For ʹPalestinian peace processʹ read ʹIran war processʹ
During this ongoing process – lasting more than a quarter of a century – the Palestinian donkey has run itself into the ground chasing an elusive carrot: the hope of a Palestinian state. Over this period, the donkey has been sent hither and thither, swinging the carrot this way and that. While any form of meaningful peace on Palestine was truly buried, the genius process continued to run the show.
Martin Indyk, Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs and former ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration, once said "We are using the engine of peace-making to transform the region." Indeed they were and they have succeeded.
The process created the diplomatic context and the excuse for Israel to carry on with its own agenda of occupation in Palestine, while reflecting an image desirous of peace back into the regional and international arena, under the pretext that peace with the Palestinians was ʹin progressʹ and that reaching a final settlement was just a matter of time.
Under cover of the peace process Israeli achievements accumulated: the territory of the future Palestinian state, the carrot that got decayed over years of chasing, became dismembered by frenzied settlement activities.
The Palestinian Authority that was supposed to be a mere interim administration for five years and the nucleus of any future state became a de facto security apparatus, operating to protect settlers and arrest angry Palestinians daring to put up any resistance.
Palestinian politics and geography were manoeuvred into a destructive divide between Fatah and Hamas, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Israel playing both off against each other, allowing the rivals enough leeway to fight each other, but not to harm Israel.
Time for a new process
Now, however, a new regional "process" in the Middle East is reaching maturity, and this time round it is a "war process", stripped from the outset of any claims to peace.
The Israeli-American war tattoo targeting Iran has resumed recently: first with the Trump administrationʹs announcement to end sanctionsʹ waiver for import Iranʹs oil, and secondly with the deployment of a naval strike group to the Middle East, as the clamour of anti-Tehran voices gets louder.
In recent decades, we have grown accustomed to bouts of sabre-rattling, of varying degrees of intensity, being directed at Iran. However, this time things seem to be embedded within a greater concept: the creation of a regional "Iran war process" by the U.S. and Israel designed to be of maximum benefit to Israel, even if it means maximum damage for other countries in the region.
For many years Israelʹs standard attitude of belligerence towards Iran has been intended to keep the world on its toes, soliciting external support and cultivating internal cohesion. Central to this discourse is the oft-repeated fiction that Iran wants to erase Israel from the map.
Statements by more hot-headed Iranians, such as former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-13), have indeed included such rhetoric. Yet the emptiness of those pronouncements is well known, likewise the intention of blowing the lid off of any coming negotiations with the U.S. and the West over sanctions and Iranʹs nuclear facilities.
Tehranʹs bear-baiting behaviour has inflicted real damage on the Palestinians, diverting international attention away from Israelʹs consolidation of its military occupation and settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Obviously, Israel is merely seeking to strengthen its northern borders, with the aim of weathering any future attacks that might potentially involve Iran!
Such "threats" have also allowed Israel to continue accruing more military and diplomatic support in a bid to face up to Tehranʹs instrumental menace. Recently and in line with its stockpiling of achievements, Israel managed to secure a blessing from the U.S. for its illegal annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights, which it occupied during the Six Day War in 1967.
Wooing the Gulf states
With the Golan no longer an issue and in order to further maximise the exploitation of the "Iranian threat", Israeli and American efforts are now gearing up to manufacture what could be termed the "Iran war process", founded on an assumed and exaggerated interest shared by the Arab Gulf states of "facing a common enemy".
It is a process that is spreading Iranophobia across the Gulf region, using the excuse of war against it to invest in a regional phalanx of targets, which includes the normalisation of relations with the Gulf States. Although proxy conflicts will be kept well-fed to nurture this fear, a fully-fledged war between Israel and Iran will most likely never happen. The process will do a better job and will continue to thrive for years to come.
Paradoxically, the "Iran war process" is also bringing significant benefits to Iran. Tehranʹs combative rhetoric against Israel is an integral part of its strategy to assert regional influence. Projecting itself as the "leader of the resistance axis", Iranʹs interventions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, as well as its support of Hamas and the Islamic jihad movement in Palestine, are all justified as part of this claim to resistance.
In reality, and contrary to the pomposity of "erasing Israel", Iranʹs position on the Israel-Palestine conflict is ultimately to accept what the Palestinians would accept. In a nutshell, Iran accepts the two-state solution, much as the Arab states do, in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which offered the recognition of Israel and a normalisation of relations in return for a Palestinian state along 1967 borders.
At the 2017 summit meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation in Istanbul, held in response to Trumpʹs recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Iranʹs president Hassan Rouhani and foreign minister Javad Zarif voiced no objection to a statement issued by the meeting that called for a two-state solution.
Ironically, the Israelis and the Iranians pursue an almost identical strategy: war-mongering rhetoric combined with the use of proxy conflicts that help them increase their leverage in the region and attain strategic goals. In reality, neither party is interested in fighting each other directly, nor is even seeking to put an end to "the threat" of the other.
If the "Iranian threat" were to be totally removed, Tel Aviv would lose its most cherished pretext, which is always at the ready for exploitation domestically, regionally and internationally. Similarly, if the "Israeli threat" and "resistance" were to be subtracted from Iranʹs discourse, Tehran would lose its powerful king in this regional chess game.
Feeding the spectre of war
The prime intention of the Israeli-American "Iran war process" is to engage Israel with the Arab Gulf countries. The core of this process is the manipulation of Saudi and Emirati fears, their resentment of Iran and the latterʹs increasing regional influence. An unspoken premise of the process is that Israel – and only Israel – can stand up against Iran, and thus the Gulf Arabs should succumb to its leadership with gratitude!
The trade-off for Israel is the gradual and public normalisation of political and commercial relations across the Gulf. The Israeli contribution to this trade-off is negligible to say the least. Realistically and in a nutshell, Israel would never fight a war on behalf of and for the Gulf States, nor would it risk its resources to serve their interests.
All this is helped by the short-sighted politics of both the Gulf countries and Iran, which effectively play out in the interest of Israel. If a fraction of their wasted effort in regional rivalry was spent in serious thought and diplomatic dialogue aimed at establishing security arrangements that safeguard their mutual interests, they would not have ended up being played off against each other by the U.S. and Israel. The enormous resources allocated for building military arsenals benefit none except American and Western manufacturers.
Figures indicate that the Gulf countries are spending more than $100 billion on weapons this year, not to mention the astonishing figure of $450 billion worth of military deals that the Saudis signed with Trump in 2017. It is no exaggeration to suggest that keeping the region boiling in conflicts, tensions and wars is a vital American interest.
Thanks to sky-high arms expenditure, money continues to pour into U.S. banks. The best way to protect these huge investments for years to come is to invest in a process that maintains the spectre of a Middle East haunted by war.
© Qantara.de 2019
Khaled Hroub is professor of Middle Eastern Politics at Northwestern University/Qatar.