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Peace Through Power, War Through Weakness: A Tale of Two Middle East Policies

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In this photo provided by the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), a surface-to-surface missile is launched during the Iranian Revolutionary Guards maneuver in an undisclosed location in Iran, Tuesday, July 3, 2012. Iran's state TV recently reported it had acquired a "massive" number of long-range missile launchers to "crush the enemy." (Photo: AP/ISNA, Alireza Sot Akbar)

“Strategic threats are growing longer and longer,” Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Captain Barak Raz stated with respect to the dangers facing his country.

Raz, the IDF Central Command’s former Judea and Samaria (West Bank) Division spokesperson, spoke during a Dec. 10, 2013, conference call discussing growing dangers to Western interests in the Middle East.

The conference call occurred in lieu due to inclement weather of a Capitol Hill panel sponsored by the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-American and pro-Israeli Washington, DC think tank. Raz focused on Israeli policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians in the conflicted Judea and Samaria/West Bank. Lebanese Christian Middle East scholar Walid Phares, meanwhile, joined Raz to discuss the role of Iran’s nuclear weapons program in Middle Eastern security.

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news briefing after Iran and world powers agree in Geneva to a deal over Iran's nuclear program, at the Presidency compound in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno)
Phares described the recent Geneva agreement with Iran as merely protecting its nuclear weapons program in the long term. Among other strategic objectives, Iranian nuclear weapons would provide a “balance of power with Israel” by deterring Israel’s nuclear arsenal in any confrontation over Iranian-supported terrorism. Similarly, Iranian nuclear weapons would deter any international intervention to overthrow Iran’s Islamic republic, something that particularly worried Iranian authorities during the upheaval following Iran’s June 12, 2009, elections.

The “very minimal” Geneva agreement would only impose a short term delay on Iranian uranium enrichment and leave Iran’s missile delivery systems untouched. Yet Phares described this agreement as merely an “appetizer” for later beneficial agreements with Iran.

Anti-Iranian sanctions lifted under the agreement that had previously taken years to devise would be “ten times more difficult” to re-impose in the future. A “tidal wave of businesses” seeking to enter the Iranian market would lobby to prevent any sanctions renewal. Unfrozen Iranian assets under the agreement, meanwhile, will enable the Iranian regime to implement propaganda efforts depicting an Iran making progress towards regional peace.

A “strategic mistake” is how Israel and Arab Gulf states, worried about Iranian hegemony, perceive the Geneva agreement. Especially disturbing was the lack of any American consultation with Israel or any Gulf allies while negotiating the agreement. This meant, in particular, a Saudi lobby defeat in America to Iranian interests after Saudi interests had lost out to the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the Middle East.

In this photo provided by the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), a surface-to-surface missile is launched during the Iranian Revolutionary Guards maneuver in an undisclosed location in Iran, Tuesday, July 3, 2012. Iran's state TV recently reported it had acquired a "massive" number of long-range missile launchers to "crush the enemy." (Photo: AP/ISNA, Alireza Sot Akbar)
Iran’s de facto American lobby, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), described by Phares as the Iranian “equivalent of CAIR” or the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Council on Islamic American Relations, played an important role here. The Iranian opposition also “now feels abandoned a second time” following the Obama Administration’s “green light” to Iran’s 2009 repression.

The Obama Administration, however, saw reconciliation with Iran as part of a “two legs” strategy in the Middle East. This approach involved good relations with Iran as well as with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in places like Egypt. After the Muhammad Morsi regime fell in Egypt, Phares discerned a policy by the Obama Administration to “go fast” in achieving results with Iran.

Assessing the impact of any future Iranian nuclear weapons in the Middle East, Phares considered actual Iranian nuclear strikes against Israel possible if Iranian leaders perceived a “historical moment” to destroy the Jewish state.  Terrorist groups like the MB affiliate Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, meanwhile, would not receive the protection of an Iranian nuclear umbrella.  Nonetheless, they could act to hinder any Israeli countermeasures against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.  Hezbollah missiles supplied by Iran, for example, could “bleed Israel” with strikes on civilian and military targets like airfields.

Israeli soldier patrolling next to the Israeli-Palestinian border as some 16,000 reserve troops are drafted in, on November 16, 2012 in Israel. . Conflict between the Israeli military and Palestine militants has intensified over the last few days, with Israel striking some 130 targets overnight. According to reports, 18 Palestians and three Israelis have been killed. Egypt's prime minister Hisham Qandil is due to make a brief visit to Gaza today and Israel have vowed to suspend fire for the duration of his visit, provided there's no cross border attacks from militants. Credit: Getty Images
In light of dangers to Israel from sources like Iran, Raz discussed the Israeli “high priority” to keep the West Bank as a “low priority” security threat.  A “proactive effort” by the IDF had held a future Palestinian intifada in this “very critical plot of land” adjacent to Israel’s demographic heartland in check, even as Al Qaeda’s first Palestinian cell emerged in Hebron.  Security in the West Bank had a “positive effect throughout the region,” Raz said, that otherwise “is totally imploding” in the words of EMET President Sarah Stern.  Jordan’s Hashemite Kingdom had expressed in the past reservations to a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, given concerns about a Palestinian polity’s stability, Stern in particular noted.

Any lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, Raz observed, would demand much more than an agreement with Palestinian authorities, merely “one of many, many necessary steps.”  The increasing popularity of Hamas among Palestinians was a special concern for Raz.  The Palestinian Authority, Raz noted, had not held elections since the last ballot on Jan. 26, 2006, for fear of a similar Hamas sweep.

Raz and Phares thus together demonstrated that peace in an anarchic world in general, and in the Middle East in particular, comes not come from wishful pacific platitudes but from pragmatic power politics.  Realistic recognition of friends and foes, aggression and appeasement, means and motives, is indispensable for proper policy formation in the Middle East and elsewhere.  If EMET’s briefing is any indication, the United States and its allies are going to relearn these lessons in the near future the hard way of bitter experience.

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