The following originally appeared in The Jewish Press in March 1992. Today, nearly twenty years later, its arguments remain timely and valid.
As the continuing flow of new missiles to Iran reveals, the Bush administration [Editors Note: This refers to first President Bush] remains committed to misconceived policies in the Middle East. Even if Israel were to yield West Bank and Gaza to create a new state of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, the government in Tehran would persist in its planned aggressions against the Jewish state. Altogether unconcerned with the fate of the Palestinians, this government can be satisfied only by Israel’s disappearance.
Ironically, by its public declarations and by its deeds, Iran is remarkably open and honest about its objectives. In the words of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, new leader of the pro-Iranian Party of God, “The only way to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East is the return of all the Jewish occupiers to the lands from which they originally came.”
Israel’s “crime,” in the eyes of Iran, is that it exists. Short of ceasing to exist, an option that would be made much more likely by the creation of a state of Palestine, Israel can do absolutely nothing to remove the threat of another major war. To a considerable and growing extent, one that Washington still refuses to acknowledge, the problem is religion. More and more, as Islamic fundamentalists wrest control from secular forces in Iran and the Arab world, the declared enemy is no longer “Zionists,” but “Jewish occupiers.”
Throughout the Islamic world, fundamentalists are now challenging incumbent regimes, competing for power and calling for a new assertiveness. Unlike more moderate Muslims, these fundamentalists are disinterested in political compromise and are willing, in many cases, to place the obligations of “submissions” (Islam in Arabic means submission to the will of God) above all requirements of personal or collective survival. Moreover, their power grows daily as a number of Arab states are increasingly unable to surmount substantial social, medical, and economic problems.
In Egypt, the palpable reassertion of Muslim piety is directed toward a day when all irreligious leaders are deposed, and the Ummah (total community of Muslims) is united under a universal Caliphate, an allegedly legitimate government ruled by an elected leader of irreproachable integrity.
Whereas Iran’s faith is drawn primarily from the minority Shi’a branch of Islam, Egypt’s fundamentalists look forward to an alliance with over 130 million Sunni Muslims in the rest of the Middle East and North Africa (there are now nearly one billion Muslims in the world). Such an alliance, led by the so-called Jaamat Islamiya (Islamic societies) and including al-Jihad (Holy War) could lead to a position of “no compromise” with infidels, especially if it is heavily informed by the Manichean type dualism of Sayyid Qutb (1906-66), a leading ideologue of the Brotherhood who was hanged by Nasser.
The problem of Islamic fundamentalism is already an internal problem for Israel. Although fundamentalists ordinarily view Palestinian nationalism as inherently contrary to Islamic universalism, they are increasingly trying to gain control of the Palestinian resistance, both in Israel proper, and in the territories. Calling for an escalation of the uprising, and a denunciation of all compromise with Israel, the groups Hamas and Hizbullah – certain to become more widely known and recognizable in the years ahead – see only one strategy of confrontation: underground cells serving as military units “to challenge Satan’s schemes and strike at Zionist interest.”
In a recent memorandum offered to the Palestine National Council, Hamas demanded of the PNC: “The military option should be confirmed, and jihad considered the proper way to liberate Palestine and achieve independence.” Should the West Bank and Gaza become Palestine, groups such as Hamas and Hizbullah would likely wield enormous power, and possibly act as surrogates for hostile (to Israel) Arab states.