Monday, April 18, 2011


"There was one striking thing missing from the events in the Middle East in past months: Israel. While certainly mentioned and condemned, none of the demonstrations centered on the issue of Israel. Israel was a side issue for the demonstrators, with the focus being on replacing unpopular rulers.

This is odd. Since even before the creation of the state of Israel, anti-Zionism has been a driving force among the Arab public, perhaps more than it has been with Arab governments. While a few have been willing to develop open diplomatic relations with Israel, many more have maintained informal relations: Numerous Arab governments have been willing to maintain covert relations with Israel, with extensive cooperation on intelligence and related matters. They have been unwilling to incur the displeasure of the Arab masses through open cooperation, however.

That makes it all the more strange that the Arab opposition movements — from Libya to Bahrain — have not made overt and covert cooperation with Israel a central issue, if for no other reason than to mobilize the Arab masses. Let me emphasize that Israel was frequently an issue, but not the central one. If we go far back to the rise of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and his revolution for Pan-Arabism and socialism, his issues against King Farouk were tightly bound with anti-Zionism. Similarly, radical Islamists have always made Israel a central issue, yet it wasn’t there in this round of unrest. This was particularly surprising with regimes like Egypt’s, which had formal relations with Israel.

It is not clear why Israel was not a rallying point. One possible explanation is that the demonstrations in the Islamic world were focused on unpopular leaders and regimes, and the question of local governance was at their heart. That is possible, but particularly as the demonstrations faltered, invoking Israel would have seemed logical as a way to legitimize their cause. Another explanation might have rested in the reason that most of these risings failed, at least to this point, to achieve fundamental change. They were not mass movements involving all classes of society, but to a great extent the young and the better educated. This class was more sophisticated about the world and understood the need for American and European support in the long run; they understood that including Israel in their mix of grievances was likely to reduce Western pressure on the risings’ targets. We know of several leaders of the Egyptian rising, for example, who were close to Hamas yet deliberately chose to downplay their relations. They clearly were intensely anti-Israeli but didn’t want to make this a crucial issue. In the case of Egypt, they didn’t want to alienate the military or the West. They were sophisticated enough to take the matter step by step....

Hamas had the same means for starting a war it had before Cast Lead and that Hezbollah had in 2006. It can still fire rockets at Israel. For the most part, these artillery rockets — homemade Qassams and mortars, do no harm. But some strike Israeli targets, and under any circumstances, the constant firing drives home the limits of Israeli intelligence to an uneasy Israeli public — Israel doesn’t know where the missiles are stored and can’t take them out. Add to this the rocket that landed 20 miles south of Tel Aviv and Israeli public perceptions of the murder of most of a Jewish family in the West Bank, including an infant, and it becomes clear that Hamas is creating the circumstances under which the Israelis have no choice but to attack Gaza....

It is not clear what the Israelis’ limit is. Clearly, they are trying to avoid an all-out assault on Gaza, limiting their response to a few airstrikes. The existence of Iron Dome, a new system to stop rockets, provides Israel some psychological comfort, but it is years from full deployment, and its effectiveness is still unknown. The rockets can be endured only so long before an attack. And the Goldstone reversal gives the Israelis a sense of vindication that gives them more room for maneuver.

Hamas appears to have plenty of rockets, and it will use them until Israel responds. Hamas will use the Israeli response to try to launch a broader Arab movement focused both on Israel and on regimes that openly or covertly collaborate with Israel. Hamas hopes above all to bring down the Egyptian regime with a newly energized movement. Israel above all does not want this to happen. It will resist responding to Hamas as long as it can, but given the political situation in Israel, its ability to do so is limited — and that is what Hamas is counting on.

For the United States and Europe, the merger of Islamists and democrats is an explosive combination. Apart, they do little. Together, they could genuinely destabilize the region and even further undermine the U.S. effort against jihadists. The United States and Europe want Israel to restrain itself but cannot restrain Hamas. Another war, therefore, is not out of the question — and in the end, the decision to launch one rests with Hamas".

George Friedman, "The Arab Risings, Israel and Hamas," Stratfor. 12 April 2011, in

It seems by definition that the real 'wild card', in the Near & Middle Eastern diplomatic and strategic deck would be another Gaza War. So far, while the Islamist governing entity in the Gaza Strip has fitfully endeavored to provoke the Israelis, they have not been able to spur Tel Aviv into another 'Operation Cast Lead'. As Dr. Friedman correctly notes, there are limits to Israel's willingness to refrain from responding forcefully to Hamas' rocket and other attacks. One may safely presume that the American Administration has pointed out to the Netanyahu Cabinet precisely the same points made by Dr. Friedman in his essay. Exampli gratia: that another Gaza War, whether provoked by Hamas's attack or no, has the possibility of completely rocking the entire Near and Middle East from end to end. What is missing however from Dr. Friedman's surmises, is the fact that there is another actor, nay indeed, two actors who may tip the balance in favor of war, which Dr. Friedman does not mention: namely the regimes in Syria and Persia. Both regimes, especially the former are currently hard pressed by internal unrest and challenges to its rule by its population. Both to a good degree, have in the past based their legitimacy and or popularity with its population, on their 'rejectionist' credentials vis-`a-vis Israel 1. Both powers, especially Persia have in recent months, endeavored to send military equipment and supplies to the Hamas 2. With all this in mind, it would not to my mind, especially in the case of the regime in Syria, which is the more challenged of the two, be very surprising if Damascus endeavored to push and or pull Hamas towards an open policy of va banque, vis-`a-vis Tel Aviv. Come what may. This is not to argue that this state of affairs is inevitable. There are good and sound reasons why Hamas would like to avoid another round with Israel. Principally, the fact that the population of Gaza has hardly recovered from the catastrophic pounding that the Israeli Defence forces inflicted on Hamas at little over two years ago. Hopefully, Hamas will take into account its responsibilities as the governing power in Gaza and ignore whatever fanciful entreaties that the regimes in Persia and Damascus are making.

1. Claire Spencer, "A Stark Lesson for Aging Arab Autocrats," The Financial Times. 13 January 2011, in; Joshua Landis, "Syrian Authorities jubilant at the prospect of Mubarak fall and the shifting balance of power in the region," 30 January 2011, in

2. Tobias Buck, "Iran insists on warships bound for Suez Canal," The Financial Times. 16 February 2011, in


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