In recent decades the Middle East's strategic architecture has changed significantly with the rise in the regional influence of the non-Arab states of the Middle East: Iran, Turkey and Israel and the considerably reduced influence of the key Arab states, that used to be the prime movers in the Arab world: Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Secular nationalism is in apparent retreat as free elections in Turkey and the Palestinian Authority seem to indicate. What does this all mean for the Arab-Israeli peace process, and especially for the arrival at a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians? What does this mean for the chances of success of greater US and European involvement?
To Prof. Susser, the Middle East is dealing with a variety of key issues. He explains that the fallout of Iraq has led to widespread anxiety that the Middle East could shatter into a chaos of sectarian violence, beginning with a breakdown in Iraq. In addition, Prof. Susser notes the social economic decline in the Middle East which has caused emigration and, most importantly, a changing power dynamic in the region. Citing Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia as previous regional superpowers, he believes that the current major players are Iran, Turkey, and Israel, all of which are non-Arab. Prof. Susser argues this power shift was accelerated by the fall of the USSR, as well as the presence of the US. He focuses particularly on the role of Iran, a country he feels is trying to establish a “crescent of influence.” Prof. Susser believes the Israel-Hezbollah war was the start of a new era of conflicts between Israel and Iran as they battle over the regional architecture that will shape the future of the Middle East. He argues that Lebanon is therefore a key battleground in the conflict.
Prof. Susser feels this conflict is a struggle against Iran and Shiite influence. One can notice the shift in dynamic in the region through the fact that other Arab states are now on the same side as Israel, whereas before no Arab state would side with the Israelis. Prof. Susser believes this is partly because there is a shifting power balance from Sunnis to Shiites in the Middle East, a radical change that goes against the traditional order of the region.
Prof. Susser moves on to focus to another potential radical change, a two state solution between Israel and Palestine as set out by the Annapolis conference in November 2007. He argues that it is most unlikely that the US will actually get the two sides to sign a final agreement resolving the conflict in the near future. At the same time, Prof. Susser reveals his belief that it is imperative that negotiations do not shoot to high. This “courts failure” and leads to disaster. In fact, Prof. Susser argues for “courting success.” He explains that this must be achieved through realistic goals such as a secure ceasefire, and that the Palestinians may be less reluctant in agreeing to interim solutions. Finally, Prof. Susser emphasizes that if an interim approach is unsuccessful and a permanent solution is not agreed upon, then Israel must not ignore the unattractive but perhaps necessary option of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Prof. Susser argues that although this may seem like a failure, the status quo works better for Arabs such as Hamas who seek to delegitimize Israel.
About the speaker
Professor Asher Susser, Director for External Affairs of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at TAU. Professor Susser holds a PhD in Modern Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University and he taught for over twenty-five years in the University's Department of Middle Eastern History and is presently a visiting Professor at Brandeis University. He has been a Fulbright Fellow, a visiting professor at Cornell University, the University of Chicago and Brandeis University and a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In 2006 Professor Susser was selected as TAU's Faculty of Humanities Outstanding Lecturer. In 1994 Professor Susser was the only Israeli academic to accompany Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to his historic meeting with King Hussein of Jordan for the signing of the Washington Declaration.
Presented by the Forum on Contemporary Europe.