Middle East diplomats wonder: Who will fill the regional power vacuum as America withdraws?

Here we return to the question posed by my Lebanese friends around the dinner table — about who would fill the power vacuum in the region. My sense is that Israel and Saudi Arabia would love to scuttle an American rapprochement with an Iran they regard as a deadly adversary. But if Obama presses ahead, Netanyahu is bidding to replace the United States as military protector of the status quo, including the security of the Gulf Arabs.

Strategically, this de-facto Israeli alliance with the Saudis is an extraordinary opportunity for Israel. And for Fabius, there’s a chance to position the French as the West’s prime weapons supplier to the Saudis, gaining France hundreds of billions of dollars in the post-American era in the Gulf. For opportunistic reasons, no wonder Israel and France want to detonate the U.S.-Iranian rapprochement. But will this really aid their security?

The Obama administration would counter (correctly, I think) that embracing the Saudi strategy of an ever-deepening Sunni-Shiite divide is unwise. The schism will fuel permanent sectarian war in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The Saudis now are blocking formation of any government in Lebanon, for example, to obstruct Iran’s ally, Hezbollah. In Syria, the Saudis seem ready to fight the Sunni-Shiite battle down to the last Syrian.