The more I think about Israel’s security situation at this moment, the better it looks.
On the surface, the Arab Spring and surge of revolutionary Islamism certainly look bad, but let’s examine the shorter-term implications.
By re-entering a period of instability and continuing conflict within each country, the Arabic-speaking world is committing a self-induced setback. Internal battles will disrupt Arab armies and economies, reducing their ability to fight against Israel. Indeed, nothing could be more likely to handicap development than Islamist policies.
While one shouldn’t depend too much on this idea — Arab regimes being too busy dealing with domestic transformation to want to stage foreign adventures against Israel — this is far more true now than in past decades. And even if they would like to attack Israel, they are less able to do so effectively given their disrupted societies, weakened armies, uncertain alliances and lack of a Western sponsor.
Every Arabic-speaking country is likely to be wracked by internal violence, conflict, disorder and slow socioeconomic progress for years, even decades, to come.
Moreover, for Turkey and Iran, the last year has been a disaster for their regional power ambitions. With rising Arab Sunni Islamist movements in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, Sunni Arabs see no need to turn to non-Arab Turks and non-Arab, non-Sunni Persians.
Turkey’s influence is limited to northern Iraq and, thanks largely to the Obama administration’s backing, with the Syrian opposition. If Syria became either Sunni Islamist or more moderate democratic, Damascus would quickly dispense with any need for Turkish patronage.
As for Iran, it has lost virtually all of its non-Shia Muslim assets, notably Hamas. Again, Sunni Arab Islamists are not going to follow Tehran’s lead, while Sunni Arab countries don’t want to yield leadership of “their” Middle East to Tehran.
Therefore, the big Middle East conflict of this era will be Sunni-Shia, not Arab-Israeli.
A series of conflicts have broken out all along the Sunni-Shia borderland as the two blocs vie for control of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Bahrain.
The Syrian civil war is wrecking that country and will continue to paralyze it for some time to come. When the dust settles, any new government is going to have to take a while to manage the wreckage, handle the quarreling and diverse ethnic-religious groups, and rebuild its military. In Lebanon, a dominant Hezbollah, trying to hold onto power and worrying about the fate of its Syrian patron, doesn’t want a confrontation with Israel.
Then there are the surviving traditionalist regimes — Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the five other Gulf emirates, who know the main threat to them is from Iran and revolutionary Islamists at home, not Israel. In fact, they realize that Israel is a kind of protector since it also opposes those who want to put their heads on the chopping block.
I provide this list not to rejoice at the misfortunes of others, even those who are hostile, because their people are the real victims. But these misfortunes are the result of decisions they made. This is the reality of the Middle East today.
On the other side has been Israel’s dramatic economic progress. The country has become a world leader in high technology, medicine, science, computers and other fields. It has opened up new links to Asia. The discovery of natural gas and oilfields promises a massive influx of funds in the coming years.
Despite the usual internal quarrels (social protests, debates over drafting religious students, nasty flaps over personalities and minor corruption scandals), Israel is basically a stable and united (where it counts) country. The idea that Israel is menaced by the failure to get official peace with the Palestinians is a staple of Western blather but has no big impact in reality.
Of course, there are threats — Iran getting deliverable nuclear weapons and Egypt becoming belligerent are two of the most salient — but they lie in the future, and there are constraining factors. In Iran’s case, there is external pressure and problems actually building weapons; for Egypt, the army as well as the balance of force constrain the radical Islamists. And if there are conflicts, Israel is well able to defend itself.
Foreign editorial writers may never admit it, foreign correspondents may thunder doom, but Israel and its security are in good shape.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. www.gloria-center.org