The regional deck has been reshuffled and is no longer in Israel’s favor, causing serious consternation in Tel Aviv.
A country that was considered all-powerful a mere month ago now finds itself out in the cold for a variety of reasons at a time when it is governed by, arguably, the most intransigent and short-sighted prime minister in its history; a man who puts right-wing ideology before realpolitik.
In the first place, Israel has lost the unconditional support of the international community—with the exception of the US. The world recently witnessed this when the Palestinian Authority presented a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council, reiterating that Jewish settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem were “illegal” and calling for such expansionist activity to stop. Although the draft was in line with President Obama’s public statements on settlements and was sponsored by 130 UN member states, Washington unsuccessfully heaped pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to withdraw it before wielding its veto.
The Obama White House was cornered into flouting the wishes of the other 14 member UN Security Council members—including its closest allies Britain, France and Germany—else face the wrath of the pro-Israel lobby and its Congressional sycophants. Senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath says the US decision proves “that Israel is isolated internationally and is only protected by the American veto.” Such unashamed hypocrisy on the part of the US combined with Ambassador Susan Rice’s mealy-mouthed excuses that the resolution would have harmed the peace process—as though one exists—has only served to increase anti-US and anti-Israeli sentiments throughout a region in the midst of unprecedented upheaval.
Abbas has reacted by refusing to resume peace talks with Israel, calling for a “Day of Rage” on Friday in protest and says he intends to put the issue before the UN General Assembly, a move that is likely to cause the Obama administration greater embarrassment.
Secondly, the entire Middle East paradigm is in a state of flux with autocratic leadership dinosaurs under siege from educated youth seeking greater self-determination and better job prospects. Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak have fallen. Muammar Qaddafi’s 42-year-long grip on Libya looks tenuous and thousands of protesters are demanding reforms in Algeria, Morocco, Yemen and Bahrain.
Whatever happens, the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt serve as a wake-up call to all leaders in the region to reflect the wishes of the street, which may not bode well for Israeli interests. The fact that Egypt has given permission (rightly so under its treaty obligations) for two Iranian warships to pass through the Suez Canal for the first time in decades—apparently en route to Syria “for training”—speaks volumes as to diminishing US clout. Iran has tested the waters (no pun intended) and now that a precedent has been set it’s likely that many more armed Iranian ships will be heading to the Mediterranean in the future increasing the potential for an incident that could spark an Israeli-Iranian conflict. A greater Iranian military presence on the high seas will also strengthen the hand of Damascus, the Hezbollah-dominated government in Lebanon and, of course, Hamas.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak would no doubt like to bite back his threat to Lebanon given prior to the Egyptian revolution that Israeli forces may cross into southern Lebanon to take on Hezbollah’s military wing.
In response to Barak’s reckless saber-rattling, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah declared that he will annex the Galilee. He also vowed revenge on Israel for the killing of Imad Mughnieh saying, “To the Zionist generals I say, anywhere you go in the world at any time, watch out, for the blood of Imad Mughnieh will not go to waste.”
Egypt’s new military rulers allowed the hitherto exiled theologian Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi to preach to over a million gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last Friday exemplifying this new mood. Besides praising the revolution and asking Egyptians to return to work, Al-Qaradawi called upon the massive crowd to march to Rafah to tear down the border with Gaza and prayed for an Arab conquest of Jerusalem. It should further be noted, too, that while Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, that was banned and persecuted by President Mubarak, has announced it will not field a presidential candidate in the next election, it will now be recognized as a legitimate political party.
Adding to Israel’s woes, its relationship with its ally Turkey has never been as strained. Ankara is still demanding that Israel apologizes for its attack on the Turkish vessel the Mavi Marmara that was attempting to break the blockade on Gaza and wants compensation for the nine Turkish victims.
Amnesty International has called Israel’s report on the incident “a whitewash” and Turkey expects a UN panel to bless its own report based on passenger testimonies and the opinions of international law experts.
In an interview with CNN, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu didn’t pull any punches on that topic. He further condemned the Jewish state for its self-interested support of Hosni Mubarak, saying “Israel prides itself on being a democracy but does not want any other country to be a democracy,” adding, “that if Israel feels threatened at this time, it must first check itself.” He also blasted Israel for its settlement building policy and control over conquered territories “that do not point to a peace-inducing attitude.” Then, last week, Turkish President Abdullah Gul traveled to Iran for the first time to meet with its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. While there, he told Iran’s Press TV that his country will not permit Washington to use NATO bases on Turkish soil to wage war on other nations.
In short, Israel is being ringed-in by hostile or unsympathetic regional states and elements while support from the international community is hemorrhaging fast. When will the Israelis be willing to embrace the only cure for what ails them, a broad-based peace hinging on a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital? If there is anywhere that is in urgent need of a revolution, at least in government thinking and policies, Israel tops the list.
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.