January 29, 2010

Threatening Israel Isn’t Enough Anymore

Iran's tyrant Ali Khamenei posted a comment on his website (yes, even he's doing it now) predicting the inevitable destruction of Israel, a task he generally delegates to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "Definitely, the day will come when nations of the region will witness the destruction of the Zionist regime," he wrote. "How soon or late ... depends on how Islamic countries and Muslim nations approach the issue."

Israelis should be pleased to hear they'll be allowed to exist a bit longer if Saudi Arabia dithers. And Saudi Arabia is going to dither for a long time.

According to the Financial Times, a majority of citizens in 18 Arab countries think Iran is more dangerous than Israel. And according to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a substantial number of Saudi citizens are even willing to support military action against Iran's nuclear weapons facilities.

A third of Saudi respondents say they would approve an American strike, and a fourth say they'd back an Israeli strike. The actual number is almost certainly higher. Supporting Israel is taboo in the Arab world, and that goes double when Israel is at war. This is not the sort of thing most Arabs are comfortable admitting to strangers, yet one-fourth of Saudis just did.

(Intriguingly, a clear majority of Saudis interviewed in the same survey think their own terrorism and religious extremism is more troubling than either Iran or Israel. There may be hope, at least in the long run, for that region yet.)

Iran's rulers constantly threaten Israel with violence and even destruction because they know the Arabs are against them. They need to change the subject to something they all can agree on. Ever since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in 1979 and voided Iran's treaty with Israel, regime leaders have believed they'll meet less resistance while amassing power for themselves in the region by saying, Hey, we're not after you, we're after the Jews.

It isn't enough anymore. Even arming and bankrolling terrorist organizations that fight Israel isn't enough anymore. Most Arabs simply do not believe Ahmadinejad and Khamenei when they not-so-cryptically suggest that their nuclear weapons will be pointed only at Israel. By a factor of 3-to-1, Saudis believe Iran would use nuclear weapons against either them or another Arab state in the Persian Gulf before using nuclear weapons against Israel.

Most Arabs hate or at the very least have serious problems with Israel, and I expect that will be true for the rest of my life, even if the Arab-Israeli conflict comes to an end. Yet the Middle East is forever interesting and surprising, and "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" even applies to an extent when "the enemy of my enemy" is the "Zionist Entity."

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at January 29, 2010 10:39 AM
Comments
In our lifetime...

Watch for an uneasy paring of Sunni-Arab states with Israel. There is nothing like a fanatical band of Persian cats to bind the Semetic tribes...

You even get a look into this, from time to time, when some Saudi minister slips and says that Israel can fly over the Kingdom to bomb Iran. Oops.
Posted by: Abu Guerrilla at January 29, 2010 12:19 pm
"Syria’s Bashar Assad helps set the regional agenda as the logistics hub in the Iranian-Hezbollah axis"

But he is also the weakest link in that axis. Turn Syria, and the entire situation changes.
Posted by: crosspatch at January 29, 2010 12:36 pm
The Arabs may have read Tony Cordesman's analysis of an Iran-Israel nuclear exchange, and saw the part about how it would destroy the Middle East. The Iranians are ruled by lunatics and know it. Their neighbors know it, too.
Posted by: Mike K at January 29, 2010 7:21 pm
I'm reading your blog after many years, and I remember the days when you were unsure if you are were liberal or a conservative (although I did a bit of browsing during the invasion of Lebanon).

It is interesting to see how you transitioned to being a journalist and a pundit, and I look forward to a good few hours of browsing.
Posted by: Tim at January 29, 2010 11:52 pm
Also according to the poll:

a large minority of urban Saudis -- nearly 40 percent overall -- believe that it is an Islamic duty to aid armed mujahedin around the world. And only a very small minority seem receptive to any proposals for "normalization" with Israel, given the overwhelming majority opposition to accepting the country as a Jewish state under any circumstances.

Sometimes the enemy of your enemy is also your enemy.

It's not clear what frightens the Saudis more - Iranian nukes or the current pro-democracy movement in Iran. In any case, we can be sure that they are trying to get us to do their dirty work for them, as usual.

If we fall for this old, oft-repeated routine, oil prices will rise and our economy will falter. The Saudis will feel secure again, and false promises of better relations with Israel will evaporate. Saudis will continue to be the biggest supporters of terrorism worldwide, and they'll continue to use their money and their "friendship" with us to do their best to turn the Middle East into a warring, Islamist hell.
Posted by: Mary Madigan at January 30, 2010 2:48 am
There is an Arabic saying that translates as follows: Me against my brother. Me and my brother against our cousin. Me, my brother, and my cosuin against the starnger.

It looks like, in this case, the Arabs have decided that the Israelis are the cousin and the Persians (Iran) are the stranger.
Posted by: RPL at January 30, 2010 10:00 am
How ironic, as Mary points out, that the vast majority of Saudis are loathe to accept Israel as a Jewish state. And of course all of us in the rest of the world are expected to accept, without question, Saudi Arabia, as a "legitimate" Islamic state.
Posted by: Harold at January 30, 2010 10:33 am
"How ironic, as Mary points out, that the vast majority of Saudis are loathe to accept Israel as a Jewish state."

That is going to be a difficult nut to crack. This is how I understand the problem, keeping in mind that I am not a Muslim and so probably don't completely understand:

According to Haddiths, the reason the Jews lost Israel as they would not accept Muhammad as God's prophet and the Quran as the word of God. And supposedly they would never regain Israel until they do. Well, we have a problem because here Israel is today and they have obviously not converted to Islam.

So one is faced with a choice. Either accept that the Haddith's, being written by human beings are subject to error and can have flaws, or refuse to recognize the fact that Israel exists thereby preserving the "perfection" of the Haddiths.

The problem then goes deeper because once one accepts that the Haddiths can be flawed, then one can wonder how many of them are flawed. Which ones are incorrect? Does this open all of them up to question and reinterpretation? Much of Islamic tradition and law, as I understand it, is based on these Haddiths. If one comes to the conclusion that they can be flawed, an important foundation of the religion is at risk of crumbling.

So one of two things must happen. Either there is some sort of reformation of Islam that recognizes that obviously the Haddiths, being the product of human interpretation can be incorrect and an agreement among the various schools of Islamic thought is made to accept that the Haddith concerning Israel is correct or everyone agrees not to recognize Israel.

The first choice would likely create a schism in Islam much as there is a schism between Protestant and the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox branches of Christianity. If the second choice is taken, it functions as a unifying tenant among the various existing schools of Islamic thought.

So the bottom line is ... it is a tougher problem than simply a political deal. In order to get someone to officially recognize Israel, one has to come to some sort of compromise with Islam OR come to accept that the state is a secular rather than religious entity (impossible with an "Islamic Republic") and the State can recognize something that the religion doesn't.
Posted by: crosspatch at January 30, 2010 11:35 am
That's an interesting observation, Crosspatch.

I'm not sure what to make of it, though. Israel has Muslim allies, and not just "allies" like the Turks and Egyptians, but real friends like the Kurds and Albanians.

Of course, the Saudis take their religion more seriously than Kurds and, especially, Albanians.

One thing to keep in mind here is that we're talking about the Arab-Israeli conflict, not the Muslim-Israeli conflict. Arab Nationalism is a racist ideology that contributes significantly to this problem, and is, by definition, not a problem with non-Arab people.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 30, 2010 11:44 am
"One thing to keep in mind here is that we're talking about the Arab-Israeli conflict, not the Muslim-Israeli conflict. Arab Nationalism is a racist ideology that contributes significantly to this problem, and is, by definition, not a problem with non-Arab people."

Well, I believe much of the Arab-Israeli conflict is based in the Muslim-Israeli conflict because among rank and file Arabs, the religion has considerable influence. But there is also a second factor in that in Arab culture, it is always safer to find an external enemy to blame for your woes than to criticize one's own government, which can get you killed.

Turkey has taken great pains to ensure the government is a more secular entity though that might be eroding somewhat in recent years. The Kurds have no nation state as we know it. Albania has a secular government.

The problem seems most acute where there is a blurring between the religion and the state.

And I made a typo in my previous:

"being the product of human interpretation can be incorrect and an agreement among the various schools of Islamic thought is made to accept that the Haddith concerning Israel is correct"

should be:

"being the product of human interpretation can be incorrect and an agreement among the various schools of Islamic thought is made to accept that the Haddith concerning Israel is incorrect"
Posted by: crosspatch at January 30, 2010 11:59 am
Crosspatch: "among rank and file Arabs, the religion has considerable influence."

Sure, but that's true with the Kurds, too. (Not so much with Albanians who are largely atheists.) And let's not forget that Yasser Arafat's Fatah and Bashar Assad's Arab Socialist Baath Party regime (to name just two) are secular and have been at war with Israel for decades.

Assad isn't even a Muslim. His people are Alawites, whom Muslims consider infidels, yet his secular regime is more fanatically anti-Israel than any other Arab government in the world.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 30, 2010 12:10 pm
"Assad isn't even a Muslim. His people are Alawites, whom Muslims consider infidels"

1. Assad is an Alawite but Alawites are a minority in Syria.

2. Assad has been allowing Iranian clerics to "work" the population in Syria converting the Syrian population to Shiia Islam. If I recall, families are offered something like several hundred dollars from Iran if they convert.

3. As the majority population is Muslim, Sunni, but still Muslim, a Muslim regime in Syria would likely get considerable popular support.

The way I read Assad, he simply wants to be a force to be reckoned (and bargained) with. One thing he has to trade is his support or lack of support for some agenda or another. If he is close to Iran, then he has the attention of Saudi Arabia. If he supports Hezbollah, then he has the attention of Israel.

He may be waiting for the right deal and simply hasn't seen it yet or would like to accept a deal on the table but doesn't see how he could remain a center of attention after he takes it.

But he is playing a very dangerous game because at some point Iran might decide to sponsor a coup and oust him, install an "Islamic" regime that is little more than a puppet of Iran. Being a "Muslim" regime, there would likely be some basis for popular support. A cadre of converted Shiites could be the seeds of a "revolutionary guard".

If I were Assad, I would be extremely wary of too much Hezbollah/Iranian support "infrastructure" in my country as he could wake up one morning to discover that he is living in a completely different country.
Posted by: crosspatch at January 30, 2010 12:55 pm
Now, Alawites consider themselves a sect of Shia. Just because the Sunni majority doesn't consider them Moslem doesn't mean they aren't. I'm a Roman Catholic, and many of my Evangelical and Pentecostal friends wouldn't consider me Christian.
Posted by: Fat Dave at January 30, 2010 1:05 pm
The Kurdish relationship is more complex, I believe and based somewhat on some mutual back-scratching.

And there is another thing that plays out in various international relationships. That is, one might not necessarily be a close ally of someone, but might offer some support if that entity causes a rival to expend resources.

The Kurds cause Iran to expend considerable resources every year and Syria to a lesser extent. They are a pebble in Iran's shoe, so to speak, and a group the Syrians keep a wary eye on. There is a different faction of the Kurds that appear to have some support from Iran that are a pebble in the shoe of Turkey. The Kurds in general are no friends of the Baathists and other Arab nationalists. So there is quite a complex system of intertwining interests when it comes to the Kurds. There are some mutual rivalries between Israel and all Kurds, there are some Kurdish factions that would be at odds with some Israeli interests and others that would be more in sync.

I guess to what extent "the Kurds" have a good relationship with Israel might depend on which Kurds you are talking about.

And this reminds me of what I thought, several years ago, the eventual strategic outcome of the Iraq problem might be. I thought that a grand deal might be worked out (and might yet when America leaves) where Syria and Iran agree to seize portions of Iraq. Sunni Western Iraq would go to Syria, Shiite Southern and Eastern Iraq would go to Iran. The Kurdish North would be given autonomy, possibly with the addition of some Kudrish area of Iran and Syria and declared Kurdistan in exchange for A: The Kurds staying out of meddling in the partitioning of Arab Iraq and B: agreeing to stop meddling in Turkey and other areas outside of the newly created Kurdistan in exchange for its creation as an independent entity.

Turkey might not be so upset about this and might ask for a small portion of the Turkmeneli region of Iraq to settle that source of ethnic friction possibly in exchange for a small portion of Kurdish area that is now Turkey.

So the outcome of this is a probably the settlement of several long-brewing cultural frictions. The Kurds are happy, the Turks stay out of it and their agitation with the Kurds is over as is Iran's. The friction between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis is settled with a national border between their traditional ethnic areas rather than a rivalry for control of one national government. Syria potentially gains some oil fields in Western Iraq, Iran adds to their oil fields, and the rest of the Middle East heads en masse to the market for a clean change of underwear.
Posted by: crosspatch at January 30, 2010 1:32 pm
Fat Dave: "Now, Alawites consider themselves a sect of Shia."

That's a convenient political fiction that will end when Syria's alliance with Iran and Hezbollah ends.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 30, 2010 1:50 pm
And since I am playing crystal ball ... what if as part of this grand deal, since the prize of Iran having control of Najaf is so huge for them, maybe in exchange for Israel staying out of it, Syria and Iran agree to end support for Hezbollah and leave the Lebanese alone to sort out their own issues, both countries recognize Israel, and Iran gives up their nuclear weapons ambitions and allows international inspectors complete access.

Remember that Iraq (like Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Iran, etc) are countries created on paper out of the old Ottoman empire without regard to cultural realities. Iraq would cease to exist.

So now Syria has oil, Iran has Najaf, Israel has more secure borders, Iran has no need for nuclear weapons, everyone rejoins the international community as working neighbors and Crosspatch is appointed Tooth Fairy.
Posted by: crosspatch at January 30, 2010 1:53 pm
Michael,

Having done more research, I retract my prior comment.
Posted by: Fat Dave at January 30, 2010 2:01 pm
Fat Dave,

No need to retract. Your comment isn't wrong, it just doesn't describe the whole picture.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 30, 2010 2:07 pm
Here is what Assad's grandfather, Suleiman Assad, wrote to the French authorities in 1943:

"The Alawites refuse to be annexed to Muslim Syria. In Syria, the official religion of the state is Islam, and according to Islam, the Alawites are considered infidels...The spirit of hatred and fanaticism imbedded in the hearts of the Arab Muslims against everything that is non-Muslim has been perpetually nurtured by the Islamic religion. There is no hope that the situation will ever change. Therefore, the abolition of the mandate will expose the minorities in Syria to the dangers of death and annihilation."
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 30, 2010 2:12 pm
I liked Mary's interesting question: "what frightens the Saudis more - Iranian nukes or the current pro-democracy movement in Iran." From a great distance, admittedly, I'd guess the latter.
Posted by: Paul S. at January 30, 2010 5:32 pm
Mary's question is very interesting. I don't know the answer.

The Saudis must know, however, that the United States will be Iran's friend and ally if the Khomeinists are overthrown. And I don't imagine they'll be very happy about it.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 30, 2010 5:37 pm
" ... the United States will be Iran's friend and ally if the Khomeinists are overthrown. And I don't imagine they'll be very happy about it."

Now will the Russians.
Posted by: crosspatch at January 30, 2010 5:56 pm
Meant "Nor will the Russians". Sheesh.
Posted by: crosspatch at January 30, 2010 5:56 pm
There has already been one Arab-Persian conflict in recent history. The Iran-Iraq war during the 80's, which was the deadliest conflict since WWII. Of course, the Arabs may think that the Persians are gearing up for round two.
Posted by: Lindsey Abelard at January 30, 2010 8:45 pm
From above, Granpa Suleiman wrote: "...according to Islam, the Alawites are considered infidels...The spirit of hatred and fanaticism imbedded in the hearts of the Arab Muslims against everything that is non-Muslim has been perpetually nurtured by the Islamic religion. There is no hope that the situation will ever change. Therefore, the abolition of the mandate will expose the minorities in Syria to the dangers of death and annihilation."

Does the fact that he wrote that (or equivalent, presumably in French) mean Granpa Sul was an "islamophobe" or a bigot?
Posted by: del at January 31, 2010 11:22 am
del: Does the fact that he wrote that (or equivalent, presumably in French) mean Granpa Sul was an "islamophobe" or a bigot?

I assume you're poking fun at me. I laughed a little bit at my own expense.

The sectarian monster has been stalking that part of the Middle East for a long time. Everybody needs to just learn to get along, but they won't. The only reason there is sectarian "peace" in Syria now is because Assad enforces it at the point of a gun.

If and when Syria's Arab Socialist Baath Party is removed from power, Syria will find itself with many of the same problems Lebanon and Iraq have been going through lately.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 31, 2010 11:42 am
MJT,

I was poking some fun at some of the other comment writers, who have written on this and other threads, actually, not yourself, since you were the one who put the quote up.

According to comments on a 2005 thread at SyriaComment, that particular quote may not be completely reliable. Or it may be.

http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/L/Joshua.M.Landis-1/syriablog/2005/07/syrian-opposition-tries-to-remake.htm

You're right about a future for Syria similiar to Lebanon and Iraq.
Posted by: del at January 31, 2010 11:57 am
I don't know who is right in that dispute, though I suspect the quote is likely genuine. Either way, you can feel the sectarian hatred if you read all the way to the end.

See below:

---

"You speak of revenge, but when you are beaten for you are cowards, you cry for help, and ask for human rights. Why don't you bastards think of human rights for every human being, not only for fucking Sunnis?

"I am an Alalwi who was until yesterday so much against the gang of Assad, but I can't take your BS any more for you are all as it seems, despicable, and irrational.

"You will never succeed you bastards, and I shall make sure that your heads will be smashed when that revenge you are talking about comes!"
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 31, 2010 12:15 pm
Syria calling up reserves, Lebanese Shiites dispersing from Southern Lebanon, Iran saying it will "deliver telling blow to global powers on Feb. 11", US moving more ships and Patriot batteries to the region.

I sense a disturbance in The Force.
Posted by: crosspatch at January 31, 2010 10:29 pm
Crosspatch, do you have links? I knew about Shias dispersing from the south, or at least that it is rumored. (Don't know if it's really true.)

But what's this business about Feb 11 and the US moving ships into the region?
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 31, 2010 10:42 pm
"Telling blow"

http://news.google.com/news/search?aq=f&pz=1&cf=all&ned=us&hl=en&q=Iran+%22telling+blow%22

It is a link to Press TV which seems to be overloaded with traffic from links to it. Druge has a link, too.

Check there (Drudge) for ships and missile batteries moving into the region, too.

Wonder if Iran will test a nuke.

The Syrian reserves story is several days old:

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/135663
Posted by: crosspatch at January 31, 2010 11:00 pm
Apparently I had too many links and the reply fell into the moderation bucket.
Posted by: crosspatch at January 31, 2010 11:01 pm
What is interesting about the Syrian reserves story is the intersection of the February 11 anniversary of the Islamic Republic and the February 13 anniversary of the assassination of Mughniyeh.

From the article at Israel National News quoting other news sources:

"(IsraelNN.com) Tensions have escalated along the Israeli-Lebanese border and Syria has begun calling up troops from its Fourth Reserve, sources told the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

The newspaper, printed on four continents, reports that the Israeli military has been carrying out drills on Israel's northern frontier, as the second anniversary of the death of senior Hizbullah commander Imad Mughniyeh approaches. Mughniyeh was killed when a car bomb exploded in Damascus on February 13, 2008.

“Well-informed Lebanese sources” told the newspaper that Hizbullah is on a state of alert in the face of IDF “military maneuvers.” The sources added that Hizbullah is concerned Israel may launch a surprise attack on its bases and posts. "Israel has accustomed us to aggression and we are used to being vigilant and on the lookout all the time. That is what we are doing,” a source said. "

None of these reports look all that scary by themselves but taken in toto seem "interesting" at least.

The Iranians say:

"Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says the nation will deliver a harsh blow to the "global arrogance" on this year's anniversary of the Islamic Revolution."

in the article text but the headline is:

"Iran will deliver telling blow to global powers on Feb. 11"
Posted by: crosspatch at January 31, 2010 11:11 pm
And one more here that was linked at Drudge:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/31/iran-nuclear-us-missiles-gulf
Posted by: crosspatch at January 31, 2010 11:20 pm
I thought two links would keep a comment out of moderation, but it was actually set to one. It's set to two now. You can post two URLs without your comment being moderated.

Sorry for the hassle, but spam is an issue.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 31, 2010 11:40 pm
Thanks, Crosspatch. Just posted links on the main page.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 1, 2010 12:00 am
It was probably the mention of the anniversary of Mughniyeh's assassination, that Iran has promised to avenge, that struck me. I had forgotten about it. And that in context with the Syrian reserve call up, and the Iranian rhetoric, and then the US response of bolstering the defensive posture of the region ... it just seemed interesting when taken all together.
Posted by: crosspatch at February 1, 2010 12:19 am
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