Reprinted from The Washington Examiner
Oil and water don't usually mix, but a native son of the Middle East has a suggestion for President Obama on how to combine these elements to promote peace in the region.
Mithal al-Alusi, a former Iraqi Parliamentarian, believes a key to Mideast peace lies in the Strait of Hormuz, a water passage for oil transport between the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean vital to numerous Arab countries' economies.
Alusi, who served for nearly five years in the Iraqi Parliament and continues to promote cooperation among Arab nations, the U.S., and Israel, suggests Obama organize a conference of moderate Arab states to demand the Strait stay open. (Detractors of the idea of a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities frequently cite the possibility that Iran might close the Strait).
Because it would be based on the economic self-interest of Arab countries around the Strait, the conference would bolster alliance among these countries, and could bring them into cooperation with an historic enemy - Israel. "The point of the conference could be, 'Don't close the Strait; it is an international water,'" Alusi says. "Arabs can say, 'It is about our economy and our security' ... These are powerful oil exporters, and they don't want the Strait blocked."
The Arab countries around the Strait that Alusi sees as ideal participants--the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Iraq--all have an economic self-interest in keeping the Strait open. They also fear the Islamic Republic of Iran and its quest for nuclear weapons, he says.
"These are small countries and they are afraid of Iran," according to Alusi.
If Obama can leverage these countries' anxieties about Iran's quest for nuclear weapons and their concerns about the possibility Iran could block the Strait, Alusi believes the president could forge a powerful alliance between these nations and the strongest military force in the region, Israel.
Establishing such an alliance, he maintains, would change the dynamic in the United States' relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran--enabling the U.S. to operate from a position of greater strength than at present.
"To let Iran play smaller, more moderate Arab countries against each other can't be," Alusi says. "This conference will block this Iranian tactic, and when we block extremists like Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah, we support seculars, liberals, moderates, and anyone in the Middle East who wants a normal life."
Israel would benefit, too.
"Israel will be looked at as a help, a powerful country. All of us have the same worries. It will help reassure Israel also."
Honor is important in the Arab world, where Obama is a respected figure. The U.S. president can elevate the status of moderates by hosting this conference, Alusi says. If Obama organizes this event, the Saudis, the leaders of the U.A.E. and other Arab countries may come - possibly even if Israel is invited as a party with economic and political interest in the peaceful containment of Iran.
"President Obama's ties to the Muslim world go back to childhood," Alusi says. "Having his blessing will help moderates feel better, more confident."
Read the rest of this piece at the Washington Examiner.