'US influence in the Middle East has eroded significantly'

Former Defense Minister to JPost Conference: US must become more proactive in the region.

Moshe Ya'alon (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Moshe Ya'alon
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The influence of the United States as a superpower in the Middle East has eroded significantly, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon told the audience at The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
According to Ya’alon, the Middle East has “become a very tough region,” saying there is no doubt that ongoing and chronic instability is the future of the region as “keeping the Middle East in a vacuum for one’s own interests will only have negative consequences.”
Iran, Ya’alon said, is exploiting the current situation.
“They are no longer politically isolated. There are no longer any crippling sanctions and they do not feel there is any threat militarily whatsoever. They’ve succeeded in gaining hegemony, not only in Tehran, but also Baghdad, Damascus, Lebanon and Yemen, challenging Western interests in the region.”
Ya’alon added: “We have clear evidence of them [the Iranians] breaking UN resolutions,” regarding the proliferation of arms and support of terrorism. “The Iranian aspiration,” he said, “is to dominate the region.”
But it’s not only Iran which poses a threat. Following the Arab Spring, many groups have risen to power, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic State.
“The objective should be to defeat IS[IS] on the ground, and we can do that, wherever they are found,” Ya’alon said, referring to the several so-called Islamic State “provinces.”
With regard to the Muslim Brotherhood, while they lost their support in Egypt following the fall of Mohamed Morsi, Ya’alon believes they are still supported in the Middle East by Turkey, a member of NATO. Turkey enabled Islamic State by buying their oil and allowing jihadist terrorists to come from across the world – via Turkish airports – and join IS[IS] in Syria and then go back to their countries, “as experienced and trained terrorists.”
“And what about Hamas?” Ya’alon asks. “Their headquarters are in Istanbul.”
All three have influence beyond the Middle East, and threaten the West, he said, adding that “they should be defeated or at least contained.”
But, Ya’alon said: “Elements in the region are not sure which side the US is on, whether it is with the Sunni camp or the radical Shi’ite camp.”
On this matter, Ya’alon told the audience there is a need to change US policy in the Middle East to being more proactive rather than reactive.
For the State of Israel, the policy on defense is to not intervene in conflicts of neighboring countries and maintain redlines, he said, whether it is “against certain elements in Syria trying to violate our sovereignty, or groups in the Gaza Strip, and other Daesh elements which are around us on the border, but which remain deterred by the IDF.”
Israel’s “carrot and stick” policy also provides humanitarian assistance to those in need, Ya’alon said. Whether it be providing medical care to injured Syrians or allowing Palestinians from Gaza to leave the Strip when needed.
But, there are still people who believe that the reason behind the conflict in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as others who believe that the core reason behind the continued tensions is Israel’s unwillingness to accept the pre-1967 borders.
“That’s ridiculous. There is no connection,” Ya’alon stated. “Israel doesn’t and shouldn’t want to rule over the Palestinians.” And while he does not believe that in the current situation there is the ability to come to a final solution, he said: “We must improve the economy and infrastructure and strengthen the security situation as a benefit for the two parties. That would be the right path to living together in dignity.”
That, Ya’alon said is the only “realistic solution” to ending conflict in the region.