Arabs, Israelis and Americans share a common goal: Blocking the expansion of ISIS
© Getty Images

 

The President of the United States Donald Trump’s first visit to the Middle East as President is producing a lot of loose talk about jumpstarting the stalled “peace process.” In reality, the Arabs, the Israelis and the Americans have more urgent priorities.

All three peoples share common enemies: the bloody expansionism of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the ominous build-up of Iran’s rocketry and bomb-making operations, and the menacing spread of Islamic extremism that is claiming lives from San Bernardino to Paris.

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Shared enemies could be the sustainable basis for a lasting alliance among Arabs, Israelis and Americans. Indeed, this is big opportunity awaiting the President in the Middle East: a NATO-style alliance uniting the Arab monarchies (Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States) and the Egyptian republic as well as Israel and America against the region’s murderous extremes.

 

Iran, ISIS and al Qaeda already absorb far more attention from Arab leaders than the Palestinians. Why not leapfrog the peace process — which has dragged on without real results since the 1979 Camp David accords, almost as long as the Jews wandered in the desert with Moses — to unite the region against terror?

The alliance must include both hard and soft power. Each nation has something valuable to contribute. America’s military might and satellite surveillance would be indispensable. Human intelligence, where both Arab states and Israel excel, would also be essential. Beyond men and materiel, the new alliance would also need money and vision. The money would fund quietist imams to challenge jihadis, who often know little of the faith that they seek to kill for, in televised debates.

Tunisia and Egypt have seen measurably large shifts in public opinions from such broadcast debates. Other funds could go for Islamic education, where Morocco has succeeded in training male and female religious leaders across Africa in traditional Islam, which forbids murder, suicide and terror. So far, Ivory Coast, Niger, Tunisia, and Guinea have agreed to train their imams in Morocco. Technical assistance and development aid would also be needed.

The new alliance would also need an economic dimension. Each alliance member, including Israel and America, should enjoy free trade with every other alliance member. This will boost Arab economies and provide jobs for roughly half of the Arab population that is younger than 35.

Yet vision is the most important component. The only way to get different results is to do different things. The status quo ignores the major new threats in the region and focuses on shuttle diplomacy between two peoples crowded into a land smaller than New Jersey. The president should look beyond the status quo to the possible that is just within reach, a unifying regional alliance against the enemies of civilization.

This would herald a real break with the vision of the Obama administration.

The eradication of the Islamic State should be the main objective, followed by the containment of Iran. Iran is funding separatist groups across the region, from Yemen to Bahrain, while propping up the deadly dictatorship of Syria’s Bashir al-Assad.

Finally, the new alliance must also respond to the needs of the countries concerned. Egypt wants the Muslim Brotherhood to be classified as a terrorist organization throughout the West, as it is in the United States. Qatar, which hosts a U.S. air base, will have to stop funding the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, two terror organizations. 

Russia will be an important factor facing this new alliance. Its last Arab ally is Syria and it is abetting the Iranian regime, which has a deep influence over events in neighboring Iraq. Working with the Russians to eradicate terror will not be easy; Moscow thinks maintaining its Syrian ally, which provides Russia with vital naval bases in the Eastern Mediterranean, is a higher priority than vanquishing ISIS.

The alliance would have to guarantee the naval bases for Russia in exchange for separating itself from the Syrian regime and joining the war against ISIS in a full-throated way.

Morocco presents a model of how the alliance could function. The kingdom is working with its neighbors to counter violent extremism at the political, religious, economic, and military levels by bolstering democracy, human rights, and diplomacy while combating radicalism by transforming religious education to promote moderation.

In Morocco, king Mohammed VI is recognized as commander of the faithful and enjoys a monopoly on domestic religious authority that shuts out radical proponents of political Islam. This means that the Moroccan state has more spiritual credibility than many other regional governments, even those in the Persian Gulf, and its religious institutions are respected by its neighbors. Moreover, Morocco’s 2011 constitution guarantees equal rights for women and religious minorities — reducing social tension in the bargain.

Prisons are a vital but overlooked battlefield. In Morocco, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and members of regional and local religious councils visit prisons and combat radical thinking. In 2013 alone, these officials visited roughly 5,000 incarcerated offenders. Today, detained extremists represent about 1 percent of Morocco's prison population, or 600 out of 74,000 prisoners. After a failed experiment in isolating these radicalized convicts, they are now intermingled with the general prison population in more than half of the kingdom’s penitentiaries.

The process doesn’t stop at the prison gates. Moroccan prisoners can earn university degrees while private firms provide training and jobs upon release. These public-private partnerships are critical to reintegration because employment and skill development reduce recidivism. Of course, the government cannot give every prisoner a job on its own.

President Clinton’s national security advisor Sandy Berger once described the war on terror as “whack-a-mole” — a fair description of the reactive nature of our current strategy. The Arab-Israeli-American alliance would transform that strategy and put civilization on the offense. If President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Illinois House passes bill that would mandate Asian-American history lessons in schools Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he MORE wants to make his Middle East tour truly historic, he would lay the groundwork for a new alliance.

Ahmed Charai is a Moroccan publisher. He is on the board directors of the Atlantic Council and an international counselor of the Center for a Strategic and International Studies in Washington.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.