June 19, 2013 Leave a comment
It has been years that things looked very bleak for Israel in the Middle East. Hamas was gaining power, Hezbollah has engaged in conflict and was since training and re-arming for the next one, Syria supporting movement of weapons to Hezbollah, Egypt not doing much to stop the weapons into Gaza and Jordan slaying its policies at every turn. At the same time in the outer ring, Iran was continuing its nuclear weapon program and supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, Turkey was becoming more religious and alienating itself from Israel, while supporting Hamas and finally the negotiations with Fatah were at a deadlock.
However, then something unexpected happened and parts of the Middle East started burning. Changing the game completely.
Looking back 2 years many things have happened that despite the chaos make more sense. For example, there has always been a tear between Shia and Sunni Muslims. This difference, which is religious based, goes back many years and a great deal of blood has been spilled over it. However, it was always odd to see the cooperation between Sunni and Shia when it came to fighting Israel. As ambivalent as they made themselves seem, the Palestinians have always been a majority of Sunnis and therefore for Shia Iran to support them was unusual to say the least. Like gravity versus inertia, there was always a force pulling them down, however, it was almost invisible once the much stronger force pushing them together was at play.
Another odd example was the rule of the minority of Alawaites in Syria, which was secular, yet supporting Hezbolla and at the same time hosting the Hamas leadership, both ultra religious groups of Shia and Sunni respectively. What is still peculiar in respect to the Syrian-Iranian relationship is that Alalwaite and Shia have very little in common, apart from the fact that they are grossly outnumbered by Sunnis in the world. In fact, many of the Alwaites traditions would seem foreign as well as sinful to Shia, who choose to look beyond the differences as well as Iran an ultra religious regime allied with a secular state.
However, as they say a leopard cannot change its spots and it was only a matter of time until a catalyst ended this pretence.
Since the uprising two very important things happened. The first one was the pressure that was created with the fierce fighting and extremely high number of casualties, which forced all groups to declare their allies. While the Palestinians would have liked to stay on the fence in regards to the conflict, they could not ignore the harassment and number of dead Palestinians at the hand of the Assad regime and as a result chose their natural Sunni side. On the other hand, Hezbollah has stayed loyal to its Iranian patron and has since openly declared its involvement in the fighting.
The second byproduct was the pushing the Palestinian issue off the table. As far as the Arab world was concerned, once the glue that kept them all together was no longer effective, there was no reason to continue to support it. The Palestinian have been sidelined, as the regimes fight to keep control and stabilize their countries. Who still cares about the descendants of the 300,000 refugees that fled Israel over 60 years ago and are now settled in neighbouring countries, when there are now over a million displaced Syrian refugees in Turkey and Jordan? Or When a country as big as Egypt is on the brink of bankruptcy and the streets are still riddled with anti government demonstrations. This change in attitude has manifested itself in many forms, for example Egypt, run by the Hamas’ mother group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is currently imposing more restrictions on Hamas than Mubarak ever did. Destroying the smuggling tunnels, stopping weapon shipments, restricting border movement and applying pressure for them to avoid a conflict with Israel. The Syrians on the other hand have expelled Hamas’ headquarters from Damascus and Iran just recently stop supporting Hamas with weapons and reduced their financially aid.
As far as the Western media, while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will probably always gain some media attention, especially by the professionals dedicated to keep it in the headlines, in comparison in scale to what is happening around, it has shrunk and in some ways almost disappeared. Not only is it hard for the media outlets to favor such a relatively tiny and controlled conflict in comparison to the turmoil around, but the politics have blatantly conflicted with the usual narrative, making it a very long stretch to relate the events from the surrounding countries back to Israel. For example, Assad complaining that it is Israeli intervention that is pushing the rebels doesn’t sit well with the fact that Hamas, Israel’s sworn enemy has chosen the rebels side. There are other inconsistencies such as the Iranian role and change of heart about Hamas, which all point back to the same conclusion that it is a Muslim sectarian war.
A new villain that has not come well from local uprisings has been Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey. On a few occasion he has already exposed his propensity for drama and uncontrolled anger, which is not necessarily followed through, like in the case of the Flotilla, after which he exclaimed that every flotilla travelling to Gaza would be escorted by Turkish war vessels, which never took place. While this was easy for the media to ignore, it was less easy for people to question the toughness towards Israel killing the 7 people onboard the flotilla in to say the least dubious circumstances, as opposed to the acceptance of Syria shooting down a Turkish plane killing two fighter pilots or regularly shooting into Turkish border towns. However, the recent events have landed him in the most negative exposure after his bad handling of the demonstration in Gezi park for the people opposing turning the public green space into a shopping mall. The casualties and evidence of police brutality against the Turkish people have earned him some very bad publicity.
So while the region is burning and some taboos have been broken, such as rockets fired on Israeli territory from the Syrian side for the first time in decades and Egypt seriously considering renegotiating the peace treaty terms, the threats on Israel have reduced. While the terror attacks might grow and Israeli lives might be disrupted, apart from the Iranian nuclear program, Israel has little threat to its existence by its crumbling neighbours. In fact in the latest developments, the rebels have managed to injure Hezbollah in a way that Israel never could and Hamas’ weapon arsenal and money stocks are depleting, which would ultimately make it more focussed internally and less of a trouble for Israel.
However, one must remember that this is the Middle East and not only is nothing forever, but things don’t necessarily have to make sense either.