Voices from the Arab press: Israeli threats of war with Iran psychological or inevitable?

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

 HYPING IRAN’S new hypersonic ballistic missile ‘Fattah,’ with text reading ‘400 seconds to Tel Aviv,’ seen on a street in Tehran, June 8.  (photo credit: Majid Asgaripour/WANA via Reuters)
HYPING IRAN’S new hypersonic ballistic missile ‘Fattah,’ with text reading ‘400 seconds to Tel Aviv,’ seen on a street in Tehran, June 8.
(photo credit: Majid Asgaripour/WANA via Reuters)

Israeli threats of war with Iran: Psychological or inevitable?

An-Nahar, Lebanon, June 16

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Recently, Israeli military commentators have written numerous articles about a growing peril from Iran and its primary partner in the region, Hezbollah. These articles have discussed different scenarios of Hezbollah raiding Israel’s northern border and launching massive missile strikes of up to 2,000 missiles each day, from a range of directions. Additionally, Israeli pundits have referenced intensive maneuvers and the training of Israeli forces in anticipation of a war that is believed to be only a matter of time due to Iran’s march toward a nuclear bomb. Some may interpret these recent articles and leaks concerning Israel’s readiness for war as an attempt to scare Iran and its proxies away from Israel’s borders. Others, however, may see them as a sign that war is only a matter of time. It could even be an attempt to accustom the Israeli public to the thought of war, in addition to preparing them both psychologically and operationally for it. 

Additionally, these stories may be sent as a message to the US and other international players about the severity of the current situation and Israel’s willingness to go to war in order to protect its interests, particularly with respect to the current backchannel negotiations with Iran. Furthermore, it is possible that these stories and leaks were also created to raise Israel’s deterrence. It would be foolish to believe that any reporting related to the Israeli military, its plans, and training programs could have been published without prior authorization from Israeli authorities. Even the statements of both retired and active IDF officers must be vetted by the military censor beforehand. There is no exemption for anybody operating in the Israeli media, be they citizens or noncitizens. Therefore, what appears in these articles and reports may only be viewed as contributions, however minor, to an Israeli strategy that serves the country’s military and national interests. It is important to be cognizant of these facts when trying to read between the lines and interpret these stories objectively. Optimal analyses of these reports should take into account Israeli military doctrine, recent regional and international events, and any potential factors that could incite a war. 

According to Israeli military doctrine, there are two types of wars: preemptive and defensive. Preemptive wars are those in which Israel strikes first in order to preempt a perceived strategic threat or to thwart an adversary’s acquisition of a qualitative military edge. Examples here include the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Defensive wars are those in which Israel is forced to fight in self-defense after it has been attacked. Examples include the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 2006 Lebanon War. 

Currently, it does not appear that Iran or Hezbollah are about to mount a military assault on Israel that would necessitate a major USA-Western intervention. This is evidenced by their lack of retaliation to Israel’s recent air raids in Syria. Iran has instead chosen to keep the conflict with Israel in the realm of a shadow war of espionage in the Persian Gulf and occasionally via armed groups in Gaza. As for the chance of Israel initiating an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, it is plausible yet it poses numerous associated risks, not least of which is the prospect of military action without sufficient American support due to its entanglement in the Ukraine conflict, Chinese expansion, and a host of other matters. Israel is also aware that it cannot predict the duration of such a war. It is unlikely that such a war will be short-lived, as there is no guarantee that Iran will rationally cease its missile strikes after a brief period and not launch a full-blown campaign of attrition. 

 CHILDREN BROWSE books at the Cairo International Book Fair, with the participation of about 51 countries in the 54th edition of this fair, in Egypt, Jan. 31.  (credit: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS)
CHILDREN BROWSE books at the Cairo International Book Fair, with the participation of about 51 countries in the 54th edition of this fair, in Egypt, Jan. 31. (credit: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS)

Israel must consider its options carefully if it is faced with a protracted confrontation with Iran. Its recent history suggests that it must take decisive action before any conflict evolves to the point of requiring the use of its nuclear arsenal. It must consider all diplomatic options available to it, both publicly and through trusted backchannels, before embarking on any military adventure. Ultimately, it must determine whether it is prepared to modify its doctrine and come to terms with the reality of a potential nuclear Iran, or whether it will take the military initiative and attempt to prevent its foe from acquiring nuclear capabilities.

In sum, it seems that these Israeli reports accompanying the maneuvers and training exercises are likely pieces of a larger psychological battle aimed at intimidating Iran and its proxies as well as persuading the Americans to enforce stricter terms on the Iranian regime. War is the last resort for Israel, given the associated risks of entering a military confrontation with an adversary of this caliber. Victory in armed conflict is no longer as attainable for Israel as it once was, due to the development of technology and the changing nature of warfare. Consequently, Israel faces difficult decisions that can influence its place and power within the region. – Riad Kahwaji 

What does peace with Israel mean?

Okaz, Saudi Arabia, June 15

Despite the four-decade-old peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, an Egyptian soldier opened fire on Israeli soldiers, killing three and injuring several others. Upon investigation, it was revealed that the perpetrator was only in his early 20s. Responses on social media, from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, quickly praised the young man as a national hero, demonstrating the underlying tensions inherent to any peace treaty between Israel and an Arab country. Neither leadership has publicly addressed the real reason for the attack, yet it is clearly understood by all parties. 

The fundamental question that goes unasked at each peace treaty between Arabs and Israelis is: What is peace with Israel? Is coexistence with Israel comparable to that of other countries like Iran, Zimbabwe, or Korea? To date, Israel has repeatedly resisted and refused to discuss peace initiatives put forward by the Arab world that consisted of a solution to the Palestinian problem. Despite efforts to form peace with other Arab nations unilaterally, it seems that Israel only wishes to maintain diplomatic relations with these governments, not their people. 

This prompts another query: Is Israel a state without a people, seeking peace between governments instead of between people? Ultimately, peace among nations must be achieved between peoples and concluded by governments to address political, not existential, issues. Many of us did not reflect much on the concept of “peace” given its obviousness. Certain Arab countries have normalized relations with Israel, established diplomatic ties with it, and opened mutual embassies. But one must ask: Has peace truly come between the peoples of these countries and the people of Israel in its obvious sense? Could it be that one day will come when Israel could rid itself of its robust military forces and become self-sufficient in the region? In other words, can Israel ever become a normal country in the Middle East? What are the shared natural aspects that could make Israel part of the region? Does the phrase “Middle East” hold any cultural connotations that could unite peoples? And what is the cultural foundation that could allow for coexistence between the peoples of the Middle East and Israel? 

The Arab world stretches from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean and encompasses many political entities, yet binds together a single cultural bloc. This powerful shared cultural identity is evidenced in the likenesses of their language, faith, history, literature, customs, traditions, and aspirations. Commonplace occurrences such as the book fairs of Beirut, Cairo, Medina, Riyadh, Kuwait, Marrakesh, Amman, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi display similar authors, while musical compositions from Damascus evoke joy in the people of Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, the Gulf, Palestine. A fatwa issued in Cairo resonates throughout the entire region. These undeniable similarities demonstrate the unified culture of the Arab world. What is the implication of this truer understanding of the region? Israel realizes that peace with the Arab peoples is not a natural state of affairs but rather one that must be brought about through normalization. [Former Israeli primer minister] Ariel Sharon once declared that while the Arabs had accepted Israel’s power, they had not accepted its right to exist.

Consequently, Israel seeks to obtain a peace imposed by American influence on Arab governments which will then enable it to exist in a world with which it is otherwise unconnected. It is like transferring a herd of camels to the Arctic, providing them with a tight reserve in which to live, severing any relationship with the outside world. As long as the camels are provided with appropriate protection, they can survive, although they must remain within their dedicated reserve until they are either repatriated or transformed into penguins. – Abdullah Bin Bakheet

Artificial Intelligence as psychiatrist

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, June 16

My son, Tariq, sent me snippets of ChatGPT that show how some patients prefer AI over support they would otherwise receive from a psychiatrist. For the last six decades, technologists have been on a quest to crack the holy grail of mental healthcare: Could it be a computer that listens to our problems and assists us in understanding ourselves, helping us to untangle our conflicts? The recent attempt to simulate Sigmund Freud using AI illustrates the value – and risk – of relying on technology to improve psychological well-being. Companies such as Woebot and Koko aim to replicate the experience of a live human therapist using technology. Despite the impressive technological advances, however, mental health experts caution that there is no magical solution for our issues and challenges. The complexity of the human soul is too great to be understood through an integrated social, biological, and psychological lens. An appreciation of life’s histories, traumas, pains, and experiences – of what we’ve learned, wanted, and rejected – all come into play.

Nevertheless, experts suggest that AI and other technologies may still be able to deliver tangible benefits to patients despite their limitations. AI-enabled technologies such as telemedicine, crisis hotlines, and self-help tools can provide effective and targeted psychological support. For example, AI facilitates reframing a patient’s negative thoughts into positive ones by encouraging individuals to view mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than giving in to the belief that such lapses are damning. In this way, people of all backgrounds can learn to confidently address their mental health issues, reframe their thoughts, and take control of their actions to enrich the quality of their lives. Experts in technology and mental health care are posing serious questions and expressing doubt about whether AI could act as more than an assistant in psychiatry. Using AI as a “computer therapist” to openly discuss intimate and sensitive issues is not a viable solution. Talking to oneself, sending texts, and other forms of self-help are not long-term cures. However, digital therapies are not intended to replace human specialists but rather supplement their efforts. Modern technology can assist even when doctors are unavailable. AI could also be used to assist with training new volunteers and interns, as well as facilitating secure and confidential recordkeeping. Ultimately, AI could potentially help us uncover mysterious aspects of the human psyche and behaviors unknown to date. – Khalil Fadel 

Israel’s foreign think tank problem

Al-Ittihad, UAE, June 14

Israel is now experiencing a shift away from the political and strategic think tanks that have defined its governance for many years. These include the Begin-Sadat Center, the Institute for National Strategic Studies, and the Herzliya Forum, among others. These institutions have been responsible for many initiatives, such as Israel’s unilateral separation plan which led to a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, as well as ideas to divide territorial lands between Egypt and Israel. Moreover, governments in the early 1990s pushed scores of economic peace projects, with many of them now being recycled and regenerated. Recently, the Kohelet Forum, an international policy think tank with strong connections to a variety of current and former MKs, has put forward a judicial reform plan that has been met with ongoing protests by the Israeli public. Kohelet’s figureheads, who are primarily US-based, intended to affect the government’s policy through research and lobbying in Israel. Sadly, this decision led to a state of political and security unrest, prompting ongoing calls for the plan to be rescinded. 

The question arises: Has Israel become overly reliant on think tanks, mostly American ones, in dictating its policy? Does Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intend to convey a message to domestic political, military, and economic experts, letting them know that they have been replaced by their American counterparts? The reality is that this shift toward American research and lobbying institutions is on an upward trajectory around the globe. This is what’s occurring in Israel, which explains the current level of discord in the nation. Some in the Israeli military and diplomatic circles find the current development concerning. It puts Israel’s national security, policies, and intelligence approaches at risk, especially since the role of the Kohelet Forum in shaping Israeli policy is still unclear. Many of the policies adopted by the current Israeli government have been devised and designed not by domestic institutions and experts but rather by American strategists working for private consulting firms and think tanks. This type of outside interference can have unintended consequences on the function of Israel’s national security, and we are already seeing indications that it is weakening the Israeli economy. – Tarek Fahmy 

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.