By Mark N. Katz, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mark N. Katz is professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University, and the author of ‘Leaving without Losing: The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan.’ The views expressed are his own.
The ongoing civil war that is devastating Syria is increasingly threatening to spill over and engulf neighboring countries. Indeed, all the ingredients are there for what would be a disastrous region-wide Sunni-Shiite conflict.
Just look at what has been going on. Turkey is hard pressed to deal with the growing number of Syrian refugees flooding into its territory, while tiny Jordan may soon be overwhelmed by them. In addition, the conflict between Syria’s Alawite minority regime and its Sunni majority opposition is spilling over and re-invigorating Sunni-Shiite conflict both in Iraq to the east and Lebanon to the west. Meanwhile, Shiite-dominated governments in Iran and Iraq, as well as the radical Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement, are all actively assisting Syria’s Alawite regime, while Sunni-dominated governments in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan are helping the Sunni opposition.
And what has been the Obama administration’s response to all this? Surprising – and troubling – restraint.
By Peter Fragiskatos, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Peter Fragiskatos teaches at Western University in London, Canada. You can follow him @pfragiskatos. The views expressed are his own.
Amidst the horror that continues to plague Syria, a glimmer of hope emerged last week as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced they will try to bring together the Syrian state and its opponents by convening an international peace conference.
In principle, negotiations are the right way to go. Had talks taken place earlier, the bloodshed, which has now claimed the lives of more than 70,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more, could have been vastly reduced. The only way it can be stopped is if there are some compromises, and this will only happen when the warring sides start talking in earnest. Yet reports that Russia is sending advanced anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria are a reminder that Moscow's commitment to the process remains an unpredictable wild card.
In preparing for the discussions, a division of labor appears to have been set – the Americans are trying to persuade the rebels to take part, while Russia is pressing the al-Assad regime. And there are some promising signs on both fronts. According to Kerry, Salim Idriss – chief of staff for the main opposition Free Syrian Army – has expressed strong interest in negotiations, while reports suggest Lavrov has received a list of negotiators from the Syrian government.
By Fareed Zakaria
In a sense, both hard-line supporters of Israel and advocates of peace have clung to the notion of the Jewish state as deeply vulnerable. For Likudniks, this demonstrated that Israel was at risk and needed constant support. For peaceniks, it proved that peace was a vital necessity.
But Israel’s strength and security are changing the country’s outlook. Don’t look only at the tough talk coming from the new right. As columnist and author Ari Shavit notes, the country has turned its attention from survival to social, political and economic justice. (January’s election results confirmed this trend.) And while these seem, at first, domestic affairs, they will ultimately lead to a concern for justice in a broader sense and for the rights of Palestinians.
By Mohammed Ayoob, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mohammed Ayoob is a distinguished professor of International Relations at Michigan State University and adjunct scholar at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed are his own.
President Barack Obama is just beginning his first visit to Israel and the West Bank since he assumed the presidency, but skeptics have already been suggesting that those expecting much more than a photo-op are destined for disappointment. Indeed, the reality is that even if there is a desire within the Obama administration to cajole the two sides into resuming an active search for peace, this visit is unlikely to bring the results the president may be hoping for.
Why? The most obvious reason is the inability of President Obama to persuade Prime Minister Netanyahu to stop building settlements on occupied Palestinian lands, making it impossible for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table while preserving credibility among an already highly skeptical constituency. It is ironic that despite U.S. aid to Israel running at about $3 billion a year, Israeli influence in Washington far outstrips American influence in West Jerusalem.
By Gabriel Kohan and Mark Donig, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Gabriel Kohan and Mark Donig are Middle East policy analysts whose work has appeared in CNN, Foreign Policy, Forbes, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The views expressed in this piece are their own.
Since the White House announced last month that President Obama would be headed to Israel, analysts have floated numerous flawed theories suggesting that the president’s trip is motivated primarily by either a desire to enhance cooperation on various security issues or to thaw the frosty relationship between the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Advocates of the first theory overlook the fact that, while security issues will be addressed, this trip to Israel is not necessary for the two countries to enhance their already unprecedented security relationship – the president could accomplish the same without leaving Washington. Meanwhile, proponents of the second overestimate the impact of one more face-to-face meeting between a president and prime minister who have already met in person a number of times over the previous four years.
Rather, the greatest impact that this trip could have is not between leaders or governments, but between President Obama and the Israeli public. By using this trip to speak directly to the Israeli people and to reassure them of America’s commitment to Israel’s security, President Obama can begin to forge the kind of trust with the Israeli public that has so far eluded him, in part due to his previous requests for Israeli concessions on territory and settlements that some perceived as insensitive to Israel’s precarious security situation. In building this good faith, Obama can begin to “reset” his relationship with Israelis who may not trust today that the president will “have Israel’s back,” and can use that newly built trust to help achieve longstanding American foreign policy goals in the Middle East.
By William Young, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: William Young is a senior policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. He was formerly a senior officer with the Central Intelligence Agency with extensive experience in the Middle East. The views expressed are his own.
All roads lead to Damascus…and back out again. Financial and military aid flowing into Syria from Iran, Russia, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and other Arabian Gulf states aims to influence the outcome of the conflict between a loose confederation of rebel factions and the Bashar al-Assad regime. But this outside support could merely perpetuate the existing civil war and ignite larger regional hostilities between Sunni and Shia areas, reshaping the political geography of the Middle East.
In many ways, this is a continuation of the historical struggle between Sunni against Shia for dominance in the Islamic world, with Israel as another nearby target. Historical hatred between extremists on both sides of the conflict has already begun to spread fear and influence political sentiment north and east into Turkey and Iraq, west into Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine, and south into Jordan and the Arab Gulf. To understand these trends, it is important to ask: Who benefits from the conflict in Syria, and who loses?
By Josh Block, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Josh Block is CEO & president of the Israel Project, a 501c3 nonpartisan organization based in Washington D.C. A former Clinton administration official at USAID, Block was also a member of the senior staff at AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobby. You can follow him @JoshBlockDC. The views expressed are his own.
The months leading up to yesterday’s Israeli election were filled with confident forecasting. Israeli voters, analysts told us, were turning rightward and even losing confidence in the Jewish state's democratic institutions. Voter turnout would slouch toward all-time lows, and remaining voters would empower a government that was, depending on a pundit’s particular verve, “hardline,” “extremist,” “ultra-nationalist,” – or even worse.
Israeli voters, however, had other ideas. And now many of those pundits are expressing surprise at the turnout and composition of Israel’s 19th Knesset.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.
Fareed speaks with columnists Bret Stephens and Peter Beinart about the controversy over President Obama’s decision to nominate Chuck Hagel for defense secretary. This is an edited version of the interview.
Beinart: I think the important thing about Hagel is that, in a way, he would be the Obama administration’s Meir Dagan. Meir Dagan is the guy in Israel, from the national security establishment, who pushed back when Benjamin Netanyahu, he felt, was talking too cavalierly about the prospect of war against Iran. Hagel has not ruled out military force against Iran. He actually ruled it in, in an op-ed last fall. But he has said again and again, in very Dagan-esque, in very Eisenhower-esque ways, as...Eisenhower was always saying, let’s not pretend we can control war once it's unleashed. That is the point that Hagel has made again and again. I want that perspective in the Iran debate. I think that’s part of what makes him important.
Stephens: You know, what I find striking about this debate – and this, I think, hopefully, brings us to the larger debate about Chuck Hagel's world view – is that if you are a skeptic of U.S. intervention in Iran, and certainly if you’re against Israeli military intervention of Iran, as I think you are, Peter, you couldn't possibly send a worse signal than to appoint Chuck Hagel as your defense secretary.