The Region: Eyes wide shut

The more ‘reassurances’ we receive from Western governments and pundits about the ‘new Arab realities,’ the more we should ignore them.

By BARRY RUBIN
February 27, 2011 22:41
Security forces clash with protesters in Iraq

Iraq Protests 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

It’s now clear that the Egyptian revolution wasn’t all roses, but also had a dangerous number of thorns (and I think I was the first to warn about it). The more Western governments and media reassure us, the more I worry. Why? Because it shows they have no idea what they are facing.

Michael Slackman, writing from the Gulf, has been talking to Arabs and trying to make Americans see reality. His article “Arab unrest propels Iran as Saudi influence declines” says: “The popular revolts shaking the Arab world have begun to shift the balance of power in the region, bolstering Iran’s position while weakening and unnerving its rival, Saudi Arabia... Iran has already benefited from the ouster or undermining of Arab leaders who were its strong adversaries, and has begun to project its growing influence...”

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Unfortunately, this is not affecting coverage of Egypt where we’ve seen:

• A million people chanting, “To [Mubarak's] palace we are heading! Martyrs in the millions!”

• Smuggling weapons to Hamas has become far easier.

• Two Iranian warships transit the Suez Canal for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

• The beginning of the opening the border with the Gaza Strip.

• The Muslim Brotherhood begin a campaign to replace top clergy with its own men – a move that would give them control of mosques, religious education and lots of money and media access.

NOW THE American media is at least covering Israel’s concerns, but only to show that they are wrong! Take a recent article in The New York Times (albeit three weeks after this point became obvious): “Israelis worry that Arab democracy movements will ultimately be dominated by extremists... They see Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, even if it remains a minority of Egyptian opinion, as pressing for more solidarity with the Palestinians and Hamas... And they fear that Israel’s regional partners in checking Iran are under threat or falling.”

Shouldn’t these factors also affect US policy? The Times piece professes to answer Israeli concerns with a “reassuring” response: “Arab analysts counter that new Arab realities and democracies should be welcomed by Israel, because the new Arab generation shares many of the same values as Israel and the West. [That remains to be seen, doesn’t it?]. They argue that there is no support among Egypt’s leaders for the abrogation of the 1979 peace treaty, though it is unpopular with the public, and that the Egyptian army will not disrupt foreign policy.”

No support? The two best-known reformists – Ayman Nour and Mohamed ElBaradei – have called for revising the treaty. So has the Muslim Brotherhood, which can mobilize millions of people.

More than a century ago, the great German socialist leader August Bebel said anti-Semitism was the “socialism of fools.”

Might it also turn out – as happened in Germany later – to be the “democracy of fools” in our own era? UK Prime Minister David Cameron told students in Qatar that some Middle Eastern rulers were using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a distraction from their own oppressive regimes. That’s true. The problem is that it is such a good distraction precisely because doing so is wildly popular with the Arab masses, who may well want more militancy than those governments are willing to provide.

The Times article claims: “But new governments are more likely to increase their support for the Palestinian cause... That new attitude could pressure Israel to do more to find a settlement, some analysts argue. Most others believe that Israel will instead resist, arguing that it cannot make concessions because it is now encircled by more hostile neighbors.”

You think? In other words, if Syria, Iran, Egypt and Hezbollah-ruled Lebanon give more help to Hamas, if the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are intimidated and take a harder line to survive, does that tell us Israel should make more concessions? That’s sort of like saying that when next-door Germany was taken over by a new government in the 1930s, it was the ideal moment for France to give up Alsace and Lorraine.

Remember that concessions made in the 1990s to the Palestinian Authority did not advance a comprehensive peace, and that Egypt seems close to changing its peace treaty. Why should Israel expect that another agreement would not be overturned by some new revolution, change of mind or cynical long-term plan?

AND WHAT is the thrust of this article? Why, that instead of supporting Israel against the heightened strategic danger, the West should pressure it for more concessions (supposedly for its own good). In other words, all the events of the past year – correction: the past two decades – have taught these people absolutely nothing. That’s why Israel will ignore their suicidal advice.

Let me repeat what I’ve been saying for years: The main threat in the Middle East is revolutionary Islamism, as embodied by the Iran-Syria-Hamas-Hezbollah-Iraqi insurgent-Turkish government alliance, and also by the Egyptian and Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood.

The needed strategy is to assemble a counter- alliance of the US, Europe, the remaining moderate Arab regimes and Israel. This also means supporting the oppositions in Lebanon, Turkey and Iran.

The Egyptian revolution removes the most powerful Arab country countering the Islamists (and Iran). It will produce a new government that will not be allied to the US but will work more closely with its enemies. Eventually, a revolutionary Islamist government may emerge.

Even Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gets it, noting, “It is quite probable that hard times are ahead [in the Middle East], including the arrival at power of fanatics. This will mean fires for decades, and the spread of extremism.”

Yet almost everyone in the Western establishment is telling us this is a good thing.

Go figure.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. He blogs at www.rubinreports.blogspot.com


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