“Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe that there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything. ‘Cause no mystical energy field controls my destiny. It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.” – Han Solo
As the middle east continues to convulse with revolution, there are some disturbing reports out there about potential Iranian maneuvering in the whole thing, and what it might mean for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They feed nicely into some conspiracy theories, some of which I believe are patently foolish, but others that might make you wonder. First, the backdrop, then some disturbing reports.
On 14 May 1948, Israel declared independence from British rule (who hasn’t been there?). The next day, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon attacked; it was the beginning of a year-long war that ended in ceasefire. Things are still tense.
Powers rise and fall, ebb and flow. Lebanon is a political mish-mash, Syria is decaying, Jordan and Egypt had maintained a fragile peace with Israel for some time, and Iraq is newly democratic. (For how long? Nobody really knows.) Saudi Arabia is rich-beyond-measure in oil, but doesn’t have much of a military presence to speak of.
The big kid on the block now is Iran, whose leadership has had plenty to say about the annihilation of Israel, and has been on a fairly clear path toward developing nuclear weapons (ouch).
For decades, corrupt dictators in the region have oppressed their own people, and used anger at Israel as a convenient foil. “Yes, your life is bad, but it is all because of the Jews and their oppression of the Palestinians, our brothers. We have to address that issue – it is the key, the root of everything.” Eventually though, the pot boiled over. Unrest is high, people everywhere want to be free.
Now for the bad news (if true, which I have no way to verify). Israeli news sources (OK, the guys at DEBKA are on the edge of “news” – in fact their motto is “we start where the media stop”) are reporting that Libyan rebels have taken control of some of Mohammar Qaddafi’s chemical weapon stores (mustard gas, apparently). These have “reportedly” been sold to Iranian agents, who intend to supply them to Hamas and Hezbollah. If true, that’s really bad. Hamas has recently ramped up rocket attacks into Israel. If they and Hezbollah are loading up for a spring war, then mustard gas would come in quite handy.
Now, what about those conspiracy theories? Well, the first, is that Obama is a closet Muslim, and is looking to bolster Iran, oust Israel, and, I guess, aide in the rise of the Caliphate. I don’t buy it. It’s too easy; they type of red-meat hysteria used to control people and whip them into a frenzy. Further, nothing indicates to me that Obama is a Muslim (as I’ve said on a number of occasions – I believe him to be a secular humanist).
The second theory, which has at least more nuance, is that president Obama wants to see unrest in the middle east as a way to force Israel’s hand and bring them to the bargaining table; ultimately wanting to be the president that brokers and Israel/Palestinian peace accord. It’s interesting: when Egypt, who has generally served as a provider of stability for Israel, was in tatters, the Obama administration sided with the protesters and supported “democratic reforms” (we’ll see if those happen). However, when Iran (who serves as a threat to Israel) was in danger from an internal uprising, the administration was noticeably silent, hanging the protesters out to dry. Whether you prefer isolationism or interventionism, these actions are not consistent with a clear foreign policy of “do the right thing” (by whatever definition).
One may easily counter this with “what about Libya” – it’s not like Qaddafi is any friend of Israel and the Obama administration has made it “clear” policy to support his removal. True and valid. (As an aside, Qaddafi even reverted to the “it’s all Israel’s fault” canard when the unrest was picking up steam; trying to stave off angst in Libya by calling for an anti-Israel uprising. Well played Muammar – but perhaps a bit too late.) But, if the DEBKA reports bear out, it won’t be the case that the fall of Qaddafi helped Israel.
As for me, well, I’m still on the fence. I’m by no means convinced that Barack Obama is a “friend of Israel” – he sure hasn’t done anything that would even tangentially help with regards to Iran. That post-election uprising was too good to pass up, yet pass it up he did.
As for the middle east, I’d say a lot is up in the air right now, and it’s anybody’s guess where we land. We could move toward freedom and individual rights, or we could move toward regional war with Israel outnumbered once again. (Though, even if outnumbered, I suspect they’ll come out ahead. They just have better forces, better equipment, and are better prepared.) How would the U.S. respond in such a situation? Not sure. Keep an eye on Turkey though. If the Israel-Turkey tension goes higher we could be in a tough spot … Turkey is a member of NATO, and we have treaties.
OK, enough of the conspiracy theory rant. The next few months will be anxious ones for the Israelis, and I suspect the anti-Israel movements will look to capitalize on the uncertainty. I also suspect there are a few more shoes to drop, but I can’t even conjecture what they might be.
For my part, I think the isolationists may be right on this one. I can’t really find a compelling national security interest that would necessitate U.S. involvement in any of these uprisings. Cheap oil? Refugees? Are these really national security issues? Don’t get me wrong, I love cheap oil and hate to see humanitarian crises – but committing troops, going to war? The only issue that crosses the threshold, to my mind, is Iranian nuclear weapons – the one we backed away from.
On the Israel front, as a Christian I naturally have an inclination to side with the Jews in these affairs. Not that either side has been above reproach – but the current status involves clear agitation by one side. Agitation that appears to be heating up, not cooling down.
Update: interesting article about potential Palestinian push for recognition by the UN, and diplomatic implications: Time running out for peace offer.