Israel isn't the epicenter of the violent storm that engulfs the Mideast

If we look objectively at the reality on the ground, it is not Israel that connects many of the Middle East’s trouble spots.

An airplane flies out of Beirut’s International Airport. (photo credit: REUTERS)
An airplane flies out of Beirut’s International Airport.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, made several critical observations in her address to the AIPAC Policy Conference last week, but one that rang particularly true was her assessment of Israel’s role in the Middle East.
“There are probably 10 major problems facing the Middle East,” Haley said, “and Israel doesn’t have anything to do with any of them.” And yet every month at the UN Security Council’s gathering devoted to the Middle East, the “session becomes an Israel- bashing session.”
Instead of singling out the only Jewish state for obsessive condemnation, Haley suggested the UNSC focus on the real pathologies of the Middle East, such as “Iran or Syria or Hezbollah, Hamas, ISIS [Islamic State], the famine in Yemen.”
Of all the policy myths that have kept us from recognizing the true nature of conflict in the blood-soaked region, one stands out for its fatality and perpetuation: the idea that if only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were solved, all the other deep-rooted quandaries facing the Middle East would magically disappear.
The “Arab Spring” revolt that swept across the region should have destroyed the “linkage” dogma once and for all – what happened in Syria, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia had nothing to do with Israel – and yet the myth that the Arab world resolves around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lives on.
I invite you on a quick tour of the greater Middle East. The industrial-scale killing machine of the Assad regime in Syria, sustained by Iran and Russia? Unrelated to the ailing Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Yemen on the brink of starvation? Nothing to do with the Jewish state. The power struggle between Sunnis and Shi’ites that rips apart entire countries? No. The rise of Islamic State? All unrelated.
It is, of course, critical to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that brings peace and security to both peoples. It is also true that the conflict has long been exploited by reactionary elements in the region – from Arab strongmen to Islamic extremists and the man on the street – to incite populist nationalist mobilization or terrorism.
But even if the conflict ended today, the mullahs in Iran wouldn’t give up their nuclear ambitions. The Assad regime wouldn’t stop dropping chemical agents on children. And terrorists, driven by a desire to purge the Middle East of infidels, would still slaughter innocent Jews, Muslims and Christians.
If we look objectively at the reality on the ground, it is not Israel that connects many of the Middle East’s trouble spots. Rather, all the roads lead to Tehran.
The Iranian regime is complicit in the mass murder in Syria. It has turned Yemen into a deadly proxy war with Saudi Arabia.
It arms terrorist groups from Hezbollah in Lebanon to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Wherever the mullahs take their imperialist ambitions, they leave behind a trail of blood.
If you had the chance to meet with the US secretary of state or secretary of defense and asked them what they hear at top of the agenda in their meetings with Arab leaders, they would tell you of the Arab world’s deep reservations about the nuclear deal with Iran. Their concerns over the Islamic Republic’s missile program. And Iran’s desire to turn Syria into a permanent military base.
Don’t take my word for it. You can even go back to Wikileaks and read the cables for yourself.
Long gone are the days when Israel was the synonym in the Arab world for all that is wrong in the region.
If policymakers are serious about finding permanent solutions to the many problems that Haley highlighted in her speech, they must stop singling out the only Jewish state among the nations for sanctions and boycotts.
They must stop demanding that Israel meet standards not expected of any other nation. And they must stop rewarding Palestinian unilateralism.
Let’s give credit where credit is due: Ambassador Haley is right. Peace only has a fighting chance when “all sides will be dealing with realities, not fantasies, and when we deal with realities, then reasonable negotiated compromises can prevail over absolutist demands.”
Israel is not going to go away. Israel’s historic connection to Jerusalem cannot be denied. And Israel is not the epicenter of the violent storm that engulfs the Middle East.
The author is CEO and president of The Israel Project.