Another factor is the economic catastrophe that is striking or going to hit much of the Arab world. The incompetence and bad policies of the Islamists are making a mess. In Iran, of course, this is heightened by international sanctions. The obsessively anti-Israel strategy of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become unpopular as being unnecessarily provocative.
The fact is that Syria is wrecked for many years to come; that Iraq is not in good shape due to internal battles; and that Egypt is on the verge of disaster. Obviously, the attempt to stir up hatred against Israel as being responsible for these problems in order to mobilize popular support is tempting.
But what can be done about it? Israeli flags can be burned in Cairo; tourism there may become impossible; and the embassy could be closed. Yet will Egypt court war, with a reluctant military, the need for international financial aid, and the possibility that the United States could cut off the arms’ supply? Unlike the Arab nationalists, who could depend on the USSR, the Sunni Islamists have no big-money patron, at least outside Qatar.
Finally, something has been learned by the Arab masses and leaders over the last half-century. The old cries that Israel could easily be destroyed by cooperation and determination don’t seem quite as persuasive in the face of many Arab military defeats. There’s a lot more caution. Among the elites there’s even the idea that Israel can be an asset in their struggle against Iran. Here’s an article by Abdulrahman al-Rashed, who I’ve previously called the best journalist in the Arab world, who is here expressing the general view of the Gulf Arabs.
I don’t want to overstate the case. Moves toward peace—with Islamists in power or looking over the regime’s shoulders and eager to inveigh against treasonous moderation—are unlikely. Vicious propaganda will continue unabated. Terrorism will be launched at every opportunity.
Ironically, this change coincides with a frenzied effort to reduce support for Israel in the West, including in Jewish communities through boycotts, sanctions, divestment, and massive misinformation. One wonders at times whether this campaign is a substitute for relative disinterest in doing much in the Middle East itself. Perhaps this is taken as justifying inaction or perhaps it is seen as still another attempt to find a victorious strategy when so many others have failed. As an Australian journalist, Brendan O’Neill, put it, the Palestine issue “has become less important for Arabs and of the utmost symbolic importance for Western radicals at exactly the same time.”
Perhaps someday, if and when revolutionary Islamists have consolidated power in several countries, the situation will change again. But until then, yelling “Israel” at a crowded rally–at least in the Middle East–will not prove a panacea for the political problems of Arab governments and politicians.
Originally published at Rubin Reports.