Some leaders in the Middle East are facing existential threats, and as we can well imagine, a knife to your throat concentrates the mind. In chemistry an unstable chemical solution seeks a way of stabilizing itself. Could the volatility of the Middle East find a way to stabilize itself in a way that points to the possibility of peace, prosperity, and freedom?
If you look at the varied political landscapes of the Middle East you will begin to see a whole host of hidden dangers lurking in the midst. The Mullahs in Iran, for example, have quite a lot on their plate: an angry citizenry demanding change, a weak economy, the onset of international sanctions, and the looming threat of a military attack. Iran’s answer is to pursue nuclear capability, to sponsor terror organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, and to forge new alliances with countries such as Turkey, Syria, and perhaps even Iraq. We may soon see an alliance of like-minded countries which have come together to project influence in the region, and to protect themselves from both domestic and international threats.
What will Western countries do in response? They will have no choice but to react. If left unchecked, a political alliance with Iran at its center could easily develop a nuclear capability, and use that as a means of stifling domestic and international dissent, and consolidating control of the entire region. A nuclear capacity will act as a protective shield to protect nations like Iran from any outside interference with regard to domestic policies and foreign policy agendas. The ability to discourage outside interference is precisely why Iran is so hell bent on producing nuclear weapons.
The West will have to react. Too much is at stake including access to oil, as well as the looming threat of a further radicalization of extremist groups. But what can the West do, short of war, to counter the threats posed by an alliance of the more fundamentalist elements in the Middle East?
The West will have to find a way to ally itself militarily and economically with the Sunni world, with countries that see an Iranian backed alliance as equally threatening to them. How can all of this be accomplished? My guess is that we will soon see a peace deal struck between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Fattah in the West Bank is a lot more worried about an Iranian backed Hamas takeover of the West Bank, than it is about Israel. In fact, Israel is probably the only military force in the region that can actually protect the West Bank from such a takeover. And Israel is a lot more worried about a nuclear Iran, allied with Syria and Turkey, than it is about the West Bank Palestinians, who seem fully committed to growing their economy, consolidating their security, and establishing a Palestinian state within the span of two years.
A peace deal struck between Israel and Palestine will reverberate across the region and around the world. New alliances will be forged, and a massive effort will be launched to revitalize the region as a whole, by consolidating security and growing the various economies. Saudi Arabia, for example, along with the other Sunni states, would likely use the Israel/Palestine deal as a pretext to recognize Israel in accordance with the Arab Peace Plan of 2002. Egypt and Jordan would likely join in, having already signed peace agreements with Israel, and also facing daunting challenges from within and without, including the possibility that a nuclear Iran could foment internal opposition throughout the Arab world.
And how would Western countries react to a realignment of this sort in the Middle East? The U.S. would probably continue to back Israel, especially as a peace deal is consummated, and would probably lend its support to a military/economic alliance which would counter the Iranian threat, and which would include Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and a great many other Arab states.
Will the realignment of the Middle East into two camps necessarily mean war? In my opinion, not necessarily. If a peace deal is forged between Israel and Palestine, and if such a deal is used as a springboard to revitalize the region economically, and if a military/economic alliance is forged between the Western world and much of the Sunni world, then such a result could actually stabilize the region. The Western/Sunni alliance could conceivably be much more powerful than the Iranian alliance, both in terms of military strength, and economic prosperity. As a result, Iran would have to think twice and maybe three times, before taking on such a powerful opponent. Under such circumstances, a certain sense of stability may ensue.
Eventually, if a Vision of Hope is realized in parts of the Middle East, a vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom, then countries which may have had no intention of following suit, would likely reconsider their approach in light of increasing domestic pressure. “Hey, where is our share?” the people on the street would ask. In other words, if the military option is no longer on the table, and if terrorism begin to lose its luster, and if there begins to emerge shining lights of success in the Middle East, then everyone in the region will be forced to follow suit, and jump onto the bandwagon of job creation, including: jobs which grow their economies, jobs which protect the environment, and jobs which help to weaken the hold of extremist thinking.
Granted, there are an awful lot of “ifs” in this scenario, and perhaps a healthy dose of wishful thinking to boot. And granted, people emboldened by an ideological agenda often make the wrong choices. But I would argue that there is at least a pretty good chance that things could work out this way. And given the dismal alternative—a mixed fruit salad of death, destruction, and despair—it is a chance we cannot afford to lose.