Seize the Moment (Extract)

Extract from an article in Issue 22, February 16, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. The ramifications of the war in Gaza go far beyond the narrow confines of the Gazan battlefield and Israel's relations with Hamas. The war has not only inflicted a resounding defeat on Hamas and wrought horrendous loss of life and physical damage on Gaza and its people. It has also shaken the regional strategic architecture. The Middle East has undergone dramatic change in recent years. The core of Sunni Arab states has contracted in terms of regional influence as the non-Arab states of the region - Iran, Turkey and Israel - have filled the void at the Arabs' expense. The crushing of Iraq by the United States and its allies opened the Arab East to Iranian strategic penetration the likes of which have not been seen in the modern era. An arc of Iranian influence, the so-called "Shi'ite Crescent," stretches from Tehran via Iraq and Syria to the two Iranian outposts in the Eastern Mediterranean, Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Israel could not have continued to show restraint in the face of the eight-year long Hamas rocketing of its citizens in the south, without projecting a lack of Israeli resolve and resilience. Such feebleness would have strengthened the hand of all the radicals in the region, who seek the gradual attrition of Israel's staying power, leading towards its ultimate destruction. Given the wider regional implications, Israel's use of massive force was only to be expected. Israel demonstrated military supremacy, political leadership and national solidarity more impressively than at any time since the Six-Day War in 1967. As a result, its deterrence towards all and sundry, from Gaza to Tehran has been significantly enhanced, especially after its rather mediocre military performance against Hizballah in the summer of 2006. In its war against Hizballah, Israel inflicted enough damage to deter the Shi'ite militia from any further action against it for at least the two and a half years since then, even throughout the Gaza war, during which Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah could muster no more than verbal bluster in solidarity with his Palestinian brethren. Nevertheless, Israelis were deeply disappointed and demoralized by the irresolute and unconvincing performance of their military in Lebanon. Nasrallah could credibly have claimed a victory of sorts for the muqawama, the asymmetric sub-conventional warfare of terrorism and rocketry that Israel was seemingly incapable of dealing with effectively. Israel's regional posture was badly bruised and its deterrence undermined, not so much in the eyes of Hizballah itself, as in the rest of the neighborhood. In the popular Arab consciousness, Iran and the radical axis were on a roll and the anxiety levels of the moderate regimes in the Arab world rose accordingly. Israel learned the lessons of 2006 and the mistakes of Lebanon were not repeated in Gaza. On the contrary, the IDF passed its recent test with flying colors. It delivered a crushing defeat to Hamas and to the concept of muqawama. These last two confrontations should not simply be added to the roster of Arab-Israeli wars. Though they were fought between Israel and Arab enemies, they were both bouts between Israel and Iran, the new non-Arab contender for regional hegemony, via its proxies Hizballah and Hamas. Prof. Asher Susser is a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University's Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. Extract from an article in Issue 22, February 16, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.