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Paradigm Shift: Why Iran Now Needs the Bomb

Ayatollah Khamenei, Supreme leader of Iran

Ayatollah Khamenei, Supreme leader of Iran
Photo Credit: Foundation of Holy Defence Values, Archives and Publications/Wikimedia Commons

Egypt has a long-pacified buffer with Israel in the Sinai, and the Arab world’s largest nation is now in Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim-Brotherhood hands. A Morsi advisor told Egyptian media this week that Egypt’s new government is looking at amending the Camp David Accords to affirm Egyptian sovereignty in the Sinai. This policy shift won’t be benign, given Morsi’s rallying cry from June 2012:

“Our capital shall be Jerusalem!”

“Millions of martyrs march toward Jerusalem!”

“Banish the sleep from the eyes of all Jews!”

“You lovers of martyrdom, you are all Hamas!”

“Jerusalem is our goal!”

Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, continues to leverage cooperation with the United States to gain control over the future of Syria, which also has a border with Israel. Erdogan and Morsi, heads of populous nations, are now in competition with each other for leadership of the emerging phenomenon of modern state-Islamism. The Muslim Brotherhood’s influence will be effectively focused through the lens of Morsi’s government in Egypt; Erdogan is without a doubt an Islamist, but the Muslim Brotherhood has had an Arab- and Jerusalem-oriented trend in the last several years, and Morsi is its great hope now for wielding state power. Erdogan’s scope of interest is more diverse, given Turkey’s geography and history.  (Erdogan is also better armed, and remains a member of NATO, so Turkey is not to be counted out.)

Iran, through her client Hezbollah, sits on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. Hezbollah has controlled Lebanon’s government since early 2011, and has completely controlled southern Lebanon since at least early 2010. Iran has been rocked on her heels by the travails of Bashar al-Assad, her client in Syria. But her influence in Lebanon keeps her in the game.

Israel’s other border is with Jordan, which remains solidly aligned with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are seeking to be better armed and to leverage more of a say in the Levant, but at the moment, their influence is the least of Israel’s problems.

Hamas will not cease perpetrating terror attacks on Israel any time soon, but then, Hamas’s attacks were never about an earnest yearning for a Palestinian state. They are mounted solely to undermine Israel and wreak destruction. They will continue in spite of the decline of interest in pressing for a Palestinian state. But that decline will be noticeable. Morsi, Erdogan, and the mullahs are competing with each other now, and their absorption will be in gaining power and position where they can. The Palestinian narrative will be sidelined.  Its strategic usefulness – except as a perfunctory theme for denigrating Israel – is plummeting as I write, because a new objective is emerging.

3.  What the priority of radical Islamists is. A short while back, the Obama administration put out a report that the number of global terrorist incidents had declined between 2010 and 2011, connecting the decline to the death of Osama bin Laden. The administration certainly can’t be blamed for putting out good news, but its analysis is flawed. Bin Laden’s influence on global terrorism had declined precipitously in the years since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. He was nowhere near the operational leader or even rallying influence that he had been a decade before.

We will very probably find when we get the terrorism statistics for 2012 and the out years that the number of attacks continues to decline. The reason will be the strategically important thing that happened in 2011: the Arab Spring. The toppling of old, sclerotic despotisms has opened the door to the ascent of state Islamism – and that’s where the Muslim Brotherhood is putting its efforts now. Islamist autocrats, which is what Morsi is becoming, will not tolerate extemporaneous terrorism that works against their purposes. (Morsi is likely to clamp down on terrorism inside Egypt much more effectively than Mubarak did.)

The Arab Spring’s civil wars have also kept jihadis occupied, fighting in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, and turning to new opportunities for political agitation in nations like Tunisia and Egypt. Terrorism is no longer the most significant model of radical Islamist political expression. It is outdated to think in those terms.

Guerrilla tactics will still prevail in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they are especially well suited to population control. Terrorism won’t stop, either. But the model of terrorism against the West in the last 40 years is no longer the way Islamist extremism will communicate or seek influence.  The terrorist paradigm is giving way at this very moment to the paradigm of state-Islamism.

About the Author: J.E. Dyer is a retired US Naval intelligence officer who served around the world, afloat and ashore, from 1983 to 2004.


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