The regional order of the Middle East has always been challenged and altered, and because of the geopolitical, geocultural and geostrategic position of the region, major and supra-regional powers have intervened in various pretexts in the Middle East. The Middle East region is one of the most critical areas in the world. Militarism and the purchase of weapons, especially from the Gulf States, is one of the highlights of the region. Therefore, the area has always been involved in the security mystery in recent decades. In addition, the presence of foreign governments, especially the US as a dominant power in the international system, is another issue that the region faces. So the Middle East is experiencing one of its most volatile periods, the period of instability, which is largely the product of the activity of terrorist groups in the region. Meanwhile, the civil wars and the power vacuum in the region, the policies of major powers such as the United States, Russia, and the European Union, as well as the competition of regional powers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, have made space more fun than any other terrorist activity. .
The United States is leading a pro-war war against Shiism and discourse through its alignment actor and the centerpiece of reconciliation with the West in the region, Saudi Arabia. One of the main reasons for the formation of proxy wars is the reproduction of religious and ideological components of Wahhabism from the realities of regional conflict. The use of ideological concepts has created the groundwork for the formation of identity conflicts. Each identity conflict requires the involvement of relative actors. In the process of identity conflict, Saudi Arabia is trying to restore its position through identity and mobilization of social groups. That is why, in various historical periods, Wahhabi concepts are based on Salafi and takfiri thoughts. Such an approach shows that Wahhabism is part of the reality of Saudi identity and ideological competition with the Islamic world. Wahhabi condemns all these group acts as heresies, and appreciates the literal interpretation of sacred texts and the Quran and the Sunnah. In their discourse, the Ummah is made up of guilty people who have to be blamed and returned with the sword to the right path. The devilish image of the Arab community has, in the eyes of the Wahhabis, rooted in the desire of this movement to control legitimacy.
The organization of the takfiri groups by Saudi Arabia has created the grounds for radicalization of politics, identity and security in the region. The Takfiri forces organized by Saudi Arabia have pivotal role in countering the ideological and geopolitical goals of the Islamic Revolution of Iran. In general, identity forces have the ability to influence regional competition processes and shape a new geopolitical space. To the extent that the Takfiri forces have more regional role and mobility, it is natural that the context for the West’s strategic plans in the context of the war of war and the war is less intense.
Therefore, Saudi Arabia is under the influence of US strategic policy and goals in the region following the expansion of nomadic wars. The economic capabilities, military capabilities and strategic capabilities of Saudi Arabia show that a significant part of the military capabilities and security role of the country reflect the necessities of the war and the US-backed war of war with the regional power of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Leading wars are based on identity, geopolitical, tactical and strategic realities. Any Saudi commitment to confront the Islamic Republic of Iran is based on the environmental realities of the regions and the imperatives of international politics. Therefore, instead of direct military conflict, the United States uses proxy groups to achieve its military, political and economic goals. In this war, the United States uses handcuff actors as covert operations in order to display military power beyond their borders.
Governments are encouraged to compete among themselves through various factors in order to promote their position in international order. One of the tools the United States government is opposed to Iran is the axis of resistance to terrorism, with no apparent signs of war and military intervention. Therefore, in order to confront the resistance discourse, the United States uses warheads with goals such as the erosion of Iran’s military, political, economic, and ideological power, and the resistance axis. On this route, the United States uses Saudi Arabia as a united Middle East country and organizes and manages terrorist groups to erode the resistance axis. That is why the Arab-led front in the region believes that Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria have formed a Shiite crescent, and are using it against the Syrian government by the ISIL and al-Qaeda groups. Countering the Islamic Republic of Iran can be regarded as the main axis of the Saudi Arabian security strategy in the Middle East. The crisis of relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia began on January 2, 2016. Saudi Arabia’s high-profile measures against the Islamic Republic of Iran cannot be considered merely as a response to the occupation of its embassy and consulate in Iran. The goal of Saudi Arabia is to wage a comprehensive conflict through a low-intensity war with Iran.
Here, the description of geocaching and geopolitical areas of the resistance axis called “Shiite Crescent”, giving the wrong lessons to the Sunni, is aimed at increasing sectarian tensions, and the hostile actors highlighting Sunni traits, seeking to change the field and rules of the game are. The axis of resistance has declared its main goal to confront the Zionist regime, and if, after inflicting devastating wars on the axis of resistance, the goal of the struggle is shifted, the Zionists will thwart the resistance fighters. For this reason, the implementation of the strategy of creating “identity wars” by the United States, the Zionist regime and regional hostile actors has been seriously pursued. In this regard, the other achievement of this strategy, the creation of traffic and, ultimately, the gap in the resistance axis based on the false identities and the prioritization of the identity preferences among the axis of resistance must also be analyzed. Consequently, rival discourses with the backing of the United States have forged the word “Shiite Crescent” in opposition to the “identity of the resistance”. The resistance front has been threatened by international actors from this time onwards, and rival discourses will begin to launch a comprehensive campaign against it in various areas. Accordingly, the sectarian war, which is the basis of the “anti-discourse of resistance,” is supported by the political forces, the countries of the region and the Western countries through the takfiri groups, in contrast to what is called the “Shiite Crescent”. One of the main areas of identity, ethnic, and religious conflict can be seen in Syria, and Syria must be considered the focal point of opposition to discourse and resistance based on geopolitical and geotactic approaches.
Maintaining Iran’s influence and increasing its regional strength is one of the key factors in the acquisition of weapons and the sensitivity of regional governments in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has made many efforts to form a power bloc in a political or military alliance against Iran. The efforts are have so far been overcome by the pluralistic and sometimes controversial interests of the region’s actors. It can be inferred that for two reasons, direct military confrontation between the countries of the region and Iran is very low. The first reason is affected by the balance of power that exists among rival powers. The second reason is the lack of readiness for regional actors to begin the war. These conditions have raised the cost of war for the parties. Of course, it would be likely that regional powers will use their tactics to achieve their goals or to attack the other side, such as proxy warfare or confrontational encounters. Consequently, the multifaceted presence of the United States in the region, the Saudi action to its desirable order, Saudi Arabia’s wheel toward the Zionist regime toward the anti-Iranian coalition, the reproduction of terrorism, the transformation of the forms of wars into identity warfare, the crisis of anti-resistance actors in the areas under Iran’s influence, the unceasing purchases of weapons by Iran’s rivals in the region, and pro-war and low-intensity wars against Iran are one of the most important challenges facing Iran in the Western order.
The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism in the Era of MbS – an Update
There has long been debate about the longevity of the Saudi ruling family. One major reason for doubts about the Al Sauds’ viability was the Faustian bargain they made with the Wahhabis, proponents of a puritan, intolerant, discriminatory, anti-pluralistic interpretation of Islam.
It was a bargain that has produced the single largest dedicated public diplomacy campaign in history. Estimates of Saudi spending on the funding of ultra-conservative Muslim cultural institutions across the globe and the forging of close ties to non-Wahhabi Muslim leaders and intelligence agencies in various Muslim nations that have bought into significant, geopolitical elements of the Wahhabi worldview are ballpark. With no accurate date available, they range from $75 to $100 billion.
It was a campaign that frequently tallied nicely with the kingdom’s deep-seated anti-communism, its hostility to post-1979 Iran, and the West’s Cold War view of Islam as a useful tool against Arab nationalism and the left – a perception that at times was shared by Arab autocrats other than the Saudis.
The campaign was not simply a product of the marriage between the Al Sauds and the Wahhabis. It was long central to Saudi soft power policy and the Al Saud’s survival strategy. One reason, certainly not the only one, that the longevity of the Al Sauds was a matter of debate was the fact that the propagation of Wahhabism was having a backlash at home and in countries across the globe. More than ever before theological or ideological similarities between Wahhabism or for that matter Salafism and jihadism were since 9/11 under the spotlight.
The problem for the Al Sauds was not just that their legitimacy seemed to be wholly dependent on their identification with Wahhabism. It was that the Al Sauds since the launch of the campaign were often only nominally in control of it. They had let a genie out of the bottle that now leads an independent life and that can’t be put back into the bottle.
That is one major reason why some have argued in the past decade that the Al Sauds and the Wahhabis were nearing a crunch point. One that would not necessarily offer solutions but could make things worse by sparking ever more militant splits that would make themselves felt across the Muslim world and in minority Muslim communities elsewhere in multiple ways including increasing sectarian and intolerant attitudes in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The rise of Mohammed bin Salman clearly challenges these assumptions. For one, it raises the question to what degree the rule of the Al Sauds remains dependent on religious legitimization as Mohammed moves de facto from consensual family to one-man rule in which he anchors his legitimacy in his role as a reformer.
It also begs the question of what would ideologically replace ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim Islam as Saudi Arabia’s answer to perceived Iranian revolutionary zeal. The jury on all of this is out. They key lies in the degree to which Mohammed is successful in implementing social and economic reform, his yet to be clarified definition of what he envisions as moderate Islam, and what resistance to his religious redefinition and social reforms will emerge among members of the religious establishment and segments of the population.
Mohammed has so far dropped tantalizing clues, but neither said nor done anything that could be considered conclusive. In fact, what he has not done or said may be more telling, even if it would be premature to draw from that conclusions of the potential limits of change that he envisions. On the plus side, he introduced social reforms that enhance women’s opportunities and relaxed restrictions on cultural expression.
At the same time, he has whipped the religious establishment into subservience and positioned them, including key vehicles like the World Muslim League that the government used to fund and propagate ultra-conservatism, as forces against extremism and militancy and in favour of religious tolerance and dialogue. In February, Saudi Arabia agreed to surrender control of the Great Mosque in Brussels after its efforts to install a more moderate administration failed to counter mounting Belgian criticism of alleged intolerance and supremacism propagated by mosque executives.
Saudi officials have spoken of a possible halt to the funding internationally of religious institutions although an apparent agreement to pump $1 billion into the building of hundreds of mosques and religious centres in Bangladesh would suggest otherwise. The failure in Brussels and the fact that there is little reason to believe that the religious establishment has experienced a true change of heart or that Saudi Arabia has satisfactorily completed a revision of its text and religious books suggests that the kingdom is ill-prepared to propagate a truly moderate form of Islam in Bangladesh or anywhere else.
In some ways, the question is whether this matters as much outside the kingdom as it does domestically. The parameters have changed with Mohammed’s grip on power but the fact that the religious establishment was willing to ultimately compromise on its theological principles to accommodate the political and geopolitical needs of the Al Sauds has been a long-standing fixture of Saudi policy making.
For the Wahhabi and Salafi ulema, the public diplomacy campaign was about proselytization, the spreading of their specific interpretation of the faith. For the government, it was about soft power. At times the interests of the government and the ulema coincided, and at times they diverged.
Yet, more often than not the requirements of the government and the family took precedence. While contacts between Wahhabi and Deobandi scholars from the Indian sub-continent go back to the 1930s, if not earlier, Saudi scholars were willing to put their differences aside as Deobandis emerged as a powerful force among the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in the 1980s and subsequent anti-Shiite strife in Pakistan.
The problem in mapping the financial flows of the campaign is that the sources were multiple and the lines between the funding streams often blurred. No doubt, the government was the major funding source but even than the picture is messy. For one, who constitutes the government? Were senior princes who occupied powerful government positions officials or private persons when they donated from their personal accounts in a country in which it was long difficult to distinguish between the budget of the government and of the family?
On top of that, the government had multiple funding streams that included the foreign ministry using its network of diplomatic missions abroad, the multiple well-endowed governmental non-governmental organizations such as the Muslim World League that often were run with little if any oversight by groups like the Muslim Brotherhood with their own agenda, institutions in the kingdom like the Islamic University of Medina and its counterparts in Pakistan and Malaysia, as well as funds distributed by Islamic scholars and wealthy individuals.
Adding to the complexity was the fact that there was no overview of what private donors were doing and who was a private donor and who wasn’t. This pertains not only to the blurred lines between the government and the ruling family but also to Saudis of specific ethnic heritage, for example Pakistanis or Baloch, as well as Saudi intelligence. At times members of ethnic communities potentially served as government proxies for relationships with militant anti-Shiite groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Taiba and their successors and offshoots in Pakistan.
Further complicating a financial assessment is the lack of transparency on the receiver’s end. In some cases, like Malaysia the flow of funds was controlled by authorities and/or a political party in government. In others like Indonesia, money often came in suitcases. Customs officials at airports were instructed to take their cut and allow the money in with no registration.
In other words, while the Saudis donated they seldom prior to 9/11 and the 2003/2004 Al Qaeda attacks in the kingdom exercised control over what was done with the funds. The National Commercial Bank when it was Saudi Arabia’s largest financial institution had a department of numbered accounts. These were largely accounts belonging to members of the ruling family. Only three people had access to those accounts, one of them was the majority owner of the bank, Khaled Bin Mahfouz. Khaled would get a phone call from a senior member of the family who would instruct him to transfer money to a specific country, leaving it up to Khaled where precisely that money would go.
In one instance, Khaled was instructed by Prince Sultan, the then defense minister, to wire $5 million to Bosnia. Sultan did not indicate the beneficiary. Khaled sent the money to a charity in Sarajevo that in the wake of 9/11 was raided by US law enforcement and Bosnian security agents. The hard disks of the foundation revealed the degree to which the institution was controlled by jihadists.
At one point, the Saudis suspected one of the foundation’s operatives of being a member of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad. They sent someone to Sarajevo to investigate. The investigator confronted the man saying: ‘We hear that you have these connections and if that is true we need to part ways.’ The man put his hand on his heart and denied the allegation. As far as the Saudis were concerned the issue was settled until the man later in court testimony described how easy it had been to fool the Saudis.
The measure of success of the Saudi campaign is not exclusively the degree to which it was able to embed religious ultra-conservatism in communities across the globe. From the perspective of the government and the family, far more important was ultra-conservatism’s geopolitical component, its anti-Shiite and resulting anti-Iranian attitude.
The man who was until a couple of years ago deputy head of Indonesian intelligence and deputy head of Nahdlatul Ulema, one of the world’s largest Islamic movements that professes to be anti-Wahhabi, symbolizes the campaign’s success in those terms. He is a fluent Arabic speaker. He spent 12 years in the Middle East representing Indonesian intelligence, eight of those in Saudi Arabia. He professes in the same breath his dislike of the Wahhabis and at the same time warns that Shiites, who constitute 1.2 percent of the Indonesian population and that includes the estimated 2 million Sunni converts over the last 40 years, are one of the foremost domestic threats to Indonesian national security. This man is not instinctively anti-Shiite but sees Shiites as an Iranian fifth wheel.
The result of all of this is that four decades of funding has created an ultra-conservative world that lives its own life, in many ways is independent of Saudi Arabia, and parts of which have turned on its original benefactor. A study of Pakistani madrassas published earlier this year concluded that foreign funding accounted for only seven percent of the finances of the country’s thousands of religious seminaries.
The fact that ultra-conservatives are no longer wholly dependent on Saudi funding is a testimony to the campaign’s success. This realization comes at a crucial moment. Post 9/11 and even more so in the wake of Al Qaeda attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia in 2003/2004, Saudi Arabia has introduced strict controls on charitable donations to ensure that funds do not flow to jihadist groups.
There is moreover no doubt that Saudi funding in the era of Mohammed bin Salman is unlikely to revert to what it once was. The Saudi-funded Bangladeshi plan to build moderate mosques, the relinquishing of control of the Grand Mosque in Brussels, and the World Muslim League’s newly found propagation of tolerance and inter-faith dialogue as well as its effort to reach out to Jewish communities would suggest that Saudi money may be invested in attempting to curb the impact of the kingdom’s decades-long funding of ultra-conservatism.
Yet, there are also indications that Mohammed bin Salman is not averse to funding militants when it suits his geopolitical purpose. The US Treasury last year designated Maulana Ali Muhammad Abu Turab as a specially designated terrorist on the very day that he was in the kingdom to raise funds. Abu Turab is a prominent Pakistani Islamic scholar of Afghan descent who serves on a government-appointed religious board, maintains close ties to Saudi Arabia, runs a string of madrassas attended by thousands of students along Balochistan’s border with Iran and Afghanistan and is a major fund raiser for militant groups.
Abu Turab’s visit to the kingdom came at a time that Saudi and UAE nationals of Baloch heritage were funnelling large amounts to militant anti-Shiite and anti-Iranian Islamic scholars in Balochistan. It is unclear whether the funds were being donated with Mohammed bin Salman’s tacit blessing.
What is clear, however, is that the funding and Abu Turab’s visit coincided with the drafting of plans to destabilize Iran by exploiting grievances and stirring unrest among Iran’s ethnic minorities, including the Baloch. Those plans have not left the drawing board and may never do so. The funding nevertheless raises the question how clean a break with support of ultra-conservatism Mohammed bin Salman is contemplating.
Edited remarks at The Middle East and the Geopolitics of Religious Soft Power, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University and the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, Washington DC 18-19 April 2018
Where will the proxy war in the Middle East last?
A direct US strike on one of the Syrian Army bases is a new development in the terrorist war that began six years ago against Syria. The attack, which took place after accusing the Syrian government of using chemical weapons in the region of Khan Sheikhon in the Syrian Arab Republic, raised several questions, among which are the most prominent:
What are the realities and purposes of using chemical weapons in the current situation? Why did the Western countries accuse the Syrian government of using chemical weapons without any documents and opposed the Russian request to form a neutral truth-clarifying committee to clarify the facts? Why the US government headed by Donald Trump did does not pay attention to Russia’s request for unilateral action to ignore international law and interference in other domestic affairs? What does it mean to handle this attack? What are the likely outcomes and consequences of this attack?
1- Syria after the use of chemical weapons in arid groups in the East Hemisphere region in 2013 and tensions in the area after the threat of a massive attack on Syria by former US President Barack Obama by mediating Russia he agreed to destroy his chemical weapons in order to prevent any excuse and accusations from the United States and Western countries. As a result, the United Nations Monitoring Committee (UNSC) announced that it was carrying out its mission in full cooperation with the Syrian government, under the supervision of the United Nations, the Syrian Chemical Weapons Depot.
The purpose of the Syrian disarmament was to prevent Syria from attacking bases of armed groups in the eastern submersion. The goal was also to create space for Syria, and to intervene in the United States to shift the balance of power in favor of armed groups. The Zionist regime, the Zionist lobby in the United States, the warlords and anti-Syrian states, were pushing for such an approach to force Obama to engage in a frantic war in Syria.
Now under the conditions of the Jabhat al-Nusra in Khan Sheikhon region, a chemical strike has taken place that the Syrian army has managed to defeat the attacking armed groups in the suburbs of Hamma and remove the areas under the control of this group. The army also plans to continue fighting in other areas of armed groups and to launch attacks on Jabhat al-Nusra bases in the province of Idlib. With the support of the allied army on all fronts and the achievements of many, as well as the removal by the White House, the Department of State and the United States Mission to the United Nations, that the US government’s priority is the defeat of ISIS, Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian people should determine the fate of Assad. These issues have led to the outrage of the terrorist armed groups and their supporting countries and the American warlords. Hence, they have taken measures to use chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhon and have accused the Syrian army of using this type of weapon to achieve the following objectives.
They are struggling against the Syrian government by accusing the Syrian government of using chemical weapons that were sacrificed by a number of citizens. They demanded that they undermine the status of the Syrian government in international circles and any negotiation.
They are also pushing for the Syrian government to squeeze on the military front to force the army to attack terrorists at various fronts to prevent the terrorists from defeating and collapsing. The goal is to give the terrorists fresh breath and to rebuild their queues once again.
The warlords have called on Trump’s positions to change their position on Assad and the fight against terrorism to attack Syrian military bases, especially military airports. This is a topic that the Washington Research Center has been reporting on. French Foreign Minister Marc Ayro said the chemical test was a testament to the new US administration after its position on Assad’s fate.
2- Accordingly, Western countries quickly accused Assad of using chemical weapons and opposed Russia’s request for a neutral truth-clarification committee to determine the facts. They tried to achieve the stated goals and mislead public opinion and cover the realities and exonerate the Nusra Front. They also demanded that chemical weapons remain in the hands of the terrorist groups if they continue to use it and continue their erosion wars in Syria.
3- The US government’s move to launch a missile attack on the Syrian airspace appears to be in contrast to the Tramp position. He has surrendered to warlords. He wants to align with the warlords, in order to reduce the opposition that the supporters of the supporters of the terrorist groups inside Syria have taken to take action. He also wants to show off with Obama, who hesitated to attack Syria in 2013.
But the US invasion showed that Washington is attacking the government, the Syrian people and the Syrian army with the help of the terrorists, and that the terrorists are instrumental in serving US plans to occupy Syria. America is the largest terrorist country in the world and a terrorist organization. It does not fail to ignore international law and the sovereignty of other countries, and always plays the role of police in the implementation of forest law. It has a right to charge, convict and enforce justice.
4.Consequences of probability
Indeed, the US invasion of Syria has shown that America is directly involved in the terrorist war against Syria. The move came after the West realized that the terrorists were on the brink of destruction, and that the victory of the Syrian national government and the axis of resistance were decisive. The role of the United States will prove this to the people of Syria, the Arab countries and the world’s public opinion that what is happening in Syria is the plan of America, the West, Zionism and the reactionary Arab state aimed at destroying Syria and destroying its national system. This has led the Syrian people to support more than their leader, and his legitimacy and his unique role in confronting colonial forces, terrorism and Western-affiliated institutions are strengthened.
The US attack on Syria has led Russia to end its air coordination with the United States in the Syrian heavens. This is a practical measure against the ignorance of international law by the United States and its neglect of Russia’s position. Russia emphasized that the Syrian army did not carry out a chemical attack, and the army had no chemical weapons, and these were terrorist groups that possessed chemical weapons. Hence, it is better not to accuse the Syrian government of any reason and evidence. There is no doubt that Russia’s reaction to the developments in Syria will be great. This does not allow US fighters to cover the Russian missile defense coverage. In addition, it is likely that Moscow will provide advanced weapons to the Syrian army to defend against any attack on missiles and fighter jets. It is not possible for Russia to neglect this attack that ignores Russian red lines in the Syrian territories. This is particularly the case when US attacks on Syria and its attempt to rid the terrorists of failure to Russia’s strategic goals of sending its troops to Syria.
US action on the Syrian army’s attack will not only lead to a conflict with the Syrian army and its allies. But there is also the possibility of a conflict with Russia. This is the issue Moscow and Washington are trying to avoid. Because of this will lead to a world-wide destruction of devastation.
Hence, it is likely that the US invasion would be to reduce domestic opposition that Tramp has faced since coming to power in the United States. He has called for this attack to strengthen his position against his enemies without rejecting his opposition to a new and more costly war than the Iraq war.
Trump has said he wants to get the US economy out of recession and solve the US unemployment crisis, and to repair US infrastructure that needs a trillion dollars.
Forcing Peace: New vs. Old Pathways in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Someone once said that, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the mark of insanity.” I would posit that U.S. policy in the Middle East, specifically that relating to the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement falls squarely into that category. For the last forty plus years, try as it may, the policy of the U.S. has failed, and failed miserably, to produce the desired results. The policy of the U.S. towards this issue must change radically if positive results are expected in the near-term.
Anyone contemplating creating an alternative policy that might change the performance dynamic of the principle parties borders on hubris. The literature on this subject is literally overwhelming. It is difficult to conceive that new ideas and alternative thinking on the subject is even possible; after all, the experts have spoken. But in the growing shadow of failure, something different must be tried. Peace between Israel and Palestine is possible. There are two potential paths forward: one with its roots in the past; and the other with its trajectory dependent on a radical new policy that will act as a non-voluntary force function on both sides.
Path 1:President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrate that they are the right men at the right time in history and can successfully negotiate a lasting peace agreement between Palestine and Israel. History is not in their favor. Both leaders in the past have exhibited heightened levels of nationalism which could cognitively bias their ability to put aside political differences and focus on legitimate compromise that could benefit both sides and create a lasting peace. Of the two, Abbas actually seems the more pliable.
Path 2:The implementation of a U.S.-sponsored, United Nations-implemented policy that essentially removes the Palestinians and the Israelis from the decision-making process. Such a policy has never been successfully attempted on the international level and will require significant support from the U.N. Security Council and the general membership. Given the current state of affairs in the Middle East and the contempt that much of the Arab community feels towards Israel, this might not be as tough a sell as it sounds. After fifty years of intransigence, the world is ready to see this problem solved and therefore might be willing to consider strategies never before considered.
Israel, in an attempt to stay solvent and secure, has been seriously brokering deals with its neighbors since at least 1967 following its success on the battlefield against a formidable Arab alliance that included Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Some of these deals were successful, including the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty signed at Camp David in 1978 and the Israeli- Jordanian peace Treaty signed in the Arava valley of Israel in 1994.Unfortunately, dozens of other deals simply fell into the dustbin of history. Interestingly enough, the successful ones were a byproduct of the interaction between powerful and aggressive leaders on both sides that had the right combination of leadership attributes and communication skills to pull it off, namely Sadat and Begin (1978) and Rabin and King Hussein (1994). Personal chemistry between the parties didn’t hurt and often helped to get through the rough spots; minimal trust between individuals was essential to create a joint vision of a peaceful future that both sides could live with. They might not love each other, but at least they were able to see the advantage of respecting each other for a greater objective.
Key issues on the table:
Though there is a plethora of reasons for these two Semitic cultures to hate each other, there are just as many reasons why a negotiated settlement would benefit both sides. Figure 2 lists just some of the more important issues that need to get hammered out before any settlement agreement is possible. Many of these issues have been on the negotiating table before with little progress. There are two “hot button” issues in particular that can and usually have blown out any possible deal: namely, the status of Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Any final settlement will have to solve this particular conflictual Rubik’s cube.
Over the years, the negotiating teams from both sides were stacked with “big guns” like Begin, Rabin, Peres, and Barak from Israel and Arafat and Abbas from Palestine. Certain personality combinations seemed to work better than others and it was often the case that failure to close the deal was caused by external forces as when Rabin was assassinated in ’95. His death stopped the forward progress. The ’96 election of the ultra-right-wing Netanyahu ultimately lobotomized that potential deal. Discussions between the two sides dried up for at least the next four years. But once again, in the case of Rabin, we can observe the impact that a strong leader, willing to take on the established and entrenched policies of their own government bureaucracy, can have on the dynamics of supposedly entrenched conflict.
Critique of current policy options:
Since the days of the Carter Administration, the policy of the United States towards the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been one of engagement from a safe distance. The policy constructs of every President from Carter to Obama has had a central tendency to allow, if not to outright push, the two parties to seek a mutually beneficial solution, i.e. “work this out on your own and we’ll be there to help out with the paperwork and take the credit.” When attacks by terrorists in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv happened, as they often did, or additional Israeli settlements were built on the West Bank, as they often were, the U.S. would cajole the offending side to alter its behavior and return to the negotiating table. U.S. dollars were often spread around the table as enticement.
On May 19, 2011 Obama gave a Middle East policy speech in which he described a “new approach” to the age-old issues plaguing the region. This new policy trajectory would focus on “promoting democratic reform, economic development, and peace and security across the region” (Cordesman, 2011, 3). This policy lacks specificity, a method for execution, and a fundamental understanding of the key issues. It also ignores the history of the conflict and the complex nature of relations in the region. This is a pie-in-the-sky policy statement with no teeth: very much the same old platitudes that have defined U.S. policy for the last fifty years toward the conflict.
Trump has seemingly broken with the policies of the last five administrations. He does not embrace the two-state solution, but he does have his favorite team. “Since taking office, US President Donald Trump has shown unfailing support for Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians, distancing himself from the two-state solution and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital” (AFP, 2018, 3). Mahmoud Abbas wasted little time in responding and “accused the United States of ‘deplorable and unacceptable measures’ that ‘deliberately undermined all peace efforts” (AFP, 2018, 5). As of this writing, Trump’s regional policies, like his credibility, is crumbling fast throughout the Middle East. “Trump’s apparent intention to abandon the two-state framework, explicitly or implicitly by failing to exert pressure on both parties to accept it, will greatly increase the probability of conflict among Israel, Iran, and the US” (Buonomo, 2017, 2). A byproduct of these actions could involve a serious uptick in the levels of violence directed at both the U.S. and Israel. Thus, Trump’s attempt at new and innovative policies are not helping the situation and may be exacerbating the regional raw feelings that have always been there. With a politically wounded Donald Trump and U.S. involvement possibly marginalized in the process, it becomes even more paramount to understand the nature, character, and psychology of the two key figures at the center of the storm, Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu.
A Leadership Profile Model was constructed using qualitative information provided in open sources. Based on the narratives and appraisals offered in the literature, qualitative judgments were made on a scale of 1 to 5 concerning Abbas’ and Netanyahu’s leadership profile. Such a model provides a very high-level view into the characteristics and abilities of both leaders to successfully meet and carry through on a negotiated settlement. From this high-level view, a limited perspective can be formulated.
The most striking differences between Netanyahu and Abbas is in the psychological profile. Netanyahu is clearly more egocentric, does not work that well with others, is somewhat Machiavellian in his approach to politics, is not very transparent, does not easily trust others, can be very aggressive when pursuing a goal, and, in fact, uses others to achieve his goals and then takes the credit for it.At first glance, when comparing the two leaders, this is not a marriage made in heaven. Further psychological studies are required in order to truly assess whether these two men can overcome their obvious differences and work together for the common good.
New policy resolutions or proposals for consideration:
If the overall results of the psychological study above is supremely negative, then the aforementioned extraordinary policy must be executed by the United Nations and supported materially, financially, and operationally by the United States. Such a policy must, by definition, include the fifteen points outlined in Figure 4below. This policy is designed to be equitable: neither side is going to get exactly what it wants, but both sides are going to get exactly what each needs to be sovereign, safe, and free.
It is recognized up front that this policy is extraordinarily harsh and gives the two parties very little wiggle room. But these same parties have had almost fifty years to work out their differences and have essentially achieved nothing in all that time. Some countries are using the dispute for their own leverage and own strategic agendas. This temptation must be permanently removed. Continuing to trust Israel and Palestine to get this done on their own is problematic unless Netanyahu and Abbas can figure a way out of this morass and passed their own negative psychological leadership proclivities. Sticking to old pathways will not achieve this. The need for radical new pathways must be recognized.
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