Wednesday, January 20th, 2021 https://adamkhan.net/rambles/
rab nations have spent much of their modern existence in an unseemly fulmination over Israel. To be sure, the madness was already there, hence the attacks on Israel in the first place. Yet the War of Independence in 1948 might have concluded with a sensible set of regional bilateral relations; instead it drove the madness deeper, the neighboring states basing their self-worth on vanquishing the new Crusaders, surely a manageable task for the entire Ummah, yet somehow ever elusive.
Most emblematically expressed in the Three Nos of the Khartoum Resolution (“No peace, no recognition, no negotiations”), this freakishly misguided attitude has long been eroding and is now crumbling. Muslim ire today is clearly best directed not at Israel but fraternal Syria, a decade-long charnel-house; at faraway China, actively oppressing the Muslim Uyghurs; and of course at nearby Iran, continuously undermining Arab societies. For Arabs it is not only unseemly but increasingly ridiculous to be ignoring these upsets and remaining fixated on Israel’s sometimes unpleasant but hardly genocidal relationship with the Palestinians. Israel’s near neighbors Jordan and Lebanon have been destabilized not by Israel but rather by bodies hostile towards Israel. Moreover, fellow Arabs in the Gulf states, prospering beyond oil, are clearing a pathway to Arab self-worth irrespective of Israeli defeat.
In moments of clear-eyed introspection, what shame there must be in a proud people to have tainted with their own vituperation such benevolent global institutions as civil aviation, the respect for non-combatant status in war, and even United Nations human rights organizations. What a contrary act of confidence it would be to transform from detesting Israel to respecting and even appreciating the pocket superpower in their midst — what seismic release! Unlike Egypt, which turned its back after retrieving (albeit demilitarized) the Sinai, the UAE is facing full front, unabashedly eager for mutual tent visits with Israelis. The Abraham Accords don’t just cease hostilities, they enmesh Israel within the Arab Middle East, which will doubly transform the region; once by ceasing the crippling rage, then again by shepherding initiatives.
Israel sits not on the Adriatic nor does it neighbor Australia; it lies centrally between Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, with Saudi Arabia just in view. Arabs — at least the elites — are going to be seeing a lot of Israelis, and Muslim religious pedigree surely contains plenty of maneuverability within which to embrace the centrality of a thriving Hebrew minority in the region. This spectacle, with news of country after country following suit, is a psychological snowball ringing the death knell for the dream palace of Israel’s destruction — because it will quickly bear real palaces. There could surely be few bits of news more fascinating to Arabs than a burgeoning myriad of joint Israeli-Gulf achievements. And it seems inevitable that Palestinians and Arab Israelis will benefit from all this, perfectly positioned in their unique straddling of the two cultures to act as catalysts between Jewish Israel and Muslim Arabia.
Even however as Israeli business and national bodies rush in to newly-friendly neighbors seeking opportunity and intelligence, there may yet be dangers in achieving the dream of regional acceptance; contra ancient warnings, modern Israel’s fatal flaw is not disunity but — as we have learned particularly through the Yom Kippur and Lebanon wars — arrogance. Although we have seen that the UAE are no slouches, what with their space program and COVID vaccine rollout, Israelis might yet nonetheless mistakenly presume that profits, intelligence penetration and manipulation will all flow in one direction.
Right now Israel’s national broadcaster Kan is headlining the documentary Lebanon, its central conceit — perhaps not accidentally — that Israel was seduced into the Lebanese morass by the gangster Phalangists, whose slick leaders presented to a susceptible Menachem Begin the plight of cultivated Christians oppressed by monstrous Muslims. The mission of operation Shlom HaGalil (Peace for the Galilee) was to halt the attack on Israel’s northern civilians by expunging Arafat’s guerilla PLO from southern Lebanon; this was achieved and how, pushing the PLO back not just northward away from the border but eventually onto ships sailing to Tunisia, by means of the Israel Defence Forces invading up to Beirut. The mission then crept towards nation-building a friendly ally — until the Syrians put the kibosh on that by assassinating newly-elected President and Israeli ally Bashir Gemayel. Israel then got mired in a bloody near-20-year occupation of southern Lebanon until a precipitous retreat by Ehud Barak. In the book The Gulf Region and Israel: Old Struggles, New Alliances, Sigurd Neubauer outlines the UAE’s old enmities with its neighbors, particularly Qatar; learning from the Lebanon quagmire, Israel must not allow itself to get dragged into other peoples’ inscrutable conflicts. Such are the new travails lurking within the boon of wider relations — not the sort of problems Israel is used to having. Israel’s strength here may lie in its weakness, its tiny size serving as a reminder that it cannot be a typical dominant power and must curtail any thoughts of interventions beyond its own stark existential interests. So far this posture generally holds; nobody has expected Israel to take in Syrian refugees, though they have streamed around Israel to further corners of the globe. And it seems the disastrous occupation of Lebanon has been a lesson completely learned in this direction.
The rise of China; remote work; cheaper renewable energy sources; faster computers; mRNA technology; commercialized space development — if the Arab world, leavened with Israelis, starts pulling its civilizational weight, a burgeoning Middle East could belong on this list of 21st-century mega-trends.
In this vein
- “Memo to President Biden: Please Don’t Mess Up the Abraham Accords” by Bret Stephens, February 2021, in Commentary Magazine
- “Jumping Jehoshaphat! Have You Seen How Many Israelis Just Visited the U.A.E.?” by Thomas L. Friedman, March 2nd, 2021 in The New York Times
- “Introducing Muslim Zionism” by By Einat Wilf, Ibrahim Al Rashidi, Maryam AlZaabi, Einat Wilf, Ibrahim Al Rashidi, Maryam AlZaabi, Einat Wilf, Ibrahim Al Rashidi, Maryam AlZaabi, November 10, 2020 in The Forward