3/3/14

Author’s note: The contours of this posting have been formulating in my mind for about 4-5 weeks now since the miserable ending of the so-called “Syrian Peace” process in Geneva. The events of the last few days in Ukraine have reinforced the logic of the proposal here and necessitated NO change in this blog.

Two overall comments are the basis for this revolutionary suggestion described in this blog:

Globally:

It is obvious that the U.S. under this president is withdrawing from the world and especially from the Middle East. I said many times that Obama practices the modern version of isolationism. Given today’s global connectivity in transportation, telecommunication, trade, and more, one cannot be a 1910-type isolationist. But Obama is a 2010 isolationist. The U.S. will pay a HUGE price for that if Obama achieves his policy goal, which is to withdraw 100% from the world in order, he thinks, to cause the world more evil players to leave the U.S. alone. Even if he succeeds in doing that, which is doubtful, the loss of world influence suffered by the U.S. will result in HUGE damages to the U.S. economy and ultimately a huge price paid in blood and treasure. The loss of the U.S. $ as the world reserves currency will make the U.S. in the same league as other normal countries and limit its financial flexibility and future economic growth. The preponderance of less open, free, and democratic régimes in the world that will follow will not be positive for global trade and economics and the U.S. will suffer most from that. The surge in world significance and power of players like China, Iran, and Russia will cause the U.S. to have slower economic growth, less prosperity, and become another “also ran” player. The problem with these other players is that one of them will sooner or later overplay their hand and another world war will be inevitable. A war for which the U.S. will be ill prepared for.

Middle East:

The Syrian conflict is an atrocity that is getting to be an unbearable stain on humanity. In the 1990s, the Balkan wars were the same but then you had a strong UK prime minster who helped a strong and compassionate U.S. president reach the conclusion that the U.S. must act—no act of congress was sought, no UN resolution was a pre-condition, not even a resolution by NATO. Clinton just went in and resolved Kosovo with about 68 days of bombing from the air. No such lack for the millions of Syrian refugees and 150,000 of Syrian dead. It is simply shocking that in 2014, as we pride ourselves at being the most liberal, open, and strong human rights society, the U.S. will allow such a disaster to occur without even caring.

This blog is about the new world order in the Middle East but it is not unrelated to global shifts in world power. Middle East players must come to terms with the huge power vacuum created by the U.S. complete withdrawal from the Middle East.

So who could fill that? There are a few options:

  • Real evil in the form of Iran who is clearly planning on trying to become the dominant player in the region and leverage the region’s oil and gas resources to attain a world super-power status.
  • Russia who is not evil as such but has no compassion or moral considerations. They will do what is good for them and what is in their interest in the game of regaining their status as super-power, irrespective of the price to human lives, civil rights, and such other Western niceties, which they consider nonsense. Russia is already flexing its muscles in the Middle East from Syria to newly strengthened relationships with Egypt and hedging their bets on Iran.
  • Or, alternatively, the only real Middle East super-power, Israel. In Middle Eastern terms, both militarily and economically, Israel is a super power. It’s newly found huge reserves of natural gas are giving it strength in the one area it was always missing—natural resources.

Israel, of course, is handicapped by the official stance of hostility between it and all other Middle Eastern counties, all Arab countries. So how can Israel be the dominant force in creating a new Middle East and a force for good?

I believe that it is time for Israel to act boldly, wisely, with great strategic thinking, and to use its military and economic muscle with precision while playing a major rule in reshaping the Middle East.

Here is what I would do:

Israel needs to present a proposal for a new Middle East order to Egypt first, then to Saudi (including all the Gulf Emirates), and finally, after garnering the support of these countries, get Russia on board.

The new order has to have something for each of these players. Something that will further their interests and make them more secure than they feel now.

Egypt will want to cooperate with Israel because Israel can support its fight against extremist Islamic terror groups that Egypt is now beginning to face after the ouster from power of the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, Israel can give Egypt huge support to its economic turnaround plan and use its good standing in the U.S. congress to help drive through a major economic support package for Egypt.

Saudi is afraid of Iran as much as if not more than Israel and while religiously they are not keen on Jews, they really are not bothered by Israel too much. They have become much more of a real-politic then religiously fervent type country. Israel and Saudi have been rumored before to engage in talks on various issues but clearly the Iranian threat is very potent to both and the old adage of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” is very true here. If Egypt will come on board with the new order promoted by Israel and help broker the deal, Saudi will come on board too. Especially, given that it’s traditional support, the USA has proven to be: “that splintered reed of a staff” discussed in the Bible.

The bigger nut to crack will be Russia. But here is the thing—Russia does not want Iran to be too powerful either. They are playing the game out of both sides of their mouth just so that they will win whatever the outcome is, but they clearly prefer not to have a powerful and threatening fundamentalist Islamic empire, caliphate, on its southern border incentivizing violence and unrest in the Muslim, already troubled, southern regions of Russia such as Chechnya, Dagestan, and more.

The Russian commitment to Assad in Syria has nothing to do with bonds or shared values. It is all about interests. If the Israeli/Egyptian/Saudi plan can assure them of those interests and even strengthen their status in the Middle East, they would come on board.

Timing now is perfect—the U.S. is disengaged and a spent force, Russia, is very pre-occupied with the Ukrainian situation; Iran does not yet possess nuclear arms. NOW is the time to act.

So what should a new Middle East order proposed and anchored by Israel look like?

I would propose to Egypt and Saudi an alliance that will include the following elements:

  • Strong support for the new Egyptian president who, in all but a forgone conclusion, is going to be el-Sisi. That will include massive support for its economic turnaround plan. Israel can provide expertise, strong lobby in the U.S. congress for economic help, and the Saudis together with the Gulf Emirates can provide many Billion of U.S. $. Together they can bring the world around to participate in Egypt’s economic recovery plan, which is so critical for Egypt and its new president.
  • A strong military intervention in Syria—that is the core of the proposal. Israel will annihilate Syrian air power in a day or two, Israel will train and equip the moderate opposition. It will help them fight Assad’s forces, Hezbollah, and the other Iranian forces supporting Assad as well as the Islamic extremists rebels. Israel can provide air support, intelligence, logistics, and communication. In short, Israel’s intervention on behalf of the moderate opposition will bring to an end this terrible conflict, this stain on the conscience of the international community, and provide a final victory for the moderate opposition.
  • As part of this military action, Israel with the support of Egypt, Saudi, and Gulf States will initiate its own campaign to eradicate Hezbollah in Lebanon. This will be a very difficult and indeed traumatic all-out war. Israel has fought many wars but this is likely to be one of the worst of them due to Hezbollah’s ability to cause serious damage and casualties to Israel’s civilian population. However, this is a war that will happen one way or another. There is simply no formula, no chain of events in which a major war between Israel and Hezbollah can be avoided. Better fight it now, at a time chosen by Israel. A time when Hezbollah are not as strong as they will be once Assad wins the Syrian crises and is in debt to them and while they are still very involved in Syria, and thus do not have their full fighting strength. This is another case of the famous rule that conflict delayed is a conflict enhanced. It is time for Israel to face the music here, irrespective of the cost. The fact that it will choose the timing, and that it will have regional support will make it so much easier than if this war erupts at a time less favorable to Israel. Israel will pay a high price in blood and damage but it needs to be done. Given that the Russians will be part of the grand bargain and the support from Saudi and Egypt, this time Israel should not stop until Hezbollah is eradicated.
  • Israel should offer the most generous peace, two-state solution it can possibly think of to the Palestinians. The offer should not be made to the Palestinians directly but in this case to the Saudis and Egyptians. They will be the go-between and their support for the final deal offered by Israel will be part of the grand bargain.
  • Once the Syrian/Lebanon campaign is done, Israel with the help of Saudi and some Gulf Emirates should attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. While not even close to being as powerful as the USA’s air power, Israeli air power is very strong and can cause very, very serious damage to these facilities, especially if it is openly supported by Saudi and Gulf States in term of logistics such as the use of their airfields and refueling facilities.

Why would all of these players want to participate in this grand scheme that on the face of it sounds ludicrous?

In short, because they all have a common interest in this succeeding and a new order being established for the Middle East. Timing is perfect for it to happen NOW.

Egypt: as mentioned before and also see my blog. Egypt is in a perilous situation. Israeli support for their fight with the Islamic terror groups as well as expertise and world contacts could help Egypt forge an economic recovery plan, which is probably the most important thing Egypt needs to tackle right now and urgently.

Saudis: The elimination of the Iranian Shia threat as a military, malevolent, expansionist force is the number-one aim of Saudi. They see Iran as a huge threat. With the U.S. under President Obama proving to be an unreliable source of support and defense against the Iranians’ thereat, the Saudis are panicking. Israel can provide them with the power to eliminate the threat that Iran poses for the entire Sunni Middle East and however much they do not like Jews, they know that Israel is not a threat to them whatsoever.

The Syrian moderate Opposition: the Syria Free Army is squeezed hard by government forces and their Iranian backing on the one hand, and the Islamic extremist forces on the other hand. They have been abandoned by the supposed beacon of freedom, the USA, and as such is desperate and needs all the help that it can get. A deal brokered by their main and only remaining backer, Saudi, to get Israeli dominant and conclusive military support in return for agreeing to establish a real democracy in Syria, respect for human rights and for minorities, and orderly relations with Israel should be easily brokered. They are backed into a corner and they have no other option.

Russia: Putin will have to be involved in this grand bargain as a pivotal part. The ability to once again be seen as the “king maker” in the Middle East, plus significant concessions regarding Russian presence in Syria and Egypt will be a jewel in his crown and given his pre occupation with Ukraine, he does not need Syria as an ongoing festering issue. The elimination of the threat from Iran is another positive for him. Russia will again have a dominant influence in the Middle East but given that Russia is not the USSR anymore and that Middle Eastern countries like Israel and Saudi are much stronger than they were in the 1970–1980s, the vassal relationship that Arab countries had with the USSR will not be replicated, even though the newfound influence and meaningful position for Russia in the Middle East will satisfy Putin and his global power ambitions.

Palestinians: Whether or not the Palestinians will accept the proposed deal is of secondary importance; they are weak and not a significant force. They would be offered a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Seeing the new shape of the Middle East order, they will probably take it. Perversely, the only thing keeping the Palestinians from accepting a reasonable deal with Israel is their hope that the U.S. will keep their issue alive. Once the major Arab states pressure them to accept, they will. Jordan is another country that will immensely benefit from the new Middle East order proposed here. Lebanon too but it will need to be reconstructed after the major destruction it will suffer as a result of the war between Israel and Hezbollah.

The massive loss of power and reputation that Iran will suffer by the elimination of the Assad régime, Hezbollah and its nuclear weapon facilities and aspirations may even bring about a secular, moderate revolution in Iran. The new Middle East powers, Israel, Saudi, and others should stand ready to support such a revolution.

The result will be a new Middle East.

A Middle East free of Iranians malevolent influence.

A Middle East without any serious armed conflicts for the first time in modern history.

Saudi and Gulf states will continue to mint money through oil and do what they do now. Not a democracy by any stretch but neither is it a cruel, despotic, tyrannical régime.

Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon will recover economically and if they are wise they will use that to start on the long and gradual process of democracy.

Israel will be the benevolent strong super power of the Middle East and Russia will be the most influential world power in the Middle East.

This is achievable. It is hard. It requires bold and courageous moves by leaders with strategic vision.

It requires Israel to be prepared to launch a very hard war to eradicate Hezbollah but with the help of cutting their supply lines from Syria and non-interference from the do-gooders around the world, courtesy of the veil provided by Russia and the support from Egypt and Saudi, that can be done.

We just need leaders who are bold and visionary!