What's the best evidence that things are really changing in the Mideast? It is the spectacle of Israel and Saudi Arabia, hitherto America's two closest allies in the region, glowering darkly on the sidelines (and more or less in unison) as the United States and Iran begin an engagement that is already more profound than anything we've seen since the Iranian revolution of 1979.
This historic shift, punctuated by the signing Saturday of a six-month, nuclear-freeze deal that both Israel and Saudi Arabia had loudly opposed, could potentially transform the entire region. If the rapprochement between Washington and Tehran continues—a very big if—it could open new doors to the resolution of long-festering conflicts that have left the two countries on the opposite side of bloody divides in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and even the Israeli-Palestinian issue, altering the strategic landscape in a way not seen, perhaps, since President Nixon blindsided the Soviets by making friends with Communist China at the height of the Cold War.
What is most striking about Saturday's agreement is that the Obama Administration appears to be declaring partial independence from the policy of Israel and Saudi Arabia, whose hard-line stances toward Iran have seriously constrained U.S. action, especially over the last decade. "Finally, the dog wags the tail. Tough luck for Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu!" says Fawaz Gerges, a scholar of the Middle East at the London School of Economics and author of the recent book The New Middle East: Protest and Revolution in the Arab World.