The Region: Four phony panaceas

A strategy is needed for each of a half-dozen impending crises.

barry rubin 88 (photo credit: )
barry rubin 88
(photo credit: )
We are at a turning point - not because big changes are happening today, but because they are clearly visible a bit down the road. And now is the time to make decisions about what to do. It would be easy to make little day-to-day, reactive decisions; yet this approach would be inadequate. On a half-dozen impending crises a strategy is needed. Yet all too rarely do I see discussion of the real issues, especially coming from the biggest names and in the most prestigious publications in Europe and America. The real issues:
  • Lebanon. An alliance of Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Michel Aoun's local Christians and pro-Syrian Lebanese politicians is trying to take over the country's government. Perhaps this will mean the Israel-Lebanon border will be quiet for a while since the main front is in Beirut. The moderate Lebanese majority is being threatened verbally every day with broad hints of violence to come if it doesn't give way. One would think that having Lebanon taken over by a combination of extreme Islamists and aggressive foreign states should be a matter of some concern. Is anyone going to do anything before it is too late, and the region has taken another big step toward destabilization by radicals?
  • UNIFIL. This force is doing a "good job" because Hizbullah is not challenging it by trying cross-border attacks at present. But it is looking the other way as Hizbullah is being rearmed. If the radicals take over Lebanon the force will presumably be asked to leave, or will have to face another round of Lebanon-Hizbullah war in future, with the Beirut regime directly involved. Isn't it worth devising a policy to deal with these problems now?
  • The Hariri murder investigation. It's pretty obvious, even from investigators' interim reports, that Syria was behind the murder of prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. At some point the commission's final conclusions will indicate this. Is anyone thinking about what kind of proposed punishment will be meted out to those at the top of the Syrian regime for a direct act of blatant terrorism?
  • The Gaza-Egypt border. Egypt and the European Union promised Israel that they would keep terrorists and weapons from crossing into Gaza for use by Hamas. We were told that this was in Egypt's interest because it did not want a terrorist hotbed next door serving as an example to its own Islamists. The EU, which is always lecturing Israel, was going to provide an example of its effectiveness as proof that it should be given more of a role in the diplomatic process. Is anyone in Cairo or Brussels going to confront this miserable failure and the real chance that it might lead to a bloody war that will be their fault?
  • Hamas in Gaza. The strategy of Hamas is to build up semi-regular military forces, large stocks of rockets, then try to do in the South what Hizbullah did in the North. The Islamist group is quite willing to sacrifice 1,800 or 18,000 Palestinian civilians there. It will put military forces in the middle of neighborhoods and give Israel a choice between firing at them or absorbing attacks with no effective response. Isn't it the time now for the world to save civilian lives, not by criticizing Israel but by reinforcing its deterrent power?
  • Iran's nuclear drive. Yes, I know this is much discussed but who believes that any serious sanctions are going to be placed on Teheran, or that any other effective means will be taken to stop it?
  • The future of Iraq. The US decision to withdraw, as proposed in previous editions of this column, is the correct one. Yet how is this going to be done without diplomacy making it worse (see below)? THERE IS a great deal of talk about solutions to these issues, misperceived as they are, but the focus is on four phony panaceas, which will clearly not work; in fact, they are likely to make the extremists bolder and more reckless: 1. Reactivating the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Whatever your political preferences, you've got to be really reality-challenged to believe in this one. PA chair Mahmoud Abbas cannot be helped by anyone. His Fatah group is divided, largely radical and remarkably ineffective. He is weak and vacillating. Hamas daily explains it will not change its goal of destroying Israel, and it is salivating for a chance to get out on the battlefield. 2. Negotiations with Syria. Right. Give it Lebanon, forget about Hariri, and the Syrians will happily come to meetings for the next 10 years. But make peace with Israel? You must be kidding. 3. Bringing in Iran and Syria to decide Iraq's future. So the solution is to throw Lebanon and Iraq to the wolves, begging the radicals to see that this proves the West wants to be friends? Could anything possibly persuade them more not to make a single concession, because victory is nigh? 4. Convince the Iranians, via talk and concessions, to stop building nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Why should they, when they know that defying the West will cost them zilch? It's time to get serious. The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center.