London – Former advisor to US President Donald Trump, Dr. Walid Phares, stressed that Washington needs an Arab and Gulf role in defeating ISIS and that they should play a political role in Syria and Iraq.
Lebanese-born Phares served as Trump’s advisor for Middle Eastern affairs during his presidential campaign. He still acts as an aide in the administration, either directly or through Congress.
Talking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the issues in the Middle East, he asserted that the US “will soon put a halt to Iran’s expansion in the Arab world.”
He kicked off the interview by hailing last week’s meeting in Washington between Trump and Saudi deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, saying that it signifies a renewed partnership between the two sides on the economic, political, security and defense levels.
“The meeting also served as an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to offer Trump a project for strategic partnership in the region not only with the kingdom, but with other moderate countries,” Phares explained.
“This partnership will be the cornerstone for confronting ISIS and its allies and Iran’s expansion,” he added.
“The partnership will emerge soon and coordination will begin on the security level, because the US needs the Arab and Gulf role in combating ISIS, and later on the political level that will help resolve the Syrian and Iraqi crises. In return, the Gulf needs the US in regions that are witnessing Iranian meddling, especially in Yemen and surrounding areas,” he said.
He remarked that Iran and its allies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen will stand against this partnership.
Commenting on “Hezbollah” chief Hassan Nasrallah’s threats that the party will strike Israeli nuclear plants, Phares warned that such attacks will lead to the spread of harmful radiation in the region and the world and will be considered international terrorist acts.
“It would be taking an unprecedented risk … and it will incur disastrous results,” he stressed, while noting that the response to a nuclear attack will be against “Hezbollah”, not the Lebanese people.
Addressing a potential talks between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said that such a meeting is “inevitable” and that it will tackle the solution to the crisis in Syria, which starts with the withdrawal of all armed foreign forces, specifically ISIS and al-Qaeda, as well as “Hezbollah” and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
“This is the only course to reach a political solution in Syria. There can be no other one as long as these forces are still in the country,” Phares asserted.
He explained that Washington’s allies will agree to this solution, but Iran will not. He noted that it is in Russia’s interest to achieve the withdrawal of foreign forces.
He emphasized that ISIS can be defeated through the US-led alliance and that moderate Sunni Arab forces must take control of the areas the militant group had occupied. He warned that the arrival of regime forces in these areas will pave the way to future problems, similar to the ones in Iraq.
Arab and Gulf countries can play a role in policing the transition from ISIS to the moderate powers. They should not necessarily have forces on the ground, but they should be able to take political decisions and later produce a “comprehensive political solution.”
Asked about recent uproar over Iran’s claims that it can destroy Israel in minutes and “Hezbollah’s” nuclear threat, he said: “These forces are facing a problem. In Lebanon, the majority of the people rejects ‘Hezbollah’ and we saw that in the 2005 Cedar Revolution. In 2009 in Iran, we saw that the majority of the youth do not want the regime, but freedom and progress. We are witnessing the same thing in Iraq, where the majority is moderate, but it is being oppressed.”
“These forces are therefore trying to delude their popular bases that they are headed towards a holy war. The Palestinians themselves want to resolve the conflict through peaceful negotiations. They do not want Iran waging another war where they will lose more than they have lost in the past.”
He expressed optimism that the opposition in Iran will be able to spark a revolt that will be greater than the one of 2009.
Meanwhile, Phares revealed that Trump is eager to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, saying that the president had expressed surprise that for decades US leaders had failed to achieve peace even though Washington “has the means to do so”.
Trump voiced a “firm determination to reach a peaceful solution” to the conflict, while highlighting the role moderate Arabs can play to that end, said Phares.
Asked by Asharq Al-Awsat if Trump will be able to do so before “Hezbollah” wages a new war on Israel, he replied: “The party relies primarily on propaganda. If it fails, then it will take a risk. The decision to take a risk against Israel is not taken by Nasrallah, but by the Iranian capital.”
“This is not 2006 or 1999, but it understands that this is 2017 and it is involved in many wars and therefore cannot guarantee the support of Arab people if it committed the error of waging this battle,” he warned, saying that it will be the beginning of a strategic loss for it in Lebanon and Syria.