Monday, January 03, 2011

"The Rise of the Islamic-Israel Conflict"

Arlene Kushner

This was the title of the talk delivered by Dr. Jonathan Spyer -- Senior Research Fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center -- at the Great Synagogue here in Jerusalem, on Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night). He provided a very cogent and insightful overview of the current situation and today I want to share highlights.


The "peace process" -- going back more than 30 years-- was the product of US hegemony in the Middle East:

Camp David Accords with Egypt were possible because Sadat made the decision to move from the Soviet to the US side. US domination was even more obvious with the Oslo Accords, which was made possible after the collapse of the Soviet Union. People during this period believed that a period of peace and liberalization was inevitable.

Oslo ran aground in the late 1990s, however, when it became apparent that what Israel could offer was less than the Palestinian Arabs wanted. War (incorrectly referred to as the second intifada) followed.


Today US influence in the area is under challenge by:

-- The elite that has arisen in Iran
-- Islamization of the regional conflict

This is THE central challenge to the region and to Israel.


In Iran, Ahmadinejad represents a particular generational group whose formative experiences were the Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. Now they are at the pinnacle of the revolution they helped create and they see it as a failure: The regime is massively unpopular, corrupt and ineffectual.

They want to revive the original fire of the 1979 revolution. This is bound to fail, but the effort can do a great deal of damage.

The regime is not going to fall as a result of challenge from the street because they are willing to go to the limit in utilizing violence to stay in control.


This represents a problem for the entire region because Iran wants to be the hegemonic power of the Middle East.

To that end, they are drawing on Iranian patriotism and utilizing their foreign policy.

Their major problem is that they are neither Arab (they are Persian) nor Sunni (they are Shia), as are most Muslim states.

To move past these problems, Iran wants to grab the banner of the Palestinian cause and to promote Islamization of Middle East politics.

The entire region has now become so Islamicized that if elections were held across the region, Islamic parties would win. This is true even in Jordan and Egypt.

The Israeli-Arab conflict had actually been winding down. It's been a quarter of a century since Israel has been arrayed against Arab forces. But the Islamization of the region is partially revising this process and firing the conflict.

There are two hot fronts: Gaza and Lebanon. Both receive Iranian and popular Islamic support.


Hezbollah is a direct creation of Iran.

In 1982, Iranian revolutionary offices were opened in the Bekka valley of Lebanon to develop forces to take on Israel. This is the hottest front of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Lebanon is essentially a colony of Iran.

Hamas is Sunni, with financial roots in Saudi Arabia. But Gaza, its major asset, is maintained via Iranian money, support and guns.


Iran and the Islamist bloc believe in the end they will prevail. They have a strategic conception, and are convinced that over decades they will achieve victory.

Their conceptualization is of Israel as an artificial country that may appear strong but is internally weak and can ultimately be defeated. The plan is to maintain pressure on Israel at all levels -- demonstrating to Jews that peace is impossible and encouraging them to leave.


With all of this, there is what Spyer refers to as the Silver Lining:

Weakening of Israel is merely a tactical approach for the Islamists. Their geo-strategic goals include the entire Gulf area: The US (which has a Gulf presence) and its allies, especially Jordan and Egypt, and the Arabic-speaking world more generally.

Now, for the first time, Israel is on the same side as the majority of Arab states:

During Cast Lead (our operation in Gaza, at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009), Egypt kept the southern exit from Gaza shut, so there could be no massive fleeing into the Sinai. This was done because Hamas represents a threat to Egypt, not because Egypt wants to help Israel. But the net result was that this assisted Israel in achieving a major victory in Gaza.

(Spyer says that while the PR may have been a disaster, the military victory was considerable. After all of Hamas's considerable pre-war bravado, they lost some 700 fighters to about 14 that we lost.)

There are reports, as well (which you've read about here), regarding Saudi willingness to open its air space to Israel if Israel decides to strike Iran. Saudi Arabia is the most anti-Semitic of countries, but it is terrified of Iran.


This entire situation is transforming Israel. The Israeli left is "obliterated" as dreams of the peace process have failed. (Note: polls show that Labor would go way down if there were an election today.) The Israeli polity, and the Israeli right, are re-adjusting to this new political situation.

Spyer believes that we are likely to move beyond an ideological cold war to a new hot conflict. But the anti-Iranian alliance, as varied as it is, will win in the end. While the Islamists promote violence and call on the service of their young men, they will not be able to achieve sustained battle victories. (This is not to say that we won't incur damage to our populace during a war that will be waged at least partially on our turf.)


Perhaps even more significantly, the Islamists severely underestimate the strength of Israel society, which to a considerable degree shares basic values. The Iranian ideology is thin and does not promote viable societies.

(Whether we count the PA as being fully within the Islamic sphere or not, this critique applies to them, as well: The Palestinians are more interested in Israel's destruction -- e.g., via ugly incitement and insistence on "return" of refugees -- than on building the positive values of a constructive society.)

Says Spyer, Arab nationalism faded and Islamism will do the same.

There is evidence that the Iranian society is being undermined in a variety of way, such as via the assistance to Iranian Kurds -- who are quick to sabotage the Iranian regime as they can, in the service of a Kurdish state.


There are several comments I would like to make here before closing:

First, is the whole issue of the need for American strength in the Middle East in light of the current dynamic. I've written about it often enough, but always seek to reinforce the message. If Iran seeks hegemony in the Middle East, a weak America that seeks to appease and be "friends" with Iran simply feeds the Islamist goal. American muscle-flexing and demonstration of deterrent strength is badly needed, and very lacking.

I do not expect Obama to reverse his policy, but my hope is that more and more the American polity will understand the destructive folly of his approach. A stronger US might have kept King Abdullah from reaching out to Iran, and might have discouraged the Syrian tilt towards Iran.


Then there is the whole matter of the "peace process." When this broader context is understood, it becomes clear why the very notion of trying to reach an accord with the PLO/PA now is nonsense. Even if Abbas were inclined to engage in negotiations and make compromises for peace (he's not), he would find it impossible in the current political climate. Hamas sets the tone of Palestinian Arab political discourse, and to be less "tough" than the Islamists is to invite charges of betrayal, and worse (like having your throat slit). Spyer said it: ME politics have been Islamicized.

The PA was once referred to as a nationalist secular movement. Now, more and more there is Islamist influence within. In that sense the Islamists are co-opting the PA. Hamas is also waiting to physically take over the PA, and will miss no opportunity to do so. (Withdrawal of the IDF as part of "peace" would provide such an opportunity.)

So it's futile, futile, futile. All this nonsensical time spent discussing about whether Israel should build Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria -- as if this were the key to the matter. All the talk about the specific parameters of a Palestinian state.

If only the US would table its promotion of a negotiated accord and focus exclusively on taking on the Islamist influence in the Middle East.

It's crazy talk, and nothing less, to say that a Palestinian-Israeli accord would help bring peace to the entire region and help the US take on Iran. In point of fact, just the opposite is true. Only when Islamist ideology is defeated will peace be possible here. (Movement towards a peace agreement only motivates the Islamists to be more disruptive.)

If a peace process was possible thirty years ago because of US hegemony in the region, that necessary condition certainly also holds today.


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution .

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