Surrounding Israel

Does the fall of Mubarak help the resistance?

Nicholas Noe has been blogging regularly about what he is calling the ‘Resistance Axis,’ comprising of the states that have not accepted Israel’s occupation of Palestine or the annexation of Arab lands. The axis includes Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, and Syria. These groups make up a political front that have a common interest in opposing Israel: Hezbollah stands with Palestinians (Lebanon has a substantial number of Palestinian refugees – around 400,000) and recently terminated a war in which Israel decimated most of the country; Hamas governs the Gaza Strip which is effectively occupied by the Israeli blockade; Syria is still in a state of war and desires the return of annexed Golan Heights; and Iran refuses to bow to Israeli and American colonialism and policies of domination. While governments in the region have more or less tolerated Israel’s oppression and occupation of the Palestinians, the popular democratic uprisings across the Middle East could very possibly give this resistance axis much more power.

Despite protests that are planned for tomorrow and Saturday in Syria, it is unlikely that the Assad regime is likely to fall:

Despite the economic similarities with Egypt, Syrian society and circumstances are different. Syrians have been traumatized by the violence and chaos of Iraq. The presence of almost one million Iraqi refugees has chastened Syrians. they understand the dangers of regime collapse in a religiously divided society. No Syrian wants to risk civil war. Freedom in Iraq has spelled disaster for the country’s minorities, both Sunnis and Christian. Iraq provides a cautionary tale for Syria’s minorities in particular.

The Syrian regime is very tough. It will try to nip any demonstrations in the bud.

[tweetmeme] And even if it were to crumble in the face of a popular movement similar to that in Egypt, it is highly unlikely that the Syrian people would be willing to elect a President who would be more accommodating to Israeli and American interests. Such a peace deal would logically remove Syria from the axis, but is unlikely to happen for sometime – particularly now that Israel requires a referendum in any peace deal that gives up the Golan.

The western-leaning Hariri government is Lebanon is no more. Replaced by the Hezbollah backed Najib Mikati, Sa’ad Hariri – who, while not a friend of Israel, was more attached to US goals – has been relegated to the sidelines. While it is difficult to remember when the Lebanese government was last truly stable, it is reasonable to believe that Mikati could be around for a while. The PM is a Sunni politician who is not part of Hezbollah and does not have particularly strong ties with Iran, and has the support of Syria, Saudi Arabia and France. Mikati is, though, a close friend of Assad in Syria, securing Lebanon’s position in the axis.

Hamas and Iran hardly need commentary, so moving south, the (soon-to-be) ouster of Mubarak could provide a major boost for the resistance axis. Mubarak has been, thanks to US dollars, primarily concerned with the security of its Israeli neighbor. The peace with Egypt, though still rather cold, represented a security guarantee as well as a psychological boost for Israel. Noe, quoting a NYT article:

Since then all of Israel’s military conflicts — from the first Lebanon war in 1982 to the Gaza war of 2009 — have been asymmetrical confrontations against terrorists. While those conflicts have presented Israel with strategic, diplomatic and moral problems, it no longer faced an existential threat from the Arab world.

For Israel, then, peace with Egypt has been not only strategically but also psychologically essential.Israelis understand that the end of their conflict with the Arab world depends in large part on the durability of the peace with Egypt — for all its limitations, it is the only successful model of a land-for-peace agreement.

Though Egypt failed to deliver the normalization in relations Israelis craved, the thousands of Israeli tourists who have filled the beaches of the Sinai coast experienced something of the promise of real peace. At least in one corner of the Arab Middle East, they felt welcomed. A demilitarized Sinai proved that Israel could forfeit strategic depth and still feel reasonably secure. [Noe’s emphasis]

A truly democratic Egypt cannot possibly be as dedicated to Israeli security as Mubarak was; a future government could even be rather aggressive towards Israel. At the very least, while it is unlikely that the future Egyptian government tears up the peace treaty with Israel, it will predictably be much less willing to swallow the continuing brutality of the Israeli occupation and could perhaps even open the border with Gaza. While the immediate, near or long term future will hardly produce a war between Egypt and Israel, the fall of Mubarak acts a type of addition by subtraction for the axis (subtraction by subtraction for Israel). The removal of such an unwavering ally of Israeli policy is a net gain for the resistance axis. Noe writes:

Sadly, as Nasrallah has been saying for four years now… The Resistance Axis “peace” strategy for ending the Jewish state of Israel from within is coming into focus: If Israel does not Pre-emptively attack, then it will steadily be surrounded and drained by increasingly militarily able, hostile states, exacerbating its own internal factors of decline identified by leading Israelis themselves….

While Noe is undoubtedly right, the increasing power of the resistance axis certainly does not require or indicate the inevitability of war. Arguably, Israel will be just as secure in the post-Mubarak period, just living in a less friendly neighborhood. The US will continue to pour money into Israel’s defense structures to ensure maintenance of the of Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME), ensuring that any Arab attack on Israel would be defeated. The true blow would be to Israel’s psychological sense of security, perhaps leading the country further to the right. Indeed, the creation of a non-compliant Egyptian state (be default aiding the resistance) would also provide the axis with a potentially strong Sunni arm outside of Gaza, encircling Israel with Sunni and Shi’a regimes that are less concerned with Israeli security than is ideal (for Israel).

More importantly, perhaps, is the effect that an stronger resistance axis will have on Israel’s occupation of Palestine. As Arnold Evans notes, on Race for Iran, a strengthened resistance will likely produce incentives for finding an agreement with the Palestinian Authority:

If everything falls Iran’s way, the president of the US may have to go to Israel’s supporters and say, “We tried, but we can’t afford to try to keep the region safe for you any more.  You’d better immediately take whatever deal the Palestinians are willing to offer, and if not, you’re going the way of Apartheid.

Discounting that Israel is already an Apartheid state, the creation of a new Egypt will create a new regional dynamic for Israel. Contrary to what some Israelis or ‘Israeli-firsters’ in the US may say, a new Egypt will barely make a dent in Israel’s actual security. More damaging will the the crater it blasts in the psychological comfort level of Israelis. The predictable reaction of Egyptians to any future Israeli assault on Palestine (or even Lebanon) will demonstrate how the Egyptian uprising can and will affect Israeli power. After calmer, more democratic pastures are found in Egypt, a Flotilla-esque incident or a second Cast Lead will truly show the world how much the resistance axis has grown.

The importance of this ‘Resistance Axis’ theory is simply that Israel is painting itself into a corner. As the dominoes fall across the Middle East, the US will find its coercive power waning as its pliable dictators fall to public opinion. By continuing to push towards the ultra-right, Israel will find itself more isolated regionally, even among democracies (see Turkey). The potential, of course, is the polarization of regional public opinion: Arabs becoming less tolerable of Israeli abuses of power and Israelis shifting further to the religious right.

As Noe highlights, such an outcome would have the potential to eat away at Israeli society from the inside. From an Israeli prospective, this mean the loss of any liberal section of society. From Haaretz:

In two decades or so, more than half of Israeli youth will be either Arab or ultra-Orthodox Jews. Most of the Arabs will presumably support the Islamic Movement. The Haredim, for their part, will join the workforce, even high-tech, but their support for political religion and for a justice system ruled by Jewish law will not change. People can become accustomed to anything, and we too, presumably, will gradually get used to religious edicts and a changing reality. Many of us, members of the productive, liberal public, will give up and flee in desperation. Others will remain optimistic. Or skeptical.

Seeing the potential for such an extreme polarization of both the region and Israeli society does not mean that one must resist the democratization of the Middle East, as such a move would only facilitate the polarization through contempt of the Arab masses. Indeed, the increasingly regional isolation of Israel and the encirclement of Israel by the resistance simply highlights the need of Israel to attempt to integrate better into the region. It reiterates the need of Israel – for its longterm interest – to find a way to end the occupation of Palestine and the Golan Heights and reach out to its Arab neighbors in search of normalization.

Photo from Black Agenda Report

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