- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2000

An independent Palestine state will certainly be declared by next year, but will not bring an end to the Arab-

Israeli conflict.

The argument of some strategists that peace with Palestinians will mean the end of the conflict is unrealistic. Certainly, Palestinian peace is imperative for stability in the area, but it is insufficient. Israelis must think of what will be required of Israeli security once the Palestine issue has been settled.

It is quite clear that the northeastern frontier of Israel is not secure. There are two revisionist powers in the area Iran and especially Saddam's Iraq that pose an existential and security danger to Israel. Peace with Syria is still not in sight, and no strategic thinker should overlook a tacit coalition between Iraq and Syria in challenging Israel's northeastern frontiers. Middle East security cannot be achieved without Israel, nor can it be fulfilled without a partnership with the Arabs.

Israel is faced with two choices. The short-term choice is peace with Syria and a closer Israeli-Jordanian strategic relationship that may eventually become the second and long-term choice, i.e. a northeastern states regional security arrangement. That would mean a complex arrangement between Israel, Jordan, Syria and a post-Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. I will not spell out the exact balance of the relationship. It is easier to discover contradictions than enlightened mutual benefits. The regional security of the northeast would give the Arab states of Syria, Iraq and Jordan a greater leverage in their relationship with Egypt. The rivalry between Iraq and Egypt goes back to Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Nuri Said of Iraq.

The struggle between the Fertile Crescent and the Nile Valley goes back to days immemorial and have not changed geographically and strategically in modern times. The northeastern regional security arrangement would not be designed to challenge Egypt, but to assure that the current Egyptian-Palestinian entente cordiale will not challenge the territorial integrity of Jordan still a Palestinian goal.

Obviously, the Middle East is not Western Europe where the historical balance of power prevailed. The absence of an Israeli role in helping to form the security arrangement could create the very conditions for an unnecessary Iraqi-Syrian coalition war against Israel, which would seriously threaten Jordanian security.

Rather than go into specifics, I lay down a strategic condition for Israeli security after a Palestine state has been declared. Once the Palestine state is established there should be no raison d'etre for an Arab coalition against Israel. The nationalist aspirations of Palestinians fulfilled and the demise of pan-Arabism eliminate the reason for a war coalition against Israel unless there is an unforeseen expansionist regime in Iraq.

In fact, Iraq today poses the greatest danger to Middle East security. So long as Saddam is in power, the regional arrangement will not be able to fall into place. Peace between Israel and Syria is imperative for this regional alliance to have a chance.

Israeli diplomacy and strategy must be very cautious in presenting the idea of northeastern regional security lest it be interpreted on the part of Syria, Jordan or Iraq as an effort on the part of Israel to strategically dominate the region.

There is a power in the Middle East that can help usher in this regional security and remove the burden of concern in Iraq, Syria or Jordan that Israel is trying to establish its hegemony through the regional security arrangement. This power is Turkey. Turkey has good relations with Iraq, has improved its relationship with Syria now that there is no Hafez Assad to foment Kurdish revolutionaries, and certainly its strategic relationship with Israel and strong economic ties with Jordan can dissipate a fear of Israel on the part of northeastern Arab countries.

I would certainly not dismiss the role of Saudi Arabia, if it so desires, to become a partner as well.

Some writers and strategists may not share my vision. But this is a vision not only for Israel's security. It is a must for stability in the Middle East. As long as Israel's northeastern boundaries are not secure, and in the absence of some form of regional arrangement, however vague and insubstantial, the opportunity for conflict is in place.

Such an arrangement should not come from Jerusalem. Israeli and Arab moderates and responsible leaders must set as part of their regular agendas to discuss these ideas that could become more fruitful but less obligatory than if it came from a joint Israeli-Jordanian strategic think tank. It could begin with a joint conference of Israeli and Jordanian experts and former politicians, and continue with seminars to develop these ideas. It will not come from governments, especially from governments still hostile to Israel like Syria and Iraq. But the issue must be addressed by the non-political, non-military elites. They are more daring because they are not burdened by politics, and they can speak their minds more openly than any politician would.

Any observer who takes his or her time to examine the present political and military map of the Middle East could not avoid paying great attention to the northeastern frontiers of Israel or to the southwestern and western frontiers of Syria, Iraq and Jordan. Students of history and politics could not avoid the observation that the northern tier of the Middle East and the Nile Valley have not in the past and will not in the future form successful alliances.

It behooves those who are hopeful for regional strategy to reassure Egypt that it is an extremely important Arab country, but it will not be in a position to dominate the Middle East if it seeks regional peace. It must be made clear that this regional arrangement is not designed to challenge the significant role Egypt plays in the Middle East today. The utter failure of Nasser to dominate Syria, to foment revolution in Iraq and Jordan, proved not only counterproductive, but also detrimental to Egypt, which found itself in the disaster of the 1967 War, where the dreams of pan-Arabism were buried in the Sinai Desert.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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