A New Map of the Middle East

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Let me first tell you what I am not worried about. I am not worried about a regional confrontation beyond the borders of Lebanon… simply because neither regional nor international actors have an interest in moving the current confrontation beyond the Lebanese borders. I am worried, long-term, about the extreme separation in the Arab world between the two camps [street movements and government policy].

Amr Hamzawy
chess

Bang. [soldeace / Flickr]

The US invasion of Iraq can be seen as a bang of the fist on the chess board, a gamble that when the pieces fell back to the table we’d be looking at a better game. We’ve been covering this aspect of the war in Iraq for a while, discussing the likelihood or even presence of civil war in Iraq and Iran’s improving hand. But with Saddam gone, suddenly a lot of countries — not just the United States — had one less enemy, and we’re all beginning to focus our attentions elsewhere.

Given the last two weeks in the Middle East — client entities like Hezbollah provoking a conflict, the Saudis and Egyptians speaking without power from the sidelines, Western uncertainty about the role of Syria and Iran — is it possible to draw a new map of the Middle East?

Is there real political meaning in the idea of a Shia crescent? Have Iran and Syria replaced Egypt and the Saudis as the powers to be negotiated with? In whose interest is the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah? Who will look stronger when a ceasefire is reached? Who looks stronger already?

This is not your Nasser’s Middle East. Whose is it?

Guest List
Rashid Khalidi
Director, Middle East Institute, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
Vali Nasr
Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School's Center for Contemporary Conflict Author, The Shia Revival
Murhaf Jouejati
Director, Middle East Studies, George Washington University
Amr Hamzawy
Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Reading List
Shaken and Stirred
Josh Manchester
TCS Daily, 7/21/06
Could Tehran emerge as the ultimate winner?
Iason Athanasiadis
Bitterlemons International, 7/20/06
Strange Bedfellows
Daniel Byman
Slate, 7/19/06
For the US, a Newfangled Compass
Robert Worth
New York Times, July 23, 2006 (Be sure to check out Multimedia Graphic of Regional Relations)

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  • Potter

    What’s the story with Syria? Is Syria the key for Israel and US ? Can Syria deliver- dry Hizbollah up, stop militants from crossing to Iraq? Can, will Syria be wrested from it’s ally Iran? What would be the incentive? Wouldn’t that incentive have to involve both Israel and the US?

    Are we no longer talking about any peace agreement that might have happened between Israeli’s and Palestinians but one that now has to happen multilaterally, with all the powers in the region and also include the issue of nuclear power? A grand bargain?

    You don’t mention the “Arab street” yet increasingly this is a factor. Is there an entity, a monolith called “Arab street”?

    Finally a comment- I don’t see any leaders or group of leaders that can pull this grand multilateral bargain off, if that is what needs to happen, least of all the one that everyone depended upon in the past, the US.

  • ArielSharon

    “In whose interest is the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah?”

    It is in the world’s interest to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. By controlling Hezbollah, Iran can punish Israel and even Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan by having Hezbollah carry out attacks when directed to do so. If the world is serious about taking our Iran’s nuclear capacity, this will be easier to accomplish without Hezbollah existing in any military capacity. By taking out Hezbollah, Iran is deprived of one arm of retaliation. If the world is serious about restraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions, then the word should be interested in what is going on now with Israel and Hezbollah.

  • jdyer

    “In whose interest is the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah?�

    Certainly not in Israel’s interest.

    There is great article by the usually dovish Amos Oz on the war:

    “This time Israel is defending itself”

    http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=278325&area=/insight/insight__international/

    [Remainder of the post contained copyrighted material and was deleted. If you refer to an article in from another publication, please provide a link and no more than a single paragraph of the article. – Ed.]

  • Jon

    It is tragic that at a time when so many youth in Iran show signs of becoming more Western-oriented, the religious and state leadership of Iran continue to behave in such an intolerant, and in fact lethal, manner towards the West in general, and towards Israel in particular. Is there any credible near-term strategy for helping Iran reverse directions, short of counter-belligerency?

  • Potter

    Can we pretend that the fighting of World War Three is over and get right to the peace treaty?

  • ArielSharon

    Open Source:

    Mr. Khalidi has been reported to have once worked for the PLO’s press agency. Professor Khalidi was also removed as a lecturer from New York City teacher development workshops. I think Open Source listeners should know that Mr. Khalidi is viewed by many to be a higly controversial academic.

  • Potter

    Vali Nasr just said that Iran, Hezbollah Hamas and maybe also Syria are still fighting the war of 1948, the war that bought Israel into existence. So those in israel who feel that this is a war for survival are not off. However this war is being fought on Lebanese ( and Gaza/Palestinian) soil mainly and now more in1948 Israel.

    Thus, it seems to me Arabs and Persians through their arm, “the Party of God” are serving up the Lebanese, using them for their own geopolitical goals.

    If Khalidi is correct that the “Hezbollahtrap” that Israel fell into included the destruction of Lebanon and the killing of innocents, or even did not consider that reaction ( giving them benefit of doubt they maybe do not deserve), they share at least equally the blame and assignment in hell with the Israeli military.

    Rashid Khalidi is off the wall in assuming Israel’s unwillingness to negotiate Shebaa Farms ( or any land captured) for a peace (that would stick) with Lebanon and Syria.

  • jdyer

    “Rashid Khalidi is off the wall in assuming Israel’s unwillingness to negotiate Shebaa Farms ( or any land captured) for a peace (that would stick) with Lebanon and Syria.”

    Indeed, why would Israel want to hold on to a few miles of territory and fight a war over it.

    Besides, the UN had said that the Sheba farms belongs to Syria and not Lebanon.

    Hezbollah was just using that strip of land as an excuse. Had Israel vacated it, they would have found another.

  • jdyer

    Rashid Khalidi is one of the most partisan Professors at Columbia’s Middle East Institute.

  • allenf6

    Why doesn’t Kalidi seem to care that (1) Hezb’allah’s proclaimed goal is to wipe out Israel, (2) Hezb’allah’s attack was premeditated and unprovoked and done with the sole intent of killing as many Israeli Jews and Arabs as possible and (3) the number of Lebanese casualties is directly attributable to Hezb’allah’s policy of deliberately hiding behind and among Lebanese civilians?

  • Potter

    jdyer- that’s okay. There are partisans on both sides. There is another point of view and it must be articulated ( as the late Edward Said did so well). And if what he says rings true I can accept it, and if it does not we can say so.

  • Hezb’allah’s proclaimed goal is to wipe out Israel, but it can’t. Israels proclaimed goal is peace, security and a two state solution and yet it is wiping out Lebanon as a viable state, making it much harder for Palestine to becoming a viable state and helping Hezb’allah and the US to destabalize the region. How mixed up this all is. Who are these map-makers?

  • jdyer

    Potter,

    “jdyer- that’s okay. There are partisans on both sides. There is another point of view and it must be articulated ( as the late Edward Said did so well). And if what he says rings true I can accept it, and if it does not we can say so.”

    Sure there are, but some of us partisans are more in touch with reality than others.

    I believe in a two State solution, handing over most of the West Bank to the Palestinians after they pledge not to attack Israel any more and compromise on Jerusalem.

    Said, btw didn’t believe in a two State solution and wanted the Jewish State to magically disappear.

  • Potter
  • Potter

    Jdyer: we have our dreamers too. I think that Said waivered on the bi-national state if that is what you mean by wanting Israel to disappear. I think it was more a matter of idealism about living together which of course would mean the end of the Jewish state. I don’t know but maybe his friendship with Barenboim softened him. I should not talk about what I do not know. You have me curious though. I don’t think he hated Jews.

  • jdyer: “I believe in a two State solution, handing over most of the West Bank to the Palestinians after they pledge not to attack Israel any more and compromise on Jerusalem.”

    Herein lies one of the biggest obstacles to any settlement. After any pledge, why not hand over the whole West Bank? And why doesn’t Israel compromise on Jerusalem? Hasn’t Israel enough territory?

    Correction: Said did not believe in ethnic nationalism.

  • jdyer

    The conclusion of a NY Times article on Lebanon reads like an old Yiddish joke:

    “The challenge of creating a viable international force to secure Israel’s border with Lebanon was captured by Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot. The European foreign ministers were enthusiastic, he said.

    “They only had one small condition for the force to be made up of soldiers from another country,” Mr. Barnea wrote. “The Germans recommended France; the French recommended Egypt, and so on. It is doubtful whether there is a single country in the West currently volunteering to lay down its soldiers on Hezbollah’s fence.”

  • jdyer

    “Correction: Said did not believe in ethnic nationalism.”

    It comes to the same thing.

    Though I suspect that he did believe in it. The idea of single State in Israel-Palestine will in effect mean another Arab State. Let’s be clear about that.

    “After any pledge, why not hand over the whole West Bank? And why doesn’t Israel compromise on Jerusalem? Hasn’t Israel enough territory?”

    Because the 1967 borders are not defensible.

  • jdyer, “Though I suspect that he did believe in it. The idea of a single State in Israel-Palestine will in effect mean another Arab State. Let’s be clear about that.”

    Yes, it would go back to being a land dominated by Arabs, but that does not exclude the possiblity of a multi-ethnic state, and that was Said’s wish. This is not going to happen and would of course not be desirable to Israelis. So it seems it is in the interest of Israel to do everything it can to create the conditions for peace with its neighbours, which is why the recent destruction of Lebanon is a huge tactical and humanitarian mistake. Geographical maps can be redrawn, but not so easily the mental maps and the nostalgic desire for a home-land.

    jdyer: “Because the 1967 borders are not defensible.”

    The usual excuse. Are any borders defensible with the long-range missiles and other weapons now availabe on the arms market?

  • dayan

    Yes, sidewalker, there are. The ’67 borders meant that Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, was virtually surrounded by hostile territory, accessible only through a narrow corridor connecting it to the coastal plain. Furthermore, the country is only 9 miles wide at its narrowist point, which happens to be directly opposite Israel’s largest metropolitan area. While you are right that missiles can easily cross borders, the fact remains that there is a difference between missiles and armies. Missiles will not destroy a country. An army that sits 9 miles from your largest population center, that controls the high ground, and that could effectively cut your country in half in minutes, is an existential threat. This is recognized by even the UN, which is why resolution 242, which calls for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, specifies that Israel must withdraw from territories conquered, but not all the territory conquered.

    A good essay on the subject of defensible borders can be found at:

    http://www.azure.org.il/magazine/magazine.asp?id=263&search_text=

  • communic8or

    OpenSource, where is your balanced coverage? You’ve got 4 speakers, and every one of them is either Arabic or Iranian in origin and supports a one-sided view of the conflict.

    Everyone has been telling Israel to withdraw, withdraw, withdraw. Well, Israel DID withdraw from its buffer zone in Lebanon 6 years ago, and they DID withdraw from Gaza. And what did they get for it? A perception of Israeli “weakness” that first produced the second Intifada, and now sparked the Hizbollah war.

    Israel was gone for Lebanon and had no interest or desire to return. Despite this, Hizbollah has spent the past 6 years preparing to attack — acquiring 10,000 missiles and building bunkers and fortifications in south Lebanon. The Lebanese have done absolutely nothing about it, because that would be much more painful for them than opposing Hisbollah. This left Israel with a well-armed force on its border, opposed to its very existence. THAT, and not Israeli “going ballistic” as Rashid Khalidi says, is why Israel is bombing areas in Lebanon other the south: making it more miserable for the Lebanese to do nothing about Hizbollah is the only way to get them to do something. If Safed, Afula, and Haifa must live under fear of Hizbollah bombs, then Sidon, Tyre, and Beirut must live under fear of Israeli bombs.

    Is this harsh? You bet — welcome to the Middle East.

    The core of Hezbollah’s conflict with Israel has nothing to do with the continued occupation of the West Bank. If Israel withdraw to the ’67 borders tomorrow, Hizbollah would still attack it: because their core aim is to wipe Israel off the map. Anyone who doesn’t understand this is either ignorant or disingenuous.

    As for the Palestinians, Gaza is now theirs. Instead of showing the world that they can build a civil state — thereby giving Israel the confidence to eventually leave most of the West Bank — they prefer to battle Israel. They’ve turned the former Israeli settlements into missile-launching sites. What would any country do in israel’s situation?

    IHow can you have a political solution with people who refuse to talk about peace? In their wisdom, the Palestinians chose to elect a government that shares Hezbollah’s aim of destroying Israel. There are no negotiations going on because as with Hizbollah, there is nothing to negotiate about with Hamas. They’ll exchange prisoners here and there, and maybe sign a temporary “Hudna”-type truce. Can you really blame Israel for not falling for this? To paraphrase Golda Meir, Israel will not commit suicide so the world will think well of it.

  • dayan

    Well said.

  • Potter

    Communic8or- The imbalance on the show made for your excellent post. Thank you.

  • Potter

    I think the time for a bi-lateral peace with Palestinians and Israeli’s is gone. It has to involve the region and there have to be guarantors.

    Israel cannot unilaterally leave the West Bank. It can leave parts of it. The endgame might very well include and exchange of land so that some settlements closer the border can remain.

    There needs to be an agreement between the sides. The sticking point of Jerusalem has to include a broader peace with all neighbors and a resolution to the “right of return”. These are reasons that Arafat was unable to say yes.

    Then, when Sharon was full of adrenalin, the Arab countries met(200s) and decided on an offer that Sharon should have used to restart talks.

    Opportunities come and go because forces have not been aligned.

    Israel cannot unilaterally make peace but the more Israel moves towards leaving the territories ( leaving enough to negotiate over), the better it will be for Israel.

  • Potter

    (Arab countries met in 2002).

  • Potter

    Sidewalker: And why doesn’t Israel compromise on Jerusalem? Hasn’t Israel enough territory?

    In the 1948 War Jews were chased out of Jerusalem and it came under Jordanian rule. The Jewish Quarter, it’s synagogues and most other buildings were severely damaged.

    Jews were not allowed into the old city even to pray. The Western Wall, the Kotel, was inaccessible. If you were a non-Jew and you could prove that ( for instance if you were a Christian and it was Christmas) you could get into the Old City.

    We stayed in Yemin Moshe not that long ago. This is a housing project built in 1860 to relieve the pressure of crowding in the Jewish Quarter back then, just to the west. Windows facing the old city had been boarded up during this period because from the Old City, Arabs took pot shots across the border.

    In 1967 there was great joy when Israel recaptured Jerusalem and Jews were allowed back in to pray, to reestablish themselves, to rebuild their quarter.

  • scribe5

    “Yes, it would go back to being a land dominated by Arabs, but that does not exclude the possiblity of a multi-ethnic state, and that was Said’s wish.”

    There are no multi-ethnic States in the Middle East, Sidewalker.

    Arab Muslims do not seem to be able to tolerate minorities only dhimmis.

  • Potter, why go back just to 1948 and a time of upheaval? What about before that? Were there not long periods where the city was shared?

  • Yes scribe5, and the West has been so accepting of its minorities. Let’s consider how African Americans and Native peoples have been treated in your nation-state during its short history.

    I think we could say that Lebanon is a multi-ethnic state?

  • Everywhere in the US and Israeli media and from leaders there I keep hearing about this terrible Hezb’allah threat, and yet when we look at the actual damage, one has to wonder if everyone is just not overdosing on their own rhetoric, including the Hezb’allah and Iranian leaders when they talk of wiping out the state of Israel. Look at the firepower Israel can bring to bear. Look at how united the people of Israel are in the cause: 90% in opinion polls. There is no comparison. Lebanese were far less united untill Israel flexed its military might.

  • scribe5

    “Potter, why go back just to 1948 and a time of upheaval? What about before that? Were there not long periods where the city was shared?”

    Befire 1948 there was a Jewish majority in Jerusalem. Attacks on Jews at that ime were not unkown. Before the British took over in 1917 attacks on Jews in Jerusalem and the rest of area were also a daily occurence.

    Life of Jews in the Arab lands was never easy.

  • scribe5

    “Yes scribe5, and the West has been so accepting of its minorities. Let’s consider how African Americans and Native peoples have been treated in your nation-state during its short history.”

    You are changing the subject. However, the US did have a civil war over the treatment of Black people here. African slavery was also a fact in the Arab lands and it wasn’t abolished in Saudi Arabia till the 1970’s.

    “I think we could say that Lebanon is a multi-ethnic state?”

    When the French took over Lebanon a couple of centuries ago they found the Christians to be a beleaguered minority which would have been wiped out had they not interfered.

    The French set up a system that, while favoring the Christians, was a lot fairer to the Muslims than the Muslims had been to the Christians.

    After independence it didn’t take long before the system set up by the French broke down.

    Since then tens of thousands of Christian have left Lebanon.

    Take another example Egypt where the Copts had at one time been a majority. They are down to five percent of the population and are also under constant harassment by the Muslims in the country.

  • scribe5

    “Look at how united the people of Israel are in the cause: 90% in opinion polls.”

    You can thank Hezbollah for that.

  • Potter

    For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction–well maybe unequal, but that is because people carry their traumas, their memories, their fears forward. It’s useless to say that they should not or to ask why. You would, I would- we do. People must be lead into peace like they are lead into war. The chemistry has to change. Sadat changed the chemistry for instance.

    It takes a great deal of courage to extend your hand in peace after so much baggage piled on- yet it was done and it did not succeed. There were moments that seemed ripe, But after the recent failures and the loss of trust and hope and fresh traumas heaped upon one another there came to a point where a divorce was deemed necessary.

    Sidewalker: Potter, why go back just to 1948 and a time of upheaval? What about before that? Were there not long periods where the city was shared?

    There is a long and tumultuous history.

    Barak did put Jerusalem on the table for discussion, but that was a very touchy subject and kept secret. It did break a taboo, as other taboos were broken during the 2000 talks.

    This is an interesting: Taba Negotiations:The Moratino’s Non-Paper Moratinos was the EU envoy.

  • Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

  • jdyer

    “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”

    This is very cynical, Ric. What is the alternative, religion?

  • tommy higbee

    I have to wonder about the analogy of banging a fist on a chess board. One look at a map of the Middle East, and you can see that occupying Iraq is huge strategically. It looks like very purposeful chess, in other words.

    Look at the map. Going from west to east, or India to Israel, we have:

    1) Pakistan, home to many radical Muslims, including the Taliban, and engaging in terrorism in Kashmir

    2) Afghanistan, host to the Taliban, Al Quaeda and Osama bin Laden

    3) Iran, sponsor of Hezbollah and Hamas, stirring up trouble in Iraq, and one of the principal terrorist states in the Middle East

    4) Iraq, home of Saddam Hussein, who terrorized his own people, used chemical weapons against his own, and offered rewards to the families of suicide bombers in Palestine

    5) Syria, another leading terrorist state, which also sponsors Hezbollah and co-operated with Saddam Hussein

    Since 9/11, we sent troops to Afghanistan and overthrew the old Taliban regime, which took away bin Laden’s refuge and cut Pakistan off from Iran. Then we sent troops into Iraq, which skipped over Iran, but put American troops in the middle between Iran and Syria. So where there was unbroken territory for Muslim terrorists, the picture is now totally different.

    Significant? Absolutely. Coud Iran really contribute much to help Syria in the current conflict, with 135,000 American troops in Iraq they would have to get past first? If Iran wants to join the conflict directly, they have to also be prepared to take on U.S. troops at the same time.

    Not unlike teachers separating unruly youngsters by positioning themselves in the middle. Not that I would carry the analogy too far….

  • Peregrinator

    From my very first exposure to the whole Neo-Con concept, I’ve been aghast at its hubris, that is, total lack of knowledge about other cultures, societies, and thoughts. It is the most John Waynesque approach to dealing with issues, and because the real world is not the movies, absolutely destined to fail. The War on Terror, War in Iraq etc is doomed because its very premise based on war and not peace is so flawed. Naive excuses our actions, what is happening is not excusable, but most damnable. Paul E. Opheim

  • Old Nick

    If you missed Vali Nasr (from this hour of ROS) on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show (Aug. 1st), beg a friend to save their DVR version of it until you can come over to view it.

    He and Stewart were enlightening and funny (in that order).

  • johnhartwell

    The greatest danger in containing this conflict doesn’t come from the current actors (Israel, Hezbollah), neither of which can defeat the other, or from those non-actors whose armies are standing on the sidelines (Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) and who desparately don’t want to get dragged in.

    The greatest danger lies in the possibility that one of the current non-actors will become radically transformed, as Egypt did in the Nasser revolution and nearly did again when Sadat was assassinated.

    Syria, for example, has a Shiite minority sect ruling a largely Sunni country. What happens if there’s a coup? Would a radical Islamist government in Damascus spur an invasion by Israel?

    Egypt’s government is sitting on top of a volcano, where a coup is always possible. A radical change in government there would open a very dangerous front in support of the Palestinians in Gaza. And Jordan, seemingly the most secure as its government is incredibly active in monitoring dissent, is the land bridge between Iraq and the West Bank.

    If any of these governments goes down, we could really see “unintended consequences.”