Thursday, November 12, 2009

Iran and Syria Are Up; Egypt and Saudi Arabia Are Down. And this is Israel’s Fault?

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By Barry Rubin

The Aztecs of Mexico believed that if they didn't sacrifice human victims each day the sun wouldn't come up the next morning. This seems to be the principle governing how Western elites blame Israel for everything that goes on in the Middle East and propose as a remedy even more U.S. concessions.

A remarkable example is how the New York Times tries to explain what is in fact a very important development in the region in an article entitled, “Influence of Egypt and Saudi Arabia Fades.” Wow! I could have told you that back in 2000.

But why has it faded? Could it be because of such long-term problems as these regimes' corruption, incompetence, rejection of reform, and inability to break from radical stances? Could it be that the fact that these regimes keep feeding anti-Americanism, hatred of Israel, militant interpretations of Islam, and extremism generally rebound against them?

 And might it be that radical forces—like Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah—have shown, with help from the United States and Europe, that hardline positions and violence pay?

Could it possibly be, in the shorter term, that the apologies, concessions, and refusal to confront the extremist Islamists have emboldened them and demoralized the relative moderates?

No. Guess who is blamed?

“With Israel having rebuffed American calls to freeze settlement-building, and with the prospects for substantive peace talks fading, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are increasingly viewed in the region as diminished actors whose influence is on the wane, political experts say.”

These experts have obviously not been following the news. Seems to me that Israel did agree to freeze building on settlements (the word “settlement-building” implies Israel is building more settlements and expanding existing ones which isn’t true). Remember that speech Secretary of State Hilary Clinton just made in Jerusalem praising this concession?

Oh, that’s supposedly part of the problem also.

The great promise of President Obama’s June speech in Cairo, officials and political commentators said, was severely damaged when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on her recent trip to the Middle East, praised as “unprecedented” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to slow the building of settlements. That left the leadership of Saudi Arabia and Egypt — the two regional American allies most committed to negotiating with Israel — exposed, embarrassed and weakened, [Egyptian] political analysts and government officials said.

So let me get this straight. Really! If Israel doesn’t freeze construction on settlements, that’s bad. But if Israel does freeze construction on settlements and the U.S. government praises this concession, well that’s bad, too.

I guess the only thing Israel could do right in these people’s eyes is to disappear off the map entirely. Oh? Yes, I guess so.

But seriously, the problem isn’t that the Obama Administration is too soft on Israel but that it is too soft on, well, let’s let the Times explain it:

“[Egypt and Saudi Arabia] have been challenged by Iran, opposed by much smaller Arab neighbors, mocked by Syria and defied by influential non-state groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.”

Yes, these are the enemy. They are the enemy of almost all the Arab states, they are the enemy of Israel, they are the enemy of America, and they’re even the enemy of Europe. If the United States doesn’t work against the Iran-led bloc, they are going to challenge, oppose, mock and defy everyone else in the region plus the West.

And those whom they challenge, oppose, mock, and defy are going to lose influence and lose heart.

So, let’s see now, might the following have something to do with the decline of Egyptian-Saudi influence:

--Hamas takes over the Gaza Strip, attacks Israel, world stands by and eventually boos Israel.

--Iran develops nuclear weapons. West offers engagement and seems afraid even to increase sanctions.

--Iran and Syria kill American soldiers in Iraq. The United States looks the other way.

--Palestinian Authority rebuffs U.S. calls to come to negotiating table and not to push the Goldstone report at the UN. (Notice only Israel does the “rebuffing” and the Times can never bring itself to allow criticism of the Palestinian leadership.)

--Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan rebuff U.S. calls to make some concession to Israel in exchange of freeze.

--U.S. and European governments don’t back moderate March 14 coalition in Lebanon so it has to give in to Iran, Syria, and Hizballah.

And these are just the highlights! Is this really all so hard to understand? And why is the establishment’s answer to bad mistakes in U.S. Middle East policy usually the demand that it make even worse ones?

Heed the words of William Shakespeare in "Henry V":

"In Peace, there's nothing so becomes a man,

As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of War blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the Tiger."

The problem is that the United States has been teaching friend and foe alike, lately, that it is a paper tiger. No wonder, then, that its foes prosper and its friends tremble.

Update: Now the Associated Press has published its article also claiming the only reason the radicals are gaining ground is because the peace process isn't advancing!

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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