The History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict Shows the Futility of an “Arab NATO”

Dec. 28 2018

Over the past two years, the Trump administration has floated the idea of creating an alliance of pro-American Arab states, perhaps based on the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. Such an organization, if it had existed five years ago, could have fielded troops to fight Islamic State or to restore order in Yemen or Syria; it could have also provided an important bulwark against Iranian expansionism. But, argues Norvell DeAtkine, similar fantasies of Arab unity possessed T.E. Lawrence in his day and Arab nationalists a generation later—and have time and again failed to deliver:

Any attempt to build a unified Arab institution is based on a shaky foundation. The mistake is assuming there is an “Arab world.” Conventional wisdom holds that the “Arab world” is united by a “common language and heritage.” Neither is true. The people inhabiting the region stretching across Africa and Asia from Mauritania to the borders of Iran speak various versions of Arabic, but they are not uniformly mutually intelligible. . . . The history of Egypt or North Africa has very little in common with that of the Levant or Iraq. . . .

The history of the Arab Deterrence Force sent into Lebanon in 1976 to quell the bitter civil war between Christian militias and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is a case study illustrating the ineffectiveness and dangers of this type of Arab operation. Although it was supposed to be a joint Arab force, the vast majority of the troops were Syrian and, as the Christians had assumed all along, the Syrians turned the peacekeeping operation into a permanent occupation of Lebanon. Entering Lebanon in 1976, they remained until 2005. . . .

Having lived in the Middle East for over eight years, I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase “Israel is a foreign body lodged in the heart of the Arab world.” . . . . Given the supposed universal and visceral hatred of the Israeli state, one would be moved to believe that in efforts to erase the “Zionist” state Arab unity would be at its zenith. But that has not been the case. Nothing has illustrated the disunity of the “Arab world” more than its efforts to destroy the Israeli state. . . .

Arab lack of success . . . is a function of a culture that, as the peerless [14th-century] Tunisian historian ibn Khaldun wrote, promotes an individuality in which every man wants to be the leader. “[T]here is scarcely one among them who would cede their power to another.” It is still a largely tribal and clan-oriented society, in which [Western-style] civil society has never taken root. Concentric circles of loyalty, in which only family, tribal, or clan members are completely trusted, vitiate the trust in your fellow soldier.

As DeAtkine goes on to demonstrate, the repeated failures of the various Arab attacks on Israel have stemmed in part from the inability of various Arab states to coordinate their military operations; even during the Yom Kippur War—which showed a higher level of cooperation than any that preceded it—the Egyptian government misled the Syrians about its plans.

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More about: Arab nationalism, Arab World, Donald Trump, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, T. E. Lawrence, Yom Kippur War

Why Israel Pretends That Hamas Fired Rockets by Accident

March 21 2019

Israeli military and political officials have repeated Hamas’s dubious claim that the launching of two rockets at Tel Aviv last week was inadvertent. To Smadar Perry, accepting Hamas’s story rather than engaging in further retaliation is but a convenient, and perhaps necessary, way of aiding Egyptian efforts to broker a deal with the terrorist group. But even if these efforts succeed, the results will be mixed:

The [Israeli] security cabinet has met in Tel Aviv and decided that they would continue indirect negotiations with Gaza. A message was sent to Egypt, whose delegation is going back to Gaza to pass on the Israeli demands for calm. The Egyptians also have to deal with the demands from Hamas, which include, among other things, an increase in aid from $15 million to $30 million per month and an increase in the supply of electricity.

The requests are reasonable, but they do leave a sour taste in the mouth. Israel must ensure that this financial aid does not end up in the pockets of Hamas and its associates. [Israel] also knows that if it says “no” to everything, the Iranians will step in, with the help of their Gazan friends in Islamic Jihad. They are just waiting for the opportunity.

Hamas also must deal with the fallout from a series of massive handouts from Qatar. For when the citizens of the Gaza Strip saw that the money was going to the Hamas leadership, who were also enjoying a fine supply of electricity to their own houses, they took to the streets in protest—and this time it was not Israel that was the focus of their anger. . .

[But] here is the irony. With Egyptian help, Israel can reach understandings for calm with Gaza, despite the lack of a direct channel. . . . In the West Bank, where the purportedly friendlier Fatah is in charge, it is more complicated, at least until the eighty-three-year-old Mahmoud Abbas is replaced.

As evidence for that last statement, consider the murder of two Israelis in the West Bank on Sunday, and the Palestinians who threw explosives at Israeli soldiers at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem yesterday.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, West Bank