Originally published at Rubin Reports.
Here’s the perfect parable for understanding not just the contemporary Middle East but the wider world today:
Two unarmed Finnish soldiers assigned to the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) were observing along the Israel-Syria border from the Syrian side. Armed men stopped their car. While the two Finns didn’t speak Arabic they were quickly made to understand that the men wanted their U.N. vehicle and their other possessions.
In short, the supposed representatives of the world’s community were being mugged and they could do nothing about it, or at least nothing but to give in.
A Finnish officer explained that the men weren’t in fear of their lives; the gunmen just wanted their property.
Now let me make it clear that I’m not criticizing the two soldiers. What are you going to do when you are unarmed and terrorists with guns hold you up? Yet this little story struck me as incredibly symbolic on several levels.
The world is constantly held up by terrorists and nowadays it tends to give in, if not to the specific operations, to the narrative being imposed on it. We do see rescue operations sometimes—as in the Algerian army’s disastrous “rescue” in which all the technicians being held hostage at a gas field were killed—and sometimes we don’t, as in Benghazi while the U.S. government stood by as men it had sent into a dangerous situation were murdered.
Yet what happens is that even if the terrorists don’t always win in their military operations they succeed in intimidating the West to hand over its intellectual property—by suppressing its own debate—and sometimes to pay tribute money as well.
As a reward for failing to fulfill its commitments and cheering on terrorist attacks, the U.N.’s General Assembly assigned non-member state status to the Palestinian Authority. Billions of dollars of U.S. aid go to Pakistan, which helps the Taliban and shields al-Qaeda. Arms are handed over to Syrian Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Turkish government backs a terrorist group to create a violent confrontation with Israel (the IHH in the Gaza flotilla) and President Obama declares that regime to be his soul mate. Even after an official report that Hizballah carried out a terrorist attack in Bulgaria, the European Union won’t put it on the terrorism list.
There is a long list of such items. Terrorism mugs the West and gets paid off as long as it doesn’t overreach too much. Not attacking the World Trade Center is enough to make some group America’s “friend.”
One reason the West tends to yield is that it is unarmed. Not literally, of course, But unarmed in terms of its ideas, analysis, and understanding.
As for a good case study, take Lebanon, a few miles from where the two Finns were mugged and where the much larger UNIFIL force has received the same treatment. In 2006 the U.N. and the U.S. government promised Israel, as a condition for ending its war with Hezbollah, that a much-enlarged U.N. force would keep Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and help stop arms’ smuggling from Syria to Lebanese terrorists.
Hezbollah has walked all over the U.N. (Security Council Resolution 1701) and the U.S. commitments without any cost to itself. U.N. observers have been regularly intimidated by Hezbollah, which has moved back into southern Lebanon and built new fortifications. (See here and here). The U.N. and the White House have not only done nothing but they haven’t even criticized Hezbollah for this behavior.
General Alberto Asarta, the Spanish general who commands UNFIL forces in southern Lebanon, cannot praise Hezbollah highly enough. The area, he explains, is “the best and most stable in the whole of the Middle East” thanks to Hezbollah’s cooperation. It is “the most successful model when compared to the experiences of other U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world.” And Hezbollah has actually helped combat terrorist groups that sought to attack UNIFIL. Indeed, the cooperation with Hezbollah is called—I kid you not–“The Partnership against Radical Islamic Terrorism.”
Memo to police forces: This could be a model for The Partnership against Crime to be formed in alliance with the Mafia. I can assure you that the Mafia is willing to help you from time to time against its competitors.
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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