Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon speaks at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 14, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With Israel and a good part of the Sunni Arab world today sharing both common threats and opportunities, the term “Israeli-Arab” conflict is no longer applicable, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Monday.
“Today – at the present moment, in the meantime – there is not an Israeli-Arab conflict: There is an Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Ya’alon said at a conference at the Hebrew University’s Truman Institute marking the 40th anniversary later this month of the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement.
And none of that would have been possible, added Ya’alon – number three on the Blue and White Party list – had Egypt not removed itself from the circle of countries at war with Israel 40 years ago.
“When we look back at the agreement, there has not been a threat of conventional war against Israel since it was signed,” said the former IDF chief of staff. “No Arab leader or Arab army dared to challenge Israel as army-against-army, and the Yom Kippur War was the last war the Arab leaders initiated against us.”
He said that the signing of the peace agreement essentially put an end to the nationalist pan-Arabist threat to Israel, noting that a month before the agreement was signed on March 26, 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in Iran heralding the Islamic revolution in that country.
And that revolution, Ya’alon said, gave support and a strong back wind to all the variations of Islamic radicalism – be it Sunni or Shia – that the region has witnessed since: from an increase in the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, to the rise of Hamas and al-Qaeda. The vacuum created by the end of the nationalist pan-Arabist ideology was filled by a radical Islamist ideology, he said.
But this has also created opportunities for Israel, since – starting with the Egyptian peace accord, and even before that in 1970 when a de facto arrangement was established with Jordan – the overall enmity of the Arab world against Israel has declined and relations have developed, mostly behind closed doors, with the Sunni Arab world.
The situation is not one of “normalization,” Ya’alon said, “but they are no longer telling stories about the extremist Zionist empire that wants to reign from the Euphrates to the Nile.”
Regarding peace agreements, Ya’alon said, it is important for Israel to look in a sober manner at past agreements, because it has had some positive experiences – for example the accords with Egypt and Jordan – and some negative ones, such as the experience with Palestinians, which was based on the idea of trading land for peace.
“Instead of land for peace, it has become the territories in return for terrorism or land in return for rockets in the South – and this leads me to the conclusion that we have to be careful when talking about agreements,” Ya’alon said. “Peace is made out of interests, with clear thinking and not out of wishful thinking or illusions.”
Ya’alon said that the peace with Egypt should be seen within the prism of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Iron Wall, the idea the Revisionist leader articulated in a famous 1923 article that the Arabs will give up trying to destroy the Jewish presence in Israel when they realize they cannot. He noted that Moshe Beilinson, a Mapai member and deputy editor of Davar, articulated pretty much the same idea in an editorial he wrote at the beginning of the Arab Riots in 1936.
The answer to the question of how long Jews here will have to fight, die and live by the sword, Ya’alon quoted Beilinson as saying, “is until the last of our enemies understand that we are here forever – that will be the end of the battle.”
Peace, Ya’alon said, “will come out of strength and not out of weakness; out of the creation of mutual interests between Israel – Jewish, democratic, prosperous and ethical – and its neighbors.”
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