NEW YORK – Oil and water don’t usually mix. But one native son of the Middle
East has a suggestion for US President Barack Obama on how to combine these
elements to promote peace in the region.
Mithal al-Alusi, a former Iraqi
parliamentarian, believes a key to Mideast peace lies in the Strait of Hormuz,
the passage for oil transport between the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean
vital to several Arab countries.
Alusi, who served for nearly five years
in the legislature and continues to promote cooperation among Arab nations, the
US and Israel, suggests that Obama organize a conference of moderate Arab states
to demand the Strait stay open no matter what. (Opponents of the idea of a
military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities frequently cite the possibility
that Teheran might close the Strait).
Because it would be based on the
economic self-interest of Arab countries around the strait, the conference would
bolster an alliance among these countries, and could bring them into cooperation
with a historic enemy – Israel.
The point of the conference could be:
Don’t close the Strait of Hormuz; it is an international waterway, Alusi says.
Arabs can say, It is about our economy and our security. These are powerful oil
exporters, and they don’t want the strait blocked.
The Arab countries
around the strait that Alusi sees as ideal participants in the initiative – the
United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Iraq – all
have a powerful economic interest in keeping the strait open. They also fear the
Islamic Republic of Iran and its quest for nuclear weapons, he
These are small countries and they are afraid of Iran, according to
If Obama can leverage their anxieties about Iran’s quest for
nuclear weapons and the possibility Iran will block the strait, Alusi believes
the US president can forge a powerful alliance between these nations and the
strongest military force in the region, Israel.
Such an alliance, he
maintains, would change the dynamic of Washington’s relationship with the
Islamic Republic, enabling the US to operate from a position of greater
We can’t let Iran play smaller, more moderate Arab countries
against each, Alusi says. This conference would block this Iranian tactic, and
when we block extremists like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hizbullah’s Hassan
Nasrallah, we support seculars, liberals, moderates, and anyone in the Middle
East who wants a normal life.
Israel would benefit, too.
be looked at as a powerful source of help. All of us have the same worries, the
moderates would say. It would also help Israel feel more secure.
important in the Arab world, where Obama is a respected figure, Alusi says. The
US president could elevate the status of moderates by hosting this conference.
If Obama organizes this event, the Saudis, the leaders of the UAE and other Arab
countries might come even if Israel were invited as a party with an economic and
political interest in the peaceful containment of Iran, he says.
ties to the Muslim world go back to childhood.
Having his blessing would
help moderates feel better, more confident, Alusi says.
president’s Muslimfriendly credentials make him the ideal leader to make this
bold move, and the time is ripe, Alusi insists. Arab countries have, in their
recent actions, signaled increased openness to dealing with Israel. He points to
thenvice premier Shimon Peres 2007 visit to Qatar and the official reception of
National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau in the United Arab Emirates earlier
Moreover, in a dramatic example of Arab concern about Iran,
the UAE’s ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, said in July that the Middle
East would be worse off if Iran gets a nuclear weapon than if there were an
attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities by whomever, presumably including
If Obama could organize this conference, it could be a first step
toward realizing the president’s dream of a peaceful Palestinian state alongside
a secure Israel, Alusi believes.
Conversely, he argues that if such a
conference cannot occur, it would be unrealistic to expect a Palestinian state
If such a conference is impossible to organize, how could it be
possible to organize something bigger? But if Obama can pull it off, it would be
more realistic to organize something bigger.
One step at a time, Alusi
The Palestine issue would not be the center of this conference,
he says. That way, the participants would not be burdened by the same old
We are talking about a new issue: the need for alliance
against extremism, Alusi emphasizes.
Baghdad-bred, Alusi is a Sunni Arab
who believes the key to normalcy in the region is rejecting the “Israel
complex,” the Arab tendency to oppose Israel, and instead, to capitalize on
partnership with the Jewish state.
As a former director of the Iraqi
interim government’s National Commission of de- Ba’athification, he has lost a
tremendous amount in advancing the cause of peace. In September 2004, he
attended a counterterrorism conference in Israel. After he returned home,
insurgents murdered his two grown sons.
Minutes after the attack, he told
reporters, “Even if these terrorists try to kill me again, peace is the only
Peace with Israel is the only solution for Iraq. Peace with
everybody, but no peace for the terrorists.”
Alusi remained in Iraq, got
his Iraqi Nation Party onto the ballot for the 2005 elections, and was elected
He served in the legislature for nearly five years and
remains a champion of human rights and cooperation between Arab nations and
He emphasizes that the conflict in the Middle East is not
fundamentally between Arabs and Israelis, but between moderates and
Ryan Crocker, a former US ambassador to Baghdad, believes
Alusi, whom he describes as a man of extraordinary personal and political
courage, is uniquely positioned to contribute to dialogue about Middle Eastern
Too often conventional thinking takes over and nothing changes,
Mithal al-Alusi is an agent of change.(The writer,
an independent journalist, has contributed to The Wall Street Journal and blogs
at The Huffington Post and at her web site, www.heatherrobinson.net.
article first appeared in The Washington Examiner.)