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October 8, 2006
Rice's Diplomacy In Middle East Starting To Pay Off

Herb Keinon sheds some light on the murky efforts by Condoleezza Rice in confronting the radicalism in the Middle East, especially as it relates to the Israeli-Palestinian mess. His length analysis points out the progress Rice has made in the past several weeks in convincing the existing regimes that democratization presents a far less significant threat, especially in the long term, than Iranian- and Syrian-backed radical Islamists. This slow realization has begun paying dividends as the Arab states now see organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas as threats to their own survival as well as Israel's:

Remember, as well, that unlike the days when Colin Powell led the State Department, now there is largely one source of foreign policy power in Washington, and it rests with Rice. She needs some kind of achievement. Forming a coalition of moderate Arab states to counterbalance Iran, Hizbullah, Syria and Hamas would fit the bill, and here she is showing some nascent signs of success.

Last November, Rice traveled to the Persian Gulf before coming here, as she did this time as well. But then, in Bahrain, a high-profile, US-backed summit meant to promote political freedom and economic change in the region ended without an agreement, delivering a severe blow to US President George W. Bush's democratization program for the Middle East. ...

This time, however, Rice was greeted warmly in Saudi Arabia, as well as at a meeting of the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt and the Persian Gulf countries in Cairo. It is not that the leaders she met with suddenly saw the wisdom of Bush's democratization plan, but rather that the rulers of these moderate Arab regimes realize that ,although democracy may theoretically challenge their positions somewhere down the line, the more immediate threat is right around the corner, in the form of a nuclear Iran and Islamic extremism. The radical mullahs, in other words, are now more dangerous than the democracy-minded NGOs.

Ironically, the concerns of the moderate Arab regimes - generally believed to be Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kuwait - have given birth to yet another "diplomatic window of opportunity," as some diplomatic officials now term this post-Lebanon-war period. ...

The IDF turned over a huge boulder during the war in Lebanon, and unearthed all types of nasties crawling around underneath. These nasties, now apparent to all, threaten not only Israel, but also the moderate Arab regimes. Now that the boulder has been overturned, it is impossible for them to claim not to see.

The Hezbollah power play and the Hamas hardline positions in the territories may have awoken the neighboring states to Iranian and Syrian intentions. It comes in the context of Iran's singleminded pursuit of nuclear weapons and the inability of the global community to stop it. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan all understand the consequences of Iranian success in this regard: the Persians will achieve ascendancy over the Arabs in an attempt to wrest control of Islam and their people away from them. Iran wants to rekindle the Persian Empire in a 21st-century guise of influence and control, and the Arabs have yet to find a way to stop it.

In this cause, they find themselves with a very strange bedfellow. Israel not only faces the same kind of threat from Iran, but they have the weapons to counterbalance Teheran, or at least everyone assumes they do. Israel has the willingness to fight open wars against the Iranian proxies that they lack, and neither one of them really has made a dent against Israel militarily. Hassan Nasrallah can brag about his epic victory over Israel all he wants, but no one believe that a man who has to get Israeli assurances of non-assassination before appearing at his own celebratory rally. All Hamas has managed to do is to get Israel to re-invade Gaza and destroy its infrastructure again. Neither have been able to cow Israel into acquiescence.

The key development from Rice's point of view would be to get the moderate states into a diplomatic conference to discuss all of these issues, including the Palestinian question. Rice wants to return to the road map, and now Israel's more moderate neighbors want a resolution more than ever. They do not want groups like Hamas and Hezbollah gaining strength through Iranian support and would like to undercut their entire raison d'etre. Israel has long avoided such conferences as inimical to their interests, preferring to negotiate one-on-one with Fatah as the only representative of the Palestinians. Now, however, Rice wants to use the developments from this summer to convince all of the parties that they have much more in common than ever before, and a common enemy that needs to be faced down.

The Arabs and the Israelis could finally find some common ground for security. It would be ironic if after all of the efforts of the West to resolve the standoff over the last sixty years, the Iranians proved to be the real -- if inadvertent -- peacemakers.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 8, 2006 10:27 AM

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