Memorandum submitted by CAABU (Council
for Arab-British Understanding)
This submission looks generally at the current
state of security in the region and focuses on how the UK has
so far sought to handle this and suggest areas that need further
The security situation in the Middle East
1. The Middle East is experiencing several
simultaneous actual or probable crises.
2. Iraq is the most dangerous immediate threat
to regional security.
3. The Arab-Israeli conflict continues and
chances for peace are limited. Additional clashes cannot be ruled
out. The Palestinian Authority areas are facing an impending humanitarian
4. The fragmentation of ethnic and sectarian
identities coupled with increased religious radicalisation poses
a long-term risk to the region and beyond.
5. Any military attack on Iran would in all
likelihood make the situation worse rather than better.
6. Anger with the West, particularly the
US and the UK, is at a dangerously high level. There is little
trust in what western politicians say.
7. The terrorist threat remains genuine.
Al Qaida linked organisations and networks are active, increasingly
effective, and successful in recruiting additional supporters
and funds. There is an increased threat to British targets.
8. Political and economic reforms remain
slow. The region requires significant extra economic growth to
cater for a young population.
How have these threats been handled?
1. The international community has not played
a positive role in preventing and resolving these crises.
2. The failure to resolve the Arab-Israeli
conflict for so long has created negative and dangerous trends.
Britain has lost influence in this conflict by moving away from
a position rooted in international law and neutrality between
the two sides.
3. The policy of ignoring, boycotting and
sanctioning states and non-state actors has frequently failed.
More efforts should be made to use diplomacy and negotiation rather
than resort to force.
4. International law has been undermined.
5. Lessons from Iraq do not seem to have
6. Foreign policy failures are one major
factor in fuelling support for terrorist organisations.
7. British public diplomacy has failed to
reach out to the Arab world. There are insufficient human and
financial resources deployed to handle the task.
The Middle East is in an increasingly uncertain,
insecure and unstable environment. There have been some very high
profile warnings from senior leaders in the region about this
situation, leading to re-energised Arab diplomatic activity. King
Abdallah of Jordan has spoken on several occasions about the dangers
of three actual or possible civil wars in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine.
To these, one should add the anarchic situation in Somalia and
the crisis in Darfur. In addition, there have been increased tensions
with Iran and further terrorist bombings in North Africa, notably
the attack in Algiers on 11 April 2007.
Perhaps the most dangerous issue is the atomisation
of various countries into different sectarian, ethnic and tribal
identities. This undermines the glue that has held these potentially
fragile states together for centuries. In the past, the Near East
in particular, has been a fine example of inter-ethnic and inter-sectarian
tolerance. There has been an alarming level of debate about divisions
between Sunnis and Shias, talk of a Shia crescent, and Iranian
ambitions. All this has placed minority communities in a situation
of potential danger in many countries. Sunni and Shia have lived
side by side in many states for centuries. If this harmony was
to unravel further, it would have huge implications for the long
term stability of the region.
There has been an increase in support for Islamic
parties of all types, including those that espouse violence, and
those that are ideologically similar to Al Qaida. This latter
trend must be seen as a cause for concern. However, there are
indications that certain Muslim Brotherhood organisations, which
are very different to Al Qaida and Salafi groups, are more prepared
to engage with elections and the political process, though it
remains to be seen what happens if and when they gain power. Islamist
parties currently hold majorities in democratically elected Parliaments
in Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, and Palestine. Such parties have also
been increasingly successful in Egypt and Jordan.
This radicalisation has gone hand-in-hand with
increased anti-American feeling, leading to more attacks against
US targets such as the Embassy in Damascus in September 2006.
By virtue of the close relations Britain enjoys with the US, this
has also led to significant and, at times, dangerous anti-British
feeling. This anti-British sentiment results from a variety of
factors, including; historical reasons not least its role in Palestine,
the closeness of the alliance with the United States, our involvement
in Iraq, the boycotting of the democratically elected Palestinian
Authority, and the failure to call for an immediate ceasefire
in Lebanon whilst assisting in the re-armament of Israel. Much
of this is directed personally at the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
There is an increased threat to British targets
including people. Embassies and British NGOs have been and remain
potential targets. There have also been kidnappings such as that
of the BBC's Gaza Correspondent, Alan Johnston, as well as the
abduction of British sailors and mariners in the Arabian Gulf.
There is little prospect that this position will improve in the
near future. Increasingly, there are larger areas of the region
that are becoming "no-go zones" for most diplomats,
journalists and aid workers. This has diminished the ability of
external actors to understand regional events and trends, and
to predict important changes.
Further instability could, in the not too distant
future, pose a far greater risk to vital British strategic interests.
If there was to be any further conflict in the Arabian Gulf, this
could jeopardise vital oil and gas supply routes, and indeed Britain's
energy security. Such a conflict could also harm British commercial
interests as well as endanger the large expatriate communities
there. The huge inward investment into the UK from Arab sources
in the Gulf would also be at risk.
The Arab-Israeli conflict
Resolving this conflict is vital. There are
some who realise that there is a limited window of opportunity
for Israel and Arab states to make a deal before extremist Islamist
movements manage to take power in key states. A failure to resolve
this conflict would certainly make this a more likely scenario.
There is also much criticism that the current American administration
has failed to take this conflict sufficiently seriously, despite
encouragement from Britain.
Feelings about the Arab-Israeli conflict have
become far more intense in recent years, in part due to the escalation
in violence between the sides and the sanctions against the entire
Palestinian civilian population of the occupied territories. However,
animosity to Israel has also been on the rise principally because
of Israel's actions against Palestinians, many of which have been
condemned by international human rights agencies and UN bodies.
The Palestinian death toll exceeds 4,440 since the start of the
Al Aqsa Intifada in September 2000. Arab satellite stations and
the internet have ensured that scenes of conflict have been seen
throughout the region. Suicide bombings against Israeli civilians
have also increased Israeli fears whilst doing little to help
the Palestinians, although these have declined in number over
the last 12-18 months.
There are very strong and widespread feelings
of frustration and anger about double standards. It is argued
that whilst Iraq had to abide by every letter of every United
Nations Resolution, Israel can not only ignore its legal obligations,
but continues to be financed and heavily armed at the same time.
Moreover, the American-led call for greater
democracy in the region was significantly, perhaps irreparably,
undermined by the failure to recognise and engage with the democratically
elected Palestinian Authority. For one year, the elected Hamas
Authority was in government but was hardly tested in terms of
having to deliver services and a programme as there were no funds
to execute any plans. Many Palestinians saw its survival in the
face of monumental pressures as a success in itself. Contrary
to the hopes of Israeli and American policy makers, Hamas's popularity
has not waned according to the opinion polls.
The Mecca Agreement signed in February 2007
seems to have put on hold the clashes between Fatah and Hamas
fighters. It is vital that the new National Unity Government,
which is widely supported by Palestinians from all factions, should
be given a chance to function. The international community has
delayed recognising this government, and this has only made the
situation more difficult. A strong respected authority, with firm
control over all the security services, is a vital first step
to restoring order in the occupied territories. Such an authority
must be recognised and supported internationally.
The central challenge is that Palestinian areas
in the occupied territories have been fragmented, politically,
economically, socially and geographically. It is difficult to
see a strong central authority when, according to the UN, Israeli
forces have put in place over 546 checkpoints and obstacles to
movement in the West Bank alone. This
is one reason why both Fatah and Hamas appear fragmented, and
little more than coalitions themselves. The Hamas party machinery
seems much better organised than its rival.
Even before the election of Hamas, there has
been little or no pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians.
Israel has refused to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority
since February 2001. In particular, a huge opportunity was missed
after the death of Yassir Arafat whom the Israeli government had
held personally responsible for the Intifada and attacks on Israelis.
The election of Mahmoud Abbas in January 2005, a man who has a
long history negotiating with Israeli partners and is a leading
advocate of a two-state solution, could have ushered in a period
of intensive negotiations. However, the Israeli response supported
by the UK and the US, was to push forward with unilateral moves,
through the disengagement plan, withdrawing settlers from inside
Gaza, and completing the West Bank barrier. This undermined Abbas
and Fatah, and further empowered Hamas who argued that it was
its actions that had triggered the Israeli withdrawal. The consistent
refusal to negotiate with Abbas led many Palestinians to conclude
that Israel was not interested in peace, and that there was little
point in re-electing a moderate group like Fatah.
There is no solution but to get back to the
negotiating table. Both sides should realise that their own security
stems from mutual security. The Palestinians Authority should
recognise Israel, but the latter should also recognise a Palestinian
state and renounce any territorial ambitions it has in the occupied
territories, and freeze all settlement activity. Violence on both
sides must cease. It should also be remembered that the PLO, headed
by Fatah, is the Palestinian body charged with responsibility
for negotiating with Israel not Hamas, a point that was recognised
in the Mecca agreement.
Trust between Israel and the Palestinian authority
is close to non-existent. Trust-building is therefore vital and
an exchange of prisoners would seem to be one possible option.
A strong international broker may well be needed.
A lifting of the economic boycott and the crippling
closures of the Palestinian Authority areas is urgent, as a prerequisite
to a re-inflation of the Palestinian economy. Palestinians are
also facing a severe humanitarian crisis. Traditional coping mechanisms
have been stretched and compromised. According to the UN, 80%
of Palestinians now live below the poverty line.
Negotiations must be premised on trust and good
faith. Central to this is the need to adhere to international
law. The Quartet (The United Nations, United States, EU and Russia)
has failed to insist that the parties abide by binding provisions
in international law, even if there is no enforcement mechanism
under Chapter VII. Negotiations can only take place on the basis
of both parties' acceptance of each other's rights and entitlements
under international law.
Although the rights of the state of Israel to
exist as a sovereign state are repeatedly emphasised as a pre-requisite
for negotiations, the following rights and entitlement of Arab
states and the Palestinian people are not insisted on in the same
way. These include:
1. The abandonment by Israeli of territorial
ambitions in East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the West Bank
and Gaza Strip in order that secure and recognised boundaries
may be negotiated pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 242.
(The Gaza Strip remains legally occupied as Israel retains full
control of land, sea and air borders.)
2. The unfettered rights of the Palestinian
people to exercise their own right of self-determination.
3. The rights of refugees in international
There are several unresolved issues that could
flare up into a further crisis. Jerusalem is particularly sensitive
for adherents of all three monotheistic faiths. There are fears
that Israeli authorities are deliberately planning to undermine
the foundations of the Al Aqsa Mosque. Already it has provoked
serious clashes in 1996 with the so-called tunnel riots, and also
the Intifada in 2000 following Ariel Sharon's visit to the Haram
Ash Sharif/Temple Mount area. There were further clashes in February
The other issue is the fate of the Palestinian
refugees. There are now well over four million UN registered Palestinian
refugees of whom 1.3 million live in UN camps. It is clear that
a large percentage of these refugees fear that their rights have
been ignored and that they have no stake in any peace process.
It is important to realise that as 70% of the Palestinian population
are refugees, any attempt to sideline or ignore their concerns
is likely to fail.
There should also be a serious re-examination
of the role of the Quartet. Whilst it may be desirable that key
members of the international community have a united position,
the Quartet has served to reduce the common position to the lowest
common denominator position, typically that of the United States.
The latter has shown an inability or unwillingness to act as an
impartial broker in this conflict, so continuing membership of
the Quartet has meant that other parties have effectively abdicated
any potential role in resolving this crisis for fear of being
seen to break rank. Other members of the international community,
conscious of the need to resolve this conflict, should be mindful
of the need to have their own freedom of movement. In particular,
the Quartet has undermined the primacy of the United Nations in
dealing with issues that threaten international peace and security.
It is the United Nations that should be leading the efforts to
broker an agreement.
British role in the Arab-Israeli conflict
Britain can play a very important role in this
conflict. Its ability to do so, however, has declined over the
years. Nevertheless, we are seen by both sides as having an historic
responsibility and should be involved in trying to find a solution.
Britain should also return to a neutral position
on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Until now, we have been involved
in the arming and boycotting of one side. We are making forceful
and concrete demands only of one side.
In such circumstances, it will not have surprised
some observers that Britain actually took a more pro-Israeli line
than the US in its Written Statement to the International Court
of Justice requesting it to refuse to accept jurisdiction to issue
the Opinion requested by the UN General Assembly on the question
of the so-called Israeli Security Wall in 2004.
Moreover, the appointment of Lord Levy as the
Prime Minister's Special Envoy to the Middle East has damaged
the image of the British government in the Arab and Islamic world
owing to his very close ties to Israel including the fact that
his son worked with a then serving Israeli Minister. The situation
was not helped by the fact that Lord Levy has no background in
diplomacy and international relations. One senior Arab Minister
informed CAABU that, when dealing with Levy, his government dealt
with him as if he were a representative of the Israeli Prime Minister,
not the British. Other Arab diplomats have refused to meet with
him. Many British diplomats have raised concerns about his role
to us including that, in one meeting, Levy pushed a position closer
to that of the Israeli government than of the British. An impression,
rightly or wrongly, has been created and entrenched that the Prime
Minister's chief fundraiser has bought for himself effective control
of British policy towards Israel and the Palestinians.
If envoys are to be used when dealing with delicate
conflicts such as this one, we believe it is vital that Britain
only uses those who have the requisite professional qualifications
for the role and are deemed by all sides to be neutral.
That the British Prime Minister decided to take
sides in internal Palestinian politics by supporting a call for
elections by Mahmoud Abbas in December 2006 was seen as unfortunate,
even by some Fatah politicians who acknowledged their unease to
CAABU. He was seen as trying to invalidate what were acknowledged
to be clean multi-party democratic elections.
Lebanon has been in a state of paralysis since
December 2006. It remains one of the most serious flashpoints
in the region.
The current crisis began in 2004 with the extension
of President Lahoud's term of office. A wave of assassinations
hit Lebanon, including that of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri on
14 February 2005. There was a subsequent withdrawal of Syrian
forces from Lebanon and a decline in relations between the two
countries that had historically shared such close links, politically,
socially, economically, and at a family level.
Recent Lebanese politics have been simplistically
defined by how various Lebanese groups relate to Syria, and whether
they are pro or anti-Syria. This can be very misleading but nevertheless
underlines very strong feelings about the issue.
The crisis has unearthed and reawakened sectarian
and ethnic tensions that had lain dormant since the end of the
Lebanese civil war in 1990. Many of the same warlords have returned
to the scene and are once again jockeying for power. CAABU and
the Centre for Lebanese Studies undertook a one-year study of
reconciliation in Lebanon in 2001. This research showed that there
was very little attempt after the end of the Lebanese civil war
to undergo a sustained reconciliation process. In considering
this issue, reconciliation programmes will be vital in Iraq, Palestine
as well as Lebanon.
Other issues have also not been dealt with.
These include the Shia complaint that they do not have proper
fair representation in Lebanese politics and that Shia areas of
Lebanon have been neglected. Hizbollah has been able to tap successfully
into this grievance.
There is also the ongoing conflict with Israel
which broke out once again in the summer of 2006. Although Israeli
forces withdrew from the Lebanese territory they had occupied
until 2000, Israeli overflights across Lebanon, Lebanese prisoners
held without trial in Israel and the issue of the Sheba'a farms
remain outstanding. Both Israel and Hizbollah had been preparing
for renewed hostilities when the latter organised a raid into
Israel on 12 July 2006, which resulted in the capture of two Israeli
The Israeli response radically aggravated the
situation. Rather than targetting Hizbollah, it launched an assault
on Lebanon that was widely condemned internationally as disproportionate
and illegal. Israel once again adopted methods of collective punishment,
including bombing Christian areas, and even the Lebanese army
which Israel had been demanding replaced and disarmed Hizbollah
in the south.
This was an object lesson in how not to win
"hearts and minds" and how to lose a war through the
use of too much force and reliance on aerial power. Hizbollah
lured the Israelis into a war they were ill-prepared to fight
against opponents whom they underestimated. Hizbollah rockets
demonstrated a serious threat to areas of northern Israel and
led to almost a million Israelis leaving their homes to head south.
The result is that Lebanon is a crisis waiting
to happen. Sources from on the ground have told us that many people
in Lebanon are talking in terms of when not if the war starts
again. Unless serious and well-thought through diplomatic interventions
take place soon, a further conflict is very probable, and it may
be far harder to stop than in 2006.
Hizbollah has become a symbol of defiant resistance
to Israel throughout the Arab world with the image of Israel as
an invincible foe shattered. Many young Arabs, including Christians,
believe that Hizbollah as the only Arab army to have defeated.
This applies to Sunni areas as well as Shia. Posters of Nasrallah
have been sold widely across the Arab world, including for example
in the almost totally Sunni areas of North Africa. The events
of last summer have given credence to the idea that negotiations
have not worked with Israel and that only steadfast defiance will.
In any event, it is extremely unlikely that
Hizbollah will be eradicated by naked force, at least not without
creating much more serious long-term security problems not least
Britain's role in the crisis with Lebanon was
largely reactive and followed a US-Israeli line. The UK's reputation
throughout the Middle East and Islamic world was severely compromised
by a perceived inability to act neutrally, or to make a serious
attempt to bring peace and security to the region. Britain was
seen as merely aping the US position. By refusing to push for
an immediate ceasefire from both sides, Britain was seen as condoning
the disproportionate Israeli force deployed against civilian targets
in Lebanon. Although many in the region had criticised Hizbollah,
holding them responsible for provoking this crisis, subsequent
Israeli actions and US-UK support for them, meant that Hizbollah
became far stronger than it may otherwise have been. One of the
consequences of this was that the Lebanese Prime Minister, Fouad
Siniora, was seen to be very weak. He appealed to his friends
in the international community, in both Washington and London,
but got no response.
This conflict demonstrated more than ever the
need to find a complete and total resolution to the Arab-Israeli
conflict. In all likelihood, greater external pressure on the
regional players to hold negotiations might have prevented such
a clash. The US-Israeli tactic of trying to divide the Arab side
by making peace with one party at a time has meant that those
excluded, notably Syria, see little prospect of their territory
(the Golan Heights) being returned. Therefore support for those
groups such as Hizbollah is likely to continue. Syria, including
its President, has made clear that it would like to restart negotiations
with Israel on many occasions but there has been no public response.
In recent discussions, Syrian officials have also suggested that
negotiations could start without any preconditions. There are
numerous reports suggesting that it was the United States that
made it known to Israel that it did not want to see a resumption
of negotiations fearing that this would allow Syria to break free
from its isolation.
It is imperative that Lebanon regains its full
sovereignty, free from all external interference. In addition
to regional actors, this process must also include the US and
European states, particularly France. Solving the Arab-Israeli
conflict will be vital to bringing this about.
Lebanon has always been very dependent on Syria
and there are rich ties between the two countries. Relations between
the two communities will need looking after.
One issue will be the future of the UN tribunal
looking into the assassination of Rafiq Hariri and others killed.
This is a very divisive issue in Lebanese politics. One danger
is that a judicial investigation and process could be held hostage
to both internal and external political pressures. Those responsible
for the assassinations should be held to account but this should
not be done in the court of public opinion based on partial evidence
as was the case with the early part of the inquiry.
Efforts to restart the Israeli-Syrian peace
negotiations could and perhaps should have been made. It is hard
to disagree with the International Crisis Group's assessment earlier
this year that "renewal is urgent and would have a real chance
There is a fear that an opportunity may be missed, something recognised
even within Israel.
The benefits of an Israeli-Syrian peace, even
a cold one, should not be underestimated. This must include a
return of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967.
This is the most difficult and dangerous security
crisis facing the Middle East. The future of Iraq is seen as vital
by most states in the region. The major regional powers are worried
that a significant change in Iraq, including partition, would
upset the traditional balance of power within the Middle East,
and therefore are determined to ensure that their rivals do not
establish control in Iraq. Turkey is unlikely to stand aside and
allow the Kurdish regions to become independent or even quasi-independent.
Saudi Arabia and other leading Sunni states have made it clear
that an Iranian-controlled Iraq is against their interests. Iran
does not want to see a return to a Sunni-run dictatorship in Iraq.
Iran also wants to maintain its position as the centre of the
Shia religious world. Other states, particularly Jordan and Syria,
also have to handle a huge influx of refugees. Al Qaida has a
long-standing anti-Shia position.
Essentially Iraq has gone almost overnight from
a heavily government-controlled state to anarchy with no state
control. One commentator has referred to this as the "US
staticide in Iraq". With the state effectively dismantled,
Iraqis turned to their own tribal and sectarian identities for
security and support. Sectarian divisions deteriorated especially
after the bombings at the Al Askari mosque in Samarra in February
Iraq's future potential has also been degraded.
In particular, numerous academics, journalists, and doctors have
been brutally targetted. This taken together with a huge brain
drain, only extended and exacerbated the one that had taken place
during the sanctions era. Any viable future for Iraq requires
a period of calm whereby this pool of talent could be attracted
back to the country.
The Iraqi government under Nuri Al-Maliki is
extremely weak. Maliki is in no position to drive forward any
vision of a future Iraq in the way that the Americans and British
would like him to. He has to negotiate between more powerful Iraqi
rival parties. Moqtada Al Sadr's Iraqi parliamentary bloc has
withdrawn after Maliki refused their demand to set a timetable
for US troop withdrawal. The future of the government is far from
There are a number of potential obstacles on
the horizon. There is meant to be a referendum on the future of
the heavily contested city of Kirkuk later this year. The Kurds
insist that this goes ahead as planned but other Iraqi politicians
are less keen. There are also still revisions being made to the
Constitution which continues to generate controversy. There is
also the draft oil law which some in Iraq see as a vehicle for
enriching foreign companies at the expense of Iraq.
The security situation inside Iraq
The security situation inside the country is
extremely volatile. Whilst there are areas where violence is minimal,
particularly in the north, killings, kidnappings, smuggling, and
criminality are rife in many areas, not least in Baghdad. There
appears to be little shortage in munitions of all sorts and the
know-how to deploy them. The scale of the killings and casualties
has been immense and has scarred Iraqi society which has still
to recover from the brutality of the Saddam Hussein regime, the
Iran-Iraq war, the 1991 war, the sanctions regime and the 2003
The US and UK were very slow or reluctant to
recognise the nature of the insurgency and to assess the Iraqi
component of it. From the beginning, the major component of the
insurgency was Iraqi and not foreign. The US eventually had to
admit that it held very few foreign fighters in custody. It was
easier to blame Al Qaida in Iraq or remnants of the Saddam Hussein
regime even though insurgents never called for Saddam's return.
There was a deliberate attempt to underplay the role of Iraqi
nationalist feeling. It is still thought more likely to be able
to negotiate with Iraqi nationalist insurgents than foreign fighters.
If this was successful, it would make it extremely difficult for
foreign fighters to continue in many areas.
Extremists have recruited well in Iraq, not
just because of the Anglo-American occupation but because the
occupying power has been seen to treat Iraq like a trough to feed
from, a site for military bases and lucrative contracts for companies
who have never taken an interest in Iraq or the Iraqi people.
Iraqis and others find it very hard to believe
that the US in particular has any intention of leaving, pointing
to the huge US embassy and the military bases as proof of this
suspicion. From the start, the lack of a US-free horizon for Iraq
has undermined coalition activities. Many Iraqis were not prepared
to fight for Saddam Hussein but were for their country.
The dilemma for the US is that if there were
a withdrawal now, it would be the insurgents who would claim victory
arguing that it was not the original intent of the US to leave
and that it was their "resistance" that forced it out.
The continued presence of US and UK troops in
Iraq is deeply unpopular throughout the region. A Zogby International/Arab-American
Institute opinion poll taken in five Arab countries published
in March 2007 highlighted very negative perceptions of the Iraq
war, with as much as 96% in Jordan seeing the US role as negative,
reinforcing the findings of previous polls. Even King Abdallah
of Saudi Arabia, a close US ally, when speaking about Iraq has
referred to an "illegitimate foreign occupation." Although
he did not mention the US by name, but it is clear to whom he
was referring to.
Attacks against coalition forces continue. April
2007 proved to have been the bloodiest month for British troops
since the end of formal hostilities in 2003 with 14 British soldiers
killed. By 30 April, 146 soldiers had been killed in total. There
has also been a noticeable improvement in the capabilities of
the attackers. A Challenger Two tank was pierced for the first
time on 6 April 2007.
The policy of the US government from the start
of 2007 has been to mount what was termed a "surge"
in troop numbers in Baghdad and Al Anbar province. It is too early
to reach any definitive conclusions. However, early signs are
that Sunni insurgents have responded with a surge of their own
with devastating effects for example with the bombing at the Sadriya
market in April which killed over 140 people. The same market
had been bombed in February killing 130 people.
Just as significantly, insurgents have proved
that they can penetrate the "Green Zone" in the centre
of Baghdad, and even targetted the Iraqi Parliament on 12 April
There is little evidence that much thought has
been given to an alternative strategy to the surge, perhaps because
this would appear to be a contemplation of failure. Similarly
there is little evidence from American officials that there is
a plan in the event of a need for an immediate or swift withdrawal
of US forces.
The current strategy is to build up the Iraqi
army and police units to take over security in Iraq. British forces
have been able to withdraw from three out of four provinces in
the South. However, across Iraq this operation has only met with
limited success. Iraqi units have been found to have divided loyalties
and often have stronger links to particular militias. Insurgents
are also believed to have infiltrated these units.
The recent US decision to build a wall through
Baghdad segregating three Sunni dominated neighbourhoods of Ameriyia,
Khadra and Adhamiyah has proved to be another very unpopular decision.
The Iraqi Prime Minister, in a sign of increased tension between
his government and the US, has asked that this be stopped. Many
experts remain unconvinced that this wall will stem the violence.
It also could reinforce the sectarian divisions in the city.
A further ingredient in the possible future
instability in the region is the situation facing Iraqi refugees
and internally displaced Iraqis. According to the UN High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 730,000 Iraqis have been forced
to flee their homes since the al-Askari shrine in Samarra was
bombed in February 2006, adding to the approximately 1.2 million
others displaced prior to that. It is estimated that 50,000 Iraqis
are fleeing the country each month, with 2,000 entering Syria
every day. Far more could be done to help neighbouring countries
of Iraq, including Syria and Jordan, to deal with this huge influx.
This was partially remedied by a conference in April 2007 where
donor countries have increased their contributions.
Britain and Iraq
British involvement in Iraq has undermined and
diminished Britain's reputation in the region despite a widespread
acknowledgement of the superior performance of British armed forces
in southern Iraq. Moreover, the continued failure, particularly
of the Prime Minister, to acknowledge the serious failings of
the exercise has not helped improve the British image.
There is a sense that those accountable have
not held up their hands and accepted responsibility, neither for
the flawed evidence used to persuade Parliament and the public
that Britain was in imminent danger nor for the managerial failings
that have been evident since the invasion.
Learning lessons from Iraq
There is little evidence in speaking to officials
that there has been a serious attempt to learn from all the failures
in Iraq. This stems from an unwillingness to acknowledge these,
largely for political reasons.
There are many key questions to address. Was
there too much of a rush to war in 2003, and should inspectors
have been given more time? Were there enough forces deployed in
2003, and were they sufficiently resourced and prepared? Did the
desire to find Weapons of Mass Destruction mean that the search
for conventional weapons dumps that later fuelled the insurgency
was ignored? Should the Iraqi army have been disbanded as it was,
and was the comprehensive de-Ba'athification process necessary?
Why was control of the Iraqi borders not given sufficient priority?
Could there have been ways to stop the looting of Iraqi institutions?
Were coalition planners far too reliant on Iraqi exiles lobbying
for US intervention, who were widely discredited and had little
influence on the ground?
Assessing these will be vital in trying to determine
how to handle the region in the future. For example, how much
credibility should be given to Iranian exile groups determined
to see the end of the current Iranian regime? Such questions were
also raised prior to the 2003 war, but government ministers and
officials were reluctant to discuss this. They tended to work
largely on the best-case scenario.
There is a danger, expressed for example by
Oxfam, that one of the consequences of the Iraq conflict internationally
is that there will be an increased unwillingness to intervene
externally for example to stop genocides. There will be cases
for military intervention in the future, but unless there is a
comprehensive understanding of what went wrong in Iraq, there
is a danger that there will be a lack of public support for such
interventions and too much caution in policy making circles.
There is no clear framework to determine when
Britain should or should not intervene. There is widespread concern
that the failure of the US and the UK to respect the United Nations
has been very damaging.
There is also considerable concern that as the
junior partner in the coalition with the US, British advice was
largely ignored, and that there was little engagement with the
post-war management of Iraq. Whilst UK forces did succeed in their
aim of having a much lighter footprint in southern Iraq, such
efforts are undermined by heavier and clumsier tactics adopted
by US forces further north. The failure to re-establish vital
services in the south has not helped the British reputation.
It was also not clear that the US and UK shared
similar objectives. There does not appear to be any shared agreement
on the long-term objectives for Iraq agreed prior to the conflict,
or even shortly afterwards.
Consideration could be given to a full independent
inquiry into Britain's involvement in Iraq, free of party ties
and any friendly or affiliated think-tanks.
Any military attack on Iran by any state or
coalition would almost certainly have profound consequences for
the region. Already the prospect has added to a state of nervousness
in the Gulf. It seems from Al Qaida linked websites and internet
traffic that a US-Iranian war would be very much welcomed by their
supporters and there is a danger that such groups might wish to
provoke such a conflict for their own purposes, not least their
strong anti-Shia beliefs. Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the then leader
of "the Islamic State in Iraq", issued a statement in
February 2007 welcoming the forthcoming US war with Iran.
There are major doubts regarding to the effectiveness
of any possible military strike. There are reportedly up to 70
well defended nuclear facilities spread throughout Iran. Regional
players fear Iran's capabilities to disrupt oil and gas supplies
but also to provoke unrest in their countries, particularly where
there are Shia minorities. An Israel-Hizbollah confrontation would
also be likely.
Arab Gulf states are extremely nervous about
Iranian ambitions and do not want to see Iran develop a nuclear
arsenal or take over Iraq. Nevertheless, in discussion with Gulf
Ministers, there appears to be no desire for a war and there is
a marked preference for robust diplomacy and dialogue. There are
concerns that US incompetence over Iraq could be repeated over
The Gulf already has experienced three wars
in the last quarter of a century. The consequences have been severe
and the impact of a fourth may be difficult to determine.
The threat from non-state groups prepared to
use violence against military and non-military targets has increased
significantly as the attacks on 11 September 2001 proved. Moreover,
evidence suggests that their capabilities have also improved since
then despite the extensive efforts of the US, UK and its allies.
Terrorist targets have varied but have included attacks in the
developed world and in Muslim states. It should be remembered
that Muslims have been their greatest victims. Few countries in
the Middle East have escaped such attacks.
The most infamous group is Al Qaida but this
is in fact less a group than a network of similar ideological
groupings that have local and regional colourings, often funded
from similar sources.
Governments around the world have almost universally
tried to take a tough line when confronting terrorism. The huge
initial support for the United States after the 2001 attacks appears
to have diminished. In the name of being tough, most states have
accrued a variety of legal powers, some sensible, others less
so. However, there is a tendency to believe that toughness is
a substitute for astuteness.
For all the extra police, powers, and surveillance,
the evidence and experience suggests that the bombers will still
get through and are getting more and more sophisticated in their
methods. Israel has adopted the toughest, most brutal anti-suicide
bomb policies of any elected government, but these have largely
failed. The suicide bombings against Israeli civilians have only
increased since the first attack in 1994, largely a consequence
of the failure to realise the dangers of a prolonged oppressive
occupation. Britain has been adopting certain methods from Israel.
Learning from Israel's failures could, in fact, be a more profitable
lesson, not least the dangers of collective punishment and overwhelming
disproportionate physical force against civilians.
Primarily, actions against terrorist organisations
must be more targetted. On every occasion that innocent civilians
are killed or injured, it is such organisations that benefit.
They use such events to recruit and deliberately attempt to lure
states into taking actions that may harm a civilian Muslim population.
Moreover, necessary actions against terrorist
groups have been compromised by being lumped together with other
issues. The war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq should never have been
portrayed as an issue to do with the spread of terrorism. No substantive
linkage has ever been proved, and few people believe, despite
the official rhetoric, that it was for this reason rather than
other issues that the US chose to go to war. The result was that
vital resources were taken off what many believe should have been
the prime focus of the post-September 11th world.
Similarly, too often politicians in the non-Arab
world make the mistake of lumping Islamist groups together as
one. Hamas and Hizbollah are both different from each but in turn
are very different to Al Qaida type groups.
All actions also should be taken in compliance
with international law not only to avoid accusations of double
standards but also to show that efforts are made to maintain high
levels of civilised practice, in contrast to the actions of the
terrorists. The increasing use of torture for example, is largely
counterproductive as has been the use of Guantánamo, seen
by many, not just in the Islamic world, as a 21st century Gulag.
There have been some successes in anti-terrorism
cooperation with various states. The UK has been active in assisting
the Saudi authorities for example, with some apparent success.
This needs to be continued and improved but must go hand in hand
with a full policy review.
There will be little progress in the anti-terrorism
field until the root causes of terrorism and alienation are addressed.
Dealing with these root causes can achieve more lasting results
rather than the short-term military-style solutions that more
often than not backfire, with long-term consequences. Use of terms,
such as "Global war on Terrorism", have been unhelpful.
There appears to have been little progress in
diminishing the threat from terrorist groups. Whilst terrorists
have been arrested or killed, many groups appear to be expanding
and becoming more sophisticated. Financial sanctions on individuals
have been applied and whilst this should be pursued further, evidence
suggest they have had limited impact. There is little decline
in levels of public support for such groups, and many of those
who have been operational in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan
are returning to their home countries where they may pose an additional
Weapons of Mass Destruction
The insecurity that exists in the region, together
with the undermining of the nuclear proliferation regime over
the last ten years means that the possibilities of terrorist groups
obtaining such materials are high. There are concerns about security
in Pakistan. Moreover, with India and Pakistan joining Israel
as nuclear weapons states, and Iran believed to be following a
similar agenda, other states may feel the need to go nuclear themselves.
The total failure to put consistent pressure on Israel to reveal
and give up its nuclear arsenal and to give it up has represented
a serious impediment to non-proliferation in the region. Arab
and other governments feel strongly that the UK only pays lip
service to the stated desire to have a Middle East free of Weapons
of Mass Destruction. The unwillingness to criticise Israel's possession
of such weapons undermines Britain's credibility and influence.
Credibility will be vital. Politicians should
be extremely cautious about making any inflated claims, and guard
against dangerous hype. Intelligence must not be politicised but
presented accurately and dispassionately to regain trust.
Conflict Prevention and Resolution
There has been very limited success in conflict
prevention and resolution in the region in recent years. Dangerous
conflicts have been allowed to continue for too long. More effort,
funds and thinking has gone in how to win wars but not how to
win the peace that must follow.
The most obvious example of this is the Arab-Israeli
conflict. There is a danger that a two-state solution to this
conflict under a land-for-peace formula is under threat owing
to the continuation of the conflict and the illegal creation of
"facts on the ground". This includes the ongoing expansion
of Israeli settlements, bypass roads, and the routing of Israel's
barrier on occupied territory, not Israeli land, effectively annexing
over 10% of the West Bank. Where are the calls for the sections
of the barrier built on occupied land to be removed, and for settlements
to be dismantled?
Every year that this conflict is not resolved,
the more casualties on both sides continue to mount, along with
the accompanying feelings of mutual hostility. It is now 40 years
since the start of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the
West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights in 1967. This
has had a huge political, economic, social and psychological impact
on a population, not least because over 50% of Palestinians are
International organisations and key players
There are also serious questions about the ability
of the current international organisations and actors to handle
these situations. Multilateral organisations have appeared largely
ineffective principally because of the determination of various
leading states not to engage with them.
The United Nations should be at the forefront
of attempts to resolve many of the issues in the region. However,
owing to the positions taken by key member states, especially
in the Security Council, the UN seems to be more politicised than
ever. Over Iraq, many states felt that the UN was used merely
to cloak the aims of the United States with a sense of legitimacy
rather than to pursue the goals expressed in the UN Charter. On
Israel-Palestine, there is frustration that the United States
refuses and blocks any attempt to procure a meaningful role for
the UN or implement the many UN Security Council Resolutions related
to the conflict. Britain too, has begun to abstain on such UN
Security Council Resolutions. There is a very real danger that
this will further cement the belief that the UN is merely a pawn
for the great powers, or that the UN is called in only to clean
up the messes that these powers have created. This is one reason
why the UN was viewed with such hostility in Iraq, by a population
who saw it as having colluded in a sanctions regime that decimated
its population and strengthened the regime of Saddam Hussein.
This is a key factor in understanding the background to the bombing
of the UN headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August 2003. Those who
planned the bombing understood the local hostility to the institution.
It is the stated aim of the Foreign Office to
improve the effectiveness of the EU, but in the context of the
Middle East, divisions in the EU mean that is far less effective
than it should be. Britain has played a huge role in diluting
and making irrelevant any EU position on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Furthermore, there is no strong coordinated EU position on Iraq,
and there are divisions about how to deal with Iran.
The Arab League has also lacked the sort of
influence that its creators may have hoped for. Divisions in the
region have made it far harder to create a consensus and there
is no sign of an effective regional security regime coming into
However, perhaps the League's one recent success
is the Arab peace plan. Originally proposed in 2002, and approved
again in 2007, has not been met with the enthusiasm that perhaps
it merits. This may encourage a more hard line position from the
Arab League and its members if this plan is once again ignored.
The United States' influence in the region and
its ability to end conflicts has also noticeably declined and
therefore has impacted Britain's. During the crisis in Lebanon
in the summer of 2006, Mark Malloch Brown, the United Nations
deputy Secretary-General, raised concerns that a replay of the
US-UK alliance on Iraq may not be helpful and that others must
be allowed to play a role. "What is troubling to me is the
US and UK now carry with them a particular set of baggage in the
Middle East. The challenge for them is to recognise that ultimately
they have to allow others to share the lead in this effort diplomatically
and (in putting together) a stabilisation force. It's not helpful
for it again to appear to be the team that led on Iraq or even
Dialogue and diplomacy
There has been an increasing tendency to boycott
parties or governments that do not share our views. For long periods
there was little contact with Syria. British officials were not
allowed to deal with Hamas even after it was democratically elected.
Similarly there are no official contacts with Hizbollah.
It appears that there is a belief that severing
communications poses a serious punishment for the target. However,
the refusal to communicate even at low levels with such governments
or parties typically has very detrimental effects. It empowers
the hardliners who argue that the West is never to be trusted
and weakens the moderates who may be willing to negotiate or change
their positions. Talking to such groups need not be seen as an
endorsement of their positions.
It is noticeable that continued relations with
Iran allowed diplomatic channels to be used to resolve the crisis
over the Iranian capture of 15 British marines and sailors. This
was done with a government which refuses to recognise Israel or
the Oslo agreements, is pursuing nuclear options, reportedly assisting
Iraqi groups to attack British forces in southern Iraq, and backing
groups such as Hamas and Hizbollah that the British government
has designated terrorist.
This contrasts with the way in which Hamas has
been dealt with. The group engaged in a political process, entering
elections for the first time, whilst applying a unilateral ceasefire
with Israel. Certain leaders within Hamas made clear that some
formulation with regard to accepting the reality of Israel could
be forthcoming and that ceasefire could be permanent. The reaction
of the international community, including Britain, was to rule
out contacts to explore these possibilities, thereby empowering
the rejectionists within Hamas.
When the Foreign Office had to deal the kidnapping
of the BBC correspondent, Alan Johnston, the Foreign Secretary
was compelled to authorise the British Consul-General in Jerusalem
to conduct talks with the elected Palestinian Prime Minister,
Ismail Hanniyya, for the first time. It is very clear that had
there been some initial contacts with Hamas leaders earlier, it
would have assisted considerably.
It is hard to see what Britain gains by ignoring
such groups. Over a period of time, our officials lose touch with
events, trends and significant figures within these groups, and
our ability to influence them to adopt non-violent paths diminishes
The use of force
There should be more detailed debate about the
role of force. The collective mistake has been to use overwhelming
force, a concept advanced by military figures such as Ariel Sharon.
History has shown that violence breeds violence. US attacks on
Libya in 1986, and Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998 were largely
unsuccessful. Hitting the wrong target, as in the case of the
Shifa factory in the Sudan, was extremely damaging. Similarly
there has been an over-reliance on air power in military conflicts
such as Israel's assault on Lebanon in 2006.
In responding to these fanatics, we have to
be ruthless but it must be targetted. Carpet bombings, napalm
and cluster bombs are big losers, as are sanctions and blockades.
If Western leaders want to pose as civilised then they must behave
and be seen to behave as such.
In this media-driven age, there has been too
much glamorisation of war and violence. The dehumanisation of
victims of conflicts that is seen in the media in Britain rarely
occurs in the local media where Iraqi, Palestinian or Lebanese
casualties are covered extensively and their stories are told.
London was traumatised by the 7 July bombings which killed 52
people, but this is a daily occurrence now in Iraq, and less than
the monthly average fatality count for Palestinians since the
Intifada began in 2000. Greater efforts need to be made to realise
the scale of the trauma associated with such conflicts and the
long-term damage to security that they generate.
Have foreign polices fuelled terrorism?
The British and American governments vehemently
deny any linkage between their foreign policy and acts of terror.
This is especially true when Iraq is cited as a motivating factor.
The official explanation given is that these acts are the result
of a perverted form of Islam. However, it is noticeable that a
host of Muslim groups and the bombers themselves do make clear
that Iraq has been an issue. It has increased a sense of alienation
and undermined a belief that Britain is truly democratic and independent.
As yet, no government has responded to such
attacks with the vision or the courage to take up the real challenges.
The United States attempted to destroy what it saw as the bases
of Al Qaida in Afghanistan. The trouble is that the main base
of Al Qaida is in the hearts and minds its adherents. There is
a huge role for Muslim communities here but they cannot tackle
the issues alone. The challenge that faces both the Muslim community
and the West, is the intellectual and political marginalisation
of these fanatics so that they can no longer gain ground and win
The first step towards meeting this challenge
is the beginning of a rational, mature debate on foreign affairs,
and how Britain, the US, and the West interact with the Arab and
Islamic worlds. This can only occur when all sides start to listen
to each other more.
Using expert advice
The UK and US governments have ignored, to their
cost, advice on Iraq from friendly countries in the region and
Additionally, more heed should be given to experts.
For too long, the government has tended to ignore those people
who know the Middle East and Islamic world best. Envoys, often
ill-chosen, were deployed in part to bypass the so-called "camel
corps" in the Foreign Office. It should come as little surprise
therefore, that those who do not know the region so well, who
do not have the grounding in this large and complex region, were
unable to predict and handle the challenges that have ensued.
There was a tendency in many circles to simplify
the situation with Iraq. A key tragic example was the lazy way
in which Iraq was divided up into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish areas,
ignoring the various sub-divisions amongst all three groups.
There should also be an acknowledgement in policy-making
circles that Britain no longer knows the Middle East as well as
it did in the past. Those who were tasked with ruling and managing
colonies, protectorates and mandates in the region have either
passed away or are advanced in years and out of touch with an
area they once knew so well. However, many people in the region
still assume that we know it as well as in the past which creates
There has been a partial failure to replace
their expertise with proper sustained investment in human resources,
language training and academic centres of excellence dealing with
the region. The Foreign Office has been undermined through lack
of resources but also because key foreign policy decisions and
moves have been taken elsewhere in government without proper consultation.
Diplomats have increasingly conveyed to us their frustration and
disillusionment with this, as well as a deepening belief that
promotion is carried out according to political position not merit.
Overall, there appears to be a decline in morale in the Ministry.
Relations with the US
Britain clearly must maintain close relations
with the United States. However, there needs to be a re-examination
of the terms of these relations especially where the Middle East
is concerned. In the United States, domestic political agendas
(such as a desire for revenge for 9/11 and the wish to cultivate
the votes of both the Israeli and Christian Zionist lobbies) have
pushed US foreign policy in particular directions that are not
necessarily consonant with British interests.
The UK has been more closely aligned with US
policy in the region than perhaps at any time since the Second
Such a close alignment seems to be premised
on the assumption that the US is the only serious external power
able to impact the region. This is no longer the case, if it ever
was, and increasingly there is more interaction between Middle
East states and rising global powers such as China and India.
China's oil needs are expected to increase four-fold by 2030 and
relies heavily on gulf sources.
There is also an awareness in Middle East of
a long-term need to look for alternative powers to the US and
UK. Russia has made strenuous attempts to increase its influence,
aided by larger oil and gas revenues. Vladimir Putin made the
first ever visit to Saudi Arabia in February 2007. Russia has
strong links with Iran and entertained the Hamas leader, Khaled
Mishaal in Moscow for talks. It has helped Iran with nuclear power
and the supply of reactors and had similar offers to other Middle
East states. Russia has also made several arms deals with states
that have angered Washington.
British public diplomacy
In Britain, there have been signs that the public
has become disenchanted with spin and news manipulation. Politicians
are increasingly not trusted and are not seen as credible, both
at home and abroad, not least in the Middle East. The current
British Prime Minister is not seen as honest and is largely deemed
to have lied over the threat from the former government of Iraq
and to be considered guilty of issuing well-intentioned promises
on Israel-Palestine that he was unable to deliver upon.
The efforts to engage the Arab audience have
been limited and largely ineffective. There are several notable
reasons for this. Firstly, however we package recent events and
actions they are largely unpopular in many parts of the Middle
East and are likely to remain so. Secondly, the Foreign Office
lacks staff with the necessary language and cultural skills with
which to address this. Thirdly, there is a marked reluctance on
the part of many senior British diplomats to engage the local
media on issues which they feel very uncomfortable defending,
such as the British government's position on Lebanon in 2006.
There is also a failure to recognise one of
the most profound changes in the Arab world over the last decade
which is the burgeoning array of new media outfits, and in particular
Arabic satellite channels. During the 2003 war, there was little
attempt to engage with them, or even to consider embedding some
of their reporters with coalition forces. Out of the 500 embedded
journalists with coalition forces only three per cent were from
the Arab world.
British public diplomacy cannot be uncoupled
from that of the US. There have been several US statements that
have severely damaged attempts to win "hearts and minds".
The reference to crusades was most unfortunate, given that this
is viewed in the region as a violent and bloody period of their
history when Western Christendom invaded and looted their lands.
Many see echoes of the past in what is happening today. Another
issue was the "shock and awe bombardment that opened the
war on Iraq in 2003. The images of this bombing aired around the
world, combined with an expression that made it sound like a giant
fireworks display, only encouraged sympathy for those on the receiving
end of American and British bombs and admiration for anyone who
felt able to fight back.
There has also been a noted reluctance amongst
American and British decision makers to acknowledge the scale
of Iraqi loss both during the war and the post-war era but also
during the period of sanctions from 1990-2003. This has created
an impression that the American and British governments do not
care about Arab and Muslim casualties. In turn, there has been,
at times, less sympathy for American and British casualties in
Iraq and elsewhere.
Arabic Language standards
As already stated, there is increasing evidence
that British officials lack the necessary linguistic and cultural
tools to deal effectively with their Arab and Muslim counterparts.
Public diplomacy in the Arab world would be far more effective
if this was addressed as a matter of urgency. In the battle of
ideas, too frequently messages have been delivered in English
and not in the language of those people we most need to influence.
Radical extremist groups do not suffer such a handicap.
According to official sources in October 2004,
108 officers had a current Foreign and Commonwealth Office qualification
in Arabic with a number of other officers due to take examinations
in 2005. This is insufficient in number and probably in quality.
A "Lessons Learned" Report for the
Ministry of Defence also indicated that the lack of linguists
caused problems on the ground for troops in Iraq.
"The war on terror"
This phrase has only recently been criticised
as unhelpful by senior American and British politicians. However,
the damage has been done. This has been portrayed as a war between
the civilised and the uncivilised. There is still reference to
Western values being superior, although it is not clear exactly
what those "western values" are, or indeed that they
actually originated in the "west". The neutral expression
"universal values" would have been equally effective
at conveying the message intended.
All sides have to ensure respect for other peoples
and civilisations. Mass killings only occur when the victims have
been so thoroughly dehumanised that the perpetrators not only
do not care, but even celebrate the killings. The invasion of
Iraq showed little respect for human life, and events in Guantánamo,
Abu Ghraib, and Bagram have underlined the widespread belief in
the Middle East and elsewhere that for some, Arabs and Muslims
do not really count as human beings. Conversely, the terrorist
attacks in London, and Madrid showed no remorse and respect for
We need therefore to humanise the other, to
remember that actually there is more that unites than divides
us. All nationalities, all faiths, all colours, have suffered
under terrorism. Unless we work together, the extremists will
win by dividing us.
The trading in conventional arms is a serious
threat to the region. Arms smuggling is rife and arms sales have
rocketed. Russia and China are trying to increase their share
of this market.
Serious consideration should be given to re-examining
the sale of arms into conflict zones by the UK. For example in
July 2002, the Foreign Secretary cleared the sale by BAE of parts
for Israel's F-16 planes. These have been used in attacks on Palestinian
civilian targets. Not only did this fuel the conflict, but it
also sent out an extremely damaging signal of Britain's siding
with Israel. Oxfam has also found that the government has failed
to take into consideration what impact such sales have on poverty
levels in the purchasing states.
Regional economies are slowly starting to open
up but challenges will remain for many years not least in a country
such as Egypt where every year millions more join those looking
for jobs. Much of this may be addressed by economic reforms in
the various countries which are happening at various speeds. Income
inequalities need to be addressed, as the gap between rich and
poor has widened.
The region generally suffers from a lack of
job opportunities. This has a significant impact on the population
and especially the youth. In the occupied Palestinian Territories
the situation is acute, as it is in Iraq.
Britain did play a very productive role in hosting
the Yemen donors conference in November 2006 where nearly $5 billion
was raised. This is a country with large land and sea borders
which clearly needed assistance in addressing not only its own
internal security, but the arms and drugs smuggling that went
on across its territory.
Reforms in the Middle East
There are many who attach long-term hope to
reforming the region and exporting democracy to it. However, democracy
needs internal acceptance and is unlikely to be exported successfully
from the outside by foreign powers. Democracy also cannot be imposed
overnight, and needs more than merely a ballot every five years.
It is widely perceived that external powers
have their own agendas, and are only interested in seeing those
parties they prefer to get elected. To corroborate their view,
they cite what happened in the occupied territories in 2006 but
also in Algeria in 1991. Failure by Britain and the USA to abide
by international law is often cited as inconsistent with the democratic
values the two countries are trying to export.
Given the deep and widespread mistrust of foreign
powers, funding for democracy assistance and related activities
from external bodies is increasingly proving unpopular. Those
that do take these funds have been in danger of discrediting themselves
locally as foreign agents. Oxfam has said it had to turn down
British cash for its operations in both Iraq and Lebanon.
There needs to be greater thought and debate
as to how to manage successful home grown paths to reform and
democracy at paces that individual states can handle. Whilst there
is a strong argument to suggest that successful reforms will help
the regional security situation, these cannot be rushed through
and there is no quick easy fix. If various states do wish to pursue
this path, then consistency is vital to their credibility and
ultimately to their success.
Immigration and Illegal immigration
Although this is another of the Foreign Office's
priorities, the failure to produce stability in the region, and
to prevent conflicts and terrorism, together with regional economic
failures and lack of job opportunities means that immigration
pressures to the EU, including the UK, remain very high. Much
of this may well come via North Africa which is increasingly a
transit point for migrants. One concern is that Britain has not
paid sufficient attention to this region, and there is a dearth
of expertise on these countries despite their increased importance.
The Maghreb countries have been seen as zones of French influence
but this ignores the desire of these countries to be less dependent
on France, and to reach out to other European powers such as the
UK. There has been some welcome change in direction from the Foreign
Office in realising the importance of North Africa to Britain.
The threats to the security of the Middle East
and to British interests have grown significantly since the start
of the decade. One indictment of the situation would be to argue
that such is the acute uncertainty, it is impossible to determine
in which direction the region may go, but that in the short to
medium-term, there is very little sight of progress.
It is conceivable that the Middle East may lurch
from a major crisis every year, with sporadic increased acts of
terrorism, and disorder. However, far worse scenarios, which might
have appeared unrealistic only a few years ago, can no longer
be ruled out. Britain will not be immune from the consequences.
The Foreign Office has highlighted ten strategic
international priorities for the UK over the next five to ten
years. In examining these in relation to the Middle East, it appears
that there is no effective strategy in place to deliver on most
of these, and in several, British interests have been severely
and dangerously compromised. For example it is hard to see progress
in countering the global terrorist threat or in preventing and
resolving conflict prevention and reduction. The international
system appears weak and divided, still reacts slowly and largely
only when it is deemed in the interests of the major powers so
The gulf between the "West", Arabs
and Muslims is probably wider than ever before. Despite an increasingly
globalised world, there is widespread mistrust and fear of the
other. Different parties have dehumanised the other, and are no
longer seemingly able to see through their eyes and understand
A failure to address this and the root causes
of this alienation and anger will seriously impair our ability
to address the numerous and multi-faceted crises that confront
us. Britain has lost its way and has become too associated with
the use of force and violence, rather than the upholder of law
11 May 2007
35 Figures from OCHA, March 2007. Back