Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Arab Spring, Islamism, and Israel

The Middle East is changing before our very eyes. Who would’ve thought just a few short years ago that there would be no Gadafi, no Mubarak, no Saadam Hussein, and almost certainly in the near future, no Bashar Assad.

The question is whether these developments are good or bad for Israel. I don’t think we can know that yet. But contemplating it is nerve wracking. What does seems clear however is that the Arab Spring which everyone in the west thought was such a great victory for democracy is anything but!

The only thing we know for sure is that dictatorships are or have been overthrown. What will ultimately replace them is not necessarily going to be democracies. At least not in the conventional western sense.

It seems to me that the primary movers in all of these revolutions are Islamists. They are the factions in every country that are motivated to fight as they do. They are the ones who are most willing to sacrifice their lives to overthrow their secular dictators. This is why they are winning.

This does not seem to bode well for Israel. Although Egypt has promised to keep the peace treaty with Israel, that is hardly a foregone conclusion for the future. The military rule there now is coming apart as new demonstrations against them are starting anew. It is also no secret that Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood seem to be taking over there. Their hatred of the Jewish State makes Mubarak seem like Ben Gurion by comparison!

Israel is not naïve about any if this. I assume they are well prepared for any contingency. But there is no doubt in my mind that the situation is at best unstable. And the threat of a nuclear Iran looms on top of all this.

The situation in Syria is rapidly deteriorating. And groups with ominous names like the Syrian Liberation Army that are clearly Islamist are leading the charge.

How do I know they are Islamist? I have been watching the news reports on CBS the last few days. They feature a female reporter who snuck into Syria to report on what she sees there. Western reporters have been barred by the Syrian government. She is embedded with the rebel forces that are leading the revolution there. She reported in wearing clothing in full compliance with Islamic dress code requirements, including covered hair. The point being that these are not simply people seeking democracy. They are seeking an Islamist type revolution on par with Iran.

Not that Bashar Assad is any friend to Israel. Far from it. His anti Israel rhetoric is among some of the most vile in the region. But what seems to be coming is much worse.

Syria is a much more significant country for Israel than the other Arab states that have gone through revolutions. Syria is on Israel’s border. And if the Islamists take over there – at the very least it will turn into another front that will lob rockets across the border. Much like the Islamist of Lebanon and Gaza do now. And if they combine forces….?!

Strangely enough, Hezbollah is backing the Assad government. But I suppose that is understandable since Assad has basicly empowered them in Lebanon. But that doesn’t mean that the rebels are any less Islamist or anti Israel.

Iraq is not exactly a stable democacy either. Now that Amercian troops are gone - things seem to be heating up there as well. We know that neighboring Iran covets turning Iraq into a sister Islamic state!

If the Middle East was a scary neighborhood till now, It is downright frightening what the future holds for Israel if Islamists take over. And if you add a nuclear armed Iran into the mix… well what can I say. The danger to the Jewish people is perhaps greater than at any time since the Holocaust.

I don’t mean to be an alarmist. These are just observations. As I said - I do think Israel is prepared for the worst. It may very well be the case that Iran’s nuclear facilities will be attacked by Israel. As difficult as Iran has made it to destroy those facilities (by burying them so deep underground that even bunker busting bombs won’t reach them) I am nonetheless convinced that Israel has the best intelligence on Iran of any country in the world. I am sure they know exactly where and how deep these facilities are - and have made plans accordingly.

If anyone can take them out, Israel can. But it is not going to be easy – or they probably would have by now. I am therefore not sure Israel will do anything about it in the near term. But I am also not sure where the Iranian nuclear program is holding. A lot depends on that. Nor is it even certain that attacking Iran will be successful. Who know what can of worms that will open up!

What does all this do for the prospects for peace? I don’t think there is a chance in the world that Israel and the Palestinians can make any kind of peace now. Especially now that there is a unity government between the two rival factions of the Palestinians - Fatah and Hamas. Hamas is still listed as a terrorist organization by the State department. It is fully supported and armed by Iran. I don’t see how even the Obama administration can ask Israel to sign on to that.

I can’t predict the future. But I don’t like what I’m seeing in the present. Syria is coming apart at the seams by a grass roots Islamist rebellion disguised a democracy movement; Islamism is on the rise all over the Middle East; Iran is about to have a nuclear option - and there doesn’t seem to be a single thing anyone can do about it.