February 4, 2009

The New Backbone of the Sunni Resistance

When Israel retaliated against Hezbollah in July of 2006, something strange and new and unexpected took place. Arab governments blamed Hezbollah for sparking the conflict and didn’t complain about Israeli behavior until later. During the more recent war in Gaza we saw something similar; only this time the de-facto alignment of Israeli and Sunni Arab state-interests was even more obvious. Most Arab governments blamed Hamas for starting the latest round, and Egypt worked openly with the Israelis to achieve a new ceasefire arrangement that left their mutual enemy in the Gaza Strip weakened. “Saudi Arabia is no longer the backbone of the Arab alliance against Iran,” Asher Susser from Tel Aviv University said to me as the ceasefire went into effect. “Israel is.”

It’s bizarre, to be sure, to think of Israel as the backbone of a Sunni Arab alliance against Iran and its proxies, but Israelis aren’t the only ones who see things that way. Disgruntled Arabs from Cairo to Beirut and Damascus have noticed the same thing, and they aren’t happy about it.

Egyptians Seethe Over Gaza, and Their Leaders Feel Heat, read a headline in the New York Times a few weeks ago. “It is understood that Egypt gave the green light for the attack,” Rannie Amiri wrote in the Palestine Chronicle. “There is true and full collaboration between certain Arab regimes,” said Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, “especially those who have already signed peace deals with Israel, to crush any form of resistance.”

I heard similar complaints myself after the Second Lebanon War. “Gulf Arabs give bombs to Israel to kill my people!” one Lebanese Shia man said to me in a hysterical tone of voice at a Hezbollah rally in Beirut December of 2006.

Some of these accusations are madness on stilts. Gulf Arabs will never give Israel weapons, for instance. But even the more hysterical residents of Arabic countries see clearly that the geopolitical tectonic plates in the region are shifting. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen came out strongly against Hamas and in favor of their Fatah rivals at a meeting in Abu Dhabi this week.

“Egypt is cooperating to a great extent with Israel,” Susser continued, “as are Abu Mazen and the Jordanians. There were more anti-Israel demonstrations in Dublin than there were in Ramallah.”

Most Arab governments, aside from Syria’s and possibly Qatar’s, are far more worried about Iranian regional dominance than they are about anything coming out of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. They know perfectly well that the State of Israel is not going to undermine or overthrow them, while radical Iranian-sponsored Islamists just might.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 4, 2009 2:47 PM
Comments

These are very interesting developments. The stage is all set.

But what will the rookie in Washington do with the very nice hand he has been dealt?

Posted by: mcmill1599 Author Profile Page at February 4, 2009 9:24 PM

The relationship between Israel and the harsh Sunni Arab dictators is dangerous. The perception that the international community backs their harsh dictators against them has been behind much of the anger in the Arab world.

On another note, is there any comment on the treatment of muslim Arab Israeli citizens inside Israel? I would like to learn more about this subject. I posted some articles about it on an earlier thread on this blog.

If Israel did a better job treating muslim Arab Israeli citizens, would that help Israel reach out to Palestinians living in the occupied territories?

How involved are Israeli Arab muslims in business in Gaza and the West Bank. What proportion of West Bank land and business is owned by Israeli Arab muslims? How often to Israeli Arab muslims visit the West Bank and Gaza? What do they think about Fatah, Abbas, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Assad, Khamenei, Mubarak, Jordan, Saudi Arabia (KSA), and the other 6arab neighbors?

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at February 4, 2009 11:03 PM

" is there any comment on the treatment of muslim Arab Israeli citizens inside Israel?"

Puh-leeze! Just as soon as there is any comment on the treatment of religious minorities in the rest of the Middle East.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 12:52 AM

"The relationship between Israel and the harsh Sunni Arab dictators is dangerous."

Is it more dangerous than the relationship between the Allies and Stalin during WWII?

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 12:53 AM

The Sunni Arab dictators are scum.

"Puh-leeze! Just as soon as there is any comment on the treatment of religious minorities in the rest of the Middle East."

Well, to repeat "the sunni arab dictators are scum." Israel needs to be held to a much higher standard than the sunni arab dictators are held too. Because others abuse minorities is not reason why Israel should.

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 1:00 AM

Israel needs to be held to a much higher standard than the sunni arab dictators are held too.

Enough with the double-standards. Why don't you hold the Sunni Arabs (and everyone else, for that matter) to the same standards of civilized behavior you expect from Israel?
====================

Because others abuse minorities is not reason why Israel should.

Right. So how long have you been beating your wife?

Your clumsy attempts to frame a false argument notwithstanding, I wonder why outsiders like you are so fixated on Israel. Is it a religion for you, or a disease?

Posted by: Li'l Mamzer Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 6:15 AM

Is it more dangerous than the relationship between the Allies and Stalin during WWII?

Yes it is. Before WWII, Stalin had not attacked America directly. Gulf-Arab sponsored paramilitary groups have directly attacked American interests, and have murdered thousands of Americans. The 9/11 attacks, Saudi suicide bombings in Iraq and sunni-sponsored attacks against American interests worldwide are the primary reason not to ally with these enemies, or to rely on them in any way.

I could also list the number of Gulf Arab sponsored attacks against Israel, but it's a long list that would take too much time to read. The Gulf Arabs and Iran fight occasionally, as brothers often do, but they do share the same philosophy and outlook. Allying with the Gulf Arabs/Sunnis to fight Iran is like allying with the Gottis to fight the Gambinos. If we had fought the mob that way in America, John Gotti would have been president.

Britain is using the same tactic to 'fight' Islamism in their country. The government is allied with the Muslim Brotherhood in an effort to fight the 'extremists'. They ignore the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood and the extremists share the same goals. Both are enemies of the British state. As a result of these policies, citizens don't trust the Islamist-allied government to protect them. Since this policy shows how incompetent the government is, people turn to local thugs or fascist groups to provide protection.

Which is similar to what we're seeing in the Middle East.

The Axis war machine was a powerful threat to Britain, France and America. The Islamist 'war machine', such as it is, is a joke. Iran wouldn't be a threat to Israel or anyone else if they weren't getting help from Russia and Pakistan.

Russia's military strength is not a joke. Russia has been fairly belligerent, and if the Iran problem is ever solved, Russia will probably move over to Syria and start supporting their 'nuclear program'. When the Syria problem is solved, Russia will move on and support someone else.

If we want to try to clean up the mess in the Middle East, we have to stop legitimizing the Gulf/Islamist/Sunni mobs.

If we have any complaints, threats or offers to make, we should speak directly to the real power behind Iran, Russia.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 8:08 AM

Li'l Mamzer, I'm no fan of double standards. I've argued long and hard (particularly with Europeans) about the damage that gets done, all around, when some people get a pass for absolutely atrocious behavior while at the same time others get viciously attacked for what amounts to semantic and dubious violations of humanitarian principals. But I think you have anand wrong... he is not anti-Israel in my opinion, and I've seen him commenting on blogs for years.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 8:21 AM

Anand;

I live in Israel, and although I am not an expert on the subject of Israeli Arabs, I will take a stab at your question.

Discrimination does not exist on an official level, but there is definitely discrimination. I would say it is especially acute in the area of municipal budgets and building licenses. Probably due to the demographic concern, the Jewish government just isn't interested in seeing rapid growth of Arab towns and villages. Arabs have a hard time building on their own land, and the government is quick to tear down illegal building. This is true as well for Bedouin and Druze, who serve in the IDF.

As to race relations, I would say Israel is where the U.S. was in the fifties (the north, not the south). There is no jim crow, but there is segregation. It is difficult if not impossible for Arabs to live in Jewish communities, and there are occasional egregious stories of Arab children not being accepted into Jewish day care centers, and the like.

Definitely a lot of Israelis hold ugly, racist views towards Arabs, and this is generally truer the farther you go down the socioeconomic scale. Arabs get hassled more by the police, like blacks in the United States.

On the other hand, there are many, many Israelis who are anti-racist and express solidarity with the Arabs. Arab Israelis mingle freely with Jewish Israelis in shopping malls, parks, etc. There are no impediments for Arabs to attend Israeli universities, and many are enrolled there. The courts generally uphold Arab civil rights, and a decision to bar two Arab political parties for seditious activities was recently struck down by the supreme court. Arabs are free to make a living, and some have become very wealthy (I've also met very wealthy Palestinians from the west bank).

In general, I would say that Arabs are not oppressed in Israel, but they definitely face discrimination. Much of it is not malevolent, but simply built into the fact that they live in a Jewish country.

As an aside, I've met Israeli Arabs who say they suffer more from the social restrictions in their own society - particularly freedom to marry- than they do from Israeli discrimination.

There is an Israeli-Arab columnist named Sayed Kashua who writes on these issues for Haaretz, and it is worth reading his articles (although I deeply resented his recent statements during the Gaza Op).

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 8:38 AM

The "relationship" with Israel and Arab dictators barely even exists beyond Egypt and Jordan. (I think we all agree that those two peace agreements are better than what came before.) As for Israel and the others, they just have common interests. Any "relationship" other than that is very much behind the scenes and means little other than the fact that they're opposed to Iran and its proxies. The Gulf Arabs aren't buddying around with Israel.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 8:43 AM

The Gulf Arabs aren't buddying around with Israel

But the United States is buddying around with the Gulf Arabs, and our state department does promote the absurd idea that these states are a 'moderate' force in the region. Our govt. needs to stop doing that.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 9:44 AM

maryatexitzero, I agree.

For the record, Israel is a tiny country and might feel like it has to appease Sunni Arab dictators to survive. However, the same cannot be said for America. I hope America stands up for freedom in the Arab world (and everywhere.)

MarkC, thanks for dealing with the subject forthrightly. I will need to look into Sayed Kashua.

Maybe I am naive; but might the Israeli muslim Arabs be a bridge between Gazans and West Bank Palestinians, and Israelis? Is there any information on the connections between Israeli citizen Palestinians and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza?

"There is no jim crow, but there is segregation. It is difficult if not impossible for Arabs to live in Jewish communities" Why? Arabs and Jews living in the same neighborhoods with their children going to the same schools might over time reduce tensions between both communities.

Craig, I don't mind being attacked. I have been savaged as an anti Palestinian Zionist on the blogs many times for saying even more pro Palestinian things than I have said here.

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 10:19 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 02/05/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by: David M Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 10:29 AM

"something strange and new and unexpected took place"

Not really. It began before 2006. The assassination of Hariri by Syria/Iran, whomever, maybe that Muginiyeh guy. That was an affront to Saudi Arabia.

Then Saudi arranged for a big deal prisoner exchange in 2006 for the Israeli soldier, and Hezb stepped in with their attack, wanting the same.

Saudi and the Gulf Arabs resolved to a peace deal, but Iran moved in, via Syria, to snatch Hamas. They financed Hamas not with the string attached to make peace, but to make war. Hamas entered the Persian/Syrian access.

During the 2006 war recall that the Saudi Arabian high poobah issued two fatwas against Hezbollah, calling them the Party of Satan.

Remember the Israeli bombing of whatever it was in the Syrian desert, BTW, with full Turkish cooperation? Not one protest in the Arab World. Not even Iran either, because ally or not, they want to have the A-Bomb alone.

Posted by: exmaple Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 1:59 PM

They know perfectly well that the State of Israel is not going to undermine or overthrow them, while radical Iranian-sponsored Islamists just might.

Have to wonder about the upside to that..

In Mubarak vs. the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, if not for Israel, I'd be on the Muslim Brotherhood's side.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 2:04 PM

Even considering the Israel factor, I'd seriously consider officially and publicly supporting a range of opposition activists in Egypt and trying to Co-opt MB as part of that. Something I've believed in for years.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 2:06 PM

Dear Glasnost,

The Mensheviks cannot "coopt" the Bolsheviks.

Khomeini's Revolution pulled off the same stunt against their Menshevik allies.

Posted by: exmaple Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 2:38 PM

Carter backed Khomeini against the Shah in 1979 "exmaple"

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 3:26 PM

Even considering the Israel factor, I'd seriously consider officially and publicly supporting a range of opposition activists in Egypt and trying to Co-opt MB as part of that. Something I've believed in for years.

I think you can officially qualify as a lunatic, now :P

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 4:28 PM

Carter backed Khomeini against the Shah in 1979

This is not even close to historically accurate. Wildly false is a better word. We put pressure on the Shah, but we officially backed him to the very bitter end. And we never had anything to do with Khomeini.

And Khomeini was not moderable, but it wasn't predestined that he'd have ended up running the show. Our inept policy helped that happen - not pressuring the shah, but in completely failing to control his excesses while simultaneously not doing shi* to build bridges with any opposition group until far too late.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 8:24 PM

The book to read about this is All Fall Down by Gary Sick. It's a fantastic primary source. You'll lose a few myths. Conventional wisdom often isn't.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 8:35 PM

Glasnost, America supported the overthrow of the Shah. You can argue that Carter lied to the Shah and did it behind his back . . . but Carter clearly did encourage the fall of the Shah.

Carter also encouraged the Shah to bring Khomeini back from exile and reach out to him. Carter encouraged the Shah not to crack down on Khomeini.

Carter may not have realized what would replace the Shah. Carter was looking to empower progressive Iranian forces (which in the minds of Carter administration folks meant leftists of which there were few in Iran.) Glasnost, ask some spooks and others involved with US Iran policy in 1979 about what really happened.

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at February 5, 2009 10:43 PM

The guy who wrote that book was a primary source. Head of the NSC, I believe. He quotes private communications chapter and verse. We tried to keep the Shah in power until the last dog died. No one ever was even willing to believe an alternative possibility was even possible until the last week or so, and they sure as heck weren't trying to make it happen.

You've already started slithering backwards from your initial claim. Even taking your recent assertions as correct on faith - I can't remember - do you know the difference between "Carter backed Khomeini against the Shah in 1979"

and "Carter also encouraged the Shah to bring Khomeini back from exile"? It's kind of profound.

Carter encouraged the Shah not to crack down on Khomeini.

Since Khomeini was in France from before Carter's term started to after the Shah fled the country, this doesn't make any sense.

Carter encouraged the shah to stop abusing his opponents in general, but to conflate that with "backing" said opponents "against" the Shah is to seriously confuse yourself and others.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at February 6, 2009 12:15 AM

The relationship between Israel and the harsh Sunni Arab dictators is dangerous. The perception that the international community backs their harsh dictators against them has been behind much of the anger in the Arab world.

I think this is a crucial point in general, and a huge weakness of the World Bank, for instance.
The WB can, by its charter, only deal with governments. The US, and the 'Washington Consensus', all too often backs corrupt, neo-dictator governments, for some short term political policy (which seldom makes much difference).

The US should be putting more of its aid, and pushing more of the WB aid, into micro-loans and small business loans. It's more expensive to shovel out the aid by the millions / billions, but a LOT more aid would be helpful.

Israel should be pushing a huge anti-corruption policy, both internally and with the expectation of requiring AID ageencies to abide by similar transparency requirements.

Obama and the USA should also be pushing this, not just in words but in practice.
(Too bad the Kurds are following in the corruption footsteps of so many other democratic leaders.)

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at February 6, 2009 3:34 AM

Carter encouraged the shah to stop abusing his opponents in general, but to conflate that with "backing" said opponents "against" the Shah is to seriously confuse yourself and others.

Glasnost, your comments are ridiculous on their face. If the US had "backed" the Shah as you suggest, Khomeini would have died in France.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at February 6, 2009 3:50 AM

On the question of Israeli treatment, and discrimination against, Arabs, the same Commentary has a fine article:
Jewish State -- Its Arabs

This includes the Oct 9 recent riots in Acre first of Arabs, then by Israelis.

It supports my prior belief that Cantonization of Israel would be best. Of Lebanon and Palestine, too.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at February 6, 2009 5:16 AM

"The guy who wrote that book was a primary source. Head of the NSC, I believe."

Right, whoever heard of a former government official writing a book to make himself look good?

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at February 7, 2009 12:03 AM

Gary Sick is also the idiot who believes Reagan and Bush deliberately tried to keep the US hostages in Iran until after the 1980 election. (The "October surprise")

I sure wouldn't use him as a source.

Posted by: Ted S., Catskills, NY Author Profile Page at February 7, 2009 5:54 AM

I saw this aphorism and couldn't resist sharing it, as it made me think instantly of this blog:

When a lot of remedies are suggested for a disease, that means it cannot be cured.

Anton Chekhov

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at February 8, 2009 12:05 AM
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