How the United States Could Benefit from an Arab-Israeli Peace

Recent negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yassar Arafat at Camp David ended in an impasse. As of August 2000, the two leaders are currently attempting to drum up support for another round of peace talks. Assuming both sides resume the discussion and eventually close the substantial gaps between them, how would a potential peace agreement affect security in the critical Persian Gulf? Project AIR FORCE (PAF) researchers recently examined the implications of such an agreement. The goal of their study was to help the U.S. military, particularly the U.S. Air Force, capitalize on positive changes in the Middle East security environment that might arise after a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. In their full report, The Implications of the Possible End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict for Gulf Security, PAF researchers state that "if the peace process can move forward, the security of the Gulf will be enhanced and U.S. Air Force operations in the region will face fewer complications."

Background

The close relations between the United States and Israel stem from shared cultural bonds, strategic ties, and well-organized pro-Israel sentiment in the United States. Israel also has potential strategic value as a friend in the Gulf, which is an important but unstable region. However, because of historical tension between the surrounding Arab states and Israel and disputes over territory between the Israelis and the Palestinians, America's relations with Israel have hindered U.S. military efforts and complicated U.S. relations with Arab states in the Gulf. For example, during Operation Desert Storm, the United States feared that Israeli participation in the war would split the anti-Iraq coalition that existed among the United States and several Arab Gulf states. Consequently, the U.S.-led coalition devoted considerable resources to defending Israel against Iraqi missile attacks instead of letting Israel defend itself.

PAF researchers explained that, depending upon the final nature of an Arab-Israeli peace and the resolution of the Palestinian issue, Israel could transform from a hindrance to the U.S. military into a valuable source of assistance in the Gulf. Israel is the region's leading military power, and security cooperation between Israel and the Gulf states would provide the United States military with many long-term benefits.

How Could a Middle East Peace Benefit the United States?

To illustrate how an Arab-Israeli peace would affect U.S. military operations in the Gulf region, the PAF research team developed several crisis scenarios that might come to pass in the near future. The scenarios were intended to improve U.S. thinking on how to take advantage of the full benefits of peace rather than to predict the most likely course of events in the region. Although they caution that capitalizing on the security benefits of peace will require overcoming opposition both in the Gulf and Israel, PAF researchers noted that an Arab-Israeli peace could offer a chance for the United States to improve its position in the region in the following ways:

  • Many Gulf residents will still remain opposed to a U.S. presence in the region for religious or Arab nationalist reasons. However, there would be less anti-U.S. hostility stemming from U.S. support of Israel.

  • As relations between the Arab world and Israel improve, the Gulf states would be less likely to use their leverage in the global oil market to press the United States to cut its support for Israel.

  • U.S. arms sales to the region, while still likely to receive Israeli scrutiny, will probably become less politically sensitive in the United States.

  • If a major regional crisis similar to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait were to occur again, Israel would no longer prove a heavy burden to the U.S. military. The United States could let Israel defend itself if it were attacked without fear of breaking a Gulf state coalition.

  • If a similar crisis erupts in the future, Israel could become an accepted, if passive, member of a Gulf state-U.S. coalition.

  • During a conflict or crisis, Israel's military and logistics assets might prove helpful to deploying U.S. forces. In addition, access to Israeli airspace could be valuable in sustaining an air bridge to the Gulf.

Recommendations

As President Clinton's role in the recent Camp David summit shows, U.S. diplomacy has played a crucial part in Israel's efforts to make peace with its Arab neighbors and the Palestinians. The PAF research team encouraged the United States to continue to take a leadership role in this area. They recommended that the United States consider taking several steps to improve the chances for an Israeli contribution to Gulf security:

  • The United States should encourage Gulf-Israeli cooperation. A quiet dialogue between Israel and the Gulf states on issues of common concern, particularly potential instability in Iraq and Iran, might be a good starting point. This limited dialogue could be complemented by a broader regional security dialogue that included the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey.

  • The U.S. military--especially the Air Force--should begin thinking about additional options that the peace process provides for projecting power to this region. These options might include contributions from Israel alone or in combination with others such as the Jordanians and Turks.

  • The United States should consider developing a plan for facilitating cooperation among the military forces--especially the air forces--of the United States, GCC, Israel, Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan, with a focus on Gulf security.

  • The U.S. Central Command, the agency charged with enabling the United States to quickly deploy an effective military force to the Gulf region, does not currently include Israel in its Area of Responsibility (AOR). PAF researchers recommended moving Israel and its neighbors from European Command responsibility to the U.S. Central Command's AOR.

  • Because facilities and forces in Turkey are likely to be called on when a crisis occurs in the Middle East, as they were during Operation Desert Storm, researchers thought it would be worth exploring the option of including Turkey in the U.S. Central Command as well.