Friday, June 27, 2008

On Israel, peace and the great (!) Arab and Persian leaders

By Jihad Bitar

One year ago, over a hummus based lunch in a Beirut suburb, conversation stirred away (as usual in the ever “peaceful” Beirut) from the best Hummus places, to the current Lebanese political (if you can still call it political) situation. My hosts’ conclusion was reminiscent of the one I always heard my elders tell: “as long as there is no Israeli-Palestinian peace, there will be no peace in Lebanon”. This inherited political dogma was followed by the usual verdict: “But Israel does not want peace”

My reaction stunned the entire gathering; I had ventured into a risky zone (and I am not talking about the restaurant’s restrooms) when I wondered if after all, and for the first time in 50 years, Israel did not have a strategic advantage into making peace with the Arab nations. My point was (and still is) that warfare had significantly changed since the 1990’s: humanity (if you can call it that way) had moved from the era of the mighty air-force (as used in the Bosnia/Serbian war by the US) to an era dominated by medium and long range missiles. And this has a great impact on the geo-strategy of the Middle East; for the first time in 50 years, the heartland of Israel can be the target of any war between Israel and its neighbors. As the 2006 war on Lebanon has shown, even guerrillas like Hezbollah are able to hit towns like Haifa. If attacked, Iran and Syria can no doubt hit Tel Aviv; and the tourism and business minded new Israelis (as opposed to the early Jewish pioneers) cannot accept this. Israel cannot therefore afford not to make peace anymore. My remarks were quickly dusted away by the entire table; Israel receives yearly billions of dollars from the US and peace will only stop this financial gift. That may be true, but missiles hitting Tel Aviv could end up costing much more to the Israeli economy, and until anti-missiles technologies become mature (and the US & China have been heavily investing in this field) Israel therefore needs peace.

The Middle East is at a turning point. Which path will the Arab leaders choose to take? What choices do the Israelis still have? and what will Iran do? On the latter point, one should never forget that historically, the Persians have always looked towards the Mediterranean with gourmet eyes, and have faced the west (then represented by Alexander the great and others) many times on the Mediterranean shores. Add to this the religious aspect, and one can wonder if after 50 years of Israeli peace stalling, the Iranians won’t take over.

Jihad Bitar is a Media and Political Analyst based in Beirut. You can find his reflections on the Arab media scene on his blog.


Anonymous said...

Dear J. Bitar,
There’s what we call in french “une contante historique”, no literal translation for that, let’s try “a recurrent historical pattern”; Israel is a bellicose state, its whole raison d’etre is based on war, aggression, and if Israel chooses to make a U-turn, and try peace for a change, I think, then, Israel, as a geo-political& ideological entity wont be the same, it will join the minorities in this Near-East, a place that was generally tolerant toward nonviolent ethnical and sectarian minorities who seek refuge in it. That’s y , I think that it’s hard to understand the Israeli strategy in the Region. Let me tell u a short story abt the etymology of “Israel”, it’s highly symbolic : while the patriarch Jacob was crossing the river Yabboq (Jordan), he encountered a stranger, he fought him, and it was a no-win no-lose situation, as neither one of them took over the other; however, this stranger turned out to be a Messenger of God, an Angel (Jacob said that it was an avatar of God Himself...), it was after this confrontation that the ”Angel” gave Jacob a new name, he baptized him “Israel”, which means literally “u have fought” ! No need to say that the 12 sons of Jacob/Israel became the 12 tribes of Israel…
As for the question u asked, which path will the Arab leaders choose, I think that if u look at the Arab countries representing the financial power, and the countries representing the political gravity, the answer will pop right out to u; now the soul exception will be Syria, with its complex witty foreign policies and strategies (some say that the new French staff is still trying to catch up with the Syrian encryption- decryption in the political logos…), but also the “Islamic Lebanese Resistance”…
The “Persian Aspiration” is now very “inn”, it’s a hot topic, and it’s all legitimate future wise, or even the imminent future & all the intellectual speculations, but I think we should be also involved with the very present dangers…

Looking forward for another “hummus-socio-political experience”,

Arab Democracy said...

The change in the nature of warfare and the evolving technology on both sides of the conflict is certainly a factor considered by the Israelis in their motivation for peace. But I dont think that they are psychologically ready for it.

Much has been said about the trauma suffered by the Israeli civilian population following the 2006 watr and still happening in the southern town of Siderot which borders Gaza.But this media focus was primarly for propaganda purposes. The majority of Israelis, the ones who live in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (and make the bulk of mainstream public opinion) feel safer than they have for decades following the construction of the wall and the internal fighting between Palestinian factions.

The only way the Israelis will seriously approach peace is when they genuinely feel that it would preferable and advantageous for them to live in peace with their neighbours. At the moment the threat from groups like Hamas and Hezbollah are bringing them together and reinforcing their belief that it is a matter of 'life and death' for the state. This is counterproductive and places the strategic aim of the 'resistance' in question.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sirine & Joseph,

First of all, thanks for your comments.

Please don't get me wrong: I don't believe Israelis WANT peace, but rather don't have much logical choice...and I do believe (cf: surveys published in Haaretz) that the Israeli public opinion is genuinely scared and looking forward for a solution to their existential crisis; preferably military, but if no choice, then peace would be ok.

That said, in politics (as in everyday life) logic doesn't always apply: Human factors are often much stronger drivers than calculations or strategy (or rather strategy is driven by human factors) Olmert's electoral and judicial agenda, Iranian clerics perception of events and local troubles in Arab countries are probably the best indicators of upcoming short term events.


Anonymous said...

Ya hala Jihad,
The thing is that surveys and “public opinions” r usually fluctuant, relative etc so I don’t know how reliable they r.. bass they r a signal, a hint…
Halla2 when it comes to the Israeli “popular view” usually it embraces the “official”, both people and government in Israel r generally on the same socio-political wave, since it’s a true democracy. I don’t know if u remember when Hamas proposed an 11 year- truce, Israel refused on the spot; and recently, when the media disclosed the Israeli-Syrian peace talks, anti-peace protestations rose every where in Israel…
The Israeli conception of Peace differs from the Libano-Syrian one (it’s ridiculous to talk abt an Arabic one of course…) ; Israelis want to live in tranquility… regardless of their surrounding, they want to prosper among disaster etc etc … I think that Israel is looking for that equation.. but it’s a difficult one- that’s for sure- if we take into consideration what I like to call the “ideological stubbornness” and the “foxy wittiness” of some “groupuscules” in the region.