The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Double Threat

Rather than focusing on the day to day tactics of the Israeli-Hamas conflict, Bernard Lewis looks at broader strategic issues and sees a very small glimmer of hope for reconciling the Arab crescent to the existence of Israel. His solution has nothing to do with the Arabs acceptance of an infidel (Jewish) presence in their region. Rather it has everything to do with the existential threat that Iran poses to the Arab dictatorships of the region.

Lewis begins by discussing the reasons behind Egypt’s long-lasting peace treaty with Israel. During the later 1970s, Anwar Sadat was driven to make peace with the “Zionist entity” not because he loved the Jews, but because he felt his country was threatened by the broad Soviet presence in his country. Lewis writes:
Sadat realized that, on the best estimate of Israel’s power and the worst estimate of its intentions, Israel was far less a danger to Egypt than the Soviet Union was. He therefore decided on his epoch-making peace initiative.

Despite many difficulties, the 1979 peace accord signed by Egypt and Israel has endured ever since -- at best cool, sometimes frosty, but preserved for the mutual advantage of both sides. It was even extended with the signing of a peace agreement between Israel and Jordan in 1994 and informal dialogue between Israel and some Arab governments.

In Iran, Sadat’s murderer is venerated as a hero of Islam, and a street in Tehran is named after him.

In several Arab countries at the present time, and in wider Arab circles, there is a growing perception that once again they face a danger more deadly and menacing than Israel at its worst: the threat of militant, radical Shiite Islam, directed from Iran.

Double Threat

This is seen as a double threat. Iran, a non-Arab state with a long and ancient imperial tradition, seeks to extend its rule across the Arab lands toward the Mediterranean. And it is an attempt to arouse and empower the Shiite populations in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf and other Arabian states, long subject to Sunni domination. Iranian tentacles are spreading westward into Iraq and beyond by the northern route into Syria and Lebanon and by the southern route to the Palestine territories, notably Gaza.

This double threat, of Iranian empire and Shiite revolution, is seen by many Arabs, and more particularly by their leaders, as constituting a greater threat than Israel could ever pose -- a threat to their very societies, their very identity. And some Arab rulers are reacting the same way that Sadat did to the Soviet threat, by looking toward Israel for a possible accommodation.

During the war in Lebanon in 2006 between Israel and the Iranian-supported Shiite militia Hezbollah, the usual Arab support for the Arab side in a conflict was strikingly absent. It was clear that some Arab governments and Arab peoples were hoping for an Israeli victory, which did not materialize. Their disappointment was palpable.

If Barack Obama’s diplomatic initiatives focus on anything, they should emphasize the threat that Iran poses to Arab dictatorships (with special emphasis on Saudi Arabia). Existential threat tends to focus the mind and a Hillary-run State Department might very well use diplomatic bribery to convince the Arabs that peace with Israel is the best defense against Iran.

The sad reality, however, is that the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. After years of cultivating virulent Jew-hatred among their masses, it will be difficult to establish détente with Israel. Worse, their ideology, Islam, offers relatively little room to maneuver. But you never know. If Obama is savvy enough to realize that peace in the Middle East will be driven by the Arab’s fear of Iran, and Hillary is cynical enough to do what has to be done (and offer the necessary “bribes” to get it done), the problem just might become more manageable.

My own feeling is that the Arab-Israeli problem will remain intractable throughout the remainder of my lifetime. But clever use of Iran as a boggie man might just change the facts on the ground.


I think that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are smart and pragmatic enough to recognize that a guy like John Bolton presents just the kind of realistic diplomatic thinking that might make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict somewhat less intractable. In today’s WaPo, Bolton states:
Let's start by recognizing that trying to create a Palestinian Authority from the old PLO has failed and that any two-state solution based on the PA is stillborn. Hamas has killed the idea, and even the Holy Land is good for only one resurrection. Instead, we should look to a "three-state" approach, where Gaza is returned to Egyptian control and the West Bank in some configuration reverts to Jordanian sovereignty. Among many anomalies, today's conflict lies within the boundaries of three states nominally at peace. Having the two Arab states re-extend their prior political authority is an authentic way to extend the zone of peace and, more important, build on governments that are providing peace and stability in their own countries. "International observers" or the like cannot come close to what is necessary; we need real states with real security forces.

Bolton goes on to delineate all of the objections to this concept, but if Iran can be used as a forcing function and the Arab league gets behind the idea, it actually could work, Remember, the Palestinians claims to “their country” is an historical fiction. There was never a separate Palestinian state, never a President, prime minister, or parliament. Arab people lived in the region, but so did Jews, Christians and many others. Palestine only existed because the British put a name on a map. Therefore, absorption into viable states (Egypt and Jordan) is the only reasonable “roadmap” to take.

If Barack Obama really wants change and if, as he states, he wants to move away from the "tired approaches of the past" he might (gasp) take the time to consider Bolton's words.