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Whether the outcome of the recent war in Lebanon was a Hezbollah non-victory is of little consequence. This title fight is not over as long as both sides are still standing, albeit bloodied. It seems that only the proponents of moderation and reform in the Arab world are "down for the count," as the Arab street is once again captivated by what Barry Rubin (Jerusalem Post) described as the "evil hope: the possibility of militarily destroying Israel.
This delusion has never completely lost popular support, but for most, it has simply faded to a distant dream. Since Israel is going to exist with or without official recognition, why not conduct business deals and even interview Israelis on satellite television? These were positive developments accomplished in recent years, by pragmatic moderates who were not so much interested in peace with Israel, as in making accommodations for their own sakes.
Reformers know that progress is inexplicably tied to Israel's standing in the region. Whether Israel is perceived as strong or weak, they will always be castigated as "traitors" by the Islamists when proposing internal progress or talking about peace. However, in the long run, a strong Israel, provided it doesn't abuse its power, is better for their cause. The reason is that a weak Israel provides too good a distraction for all societal ills and a useful means by which to silence reformers.
The outcome in Lebanon is the worst of both scenarios. Israel is seen as sufficiently strong to rain down horror and suffering on civilians, but too weak to actually stand-up to Hezbollah. This has conferred great credibility on Hezbollah as the "protector" of Lebanon and relegated even powerful reformers, like assassinated former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri's son, Saad, to condemning Israel forcefully, just to be heard over the Syrian rhetoric. This rhetoric condemns "the anti-Syrian forces that led the cedar revolution [for] collaboration with Israel." It's getting harder and harder to talk about the actual issues facing Lebanon as any "journalist or politician who dares to utter the truth is quickly sent to meet his or her Maker."
Interestingly, the death of the "evil hope" was the basis of the first "New Middle East," which drew heavily on the experience of the successful 1979 Camp David Peace Accords between Israel and Egypt, reached after both sides came to their senses. The central argument for this approach was that
"To achieve peace, the basic problems of the Middle East need to be approached realistically. First and foremost, we must all acknowledge the futility of war: the Arabs cannot defeat Israel on the battlefield; Israel cannot dictate the conditions for peace to the Arabs (Shimon Peres. The New Middle East, 49)."
In the wake of Hezbollah's victory, however, futility and cannot have become possibility and can. Rational governments look at Lebanon and wonder what defeat would have looked like, but even they -- through their state controlled media -- allow for Hezbollah's continued glorification. On the surface, it would appear this is against their interests. Why would these rulers allow the Islamists, especially the Shi'a variety, to gain strength? Do they really believe Syria's Bashar Assad that Israel, "...after tasting humiliation in the latest battles, your weapons are not going to protect you? The future generations in the Arab world will find a way to defeat Israel?" Or is it merely a way to shore up support at home and abroad? This is similar to the Saudi model, where all sides are leveraged to the Royal family's benefit. The state bribes the Islamists to take their jihad elsewhere, while convincing America that the state is in danger from the Islamists. The rulers gain popularity from exporting Islamism, while continuing to receive American support. Conveniently, while their citizen's search for that way to victory, their power will be unchallenged, and the real reformers are marginalized.
Even before these events, the Pro-Reform Arabic website, www.AAFAQ.org, said the window of opportunity was closing, as the region's regimes rejected reform. Amr Hamzawy (Daily Star) wrote, "In Libya and Egypt, as well as in other Arab countries, the Bush administration seems to be falling back on its traditional soft diplomacy approach with regard to democracy promotion." How much more so now that all the petrol-autocrats have to do is point to the results of President Bush's "democracy" experiment in Lebanon? Stability now, freedoms maybe later.
America is faced with continuing to support corrupt Arab establishments or with accepting Islamist takeovers of key regional allies through popular, ostensibly, "democratic" elections. This is not a fair choice, however, as expecting "democracy now" without free institutions and an educated populace is unrealistic. In the words of Thomas Jefferson: "if a nation expects to be ignorant and free? it expects what never was and never will be." America nonetheless, is still promoting such a policy in Iraq, creating conditions for more than a few jokes about restoring Saddam Hussein to power.
The ubiquitous " friendly dictator " of Middle Eastern, Latin American and African infamy should never be looked at favorably. While a recurring nightmare in American and to some extent Israeli policy, history has shown that sacrificing other people's freedom indefinitely at the altar of "stability" has not proven to be good long-term policy. At best it's a short term arrangement.
A heated exchange before Operation Iraqi Freedom at the Arab Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh is illustrative. At a gathering to discuss the region's reaction toward America's bid to oust Saddam Hussein, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi criticized the Saudis for "strike[ing] an alliance with the devil (America)." Without missing a beat, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah asked, "Who exactly brought you to power?" Now Gaddafi is that devil's "friend" while its former ally, Saddam Hussein, is on trial.
Whether or not America supported al-Qaddafi's 1969 coup, there is no ambiguity in Iran's coup of 1953, where America, at Britain's urging, toppled the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq. The results were more than twenty years of the Shah's oppressive rule followed by the Islamic Revolution. From the weeping, Western-oriented, but not controlled, Mossadeq, to Mullahs, Mahmood Ahmadi-Najad and Islamist revolutionaries hell-bent on an apocalyptic vision (a "New Middle East" below a mushroom cloud) -- the cost of denying the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people continues to haunt the world.
Israel had its own "shah" in the person of Yassir Arafat. Natan Sharansky described Israel's thinking in building an authoritarian regime next door:
"Arafat would deal with terrorists," [Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin assured his countrymen, "without a Supreme Court, without B'tselem [a human rights organization] and without all kinds of bleeding heart liberals." The undemocratic nature of Arafat's regime, far from being an obstacle to peace, was considered a crucial asset in the fight against terror (Natan Sharansky, The Case for Democracy, 152)."
It's important to remember that Force 17 is the same unit that provided the initial training for the "Shi'a bin Laden," Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah's long-serving Head of Special Operations.
America, at least rhetorically, has learned from its mistakes, but Israel has not. At the outset of the war against Iran and Syria's proxy army Hezbollah and ally Hamas, the Olmert government kindly put Assad on notice that there would be no consequences for his involvement in serving as the junior partner in Iran's operation, or for continuing to harbor Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled Mashaal. Military retribution, for many reasons, would have only served to plunge the entire region into an unnecessary war, although the violation of Syrian airspace with an IAF fly-over could have caused that anyway. Diplomatic pressure should have been used, especially, at the beginning of the conflict, before Israel had squandered its credibility in the rubble of Lebanon. Was Israel's main reason for not carrying out this action because it is still acting under the assumption that "it's better to deal with the dictator you know than the one you don't," leaving Syria with a free pass to do as it pleases?
In the past, Israel, tacitly accepted Syrian hegemony over Lebanon for the sake of "stability." The biggest problem in this Faustian pact was that Syria continued to incite hatred, fund terrorism and deny the Lebanese their political, economic, social and national rights, while the Assads created a "Greater Syria." As in the case of Iran, far too great a long-term cost for too brief a period of illusionary peace.
Even if Israel really wanted to renew this arrangement, Syria does not have control over Hezbollah. If Syria ever did, that ended with the overt occupation of Lebanon after Assad overreached in assassinating the popular Rafiq Hariri. In light of the world's indifference, Syrian fingerprints in place of boots allowed Syria to only gain by the recent fighting. Some Israelis, most notably Defense Minister Amir Peretz, have called for comprehensive negotiations instead of another behind the scenes deal. The question is what benefit would Syria derive? Presumably, "comprehensive" also means negotiations with Hamas and Iran during this "moment of opportunity." What would they gain? Ruben answers with a question, "Why compromise if you believe you can achieve total victory and wipe Israel off the map with armed struggle and the manipulation of Western opinion?"
Instead of talking about opportunities now, Olmert, Peretz and company would have been better served to take advantage of the unprecedented opportunity to break Hezbollah and Hamas militarily, and to enforce U.N. Resolution 1559. Amir Taheri (Asharq al-Awsat) prophetically said as much in his column of July 15.
If Israel ended "its campaign without disarming the Hezbollah it would, in effect, hand Iran and Syria an unexpected victory. This would also spell the end of Lebanon's new democratic government and the return in force of Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanon."
With Hezbollah's consolidation of power at home and popularity throughout the region, Syria's parasitic feeding-off of Lebanon can continue, especially now that South Lebanon is fast becoming a mini-Iran. Additionally, Syria has no territorial interests, notably the Golan Heights, as Hezbollah has no interest in the Shaaba Farms. These places are far more valuable as symbols. Of course, they "want" them but then what?
Hezbollah confronted this issue after Israel withdrew from South Lebanon six years ago. Instead of declaring mission accomplished the group quickly found a new reason for continuing their war with Israel. If Shaaba and all the Lebanese prisoners were released today, tomorrow Hezbollah would begin calling for an Israeli withdrawal from the "seven villages," and then perhaps all of Northern Israel. In Syria's case, the Alawite minority regime is well aware that without the excuse of perpetual war, it would almost certainly collapse, unable to govern itself let alone continue to dominate the country's Sunni majority. This has already sparked some bloody crackdowns in the past, such as the Hama Massacre. Outside of the residual prestige of Nasrallah and meddling in Iraq, the Syrian regime doesn't have anything going for it.
To America and especially Israel -- which has never bought into the democracy program -- the choice still seems simple: side with any regime that can guarantee security. Totalitarian regimes that promise to "hold the extremists in check," however, have only contained them within their own borders and oppressed their own people in the process. Believing these regimes now is not only pointless, but harmful. Arafat did not fight terrorism. The Shah's regime produced a terrorist state. Syrian "stability" enabled Hezbollah. Stability now, to often means neither freedom or security.
The only alternative is governmental and non-governmental engagement to ensure the gradual movement toward civil rights. Then democracy can continue with the construction of truly free institutions: those independent judiciaries, human rights organizations, and "bleeding hearts," that will serve as a bulkwork for positive change in the region. Most importantly, support is needed for school curriculum that educates towards peace and not hate, without which, none of the above is possible.
Without basic protections, such as the right to free speech, the Islamists will continue to dominate because they are the only ones talking or allowed to talk. There is no market place of ideas in Lebanon with (an armed) Hezbollah, or within the PA under Hamas. Even the revolutionary al-Jazeera toed the Hezbollah line during the fighting with little voice to other perspectives. In Lebanon, according to Rubin, those who criticize Hezbollah, Syria and Iran are quickly discovering "that their lives are in danger and the West won't help them? if you say anything against America or the West, you are pretty safe." In the PA, Ibrahim Abu Heija used the euphemism "weakened" in an article in the Hamas semiweekly al-Risala to describe how those moderate
"...voices that are heard from time to time, sometimes calling for making concessions, at other times calling for fortuitous ceasefires," will give Hamas "a significant margin to gain legitimacy for carrying out [armed] resistance on various fronts?" (Translation by MEMRI).
With moderates unable to effect change in an environment dominated by extremists, the Islamist threat is becoming increasingly radicalized. Unfortunately, Islamists don't substitute hubris with achievement. Nassrallh, with the exception of bombing Tel Aviv, not for lack of trying, delivered on his statements as Osama bin Laden before him. Can Olmert and Peretz et al. make the same claim for their bellicose and premature speeches? The difference between the sides is a lack of vision. Olmert saw the war in the same way many American civilians viewed the first Gulf War; a video game or something distant, easy and with few risks. He wanted to prove his "toughness" and then go on to make history by setting Israel's "final" borders unilaterally. Nassrallah, on the other hand, believes in the Islamist version of history which foretells the inevitable collapse of the West; of global conquest and submission of the entire world to Islamism. This world view may sound farfetched to Western ears, but it is something countless jihadists have and continue to die for. Who is willing to die for Olmert's image?
In this context, the defeat of Israel in 2006 is just the latest in the long list of Islamist victories, ranging from defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan, a less decadent but still godless enemy, to the election of a Pro-Islamist Spanish government, even though it has not yet proposed the reconstitution of al-Andalus.
This war was supposed to have been a rebuke of all that. For Israel, the end of Hezbollah's claim of victory in 2000 when it chased the IDF and SLA out of Lebanon by using cameras as much as bullets. For America, it was proof that Hezbollah's social-Jihad model could be destroyed, and with it Iran's global reach and dreams of regional hegemony. With Hezbollah's defeat, reformers would have gained most, being able to loudly proclaim that war is futile and replace dreams of martyrdom with those of a brighter future.
Instead, the organization, its state-sponsors and methods, have been vindicated. If Hassan Nasrallah found Israel to be "?weaker than a spider web," then what are people to think now that he held Northern Israel hostage, withstood the IAF and inflicted many casualties on the IDF for over a month?
If Islamists thought, after America's Sept. 11th and Britain's July 7th, that the good old days of Western ambivalence had ended, they merely need to look to their many supporters who took to the streets in America and especially Europe in support of Hezbollah and other accomplishments, such as statements by United Nation Secretary General Kofi Annan and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Seniora, to see that their strategy is working. Due in some part to insanity, the West has left it to Hezbollah to determine how long the cease-fire's duration will be, that is, how long does it take to deliver some new Zelzal-2 missiles from Iran?
Throughout this war, there was talk of a new Middle East, not merely the return of the status quo. However, the reignited "evil hope" will continue to encourage Israel's destruction. Therefore, another war is inevitable, if only to prove that jihad achieves martyrdom, not total victory. Unfortunately, those caught in the "spider's web," the reformers and moderates who speak of progress and peace, are also being brushed away.
Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000507.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.
Replies: 3 comments
No where in the two words, 'cease fire' can we see the coveted word peace. Similarly, the Hezbollah today, could morphize into some new entity of Islamic extremism so until the root causes of the enmity between the Arab states and Israel are fully addressed, peace is only a dream.
Within and outside the Middle East there are entities that profit from conflict and thus peace is undesirable. This too must be addressed before peace is truly attainable and sustainable.
Israel means both economic power and hope for the Middle East, but that is only when there is harmony between Islam and Israel. Endless conflict and war will never lead to that harmony. There must be a cooperative unity within the region if it or any of its member states, are to survive economically and sociologically over the next half-century. When the oil is gone, unless there is a Middle East community of nations, survival of any one nation will be difficult in the extreme.
Posted by Waddell Robey @ 09/10/2006 04:41 PM CST
It's always the same in the so called "peace" sites that clearly are in support of the Israeli views. Peace will never happen as long as people support the idea that Israel is better than the arabs. Israel's indiscriminate destruction in Lebanon has destroyed any hope of peace for many years to come. Stop branding the arabs as shia and extremists and whatever else you choose to say, it is a game that no longer works for Israel in causing havoc in the arab world. The arabs have been awaikened by the barbarisim of Israel and it's american ally. I said in another commentary, Israel was militarly DEFEATED in the so called war on Hizballah. HISBALLAH again made a mockery of your invincable army. So like I said before, if Israel and it's supporters want peace, then accept the arab propsal and stop trying to put the blame on the arabs. ISRAEL AND THE BLIND SUPPORT BY THE US IS CAUSING THE WAR AND INSTABILITY IN THE MIDDLE EAST. ISRAEL WITHDRAW TO THE 1967 BORDER AND FIND A SOLUTION FOR THE PALESTINIAN REFUGEES. THAT'S THE ONLY WAY PEACE CAN BE ACHIEVED.
Posted by Mike Jebara @ 09/18/2006 10:57 PM CST
Very true Mike.
Posted by john @ 10/11/2006 02:56 PM CST
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