Monday, April 11, 2011

The Arab Spring - and Israel's Future

Michael Scheuer (at The National Interest) rails against what he sees as the short-sightedness of both Obama and the pro-Israel Likudnik commentators who have cheered on Obama's support of democracy movements vs. Arab autocrats:
if al-Assad is deposed, the lack of democracy in Syria will be the least of the West’s problems. The media and political leaders, each deathly afraid of even questioning the intent of anyone mouthing the word “democracy,” have made scarce mention of the fact that the one thing the Arab spring is unquestionably bringing is the destruction of Israel’s physical security, which has long depended on the maintenance of border-controlling tyrannies in Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. The end of Mubarak regime’s has made the Egypt-Gaza border more porous, and the elimination of Assad’s Baathist regime would weaken Syria’s willingness—and perhaps ability—to control its border with Israel. This would leave only Jordan, which is a far weaker regime than those in Egypt or Syria.

If the West’s mindless democracy mongering succeeds in helping to topple the three Levant tyrannies in favor of Islamist-influenced regimes, Israel will face greatly increased infiltration and rocket attacks from mujahideen in each country, a costly and bloody form of war-making for Israel to fight and for which its WMD deterrent is largely irrelevant. Perhaps most ironic is that major pro-Israel U.S. pundits—Max Boot, Eliot Cohen, Charles Krauthammer, Elliot Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz, and William Kristol, for example—have been shaking their pom-poms for the destruction of Arab tyrannies, an aspiration which, if attained, will—as did their support for destroying Saddam—put their signatures on Israel’s death warrant.

The real boogeyman, in Scheuer's view, is the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, whom Hafez al-Assad provided some breathing space in Syria after the 1982 Hama massacre by building mosques and schools and encouraging Quranic education.

Now, of course, Islamist groups seem to be on the ascendant in Egypt.  The Muslim Brotherhood already chalked up a political win in the recent referendum on constitutional amendments there.  Meanwhile, the Western media have been headlining articles about the re-emergence of harder-core Salafi groups in Egypt.  Other analysts besides Scheuer (most prominently, Patrick Seale) have warned about sectarian backlash from Sunnis against Alawis in Syria if the Assad regime were to fall.  One might deduce that the emergence of a more Sunni-Islamist regime in Syria would be bad news for Shia Hezbollah in Lebanon - as well as for the Syria-Iran ties that flourished under Assad - which Israel might see as a plus.  But with the recent outreach by Egypt to the Islamic republic of Iran, well . . . there's an interesting twist in the usual calculus.  And a pro-Sunni regime in Damascus might offer more support to Hamas.

The months to come are going to see an Israel that feels increasingly embattled and isolated in its own backyard, at a time when its main and most powerful ally is overextended militarily (yet, even with that, evidently considering maintaining an expensive presence in Iraq) and dealing with major fiscal problems.  If Egypt and Syria were to voice greater defiance of Israel, could the US guarantee Israel's security without massively disengaging from Afghanistan?  Indeed, the last 10 years have, if anything, exposed the limits of what the US can "guarantee" militarily.  Israelis ought to have taken note.

Bottom line: Israel has no time to waste if it is to find some way to ensure a viable future.  That will have to entail sitting down with Palestinian representatives - including Hamas - and offering huge "concession" that, in truth, would be no more than acceding to the demands that international law has been making of Israel for decades:
  • giving up all claim to territories occupied after 1967
  • helping to create a viable, permanent Palestinian state
  • sharing Jerusalem as the capital of two states in post-1919 Palestine
  • recognizing that they violated the rights of the Palestinians displaced in 1948 and after, and finding some way to compensate them

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