Category: Middle East


Predicting next year’s Middle East is impossible. So we better not try. The last three-four years in this region were anything but predictable, and the coming years might be just as temperamental (or maybe not – but this would also qualify as a major unpredictable surprise). Using the word “unstable” is a safe bet for all writers of predictions, but it doesn’t really say much, does it? Unstable means that we only know that we don’t know what’s coming.

Shmuel Rosner, “Hindsight”, The Jewish Journal (31 January – 6 February 2014), 14.

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This boycott continues the anti-Zionist war on academia. Most academics seek intellectual precision — yet calling Israel an apartheid state sloppily makes apartheid mean “apartness,” separation, sanitizing its ugly racial distinctions while falsely making the national conflict between Israelis and Palestinians seem racial. Most scholars recognize the world’s complexity — yet regarding Israel, simplistic sloganeering and one-sided finger pointing prevail. Most intellectuals defend ideas’ permeability — yet boycotts impose harsh borders in what should be a seamless cerebral world. Most teachers applaud diversity, yet boycotts shut down debate. And most professors aspire toward scholarly objectivity, yet targeting Israel — especially given Palestinian terrorism, extremism, and authoritarianism, along with so many other countries’ crimes — reeks of bias and a particular, historic prejudice, anti-Semitism.

I hate making this argument. But how else can we explain this disproportionate, one-sided, pile-on against this one country that is also the world’s only Jewish state?

The boycott call is also politically counter-productive. It emboldens Palestinian rejectionists, enrages the Israeli right, demoralizes the center, and undermines the left. Compromise cannot occur in the lynch mob atmosphere the ASA endorsed.

Gil Troy, “Why I’m Boycotting the American Studies Association”, The Jewish Week (27 December 2013), 20.

…there are competing understandings of what it means to be a Jewish state, both in regard to relations with non-Jewish Israelis as well as concerning the place of Jewish religion and tradition in the legal system and in the public sphere. It is also impossible to ignore the fact that the discussion of the status of non-Jews in Israel takes place in the context of a longstanding conflict, in which the very legitimacy of the state is challenged. These should not be reasons for ignoring the need to create a common language between Jewish tradition and human rights. Even Jews who are wary of innovations in Jewish law must understand the challenge to Jewish tradition of a modern state based on democratic principles, and formulate an appropriate Jewish response.

Kalman Neuman, “Equal Under the Law?”, The Jewish Week (3 January 2014), 25.

In recent decades the left that whitewashed the crimes of the Third World rulers has ‘koshered’ any policy that presents as being anti-colonialist. It has turned against Israel and sought to define it as an apartheid regime. The hope was to label it, and then bring it down through boycotts, divestments and sanctions – all the while studiously concealing that such a ‘victory’ would enable mass destruction of the Israeli Jews. They ignore the critical differences: that Israel’s Jewish population represents the return of a people to its homeland; that its Jewish land was bought and reclaimed, not seized; that that Arabs were offered a nation of their own but chose to try to destroy the Jewish state; that much of the Palestinian Nakba was self-inflicted; and that Israel is a vital functioning democracy despite living under constant siege.

The key to the delegitimation strategy is to so exaggerate normal faults and inescapable errors in self-defense, and to invent evils and thus define Israel as an apartheid society. The bald-faced lie of this claim is blatant because in Israel itself, the opposite of apartheid is true. Despite the Arab states’ unrelenting assaults from without, the internal Arab minority was granted full voting rights and all civil rights. Starting as a disadvantaged community, Israeli Arabs have steadily improved their levels of public health, education, and economic well-being – beyond any of the Arabs in neighboring states. They are still behind the Jewish curve but – like blacks in America – they have the full range of democratic mechanisms available to improve their status. Their fate is significantly in their own hands.

The left that airbrushes the evils of ‘underdogs’ or ex-colonial peoples and demonizes the Jewish state, has seized upon the West Bank situation to give the color of validity to its apartheid caricature. In so doing they ignore the fact that overwhelmingly the restrictions on the Palestinians were instituted to protect against terrorism. They omit that successive governments of Israel have offered to give 90% plus of the West Bank to a Palestinian state in return for a credible secure peace agreement. They cover up the continuing Palestinian rhetoric of revenge and genocide. They falsely equate the systematic use of terror and hatred with highly marginalized violent actions or expressions of bigotry. They treat as equivalent official Arab glorification of genocide with a minority desire for conquest on the Israeli side. This ‘neutral’ mendacity encourages Palestinian revanchist policies.

Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, “Mandela, Apartheid And The Jews”, The Jewish Week (13 December 2013), 28.

Fulfillment of this demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state — which is really about mutuality since Israel already recognized the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to self-determination — is a prerequisite for genuine reconciliation, and it should enjoy full support from peace supporters across the political spectrum.

I like to use the metaphor of two families living together in one house, representing the Jewish and Palestinian national movements occupying the small tract of land between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea. Yes, it is true that there will be no peace unless and until a permanent border can be drawn separating these two peoples. The border is necessary, but not sufficient. If, after a border is drawn, current and future generations are taught that members of the other family sharing the house are not there by right, have no legitimate claim, are essentially thieves, interlopers — simply there because eviction was impossible or impractical — the seeds of future conflict will continue to be sown.

Martin Raffel, “Why Recognition Of Jewish State Is Fundamental To Peace”, The Jewish Week (10 January 2014), 26.

How then should…

How then should Israel look to the future? This is a difficult proposition for a country whose leaders are notorious for their short-term perspectives on policy. Nevertheless, it is a question that Israelis and their American supporters must face. Geography is relatively unchanging, and Israel will always find itself caught between rival great powers, whether those proximate to it, like Egypt or, more likely, those further afield, like Turkey or Iran, or those even more remote, but with expanding military reach, like China and India.

Dov S. Zakheim, “The Geopolitics of Scripture,” The American Interest (July/August 2012), 16.

Force-backed humanitarianism, which relies on rational influence over events in other countries, may have been a more feasible project in the bipolar era of the Cold War, with its relatively defined and stable web of alliances and proxies. Today, a multitude of newly empowered actors make a series of choices – the Muslim Brotherhood President appeasing the military, say, or liberal Egyptians backing a coup – that have wholly unpredictable consequences.

Pankaj Mishra, “Unholy Alliances”, The New Yorker (23 September 2013), 114.

The Assyria of yesterday could, for modern Israel, be Turkey, Iran, India or China tomorrow. Being initially called in to resolve local differences or protect Israel from an attack by an immediate neighbor, they may find the temptation to meddle in Israeli affairs too great to resist. Perhaps none of these states would actually seek to control the Jewish state. Economic influence, however, is an entirely different matter, and a powerful outsider, initially viewed as a protector, might impose one-sided trade or economic agreements on a weakened Israel. The fact that the United States has never done so, despite Israel’s dependence on Washington for its support in so many ways, simply underscores the exceptionality of the United States and its unique role as a superpower. Others simply will not behave the same way.

Dov S. Zakheim, “The Geopolitics of Scripture,” The American Interest (July/August 2012), 13-14.

The war is now being waged by petty warlords and dangerous extremists of every sort: Taliban-style Salafist fanatics who beat and kill even devout Sunnis because they fail to ape their alien ways; Sunni extremists who have been murdering innocent Alawites and Christians merely because of their religion; and jihadis from Iraq and all over the world who have advertised their intention to turn Syria into a base for global jihad aimed at Europe and the United States.

Given this depressing state of affairs, a decisive outcome for either side would be unacceptable for the United States. An Iranian-backed restoration of the Assad regime would increase Iran’s power and status across the entire Middle East, while a victory by the extremist-dominated rebels would inaugurate another wave of Al Qaeda terrorism.

There is only one outcome that the United States can possibly favor: an indefinite draw.

By tying down Mr. Assad’s army and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies in a war against Al Qaeda-aligned extremist fighters, four of Washington’s enemies will be engaged in war among themselves and prevented from attacking Americans or America’s allies.

That this is now the best option is unfortunate, indeed tragic, but favoring it is not a cruel imposition on the people of Syria, because a great majority of them are facing exactly the same predicament.

Non-Sunni Syrians can expect only social exclusion or even outright massacre if the rebels win, while the nonfundamentalist Sunni majority would face renewed political oppression if Mr. Assad wins. And if the rebels win, moderate Sunnis would be politically marginalized under fundamentalist rulers, who would also impose draconian prohibitions.

Maintaining a stalemate should be America’s objective. And the only possible method for achieving this is to arm the rebels when it seems that Mr. Assad’s forces are ascendant and to stop supplying the rebels if they actually seem to be winning.

This strategy actually approximates the Obama administration’s policy so far. Those who condemn the president’s prudent restraint as cynical passivity must come clean with the only possible alternative: a full-scale American invasion to defeat both Mr. Assad and the extremists fighting against his regime.

That could lead to a Syria under American occupation. And very few Americans today are likely to support another costly military adventure in the Middle East.

A decisive move in any direction would endanger America; at this stage, stalemate is the only viable policy option left.

Edward N. Luttwak, “In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins”, The New York Times (25 August 2013), SR 4.

…too often we forget that the people in these countries are not just objects. They are subjects; they have agency. South Africa had a moderate post-apartheid experience because of Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk. Japan rebuilt itself as a modern nation in the late 19th century because its leaders recognized their country was lagging behind the West and asked themselves, “What’s wrong with us?” Outsiders can amplify such positive trends, but the local people have to want to own it.

As that reality has sunk in, so has another reality, which the American public intuits: Our rising energy efficiency, renewable energy, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling are making us much less dependent on the Middle East for oil and gas. The Middle East has gone from an addiction to a distraction.

Thomas L. Friedman, “Foreign Policy by Whisper and Nudge”, The New York Times (25 August 2013), SR 11.