woensdag 16 juni 2010

Unloose the Gordian Knot in the Levant

(article by guest author Samir Orfali)

A message to geo-strategic pressure lines of Iran: remember the tale of the Gordian Knot. A bold move by Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, or a ‘diplomatic stroke’, could reverse Iran’s approach and indeed re-establish US leverage in the region.

On an occasion in April, Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad criticized US policies on Iraq, namely, by calling the invasion "misguided" and going into detail by pointing out that the ensuing vacuum had been filled by Iran's delicate network of proxies and alliances that form a "Gordian Knot" today. The ancient myth of the "Gordian Knot" describes Alexander the Great, who after finding no end to the knot cut it with one stroke to become king of Asia Minor.

On the macro level, the main threats to NATO interests in the area are a) an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear installations that would set the region ablaze and, in the worst-case scenario, would force the US out of the region and b) a new crisis, such a deepening of the Israeli-Islamic rift fuelled by the humanitarian situation in Gaza and dominated by a self-declared Islamic party, such as Hamas and its sponsor "The Muslim Brotherhood" today. Religion-based politics have increasingly challenged US policies in the Islamic world because of domestic dividends as well as the geo-strategic self-interest of the respective players. The urgency of both dead-end scenarios a) and b) has been intensified as well by Syria as Israel:

• Syria, increasingly courted and protected by China's Silk Road approach to the region, faces allegations that say it delivered Scud missiles to Hezbollah, a charge Damascus vehemently denies. Nevertheless, even rumours of one-ton payload in the hands of Hezbollah continue to puzzle Israel in the wake of the 2006 war, and force its government to act. Hezbollah-rockets that could hit Tel-Aviv shorten Israel's fuse on a direct assault on Iran significantly.

• Israel, witnessing ultra-right currents among its ruling coalition, issued a military order allowing its military to deport or imprison tens of thousands of Palestinians of the West Bank. Therefore fears of a third Nakba (Catastrophe) arise in Jordan, a staunch NATO ally. Jordan worries that additional Palestinian refugees will flow into the already water-poor country and threaten its delicate tribal Palestinian-Jordanian demographics. Right-wing Islamist currents among Jordan's developing party-system make waves by "remembering" King Abdullah of Jordan and his claim on the Kingdom's "strategic interests" with regard to Jerusalem and "solidarity" with Palestine. Signs of a widening vacuum!

In summary new and old players on the ground, such as China and Iran [see a], and soaring religious currents [see b] after toppling Saddam's regime in Iraq are lethal to NATO interests in the region. The US's main ally in the region, Netanyahu, however, faces a strategic as well as personal quagmire: On the one hand, Labor ministers threaten to quit the coalition if tangible developments on the Peace Process do not occur soon. On the other hand, Netanyahu may loose the support of ultra right wing parties, like Israel Beiteinu and Shas that categorically oppose a settlement freeze.

However, the single solution to bring the peace process back on track, namely, leaving the ultra right-wing parties, would put Kadimas Zipi Livni in a position to challenge his chair. Nevertheless, the clock is ticking to avert both tendencies or at least contain them sufficiently by a) building a stable democracy in Iraq in order to create a publicly perceivable success story after all and, b) appeasing the drums of war, hence supporting secular and potential democratic states and civil societies in the region, such as Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey and gaining tangible diplomatic leverage among them. However, Iran needs to be contained as progress on both fronts is determined by Teheran.

Therefore, giving "Richard Nixon goes to China" momentum in the Middle East, like Netanyahu making a surprise visit to Damascus making a peace offer would most likely unravel the "Gordian Knot" that protects Iran's Ahmadinejad today. This would pay the US a handsome dividend by providing credibility to the Obama Administration in the Middle East in general and strengthen its leverage over Iran by containing its influence in Asia Minor. Asking Mr. Ambassador Ford to join Prime Minister Netanyahu at his commencement of work would re-establish the trust of the Israeli public in the Obama Administration and, to a much lesser extent, surprise the Arab public.

By strengthening the resolve of Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad, and allowing him to reform, or even mediate, with regard to Iran and Lebanon, would give Netanyahu the strength to challenge Tzipi Livni in coalition talks. The new coalition between Kadima, Labour and Likud could have the Chuzpe to implement a policy based on the Arab Peace Initiative, such as full withdrawal to the 1967 cease fire line and a compromise settlement with the Palestinians in the diaspora.

Samir Orfali is a student of Economics at the University of Hagen based in Amman, Jordan / Damascus, Syria and Berlin. He co-moderates the Forum Liberal und International and the Syrian Business Club at Xing.

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