Choose allies wisely
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.