Cautious hope for peaceful Middle East
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
Unlike 2007, a rather bloody year in the history of modern Middle East, 2008
should have a better prospect for peace than at any time since 2001, year zero
in the American-declared "global war on terror", assuming that the lame-duck
George W Bush administration does not somehow stifle that prospect.
There is, however, a reasonable expectation that, as with so many other US
presidents who in their final year suddenly discover the protean value of a
"peace legacy" and engage in belated peacemaking efforts, Bush will also
refrain from any further foreign policy adventurism, especially in the Middle
A global donors' meeting in Paris has just pledged some US$7 billion for
Palestinians and the Palestinians would be remiss not
to make the necessary steps that would guarantee the delivery of that hefty sum
which is needed for the reconstruction of their economic lives.
A political process of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is absolutely
necessary to move the peace process restarted in Maryland last month, and that,
in turn, requires a good deal of flexibility on Hamas' part.
Yet, in light of Israel's provocative assaults on Hamas-controlled Gaza, one
wonders about Israel's intentions? Is Israel on its way to recycling the past
attitude of torpedoing genuine peace processes by provoking the other side to
more violent modalities of action? If that is Israel's intention, then we
should not expect any real breakthrough in the Israel-Syria quagmire over the
Golan Heights either.
Israel is now at the crossroads: either choose the principle of land for peace
or continue with a hostile and alienated Arab and Muslim bloc that expresses
its anger at Israel's superpower supporter, the US.
This brings us to Middle East terrorism, often portrayed in the Western media
as a sole function of Arabs and Muslims, without much attention to Israel's
terrorization of Palestinian people, aptly decried by former US president Jimmy
Carter and other world leaders. The injustice to Palestinians breeds terrorism
and this simple truth can no longer be disregarded by the US. Uprooting Arab
terrorism without uprooting the underlying causes pertaining to the Arabs'
perception of Israeli and Western injustice will be an impossible agenda, to
state the obvious.
There were many anticipations of multiple conflicts in the Middle East in 2007
and, on balance, the year just ending frustrated a bulk of those expectations.
Lebanon did not revert to civil war and was able to step back from the brink.
Chances are good-to-excellent that in 2008 the process of political compromise
and reconciliation will continue, as the country struggles to get back on its
feet after the devastation it suffered in Israel's hands in the summer of 2006.
At the same time, Lebanon is the hinge to regional peace that, if undone, can
spread collateral damage on the wider region's peace prospects.
With respect to Iraq, save Turkey's dangerous gambles in northern Iraq, the
country should move further on the path to stabilization and political
consolidation. The fragile truth between the US military and the Shi'ite
militias can break down at any given moment and the US should be careful not to
rattle that cage, irrespective of the price it pays in terms of effective
control of the "situation on the ground".
The big question is, of course, about Turkey and the potential disintegration
of Iraq as a result of a full-scale invasion of northern Iraq by Turkey, which
could precipitate the splitting away of Kurdish Iraq. The probability for that
happening is rather low right now and, yet, due to the fluid nature of today's
Iraq, we may be facing a drastically different situation a year from now. With
al-Qaeda in Iraq in retreat, Sunni-Shi'ite strife may lessen even further in
2008 and the war-weary Iraqis may achieve what they have not so far in peace
For the moment, the de-escalation of tensions between the US and Iran
potentiated by the new US intelligence findings, strengthening the hands of
president Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who has been playing his own peace cards with his
neighbors as well as the US, has a decent chance of continuing throughout 2008,
barring unforeseen developments, such as accidental confrontation in the
Persian Gulf between the US and Iranian navies, a US intelligence reversal on
Iran's nuclear program prompting a more hawkish anti-Tehran posture by
Washington, and the like.
Can 2008 be the year of peace between the US and Iran? The probability is still
low, but in the Middle East, sudden and unexpected developments, evolutions or
devolutions, are a given and that is precisely what makes apt predictions about
the future of the region immensely difficult. The many players, national,
sub-national, local and extra-local, with their kaleidoscopic varying interests
complicate the picture with diverse and even contradictory possibilities. But I
am inclined to argue that detente will have the upper hand in 2008.
There are grounds to be guardedly optimistic about the prospects for peace in
the Middle East. The collective leadership of the Middle East has a duty to
peace that can be preserved - not individually - but rather collectively as it
requires a greater propensity for cooperative relations than previously
observed in the region.
Smart leadership in today's Middle East means taking advantage of the new
opportunities for advancement in the globalized context, instead of lagging
further behind. Without doubt, the economic preconditions for peace in the
Middle East need much strengthening in the year 2008. Should the economists'
predictions of an economic slow-down or even recession in 2008 materialize,
then there is no doubt it will aggravate the Middle East economic scene that is
plagued with uneven development, growing gaps between the (oil) haves and
have-nots, youth unemployment, gender discrimination, and so forth.
There are too many disgruntled voices from Egypt to Jordan to Yemen to Iran in
the Middle East, lending themselves to predictions of greater labor unrest in
the region. On the whole, however, the chances are that the various Middle East
societies will hold together and their internal stabilities will not witness
any volcanic eruptions.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New
Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of
"Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume
XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping
Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author
Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.