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The Region: Israel is in good shape
By BARRY RUBIN
07/15/2012
The big Middle East conflict of the future is not the Arab-Israeli but the Sunni-Shia one.
 
The more I think about Israel’s security situation at this moment, the better it looks. Obviously, this is counter-intuitive given the media bias, academic distortions, and campaigns for sanctions of various kinds. Ultimately, talk matters far less than three-dimensional reality.

It’ll take a while to list all of the factors, so let’s get started while the inkwell is still full.

On the surface, the “Arab Spring” along with the surge of revolutionary Islamism certainly looks bad, but let’s examine the shorter-term implications. By reentering a period of instability and continuing conflict within each country, the Arabic-speaking world is committing a self-induced setback. Internal battles will disrupt Arab armies and economies, reducing their ability to fight against Israel. Indeed, nothing could be more likely to handicap development than Islamist policies.

While it would be wrong to depend too much on the belief that the new regimes will be too busy dealing with domestic transformation to want to stage foreign adventures against Israel, there is some value to this proposition. More important is that while they might even try to attack Israel – and this refers to Egypt and perhaps to Syria after a revolution – they are less able to do so effectively.

Every Arabic-speaking country is likely to be wracked with internal violence, conflict, disorder and slow socio-economic progress for years, even decades, to come.

Westerners are likely to be disillusioned as reform stalls, actual democracy makes no appearance; the oppression of women increases in countries like Egypt and Tunisia; and Islamism produces unattractive partners. True, the Western left is often romantic about Islamism, but the number of people persuaded is going to lessen as what Marxism traditionally described as “clerical-fascist” movements flourish.

The past year has been a disaster for Turkey and Iran’s regional ambitions. The rise of Arab Sunni Islamist movements in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria has made large portions of the region no-go zones for those two countries.

The Arabs don’t want or need Turks to tell them what to do, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has been obnoxious in making Arabs feel he’s patronizing them. Turkey’s influence is limited to northern Iraq and, thanks largely to the Obama administration’s backing, with the Syrian opposition.

As for Iran, it has lost virtually all of its non-Shia Muslim assets, notably Hamas. In general, Arab Sunni Islamists don’t like either Iran or Shia Muslims. And again, Sunni Arab Islamists are certainly not going to follow Tehran’s lead while Sunni Arab countries don’t want to yield leadership of “their” Middle East to those who are both Persian and Shia.

Therefore, the big Middle East conflict of the future is not the Arab-Israeli but the Sunni-Shia one. But a series of conflicts have broken out all along the Sunni-Shia borderland as the two blocs vie for control of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Bahrain.

In addition, the Syrian civil war is wrecking that country and will continue to paralyze it for some time to come. When the dust settles, any new government is going to have to take a while to manage the wreckage, handle the quarreling, diverse ethnic-religious groups, and rebuild its military. In Lebanon, a dominant Hezbollah, trying to hold onto power and worrying about the fate of its Syrian patron, doesn’t want a confrontation with Israel.

Then there are the surviving regimes – notably Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the five Gulf emirates – who know the main threat to them is from Iran and revolutionary Islamists at home, not Israel. In fact, they realize Israel is a kind of protector for them since it is motivated and able to strike against those who also want to put their heads on the chopping block.

An extremely important point to note is how thoroughly the Arabs, and especially the Palestinians, threw away the greatest opportunity they’ve ever had to gain more US support and widen the cracks between Washington and Jerusalem into a chasm. If properly motivated, the Obama administration was ready to become the most pro- Palestinian government in American history, to offer more concessions to the Palestinian Authority (PA), and to put more pressure on Israel than ever seen before.

Instead, they refused to cooperate with Obama, rejecting his initiatives and, in the PA’s case, refusing even to negotiate with Israel. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the PA repeatedly showed the US government that it was the intransigent party. And even if American officials would never publicly admit this, they certainly had to back off, seeing that this was true.

I provide this list not to rejoice at the misfortunes of others. Generally, though, these misfortunes were the result of decisions they have made, or at least of the forces that have become the new leaders by guns or votes. These are the realities of the Middle East today.

On the other side has been Israel’s dramatically visible success in terms of economic progress. The country has become a world leader in technology, medicine, science, computers and other fields. It has opened up new links to Asia. The discovery of natural gas and oil fields are promising a massive influx of funds in the coming years.

And despite the usual quarrels (social protests, debates over drafting religious students, nasty flaps over personalities, and minor corruption scandals) Israel stands as a stable and united (where it counts) country. The idea that Israel is menaced by the failure of the PA to want to make peace may be a staple of Western academia but it is a ludicrous proposition in reality.

Of course, there are threats – Iran getting deliverable nuclear weapons; Egypt becoming belligerent – but both lie in the future and there are constraining factors. In Iran’s case, there is external pressure and problems actually building weapons; for Egypt, the army is for the foreseeable future constraining the radical Islamists.

Foreign editorial writers may never admit it, foreign correspondents may thunder doom, but nonetheless Israel and its security are in good shape.

The writer, a professor, is the director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center.
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