The Middle East is trapped in a cycle of war and is suffering from lack of collective security. The historic Palestinians-Israel problem, the power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the utterly destructive policy of Turkey toward the threat posed by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL), the sectarian Shiite-Sunni war, and the rapid rise of terrorist groups in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and to a lesser extent in Yemen, political instability in Lebanon due to its parliament's inability to elect the next president five months after the term of the last president expired, and other developments have all contributed to the historically catastrophic suffering of the people of the region.
Millions of people have been killed, injured, or displaced. Tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia has increased dramatically over the past few months, with the Saudi Foreign Minister accusing Iran of "occupying" Syria, and Iran pointing finger at the Saudis for its support of Islamic terrorist groups in the region, and reminding it of its occupation of Bahrain to suppress its democratic movement. Saudi Arabia has sentenced a Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nemer Al Nemer, to death, which has further exacerbated the tensions with Iran, with the Shiites in Lebanon and Iraq also protesting. In turn, Saudi Arabia has flooded the market with its oil that has reduced the oil price by over 20 percent, in an attempt to squeeze Iran. Jaish al-Adl, an al-Qaeda-like terrorist group has recently been attacking Iran's province of Sistan and Baluchestan, killing scores of civilian and military people, and Iran has again accused Saudi Arabia of supporting the group.
How should such crises be addressed? One can try one of the two approaches.
Approach one: a blame game
In the current Middle East every state is blaming others for its problems, and there is evidence to back its claims. Let's look at some of them.
The George W. Bush administration had classified and removed a 28 page document from its report to Congress on the 9/11 terrorist attacks that had described the role that Saudi Arabia had played in the attacks. Several congressmen have asked the Obama administration to declassify the document.
Before the 9/11 attacks, Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia, who headed its intelligence agency and up until last year was in charge of the Saudis efforts in the Middle East, had told Sir Richard Dearlove, then head of the British intelligence Agency MI6 that, "The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally 'God help the Shia'. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them." Should we not view this as the evidence of the Saudis complicity in creating the current state of affairs in the Middle East? Sir Richard has stated that ever since that meeting, Saudi Arabia's policy toward al-Qaeda and its allies has been suppressing them at home and supporting them abroad as a tool to confront the Shiites.
Turkey has regional ambitions, and to achieve them, it has chosen to support radical Islamic groups. Turkish President RecepTayyib Erdogan is determined to topple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria at any cost. His government support of the Islamic State has been criticized harshly even by the opposition groups there. Fifteen thousand foreign terroristsfrom 80 nations have used Turkey to enter Syria. Send that many fighters with weapons to any country and the result will be chaos and bloodshed. Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, has said that he repeatedly asked Turkish officials, including the head of its intelligence, to seal off Turkey's borders with Syria and not allow the jihadists to pass through, but to no avail. And, Vice President Joe Biden explicitly pointed to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and United Arab Emirates for arming and funding ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria. He was forced to apologized, but only for telling the truth.
The four countries counter that if Iran, China and Russia had not supported the Assad regime, we would not have been in the current predicament. But, the fact is that every dictator has some allies. All we have to do to see this is looking at the religious dictatorship in Saudi Arabia that is supported by the West. Supporting the Assad regime by China, Russia, and Iran is one thing, supporting the radical Islamic terrorists, not only by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and their allies, but also by some Western government when they were fighting mostly in Syria is a completely different matter. Is it not true that human rights of the people of Saudi Arabia and of its Arab allies in the Persian Gulf area are also violated systematically by these regimes?
Now, the U.S. and its allies want to prop up the so-called "moderates" in Syriaby training 5000 of them, so that they can supposedly fight with the Islamic State effectively. Is this realistic? Credible evaluation of the situation in Syria indicates that less than 5 percent of Syrian territory is controlled by the so-called "moderates." An investigative report by Congress states that the "Free Syrian Army" - the army of the "moderates" - lacks a cohesive organization with a national reach. John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence, has said that 1500 quasi-military and militia groups are currently fighting in Syria, and that those that fight with the Assad regime are considered as part of the FSA, even if they are anti-Islam. And, the fact that the U.S. wants to train 5000 members of the FSA is an acknowledgment that the FSA did not really exist before, at least not as a credible fighting force. But, is this legal? If that is the way to confront dictators, why does the U.S. not do the same for other dictatorships in the region, which happen to be its allies?
Finding a way for peace and collective security of the entire region
Instead of a blaming game and pointing fingers, one can think about finding ways for peace. If our choices are between bad - dictatorships - and good - democracy - we should surely choose the latter. But, in the deep crises that the Middle East is facing, one must choose between bad - dictatorship - and worse - civil war, instability and bloodshed. Let us look at three recent experiences with three dictatorships in that region:
Is Iraq better off today than before 2003 under the bad dictatorship of Saddam Hussein? Over the first nine months of 2014 alone, over 12,000 people have been murdered by the Islamic State in Iraq, and many times over injured and displaced. The casualties of Iraq's invasion by the U.S. are even much worse.
Is Libya better off today than before Muammar Gaddafi was toppled by NATO? Radical militia rule, the country has effectively been partitioned, and the central government has no power.
Is Syria better off now than before its civil began in 2011? The Syrian war is one against development of democracy. 200,000 people have been killed in the sectarian war there.
Peace and security are the requisite conditions for social and economic development, which in turn is closely linked with development of democracy and respect for human rights. Without security, democracy and respect for human rights, there will be no economic development.
Strategy for peace
The main problems in the Middle East are dictatorship, repression, corruption, discrimination, humiliation, and the double standards of the West toward some nations in that region. Under such conditions, any strategy for peace must consider the following factors:
One, one must view the region as a whole, not as a collection of states, because all problems everywhere are tied together. Without a comprehensive plan for the entire region peace and security will not be achieved, and the terrorist groups will not disappear. Allowing the Palestinians to have their own viable state is part of this view. Secretary of State John Kerry correctly said on October 17 that confronting terrorism requires solving the Israel-Palestinians problems, adding, "There wasn't a leader I met with in the region who didn't raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and thePalestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation," referring to hisrecent visit to Cairo that raised $5.4 billion for Hamas in Gaza.
Two, terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State, cannot be eliminated by military means, or at least by military means alone. The vast majority of 1.5 billion Muslims is moderate and rejects Islamic fundamentalism. Muslim intellectuals have presented interpretations of the Islamic teachings that are fully compatible with democracy and respect for human rights, hence building a modern Islam. The problem is that repressive regimes support fundamentalism, and crack down on modern Islam. The "Islamophobia industry" in the West also argues that Islamic fundamentalism is the true Islam. But, the Quran of the pacifists is completely different from the warmongers'. We should prevent Islamophobia.
Third, given the preoccupation with the Islamic State, every peace plan for Syria has been forgotten, and everyone is thinking in military terms. But, to achieve real peace and defeat the Islamic State, three steps must be taken in Syria. One is an immediate ceasefire between the Syrian government and the moderate groups. Second is marginalizing the radical groups by choking off their financial resources, blocking transfer of weapons and ammunitions to them, and preventing new members to go there through Turkey. The third step is holding free elections under the United Nations supervision. Forming a government based on ethnic or religious considerations must be rejected. Everyone must have equal political and citizen rights. If Syria's government and armed forces are destroyed, the situation will be far worse than what we see in Libya.
Fourth, Iran must play a direct role in fighting with the Islamic State. The power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia benefit no one. The two countries, plus Turkey, must set aside their claim to leadership of the Islamic world. Similar to the fundamentalists, the leaders of these three nations have used Islam as a tool for power and war. Spreading the sectarian Shiite-Sunni war is a result of such a view.
Fifth, Iran cannot fully participate in the struggle against the Islamic State, unless two major issues are addressed first. Iran's democratic movement is deeply concerned about Iran becoming another Syria or Iraq. Iranians want a compromise with the West over Iran's nuclear program, which will lead to improved relations with the United States, and lifting of the crippling economic sanctions against Iran. In other words, under the current conditions in the Middle East, many Iranians prefer for now the stability and security of their nation under the current regime to Iran becoming another Iraq or Syria. But, if the relations with the U.S. improve, Iranian' struggle for democracy will become more powerful. Thus, this is the ideal time for reaching a compromise over Iran's nuclear program, so that the focus can be shifted to fighting terrorism and achieving peace in the entire Middle East.
This article was translated by Ali N. Babaei