Israel’s Increasing Vulnerability
Although Osama bin Laden’s well-deserved death has demonstrated America’s resolve to vindicate our national security, the world is still far from safe. In the Middle East, optimistic predictions that authoritarian regimes would fall like dominoes, ushering in new democracies and greater prospects for peace, are rapidly disappearing. Not only have democratic hopes faltered, but long-time foundations of regional stability are crumbling, to our detriment and that of our friends.
While Israel has been a bystander to the Arab world’s recent turmoil, events are conspiring against it. Early, unrealistic expectations about “democracy now” increasingly resemble experiments with Israel’s security, experiments gone badly wrong. Implacable enemies, notably Iran, are strengthening their positions by exploiting the turmoil.
Israel’s security environment has steadily darkened as Palestinian leaders fritter away two decades of opportunity (since America drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait) to engage in direct, face-to-face negotiations. Unfortunately, Palestinians have for two years taken their cues from President Obama, who has relentlessly pressured Israel to accept Palestinian preconditions, especially the complete cessation of new West Bank housing construction.
In a further regression to Yasser Arafat’s era, the Palestinian Authority has been exploring how to reinsert its preferred deus ex machina, the United Nations, into the Arab-Israeli dispute. This time, the idea is to have the General Assembly declare a Palestinian state, harking back to 1988 when the PLO declared its “statehood,” and sought membership in U.N. specialized agencies as evidence of its new, enhanced status. These efforts to create political “facts on the ground” come at Israel’s expense, no matter how ephemeral they invariably are.
Where Palestinian propaganda campaigns do gain traction, however, is among the broader program – in both Europe and the United States – to delegitimize the state of Israel itself. By attacking Israel as racist, by accusing it of aggression and war crimes, and other means, this “law-fare” against Israel has increasingly erased the illusory demarcation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and all its ugly implications.
But it is the rapidly deteriorating prospect for near-term democratization in the Middle East that could bring the gravest security risks for Israel. Iran, despite its own internal divisions and rivalries, has moved aggressively to protect its regional allies against democratic change, and to foment trouble more widely. In Syria, the fierce, increasingly deadly resistance of the Assad regime against popular opposition undoubtedly rests on Iran’s iron determination to keep the Ba’ath party dictatorship in power. Iran has too much at stake in its Syrian satellite, perhaps including elements of its nuclear program, to allow President Bashar Assad to fall without a bloody struggle.
Similarly, Iran is determined to sustain the terrorist Hezbollah, which has subverted Lebanon’s democratic Cedar Revolution. And, sadly for Washington, Iraq’s regime of President Nouri al-Maliki seems increasingly deferential to Iran’s will, as evidenced by the recent Iran-Iraq extradition treaty and Iraq’s military attack against an Iranian opposition group’s civilian refugee camp.
Iran has also long supported Hamas terrorists in Gaza and the West Bank. Now, after Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow, Egypt’s military has effectively ended its Gaza blockade, allowing Hamas full and unrestrained contact with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Moreover, Cairo was central to last week’s reconciliation between Hamas (whose leader condemned America for bin Laden’s death) and Fatah, a match that can only increase the terrorist menace for Israel. And Egypt has recognized the ayatollahs’ government in Tehran – bad news for Israel, but also for pro-U.S. Arab governments, like Bahrain and other Persian Gulf monarchies threatened by Iran.
Moreover, as Egypt prepares for elections this fall, calls are increasing for major revisions to the Camp David Accords, not surprisingly, given Egyptian opinion polls showing widespread opposition to this bedrock of Middle East peace and stability for three decades. During the days of street demonstrations against Mr. Mubarak, the Egyptian army moved substantial forces into the Sinai Peninsula, ostensibly to protect the vital Suez Canal and the natural gas pipeline to Israel. Although those Egyptian units remain, the pipeline is still being subjected to terrorist attacks. And if the Camp David provisions ultimately challenged by Egypt’s new “democratic” government are those effectively demilitarizing the Sinai, Israel’s security fears along that highly vulnerable border will grow exponentially.
What happens in Egypt will invariably affect Jordan, the only other Arab state with a peace agreement with Israel. In effect, Israel could find itself geostrategically back in the 1950s and 1960s, although more existentially vulnerable today as Iran progresses toward a deliverable nuclear-weapons capability. And Moammar Gadhafi’s continuing survival in Libya, although still in doubt, cannot be good for anyone.
As on so many other critical national-security issues, the Obama administration’s policies in the Middle East have been either incoherent or invisible in recent months. And those failings, now combined with the deteriorating regional security environment, gravely endanger Israel’s interests as much as those of the United States itself.
John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad” (Simon & Schuster, 2007).
This article originally appeared in the Washington Times