Israel Can No Longer Isolate Itself From the Perils of the Arab World

The period of grace is coming to an end. Now we need a leadership, a vision and strategic courage.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Hamza Matrouk, 23, after being shot in the leg by Israeli security officer following Matrouk's alleged stabbing of 12 people on Tel Aviv bus, January 21, 2015.
Hamza Matrouk, 23, after being shot in the leg by Israeli security officer following Matrouk's alleged stabbing of 12 people on Tel Aviv bus, January 21, 2015.Credit: AFP
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

The stabbing attack in Tel Aviv on Wednesday and the tension in the north once again draw attention to the fact that 2015 is a high-risk year.

Hezbollah has terrifying power that can wound Israel seriously. Hamas has renewed capabilities that can disrupt life not only in the communities along the Gaza Strip border but in the center of the country as well. The quiet in the West Bank is fragile and Islamic extremism is bringing insane forces close to the border in the north and south. While in the past Israel was surrounded by hostile but organized nations, today it is surrounded by the evasive, unstable nitroglycerine of the Arab chaos.

An experienced, intelligent foreign observer recently offered the following insight: While in the first four years the Arab chaos didn’t permeate the non-Arab powers in the Middle East (Iran, Turkey, Israel), now the picture is changing. The disorder is beginning to draw into it the non-Arab states, which until now stood like the Rock of Gibraltar in the regional storm.

The fact that the Arab world has become a Wild East with no law or order leads the regional powers to compete with each other and rub against each other in a dangerous way. At the same time, the tribalism and fanaticism that erupted in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen are intensifying tribal and fanatic tendencies among non-Arabs as well. The period of grace in which Israel could be isolated from the goings on in the Arab world is coming to an end. The illusion that this isn’t the Middle East has expired.

You don’t have to be Klemens von Metternich or Henry Kissinger to understand that the new historic situation requires a new strategy. The attempt to pursue peace the way we did when the regional physics were different is pointless. In the new circumstances, there’s no moderate Arab leader with enough legitimacy to sign an official reconciliation agreement with the Jewish state. But the attempt to avoid doing anything is also stupid. The desire to hunker down in a bunker and hope the forces rampaging outside won’t penetrate it is absurd.

The only way to deal with the collapsing stability in the Middle East, the Arab world and Palestine is to build a new, stabilizing regional structure that would reduce the risks (of war) and increase the chances (of non-aggression). The possibility of establishing such a structure is growing precisely because moderate Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians, Palestinians and Israelis are so fearful of the goings on. The combination of new threats and opportunities is exciting. But in order to use it and make it work for us we need a leadership, a vision and strategic courage.

Are any of these to be found? The answer is a resounding “no.” The United States has encouraged in the past decade destabilizing processes (Iraq, Egypt), without understanding the long-term repercussions of its acts. Europe didn’t stand idly by either (Libya) and continued to stick to a declarative policy detached from reality. Netanyahu’s Israel did what it likes doing best – settlements, settlements and more settlements.

Neither the international community nor the Israeli state had an original thought or came up with a realistic initiative in any of those years in which the Sykes-Picot Agreement collapsed and the Arab nation-state crumbled. No statesman rose to do something about the unprecedented historic event. Inconceivable recklessness caused the world to sit around while the Middle East protruded, spiraled and dived into disaster.

So now we’re surrounded with nitroglycerine. It’s impossible to say what will happen in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza at any moment. In the West Bank, anything’s possible. States are not in control of processes, rather processes are in control of states. Moderates aren’t stabilizing fanaticism, fanatics are undermining moderation. In the absence of a leadership and a strategy worthy of the name, the black swans of uncertainty are increasing every day.

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