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It's Them or U.S.

Written by Barry Rubin

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May 20, 2008
By Barry Rubin

After seeing how Western leaders are handling Lebanon, said an Israeli official privately, “Hizballah could only laugh. We have to take it into consideration that nobody will ever help us.”

Of course, Israel is not alone because there are so many others becoming victims of a combination of Western dithering and radical aggressiveness.

Whether or not the West figures it out, the other side knows well what’s going on. “There are only two sides — Iran and the United States,” said the Iranian newspaper Kayhan. Another leading Tehran daily, Jomhouri-e Islamia, explained that as a result of Hizballah’s victory in Lebanon, “The U.S.’s Influence in the Region will stop, and the regimes identified with it will be replaced.”[1] From Tehran’s viewpoint, that’s about 20 countries, all but Syria, maybe Sudan, and the Gaza Strip.”

It’s a zero-sum game: Them or U.S., so to speak. Today, Lebanon (or at least west Beirut); tomorrow the world!

Somewhere to the south of Iran target Lebanon, a bit west of Iran target Iraq, north of Iran target Egypt, and adjoining Iran targets Jordan and the West Bank, sits little Iran target Israel.

A Gulf Arab journalist, in an article tellingly entitled, “Iran is Enemy Number One,” wrote a few days ago: “The true feeling of the Saudis, Bahrainis, Kuwaitis, and Qataris is that Iran is the enemy and it must be brought down and weakened.”

These people know they are at war, with the two fronts right now being Lebanon and Iraq. The Arab-Israeli conflict still exists but has become more of an Israel-Palestinian, Syria, and Iran conflict in practice. For most Arab regimes, it’s useful for making propaganda and proving their militant nationalist-Islamic credentials but things have changed a great deal from past decades.

Of course, this doesn’t mean they will cooperate or make peace with Israel. Moderation not only threatens to expose them to radical subversion but also to weaken their own dictatorships’ structure, which rests heavily on demagogically blaming Israel for all their shortcomings.

As one Gulf ruler put it privately, “We can use Israel and bash Israel simultaneously.” In other words, Israelis — as well as Americans and some Europeans — must oppose Iranian ambitions for their own reasons. So why should Arab regimes give anything to them for doing so, even if it means protecting their own sovereignty and systems as well?

In this context, the idea that solving the Palestinian issue will bring peace and stability in the region, ensure good Arab-Western relations, and quiet radical Islamism becomes especially laughable.

Consider the following. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, it might use them on Israel. This is such a serious threat of genocide that Israel must be prepared to attack Iran’s installations to block the possibility.

But this is just a possibility. There is also an absolute certainty. If Iran gets nuclear weapons: no Western country will stand against it, Arab regimes will rush to appease it, and hundreds of thousands of Muslims will join radical Islamist groups to replace all those regimes Iran says must go.

For the moment, however, Lebanon is the Spanish Civil War before the main conflict. A democratic majority, a united front of Christians, Druze, and Sunni Muslims, defies terrorist attacks sponsored by Syria, Iran’s ally. They simply don’t want to live under an Iran-style Islamist regime. Government supporters are angry that Hizballah can launch war on Israel whenever it pleases at great cost to their nation. They angrily remember decades of Syrian domination, repression, and looting.

Spain, of course, became progressive humanity’s great icon of in the 1930s. Such people were horrified that the Western democracies would not help Republican Spain while the German and Italian fascists poured troops, weapons, and money into the Fascist side.

But why didn’t Britain and the others act? Their motives were precisely the same as inhibits determination today. They feared war and the resulting cost and casualties. They profited by trading with the other side. They disliked the great power that was doing more (in those days the USSR, today America of course). Since the Catholic Church backed General Francisco Franco’s cause they didn’t want to be labeled what today would be called “Catholophobic.” They lacked confidence in their own society, which Ezra Pound called a “botched civilization,” “an old bitch gone in the teeth.” Pound eventually preferred the fascists, as too many intellectuals and artists now find the Islamists the lesser of the two evils.

William Butler Yeats said it best: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere, The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst, Are full of passionate intensity.”

In 2006, for example, the UN — all the world’s nations nobly assembled — decided that troops would be sent to southern Lebanon, Hizballah would be kept out from there and disarmed, weapons smuggling would be blocked. Hizballah disagreed and did what it wanted. The world gave in: Hizballah (Syria and Iran), 1; World, 0.

So if the world won’t even help Arab, Muslim-led, democratic, Lebanon, why should Israel give credence to any such promises or guarantees. Ah, but Israel can defend itself. It’s the toughest of all Iran’s intended targets.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill recalled in December 1941, speaking to Canada’s parliament, that collaborationist French generals warned him that if Britain, too, didn’t surrender to Hitler, “In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.” Churchill wryly told his cheering audience: “Some chicken; some neck!”

A few years later, Hitler lay dead and defeated.

Mr. Ahmadinejad take note.

[1] MEMRI translation

A somewhat different version of this article was published in the London Jewish Chronicle, May 15, 2008.

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. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit http://www.gloriacenter.org.

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