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
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.
Arabic-speaking country is likely to be wracked with internal violence,
conflict, disorder and slow socio-economic progress for years, even decades, to
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.
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.
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.
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
Foreign editorial writers may never admit it, foreign
correspondents may thunder doom, but nonetheless Israel and its security are in
The writer, a professor, is the director of the Global
Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center.