Lebanon would hurt Hizbollah's capacity to threaten Israel. Meanwhile, with the US no longer relying on Iran to provide regional stability, the Islamic Republic's bargaining power in next month's nuclear talks could be greatly diminished.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have tried to draw comparisons between Hamas and Isis, but the analogy is a poor one. While they both are Sunni Islamist movements, there is a great deal of difference between the Muslim Brotherhood's political Islam, upon which Hamas was founded, and Isis's vision of a global caliphate.

Israel is now part of the Egypt-Saudi coalition, which sees both streams as enemies and is trying to convince the Americans to adopt a similar attitude.

The fact that in Gaza some jihadist groups, including a number of former Hamas members, are already identifying with Isis, may make that easier.

Israel, Egypt and the Saudis are all now on the same side. It remains to be seen whether the US administration will give up its hopes of placating Iran and instead follow up on its new campaign in northern Iraq by joining the new coalition. Such a move would change the face of the region.

Last updated: 3:02pm, August 15 2014