America’s Role in Making Peace in the Middle East

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel walks with Saudi Arabia's Prince Fahd bin Abdullah, deputy defense ministerLast week at a Carnegie Endowment meeting, a wise retired career Ambassador Edward P Djerejian discussed the Baker Institute at Rice University report, “Re-Engaging the Israelis and Palestinians: Why An American Role In Initiating Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Is Necessary and How It Can Be Accomplished.” It was an insightful and thought out perspective and it was contrary to those in Washington and elsewhere who have argued against American peace efforts.  We have often argued here for a more engaged American diplomatic stance for a long time.

The question asked at the meeting was whether President Obama was fully engaged in a true full court press on Middle East peace. The response was that he had “internalized” the issue and his schedule and that of his two key national security people, namely Secretaries Kerry and Hagel were fully engaged.

Hagel is heading this weekend for the Middle East with stops in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. The Middle East peace process and Iran as well as arm sales will be key topics. Kerry has already been in the region as well as Obama’s trip to Israel in which he made a major speech giving his perspective in honest and, at moments, direct terms, reaching out to the Israeli public to argue that peace is better than war for Israel. 

Interestingly Amb. Djerejian mentioned in his talk the documentary file “Gatekeepers” (which we have previously mentioned at RNS) in which Israeli top former security agency officials both noted the increasing security dangers to that nation and the disastrous policies followed by Israel given the reality of the regional landscape.

Against this background, news reports are reporting that Prime Minister Netanyahu, in talking with the BBC, said that Israel is ready to strike Iran unilaterally if it is the only option to stop the Islamic Republic from gaining nuclear weapons. This was said against a background that Iran officials have threatened Israel and indicated they may enrich uranium to a 50% level, which has no legitimate peaceful use, but moves further towards weapons grade.

These developments only emphasize again the need for a peaceful and diplomatic solution to this critical issue, rather than starting an all out war that would be a catastrophe for all. Often those who argue for “war” do not talk about the resulting likely aftermath for citizens and society on all sides.  The sound of “war drums” seems to increase on all sides as both Iran and Israel sound stupid and hysteric giving warnings and threats.

In the United States, the Congress that cowardly defeated a common sense and needed gun limiting legislation voted, on the other hand, for a belligerent stance towards dealing with the Iranian issue and indirectly a blow to seeking a regional Middle East peace construct.  On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed unanimously to legislation to go to the Senate floor affirming U.S. support for Israel in the event that Israel has to unilaterally take military action against Tehran. The bipartisan language emphasized the shared danger that Iran represents to both the U.S. and Israel, it pledged “diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.”  Administration officials tried to underline that the resolution expressed support for unilateral Israeli action, rather than a commitment for U.S. action. This leaves us with a measure of ambiguity and of asking if both Israel’s and American’s vital security interests will be compromised by perceptions and mindless actions, which will create a regional tinderbox for all.

My view is that a war on Iran will serve those who do not want a Middle East peace as the results of a unilateral strike by Israel without firm indications of imminent major danger from an Iranian existing nuclear weapon capability. Such an action in the mind of some who do not accept the “Two State” road map see such action as vitiating any hope of a large Middle East peace compact and only causing horrific conflict against Israel.

The best answer remains the diplomatic path and many with considerable experience in this region rightly argue that a major and direct U.S. presidential involvement and engagement is needed. Along with this is a major effort to seek to calm the drumbeats for war with Iran, a reinforcement of negotiations, and if needed, serious “sticks and carrots” to move towards an agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons.

The world is a glowingly dangerous place, no time for silly threats and dangerous nuclear weapons development, and least of all mindless strategies aiming at conflict rather than avoiding it.

Click Here for Baker Institute at Rice University’s report, “Re-Engaging the Israelis and Palestinians: Why An American Role In Initiating Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Is Necessary and How It Can Be Accomplished.”