Are all options really on the table?

Israel should be talking to Sunni Arab states about peace -- and about Iran

I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say.

– President Obama, AIPAC policy conference, March 4, 2012

This week marks AIPAC’s annual policy conference, which brings together thousands of American supporters of Israel. Yet again the media is steeped with talk of one specific issue – the Iranian nuclear threat — which this year seems more imminent than ever, with policy discussions now shifting from “if” a strike is viable, to “when” and “how” such a strike will occur.

Before Israelis scramble to get their international passports in order, however, we must ask ourselves one thing: Are we truly doing our utmost to thwart this existential threat to the State of Israel? Sure, we’ve tried negotiations, international sanctions, targeted assassinations, but the threat continues to grow.

Now is the time to remember that Israel isn’t the only country that’s apprehensive about a nuclear Iran; more than ever, Sunni Arab countries are also feeling the threat. Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia — the pillar of Sunni Islam and one of the strongest regional powers — have been mounting.

Shouldn’t we be joining forces against our common enemy?

These countries are crucial in their ability to contain the regional ambitions of Iran’s Shi’ite regime. The first Gulf War can serve as a potent lesson in recent history, as it demonstrated the efficacy of an international coalition with Arab states in impeding a neighborhood bully. The Gulf War coalition served to further isolate Iraq and provided legitimacy for the actions of the United States.

Should Israel succeed in forming a broad coalition with Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, and the UAE, it could ostensibly outbalance the Iranian threat and gain legitimacy for its own actions.

Time to reach out to the Arab world? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC policy conference on Monday. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
Time to reach out to the Arab world? Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC conference. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

Make peace and the rest will follow

So how do we get the Arab states on board with Israel? Simple — sign a peace agreement.

In 2002 the Arab League presented a regional reconciliation initiative that included normalization of relations with Israel within the framework of a comprehensive peace agreement. The initiative was re-adopted in 2007.

The point is not the specifics of the agreement but rather the gesture: make peace with the Palestinians and the entire Arab region will conduct normal relations with the State of Israel.

Beyond the usual but ever-relevant argument that peace is pivotal if Israel is to remain Jewish and Democratic, it seems that such a process can also save Israel from another existential threat — Iran. Normalized relations with the Arab world would facilitate a broad, powerful coalition against the ayatollah regime. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s domestic rhetoric against Israel would become irrelevant, and his already-loose grip on power could slip, introducing more moderate voices in Iran.

Almost all of us understand what a final peace agreement based on the two-state solution will look like. These days, the majority of Israelis and Palestinians support a two-state solution based on the Clinton parameters, the Taba agreements and the Geneva Initiative model.

Ask yourself the following question: What’s scarier, a demilitarized Palestinian state or a nuclear Iran? Even if peace must be viewed as a difficult concession, isn’t it dwarfed by the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb detonating in Tel Aviv?

About the Author
Andrea Diamond is the Director of Foreign Relations at the Geneva Initiative in Israel. She has extensive experience working in non-profit and government affairs. Previous to her work at the Geneva Initiative, she worked for the Portland Trust in Tel Aviv, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor in Jerusalem, and the Munk Center for International Studies in Toronto. She holds a Hon. B.A. in Political Science and Middle East studies from the University of Toronto and a Masters degree in Government from the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.