'Obama drove Israel and Arab states together'

Former US envoy to the Mideast speaks of the importance of US involvement in the region. 'The Las Vegas rules don't apply to the Mideast.'

Yoni Kempinski, New York,

Dennis Ross at IAC conference
Dennis Ross at IAC conference
Photo: Yoni Kempinski

"The Las Vegas rules don't apply to the Middle East: What occurs in the Middle East doesn't stay in the Middle East."

Ambassador Dennis Ross, Distinguished Fellow and Counselor at The Washington Institute and former US Envoy to the Middle East, spoke at the Israeli American Council (IAC) - National Israeli-American Conference 2016, and drew on his expertise to discuss some of the consequences of President Barack Obama's policies and attitudes towards Israel and the Arab nations.

According to Ross, Obama inadvertently caused a renewed closeness in relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors, though this only happens "under the table."

"This isn't what they [the Obama administration] were trying to produce, but that's what happened. Because the Arab states saw that the US was withdrawing from the region, those Arab states that saw common threats began to cooperate more with Israel under the table."

The former envoy and veteran of many sessions of negotiations between Israel and Arab representatives then went on to explain why it is still necessary for this renewed cooperation on mutual interests to remain secret.

"The reason everything is under the table is the Palestinian issue. It's not that the Palestinian issue resonates so much with the Arab states, it's that the Palestinian issue resonates on their street, it's still seen as a source of injustice, and so they're not going to expose themselves on this issue publicly, but they'll do things with the Israelis in private because their needs require it, and they have something to gain from it."

When asked whether the next administration might be able to take advantage of the situation and pursue a public reconciliation between Israel and the Arab states, Ross first addressed the matter of which of the candidates will be elected, as this has bearing on the future prospects.

After first qualifying his statements with the comment that he "prefers to speak analytically, not politically," and joking that he is "very subtle" when doing so, Ross got to talking about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, though not in so many words.

"If you look at the two candidates, there's one that no one knows what he would do. If anybody says they know what he would do they're kidding themselves. The other candidate, I think, basically believes that it's a mistake for the US not to be involved in the region."

According to Ross, Hillary Clinton holds the position that the US should not allow power vacuums to occur in the Middle East, not only because this potentially hurts US allies like Israel and some of the Arab states, but because it can potentially harm the US.

"I like to say that the Las Vegas rules do not apply in the Middle East: What happens in the Middle East does not stay in the Middle East."

And so, Ross says, future positive involvement in the region depends on two things: The outcome of the elections and the US rebuilding trust with nations like Egypt.

One of the main reasons for tensions between the US and the Arab states is Iran.

"The Gulf States, the Emirates and the Saudis, need to see that the US gets the Iranian threat in a way that as of now they think it doesn't. One way to quickly prove that we do get it is to establish contingency planning with them to start dealing with the fact that the Iranians are using Shiite militias to weaken Sunni regimes wherever the militias may be. The more we develop options with them to counter that, the more it will send the signal that we understand the threat."

Ross then said that the Saudis' priority is modernization inside the country, and their external priority is Iran.

In summary, Ross said that if "one candidate," Hillary Clinton, is elected, the US will begin to reestablish its traditional role in the region and the relationship with its allies. It will then be able to explore the new way of looking at the Middle East, one in which Israel and the Sunni states such as Egypt and the Gulf States use their many mutual interests to promote greater cooperation.




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