US Foreign Policy and Israel

By Ian Howarth

The United Sates has to play a difficult balancing act with its policy in the Middle East, on the one hand it supports the state of Israel and guarantee’s its national integrity, and on the other is its reliance on Oil, and Arab demands for action on the question of Palestine.  This balancing act has over the decades since Israeli independence not always been successful, with the USA at times finding itself forced by Israeli unilateral actions into opposing Arab states and suffering economic catastrophes as a result.  The nature of the complex relationship between the State of Israel and the United States can be examined through four key issues that present US policy-makers with significant obstacles when trying to influence Israeli policy.President Barack Obama meets Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations in New York

1, American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)

2, Congress and American Politics

3, US Financial and Military Aid

4, Democracy and Shared Values

The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC):

There has been much written and discussed about the power and influence of what is sometimes called the ‘Jewish Lobby’ in Washington and as such its role in formulating US policy towards Israel.  Despite the numerically small number of Jewish Americans (although the 6 million living in the United Sates is the largest population outside of Israel, with the largest concentration in New York) AIPAC has been very successful in lobbying the United States Congress and in maintaining a strong level of support for the State of Israel amongst the American public.

The question of Israeli-Arab relations becomes a key debate in almost all electoral processes within the United States, with candidates that present positions contrary to those of AIPAC receiving strong condemnation and ridicule in the press, as well as suffering from difficulties in raising the all-important cash that keeps the US political system ticking.

In every American presidential election campaign since 1948 all the major candidates seeking nominations from both the Republican and the Democratic Parties have stated that they are true friends of the Jewish people and would be staunch allies of Israel in office.  In return for the favourable positions taken by US Presidents towards Israel, AIPAC donates vast quantities of money to their campaigns, and to ensure a guaranteed pro-Israeli president it backs both horses in the race ensuring itself a voice in the next administration.

AIPAC has been and remains the most powerful of Washington lobby groups, guaranteeing positions for its supporters within the key cabinet departments with direct policy control over Middle Eastern affairs.  Despite the obviously sinister undertones of the concepts of powerful back room lobbies forcing policy decisions on the back of a cheque book, AIPAC is not an illegal organisation, nor does it act illegally but works entirely within the tenets of the American political system.

The key difference between itself and all the other lobby groups is that it has been so successful, and more importantly its successes lie in a distinct and controversial area of American policy with the rest of the world.  Whereas the energy and tobacco lobbies have less of a public profile, yet have in their own measure the same types of influence on the Oval Office in their policy areas.  AIPAC has maintained itself in a strong position within American politics by remaining consistent, and outside of issues of domestic controversy, focusing its efforts on maintaining the worlds superpower as Israel’s friend. It hasn’t mistakenly aligned itself to one candidate over another and as such lost influence in an unfavourable outcome.  It constantly bombards American public opinion with pro –Israeli positions, and gains the endorsement of almost all major American politicians whether they are Republican or Democrat, and flirts with celebrity and Hollywood, fashion and academia, all of which in effect has meant that Israel as a concept has become as American as Apple Pie.

Congress and American Politics:

It is the Senate that holds the keys to American foreign policy, any treaty the President signs on behalf of the United States must be endorsed by the US Senate, if not the treaty is null and void, e.g. Kyoto, and the League of Nations.  The Senate with the House of Representatives hold sway over almost every aspect of US domestic policy, and any presidential initiative on health, social welfare or education must pass the House of Representatives, and any appointments to the Presidential Cabinet, the Joint Chief’s, and the Supreme Court must pass Senate Committee Approval.

The United States system of government is premised on the ‘Balance of Power’ so that effectively no one person can do anything without the support of significant factions within each and every stage of the American government.   Therefore if an American President were to announce a radical change in direction regarding US policy towards Israel, it would require majorities in all the key positions of power within the United States.

Furthermore the biggest stick with which the President could beat an Israeli Government into touch with, is in fact not under his direct control, but that of Congress. The ‘$5 billion’ (Said 1995: XXIV) a year in loans and armaments that the United States grants the Israeli government at such favourable rates that they almost meet the criteria of grants.  Therefore the composition of the Congress is essential in setting US policy in the Middle East, and as such AIPAC is at its most effective in this arena, supporting almost every candidate to the House and the Senate, and opposing those who they don’t.  This has meant that there has been a pro-Israeli majority in both Houses since Israel’s independence.

AIPAC can therefore ensure that if the Presidency were to take what they would deem to be an anti-Israeli position they could pull the financial strings in congress and disrupt the full spectrum of presidential initiatives currently in the House, meaning that the AIPAC could in effect bring down for example a new Health Bill if the White House was unresponsive to its position.  This is really hardball politics, and although it seems underhanded it’s how all politics is effectively done in America.  It is therefore arguable that the American system of government is systemically adverse to major policy changes, or reforms, as the majorities required to bring about such change are so large.

US Financial and Military Aid:

The amount of financial assistance the United States provides Israel with both financially and militarily is significant, amounting to around ‘$5 billion dollars a year’. (Said 1995: XXIV)  The terms of this assistance are such that it is effectively a grant, with no set repayment schedule, and no tough enforcement of interest re-payments, with Israel having the latitude to defer payments on its loans for as long as it deems necessary in the name of national security.  Aside from this yearly dose of cash Israel also benefits from effectively being a military outpost of the United States in time of conflict.  For example during the Yom Kippur War (October 1973), the United States under US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s direction ‘moved the carrier USS Independence and three destroyers to within 500 miles of the Israeli coast’ (Paterson & Merrill 1982: 682) in order to provide air defence should Israel come under attack. 

Furthermore during the same conflict while Kissinger directed the United States within the United Nations to push for a cease-fire, with itself as the mediator negotiating with Egypt, it conducted a secret re-enforcement of Israeli forces, with American tanks, planes, and sophisticated weapons.  The ‘US Congress passed emergency legislation that provided Israel with $2.2 billion dollars to pay for these weapons’ (Paterson & Merrill 1989: 683).  This amount marked a watershed in US-Israeli relations in both terms of cash amount, and the qualitative cost of the new weapons with the ‘Pentagon estimating that $850 million’ (Paterson & Merrill 1989: 683) was sufficient to cover the cost of the weapons.  ‘Spokesmen for the [Nixon] administration were unable to tell Congress exactly how $1 billion of the total $2.2 billion would be used, though Congress, in its zeal to demonstrate support for Israel, was apparently not disturbed by this lack of information.  Moreover $1.5 billion of the total $2.2. billion was to be an outright grant, entailing no repayment.  Kissinger is said to have argued for even more-at $3 billion and all in outright grants…’ (Patterson & Merril1989: 683)

The financial and military assistance provided by the United States is therefore a major consideration in any discussion amongst American foreign policy makers as it provides the potential for enormous leverage over Israeli policy. While at the same time it equally ties the United States to the fundamentals of maintaining Israel’s security.

Democracy and Shared Values:

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and in many American eyes that is all that counts when it comes to dictating US support for Israel. Although in essence this is true, Israel is not a Liberal Democracy.  Arab Israelis live in a form of political segregation with limitations on their rights of representation, as a result of Zionist fears of Arabs seizing the state from within.  There is a total lack of Palestinian representation within the Israeli political system; this is despite its forty six year occupation of the Palestinian territories.  Israel has made no attempt to integrate any part of Palestinian society with its own, preferring to force Palestinians off their land replacing them with Israeli settlers as a means of integrating the West Bank and Gaza into Israel proper.

The position Israel holds as the closest thing to a democracy in the region has been an essential factor in US relations with Israel, even when US Presidents have taken a harsher tone with Israel in the end they are forced by the stark conflict between Arab absolutism and terrorism and Israeli democracy.  America after all is the land of the free, and the leader of the free world, and to take a position that failed to recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli states democracy in the face of the Arab world’s monarchs and dictators would be to invite a domestic political crisis.

Ultimately Israel has benefited far more than the USA in this relationship, the ties that bind the USA to Israel are so great that it is inconceivable for a US President to force an Israeli Prime-Minister into a position that they don’t support.  This is despite the fact that Israel’s national security is wholly dependent on the financial and military aid and guarantees of the United States.

This statement is proven in my opinion by Israel’s pre-emptive actions against Lebanon, Iraq, and in the 1968 War, when Israel pre-emptively attacked Egypt, and Syria, seizing the Sinai, and the Golan Heights with limited prior consultation with the USA. This action despite the US’s objection to the policy was ultimately fully endorsed by the United States, who provided critical international diplomatic cover in the UN Security Council.  It was the use of the United States’ veto at the Security Council that gave Israel the necessary time to encircle the Egyptian Third Army in the Sinai, before the enforcement of the cease fire.

In fact the Israeli army continued with hostilities against the Egyptians for forty-eight hours after the cease fire came into force.  This action was completed covertly under the cover of Secretary of State Kissinger’s claim that the Israeli forces were merely taking up defensive positions, when in fact they were securing the complete encirclement of the Third Army, an action led by Ariel Sharon as a senior Israeli tank commander, Sharon wanted to annihilate the 3rd Army.  However Kissinger managed to bring about his only piece of decisive intervention in the Israeli plans by persuading Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir that such an action would cripple Nasser’s military regime and lead to the collapse of Egypt into civil strife.  This would have created a situation that would be highly hazardous on Israel’s borders, and ultimately prevent Israel’s ambition of a negotiated peace with Egypt, that recognised the state of Israel, and fractured the Arab alliance set against them.  This US involvement on the side of Israel in the 1968 War was to its strategic disadvantage leading to the first OPEC Oil embargo, and a worldwide economic recession.  Israel on the other hand secured the military defeat of Egypt and Syria, and made substantial territorial gains.

Case Study: The Oslo Peace Process 1993 – 2000

The Oslo Peace process is in my opinion the best example of the difficulties faced by the United States in influencing Israeli policy in the Middle East and in particular in effecting a just settlement for the Palestinian people.  President Clinton was at first not a particularly promising prospect for the world when it came to American involvement in international affairs.  One of his very first actions as President was a unilateral US withdrawal from Somalia, an action that left the country in an arguably worst state than that which the action had aimed to remedy.  There was also dithering over Bosnia, Rwanda and Haiti. Therefore when months of secret negotiations between two Israeli academics and members of the PLO were revealed and given US support in 1993, and the land for peace agenda was agreed by Arafat, and Rabin in the signing of the accord in the Rose Garden before the worlds press, with ‘that’ handshake, it was something of a dramatic breakthrough in American Israeli relations, with America apparently actively pushing Israeli into finding a peaceful solution to the Palestinian question.

However this was from the start a farce, Oslo took ‘the peace steam-roller… [Into]… a new, and much more destructive phase.  Far from bringing peace, it brought greater suffering for Palestinians, and assured harm to the long term interests of the Israelis as a people.’ (Said 1995: 146-147)   The entire proposition of the Oslo peace process that of land for peace was flawed in its inception; the land that Israel wished to trade with the PLO was not it’s to trade.  In essence for Israel to trade the land required the tacit acceptance of the Palestinians and the PLO of the Occupation, a condition that has never been conceded by any national liberation movement to a military occupation.

This is effectively what occurred with the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles on the White House Lawn on that September afternoon, it was the first steps in the creation of what Christopher Hutchens in his foreword to Edward Said’s book ‘Peace and Its Discontents’ refers to as a ‘refugee state’, wholly dependent on Israel for security and access to world trade. Palestine was not to become a state for the Palestinians, its fractured borders, potted with Israeli settlements, it would be a decapitated territory joined together by a narrow ‘international road’ linking the Gaza strip with what’s left of the West Bank.  This would have created an unsustainable political entity crippled by economic weakness, lacking any sense of unified identity, and ultimately unable to act as a sovereign power in the defining areas of defence and security with the Israeli Defence Force being the only military entity allowed to operate within the area. This was not a Palestinian State, it was a humiliation and ultimately was destined to only increase the sense of hopelessness and bloodshed, and Oslo in its deceit was the foundation stone of the second intifada, and the eventual rise of Hamas to power in the Gaza Strip.

Oslo was about the ambitions of two men, Rabin and his dream of secure Israeli borders with the subjugation of Palestinian and Arab hostility through a botched and uneven peace, and Arafat a man who cared more about being called Mr President than the suffering of his own people.  This was only compounded by the grand standing ambitions of America’s first diplomat.  Clinton saw Oslo as a route out of the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire that could be accepted by Arab States.  The goal being  Arab Oil, by removing the instability the Palestinian issue provided within Americas strategic and contradictory interests within the region, that of Israel’s guarantor and Americas reliance on Arab Oil.

The reason why I have highlighted Oslo as an example of Israeli influence over US policy rather than vice versa, is that the simple solution to Americas contradictory positions within the region is the pro-active engagement with Israel on the status of the ‘occupied territories’ from the position of UN Resolutions 242, and 337 ‘which state that no state can hold on to territory taken by force’, such an approach would secure Arab Oil, yet maintain Israeli security.  However it would not fulfil Zionist territorial ambition and the desire amongst some sectors of Israel’s political establishment to see the Palestinians utterly defeated before any peace, as if 46 years of occupation hasn’t been enough.

However the United States shunted the UN aside and began negotiations from the basis of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as Israeli property with which to negotiate and to also negotiate the existence of Israeli settlements, vast hilltop fortresses that occupy strategic advantages, and dominate the land around, no state could countenance such a situation.  Yet Arafat in his own self-obsessed egotism signed away a key position in 1993, a position set out in ‘The Palestinian National Covenant’ (1968) ‘The Palestinian Arab people possesses the legal right to its homeland, and when the liberation of its homeland is complete it will exercise self-determination solely according to its own will and choice.’ (Paterson & Merrill 1989: 641)   Two equal states with mutual respect for each other, was about to be sacrificed for what the Zionists have determined to be the most achievable outcome of a Greater Israel and a dependent gutted and broken Palestine.

The failure of the Camp David talks in 2000 have often been described as the result of Yasser Arafat’s intractability, however in the context of what I have just described his failure to reach agreement with prime minister Barak was due to his realisation that the peace process was no longer washing with his public, he sensed the coming storm and decided not to be at sea when it came.  The rapid descent into violence and it’s ferocity as well as actions taken by the right wing anti-agreement parties within Israel suggest that organisations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad were already planning their response to Israel and Americas ‘best offer for peace’ some time before that doomed meeting in the woods of Maryland.

Arafat realised far too late that his bid for power was about to be revealed as just that, and that the sham of a state he was about to agree too wouldn’t last such a revelation, furthermore he also realised that if he tried to pull it off it would be the end of him politically, and would probably cost him his life.  Therefore ever the pragmatist he changed streams and retreated to his bombed out headquarters leading the battle for Palestinian liberation, as though the 1990’s never happened and he had simply moved the venue from Beirut to Ramallah.

The power of Israel over the policies of the United States can be overstated, Israel does not dictate US relations with Europe, nor have a veto on US economic concerns in the Middle East, but when it comes to a choice between Israel and the Arabs, the United States will always choose Israel.  This is not because she is consciously biased or because of some sinister anti-Arab plot, but for a number of reasons, the political structure of America being one, and also because Israel is in many ways a child of America, and the only banner of American style values in the region.  As long as this is true and as long as it is plausible that an Arab army will threaten Israel the United States will continue to defend Israeli interests in the Middle East.

Bibliography:

Hyland, William G. (1999) ‘Clintons World; Remaking American Foreign Policy’ Hyland, Westport Connecticut, USA, chp12, p156-158

Paterson, Thomas G. Merrill, Dennis. (1989) ‘Major Problems in American Foreign Relations, Volume II: Since 1914’ (4th Edt.) Heath, Lexington Missouri, p641,642,643,644,682,683

Said, Edward W. (1995) ‘Peace & Its Discontents; Gaza – Jericho 1993 – 1995’ Vintage, London, pXVI-XVII & p144,145,146

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Peace and Stability in the Middle East and North Africa and the Internal Challenges Facing the Region

By Ian Howarth

The region that makes up the Middle East and North African is one of the most politically and strategically sensitive in the world.  The reasons for this geopolitical sensitivity are broad and many.  Firstly the regions vast oil reserves and the vital trade route through the Suez Canal gives it a distinct importance in foreign policy calculations.  The recent and continuing effects of the ‘War on Terror’ and the ‘Arab Spring’ have brought massive political changes to Libya, Iraq, Tunisia and Egypt, countries that had until recently had reliable dictators,  are no longer so open to Washington’s charms.  The brutal civil war in Syria and the tensions this has revealed between Russia and the western powers as well as the continuing confrontation between the Security Council and Iran over the development of nuclear weapons possibly lay the seeds for future conflicts.  Finally, there are the explosive issues that surround the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and the impact that this has on the wider Arab world.Arab dictators

The three key issues that I have identified and believe face all the nations of the region are managing access to water, terrorism and democratisation or liberalisation.  Access to sufficient water is a basic need for any nation and in one of the driest regions on earth, the control of, and ability to access this resource is vital to national security.  Democratisation is potentially destabilising due to the dangers of popular uprisings and violent counter democratic reactions from the military or the fragmentation of states into religious, ethnic, or tribal loyalties that could lead to bloody civil wars. All of these terrible outcomes have been seen in some form and continue to be in some cases since 2003.

While I recognise the dangers of stereotyping the connections between Islam and terrorism, it is undeniable that the radicalisation of Islam by extremist groups who see violence as a legitimate form of political expression is a serious threat to peace in this region.  Terrorist incidents are on the rise with significant occurrences in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Iraq, with many foiled attempts in Jordan.  The importance of access to fresh water in this region is hard to exaggerate.  In the Sudan there have been frequent droughts that have led to the deaths of many thousands of people, and in Turkey, Iraq, Israel, Jordan and Syria the damming of major rivers is becoming an increasingly heated issue.   The problem of water supplies in the middle east and the potential that it holds for conflict can be seen by simply considering Garret Hardin’s model on the effects of over-exploitation of a shared environmental resource, the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’. (Baylis & Smith, 2001: 395)

This hypothetical model demonstrates how independently rational actions taken by a multitude of individuals, in this case states, can lead to a collectively irrational result which is catastrophic for all involved.  In the case of water within the Middle East in particular this hypothesis could be said to be already occurring, the deserts of the region are amongst the driest places on earth and therefore the water that is present in this environment is finite. However, the nations of the region are failing to cooperate and are seeking national solutions to a regional problem ultimately at the expense of all.

President Anwar Sadat said after signing the 1979 peace treaty with Israel ‘that his country would never go war again, except to protect its water resources.  King Hussein of Jordan identified water as the only reason that might lead him to war with the Jewish State’ (BBC News Website 2003).  All across the Middle East and North Africa the issue’s surrounding water are growing in importance, between ‘1955 and 1990 the list of ‘water scarce’ countries in this region grew from three to eight with a further seven expected to be added within the next 20 years’.

The growth in demand for water in the region is in part due to one of the highest birth rates in the world, population growth that is entirely dependent on water either from the three great river systems, the Nile, Euphrates and the Tigris, or from vast underground aquifers that are rapidly becoming depleted.  Nine nations alone rely on the water of the Nile, and the arguments over access to the water of the Euphrates between Syria and Turkey are growing more heated as the Turkish government embarks on an extensive programme of damming up stream, to support urban and agricultural growth in its dry south eastern region.

This issue of water and the right of nations up stream to damn rivers at the detriment of those states that lie down stream is causing increasing disputes.  This is a situation that will only get worse over the coming decades as populations continue to grow.  The support structures of these societies, food production, sanitation, and access to drinking water, will face collapse if the issue is left to the internal decisions of the separate states, each seeking the maximisation of the resource.  This could potentially lead to the rivers down-stream drying up with all the terrible consequences this would result in for the stability of the nations affected.  The solution probably lies in some form of water based OPEC, monitoring supply and demand and responding on a regional level, but whether the states of the region respond to this problem in sufficient time is doubtful.

The distribution of water in the region is currently a second or even third order concern amongst most external observers.   However, without water there’s no life, and as the availability of water to those living downstream becomes increasingly scarce the prospect of armed conflict over access to water resources will increase.  The ‘former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali warned bluntly that the next general war in the area will be over water.’ (BBC News Website 2003)  Many other commentators have also stated that the wars of the 21st century won’t be fought over oil, but water.  This is a problem that faces the whole world but will be at its most critical in the driest places on earth, in the Middle East and North Africa.

The nations of the Middle East and North Africa share one distinct yet dubious quality in common, not one of them is a liberal democracy, and before the cry goes up for Israel, not all citizens of Israel are as equal as each other.  By that I mean that Arab Israelis face restrictions that their Jewish or even Christian compatriots don’t, and the people of Palestine lack any true voice whatsoever in the policies of their occupier or the Palestinian Authority.  The failure of democratic government to take root in this region is the result of a myriad of causes, foreign intervention, the politics of oil, colonial mismanagement, and the traditions of tribal society to name a few.  Since the withdrawal of the colonial powers there have been many false dawns in the region, Nasser’s Egypt, the Shah’s Iran, and Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority.

Why you might justly ask would you consider liberalisation and democratisation as a threat to the stability of the region?  Well the answer is really quite simple until recently most of the nations of the Middle East and North Africa are either one of two things, an absolute monarchy or an authoritarian dictatorship following the Arab Spring we also have transitional and unstable democracies.  Both the previous types are represented in the region at their worst and their most benign.  In order to bring about democracy in any one of these states would require some form of political, economic, or popular movement of fairly dramatic proportions.  We have begun to see this in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and can only hope for Syria.  However the vast majority of the nations in the region continue to exist under largely absolute monarchies or as in the case of Iran a theocracy.

Liberal and Democracy are terms often bounded about as being synonymous with each other, although true western democracy is dependent on liberalisation, liberalisation isn’t dependent on democracy.  The liberalisation of a state, its institutions, and economy can proceed without establishing democratic structures.  This is best witnessed in the success of Communist China in adopting western consumer trends, and economics’ while maintaining the control of the state by the party, a process that failed in the USSR, and is having mixed success in the Middle East and North Africa e.g. Dubai & Qatar.

The level of oppression and desperation present amongst the demographically young populations of the states of this region is difficult to overstate, and the desire within Arab and North African societies for democratic representation is equally as strong.   Within Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union the outcome of this process of first disillusionment, then betrayal and finally a sense of the bankruptcy of communist rule was revolution and the emergence of democratic governance.  However, in the Middle East and North Africa the governments began responding to the incompatibility of their rule and the desires of their citizens for more representative government long before ‘glasnost’ in the Communist bloc.  ‘Glasnost Arab style was manifest in the infitah (open door) policies of Egypt and Tunisia in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s’. (Milton-Edward, 2001: 150)

The adoption of these policies was a result of the increasing illegitimacy that nationalist and monarchical rule was being viewed by the people of the region.  They were seen as a solution to the demands for greater freedoms, without the necessity of real political change at the core.  Jordan, Morocco, Turkey, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have all adopted liberalising projects, following the failure of Arab nationalism during the 1970’s.  Introducing private industry and free market economics, and encouraging the development of the McDonald’s, GAP and MTV culture in their societies has provided an outlet for the ambitious, and young while at the same time maintaining the elites grip on power.  Actual democratisation has been resisted by making token concessions such as the establishment of people’s assemblies in Kuwait, Qatar & Oman. They are half appointed, with powers that are so restrictive as to make them irrelevant.  These concessions serve the purpose of providing the theatre of democracy yet none of the substance.

Despite this theatre the process of liberalisation in these countries has been very successful civil unrest has been rare, and most of the people who live in these societies are content, failing to see that liberal economics and the ability to buy a Big Mac is not what liberal democracy means.  The rulers of these countries benefit from broad public support and are seen as father like figures despite their continuing quiet actions of despotism continuing behind the scenes. The suppression of more radical opposition and overly vocal critics of their governance continues unabated.  Jordan has a free press it is said, free to praise the King, the government, and the military, in that order.

In Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Algeria however liberalisation has either been non-existent or unsuccessful, largely due to the half -hearted approach of the leaders.  Low economic growth or because of unstable factional rule were the ascendant liberal faction can be replaced overnight by a more conservative one resulting in crack downs and the reversal of liberal policies. This may in part explain why three out of these six nations were swept away so quickly in the storm of the ‘Arab Spring’.

The adoption of the liberalising economics of the west has meant that the associated problems with crime and corruption have also emerged.  However, in these societies there is no voice through which society can express its anger with these developments. This has led to nervous societies unsure of their boundaries, and security, it is this environment that breeds the levels of contempt, fear and utter hopelessness, often externalised by their own leaders to detract from their failures.  In turn it helps fuel the support for organisations like Al’ Qaeda, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The policy of placing the blame elsewhere by leaders in the region is a major cause of diplomatic tension.  The Saudi Arabian royal family are both staunch allies of the United States, personal friends of the Bush family, and supporters and protectors of ‘Wahhabi Islam’.  This extreme Islamic interpretation’s teachings formed the bedrock of Osama bin Laden’s philosophy.   It is this connection between the failure of Arab nationalism, and a lack of democracy in the region that fuels the growth of Islamic extremism and terrorism.

Since September 11th the developed world has been concerned with international terrorism.  However, terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa is an ever present and far from new threat.  In recent years bombs have been going off in Saudi Arabia, set by Islamic extremist opponents of the House of Saud, opposed to its relationship with the west and the United States in particular.  Israel frequently experiences suicide bombings by Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, and Iraq since the 2003 invasion has seen unprecedented numbers of attacks by suicide bombers.  Morocco and Tunisia have also faced similar problems.

The issue of terrorism is not a clear cut distinction between states versus the terrorist, in most of these cases the terrorist groups themselves either has their roots in state security services, or is funded by other rival states.  Two good examples of this can be demonstrated through the Syrian regimes support of Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel, and the suspected involvement of Iranian forces in Iraq.

Foreign policy in the Middle East is dominated by the importance of military strength, with inter-state cooperation a rarity. The desires of various leaders to re-unite the whole Islamic world mean that issues of personality also play a significant role. ‘Democratic peace theory suggests that Middle East wars are, in part, a function of the regions democratic deficits which prevent publics from holding leaders accountable or constraining their foreign adventures’ (Hinnebusch 2003: 141).  There are no attempts by the nations of this region to include liberalisation or democratisation agendas in their foreign policies, with issues of state governance and security on this level being restricted to the power of their militaries.  The most concerted form of inter-state interference in the nature and structure of another states governance can be found in the use of security services, which play a key role in not only maintaining domestic security, but in inciting instability in competing jurisdictions.

The use of terrorism by security services to further political goals, and discreetly continue conflicts is best illustrated by Syria and Iran.  Syria has for decades funded and supported Hezbollah and Hamas in its continuing fight with Israel, a policy that reached its height in the Lebanon during the 1980’s with Syrian military units in rebel or Lebanese guise engaging Israeli forces.  Libya’s use of terrorism in its foreign policy is infamously known through the Pan Am airline bombing over Lockerbie in 1989.

The most influential foreign policy decisions regarding liberalisation and democratisation in the region are coming from outside.  The ambition of Turkey to join the European Union is having a significant effect on its political and economic structures with nothing short of true democracy being acceptable for European Union (EU) entry it is likely that Turkey will effect such change within the current decade.  Already Turkey is a far different nation than ten years ago, although events unfolding in the streets of Istanbul as I write seem to be setting the nation back, and the reactions of the government and police have been far from democratic.

Within North Africa the influence of the EU is also bringing about significant changes, Morocco harbours desires to be more closely integrated with the EU and is therefore making reforms of its own, although these have been far less dramatic than those of Turkey.  In the Middle East the EU is less of a force although financially vital to the Palestinian Authority it could push more vocally for change.

It is the United States that is having the biggest effect on the liberalising agenda in the Middle East.  It has been actively pursuing as part of its foreign policy the promotion of free market economics and democracy although the latter is probably more gloss than reality.  Its stated intentions in the region have become more complex since September 11th, and the invasion of Iraq.  It is the demands of the United States that have probably proven as much an influence on the liberalisation of Middle Eastern economies, as domestic pressure.  It is for this reason that countries like Jordan and Morocco have at least played at the theatre of democracy, recognising that only the language of democracy is truly legitimate in the post-cold war world.

Despite the shared language, religion and culture of these nations the borders that divide them are real and peace and stability in the region is as fragile as ever. With civil war in Syria there is an ever present danger of a regional war breaking out dragging Lebanon, Turkey, Iran and Israel into conflict.  It may well be the case that in order to gain a more lasting peace in this region a period of instability will first be required.

Bibliography:

Baylis, John. Smith, Steve. (2001) ‘The Globalization of World Politics’ 2nd Edition Oxford University Press, Oxford p395

BBC News Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2949768.stm ‘Middle East Water Wars’ & http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/2789233.stm ‘Saudis Jailed for Al-Qaeda Plot’

Gilbert, Martin (1999) ‘A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume Three: 1952 – 1999’ Harper Collins, London

Hinnebusch, Raymond (2003) ‘The International Politics of the Middle East’ Manchester University Press, Manchester p141

Milton-Edwards, Beverley (2001) ‘Contemporary Politics in the Middle East’ Polity, Oxford p150-151

Weaver, Mary Anne. (2003), ‘Revolution from the Top Down’ National Geographic Magazine, March, p84 – 105

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development Website:  http://www.johannesburgsummit.org/html/basic_info/unced.html