On Monday, while IDF troops were clearing the last Hamas terrorists from Israeli communities near the Gaza border, Benjamin Netanyahu promised that ‘we are going to change the Middle East’. Only two Israeli prime ministers have spoken like that before. One was Menachem Begin when he waged war on the PLO in Lebanon in 1982. The other was Yitzhak Rabin when he made peace with the PLO in 1993. Neither fully succeeded, but both reshaped the regional balance.
What Netanyahu understands is that the regional balance is shifting once again. It has moved away from the West vs East bipolar order of the Cold War and on from the brief American unipolar moment that followed. The emerging order is multipolar. After decades of American exception, history is onshoring onto the Eurasian landmass and the Middle East is completing its transition from postcolonial weakness to independent sphere.
The Middle East has long been a chessboard of mutual loathing. As American influence ebbs, the region’s historic patterns are reemerging. The non-Arab powers on its northern and eastern margins, the Turks and Persians, have resumed their imperial efforts to control the fractious Arabs. The Sunni-Shia schism is now expressed in the struggle between two visions of regional integration, one imposed by Iran, the other led by the Gulf Arab states in concert with Israel.
As a result, for the first time in the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict, the leader whose opinion will matter most in Jerusalem won’t be outsiders like the presidents of American or Russia. They will be a pair of Arab princes: Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Zayed of the UAE, the double act known as MbS and MbZ. With the prospect of a nuclear Iran dominating the region, these two Sunni autocrats are aligning themselves with Israel.