July 25, 2005
Israel as a stabilizing force in the Middle EastBy Richard Baehr
[Editor's note: this article is based on a recent address to meeting of the 42nd Ward GOP in Chicago, July 20th]
This topic is an unusual one. An argument that Israel is a stabilizing force suggests that many people hold a different view. It is worth directly confronting that view of Israel as a destabilizer.� But it is also worth noting that destabilization is not necessarily a bad thing. Saudi Arabia with its export of Wahhabist books and videos and radical imams and its funding of madrassas is playing a destabilizing role in the Middle East and elsewhere by helping create a radicalized Muslim population. We should be critical of that kind of destabilization. On the other hand, the US has clearly been a destabilizing force in the Middle East with its invasion of Iraq. But if that invasion leads to positive political change in countries across the Arab world, then we would likely consider that destabilization as having been a good thing.�
Israel as destabilizer
The destabilizing argument with regard to Israel comes in two variations: first is what I will call the Tony Blair perspective — terrorism has root causes (as he said after the London bombing), which need to be addressed.
Blair seems to believe that one of the root causes of Muslim anger which leads to terror is the continuing Israeli—Palestinian conflict, which is unresolved, and needs to be ended. Of course, other factors are also at times put forth to explain the anger by the explainers or apologists for terror (who seem to get lots of column inches in Western newspapers):� that there is widespread poverty in Muslim countries or among Muslims in Western countries; that most Muslims live under repressive governments, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia; that the West (America, really) has led invasions�and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, that Western culture and modernity conflict with Islamic� lifestyles; and the challenge raised by Islamic fundamentalism — that Islam is and must be supreme over all other law.
How the Israeli—Palestinian conflict fits into this list is worth exploring.� Certainly bin Laden never used the conflict as a primary justification for any of his actions leading up to and including the 9/11 attacks.� His chief political objective has always been to rid Muslim soil of US and other Western forces, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where his ultimate objective has been to replace the royal family.� Muslims in Chechnya, Kashmir, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Bali who have been relentlessly murdering non—Muslims for the last decade have all had local or regional political issues on their agenda as well.�
There are certainly problems with many of the other explanations offered for Muslim violence and terror attacks. Many of the 9/11 attackers were not of humble origin, but middle class and well educated.� Poverty does not seem an adequate explanation for the attacks. There are poor people everywhere. But no other impoverished group— in Africa or Latin America, or Asia, has systematically resorted to an international terror campaign.
As for repressive governments, the United States has been the principal liberator of Muslims from repressive regimes in the last fifteen years — in Kuwait, Bosnia,� Kosovo, Afghanistan, and now Iraq. In many of these countries or areas, there is some appreciation for our actions, particularly in Kuwait and the Balkans. The continuing violence in Iraq and Afghanistan has hampered such sentiment from developing in these places, though most of the violence in both countries is now by jihadists against other Muslims in these countries.� And of course, liberation often brings at least temporary occupation, which is never particularly popular among the locals.
One issue that is rarely mentioned by the apologists and explainers is the most critical factor in explaining the growth of Muslim anger against the West: indoctrination.�Muslims are indoctrinated into fundamentalist Islam, making it a growing force in many countries, through a steady stream of messages in the media, schools, prisons and mosques. This relentless propaganda�campaign is funded primarily by Saudi Arabia. Half the children in school in Pakistan are educated in fundamentalist madrassas.� Lengthy articles in the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune have detailed how fundamentalists have taken over schools and mosques right here in America.� Any community resistance to this well organized, well funded takeover of American Muslim institutions, has simply been steamrollered away.� And where fundamentalism grows, anger and hatred of the West grows with it.
But let's get back to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and its contribution to this seething pot of Muslim anger.
Think about this a different way. Are the world's Jews so unsettled by the lack of resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, that they too are resorting to a terror campaign against the West or Arab states to demand its resolution?� Israelis who send their children off to school, who board a bus, who eat at a restaurant, are aware that life could suddenly end for them or their family members at any moment. Israelis might have a right to be angry about the dangers and the� state of siege they have endured for more than half a century. But assuaging Israeli anger does not enter into the picture for Tony Blair. Israelis, after all,� are civil, and Western.� They don't deliberately kill innocents.�
Blair (a decent pro Western liberal) seems to think this Muslim anger and resentment will disappear or wane if a two state solution were achieved between Israel and the Palestinians.
While normally level—headed, I think Blair is wrong here, perhaps even a bit naive.
I do not expect that a resolution of the conflict with two states living side by side in peace is in the cards, certainly not anytime soon. The so—called Roadmap plan, I believe, will be one more failed attempt at a negotiated settlement of the conflict. This conflict has� never been primarily about Israeli occupation or settlements in the territories. There were no Israeli settlements in the West Bank or Gaza before 1967, but there were three wars with the Arab states in the 20 years before any occupation of those areas.
The elimination of Israel
And in fact, the resolution of the conflict that radical Islamists seek is not a two state solution in any case, but the elimination of Israel, which they see as a foreign Western outpost on what should be Islamic controlled land. There is no potential compromise between the views of Hizbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Iranian mullahs, bin Laden and al� Qaeda and the continued existence of a majority Jewish state of Israel. No border arrangement, and no two state solution could satisfy these zealots. These groups or leaders repeatedly emphasize that withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank and Gaza is insufficient, merely a first step to elimination of Israel and the Zionist entity.
Even a supposed moderate Palestinian, such as PA President Mahmoud Abbas, has been more willing to make peace with the extremists among the Palestinians than with Israel itself. While groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al Aksa Martyr Brigade, routinely and murderously violate the 'hudna' or quiet period promised by Abbas since his election, he has chosen to co—opt these groups and bring their members into his own armed forces, thereby further legitimizing them and providing their members with more weaponry, rather than disarming them, as required by the Roadmap.� Meanwhile his media continues to lambaste and preach violence against Israel as in the Arafat days. Abbas demands a right of return for Palestinian refugees, so as to overwhelm Israel with Palestinians, and eliminate the Zionist entity by making Jews a minority in their own country.�
The alternative explanation in the case of Blair is that he is not na�ve — that he is aware of the daunting challenge of bringing peace to the region, and that he understands that radical Islam can not make peace with Israel.� In this alternative, Blair needs to at least make this attempt at pressuring Israel for concessions, and pressuring Western nations to fund the PA. This is popular with his critics on the left, who opposed his going to war alongside the US in Iraq, and also loathe Israel.� Israel, then, is a bone to throw to his anti—Iraq left.
I do not believe that Tony Blair is in any way enveloped in the British left's Jew—hating and Israel—hating sickness. Nonetheless, his view is that the resolution of the Israeli—Palestinian conflict depends primarily on a recognition that Israel has been at fault, that Israel needs to make concessions, that Israel has been unreasonable, hence Israel has been destabilizing.� This is blame—shifting. Muslims are angry about the Israeli—Palestinian conflict because they believe Muslims (Palestinians) have been wronged.
And this is the only conclusion one can draw, because the resolution of the conflict is needed to assuage Arab and Muslim anger, not Jewish anger, hence the grievance must be one that is held (presumably legitimately) by Arabs and Muslims about the conflict.
In essence, the Blair view of Israel as destabilizing is that certain Israeli actions or behaviors — occupation, settlements, construction of the security barrier, treatment of Palestinians in the territories —�are wrong (or misguided), and hence create Palestinian, Arab and Muslim anger, and are destabilizing.� If Israeli behavior�were changed — if Israel withdrew from occupied territories, took down its separation barrier, made life easier for the Palestinians, then we would expect less resentment, less terror from Muslims worldwide (and presumably in Israel as well).� This view is also promoted by many Jewish peace groups, such as Americans for Peace Now. These groups will always find a way to excuse Palestinian misbehavior (including� murderous terrorist attacks) while routinely faulting Israel for not doing enough to create the conditions that will bring the Palestinians to the peace table.� These apologists seem to forget that Israel offered to give up� 97% of the land in the territories in the year 2000, and provide Palestinians land within Israel in exchange for the remaining 3%. It was an offer designed to end the conflict. Instead, the Palestinians chose war.
The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza scheduled in about a month will put this theory, that it is primarily or exclusively Israeli behavior that counts, to a stern lest. Will Gaza be more or less governable after Israel leaves? Will it be more or less secure both for its Palestinian residents, and for Israel beyond Gaza's borders? Will terror from Gaza cease or grow?
My theory, not Blair's, is that terror will likely increase. Palestinian society today resembles nothing so much as what the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes described as a violent, ugly state of nature dominated by tribal clans.� And in that kind of society, he with the most or best guns wins, or at least wins locally.
So tribal warfare between Palestinian factions is likely after Israel's withdrawal (it is starting already), and increased attacks against Israel are likely too (they have already picked up in anticipation of the disengagement, designed in part for the terror groups to be able to claim�that they forced Israel to leave). Both the tribal wars and the attacks against Israel are designed to win the favor of the general populace or local clan, for being most faithful to the noble resistance movement, and earning the sort of respect won through violence. These are the winning and still dominant ideologies in Palestinian society.�
Apologists for Hamas' success in the Palestinian territories always argue that they deliver the food, and medicine, while the Palestinian Authority is so riddled with corruption (it is, of course), that it squanders Western aid and fails to deliver the goods. So it is the social service 'good Hamas' which wins the people over.� This is at best a partial explanation for Hamas' popularity. It is, after all, the Hamas terror campaigns which lead to the restrictions imposed on the territories and weaken the Palestinian economy. A nation, any nation, including Israel must defend itself against terror.
If improved economics were enough to bring peace or the key to political success, Hamas would lose and would have been marginalized long ago. The conflict would be resolved, since that would be in everyone's economic interest. Above all, it is the commitment to violence which has impoverished Palestinians. It is the ruthless discipline enforced by Hamas� gunmen which keeps the local population in line.
Gaza is now the site of a power struggle to seize control in the vacuum that Israel will leave behind. For Hamas, it is their incessant incitement for the legitimacy and necessity for violence, and their total irreconcilability with Israel's existence that are the most important reasons for their political� success, not the powdered milk they distribute to Palestinian families.
The question of course is how the do—gooders in the West, those holding� the view of Israel as destabilizing, will react to the violence likely to characterize Palestinian behavior after a Gaza withdrawal. There is not much in recent history to suggest that their attitudes about this conflict will change.� Sad to say, it may take a few more London or Madrid type attacks, which I am sure are coming, before Europeans begin to understand the extent of the problem they face, and why appeasement of terrorists is never the answer.
When Arafat walked out of Camp David in 2000, and started an intifada two months later, the world's liberal elites, which very briefly had criticized his behavior at Camp David, quickly turned on Israel for the supposed harshness of its response to the Palestinian violence. Harsh is a relative word in this part of the world: 100,000 Algerian fundamentalists were killed by their government, 10,000 Egyptians from the Muslim Brotherhood were killed to wipe out an Islamic terror campaign there, 20,000 Syrians were murdered by their government in a single day in he city of Hama in the early 80s, and hundreds of thousands of Christians in the south of Sudan have been murdered by their government. But the elites in the West care little about these� attempts to create domestic stability in these countries through ruthless violence, since they expect so little of them, and the bar is set so low in judging them. Israel, invaded by hordes�of generally liberal and unsympathetic Western journalists is always held to an impossibly high standard.
Palestine as a cause
The most notable success for the Palestinian movement in the last 60 years has been to broadcast their grievance, however legitimate it might be, and make it a cause for Muslims and the liberal do gooders far afield. This has led to its adoption by international organizations as their own cause, what with 56 nations as members of the Islamic conference, and many more countries housing growing and restive� (dare I say destabilizing) Muslim populations.�
So in one sense, Blair is right. Muslims do care about the fate of the Palestinians. Al Jezeera feeds them a steady diet of grievance.� And for the autocratic Arab and Muslim regimes, anger at Israel and the US, can be and has been used to deflect anger which otherwise would be directed at their own regimes, which are the ones directly oppressing them, or denying them opportunity.� But the question is whether this anger over Palestine can really be assuaged short of replacing Israel with Palestine?
The second thematic approach to Israel as destabilizing, is a� more malignant view, that Israel is destabilizing, not because of its behavior, but for what it is: a Jewish majority state amidst a region of Islamic Arab ones.�And that state of affairs cannot continue.� And even here, there are two branches of the malignant view. One branch is the Western elite view, or the Neville Chamberlain appeasement view, as I call it, perhaps best expressed by Jewish NYU professor Tony Judt.
Judt concluded last year in a New York Review of Books article that it was just not worth the effort anymore for the West to defend Israel — that the conflict should end with a bi—national one state solution, not two states living side by side in peace.� Judt is fairly cavalier about what would happen to Jews in a bi—national state, which given comparative birth rates, would in time come to�be dominated by the Arab population.
Judt acknowledges that there could be problems for the Jews in such a state. He admits that many might leave. But he seems to consider this less important, than removing the boil of Israel as an issue for the West.�Judt favors unconditional Israeli surrender, to end the state of siege, which on the Arab side will never end so long as Israel exists.�� For Judt, the urbane European—born Professor in New York, it has probably just become too difficult to defend Israel's behavior (or existence) any more at those Upper West Side faculty cocktail parties. So Israel should be gone.
The hard—liners of Islam
The darker side of this malignant stream that Israel has no right to exist, is really a broader argument, made by radical Muslims in this case,�that non—Muslims can have no meaningful role in any Muslim—dominated land, and may live there only at the will of the Muslims who are there. The concept of a majority Jewish state, or even a Christian majority state within the Muslim world is anathema in this mindset.
And any country, once Muslim dominated, is part of the Caliphate to be restored. So Spain is in the target sights too. This view, most charitably developed, is that the Muslim world will cease being restive, when the West leaves it alone, and goes home. There is of course a more radical segment within the radical wing that sees Islam triumphing everywhere, and creating a world ruled by sharia, Islamic law, even in countries where the Muslim presence is recent, such as in the United States and much of Western Europe.
The preachers of this intolerance, are of course, free to go about their merry way, promulgating war against the West in their host country mosques, media, and prisons.�
The liberation of Kosovo, and Bosnia for self rule by their Muslims, would not of course have happened without the intervention of the West. Milosovic did not practice Western pieties or�observe Marquis of Queensberry rules in dealing with his enemies in Srebenica.� He behaved like the Algerian or the Egyptian government in dealing with his enemies, and would not have been defeated without the West.� Now the Wahhabists and the foreign jihadists are trying to take control in these lands too. The West seems to scores no points among the radical Islamists for any good deeds.
The destabilizing argument fails
The Israel is destabilizing argument fails in either case. For the Blair view to be correct, improved Israeli behavior would have to lead to a significant drop off in anti—Western violence and resentment by Muslims.
When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in the spring of 2000, it seemed to harden Yassar Arafat in the lead up to Camp David. If Hizbollah attacks could force Israel to withdraw unilaterally from its security zone in South Lebanon, then a pickup in violence, a new intifada was a far more dignified route for the Palestinians than the humiliation of compromise with Israel at the negotiating table. The Lebanon/intifada model does not make one very optimistic about what will follow a unilateral Israeli disengagement from Gaza, whatever the merits of that plan, for which reasonable arguments can be made both for and against. That is a separate talk.
There is no evidence that the Israel Palestinian conflict is either the major focal point of radical Muslims' anger, or that some resolution of this conflict, if that were possible, would really relieve Muslim frustration on a host of other issues. Al Qaeda, the apparent perpetrator of the London bombings, only recently has gotten around to even talking about Israel and the Palestinians. As indicated earlier, their obsession has always been the presence of American soldiers on the holy soil of Saudi Arabia.�
If a two state solution to the conflict is not possible, because of Muslim and Arab rejection of Israel, then the appeasement practitioners in the West seem to believe Israel must cease to exist to satisfy Muslim anger, at least to resolve this one sore point on their long agenda of grievances.�
But if the malignant view of Israel in the Muslim world is the real one, then the problem for the West in taming radical Islam is likely much broader than Israel.�Giving up on Israel will not lead to any letup in the radical Muslims' drive.��Israel is not acceptable�because�it is part of the non—Islamic West. Sacrificing Israel will provide one good meal for them, only encouraging their appetite for more.
The real instability that exists in the Middle East is attributable to the growth and militancy of radical, uncompromising Islamists, who see Islam triumphant, even if it takes another thousand years. They are aided by the autocratic Arab governments, whose principal goal is to channel the Islamists' anger against the West, rather than at their own regimes.� The Arab world has been generous with its inflammatory propaganda aimed at Israel and its political campaign against Israel in international organizations. But the Arab nations have provided minimal financial and economic support to Palestinians, other than monies for families of suicide bombers.� The welfare money to provide� for the many� relegated to refugee camps for generations, has come from the West.�
Radical Islam would be on the march, whether Israel existed or not. If Islam can not reconcile to a two state solution in the Holy Land, to the existence of both Israel and Palestine, then it likely can not reconcile with the West. We can not negotiate with bin Laden, nor with Hamas.� We can only defeat them, or hope in time that enough Muslims will be sick of what their compatriots are doing in the name of their religion, that they themselves challenge the Islamists, and challenge their authoritarian regimes.
Israel as a stabilizing force
If Israel is not a destabilizing force, the next question is: does Israel contribute as a stabilizing force in the Middle East? I think the answer here is yes, for two major reasons.�
The first argument relates to what I call Israel's canary in the mineshaft role.� Israel is a tripwire for the United States. Those who hate America find it easy to hate Israel.� How the world behaves towards Israel is revealing of how they feel about America. 40% of UN measures are directed against Israel. The UN Human Rights Commission, with members such as Libya, Zimbabwe, Sudan, and Syria, all human rights titans, passes dozens of resolutions each year denouncing Israel. If there were no Israel, the US would get more of this flak itself. It is easy for non—Western nations to take direct potshots at Israel (a weaker surrogate for the United States in international forums), and harder to attack the US directly. This is true even for our supposed allies, France, Belgium, Germany, Scandinavian nations. They can hit at the US through Israel, America's ally.�
I believe that the test of the character of a nation throughout history is in many ways defined by how it treated its minorities, and its Jews, who were always a minority everywhere they lived.�
Now with a majority Jewish state, how nations deal with Israel has also become indicative of national character.
If they treat Israel exceptionally — uniquely — if they attack Israel for behavior that does not bother them in other nations, note must be taken.� Occupation has occurred elsewhere (Baltic states, Tibet, western Sahara, Japanese islands), and become permanent. Compare the numbers demanding that China relinquish Tibet with those making demands of Israel? Have any other nations offered to give up territory in exchange for peace with their neighbors, as Israel has time and again?
So too with separation fences. They exist between nations all over the world.�� Why the obsessive focus on Israel?� Why the focus on supposed human rights abuses by Israel? Israel can be proud of its treatment of minorities and gays, the role of women, the invitation to thousands of starving black Ethiopians to move to Israel, that Arabs vote, serve in the Knesset, and in Israeli ministries. Yes, Palestinians in the territories do not have it as good as their Arab brethren within the green line. But is that exclusively Israel's fault?
If some Western nations' leaders obscenely accuse Israel of behaving like Nazis, it indicates more than anything an attempt to deal with their own complicity in, and historical guilt over their behavior in World War 2 towards the Jews of Europe. Cheap moral and historical relativism is the weapon of the guilty, not the wronged.
What Islamic terrorists or other rejectionist Palestinians throw at Israel— suicide attacks, hijackings, roadside bombs, gunmen on the road, attacks on commercial aviation —�will eventually be thrown at other nations in the West.� So Israel is now the light unto the nations in a new sense: revealing the darkness, and the mechanics of those forces of evil that are out there, pitted against it and the West.��
Israel has always taken flak because of what it is: an advanced, technologically sophisticated Western outpost, and a non—Muslim state in the middle of the Arab world.
What if Israel had large oil reserves? Might not many nations regard Israel differently,�if it were a�stable source of oil for their economies?� Do we regard Saudi Arabia as stabilizing force today, or their oil reserves as a stable supply for the West?� Would Israel, if it were oil—rich, be a participant in an oil cartel, or help break it?� For the Arab and Muslim world, the treatment of Israel would be the same in any case: they want to destroy and have sought to destroy Israel for 60 years despite its lack of natural resources, and would want to destroy it if it had oil, only in small part to grab its resources.
So Israel is a stabilizing force for being a barometer of what has changed, and what has not changed in this part of the world.�� If Israel were accepted in the Middle East, then it would in fact signify a new political maturity for the region.� So long as the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors choose to use the UN and NGOs and international Courts to de—legitimize and attack Israel, rather than work through negotiations between the parties to get results, we know what their true intentions are, and how little has changed, regardless of the latest so called window of opportunity.
But Israel has been a stabilizing force in the region, and a great assist for the West in a more fundamental sense. Sixty years of fighting terror, have hardened Israel and educated Israel into what works in a war against terror. When George Bush stated that this war would be generational, no quick fix, he knew of course of the Israeli experience in this matter.�
Israel is the most sophisticated nation in the world in dealing with terror. Israel has learned how to use informants, to identify terrorists and learn of their planned carnage before the murderous acts are implemented, and often pre—empts them.
Israel has learned how to immediately care for the victims of terror attacks. Israel has learned how to make sense of terror crime scenes, and quickly target those responsible.� Israel has learned how to protect a crowded, urban society, and minimize the number of attacks due to institutionalized security precautions. Israel has the world's best airline security system. And Israel has provided lessons to others on how to carry the fight to the terrorists.
All of these lessons are there for those who want to learn them. It is no surprise that police forces and homeland security personnel from around the United States and other countries send their people to Israel for training in preparedness, confronting terror groups, and dealing with terror attacks. And what they learn is that Israel, a modern liberal, open society can protect its population while retaining the civil liberties its people cherish.
And it is no surprise that when there is a natural disaster in another country — an earthquake, a tsunami —�that Israel is always one of the first nations on the scene, providing the most useful expertise in locating and caring for victims.
What Israel relies on to weaken terrorist groups, and prevent terror attacks are the same methods that the Western countries will need to rely on, if they can get over the multicultural squeamishness that has infected too many of them already.
Particularly with regard to the United States, Israel has long played an important stabilizing role in the region. Unlike Korea, which has had tens of thousands of American troops for over half a century, or Germany, where a hundred thousand American troops have now been stationed for over 60 years,� American forces do not need to be stationed in Israel as a base of operations in the Middle East. US fleets can patrol the waters of the Mediterranean and dock in Haifa. And American presidents know that Israel will defend itself.��US foreign aid to Israel is�now about 2.5 billion a year. Over 90% of�this is� military assistance which is almost all spent back in the US. Compare� this to the over $100 billion annual cost of maintaining our forces in Korea and Europe.� The dollars sent to Israel for this purpose are a small fraction of the cost of keeping American forces mobilized and stationed overseas in these other potential hotspots.
Military assistance to Israel is better seen as a very modest component of the defense budget, rather than foreign aid in the conventional sense.
During the Cold War, Israel was a major source of intelligence on Soviet activity and intentions in the Middle East. Israel routinely delivered to the United States� captured Soviet military hardware, taken from the Russians' defeated Arab allies in a series of wars. These weapons were of great use to American military officials planning the next generation of weapon systems required to respond to the Russians. America also learned from Israel's� combat experience in fighting a force supplied with Soviet weapons, sometimes with Soviet personnel.�
With the decline of the Soviet empire, the fight with Islamic terror has taken center stage, and again Israel is central to the struggle, as an ally of the United States in that fight. Iran is an enemy of the United States, as is Syria. Israeli military strength in the region is a deterrent to both.
Today, Israel cooperates with the US in a range of military research projects, including� missile defense systems,�and drones, and homeland security projects, such as biometric identification, and development of� evasion systems for rockets fired at commercial aviation. Israel has made hundreds of modifications to the F—15 fighter jet.� Like the United States, Israel's military has to be on call, and succeed in its missions.� And its technology has to counter current and future threats.
Having an ally such as Israel in what is perhaps the world's most volatile region, is very much a stabilizing influence, that serves to inhibit the destructive reach of our common enemies.