The Key to Understanding the Middle East

Feb. 27 2017

Reviewing Ephraim Karsh’s The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, Elan Juorno writes:

Karsh’s central insight is contrarian: the region’s people and leaders are agents shaping their own history. To formulate sensible foreign policy, we must take seriously their prevailing moral-political ideas—above all, the embrace of Islam. . . .

Was the Ottoman empire, which ruled much of the area, the “hapless victim of secret diplomacy bent on carving up its territory”? No, Karsh says. It was instead the “casualty of its own catastrophic decisions to join the war on the losing side.” Did Britain impose London’s interests during its Palestine Mandate (1922–1948), regardless of local needs? Quite the contrary, Karsh argues: British policy was in fact “largely dictated by Arab violence prior to World War II and by Jewish political and military pressure in its wake.”

During the cold war the United States and the USSR—the world’s leading powers—affected the Middle East profoundly, interceding frequently to stop regional conflicts. But neither had a “decisive say in their smaller [regional] allies’ grand strategies,” Karsh shows, nor were they able to “contain undesirable regional developments,” such as Egypt’s defection to the Soviets in the 1950s or its later swing back to America’s side, or the 1979 Islamist revolution in Iran. And despite emerging as the lone superpower after the cold war, the United States could not “deter Saddam Hussein from invading Kuwait, or . . . induce him to leave peacefully.” . . .

Karsh argues that we must pay much closer attention to the Middle East’s distinctive ideas—particularly its tribal culture and Islam’s dominance. One implication is that the region’s people and intellectual leaders bear the primary responsibility for their problems—and for solving them.

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More about: History & Ideas, Imperialism, Islam, Middle East, Ottoman Empire, U.S. Foreign policy

To Israel’s Leading Strategist, Strength, Not Concessions, Has Brought a Measure of Calm

Aug. 14 2018

Following a long and distinguished career in the IDF, Yaakov Amidror served as Israel’s national-security adviser from 2011 to 2013. He speaks with Armin Rosen about the threats from Gaza, Hizballah, and Iran:

For Israel’s entire existence, would-be peacemakers have argued that the key to regional harmony is the reduction of the Jewish state’s hard power through territorial withdrawals and/or the legitimization of the country’s non-state enemies. In Amidror’s view, reality has thoroughly debunked this line of reasoning.

Amidror believes peace—or calm, at least—came as a result of Israeli muscle. Israel proved to its former enemies in the Sunni Arab world that it’s powerful enough to fill the vacuum left by America’s exit from the region and to stand up to Iran on the rest of the Middle East’s behalf. “The stronger Israel is, the more the ability of Arab countries to cooperate [with it] grows,” Amidror explained. On the whole, Amidror said he’s “very optimistic. I remember the threat that we faced when we were young. We fought the Six-Day War and I remember the Yom Kippur War, and I see what we are facing today. We have only one-and-a-half problems. One problem is Iran, and the half-problem is Hizballah.” . . .

In all likelihood the next Israeli-Iranian confrontation will be a clash with Amidror’s half-threat: the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hizballah, Iran’s most effective proxy in the Middle East and perhaps the best armed non-state military force on earth. . . . “We should neutralize the military capability of Hizballah,” [in the event of war], he said. “We should not destroy the organization as a political tool. If the Shiites want these people to represent them, it’s their problem.” . . .

“It will be a very nasty war,” Amidror said. “A very, very nasty war.” Hizballah will fire “thousands and thousands” of long-range missiles of improved precision, speed, and range at Israeli population centers, a bombardment larger than Israel’s various layers of missile defense will be able to neutralize in full. . . . This will, [however], be a blow Israel can withstand. “Israelis will be killed, no question,” Amidror said. “But it’s not going to be catastrophic.”

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Lebanon