ISIS should be catalyst for new Middle East alliance

The author, who served as a minister in several Israeli governments and as a brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces, makes the case for an Israel-Saudi Arabia-Egypt alliance, anchored in an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

al-monitor Ephraim Sneh shows journalists in Jerusalem the planned Israeli withdrawal from parts of the occupied territories in the West Bank, March 19, 2000. Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images.

Topics covered

syria, strategy, jihadist, israel, iraq, diplomacy

Jul 2, 2014

The events unfolding in Iraq are a grave development, accelerating the expansion of radical Islam in the Middle East. To thwart this advance, three threats in particular need to be neutralized: a growing political and terrorist subversion of Iran that has been abetted by the acquiescence of Western democracies; a spillover of jihadist activity from Syria and Iraq into Jordan; and the failure of Egypt's recently elected Abdel Fattah al-Sisi government to rebuild the country's economy.

The following steps are required to deal with these dangers:

  • Confronting Iran with a strong regional coalition possessing superb military and intelligence capacities.
  • Helping Jordan defend itself and protect its borders and its stability.
  • Strengthening the non-jihadist members of the Syrian opposition.
  • Assisting the new Egyptian government through foreign investments in energy, industry and national economic infrastructure.

Unfortunately, America’s allies in the region can't entirely rely on it to take all these steps. For example, the US administration preaches democracy to Gen. Sisi, but has denied him the vital tools (Apache helicopters, for example) to fight Islamist guerrillas in the Sinai Peninsula. Those who listened to President Barack Obama's May 28 foreign policy speech at West Point understood that he prefers a deal, rather than a confrontation, with the ayatollahs. The United States’ and Iran’s "common enemy" in Iraq — the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), now known as the Islamic State — may serve as a pretext for justifying such a deal.

Washington's words, as faithful and just as they almost always are, are no longer backed by the readiness to use force. The United States will keep selling sophisticated weapons to its friends in the Persian Gulf and will support Israel through its vital defense projects, but nothing significant beyond that. Substantial support to the non-jihadist opposition in Syria would be a good surprise.

Countries of the Middle East, anxious to protect themselves against Sunni or Shiite extremist Islam, have to do that through self-reliance, without leaning on powers outside the region.

This is the new reality in the new Middle East, and it calls for a new alliance.

The cornerstone of this alliance is comprised of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel — countries with unique advantages. Saudi Arabia would give the union its economic might and leading position in the energy market; Egypt would offer political weight and military power; and Israel would provide the technological and scientific dimensions. The alliance’s indispensable members are also the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. The future Palestinian state is also a natural member.

If this alliance is not built and the three threats not confronted, Israel will live in a reality that is a strategic nightmare: chaos in Egypt; jihadist forces in Jordan; jihadists dominating eastern and central Syria; 100,000 missiles and rockets in Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon; and Iran as an imminent nuclear state armed with long-range ballistic missiles. And if this union is formed without Israel, it is not Iran, but Israel, that will be the isolated state in the region.

The prerequisite for building this new alliance — so vital to preventing the expansion of radical Islam and to the security of Israel — is an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Its outline is well known; so is the price: 20,000 settler families have to move inside the “green-line" or to settlements that would be included in the area west of the new border. The cost of this relocation, a five-year process, is 1.5% of Israel's gross national product in each of these five years. The economic rewards of a peace agreement are higher by far.

As I know from my own contacts, there is a lot of good will in the countries I mentioned for building this new regional partnership. They take seriously the Arab Peace Initiative, which basically offers Israel diplomatic relations with every Arab country in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders. But there is not the slightest chance that such an alliance will form while the West Bank is occupied and a sustainable Palestinian state does not exist.

The advances of ISIS must be a wake-up call to Israel. What is sorely needed to make this alliance possible is a government in Jerusalem that will heed this call and take advantage of this historic opportunity.

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