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Yoram Ettinger: Welcome to Middle East reality

Yoram Ettinger

Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative”
April 7, 2019, https://bit.ly/2I6DRyp

Western policy makers and public opinion molders tend to oversimplify Middle East reality and subordinate the 1,400 year old unpredictable, violent and shifty intra-Arab and intra-Muslim non-Western environment to their own Western state-of-mind and well-intentioned wishful-thinking.

Middle East reality – as demonstrated, systematically, by the Arab walk – has frustrated Western misperceptions of the “Middle East conflict,” which has never been the Arab-Israeli conflict. Furthermore, and contrary to Western conventional wisdom, Middle East reality has underlined the Palestinian issue as a non-core-cause of Middle East turbulence, not a crown jewel of Arab policy making, nor the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Moreover, Western peace initiatives tend to downplay the fact that Middle East reality has yet to experience long-term intra-Arab or intra-Muslim domestic and regional peaceful coexistence.

While Western observers tend to refer to the Arab-Israeli conflict as “the Middle East conflict,” in reality, the Middle East has been dominated by a multitude of intra-Arab and intra-Muslim conflicts, totally unrelated to Israel, neither directly nor indirectly.
Thus, the April 4, 2019 France 24, reports that the Khalifa Haftar militia – one of dozens of militias afflicting Libya since the 2011 toppling of Qaddafi – is advancing on Tripoli. In fact, civil wars have traumatized Libya since the toppling of Qaddafi, which was led by the US/NATO, despite the fact that the Libyan dictator transferred his nuclear infrastructure to the US and fought Islamic terror organizations in North Africa. The Libyan revolution – which produced some 30,000 fatalities – transformed that strategically located country into a major platform of Islamic terrorism, threatening every country in Northern Africa, Sub Sahara Africa, Europe and beyond.

A multitude of inter-Arab, inter-Muslim wars have afflicted the Middle East since the appearance of Islam in the seventh century.  More recently the regional reality has featured conflicts – unrelated to Israel – such as the Syrian civil war, which erupted in 2011 (with over half a million killed and about 10 million displaced and/or refugees); the Iraq civil war since 2003 (around 500,000 casualties and 3 million refugees and displaced persons); the most recent civil war in Yemen, which has also been a Saudi-Iran war-by-proxy (some 100,000 dead and 3 million refugees), that succeeded the civil war of the 1960s, with Egyptian involvement (with some 200,000 killed); the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war (800,000 killed) was a follow up to their 1936-1974 wars and the 1975 peace agreement; the South Yemen-Oman war of 1968-1970 (with some 100,000 killed and half a million refugees; etc.

While the Middle East volcano emits lava (including terrorism), which threatens to sweep every Arab/Islamic regime, further destabilizing the region, increasingly afflicting and threatening the homeland security of Western Europe and the US, many Western policy makers and observers are still preoccupied with the Palestinian issue, which is relatively-minor in the Middle East Arab/Muslim context.

At a time, when the US contemplates a new Israel-Palestinian peace initiative, one may benefit from an essay by Amir Taheri, an Iran-born veteran author and analyst of Middle East affairs, whose analyses have been vindicated by reality.

Taheri poses the following rhetorical question: “Is Israel the problem? With the Middle East in crisis from end to end, analysts focus on one rather peripheral dispute.”

This experienced analyst sheds light on the critical flaws of Western movers and shakers, such as the late President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker.  Thus, rather than leverage the 1991 liberation of Kuwait and the devastation of Saddam Hussein’s military – by enhancing the US posture of deterrence, clipping the wings of Iran’s Ayatollahs and advancing a durable pact of security cooperation between Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and additional Arab regimes in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula – the US focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict and convened the 1991 Madrid Conference.  Taheri defined it as “an impressive show of heads of states, but as proven by subsequent events, a wholly counterproductive exercise in peacemaking….

“The two key assumptions that led to Madrid were that the Arab-Israeli conflict was the issue… and that all other issues in the region were inextricably linked to it…. For a group of American ‘wise men’ to embrace such retrograde and easily refuted notions, bespeaks a truly dangerous ignorance of reality….

“In fact, far from being the root cause of instability and war in the wider Middle East, one could argue that the Arab-Israeli conflict is rather peripheral…. That the Arabs have long regarded Iran as an alien power is true enough. But, their preoccupation with Teheran has hardly deterred them from fighting bitterly among themselves as well…. The only neighbor with whom Egypt enjoys demarcated and internationally recognized borders is Israel….

“The notion that all of the [intra-Arab, intra-Muslim] problems can be waved away by ‘solving’ the Arab-Israeli conflict is, at best, a delusion…. With the exception of Israel, and the partial exception of Turkey, the entire Middle East lacks a culture of conflict resolution…. Such a culture can only be shaped through a process of democratization….”

Have Western policy makers learned from their predecessors by avoiding – or repeating – systematic errors, while addressing Middle East challenges and threats?

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