No informed and rational person would support “democracy” in Jordan or Syria at the cost of the relative stability of the current regimes. But, then, does “informed” and “rational” apply to American understanding of the “Arab Spring?" America’s support for regime change in Egypt has rattled most regional American “allies” from Yemen to Morocco. After a tense exchange by phone between Saudi King Abdullah and President Obama, the king chose not to receive Obama’s emissaries Gates, Mullen and Clinton to discuss Bahrain.
With America’s decision to enter Viet Nam IV (Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan being numbers one through three) “to protect the people” comprising the “democratic” forces for change in Libya, perhaps traditional definitions of “informed” and “rational” do not apply. Particularly since the military leader of the anti-Gadaffi insurgents announced to the world press that Libyan members of al-qaida and Hezbollah returned home from fighting Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to join the movement for change in Libya! And should his claim be doubted, none other than America’s NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, US Admiral James Stavridis, in charge of the Libya campaign, confirmed the claim in congressional testimony. So how can the administration even consider providing al-qaida, Hezbollah and whatever other anti-West terrorists reside within the insurgents with arms to “defend themselves.”
Should any still doubt, Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader of al-qaida recently expressed support for the uprising, and for the Arab Spring.
So while the world of US diplomacy, our apparent strategic national imperatives, might appear “rational” to those within the government, for me it’s back to the “What if” of the title: What if the administration chooses to intervene in Syria and Jordan to protect the demonstrators? What have previous such US interventions on the side of protesters achieved?
In 1979 the US supported the Iranian students against the tyranny of America’s long-time ally the Shah. Within months the disorganized students and their supporters were brutally suppressed, replaced by the mullahs. Their fate for bringing “democracy” to Iran was arrest, torture, death and, for the fortunate flight: “at least 4400 persons, ranging from cabinet ministers to prostitutes from coup plotters to street protestors, were executed by the Islamic regime in the first few years of the revolution.” In today’s Arab Spring, the only difference with Iran is geography and the sect of the Islamists likely to inherit the states, the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood.
In 2002, before ordering the invasion of Iraq, President Bush was told that the Shi''ites were the majority, the Sunni Ba''athist rulers a small minority. Bush famously exclaimed, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!” American policy is likely more sophisticated today, at least regarding Shi''ite and Sunni. But its policymakers seem unrealistically unconcerned by Shi''ite Iran’s meddling hand instigating unrest in America’s nervous Sunni Arab allies.
Two factors will determine Israel’s response to the presence of Islamist regimes on all borders: it will take time for those regimes to consolidate power facing challenges by large and antagonistic minorities within their own borders (as the Iraq example demonstrates eight years and counting), and; those Brotherhood regimes, Sunni by religion are as likely as the regimes they replace to be distracted by the threat of Shi''ite Iran likely possessing the bomb. But that distraction may buy time, it will not free Israel from the constant stress of hostile regimes surrounding her.
The last time Israel found herself in a similar situation was in the run-up to the 1967 war. But unlike our imaginary scenario, at that time Jordan was a reluctant adversary. Faced with that degree of existential threat Israel relied on a military doctrine of preemption, striking first. With Iranian proxies Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, as in 1967 ample provocation will present itself justifying a massive surprise attack against adversaries on all fronts. And the outcome in the future will likely be the same as 1967. With relatively unstable regimes in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, each of which will suffer a weak military (Syria’s military is Alawite-led; overthrow the Alawite regime and the army is decapitated; Jordan’s military is Hashemite Bedouin-led and by overthrowing the Hashemite regime, so goes the army), which will leave both states relatively easy to defeat. Egypt may or not be better prepared (a Brotherhood takeover would also likely leave the military leaderless), but with the north and east borders secured, Egypt too should fall to the Israel Defense Forces.
What would the borders of a post-Israel victory in a three-front war look like? Think 1967 plus. To the west, the Suez Canal. With an Islamist and generally anti-western Egyptian regime, as in 1956 and 1967, most Western Israel-critics would quietly applaud the outcome. To the east, the Jordan River; but the issue of Palestine deserves further discussion. The Syrian frontier, Golan, of course, but with the border pushed further east towards Damascus. In Lebanon Israel would likely take and hold territory to the Litani River to the north, and to the east across the Bekaa Valley to the Syrian frontier.
Palestine: Ironically, the war would finally provide an opportunity for statehood for the Palestinians. In final defeat Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, would flee to Egypt. The emergent Palestinian state would comprise Gaza, much of the West Bank generally in accord with near-miss peace proposals since Camp David, 2000; and all of Jordan. Gaza and the West Bank part of the Palestinian state would be demilitarized and jointly policed, as today. Israel’s military boundary to the east would remain the Jordan Rift Valley.
The Region: According to this scenario, in the aftermath of her conquests Israel would again return to her role prior to the Bush presidency, as a stabilizing presence in the Middle East. Of course the notion of Israel as a “stabilizing” presence is somewhat out of vogue in today’s White House. But that is the result of successive administrations with a confused world view compounded by the distraction of multiple unwinnable wars.
In fact Israel served American interests and her own as counter to radical Arab nationalist regimes during the decades-long, mid-century Cold War contest between the United States and the Soviet Union for regional supremacy. A powerful post-war Israel would once again serve as a credible deterrent to regional radicalism, to Iranian ambition; would lessen, even eliminate the threat of Shiite hegemony to the Sunni Arab oil producing monarchies; remove uncertainty regarding oil supplies and transit through the Straits of Hormuz, thereby reduce the price of oil, and speed the return to global economic health.
As regards Israel’s previous strategic alliance with Turkey, the two would once again have commonality in the threat of a frustrated and ambitious nuclear Iran.
The United States: Between 2003 and 2011 America has been on the defensive in the region and is today nearly powerless to influence events on the ground. Regionally Iran, a minor player on the world stage, is seen as the equal of the superpower. If the Bush invasion of Iraq created the opportunity for Iran to assert itself regionally, Obama forcing regime change on Egypt left the Arab monarchies feeling that each could be next in line for an American imposed regime change.
America today is seen more a threat than protector. As a result the Arabs feel they can better manage Iran on their own, that short of empty assurances America has no intention to confront militarily the Islamic Republic. So as things stand today it is just a matter of time before the US, for all its economic and military power, will be forced to fight or depart, and will likely just leave.
Ironically, in the wake of an Israeli victory as described above the United States may find its fortunes reversed by events on the ground. With Iranian Islamism contained, with the Sunni variant west of Iran also quiescent, the damage inflicted on the region by Bush in 2003, by Obama in 2011, will have been erased. With Israel’s return as counter to regional radicalism America will by default be returned to its place as regional superpower, Western protector of its, and the world’s, regional strategic interests.
Israel will again be back in favor with the White House, its “special relationship” reinstated. And America’s two regional allies, Israel and Turkey, will again represent America’s forward military arm, protecting American interests minus the cost and military dislocation of the superpower having to station forces on the ground in the Middle East to enforce its authority.
Three of my more recent JPost blogs related to the subject: