Those among us who are middle-aged or older will remember a song by the Beatles called “Back to the USSR”. Ever since the minor crisis regarding the Asad regime’s use of chemical weapons, this song has been stuck my head.
This minor crisis has revealed, emphasized and demonstrated what we wrote about here long ago, which is the weakening of the Western bloc, especially the United States, and the return of the opposing group to the center of international stage under Russian leadership. Putin’s article in the New York Times openly expressed his opinion about the old-new international situation, in which the world has stopped being a unipolar system, and has gone back to being a bipolar system, as it was until the end of the eighties, when the Soviet Union collapsed, and the allies in Eastern Europe left it in favor of joining with the Western, democratic world, and afterward, the European Union.
The Russian Bloc is based on non-democratic countries that are hostile to the West, whether from a cultural point of view, like China and Syria, or a religious point of view, like Iran. Countries where democracy is limping along like Venezuela and Nicaragua, also join up with Russia, who doesn’t bother them too much about marginal matters like human rights and political freedoms. North Korea also enjoys China’s and Russia’s political protection, especially in the UN Security Council.
Today’s anti-democratic glue is apparently better than the glue of Slavic identity that formed the “Warsaw Pact” because it is a world view and a cultural perspective. Back then, membership in the Soviet bloc was forced on the states (for instance, in Czechoslovakia and the Soviet invasion of 1968), while today, states freely choose to belong to the Russian bloc. It is not yet a consolidated and unified bloc, but one definitely sees that this union of anti-democratic forces is winning ever more diplomatic territory in the international sphere. There is an important military aspect to this alliance, due to the supply of Russian weaponry to Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.
Many countries in the world compare the behavior of the bloc under Russian leadership to the conduct of the West under United States’ leadership and conclude: The United States betrays her friends and abandons them, while Russia is faithful to her friends and defends them. When the world analyzes what the United States has done for states and rulers in recent years it finds Mubarak, who was abandoned by President Obama with the start of demonstrations against him; the president of Tunisia – bin Ali – who was forced to flee from the demonstrations without even one of his European friends to rescue him; the United States abandons its friends in the Gulf and in Saudi Arabia in the face of Iran’s threatening buildup; the West does not back Israel in its efforts to maintain its security and its strategic assets, and urges it to establish another Palestinian terror country in the mountains of Judea and Samaria, overlooking most of the territory of the State of Israel.
On the other hand, the world sees that Russia defends Iran and its nuclear project in the Security Council faithfully, and even supplies its reactors and the means of defending them; Russia is faithful to Asad and supplies him weaponry, ammunition and means of defense necessary for his survival; Russia supplies China with raw materials and places of employment.
In Economic matters as well, the West appears weak relative to Russia. Since six years ago, the Western economy – Europe and the United States together – has been caught in a structural crisis, not in a recession from which it is relatively easy to emerge. It seems that the unification of currency (the Euro) and production standards are not enough to make Europe into one body, so divisive forces exist there that even threaten the stability of some countries: the region of Catalonia wants to secede from Spain, and the Scots apparently will leave the United Kingdom in another year. Europe is addicted to Russian gas, and to oil that, by Iran’s “good will”, is allowed to pass through the Strait of Hormuz on its route from the Emirates to Europe.
Regarding the issue of Syrian chemical weapons, the West has seemed like a crumbling and disintegrating body, with no leader and no shared agenda. The British parliament is against war, the French is for it, and the American administration says that it’s getting ready to attack, Congress doesn’t support it, the American army is preparing for war and the State Department puts forth a compromise. The right hand does not know what the left is doing, and each one acts according to a different agenda. This is no way to build a bloc of states that is capable of executing a mission that everyone agrees is ethically justified: to defend the citizens of Syria from chemical weapons. And when ethics ceases to be the leading cause for the West, what is left of its values?
The United States, the leader of the Western bloc, is immersed in itself and its problems: the city of Detroit – the city which, in the past, was the industrial center for American metals and cars – has gone bankrupt, and other cities may follow in its path. The American leadership is afraid to use the force at its disposal, and even when it goes to wars overseas it fails in them: the United States freed the Iraqis from the dictatorship of Saddam, but they became easy prey for regional Iranian supremacy. NATO freed Libya from Qadhaffi, and now Libya is sunk in a tribal bloodbath. And who will take control of Afghanistan when NATO withdraws from there? Won’t it be its Iranian neighbor?
The United States supported Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, but this support did not win the affection of the Muslims. On the contrary: as of today, all sectors in Egypt – the seculars as well as the Islamists – hate the United States. The seculars are angry with the United States because it supported the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamists hate it because it did not support them when Mursi was deposed. The cold shoulder that Obama turns to Sisi’s regime definitely might push the new Egyptian regime into the Russia-China bosom. Undoubtedly, this alliance has greater economic and political capability than the West has.
In Yemen, in Pakistan and in Afghanistan they hate the United States because it fought against terrorists, whom these countries’ societies consider to be righteous men, and it also kills innocent civilians in this war. Terror threats from al-Qaeda leaders and its affiliated organizations are enough to cause to the Americans to close their embassies and consulates over half of the globe. Is this how a superpower behaves? Perhaps the fact that four Americans were killed in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 made the United States lose confidence in itself and its strength?
Another damaging phenomenon that has darkened the American image is the great ease with which its most confidential and important secrets are revealed. A simple soldier in the American army, Bradley Manning, leaked thousands of government documents to the Wikileaks site. And until today the United States has still not managed to get its hands on Wikileaks or its founder. Another minor figure, Edward Snowden, revealed the innermost secrets of the National Security Agency to the eyes of the world and who gives him refuge? Russia and Putin, and the United States is unable to exert any pressure on them to extradite him. This phenomenon of leaking – that leads to revelation of many other countries’ secrets as well – causes leaders throughout the world to hesitate about having covert contact with the United States, because it seems to them that nothing will remain secret, and that the United States cannot defend itself and its friends from leaks. Have we ever heard of leaked documents from Russia?
Another factor that represents a big difference between the West and the Russian bloc is the way they deal with terror. Russia has suffered from Chechen Muslim terror, which hit Moscow and caused many casualties. Russia responded with a major offensive on the region of Chechnya, almost totally destroyed its capital, Grozny, and caused thousands of casualties among the Chechens, who were all – it must be remembered – Russian citizens. The United States and Western countries suffer from terror to a lesser extent and they are obsessive about it. The last large action that the West took against terror is the war in Afghanistan, which began with great success and over the years turned into a great failure: two weeks after the beginning of the war, the Western coalition had taken control of the whole territory of Afghanistan, and today it controls only a small part. The Taliban have returned to being the leading force, and the United States, which is losing its will to subdue its enemies, tries to engage with the organization that sees it as an illegitimate entity.
A few months ago, three people were killed and a few scores of people were injured in Boston at the Marathon. For two weeks the United States was in an uproar, the likes of which have not been seen since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the media hysterical presented the picture of a fear-stricken people and a situation where a few terrorists managed to intimidate the people and its leaders as well.
The world is divided into two blocs today, one – the Western – tired, exhausted, divided, without leadership, lacking an agenda and not wanting to use its power. The other – the Russian – fresh, strong, with defined goals and a powerful leader, using its power any time its interests are endangered. Israel belongs to the weak, losing Western, side, which you cannot at all depend on supporting you in the hour of peril. Israel must prepare for the pressures that will come from the allies, because they are sniffing the aroma of “peace in our time” that the Syrian agreement has brought, and they might also try to impose agreements between Middle Eastern states to divest themselves of unconventional weapons on Israel as well.
Israel must set the record straight with the White House, with Congress and with its many friends mainly among the Jews and Christian Evangelists. Political correctness must not squelch Israel’s criticism of the measures taken by the United States in the region, and Israel must develop a network of connections – even if covertly – with the states of the Middle East who see eye to eye with it regarding the regional threats.
But first and foremost the leadership of Israel must speak with the people about the actual international situation in which Israel finds itself. It is the citizens of Israel who will pay the price of the decline in international standing of the coalition that we belong to, and therefore it is our right, as citizens, to hold our leaders to strategic accountability. I don’t mean to say that the leaders must share military or intelligence secrets with the public, Heaven forbid. This must remain the province of as few people as possible. I mean that for quite a long time we have not heard our prime minister give us an overview of Israel’s strategic situation because the challenges that we may be presented with in the future may be greater and more severe than any that Israel has faced in the 65 years of its existence.
A joyous holiday to all the children of Israel.
Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with permission from the author.
About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.
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