Monday, August 07, 2006

Middle East crisis: where does each player stand today?

Kash Kheirkhah

The Middle East Nations: : The Middle East, a territory that extends from the eastern Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf, has been termed in history books and encyclopedias, as the cradle of civilizations, the world’s most sacred ground as it embraces the birthplace and spiritual centre of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But the Middle East as we know it today is known more for its ethnic and religious conflicts than anything else. A region identified with. Coups, foreign occupations, installed dictators, instability, poverty, ethnic, and most recently ideological hatred.

But why? Why is this region always in a mess? It's really impossible to narrow down the answers to a small article here. To most analysts, “oil” is what has made the Middle East prone to all the misery and foreign intervention it has faced in the course of its history, but to me it’s not just that. Coming from a Middle East nation myself, I find the major problem with the religious mentality that is rooted in those nations.

In almost all Middle East nations, all powers are assigned to one individual who either calls himself God's representative on earth or claims to able to preserve the divine "Islamic" laws better than anybody else.. In the Middle East, individuals are not supposed to make their own history, write their own laws (since they interfere with the divine laws that have been sent to them 1400 years ago) and effect any substantial changes in their society, commensurate with their new world status. Entangled in the cobwebs of traditional and religious beliefs, the masses in the Middle East always choose the easiest ways out of a problems: by battling the changes of time (even if it means a going through more pain and anguish) and then justifying their actions by resorting to those divine laws. Suicide bombing is a clear testimony to that. Thomas Friedman asks: When will the Arab-Muslim world stop getting its "pride" from fighting Israel and start getting it from constructing a society that others would envy, an economy others would respect, and inventions and medical breakthroughs from which others would benefit? My answer: Never. Why not? Because, that's too much responsibility and hard work for nations to whom democracy and the rule of people and not those who claim to speak on behalf of God has never made any sense. Because, that means having no enemy to pin all types of social and economic ills on. And because that means to rock the boat to its very foundations. I'm not saying everyone in the Middle East has the same mentality but I do believe the majority do and that's why the Middle East needs a renaissance. Look at Japan after the US dropped two nuclear bombs on them. Where are they now? Are they still launching kamikaze attacks on the US or are they one of the most powerful industrial nations in the world and one of the closest US allies?

Israel: Israel's continuing dependence on military might as a key to all the problems it faces in the region has proved to be its biggest mistake. Military might, when used indiscreetly, can only radicalize a region already fertile for crisis and help terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah recruit more desperate youths who, having seen an Israeli bulldozer flattened their homes and killing their families, have nothing to lose any more. What Israel seems to be lacking now is a visionary statesman who, is able to handle threats to Israel without seeding the ground for future bitter harvests of hatred, death and destruction. Would Yitzhak Robin or Ariel Sharon have reacted the same way that Olmert did? I would dare to assume not, since they both had been through that cycle and in case of Sharon, even burned by previous experiences in Lebanon and The Palestinian territories. Once proud Israeli military commanders, both Robin and Sharon had turned into men of peace, finally realizing what was at stake for the Jewish state. Olmert, Sharon's deputy, is considered to be a moderate politician, even more than his predecessor. He won the elections on a mandate of peace and was on his way to evacuate more of the occupied territories. But Iran and Hezbollah miscalculated and tested him only three months in to his tenure, making him prove his people he is as fearless as his predecessors too. In this context, his reaction was justified, although his lack of military experience led him to make terrible strategic mistakes such as relying solely on air power to pound Hezbollah without the use of ground troops. That mistake has so far played right in to the hands of Hezbollah and helped them survive four weeks of nonstop Israeli offensive, upgrading Nasrallah's status to a hero in the region. If Israel is looking for a prosperous future, first it should show restraint and instead opt for strengthening the moderate governments who have come to terms with a Jewish state and will be able to root out extremism in their own lands. Israel crushed PLO even after it accepted Israel, and got Hamas. It stayed in Lebanon and helped change the image of Hezbollah from a terror organization created by a terror state called Islamic Republic of Iran to a resistance force. It’s time for Israel to learn from its past mistakes and give diplomacy more time. Otherwise, this cycle of hatred and violence will be an albatross around Israelis' neck for generations to come.

Iran: My goodness. Has there been anything left to say about Iran? Tehran's regime is to day the main obstacle on the way of the formation of a Palestinian State and the growth of democracy in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. A new, stable, democratic Iraq and Afghanistan will be the ultimate nightmare for the mullahs who see the justification for financing terror in the crises they help create. In a new Middle East there's no room for backward mullahs and their ideology of terror, hatred, death and destruction and they very well know that. They don't care about the Palestinians and their cause. Iran's pursuit of nuclear bombs and their banking of terror in the region is its fight for its very own survival. As long as they are in power, there'll be no peace process in the Middle East. As Dennis Ross says, the root cause of the current crisis goes through Iranians. Question is what do we do about them?

The United States: As President Bush and Condoleezza Rice have mentioned over and over again, American policy sought to achieve peace in the Middle East by promoting stability in the Middle East, yet these policies gave them neither. The lesson of 9/11 taught Americans was that that swamp of the Middle East breeds mosquitoes of terror and that it time for the US to spread democracy in the Middle East as a cure for terrorism. The Bush administration has sure made its fair share of blunders in doing so, but that doesn’t mean the idea is wrong. We have to consider the fact that the intermediate period of transition to democracy is not easy, especially in a region like Middle East, in which the forces of terror live off that stagnant swamp. As a case in point, every time The US get close to brokering a landmark peace deal between Israelis and the Palestinians, a string of Hamas or Islamic Jihad-sponsored suicide bombings derailed the peace initiative for at least a year. What the United States needs to do here is that in the Israeli -Palestinian disputes, it should exert more control over Israel to make them show more restraints when the forces of terror try to drag Israel to a crisis of this scale and then cut the arms of Syria and Iran. With Syria all they should is divorce them from Iranians. Syrian leadership is not an ideological one same as Iran and that leaves the US some maneuvering power with Damascus. As for Iran, I'll get to it in a separate post. Suffice it to say that smart political and economic sanctions will do the job if they are implemented quickly and properly.

For Israel, there'll be cross-border infiltrations, seizures, rockets mortar fire and even suicide bombing for some time to come. But if Israel wants to get to the root of this problem, it should show some political leadership and diplomatic courage. One real solution could be King Abdullah's peace plan by which for the first time since 1948, Arab states collectively will offer to normalize their relations with Israel in return for Israel's complete withdrawal from the territories it occupied during the 1967 War. On the other hand, Moderate Arab leaders should know that without stopping militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah from provoking Israel, no piece imitative will ever work. What’s more, Tehran’s regime, as the main obstacle to the Arab-Israeli peace process and also America’s Greater Middle East initiative, must be confronted. How? I’ll explain in another post.