Thursday, November 24, 2011

An island of calm

Israel is an island of calm in a very stormy Arab sea. Looking at the Middle East from a western perspective one must take note of the reality, whatever one's preferred ideological leaning. Most of the left was convinced that the "Arab Spring" was the precursor to a reawakening of the Arabs to the ideals of peace, justice and democracy. Most of the right was sceptical that from such violent beginnings there could emerge anything other than chaos and Islamic extremism.

So far it seems the right has been correct, in Tunisia and Libya there is little more to show for the "revolution" than the emergence of right wing extremist governments. In Egypt, the continuing clashes between the Army under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the demonstrators has led to an agreement to speed up elections. However, it seems that the eventual outcome will be the same, the Muslim Brotherhood has a huge majority throughout Egypt. Syria is entering a civil war that will unleash great bloodshed, but as happened with Iraq and Iran in the 1980's, the Israeli mantra should be "let them kill each other." But, eventually the Sunni are likely to win and the outcome will be another pro-Muslim Brotherhood regime. During all this, Lebanon has ceased to be an independent state and is now under pro-Iranian Hizbollah domination. King Abdullah of Jordan, ever the survivor, to show his subjects his new identification with their anti-Israel bias, has quickly aligned himself with the projected united Hamas-Fatah Palestinian government in the making. So the Arab world is torn by instability, extremism and violence. PM Netanyahu said yesterday in an address in the Knesset that those calling for a quick Israeli move "had their heads buried in the sand." He said that those who urge him to "seize the opportunity and rush into an agreement are wrong." We can't know what the outcome will be and his "careful attitude was correct, smart and responsible."

Those leftists and liberals who vainly hope that a democratic system will emerge in Egypt are ignoring the clear signals emanating from the events in Cairo. First, there was the attack on the Israeli Embassy that barely ended without bloodshed. Then there have been numerous attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt, who are about 10% of the population, including the burning down of Churches in several locations, including Alexandria. Finally, there have been continued attacks against women, such as the mob-rape of American TV journalist Lara Logan. Under these circumstances, anyone who still maintains that the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict is the key to Middle East peace is terribly deluded. PM Netanyahu said that "an Islamist, anti-American and anti-Israel wave" is sweeping the MIddle East. In an unprecedented move the General Assembly, with Arab support, condemned the Syrian Government for its violent crack-down on dissent in Syria, with more than 3,500 killed so far.

We also have to deal with Iran's drive for local hegemony and its development of nuclear weapons. At last the Governments of the US, Canada and France have instituted new stringent sanctions against Iran, including stopping all financial transactions with the Iranian Government and National Bank. Similar sanctions were blocked in the UN Security Council by Russia and China. However, it is not expected that even these new sanctions would be enough to stop the Iranian regime from continuing to develop nuclear weapons. If there is a credible military option by Israel, it would have to be different in kind from previous such attacks, in which Israel amplifies its capabilities beyond those of a small distant country. In this case, Israel will likely use a fleet of large drones, equipped with major electronic warfare equipment, that can intercept and confuse all Iranian electronic messages. This will be a new kind of cyber-warfare, and the only hope to avoid it is if the Iranians believe that it is credible.


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