The Region: Persistent illusions

Barry Rubin , THE JERUSALEM POST Oct. 21, 2007

The alternative Western view of Middle East strategy – so influential in academic, media, and to some extent diplomatic circles – has a six-point program that boils down to:

    Make deals with Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizbullah;
    ally with Muslim Brotherhoods; and
    split Iran and Syria.

The more extreme advocates of this approach are sympathetic to these forces, seeing them as more misunderstood victim than aggressive oppressor; the more moderate among them merely think the radicals can be moderated through concessions and confidence-building measures. In other words, they are not really adversaries, but either already good guys or can be converted into playing that role.

By this analysis, those who claim these radical regimes and movements are dangerous due to their radical ideology, violent methods, and totalitarian goals are standing in the way of solving issues quickly, painlessly and peacefully. They are warmongers perpetrating needless conflicts.

This analysis generates tremendous anger against the US and Israel or anyone else who tries to explain that this approach will not work. Through this transformation, those who generate grievances that create terrorists – or who don’t want to give in to the terrorists’ demands – are the real villains.

I have often addressed these claims in detail, for example, regarding; Hamas ( and; Iran (; Syria at the first link above and in my book The Truth About Syria; Muslim Brotherhoods (; and Hizbullah (

This last article also addresses the idea that Israel is the cause of all of these problems because it makes Muslims and Arabs angry – as if the main issue were not the battle for power over the direction of their own societies.

Of course, no amount of factual presentation seems to penetrate the web of illusion, but one can only keep trying. So let’s focus today on two of these points: the Muslim Brotherhoods and the Syrian-Iran alliance.

THE BROTHERHOODS, particularly those in Egypt and Jordan, are said to be moderate because they do not directly commit terrorist violence (though they do endorse it) and participate in elections. This does not prove, however, that they are moderate, merely that they are not stupid.

Rather, they abstain from a terrorist strategy because they fear the local regimes which keep a tight hold on them. And they participate in elections not because they are devotees of democracy but because they realize that it furthers their cause. Moreover, it is laughably easy to show the contrast between their English-language interviews or Web sites and the continuing radicalism of their Arabic statements, doctrine and goals.

Now the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has produced a political platform providing its vision for Egypt. And it looks even more like Islamist Iran than one would have suspected. The key proposal is for a committee of Muslim clerics to pass on the validity of all legislation and government policies, just as it is done in Teheran.

By this definition, then, Islamic law, as interpreted by the clerics, would govern Egypt. This in itself shows that its goal is an Islamist state and not a pluralist or democratically governed one.

In addition, neither a woman nor a non-Muslim can be either president or prime minister. And the peace treaty with Israel would be abrogated.

But this was not, contrary to media reports, the first such platform. The 2004 version states: ‘Our mission is to implement a comprehensive reform in order to uphold God’s law in secular as well as religious matters.’

The program includes the following points, as explained by Adel Guindy in ‘The Islamization of Egypt’ in the MERIA Journal, Sept. 2006 (

    • ‘The media should be cleansed of anything that disagrees with the decrees of Islam.’

    • The economic system should be ‘derived from Islam.’

    • ‘The focus of education should be on learning the Quran by heart.’

    • ‘The Zakah [Islamic private charitable] institutions should be in charge of distributing wealth and income.’

    • ‘Women should only hold the kind of posts that would preserve their virtue.’

    • ‘Our culture has to be derived from Islamic sources.’

AS FOR THE Syria-Iran alliance, the West has been trying to break it for a quarter-century, without success. On December 29, 1983, David Ottoway wrote in The Washington Post: ‘Western and Arab sources [feel] that the Syrian-Iranian friendship is unnatural, short-term and not without risks to the highly security-conscious government of President Hafez al-Assad because of the strident Islamic edge to the Iranian presence here and its thrust into the Arab world where Syria also has ambitions.’ But Damascus and Teheran both understand how mutually beneficial, natural, and long-term is their partnership.

Writing in 1989, Patrick Seale, Hafez al-Assad’s scribe, described the alliance as a masterstroke, creating an ‘axis from Teheran through Damascus to South Lebanon. From the moment Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power in early 1979, Assad judged it a supreme Arab interest to befriend him.’

Obviously this was no impulsive error which Syrian or Iranian leaders are eager to correct.

Someone who understands Middle East politics better than naïve Western observers is Saad Hariri, a leader of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims and of the government coalition, whose father was murdered by the Syrians. The West, Hariri explained, might as well ‘engage with al-Qaida.’

By being so eager to appease the extremists, Hariri warned, ‘The message that is being sent today to our part of the world is you can’ subvert neighboring regimes through terrorism ‘and get away with it.’ The result would be ‘There will only be terrorism, and extremist regimes like Syria will flourish.’

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center at IDC Herzliya and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs.

October 22, 2007 | 1 Comment »

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  1. If Debka can be believed, there is an important deal being made that trades the removal of US missiles from East European soil for a pledge from Russia to stop providing nuclear expertise and material to Iran and to join with the US in some harsh sanctions or even an attack against Iranian facilities which are nearing completion.

    This is the break that many have been hoping for and this refers back to the status of the spheres of world influence question between the US and Russia. The answer has been given if this report proves to be true.

    A lot could happen to derail any agreement and, as we know, Russia is an unreliable partner and acts exclusively in its own best interest. I think that Russia realizes that a nuclear Iran and a world without Israel is not in their best interest. Let’s hope that this translates into real action against the Islamo-fascist state of Iran.

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