Since 1948, Arab countries have used Israel’s presence, and the “holy cause” of Palestinian exile, as the focus of their foreign and domestic policies, the spur of their ambitions, and a goad to one another.
“Palestinian guerrilla raids, first used by Nasser in the 1950s, had proven a viable means of goring the Israelis while scoring points in Arab public opinion,” writes Michael B. Oren in Six Days of War: June, 1967, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Oxford University Press, 2002). “Their operations were cheaply financed and, in face of charges of government collusion, plausibly denied, especially when mounted from neighboring countries.”
Ironically, Arab nations owe their very present-day existence to the presence of what the French ambassador to England famously called “that s**ty little country.”
Imagine there’s no country, as John Lennon idiotically wrote — in this case, imagine no Israel. The post-colonial Middle East breaks into two Arab factions, as it actually did: “progressive” regimes driven by demagogues and financed by the Soviet Union allied against “reactionary monarchies,” originally Iraq, Jordan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. In reality, of course, all these regimes are corrupt, rife with violence, factional in-fighting, and subject to serial assassinations and blundering foreign adventurisms.
Syria, heavy with Soviet armaments, swallows up Lebanon and Jordan (no more Hashemite monarchy, no more King Hussein, never any nice beautiful Queen Noor), then turns toward Saudi Arabia. At that point, Syria has yet another coup, and nobody knows what happens next. Initially goaded by Syria, Egypt attacks Saudi Arabia (as it actually did, repeatedly, from its outpost in a Soviet/Afghanistan-style incursion into Yemen). The House of Saud falls from the pressure, but Egypt blows itself apart, too, from sheer internal incompetence and from the military pressures of its occupation of Yemen. There is an Iran-Iraq War, merely 20 years earlier than the one that actually did happen. The Shah is deposed a decade before he actually was. The Soviets achieve a long-desired southern strategic goal, isolating Turkey, opening a route to the Indian Ocean and the Eastern Mediterranean.
All this regional violence would take place against a backdrop of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and against the potential for a superpower standoff — a potential that underlay every world development in the 1960s and 1970s. Obviously, the United States and England could not have stayed out. Russia could not have stayed out, either.
And guess what? Nobody would ever have heard of “Palestinians.” The region now so sharply divided between “Palestinians” and Israelis would have disappeared in the first Syrian rush. The name “Palestine” would be a remote historical curiosity, like Prussia.
Indeed, almost all the country boundaries we assume fixed would not exist — if Israel did not exist. Today, the United States, for all purposes alone, must contemplate not only a “regime change” in Iraq, but the potential for reshaping an entire region along some revolutionary lines. Arabic countries are hanging on by their fingernails, sustained only by their historic hatred for Jews and for “the Zionist entity.”
We would like to believe that, in the “war on terror,” we confront “extreme” elements, that, once dealt with, these “extremists” would disappear and countries fall back inside their familiar identities and boundaries.
But it is all of a piece, the hatred, the backwardness, the lies, and the threat. The Jerusalem Post published a sad, beautiful, immensely charitable editorial on May 29, noting the launch of an Israeli spy satellite, the Ofek-5, as sophisticated as any from the United States, Russia, or China. The Post took justifiable pride that the satellite was “built entirely in Israel” and launched on an Israeli rocket. The satellite will circle the earth every 90 minutes, and is capable of photographing virtually any spot on earth to a resolution of one meter. Its existence, as the Post says, “renders a repetition of the onslaughts attempted in 1948, 1967, and 1973 increasingly unthinkable.”
“Technology is not a panacea,” the Post concludes, “but it is a great handicap to be without it. No Arab state can dream of doing what Israel did this week until the Arab world is politically and economically transformed. This transformation, as a handful of mostly Western-based Arab intellectuals have pointed out, has been blocked by the Arab obsession with Israel. The launching of the Ofek-5 symbolizes not only Israel’s technological prowess, but how badly the Arab world needs peace.”
Not only could no Arab state launch such a satellite. No Arab newspaper could approach the magnificent generosity of that sentiment.
But, as the editorial notes, the transformation of Arab countries — to prosperity, modernity, and peace — is “blocked by (their) obsession with Israel.” That is the conundrum. Without Israel, they would not exist. Without the obsession, they will disappear.
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