Could the international community act with vision and pull off a Mideast Transformation Scenario that would end the Israeli-Palestinian Dispute, redirect Iran toward economic cooperation, and redirect Israel away from expansion and militarism?
With Syria convulsed, Iran is off-balance, watching its only state ally (Iraq, still occupied, is not quite a state and is in any case not quite an Iranian ally, either) destroy itself. For an Israel led by sincere peacemakers rather than Greater Israel expansionists, the Syrian implosion would constitute a rare opportunity to cut a legitimate deal with the Palestinians while Iranian influence is minimized. A Palestinian-Israeli settlement would pull the Levantine rug out from under Tehran, removing its free lunch in the struggle for regional influence. Note that the term “settlement” means just that: not a Palestinian Bantustan but a united, defensible, independent state with a sufficiently inclusive political system to tempt Hamas to work within the system. Israel would have no more right to attack this state than China has to attack the U.S.
Future Scenarios For Syria
If Tel Aviv had such far-sightedness, it could perhaps pull off a coup that would leave Israel in better shape both locally and vis-à-vis Iran. Iran would find itself without talking points on the Arab street, and a careful calculus of its national interest would be likely to rate economic development relatively higher on the scale of national goals than fomenting anti-Israeli sentiment. That would in turn constitute an Iran that Washington, as reality punctures hubris, might well be able to live with.
The Mideast Transformation Scenario
Imagine a scenario in which regional actors work for stability. First, Tel Aviv accepts the principle of return to the 1967 borders, opening the door to serious Israeli-Palestinian talks. Given Israeli acceptance of the principles that Israeli and Palestinians each deserve states, that Israel should return to 1967 borders, that Palestinians have a theoretical right to return to their homeland in return for Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s right to exist, then talks can begin on borders and compensation for Palestinians agreed not to return or for Israelis being allowed to remain in the West Bank. Then, Turkish forces establish a potent humanitarian presence inside the Syrian border, providing not just food and local protection but sufficient weapons to enable dissidents to resist regime brutality but holds back on offensive military action (Libya-light) and keeps the door open to talks with all players. As in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen, everyone recalculates their self-interest, and some regime supporters join the dissidents. Iran tries to figure out how to resist Turkey’s initiative, but Iran has good relations with Turkey, while Turkey has power on the ground Iran probably has no hopes of matching, and the Levant is in any case looking less and less attractive for national liberation movements since Palestine is suddenly moving toward liberation even without Iranian participation. As Tehran ponders its limited options, a neutral Syrian regime offers Turkish-style friendship to everyone. Israel congratulates the new regime, returns the Golan, and decides that a neutral but independent Syria is a big step forward. Meanwhile, seeing itself with reduced access to military support even as it is consolidating control of the Beirut regime, Hezbollah suddenly receives an Israeli offer of a return of the Sheeba Farms. Resistance is simultaneously more costly, less attractive, and rather an irritant to its new domestic strategy. One more Iranian corridor to the Levant bites the dust. Now comes the time for Washington’s move, touting a new regional nuclear security regime based on the principle of nuclear transparency for all and supporting Iranian economic integration with the region and beyond. Iran simultaneous sees its traditional anti-American and anti-Israeli stance as more difficult, less justifiable, and rather an irritant to its new international economic and security options. Tehran might well see the attractiveness of restructuring its foreign policy to replace risky nuclear braggadocio and leadership of the anti-Israeli front with the two secure pillars of building a political alliance with Shi’i Iraq and building a hydrocarbon alliance with moderate Muslim Turkey.
Probably no one would consider this scenario likely, but the best way to ensure it will never happen is to fail to imagine it. Anyone can point out endless potential obstacles
to the moderate, good-neighbor outcome of the Mideast Transformation Scenario. Al Qua’
ida would do its best to upset the apple cart, Alawite-Sunni discord could provoke sectarian warfare reminiscent of post-invasion Iraq, the IRGC might well go off the reservation and try to provoke a collapse of Israeli-Palestinian talks to shore up its domestic political influence, and a real threat of Israeli terrorism from radical settlers unwilling to return West Bank land stolen from Palestians would exist. Nevertheless, an Israeli decision to negotiate sincerely with Palestine, a rapid Turkish initiative vis-à-vis Syria, and the willingness of Washington to offer Iran a good deal might just transform the Mideast and turn Israel back into a society that shares American values._____________________
Subsequent Events –
June 22 – Syrian troops mass on border with Turkey
After provoking a refugee flow into Turkey and evidently doing nothing to make amends to its erstwhile ally, Syria has now thrown sand in Erdogan’s eye by threatening refugees, provoking more, and implicitly warning Turkey that Syria is ready to fight a war. Since Syria was Turkey’s main practical example of its new moderate foreign policy, that policy now seems to be in tatters. Ankara will not be pleased.