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Shifting Alliances in a Dangerous Middle East

In the Wake of Britain’s Tragedy
Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Terrible news has come out of England in these past few days.  First a horrific massacre at a concert in Manchester and then just days later, a coordinated attack in the center of London.  ISIS took responsibility for the attacks.  England is reeling and in Israel we understand.  ISIS and their bedfellows have declared war on us all.

Just following the news from England, a number of Arab states broke diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing them of aiding and funding terrorism.  In anticipation of the break, Qatar expelled Hamas leadership that had found refuge in its country, as if to proclaim their innocence of terrorism. But their actions, too little and too late, did not impress their Arab neighbors.

Two weeks ago, US President Donald Trump made a historic visit to the Middle East, stopping first in Saudi Arabia.  While there, he was wined and dined by the Saudi leadership.  At the close of his visit, he announced a historic arms deal with Saudi Arabia, valued at $110 billion, with a commitment to enter into similar agreements valued at $350 billion over the next 10 years.

Upon his arrival in Israel, Trump pronounced his love for Israel, unprecedented for US presidents.  He visited the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem and prayed there, the first sitting US president to do so.  Perhaps more significant was what he failed to say: He did not condemn settlements nor did he mention the words “Two-State Solution.”  In a separate meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Trump warned his host to cease all financial support of terrorists and their families.

This chain of events may well signal the beginning of change in the Middle East.  As terrorism has spread and its deathly effects have reached countries all over the world, some of our enemies may be re-evaluating their attitudes towards terrorism and to Israel.  When Yasser Arafat launched the first and second Intifadas in 1987 and 2000 respectively, he was supported and funded by Saudi Arabia.  Hamas was a terrorist organization that rivaled the much larger Fatah organization within the PLO, but both were committed to the destruction of Israel.  And both, as a result, wreaked havoc and devastation everywhere.  They murdered children, attacked families, blew up buses and shopping centers.  They were ruthless, downright evil!  Some of the terrorists were religiously motivated, others more nationally motivated but they all had one goal — to eradicate Israel and drive the Jews into the sea.

But today there is a sense that even parts of the Arab world are realizing that they have created a monster.  When they first encouraged Islamic terrorism, they saw it as a vital tool to destroy Israel, the one enemy that could unite Arabs of all stripes and colors, secular, Sunni and Shiite.  For decades the centuries-old rift between Sunni and Shiite Islam was forgotten in favor of a united front against Israel.

But then the terrorism got out of hand.  First it was El Qaida, the terrorist organization that brought down the World Trade Center in 2001 and for the first time brought Islamic terrorism to American shores.  El Qaida was born in Saudi Arabia, out of the radical Wahhabi sect that controls Saudi Arabia to this day.  It then migrated to Afghanistan where it masterminded numerous terrorist attacks.  And all along, the Saudis remained ambivalent.  They did not want to be blamed for the attack on the US, a country they rely heavily upon for defense against their enemies, which have included Sunni Iraq and more recently Shiite Iran.  But they continued to fund terrorism aimed against Israel.

ISIS was a later mutation and has grown to threaten Muslim and non-Muslim countries alike, as they seek to impose their own radical brand of Islam on the world.  As more and more Muslims have been murdered by ISIS, especially in Syria, and as it became apparent that they have no interest in pragmatic considerations, countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt began to take notice.  Egypt has suffered its own brand of radical Islam in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, parent organization of Hamas, and has become ruthless in fighting them in Egypt.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt have long been known as moderate Arab countries, but that just means that they weigh pragmatic considerations and do business with those who can help them.  For that reason, both countries have relied heavily on the US.

During the Obama era, however, the US turned against them.  Obama recognized the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt rather than the current government which is waging war against the Muslim Brotherhood.  And Obama appeased Iran, which has grown as a serious threat to the entire world, and has become the new unifying force in the Middle East.  Rather than Arab nations uniting against Israel, more pragmatic Arab countries are silently cooperating with Israel against Iran.  And, thanks to Trump’s reversal of Obama’s policy, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf Countries, are coming closer to the US.

But how does this affect Israel?  It may be argued that the pragmatic countries may be willing to recognize Israel and cooperate openly with her, regardless of the Palestinian issue, because the Iran threat is so much more critical to them.  It may also be argued that these countries have finally figured out how dangerous terrorism is, not only to Europe and the US but to their own countries as well.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia may well become a major military power thanks to the recent US arms deal and be in a position to threaten Israel like never before.  And given their solid commitment to Islam, they may well find the opportunity to attack Israel or support attacks against Israel by its proxies, once the Iran threat is eliminated.  Because, at their core, these Arab countries are committed Muslims espousing a clear approach to Israel — the Jews are encroaching on what they perceive as Muslim land!  And this is an approach that they will find impossible to modify without running up against their own faith.

And herein lies the problem with relying on the Arab players in the Middle East.  Their values are different, their theology is different and their attitudes towards human life are vastly different.  I do believe that short-term arrangements can be effective and should be pursued.  But until the Western world understands the dangers inherent in the Muslim world and stands ready to unite to fight against them, temporary arrangements will provide short-term solutions but will lay the foundation for long-term disasters.

And Israel is the key to all of this.  Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East.  It is the only country that values life.  Western culture is predicated on Judeo-Christian values but Israel is the nation that brought those values to the world.  If the democratic nations of the world were to unite with and behind Israel and bolster Israel’s position in the Middle East, and yes, affirm Israel’s right to its entire historic homeland, leaving no room for Arab rejectionism, we may well see the light at the end of the tunnel.  We may well begin the process of a united front against Islamic terrorism.  And there is no time to waste.




Sondra Oster Baras
Director of CFOIC’s Israel Office