Will the ‘Enemy of my Enemy’ Strategy Foster Cooperation in the Middle East

Dome of the rock, jerusalem, israel

Dome of the rock, jerusalem, israel

ISRAEL, Jerusalem – Israel is a country which is well-recognized by both economists and global experts because of the extraordinary pace of the development in its technology, business, and tourism sectors. This economic growth has benefited Israelis as well as the growing number of immigrants who have become integrated into the Israeli society. This unprecedented growth illuminates a dynamic shift in the relationship which Israel maintains with its various allies.

Israel can be seen as dichotomous when viewed from the perspective that two of its most popular attractions; the famous Holy City of Jerusalem, with its religious significance to Jews, Muslims, and Christians, versus the more secular, rapidly moving and vibrant metropolis of Tel Aviv are attractive to tourists, both religious and secular, who annually vacation in the country.

But, this is only part of the story because most people who live outside of the region only associate Israel with terrorism, bombings, and its swift and violent responses to continuous threats from its Arab neighbors. In addition to this, the strong relationship which Israel maintains with America, one which has benefited the country in a number of ways, most notably in its access to advance weaponry which secures its position in the region as a formidable military force, is viewed by other Middle East nations with disdained because this support is viewed as providing the country with an unfair advantage.

It is this precarious balance between military might and advance technology that seems to thwart Israel’s continued efforts to reach a peaceful solution with its Arab neighboring nations. The lack of an accord in the Middle East is the result of recalcitrance on both sides of the proverbial negotiating table. But, in all of this people forget that Saudi Arabia also benefits mightily from its alliance with the United States. This relationship is complex, but provides the U.S. with a presence in a power Arab nation in the Middle East where continued relations and open dialogue with the ruling family provides entrée into and a voice in decision making affairs in the region from which the U.S. would otherwise be unaware.

Progress to Date

Despite numerous efforts toward securing peace in the Middle East, many of the negotiations brokered in large part by several U.S. Presidents and Secretaries of State, conflict persists as talks between Israel and its Middle East neighbors continually break-down due to the intractable positions which hardliners on both side are unwilling to relinquish. One such issue is the ownership and occupancy of the Dome of the Rock, considered one of the holiest and most revered piece of real-estate in the country and is considered the location of the Foundation Stone.

The Dome of the Rock is now owned by the Ministry of Awqaf Islamic Affairs and Holy Places. But, Israel also lays claim to the mountain because it is also considered the site of the Holy of Holies, which is the inner chamber of the sanctuary in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, separated by a veil from the outer chamber. It was reserved for the presence of God and could be entered only by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.

Muslims by contrast revere this location as holy because “according to some Islamic scholars, the rock is the spot from which the Islamic prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven accompanied by the angel Gabriel. Further, Muhammad was taken here by Gabriel to pray with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.” (Source: Temple MountThus, for the religious right on both sides, this is the most contentious issue, but for the secularist the true divide is the lack of a two state solution. For example, people had great hopes in 1993 that such a solution would be achieved when former U.S. President Bill Clinton brokered the Oslo Peace Treaty which failed to coalesce according to each side because it was felt that their needs and promises asserted as necessary to achieve and maintain peace were insincere and therefore would be unsustainable.

However, in the intervening decades the isolationist policies of some nation states have begun to dissolve as many recognize the inevitability of globalization and the need for nations to form alliances in order to maximize the vast potential for economic advantages, especially for countries with emerging economies. Though the ruling governments of nations entering into diplomatic discussions may espouse vastly different political, military, or even religious objectives, the greater opportunities often take precedence of potential future conflicts even as these nations enter into discreet agreements to meet internal goals and implement long-term strategies.

It is for such reasons of necessity that the leadership of many moderate Arab nations and Israel have reopened diplomatic discussions in earnest. However, instead of these negotiations being initiated by outside parties, Israel and its Arab neighboring nations have come to the table to dialogue about and formulate strategies to address the common threat of Iran. It is as the old proverb, an alliance built out of necessity because “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

On 4 January 2016 an article appeared in the Voice of America online news site highlighting the violent relationship that exists between Saudi Arabia and Iran, one that poses a grave threat of destabilizing the region especially after the lifting of U.S. sanctions. According to the report, on “Saturday [2 January 2016] protesters in Tehran attacked the Saudi embassy, ransacking and burning it as Iran ignored or refused Saudi requests to protect the building. Saudi Arabia formally broke off diplomatic relations with Iran on Sunday, on Monday saying it would cut commercial ties and ban Saudi travel to Iran as well. Sudan and Bahrain, both Saudi allies, severed ties as well.” (Source: VOX)

Speculation on the Future

Iran’s nuclear program continues to be a source of anxiety for the Middle East, and especially for the six energy rich monarchies that comprise the six member countries of the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC). Ironically it is this uncertainty which has helped to strengthen these GCC nations’ bonds with Israel. Presently, the bond between the GCC and Israel are both economic as well as diplomatic. This desire to achieve this common objective has led to a number of Israeli corporations establishing corporate headquarters in economically vibrant destinations such as Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Doha.

These bold step will go a long way toward paving the way for future cohesiveness in the region. It is these commonalities which will encourage and foster growth opportunities in various economic sectors throughout the Middle East. Ultimately this will result in greater market demand for skilled and unskilled labor both foreign and domestic who will be able to take advantage of increased employment opportunities in the region.

All of these developments prognosticate a bright future and may be the economic impetus that unifies the region despite the ongoing challenges to a permanent peace solution. Perhaps the allure of increased economic prowess and greater influence in the geopolitical landscape is a commonality upon which many successful accords may be reached between all Middle East nations.

Middle East Correspondent: @AnshumanKukreti
LinkedIn: Anshuman Kukreti