February 12, 2012
By James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Anwar Sadat had a plan. He would "challenge the Israeli Security Theory by carrying out military action ... aimed at inflicting the heaviest losses on the enemy ...." On October 6, 1973, a coalition of Arab armies led by Egypt and Syria attacked.
The Israelis defeated the invasion ... decisively. But the 1973 war left the region unsettled, a dangerous hot spot. Henry Kissinger summarized the aftermath this way: "A stalemate in the Middle East marked by American incompetence .... Washington's influence with Arab countries has dissipated ... Egypt and Syria, in particular, became client states of the Soviet Union. The situation did not serve U.S. interests, nor ultimately those of Israel or the cause of peace in the region."
History may be about to repeat itself. The confluence of inept U.S. Middle East policy, the Arab Spring, the rise of Iran, and the consolidation of Hamas' influence set the stage for another Arab attack on Israel.
Upon entering the Oval Office, President Obama identified three pillars of his Middle East strategy: brokering peace between Israel and Palestine; engaging with Syria and Iran, and withdrawing from Iraq. None of these initiatives has turned out well.
The prospects for a brokered peace are much diminished. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently moved to reconcile with Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. After hearing the news, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, "Its either peace with Hamas or peace with Israel. You can't have both."
Engagement with Damascus and Tehran hasn't worked out either. The administration is now openly calling for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down and seeking new economic sanctions on Iran. Clearly, three years of attempting to "engage" these odious regimes has produced nothing but failure.
Only in pulling out of Iraq has the White House achieved its policy objectives. That looks to be cold comfort. American forces had dampened violence there, deterring aggression among Iraqi factions and combating outside terrorists. The withdrawal of U.S. forces produced an almost immediate resurgence of violence and instability.
These policy shortfalls have been complicated by the Arab Spring. It is very possible that, when the final shock waves settle, most of the governments arising from those protests will not be strong friends of the United States, much less Israel.
Meanwhile, Iran is doing everything possible to whip-up anti-Israeli sentiment in the region. Recently, Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared, "From now onward, we will support and help any nations, any groups fighting against the Zionist regime across the world, and we are not afraid of declaring this."
With Hamas firmly entrenched in Palestine, it is not hard to envision a scary future: Hamas engineers a military confrontation with Israel, then calls on like-minded Arab nations to ride to the rescue. A nuclear-armed Iran serves as a checkmate to Israel's nuclear deterrent. A bloody conventional war follows.
The United States needs a clear strategy to counter this nightmare scenario. A regional war that could well spill out of control is not in America's interest or anyone else's. The right strategy may start with three key countries -- Israel, Turkey, and Iraq.
These nations have every reason to work together to counter Iranian influence and promote economic growth and stability in their part of the world. The U.S. ought to be doing everything possible to build bridges between them.
Likewise, the U.S. has to have the capacity to act in the region. Selling military hardware to potential adversaries of Iran is not enough. Without a U.S. presence to back it up, those transactions are just an arms race.
Arms sales, plus a continued robust American military presence -- working closely with NATO and Gulf Cooperation Council allies -- equals deterrence.
James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The Examiner
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, E. W. Richardson Fellow, and Director
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