The Middle East Links That We Have to Forge

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Byline: JONATHAN AITKEN

AS THE US military noisily prepares for its first strikes against the Taliban and the terrorists, equal priority should be given to the quieter efforts of America and Britain's diplomatic peacemakers.

The military options are likely to mean a long war of attrition punctuated by unavoidable reversals. We will win in the end, but only if our strategy combines the goals of peace with the targets for war.

A careful reading of the runes behind this week's initiatives by the American and British governments offers glimpses of an emerging geopolitical game plan. For out of the World Trade Centre's rubble there may now be rising the phoenix of world hope that a coming realignment in US foreign-policy could offer a golden triangle-of successes: the smashing of the terrorist networks; the securing of a lasting peace between Arabs and Israelis, and the healing of the growing rift between Islam and the West.

The dream of these glittering prizes can be turned into reality by 'linkage'.

This buzzword first came into vogue during the Nixon-Kissinger era of secret triangular diplomacy between Washington, Moscow and Beijing.

Spurred by the September 11 catastrophe-into root-and-branch policy rethinking, Washington is striving to persuade its friends in Israel and the moderate Islamic nations that a common interest can be served if the key states are prepared to link their national interests to the twin-track goals of crushing terrorism and securing Arab-Israeli peace. This is the message in the intensive round of diplomacy now being conducted by US Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

The first breakthrough came last Tuesday when Israel, under heavy pressure from Washington, withdrew its tanks from hotspots in Palestine. In return, Arab governments have agreed to put pressure on Yasser Arafat to break the cycle of violence.

Two of the most pivotal nations in making a linkage strategy work are Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudis' custodian ship of Islam's holiest places, their strategic geography, their oil wealth, and their track record of support for American interests make them a key player in the fight against global terrorism, but will they play wholeheartedly alongside America in the first war scenario of the 21st Century? …