Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

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 examination.


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 disaster.

    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 been learnt.

    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.

Overall situation

  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. [35]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 law.

  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 2007.

  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 soldiers.

  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 for Israel.

  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 of success".[36] 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 2006.

  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 solid.

  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 war.

  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 2007.

  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 Iran.

  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 threat.

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 children.

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 existence.

  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 on Afghanistan."

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 significantly.

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 further support.

  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 elsewhere.

  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 high expectations.

  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 World War.

  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.

Mutual respect

  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 "western" lives.

  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.

Arms trade

  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 to do.

  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 their world.

  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 and fairness.

11 May 2007

35   Figures from OCHA, March 2007. Back

36 Back

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