INTO THE FRAY: Middle East Meltdown

By MARTIN SHERMAN

With the Mid-East on the cusp of melt-down, imagine what Isaiah (5:20) would say of proponents of ‘regional integration’: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness…”

Worst Chemical Attack in Years; US blames Assad  – New York  Times, April 4, 2017.

Death toll climbs in clashes at Palestinian camp in Lebanon Reuters, April 9, 2017.

Deadly blasts hit Coptic churches in Tanta, AlexandriaAl Jazeera, April 10, 2017.

Five Sudanese soldiers killed in Yemen conflict – Reuters, April 12, 2017.

These four recent headlines, spanning barely a week, bear chilling testimony to the grim and grisly realities of the Arab world.

Barbaric business as usual  

After all, had the several score killed in the April 4th chemical attack in Northern Syria been beheaded, or lynched, or burnt alive or slaughtered by any one of the other gruesome methods by which hundreds of thousands of civilians have lost their lives in the Syrian Civil War over the last five years, it is more than likely that their deaths would have gone largely unnoticed and unreported.

Indeed, it would have been nothing more than brutal, barbaric business as usual for the region.

Across virtually the entire Arab world , from the Atlantic Ocean in the West to the Persian Gulf in the East; from the Sahara desert in the South to the upper reaches  of the Euphrates in the North, naked violence engulfs entire countries – Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya.  Others – like Lebanon and Egypt—are perennially on the cusp of its eruption; and in others (like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia), it lurks, simmering just below the surface, constrained only by the iron grip of police-state tyranny.

With painfully few—and dubious—exceptions (such as Iraq, teetering on the brink of failed state status and Tunisia, once the poster-child of the “Arab Spring”, now   increasingly threatened by Jihadi Salafi insurgents—see here and here), the Arab regimes are a noxious brew of theocratic tyrannies, military dictatorships and/or nepotistic monarchies. The violent exchanges that rage throughout the region occur between a wide range of protagonists and across a myriad of schisms: Sunni vs Shia, radicals vs. monarchs, rebel insurgents vs incumbent rulers, Islamist extremists vs traditional regimes.

Death, depravity and despotism

It is against this doleful and daunting backdrop that the fatal follies of the past and of the emerging prescriptions for the future course of what has been perversely dubbed “the peace process”, must be assessed.

For as growing numbers of erstwhile advocates of the two-state paradigm are becoming increasingly skeptical—indeed, even despairing—of its viability within any foreseeable future, rather than admit the enormity of their error, they are now turning to a new false deity, no less preposterous  or perilous than the tarnished chimera of two-statism.

This is the new cult of “regionalism”, which attempts to invert the twisted logic of two- statism—but leaves it just as twisted.

At the core, regionalism is the idea that, rather than strive for an agreement with the Palestinians as a necessary precursor to its acceptance by the states of the region, Israel can, and should, establish a pan-regional alliance with allegedly “moderate” states, driven by a recognition of common threats (the menace of Jihadi cohorts and the specter of nuclear Iran)—thereby paving its way to a resolution of the Palestinian issue.

Central to this new cult is the bizarre belief that Israel’s “integration” into region—which, as we have seen, is little more than a cesspool of death, depravity and despotism –is a goal both necessary and worthy—and one that the nation ought to strive to achieve.

Risible regionalism

Significantly, there are several glaring logical inconsistencies, non sequiturs and factual inaccuracies that plague the regional-integration doctrine.

First of all, as commonly presented, it almost inevitably entails circular reasoning – i.e. Israel should pursue relations with the moderate Arab states as a means of arriving at a resolution of the Palestinian problem; but the only way to arrive at such relations with the Arab world is to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.  So, resolving the Palestinian issue becomes both the objective of the regional-integration and the means to achieve it!

Thus, for instance in an article, Regional integration only way for Israel to achieve security, Atlantic Council senior fellow H.A. Hellyer writes: “…the only realistic way for Israelis to thrive in the long term is for them to be integrated into the wider region, beginning with a comprehensive and just peace settlement…

This statement is not only of dubious veracity—since Israel seems to be thriving rather well for almost two decades without (thankfully) being “integrated into the wider region—but seems to collide with a later contention by Hellyer, who writes elsewhere: “A sustainable peace for Israelis is predicated on their eventual integration into the wider region.”

So there you have it: “Integration into the wider region” must be preceded by “peace”; but “peace” must be predicated on (i.e. preceded by) “integration into the region”.  Thus, resolving the Palestinian issue (a.k.a. “peace”) is presented both as the cause and effect of integration –having to precede it on the one hand, while being predicated on it, on the other.

Confusing, isn’t it??

Puzzling Pardo

But perhaps one of the most puzzling and perturbing endorsements of the regional-integration paradigm came in a speech delivered by Tamir Pardo the former Head of Israel’s Secret Intelligence Service, Mossad.

In it, Pardo identified the emergence of “a rare confluence of interests between Israel and the moderate Arab states.”

Pointing to the drawbacks of relations that are entirely covert, he remarked: “Secret relations that take place “under the radar” are by their nature transitory.” Accordingly, he advocated Israel’s overt integration into the region: “The key to regional integration is to build economic and social bridges between countries, facilitating trade and tourism…. The deeper, the more open and above board relations are, the better suited they will be to survive the inevitable shocks and disruptions that take place from time to time…. Israel’s regional integration is a key to its very survival.

But he warned “None of this will happen without a resolution of the Palestinian problem.”

There are several disturbing defects—both conceptual and empirical–in this portrayal by Pardo, which seem to indicate that his undoubted ability in covert operations is not matched by a commensurate acumen for political analysis.

So, while Pardo may well be correct in his doubts as to the durability of secret relations, his faith in more overt one seems wildly at odds with Israel’s experience in past decades, causing one to puzzle over what could possibly be the basis  for his unfounded contention, and his reasons for making it.

Puzzling (cont)

Indeed, the examples of Iran and Turkey clearly indicate that robust overt “economic and social bridges” as well as “trade and tourism” are of little value if the regime should change. After all, the relations with pre-revolutionary Iran and pre-Islamist Turkey could hardly have been closer or more cordial.

Yet, with the ascent to power of Khomeini in Iran and Erdogan in Turkey these ties proved, indeed, “transitory”.  Of course, the metamorphosis was particularly dramatic and rapid in Iran, where Israel was transformed from being a trusted ally to a hated enemy almost immediately. In Turkey, the process was more gradual and less drastic, but there can be little comparison between the tight strategic ties of yesteryear and the hostile attitude that prevails today.

This volatility in relations between nations is one of the most profound flaws in the regional-integration proposal—especially when it is predicated on a resolution of the Palestinian issue. For while it is true that countries like Jordan, under the Hashemite dynasty,  Egypt under Sisi, and the incumbent regimes in the Gulf may face common threats, it would be more than a stretch to characterize this as sharing long-term mutual interests with Israel.

Indeed, a yawning gulf separates between the seminal values that define the differing societies – with regard to individual liberties, gender equality, social diversity, religious pluralism—which clearly portends ample room for renewed adversarial relations once the common threat has been eliminated.

Palmerston…on perpetual allies

Israel would do well to heed the words of British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston (1784-1865) on the fickleness of nations and their international ties “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow”.

This caveat is particularly pertinent in the case of the regional-integration paradigm. For in essence the deal to be struck is as follows: Israel is called upon to make perilous permanent concessions (to resolve the Palestinian issue) in exchange for a temporary alliance, based on the (ephemeral) word of rulers, who head not only some of the most decadent and despotic regimes on the planet, but also some of the most threatened.

Accordingly, there is little guarantee that the Arab entity that makes commitments toward Israel will be the entity called upon to honor them when need be. After all, what would be the value of any understanding on integration entered into in 2010 with say Syria, or Iraq or Libya…
Moreover, Israel was unable to prevent an Islamist takeover of Gaza.  It is, therefore, highly unlikely that it could prevent an Islamist takeover by a resurgent Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or an Islamist coup in Jordan.

Thus, given the fact that the concessions Israel is called upon to make to resolve the Palestinian issue, are largely irrevocable, while the pledges given it are largely retractable, any regime change in Cairo and even more so in Amman would have potentially disastrous ramifications.

With an Islamist state abutting the envisaged Palestinian state from the East, dispatching irredentist insurgents to destabilize any purportedly peaceable Palestinian regime in the territory evacuated by Israel; with a regime in Cairo no longer interested in, or capable of, countering the Jihadi warlords in Sinai, pressing against Israel’s 200 km frontier and the land route to Eilat, Israel is likely to rue any credence it placed in regional integration.

The most troubling of questions

But of course the most troubling of questions regarding the regional integration question is this: If the allegedly moderate regimes really desire Israel’s help in confronting formidable common threats (the menace of Jihadi cohorts and the specter of nuclear Iran), why would they predicate that help on precisely the same concessions from Israel that they demanded prior to those threats arising?  And were Israel to refuse those concessions would these “moderates” deny themselves the aid Israel could provide them—for the sake of the Palestinian-Arabs, for whom they have shown consistent disdain and contempt over decades?

Furthermore, if the “moderate” states see Israel’s strength as a determining factor in making it an attractive ally in combatting the common threat of radical Islamism, why would they insist on concessions that weaken it, and expose it to greater perils as a precondition to accepting its aid? Why would they press for concessions that are likely to fall—as they did in Gaza—to the very Jihadi elements that both they, and Israel, see as a common enemy?

Indeed one might ask: Why should Israel have to make any concessions so that the Arab states would deign to accept its aid in their battle against a grave common menace?

As Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland once sighed “It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.”   It sure would!

Regional integration: What Isaiah would say?

Of course one can only puzzle over what merit proponents of regional integration see in its implementation. Do they really want Israel to be absorbed into the morass of cruelty, corruption and cronyism that is the Middle East?  What values that pervade their Arab neighbors, would they urge it to adopt in order to “integrate”?

Misogynistic gender bias? Homophobic persecution of gays? Intolerance of social diversity? Repression of minority religious faiths?  Suppression political dissidence?

For were Israel to resist adopting these and other regional values, how on earth could it integrate into the region?

So, with the Mid-East on the cusp of melt-down, one can only imagine what Isaiah (5:20) would say of the proponents of regional integration:  Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

April 14, 2017 | Comments Off on INTO THE FRAY: Middle East Meltdown | 66 views

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3 Comments / 0 Comments

  1. xx

    The most cogent, sensible erudite article that I have read from Martin Sherman for many a long day. He is undoubtedly correct in everything he says, and it can be seen that he has given this a LOT of thought.

    Israel has a long-term ally, the strongest in the world, and should follow Palmerston’s dictums. He was an important one of the architects of Queen Victoria’s Widespread British Empire, with D’Israeli and Gladstone worthy successors, which at one time ruled over a fifth of the globe.

  2. “Misogynistic gender bias? Homophobic persecution of gays? Intolerance of social diversity? Repression of minority religious faiths? Suppression political dissidence?

    For were Israel to resist adopting these and other regional values, how on earth could it integrate into the region?”

    Subconsciously the left must support all these characteristics for the others!!!
    With the fall of the Berlin wall, communism and Stalin saw their last day BUT metastases were already mushrooming all over the western campuses of Europe and America! The petro$ was the missing ingredient!

  3. Concerning the Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon,

    http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/trend-lines/21854/why-authorities-can-t-impose-order-in-lebanon-s-largest-palestinian-refugee-camp

    it’s interesting that the actual government is Fatah, led by Abu Mazen (the same one who controls Pal areas in Judea and Samaria); and the place is otherwise a “no go” zone — with Lebanon cast in practically the same role Israel is in with the PA areas (except that Lebanon is not continually criticized by the UN).

    This is the reality of the “Palestinian State”:

    “Yet Ain el-Hilweh, which is the largest and most populous of the 12 camps in Lebanon, has been at the forefront of Fatah’s war on Islamist groups. Its reputation for routine clashes dates back to the 1990s, and less than two years ago—in July 2015—a Fatah general was assassinated in the camp, triggering a state of emergency. Last November, Lebanese authorities started building a wall near the camp, citing the national security threat posed by “fugitive terrorists,” but they quickly halted construction amid pressure from the Palestinian leadership…

    “This deterioration did not happen in a vacuum. Lebanese authorities have been criticized for negligence that fuels the fire. Poor living conditions and a dearth of basic infrastructure and services—electricity, potable water and proper sewage systems—mar life in the camps. UNRWA, the cash-strapped United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, says Palestinians in Lebanon face a higher rate of abject poverty than any other population with which it works. The grim reality of day-to-day life has fueled stigmas around Palestinian refugees, who already suffer from severe rights restrictions imposed by the Lebanese government.

    “Lebanon has intentionally perpetuated Palestinian refugees’ precarious situation, as a means to keep their presence temporary and thus prevent their naturalization,” says Atrache. “They’re isolated from the rest of the country.” Barred from working in some 20 professions, thousands of unemployed youth feel they have no choice but to turn to violence and radical groups. This activity compels Lebanese authorities to further isolate the camps, creating a vicious cycle. It’s no wonder, then, that episodic violence has come to define life in places like Ain el-Hilweh…”

    — op. cit.

    Israel has hope of dealing with its restive Arab minority, through partnership with Jordan and Egypt. Since Ted has brought up Isaiah’s predictions, I offer one of my own:

    Isaiah 19:
    [18] In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the LORD of hosts; one shall be called, The city of destruction.
    [19] In that day shall there be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the LORD.
    [20] And it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt: for they shall cry unto the LORD because of the oppressors, and he shall send them a saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them.
    [21] And the LORD shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the LORD in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the LORD, and perform it.
    [22] And the LORD shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal it: and they shall return even to the LORD, and he shall be intreated of them, and shall heal them.
    [23] In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians.
    [24] In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land:
    [25] Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.

    I don’t pretend that we are anywhere near attaining that prophecy (“Assyria”, by the way, in Isaiah’s time, included Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan). At least Jordan and Egypt have concluded peace treaties with Israel. That’s a good start.

    That said, I don’t expect to see such cooperation until after “World War III” — which, according to Zechariah 14, will consist of the United Nations attacking Israel, resulting in a nuclear exchange that will destroy the world order as we know it.

    Until that happens, I expect more meddling by the US in Israel — beginning with President Trump, through his chief advisor Jared Kushner; and later with President Kushner himself (aka, “The Antichrist”). Scary? Ridiculous? I would say,
    Unbelievable”; because just as Israel didn’t believe Isaiah, few today will believe this. I expect it to happen, whether people choose to believe it’s happening, or not.

    Meanwhile, the Middle East is indeed a mess; and I expect it to stay that way, for the “forseeable” future.

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