Choose al­lies wisely

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - S R H Hashmi Email:srhhashmi@hot­

IN his ar­ti­cle ti­tled ‘The Mideast’s un­likely al­lies’ (‘Views from abroad’ Pak­istan Ob­server, Dec 26) the writer, with a Jewish-sound­ing name of Ben Fish­man has de­tailed his fishy plan which, if adopted by Saudi Ara­bia and other Gulf states, would have the ef­fect of only ben­e­fit­ting Is­rael at a great cost to them, and not just in money. With neu­tral­iza­tion of Iraq and Syria, the two ma­jor op­po­nents of Is­rael, and with the over-dec­o­rated mil­i­tary rulers of Egypt al­ready op­er­at­ing from in­side Is­rael’s pock­ets, Iran re­mains the only ef­fec­tive op­po­nent of Is­rael and is nat­u­rally invit­ing its wrath.

What ac­tu­ally ac­ti­vated Fish­man’s imag­i­na­tion was a state­ment by for­mer Saudi in­tel­li­gence chief, Prince Turki al- Faisal crit­i­cis­ing Amer­ica for its weak­ness, un­re­li­a­bil­ity and poor judg­ment, as dis­played by the soft­en­ing of Amer­i­can at­ti­tude to­wards Syria and Iran, in­stead of the launch­ing of puni­tive strikes against the two states. Fish­man stated that Prince Turki’s speech was vig­or­ously cheered in Jerusalem as well as in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which he in­ter­preted as mean­ing that th­ese Mid­dle East­ern ri­vals agree more with each other than with Wash­ing­ton, though he failed to point out, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons of course, that this agree­ment cen­tres on a sin­gle-item agenda; that of op­po­si­tion to Iran and Syria.

The re­lax­ation by P 5+1 group­ing com­pris­ing five per­ma­nent UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil mem­bers United States, Rus­sia, China, United King­dom and France plus Ger­many, is only mar­ginal and amounts to merely re­leas­ing $ 7 bil­lion worth of ben­e­fits against Ira­nian re­serves of many time that fig­ure frozen by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, and even this mi­nor con­ces­sion is just tran­si­tional, with a fur­ther re­view due af­ter six months, on the ba­sis of moves made by Iran in the in­ter­ven­ing pe­riod. Still, Saudi Ara­bia, Is­rael and the Gulf states which, due to bel­liger­ent state­ments made by US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama like ‘all op­tions are on the ta­ble’ had started look­ing for­ward to rain­ing down of mis­siles on Syria and Iran, are ter­ri­bly up­set over the de­vel­op­ment which they are in­ter­pret­ing as a sell­out by the West, and un­will­ing­ness on their part to use force against Iran, even in the fu­ture, ig­nor­ing Iran’s abil­ity to spon­sor ter­ror­ism and sow sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence from Le­banon and Syria to Bahrain, Iraq and Ye­men - threats the Gulf states view as ex­is­ten­tial.

The writer says in essence that since the United States is too dis­tant, with its lead­er­ship, leg­is­la­tors and pub­lic get­ting tired of costly for­eign in­ter­ven­tions, in­clud­ing in Iran whereas Iran and its prox­ies are at their door steps and the Gulf states can­not re­ally hope for Chi­nese and Rus­sians to pro­tect them. He there­fore sug­gests Is­rael, Saudi Ara­bia and Abu Dhabi should get to­gether and de­vise a se­cu­rity plan for the Mid­dle East, and present it to US in ex­change for firmer com­mit­ments from it.

The writer has con­ve­niently ig­nored the Saudi pack­age for nor­mal­iza­tion of re­la­tions with Is­rael which has been on of­fer for some years now and is sug­gest­ing that on Pales­tinian is­sue, the Gulf states should an­nounce a process for nor­mal­iza­tion of re­la­tions with Is­rael, make a dec­la­ra­tion in ad­vance to ac­cept the out­come of John Kerry’s pro­pos­als (which, in their present form, are bi­ased against Pales­tini­ans) and also to pay com­pen­sa­tion to the Pales­tinian refugees for fore­go­ing the right of re­turn to their an­ces­tral lands which Is­rael has il­le­gally grabbed by forcibly eject­ing them. He does not sug­gest any mea­sure by Is­rael, like re­frain­ing from build­ing il­le­gal set­tle­ments in a way that negates the es­tab­lish­ment of a vi­able Pales­tinian state, with East Jerusalem as its cap­i­tal.

The writer adds “They could un­der­take joint ac­tions to iso­late Hezbol­lah and Ha­mas and shore up the mod­er­ate Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity and Le­banese gov­ern­ment; make mu­tual com­mit­ments to in­su­late Jor­dan from the spill-over from Syria’s civil war; and co­or­di­nate out­reach to po­ten­tial vi­o­la­tors of anti-Iran sanc­tions.” Now if the Gulf states con­sid­ered United States as un­re­li­able, the writer should have sug­gested a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive than Is­rael, which is even more un­re­li­able, mean, dis­gust­ing and bru­tal. We know that among Mus­lim states, Tur­key had very close and friendly re­la­tions with Is­rael. Yet the Is­raelis did not mind mur­der­ing nine Turks in cold blood in in­ter­na­tional waters, when it struck at the in­ter­na­tional peace flotilla which was tak­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian sup­plies to Gaza. And to add in­sult to in­jury, re­fused even to apol­o­gize for the bru­tal­ity for three years, even­tu­ally ten­der­ing an apol­ogy on US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s urg­ing, dur­ing his visit to Is­rael.

And that is not all. Th­ese are United States and Euro­pean coun­tries which, through con­stant pam­per­ing and huge eco­nomic and mil­i­tary aid, have made Is­rael a strong state, even a nu­clear power. Yet Is­rael feels no obli­ga­tion to re­cip­ro­cate. Some­time back, when the Euro­pean coun­tries an­nounced with­hold­ing of con­ces­sion on prod­ucts from il­le­gally-oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries, the Is­raeli lead­ers threat­ened to stop them from giv­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to Pales­tini­ans. We also know that the for­mer Is­raeli prime min­is­ter Ariel Sharon, in bout of anger, had de­stroyed even the fa­cil­i­ties for Pales­tini­ans which had been built through Euro­pean fund­ing. Presently, Amer­ica is its great­est bene­fac­tor which even suf­fered 5,000 fa­tal­i­ties among its sol­diers and a few tril­lion dol­lars lost in or­der to elim­i­nate Sad­dam Hus­sain, a strong op­po­nent of Is­rael. More­over, it was un­due US pam­per­ing of Is­rael at the cost of Pales­tini­ans that in­vited the 9/11 tragedy.

Ben Fish­man is sug­gest­ing that the Gulf states to­gether with Is­rael sort out Iran, Syria, Ha­mas and Hezbol­lah and sup­port mod­er­ate Mah­moud Ab­bas, with­out men­tion­ing of course that even the mod­er­ate Mah­moud Ab­bas is not get­ting any­where in his peace ne­go­ti­a­tions with in­tran­si­gent Is­raelis. Surely, Is­rael would love to use man­power and other re­sources from Saudi and other Mus­lim states but once its ob­jec­tives are achieved, it will desert them and go on to in­crease dif­fi­cul­ties for them, leav­ing the Gulf states to deal with newly-ac­quired en­e­mies as well as in­creased level of hos­til­ity from the old ri­vals. This is Gulf fund­ing which propped up mil­i­tary-in­stalled gov­ern­ment in Egypt, the most pop­u­lous Arab coun­try, where the gov­ern­ment is show­ing in­creas­ing dic­ta­to­rial ten­den­cies and I do not think it would take long for the free­dom-lov­ing Egyp­tians to start­ing hat­ing the Gulf states that de­prived them of their free­dom, putting them un­der a new mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor so soon af­ter they got rid of the older one, Hosni Mubarak. With a marked move to­wards democ­racy in the re­gion, the Gulf states, spe­cially Saudi Ara­bia, would face con­sid­er­able dif­fi­cul­ties try­ing to re­tain their present gov­ern­ment. struc­ture. In th­ese cir­cum­stances, would it be sen­si­ble for them to in­crease the level of hos­til­ity that they have to con­tend with be­cause. af­ter all, if the Gulf states cre­ate prob­lems for oth­ers, they will not just take it all ly­ing down.

Gulf states’ in­ter­ven­tion in Syria also did not do much good to the peo­ple and all it has done is to make mil­lions refugees and mak­ing life ab­so­lutely mis­er­able for those stay­ing be­hind,. Bashar al-As­sad holds pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity for the tragedy but with­out out­side in­ter­ven­tion, things could be lot bet­ter than what they are like now. Even if Bashar goes now, there is no pos­si­bil­ity of peace re­turn­ing to the coun­try any­time soon and it is likely to go much the Iraqi way. Tur­key which in­ter­vened in Syria in a big way is also pay­ing for it, hav­ing to host a large num­ber of refugees whose pres­ence is cre­at­ing fric­tion with the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion.

Ob­vi­ously, if some­one puts his neigh­bours house on fire, the flames are bound to scorch him as well. There­fore, there doesn’t seem to be much sense in con­tin­u­ing to fight a bat­tle in which all sides are bound to end up as losers even­tu­ally. It would be far bet­ter for for­mer Mus­lim ri­vals in the re­gion to join hands and en­deav­our to solve their prob­lem in a peace­ful man­ner, in a spirit of give-and-take, in­stead of the present prac­tice of try­ing to achieve a short-term ad­van­tage, which is bound to lead to a dis­as­ter in the not­too-dis­tant fu­ture. With the ar­rival on the scene of a new lead­er­ship, there is al­ready a healthy change in Iran, with the state look­ing for­ward to bet­ter re­la­tions with oth­ers, and the Western world is al­ready soft­en­ing up to­wards it. All that is re­quired is for the Gulf States and oth­ers also to re­cip­ro­cate the Ira­nian ges­ture. —The writer is Karachi-based po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst.

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