This week Arab leaders meet in Riyadh to discuss a number of burning issues, including Iraq, Lebanon and Iran as well as the Arab peace initiative.
An American reporter asked me when I think the Middle East will get over the current turbulence. Soon, I told him. And I have my reasons. Let me explain.
Conflicts over interests stop when the parties reach a point beyond which more fights mean more loss to all and everybody realizes that only negotiations offer any chance of better deals.
Let’s start with Iraq. The US, Iran, Turkey, Syria and the Gulf nations are losing out as a result of the continuing turmoil in Iraq. Without peace, America cannot deliver any of its promises to Iraqis. No security means no freedom, democracy or prosperity.
Failing on all these counts and eluding stability will present the US administration with a host of no-go options. To withdraw now and leave Iraq in chaos will certainly mean a near-future return to save “the World’s Gas Station.” Staying the course and playing the role of fireman means unbearable cost in souls and dollars. Add to this the long-lasting stains on the US image and the loss of business contracts for oil, arms, and construction corporations. Peace, then, is a must.
Iran, too, has hit a bottom. More war means more American, Turkish and Arab involvement in Iraq and too many threats. The Iraqis are cutting each other’s throats, almost equally. To achieve its goals in Iraq, including political influence and Shiite dominance, Iran now needs peace.
Turkey will have to interfere militarily if Iraq is broken and the Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey pursue their dream of a united Kurdistan. A strong central government running a peaceful country is the best guarantee against such a project.
Syria is under tremendous pressure — from Lebanon and Israel to the west and from Iraq to the east, plus America and company from all over. Peace and quiet on all fronts is urgently needed to survive the day.
The Arab Gulf nations have most to lose if chaos continues in Iraq. Theirs is a volatile region. You cannot play with guns or fireworks in a gas station! Besides, with similar religious and ethnic demographics in each country, similar fires may break out. Tribes and families are split over borders. How can you prevent help going from one part to another? Besides, nuclear Iran and fiery Iraq will still be there long after America leaves. Grab peace as long as a strong power is in place, or lose it for ages.
The Iraqis, too, cannot win in a prolonged sectarian war. Their country will turn into another Lebanon: A free arena for neighbors’ disputes and fights. Development will be postponed, peace and prosperity forsaken. Their best and brightest are being killed, turning into militants or immigrating. More of such loss and the country’s future will be left in the hands of hooligans.
In Lebanon, all parities have reached a dangerous stalemate. An unfortunate accident or event, like the recent student fight in the Arabian University, might trigger a civil war. No Lebanese will benefit from more wars in a country that was finally edging toward normality, stability and economic prosperity.
Syria cannot sustain its isolation. It has never been so cut off from the world. Except for Iran, it is now estranged from all. Peace in Lebanon is its return ticket to the world.
Even Israel, if cool heads prevail, cannot benefit from this state of affairs. The situation in the occupied lands and Gaza is getting more dangerous. More pressure on the Palestinians is delivering more militants and suicide bombers to the resistance. The situation in Iraq is similarly hazardous. If Americans leave, chaos will produce more anti-Israel forces that will make life harder for Israel. An extremist Shiite government will bring a powerful anti-Israel Iran closer to the border. Peace promises a much better deal to the Jewish state.
That’s why I believe we have a good chance of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. The good omens are plenty. Saudi Arabia is leading the march toward reconciliation — King Abdullah is meeting with Arab leaders, Prince Bandar undertakes frequent trips to regional capitals and Dr. Abdulaziz Khojah (Saudi ambassador to Lebanon) continues mediation efforts in Beirut.
The Makkah Agreement ceased the bloodshed in Palestinian territories and paved the way for a unity government. Now comes the Arab Summit in Riyadh and the revisited Arab peace initiative. If all parties played their cards right, the peace cake will serve all a good feast.