A recent report urged the US president to change US strategy in the Middle East in order to stay abreast with rapid and dramatic changes in the region.
The report was written by a team that included former officials who served in both Republican and Democrat administrations, such as former National Security Adviser Samuel Berger (under Bill Clinton); Steven Hadley (under George Bush), former US ambassador to Baghdad and Ankara James Jeffrey; Dennis Ross, former US negotiator in the Arab-Israeli conflict; and Bob Satloff, the director of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies which issued the report and is known for its close ties with the Jewish lobby in the US.
The report noted Washington’s need to take necessary steps to prevent the collapse of statehood in the region and offset growing Sunni and Shia influence. The report warned against any possible alliance with Iran because it may undermine Washington’s important ties in its war against world terrorism, where partnership with Arab Sunni countries and peoples play a critical role.
A chief recommendation by the report is the need for the US to assist regional countries in upholding the structure of state and state systems that have been in place since these countries gained independence in the first half of the last century. The report notes that the collapse of statehood poses new threats to Washington that are against its interests.
The authors of the report urged Washington to adopt a strategy that upholds “the state system in the Middle East, confront and defeat ISIS, reassure key Sunni leaders, and stand up to the Iranians.” These goals are related to “Washington’s ability to weaken extremist Islamists, whether Sunnis or Shias,” stated the report.
On Iran, the report said that it is logical to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal “to allow Iran to have a peaceful nuclear program, but prevents it from having the capability of possessing nuclear weapons.” Regarding reaching a final deal, the report highlighted the need to provide tangible means to reassure the US’s Arab allies about its commitment to their security.
The report also stressed the need to offset the influence of Iran-supported Shia militias inside Iraq, and warned against US-Iranian cooperation in the battle against extremist Sunni fundamentalists. The report stated: “If the US hopes to mobilise Sunni populations in Iraq and Syria to confront ISIS, Iran cannot be a possible partner. Such a partnership would prevent any serious Sunni effort to undermine ISIS’s legitimacy.”
The report added that US ground troops are not the solution to defeating ISIS, what is more appropriate is “a US air campaign as well as local Arab ground troops, with the help and support of large numbers of US consultants and members of US Special Forces.”
On Syria, the report urged for working with local partners to create a safe haven inside Syria in order to restore Washington’s credibility, and provide an opportunity to build a more cohesive opposition capable of changing the balance of power on the ground.
Regarding Egypt, the authors of the report stressed the need to bolster relations with the ruling regime in Cairo, because it is “impossible to adopt a strategy that bolsters the state system in the Middle East without having effective relations between the US and Egypt”.
The report focused on the need to strengthen military ties between Cairo and Washington in order to once again become a strong base for relations between the two. It would also become the foundation for Washington regaining influence in Egypt, especially after bilateral relations deteriorated over the past two years.
The report praised lifting the ban on military aid to Egypt, but urged Washington not to stop criticising Egypt’s record on human rights, freedoms, and civil society. The report warned against allowing the regime in Cairo to adopt policies that harm it and Egypt, noting that Washington must use its influence in Arab Gulf states that have significant economic influence in Cairo to impact the government’s economic policies.
The report also urged Obama to open top level communication channels with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to express US concern over the conduct of the Egyptian government in “undermining civil society, arresting non-Islamists, and limiting public space for political activism and opposition.”
The report further called for deeper security partnership, especially regarding threats to Egypt – most notably ISIS in both Sinai and Libya.
On Israel, the report urged the US Administration to quietly contact the office of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu through someone outside the administration who is close to Obama.
The authors of the report believe US-Israeli relations “are very critical for each side and a prime example of the US’s commitment towards its allies in the region. Thus, they should not be allowed to deteriorate any further.”
The report highlighted the fractures in US-Israeli relations and urged for repairing them, but ignored a recent move by the US Administration to increase annual military aid to Israel to more than $3 billion. It also ignored contracts for the latest equipment and weapons produced by military facilities, most recently the F-35, as well as strategic, technological and intelligence cooperation of a nature and level that is unprecedented in US history.
The writer is a researcher focused on Egyptian politics.