Iraq Study Group Needs Reality Check on Arab-Israeli Conflict
Posted: December 8, 2006
In asserting a direct linkage between the effort to achieve stability in Iraq and the Israeli-Arab conflict, the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report has committed a grave error.
The report states that the United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it "deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability". The conflict between Israel and the Arabs does need resolving - no party to the conflict has emphasized this more than Israel. But this conflict needs to be addressed in its own context and within its own timeframe, not in relation to policy imperatives in Iraq. Moreover, in the event that the regional peace initiative proposed by the report collapses, a severely deteriorated situation would result. Israel – a country which the report confirms is a U.S. ally that no Administration will ever abandon – should not have to take such risks with its own security.
It needs to be restated that the threats which Israel faces are unique. The enemies ranged against it seek to eliminate its very existence as a state. In the frontline are the terrorist militias of Hamas and Hezbollah. Behind them stand Syria and Iran. This existential threat is not even acknowledged in the ISG report.
Worse, the report, while specifying Arab-Israeli negotiations as a condition for U,.S. policy success in the region, singularly fails to do the same when it comes to Iran. The Iranian regime is the greatest threat to stability in the Middle East. Its actions in Iraq actively undermine U.S. efforts there by fostering sectarian conflict. Iran supports Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists in the Palestinian territories. In Lebanon, it has backed Hezbollah with money, weapons and advisers. Iran's leaders indulge in hateful rhetoric, declaring their aim of wiping Israel off the map and openly sponsoring Holocaust denial.
Underlying all this is Iran's nuclear program. Iran's aim in carrying out uranium enrichment is to obtain nuclear warheads. The world knows this but has, so far, shied away from dealing effectively with Iran's relentless nuclear drive.
For that reason alone, it's shocking that the ISG report does not explictly state what needs to be stated: that Iran cannot be allowed, under any circumstances, to develop nuclear weapons. If Iran does obtain nuclear weapons, the other states of the Middle East will rush to do the same. The prospect of regional proliferation or, even worse, a nuclear conflagration triggered by Iranian aggression, is not one that can be countenanced by either the U.S. or Israel. Yet all the ISG report does is to recommend that that the U.N. Security Council continue to deal with Iran's nuclear program – that the Council's record on this issue so far has been pitiful is not mentioned.
When it comes to Syria, the report advocates that Israel concede the disputed Golan Heights in exchange for Damascus preventing arms transfers to Hamas and Hezbollah, ending its destructive role in Lebanon and helping to "obtain from Hamas an acknowledgement of Israel's right to exist." But the report is deplorably short of recommendations on what to do if Syria does what it has always done – renege on its commitments. Instead, the Syrian regime would be rewarded with credibility bestowed by the U.S. and the international community.
The ISG report ignores the grim reality of Iran's leaders and their allies in Syria. These are states which thrive on conflict, not negotiation. They advance their interests through aggression, not dialogue. Their current attempts to overthrow the Lebanese government, in direct defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, are proof enough.
If the goals of the ISG report – peace and stability for Iraq and the Middle East – are laudable, its recommendations on the regional level could well unleash the exact opposite. Whether or not Iran and Syria are engaged diplomatically, there should be no illusions about the threats they represent, separately and together. Nor should the rush to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be presented as the path to regional harmony. When it comes to the wider Middle East, the ISG report is in need of precisely the kind of reality check it recommends on Iraq.