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How Arab Governments Manage the Israel Issue

If they could have pressed a button and Israel would have disappeared, almost none of them would have hesitated.
Undated photo of Yasser Arafat (L) sit and President Anwar Sadat (R) in Egypt.

Undated photo of Yasser Arafat (L) sit and President Anwar Sadat (R) in Egypt.
Photo Credit: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90

Islamist Era: Indeed, the rise of revolutionary Islamism put additional peer pressure on all Arab regimes. They needed the Israel issue more for cynical manipulation and, except for the always moderate Jordanian regime and the Sadat-altered Egyptian one, could not afford to think of peace. The non-Saudi Persian Gulf states were tempted, however, as were the main Lebanese Christian forces.

In 2013, support from the U.N. for the first time made the original two-stage theory seem possible in practice. If Palestine was now an independent state, it could win that status without making concessions or commitments. Using international backing, it could create an entity which—unlike the one existing under the Camp David accords—could eventually be used as a base for attaining total victory. Many Palestinian nationalist leaders were, literally, of two minds. Simultaneously, they understood better Israel’s strength yet they could not shake the need for true belief, reinforced both by cynical manipulation and peer pressure from their own movement and from Hamas.

Islamist regimes and groups—notably Hamas and Hizballah as well as the Muslim Brotherhood and of course al-Qaida and other Salafists plus the Iranian Islamist regime—followed the pattern of the early Arab nationalists. Only the lack of Islam had prevented Israel’s extinction but they were going to do the task the proper way.

It is true that playing the anti-Israel card did not work for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, in 1990-91 in mobilizing international Arab support during the Kuwait war or for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in 2012-13 to prevent a massive uprising against him. Yet these tactics had worked for both governments during decades. As in the case of the pre-1950s monarchies, it was not the antagonism to Israel that was being abandoned so much as the rejection of the old regimes for a variety of reasons, one of which was their ineptness in getting the job done. One result, however, is that opponents of the Islamists may be more cynical about being manipulated by this issue. Still, in Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and Tunisia, as well as Syria soon, they aren’t in power.

One might posit a long-term evolution of Islamism toward failure, cynicism, and a lower priority on the issue. But the emphasis there should be on the word long. Prematurely declaring that Islamists were moderate or helping them into power only increases their true belief that they are the tidal wave of the future who will successfully commit genocide on the Jewish state.

Originally published at Rubin Reports, under the title “True Belief, Cynical Manipulation, Peer Pressure: How Arab Governments Manage the Israel Issue.”

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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