As the Israel-Iran confrontation in Syria intensifies, and with the collapse of the American participation in the JCPOA, Europe (including Moscow) is in search of a regional Plan-B for the Middle East. Even US President Donald J. Trump has promised to negotiate a new and better nuclear deal with Tehran. But the Trump administration demands an Iranian capitulation on the road to this better deal. Meanwhile, the Kremlin is caught between support for the Jewish State and Iran’s desire for an expanded Shiite military outreach as well as an eventual nuclear balance within the region of the Middle East. Tehran seeks to achieve a large conventional presence within both Syria and Lebanon. It is already in Iraq through its myriad of proxy forces.
This Iranian attempt at conventional hegemony in the Middle East will not be tolerated by Israel. Also, any attempt by Tehran to race toward nuclear weaponry will not be tolerated by anyone, i.e. all the signatories to the 2015 JCPOA. But Israel and the Republican administration in Washington have always viewed the Iran nuclear deal as merely a delaying tactic, seriously flawed without any mechanism to replace its all-too-short sunset provisions. Under the JCPOA, within ten to fifteen short years, Iran could possess an industrial level nuclear program with a bomb-missile breakout time of less than a month.
The JCPOA was also predicated on the erroneous assumption that its enactment would moderate Iranian behavior throughout the region. This was a mistaken premise given that US naval and air assets remain seriously entrenched on Iran’s waters and borders. But Iran, as a revolutionary Islamic state, goes further. It continues to threaten Israel’s very existence. Now in Syria, Iran is building an infrastructure to act on that threat. Within the last 24 hours, Israel has now attacked that infrastructure.
However, US hegemony within the region has been an Iranian red flag since the Islamic revolution of 1979. With the Americans on the Gulf and in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Tehran was definitely surrounded. But Obama’s subsequent retreat from Iraq in 2011, and the hegemonic vacuum due to the US reluctance to challenge either Tehran or Moscow in the Syrian civil war, led to serious expansion of Iranian power as a replacement for American dominance in the Levant. Meanwhile, NATO control over the conventional balance in Europe has caused the Russians to seek to counter Western expansion in a myriad of asymmetric ways. This has been especially true in Syria, where Obama and Trump have allowed Russian and Iranian power to prop up Assad. Now Iran owns the regime in Damascus, and Russia is caught between good relations with Jerusalem and a need to challenge Washington through a partnership with Tehran.
What to do next, and is there a Plan B for Washington’s rejection of the JCPOA? President Putin of Russia is the only world leader (with leverage) who can talk to both the Israelis and the Iranians. He can also have serious discussions about both the future of European security and the replacement of the JCPOA with Paris, Berlin and London. He also seeks a summit with President Trump. Why not bundle all those goals together? Why not a Jerusalem-based summit, initiated by Moscow, to discuss the future of both the Middle East and Europe?
Europe definitely needs a new security architecture to replace an expanded NATO. These talks are long overdue. But the essential purpose of the Jerusalem summit would be to bring forth the signatories of the JCPOA with all the countries of the Middle East to establish a nuclear-free zone. This nuclear-free zone would be one plank in a fourteen-point plan that seeks to put the region of the Middle East on a path toward permanent peace. I call this fourteen-point plan the Zone of Peace. It could be guaranteed by all the major nations of the world.
Here are its fourteen points: 1) A Zone of Peace shall be established among the states of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, so that trade and navigation shall move uninterrupted. 2) All foreign navies shall be denied basing rights within the Zone of Peace. 3) All foreign air forces shall equally be denied basing rights within the Zone of Peace. 4) No state within the Zone of Peace may attack another state. 5) If such an attack should occur, the permanent members of the UN Security Council would come to the aid of the aggrieved state, and points 2 and 3 would become temporarily suspended. 6) If such an attack should occur, the states within the Zone of Peace would come to the aid of the aggrieved state. 7) Only sovereign states would be allowed to possess military equipment. Extra-territorial militias would be outlawed. Missiles and missile production would be kept at very short distances and very low numbers. 8) Nuclear enrichment would not be allowed, and its enforcement by the strictest verification regime of the IAEA would become the norm. The reprocessing of plutonium would be prohibited.
9) All states within the Zone of Peace must recognize and have diplomatic relations with all other states. 10) All states within the Zone of Peace must sign the NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty), and negotiations for a Middle East nuclear-weapons-free zone must begin no later than 24 months after all states have finalized mutual recognition. 11) All states within the Zone of Peace must respect the human rights of their citizens, and states whose use of force against their own citizens, which violates international standards, shall be suspended from the Zone of Peace. 12) All states within the Zone of Peace shall pledge their allegiance to a non-hegemonic regional structure, and states within the zone will also pledge not to conspire with other states for the purpose of such hegemony. 13) All states within the Zone of Peace shall abide by rules (to be established) for the equitable dispensation of all regional hydraulic resources. 14) The Zone of Peace is NOT dependent on the conclusion to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Furthermore, this conflict shall be decided through negotiations among the parties themselves without coercion or outside interference. Genuine compromise and goodwill must become the principles upon which these negotiations rest. Jerusalem will become the location of the international summit or peace conference to establish the 14-point plan; this location will NOT imply Israeli sovereignty over the totality of the city. That issue is to be decided by the parties themselves.
November 11th, 2018 will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI. This could be a great day to begin discussions on the future of Europe and the Middle East. This could be a great day to begin to negotiate the parameters of the 14-point Zone of Peace. The entire world seeks a permanent alternative to the JCPOA. Without a Plan B, the prospect of another global war becomes more acute. The Middle East could very easily become the trigger to a Russia-NATO confrontation. The ball is now in President Putin’s court. He alone has the diplomatic position to influence all sides. All of the world awaits his arrival in the Holy City of Jerusalem. All the world awaits peace.