U.S. policy in the Middle East tends to be passive and compliant with the circumstances.
As Jackson Diehl from The Washington Post recently articulated, current U.S. policy denied aid to secular moderates and has failed to support democratic forces throughout the Middle East.
U.S. policy now seeks to find political solutions to the wars in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen flowing from “equilibrium” between Shiite Iran and the Sunni states.” This foreign policy reflects a nostalgic view of the pre-Iraq war where the rivalry between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Islamist Iran was seen as a sort of stable equilibrium.
If equilibrium means accepting Iran’s military activities and political influence in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen just to get Iran to defeat the Islamic State or reach a nuclear deal, that will be equally mean dangerous instability in the region.
Israel should also develop an active and independent foreign policy.
Israeli policy has concentrated in the last few decades on its own physical survival.
Although currently there seems to be a tacit alliance between Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Gulf States against a nuclear Iran, such association is insufficient to plant the seeds of peace and future stability. The Arab Spring has now opened new opportunities that require a new strategy.
It is widely assumed that in the Arab world radical Islam is the only real alternative to the old secular authoritarianism but this view ignores certain important elements.
Before former President Nouri al-Maliki pushed for sectarian Shiite rule, Iraq had a period of sectarian reconciliation and it looked like democracy had a chance. In Tunisia, secular and Islamist factions found a modus Vivendi and a unique parliamentary system was established. In Libya, a road map to democracy was created through a constitutional declaration, followed by positive steps in the economic, social, and political realms before the country fell into a situation of anarchy.
In Arab countries dominated by autocracies, the Arab-Israeli conflict served to add an element of a common enemy, in order to achieve unified support of regimes that were basically illegitimate. This includes, in particular, Syria, Baathist Iraq, Libya, and, the Palestinian Authority, and even the Egypt of Hosni Mubarak despite its peace treaty with Israel.
The people who have demonstrated peacefully against the various regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria in the last four years have done so to rebel against tyranny, not to promote political Islam. In Egypt, it was the young secular people who organized mass demonstrations.
Citizens of Syria and Libya were willing to fight for their freedom at any cost, including their own lives. In Tunisia, a man chose to set himself on fire rather than live in chains.
Unfortunately, in countries such as Syria, Libya, and Iraq, armed groups replaced a potential constitutional order. But yet, this is the work of organized Islamists and extremist groups. It is not necessarily the reflection of a generalized Arab mindset.
The Arab world has also experienced an increased expression of diverse opinions and changes. New voices can be heard on every aspect of social and political life. This includes a few instances of sympathy for Israel.
Maikel Nabil Sanad, a pacifist and human rights activist, protested against Mubarak’s rule and denounced anti-Semitism in the Egyptian military. After serving 10 months of prison he was sent to exile by the government of Mohamed Morsi in 2012. Sanad defined himself as being pro-Israel.
In Iraq, Mthal al-Alusi, a former member of the Iraqi National Congress and now leader of the Umma party, visited Israel twice. After the first time he visited in 2004 he was the victim of an assassination attempt that ended the lives of his two sons.
The second time he visited Israel in 2008 he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity and faced charges for illegally traveling to Israel. However, a Federal Court exonerated al-Alusi, arguing that traveling to Israel is no longer a crime.
Per my conversations with Syrian dissidents living in the United States, it is clear to me that they understand that their major challenge is the Arab tyrannies that oppressed their people. For example, a young Syrian man in his 20s mockingly recalled how the Syrian government blamed Israel every time there was a power outage in his high school.
Although some Syrian dissidents take issue with certain Israeli policy and identify with the plea of the Palestinians, they still do not consider the Israeli issue a priority. The downfall of the Assad regime is definitely their priority.
These events were unimaginable before the Arab Spring.
The war against Israel could potentially be viewed as a symbol of authoritarian legitimacy and be rejected as illegitimate.
Therefore, Israel must identify those democratic forces in the Arab world and use its intelligence and military knowledge to help them win this important battle. But most importantly, Israel must establish a genuine relationship and dialogue.
Israel could benefit from such action because those who believe in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, and public accountability are more likely to opt for peace before resorting to war.
Israel needs to reach out to the Syrian democratic opposition in particular but also to engage democratic forces in Iraq, Libya, or other Arab countries as well.
Peace could come through Arab freedom. Peace with the Palestinians could well be the outcome rather than the condition of reconciliation with the Arab world.
Luis Fleischman has worked as adviser for the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy on issues related to Latin America, hemispheric security, democracy, and U.S policy in Latin America. He is the author of "Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Threat to U.S. Security." Fleischman is an adjunct professor of sociology and political science at Florida Atlantic University Honors College and FAU Lifelong Learning Society. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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