Interesting Times: Want peace? Stop Iran

Negotiations are not a propeller driving events, but a cork in the ocean buffeted by them.

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
President George Bush has set a bold goal for the remaining year of his presidency: an agreement to establish a Palestinian state. Whether he succeeds depends on his fulfilling an even bolder goal: preventing the current Iranian regime from obtaining nuclear weapons. These goals are rarely mentioned in the same context, let alone intertwined. And when they are brought together, it is usually in the opposite direction; that is, with the claim that the latest peace push was made possible, in part, by Arabs and Israelis sharing a fear of Iran. The corralling of so many Arab foreign ministers in Annapolis, in this view, represents both a capitalization on the Iranian threat and action against that threat, by vividly demonstrating America's power and Iran's isolation. IT IS TRUE that Iran and its proxies, Hamas and Hizbullah, all condemned Annapolis, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lobbied the Saudi and Syrian leaders against participating. It is also true that if the Arab world were actually to make a real peace with Israel it would be a tremendous setback for the Iranian regime and everything it stands for. But this is precisely the point why, while peacemaking can be a means toward isolating Iran, the much stronger vector is not from the peace process against Iran but in the other direction - from Iran against Arab-Israeli peace. A simple thought experiment might help to understand this: Try to imagine the Arab world making peace with Israel at the very moment when Iran has obtained, or is on the cusp of obtaining, nuclear weapons. Having trouble? Anyone who thinks this will happen has not paid much attention to the Arab states' modus operandi for the past few decades. These states are ambivalent, to put it mildly, regarding their relationship with the West, particularly the US. They act as weather vanes, veering this way and that depending on which of two devils they fear most: democratization and Islamism. The Arab states have become adept at leveraging one threat against the other. An Egyptian journalist I just spoke with pointed out that in Egypt, for example, the Islamists are a convenient opposition: so long as they are the only alternative, both the West and their own people will suffer with the current regime. A nuclear Iran would completely upset this cozy balance. Rather than appeasing the US, the "moderate" Arab states would appease Iran by joining its orbit, much as Syria already has. The Arab regimes know that if Iran goes nuclear, the mullahs will be able to ramp up their support for Hamas, Hizbullah and other Islamist groups with impunity. This is a much more persuasive form of leverage than invitations to conferences in Washington. We must also keep in mind that the Arab states and the Palestinians are in no hurry to make peace with Israel for their own reasons. Besides stirring up their Islamist opponents, giving up the conflict with Israel would be sacrificing a popular rallying point that has served nicely to distract from the failures of these regimes. Making peace with Israel means giving up the only cause that has ever unified the Arab world, that of destroying Israel. Formally and permanently ratifying the existence of the Jewish state would render a century of Arab "struggle" a gigantic exercise in futility. Even if Iran did not exist, it would be an uphill battle to convince the Arab world to actually give up, rather than merely go through the motions of giving up, what has become a key organizing principle of both its politics and society. Peace with Israel in the Arab mind, even in the context of creating a Palestinian state, means acquiescing in a monumental act of injustice. The only reason the Arab world would do this is if the US was clearly winning its conflict with Islamofascism, which is centered on Iran. By the same token, the more Iran is winning, or the contest seems open, Arab states will not stick their necks out by handing the US a signal victory. IN THE contest between Iran and the US, the Arab states might seem to have a strong interest in the US winning. Actually, they would rather like neither side to win, as they fear either being too strong. And even if they did want the US to win, their actions depend more greatly on whether the US is winning, regardless of what they prefer. The Arab decision to go along with Annapolis came partly from an authentic need to bolster the US team (including Abbas and Israel) over the Iranian team (including Hamas, Hizbullah and al-Qaida). But the recent Israeli air strike in Syria, combined with American military successes in Iraq, probably had more influence than Condoleezza Rice's persuasive powers. The same logic must be extended if we are to think seriously about what will help bring peace and what will push it further away. If Islamist forces throughout the region are brought under an Iranian nuclear umbrella, it is impossible to imagine the negotiations launched in Annapolis going anywhere. What basis is there for believing that extremely risk-averse Arab leaders would concede the fight against Israel just as the forces most inflamed by doing so are becoming stronger? We should remember that the last major wave of peacemaking, starting with the 1991 Madrid Conference and culminating in the 1993 Oslo Principles, came precisely at a time of US ascendance. The Soviet Union had recently collapsed, and a US-led coalition had summarily reversed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. At the same time, the PLO had suffered major financial and diplomatic body blows from the Gulf States, which had slashed their support as punishment for Yasser Arafat's backing of Saddam Hussein. A peace process is less a propeller driving events than it is a cork in the ocean being buffeted by them. The only real way to bring peace is to rack up victories against Islamofascism that will reinforce each other, thereby encouraging Arab fence sitters to choose the winning side. Whether 2008 is the year that Arabs and Israelis agree to make peace depends most of all on whether it is the year that Iran's terrorist regime falls, is forced to capitulate, or is otherwise convincingly prevented from obtaining the Bomb. [email protected]

- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11