The Obama administration is currently busy with three Mideast initiatives: reactivation of negotiations with Iran, an offer of “nonlethal” aid to the Syrian opposition and fulfillment of the long awaited president’s first visit to Israel, with short stops in the West Bank and Jordan, starting March 20.
Iran and Syria are top concerns in Washington and Jerusalem. As he begins a second term, Obama is giving only symbolic attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
A sustained public relations campaign, launched by Prime Minister Netanyahu several years ago, has succeeded to divert Washington’s attention from Palestine to Iran. Israel brilliantly managed to magnify the threat of the Islamic Republic to the existence of the Jewish state. The fear of a presumed new holocaust overshadows the issue of Israel’s hegemony.Regrettably, the manufacture of anxiety could be a self-fulfilling prophecy: an attack to stop Iran’s nuclear program exposes Israel to unpredictable retaliation from Iran and its allies.
No wonder, many true friends of Israel, including US and Israeli leaders of national security, have cautioned against the use of force with Iran. But the global campaign to protect Israel against an unlikely threat has somewhat succeeded. Backed by Israel’s lobby, Washington went to task escalating sanctions on Iran and showering Israel with protective military aid.
The judgment is arbitrary.
Israel and its allies in the US Congress brand Iran as an “irrational” state. This is strange considering that the Persians have not launched wars in recent memory. In contrast, Israel has been in war every few years. Many consider Iran risk-prone as it refines nuclear fuel while Israel is judged to be safe in harnessing a massive arsenal of nukes.
Unprovoked, Iran is not likely to take the suicidal risk to attack Israel. Could a solution be found through sustained negotiations with the Islamic Republic? The US has for years undervalued the prospect of turning Iran around from an overambitious and troubled adversary to a relaxed partner, whose resourceful people will eventually achieve democracy. War is rarely a solution.
Relevant to the second initiative – Syria- is the striking fact that US power in the region is weaker than ever. Regardless of its immense governance issues, an incentivized Iran may help in the search for a solution to Syria’s crisis. Offering US recognition and more aid to the Syrian opposition will not do much. Moreover, Washington’s branding of the most energized – albeit ruthless and sectarian- rebel factions as “terrorists” does undermine the uprising.
The Damascus regime relies heavily on Iran and Russia for political and military support. If sanctions are relaxed on Iran, Tehran could apply pressure on President Assad to ease him out of power gracefully.
There is a multiplier effect in smart and soft diplomacy. With progress on the nuclear issue, Iran could be enticed to cooperate with the US in Afghanistan. Both states have common interest in containing the Taliban forces in the area. Progress in Syria and Iran would directly help US relations with Iraq, Syria’s neighbor and close ally.
The three initiatives are interconnected. As expected, the President’s visit to Israel will focus on Iran and Syria. In the Holy Land, the president may not, deep down, look morally at ease. In keeping silent on the occupation over the last two years, Obama has tacitly legitimized Netanyahu’s evasive stance: there is “no partner for peace” on the “other side”.
This visit includes a brief meeting with the Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and the King of Jordan in Amman. The expanding Israeli settlements will receive merely symbolic attention, given Israel’s current obsession with Iran and Obama’s presumed intention to mend relations with Netanyahu.
In last week’s Washington meeting of Israel’s main lobby, American Israel Political Action Committee, AIPAC, the buzz was on Iran. In this muscle flexing, annual conference the notion of peace-making was a murmur and the prospect of a strike on Iran received further rationalization.
On the need for attacking Iran, the Israeli people themselves are not in unison. The most powerful voice for peace has emerged from an unlikely source, the Israeli and Palestinian movie cameras. In recent weeks two powerful local films showed the escalating toll of the occupation for both Arabs and Jews. The two Oscar nominated foreign documentaries, “The Gatekeepers” and “Five Broken Cameras” are prophetic. The growing popularity of these creative works is an indication that the people on both sides of the divide yearn for peace. The documentaries reveal that the primary issue in the Holy Land must be Palestine, not Iran or Syria.
With a defensive attitude the White House announces that it wants the two sides of the conflict to lead the peace process.
We have heard this line before.
– Ghassan Michel Rubeiz, West Palm Beach, Florida