Our region, the Middle East, is fraught with anticipation of war to a degree perhaps without precedent at any time in its history. Many regional developments hinge on just this possibility. Even the current developments in Syria cannot under any circumstances be separated from the possibility that war will erupt [in the region]. Indeed, lately it has seemed clear that the inflamed situation in Syria is part of this anticipated war, or that war that the West and Israel insist on is imminent. By this, of course, we refer to the war on Iran.
Iran, which rejects out of hand that Israel should wage any attack against her, is readying itself for this war. It has seemingly accepted the probability that such a war will occur and is, indeed, all but inevitable. For preparations for war continue marching on, even if the party threatening that war appears reluctant to carry it out. And indeed, hesitation over whether or not to go to war has gone on longer than in any previous war. Israel has issued threats of war continuously, while the United States which supports Israel as an indispensable military power in confronting Iran has grown increasingly certain with each passing week and month of the past two years that an attack on Iran is fraught with grave danger both for Israel and for US interests in the region.
The circumstances in the Middle East make it clear that the US the actor most convinced of the futility of any attack on Iran is doing everything within its ability to ignite the flames of civil war in Syria. The US wishes to make it clear that Egypt cannot remain aloof from the possibility of an Israeli war against Iran. Egypt will, at the least, be required not to demonstrate any interest in what should befall Iran at Israeli hands. Despite this, the evidence from the last several weeks indicates that the US is to some degree prepared to accept a rapprochement between President Morsi's government, but only within limits set by Washington. And perhaps this change in the US' position vis-a-vis Egyptian-Iranian relations is connected to Washington's attempts to convince Israel that it does not command sufficient anti-Iranian political support to wage such a war.
As for Morsi's position on this matter, he seems to be pulling back from the total Egyptian boycott of Iran, which seemed likely when the latter first proposed convening a Non-Aligned summit in Tehran. Morsi understood, albeit late in the game, that his absence would harm Egypt's position and stature in this increasingly necessary international diplomatic front. It appears that the Egyptian President is exerting himself to convince Washington that his attending the Non-Aligned Bloc's conference in Tehran has greater potential to benefit US policy in the region than to harm it. This is doubly so in light of the diverging US and Israeli assessments of what can be achieved with an attack on Iran. It seems that Morsi is attempting to convince Washington that it has already made up its mind on the matter.
However complications and insurmountable obstacle lie in front of the steps that current and former professional diplomats in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry have long suggested: namely, the need to restore diplomatic representation between Cairo and Tehran as a necessary preliminary to President Morsi's attending the Non-Aligned Summit in Tehran. It is commonly said in Egyptian diplomatic circles that, for over 30 years, Washington has not given Cairo the green light to move toward restoring Egypt's broken ties with Iran. Meanwhile Cairo insists that Egyptian political efforts can succeed in convincing Iran and other powers active in the Non-Aligned Movement to guarantee that the summit's resolutions will include a clause that moderates, rather than simply supporting outright, Tehran's quest to obtain nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Nevertheless, the Non-Aligned summit in Tehran will almost certainly devote the utmost possible attention to the problem of ongoing Israeli threats against Iran. It is virtually certain that the concluding statement of such a summit will be more consonant with the Iranian position, as the positions of the Non-Aligned nations are all greatly supportive of Iran's position and its right to possess nuclear technology (and were so even prior to the summit being called for). Certainly Egypt cannot evade this general position at the Summit, no matter how much pressure the US or Israel exert. Neither Egypt's situation nor its political position [vis-a-vis the US] will change, regardless of whether or not President Morsi attends the conference. However, Egypt's status will be greatly diminished in the non-aligned bloc of nations if the Egyptian President fails to attend.
Israel has placed itself in a dilemma by continually threatening to launch a ferocious attack against Iran. Indeed, Benjamin Netanyahu's threats against Iran have aroused strong domestic Israeli opposition, particularly from Shaul Mofaz, the Leader of Opposition in the Knesset. Indeed, the latter recently declared that "any preemptive military strike against Iran arising from its nuclear program could pull Israel into a catastrophic war." Mofaz has also expressed his belief that Israel "is planning to do something hasty and reckless."
Israel's dilemma is growing sharper and more acute. This is because Israel stands to lose regardless of what happens. If it embarks on an attack against Iran without receiving direct US support, it loses. Particularly when one considers the intelligence estimates that have long ranked Israeli military power as fourth in the world after the US, Russia and China, and as by far the strongest regional power in the Middle East. Israel stands to lose this status if it persists in its political and military hesitation, which has already dallied long and does not fit with the image of its vaunted military capabilities.
Israel loses if it rushes, despite US attempts to restrain it, into an attack on Iran. It also loses if it does not move to attack, but instead continues to hesitate. Nowhere on the horizon does it appear like Israel is capable of retracting its threats against Iran, particularly if Benjamin Netanyahu's government remains in power. The situation then requires the formation of a new Israeli government which can take a more reasonable position. Such changes will not occur except at the expense of a united position that could satisfy both Israel and its divided public opinion. If one had to judge based upon the current situation, then Israel appears divided against itself more than at any prior time. It is waiting to see if Egypt will play a constructive role, from an Israeli perspective, at the Non-Aligned Summit. It understands that the role of the Arab governments that leaned towards a more compliant position with regard to American policy towards Israel (such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE) will not be able to play an influential role at the Non-Aligned summit such that will strengthen this diplomatic orientation, so placid towards Israel and so subservient to the US.
If one were to note the consistency of the Iranian position concerning their rejection of any Israeli initiative to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, one would have to note also Iran's surpassing interest in being prepared both for for the attack itself as well as for the necessity of responding. One would be able to see how these positive factors in Iranian policy have crystallized Iran's expected position at the Non-Aligned summit (which will be hosted in Iran and which will lead to one of the most important diplomatic roles that Iran can play in the current circumstances).
The US remains eager to analyze with great care the concluding statement of the Front of Non-Aligned states, especially from the perspective of their support Iran in its confrontation with Israel both if that conflict remains political and if it moves from the political to the military. It is no secret that America's hesitation nevertheless goes hand in hand with a powerful interest in waging a political offensive against Iran and tightening the economic sanctions so as to maintain Israel's long-term ability to compete. This despite the fact that these sanctions, even by the admission of most in America itself, are incapable of weakening Iranian resolve. The American attacks against Iran in the war of statements and articles have played a double role as well. American newspapers friendly to the current administration, such as the Herald Tribune, have recently reported that, according to their information, Iran is equipping its allies in the Middle East with Weapons of Mass Destruction. They noted that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps mentions on its website that Iran has equipped its allies with weapons of this type and that they can be used in a war against Israel. It is ironic that such information, regardless of its truth or falsehood, increases Israelis' terror of what an Israeli attack on Iran may hold for them in terms of an Iran's response and that of her allies in the region (Syria and Hezbollah), particularly in terms of an attack employing WMDs. This amounts to an indirect reference to chemical and biological weapons.
The situation in the Middle East as we near the the Non-Aligned Summit is exceedingly complex and profoundly dangerous. But it is certain that Israel senses the danger more than at any time in the past, a point that Washington seeks to drive home in its daily pieces of advice to Tel Aviv. Indeed, Israel feels the danger to its traditional role as the guardian of American interests in the Middle East; if, in the event Israel struck Iran militarily and was dealt a severe defeat, it would threaten the role Israel has carefully cultivated in the region since its founding.
It is still natural for us to wonder where the Egyptian position in all this lies, especially if Morsi should attend the Non-Aligned Summit. The argument in Egypt concerning this matter is intense and characterized by conflicting positions. There are calls for a positive Egyptian position towards Iran for the sake of a large and positive Egyptian role in the Non-Aligned summit. Its proponents point to many benefits that might accrue to Egypt as a result. On the other hand there is the position held by certain sectors some of which are represented in Morsi's government that counsels heeding American advice to Cairo in matters pertaining to Iran.
It is no mystery that the first position is clearly the predominant one, seeing as how Egypt's position toward Iran will determine Egypt's position toward the coming war in the Middle East.