A Waterway Alliance to Protect the Strait of Hormuz is President Obama’s Key to Mideast Peace

From The Washington Examiner



Oil and water don’t usually mix, but a native son of the Middle East has a suggestion for President Obama on how to combine these elements to promote peace in the region.

Mithal al-Alusi, a former Iraqi Parliamentarian, believes a key to Mideast peace lies in the Strait of Hormuz, a water passage for oil transport between the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean vital to numerous Arab countries’ economies.

Alusi, who served for nearly five years in the Iraqi Parliament and continues to promote cooperation among Arab nations, the U.S., and Israel, suggests Obama organize a conference of moderate Arab states to demand the Strait stay open. (Detractors of the idea of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities frequently cite the possibility that Iran might close the Strait).

Because it would be based on the economic self-interest of Arab countries around the Strait, the conference would bolster alliance among these countries, and could bring them into cooperation with an historic enemy – Israel. “The point of the conference could be, ‘Don’t close the Strait; it is an international water,’” Alusi says. “Arabs can say, ‘It is about our economy and our security’ … These are powerful oil exporters, and they don’t want the Strait blocked.”

The Arab countries around the Strait that Alusi sees as ideal participants–the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Iraq—all have an economic self-interest in keeping the Strait open. They also fear the Islamic Republic of Iran and its quest for nuclear weapons, he says.

“These are small countries and they are afraid of Iran,” according to Alusi.

If Obama can leverage these countries’ anxieties about Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons and their concerns about the possibility Iran could block the Strait, Alusi believes the president could forge a powerful alliance between these nations and the strongest military force in the region, Israel.

Establishing such an alliance, he maintains, would change the dynamic in the United States’ relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran—enabling the U.S. to operate from a position of greater strength than at present.

“To let Iran play smaller, more moderate Arab countries against each other can’t be,” Alusi says. “This conference will block this Iranian tactic, and when we block extremists like Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah, we support seculars, liberals, moderates, and anyone in the Middle East who wants a normal life.”

Israel would benefit, too.

“Israel will be looked at as a help, a powerful country. All of us have the same worries. It will help reassure Israel also.”

Honor is important in the Arab world, where Obama is a respected figure. The U.S. president can elevate the status of moderates by hosting this conference, Alusi says. If Obama organizes this event, the Saudis, the leaders of the U.A.E. and other Arab countries may come – possibly even if Israel is invited as a party with economic and political interest in the peaceful containment of Iran.

“President Obama’s ties to the Muslim world go back to childhood,” Alusi says. “Having his blessing will help moderates feel better, more confident.”

Not only do the president’s Muslim-friendly credentials make him the ideal leader to make this bold move, but also the time is ripe, Alusi insists. Arab countries have, in their recent actions, signaled increased openness to dealing with Israel.

He points to then-Israeli vice-premier Shimon Peres’ 2007 visit to Qatar and the official reception of Uzi Landau, Israel’s infrastructure minister, in the United Arab Emirates earlier this year.

Moreover, in a dramatic example of Arab concern about Iran, The U.A.E.’s Ambassador to the U.S., Yousef Al Otaiba, said in July that the Middle East would be worse off if Iran gets a nuclear weapon than if there were an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities “by whomever” – presumably including Israel.

If Obama organized this conference, it could be a first step towards realizing his dream of a peaceful Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel, Alusi believes. Conversely, he argues that if such a conference cannot occur, it would be unrealistic to expect a Palestinian state by 2011.

“If this conference is impossible for President Obama to organize, how can it be possible to organize something bigger? But if he can [organize it], it will be more realistic to organize something bigger.”

Alusi cautions, one step at a time.

“The Palestine issue would not be the center of this conference,” he says. “That way, we will not transfer an old complex. We are talking about a new issue: the need for alliance against extremism.”

Haditha-born and Baghdad-bred, Alusi is an Arab, Sunni Muslim who believes the key to normalcy in the region is rejecting the “Israel complex,” or Arab tendency to oppose Israel, and instead, to capitalize on partnership with the Jewish State.

As a former director of the Iraqi interim government’s National Commission of de-Baathification, he has lost more than his life in advancing the cause of peace. In September 2004, he attended a counterterrorism conference in Israel.

After he returned, “insurgents” murdered his two grown sons. Minutes after the attack, he told reporters, “Even if these terrorists try to kill me again, peace is the only solution. Peace with Israel is the only solution for Iraq. Peace with everybody, but no peace for the terrorists.”

Alusi remained in Iraq, got his Iraqi Nation Party onto the ballot for the 2005 elections, and was elected to Parliament. He served in Parliament for nearly five years and remains a champion of human rights and of cooperation among Arab nations and Israel.

He emphasizes that the conflict in the Middle East is not fundamentally between Arabs and Israelis, but “between moderates and extremists.”

Ryan Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, believes Alusi, whom he describes as “a person of extraordinary personal and political courage,” is uniquely positioned to contribute to dialogue about middle east affairs.

“Too often conventional thinking takes over and nothing changes,” Crocker said. “Mithal al-Alusi is an agent of change.”

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