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Iraq - Arab-Israeli Peace Linkage - in which direction?


Almost everyone who knows, seems to agree that there is linkage between the Iraq fiasco and the Israeli-Arab conflict. There is linkage, but not in the direction that they think there is linkage.

The Iraq Study Group report proclaims, "The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Like so much else in the report, the statement is backed by nothing more than the authority of the study group. No logical reasons are given as to why, if the Israeli-Arab conflict is solved, the Sunni and the Shia and the Kurds of Iraq will lie down together, and a little child shall lead them.

In the New York Times, Ethan Bronner tells us Israel Is Not Linked to Iraq, Except That It Is. Except that Bronner pulls a bait and switch ploy. His article doesn't hardly mention Iraq. All the linkage that is discussed is linkage to the Iranian problem:

... Mr. Olmert called for the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state and said he would seek the help of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries to make that a reality.

For the first time he praised elements of a 2002 Saudi-sponsored plan calling for full diplomatic relations between all Arab states and Israel in exchange for such a Palestinian state (under certain conditions). Senior Israeli officials have met in recent months not only with Jordanians and Egyptians but - most notably - with Saudis.

The reason: Israel's overriding concern is the rise of Iran and its nuclear program, especially because Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has called often for Israel to be wiped off the map and has dismissed the Holocaust as a myth.
"The Saudis are saying to us, 'We are afraid of Iran and want to work with you
but the Palestinian issue has to be solved,' " a senior Israeli official said...

The unstated assumption is that Iran is behind the unrest in Iraq. But all the orthodox thinkers, and especially the Iraq Study Group, would be the first to protest that Iran is only a small part of the problem - they are taking advantage of the situation perhaps, but surely, they didn't cause the disaffection of the Sunni minority.

To be sure, Bronner gives the other side of the story later on:

That said, most Israelis and many independent analysts see a straight linkage between the Palestinian question and Iraq as something of a mirage. As Daniel Kurtzer, the former American ambassador to Israel and now a professor at Princeton, put it: "If the United States brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, do you think a single Iraqi gunman would put down his weapon? Not a chance."

And finally, Bronner unwittingly stumbles on what must be the truth, the real linkage, or close to it, but he just misses the point :

... a senior Israeli official made another point. "Why would we want to link our own problem to a nightmare like Iraq? It's a terrible mess there. We don't want it to be thought that until it is solved we can't solve our problem."

Why indeed? But there is no getting around the fact that there can be no good solution of the Arab Israeli conflict if the United States is no longer a power in the Middle East. If the US fails to stabilize Iraq and solve the problem of Iranian nuclear ambitions, highlighted this week by the obnoxious Holocaust denial conference in Tehran, the US will no longer be the major player in the Middle East. The Israeli-Egyptian peace was made possible by the prestige of the United States. The Madrid conference could take place because the United States won a victory in Iraq, not because they lost a war there and left with their tail between their legs. The Oslo peace process could not have happened without the USA, and the Palestinian Authority, or what is left of it that might be a peace partner for Israel, is heavily dependent on the United States. Likewise, the Saudi peace initiative came about because the Saudi government recognized that they had to come to some sort of accommodation with the number 1 ally in the Middle East of their number one backer: the United States. When Israeli troops surrounded the Muqata, it was US intervention that prevented the physical removal of Yasser Arafat.

The whole network of US influence will be gone with the wind if the US abandons Iraq and likewise allows Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to continue in his dangerous course unchecked. Every threatened state in the Middle East, and practically all of them feel threatened, will be seeking another strong power to protect it. The Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, will seek other protection. Israel will be afraid to accept any US guarantees of its security, knowing that the US hasn't the wherewithal or the will to live up to those guarantees. The plans of Israeli extremist elements will no longer be constrained by telephone calls from Washington DC. Palestinian moderate factions will have nothing to offer their people, and extremists, backed by Iran, will celebrate a great victory. Russia, China, France and others will scramble to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of US Middle East policy.

Nor will "engaging" Iran help, because if the US pulls out of Iraq, it has nothing to offer Tehran. There is no reason for Ahmadinejad to cut a deal with the US if the US has declared that it lost in Iraq.

Indeed there is linkage. The road to Arab-Israeli peace leads through Baghdad and Tehran. If the US wants to have any say at all in the Middle East, it can't fail in Iraq and it can't ignore Iranian provocations.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 8 comments

Dear Ami,

I disagree with your assesment entirely:

1. Iran has wanted the U.S. to grant the Islamic Republic recognition and security and stop complaining about Iran's nuclear program. Talking to Iran about Iraq will help influence people like Mukataba Al-Sadre and other shites who have connections with Iran.

2. The U.S. will not entirely lose its influence in the Middle East if they pull out from Iraq. The U.S. still gives the Israelis massive military aid. Furthermore the U.S. could look at the Arab-Israeli conflict as a way to get back influence in the Middle East.

3. Americans are dying and tax money is going for a war that is going nowhere. It is not the job for Americans to die for other countries in the Middle East. If Israel wants Iraq to succeed then Israeli troops should go into Iraq and leave the Americans out of it. America should care for its own interests and shouldn't continue to die for special interests.

Your most serious mistake in your article is this:

According to the Iraq Study Group:

"The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The keywords in the quote are the "Middle East" which is much bigger than just Iraq and indeed in order dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict will help acheive America's goals in the Middle East. You twisted the words of the Study Group to make it look like they were connecting Iraq to the Arab-Israeli conflict but the Study Group clearly said the U.S. goals in the Middle East is linked to the Arab-Israeli conflict not Iraq.

That last mistake I pointed out killed your argument before you even began.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 12/17/2006 08:08 PM CST

Butros, I have read a lot of your stuff on here and in general it is very sensible, but the idea that Israel should send troops to Iraq is the worst one I have ever heard. Perhaps you were joking and your sense of humour is too subtle for me?

I think it's a fair assumption that the Iraq Study Group is principally concerned with Iraq and their idea, which is sensible up to a point, is that the USA would be seen as a "fair cop" in the region if it wasn't perceived to be enabling Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. (Although in fact things have probably gone to far for that to happen for a generation or two).

One thing I do agree on is the question of US influence. The view on the left and in much of the world is that the whole reason the Israelis can afford to be so intransigent over the Palestinian issue is that they can count on bipartisan support from the US. The reason Oslo and other peace plans got off the grond to the limited extent that they did is that the US threatened to tinker with the purse strings of its massive financial and military aid to Israel. According to this school of thought, if US support to Israel stopped, the Israelis (extremist or not) would be forced to do a deal with their neighbours, stop building settlements, assassinating Palestinian leaders not to its liking and so on.

That would remain the case whether or not the US pulled out of Iraq, and whatever the result of the current spat with Iran.

Posted by Smudger @ 12/19/2006 05:48 PM CST

i think that there should be more people working to try and solve this cnflict quickly and safely

Posted by Robbie @ 12/20/2006 03:41 PM CST

The only problem with the US pulling it's funding for Israel is Israel would quickly cease to exist. Israel may be a nuclear power, but that is not enough of a deterrant for illogical, triabl factions that live in the region. The support for conventional warfare equiptment meant for defense, is not only to keep Israel safe but also to keep the entire region safe from a nuclear catstophe. This is evident in the US's support for the Fatah. If the US were only supporting Israel they would not be concerned about the use of cluster bombs nor the prospect of Israel using it's nuclear arsenal to defend itself. People seem to have a misconcieved perception that Iraq and the US's conquest into the middle east has something to do with Israeli support. In fact it does not. Iraq is simply the US's garuntee that oil remains flowing at a cost that is agreeable to the American public. The entire US economy is dependant directly or indirectly on foreign oil. If we were to rely on our own supply, the crude price per barrel would be astronomical leading to a severe economic depression or complete colapse. Of course this is the old school of thinking and there were alternatives before we plunged into the whole mess, but it seems personal greed got the best of our elected officials who hold personal intrest in companies that would benefit from the spoils. Israel, like all of our partners, is only of intrest to us because we have something to financially gain from the partnership. Israel is somewhat of a thorn in the US's side. We protect the "bully" to keep him from pounding the entire playground. Yet, without them in the way, we would not likely have such poor relations with the middle-east.

Posted by OMFG @ 12/20/2006 06:52 PM CST

I'm not so sure Israel would cease to exist without US support. It won the 1948 war with minimal help from the USA (most of its weapons were purchased from Czechoslovakia) and as far as I am aware the massive flow of US state aid commenced after the 1967 war and was largely in response to the USSR's links with Arab regimes.

The nuclear deterrent might not deter the "illogical tribal factions", but none of them are running neighbouring states, and are certainly not in any postition to destroy Israel militarily in any likely scenario.

What I think IS probably true is that without the US support, Israel's present level of military spending would mean that civilian standards of living would have to drop substantially (Sparta has been put forward as an analogy). That might dissuade Jewish immigration and encourage emigration. Which combined with Israeli Arab population growth could eventually whittle away the Jewish majority.

Which is why making peace with all the neighbours would be a much more attractive proposition than it is now.

Regarding Iraq, I don't think there is much causal connection between US involvement in the two situations, rather both spring from the common factor of oil - Israel is a strong, reliable regional ally, Iraq a probably failed attempt at replacing an unfriendly regime with a friendly one. (Iraqi oil is certainly not flowing at the moment).

Posted by Chris @ 12/21/2006 02:59 PM CST

Dear Smudger

I was not calling on Israelis to send troops to Iraq but a general feeling that Americans shouldn't die because another country wants America to succeed for its own interests. The same could be applied to Saudia Arabia who doesn't want Iran to influence Iraqis. If Saudia Arabia wants the Iraq situation to be a success then Saudis should die for there interests and not expect Americans to die for Saudi interests.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 12/22/2006 11:24 PM CST

A loss of US influence in the Middle East can have a different and salutory effect. When Israel recognizes that its protector super power cannot underwrite its adventures, it will eventually realize that it has to accomodate and become part of the region in order to survive. An essential pre-requisite would be the just resolution of the Palestinian issue, including full withdrawal from the territories it occupied in 1967.

Posted by Raif Hijab @ 12/26/2006 05:29 PM CST

OK Butros, basically you WERE joking. I get it now.

However your comment assumes that the US is in Iraq because of Israel, which I don't think is the case at all. I think the US is in Iraq purely and simply because of the oil. Other nations may try and influence the US one way or another, but in the end the US will do what its rulers judge is in the best interest of the US ruling class.

And in fact, the people lobbying hardest for the overthrow of Saddam appear to have been not Israelis but Iraqi expatriates with close links to the Iranian intelligence services.....

Posted by Smudger @ 01/24/2007 04:35 PM CST

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