The essence of the war between Israel and the Arabs has changed fundamentally in recent years.
From the first decade of the 20th century until this one, the conflict between the Jews and the Arabs here was a secular one. While the founders of the Jewish State knew Torah, they were creating a secular society — one in which men and women were treated equally. Both carried guns; both wore shorts; both worked in the fields and the kibbutzim together, both died fighting together.
For the Arabs who opposed them, like the Jews and so many soldiers in wars before them, the fight was over control of the land, not religion.
As time moved forward, that dynamic never changed. The early leaders of Israel, people like David Ben Gurion and Golda Meier, though observant, were secular. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (‘PLO”) was established in the 1960s as a secular organization. It sought to replace Israel with an Arab State, not a Muslim one.
The first hint of a change began in 1979, when the secular government in Iran was replaced by a theocracy. Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, was created by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in 1979, though Hezbollah did not become a significant force until the early 1980s. Like its parent Iran, Hezbollah (“the army of God”) is a theocracy.
In the 1990s, Bill Clinton, Yitzhak Rabin, and Yasser Arafat still looked at the problem of peace between Israel and the Palestinians as a secular problem. Consequently, under the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority (PA), which was to be headed by the secular Arafat, was to be the sole bargaining agent for the Palestinian people. Unfortunately, the Oslo Accords did not bring about a two-state solution. In 2004, Arafat died and was replaced as President of the PA by Mahmoud Abbas, who remains the President of the PA..
By 2006, Hezbollah had grown much stronger. That year, Israel, tired of Hezbollah shooting missies into northern Israel, sent its troops into Lebanon to take care of Hezbollah once and for all. Israel thought, we have the IDF which defeated the surrounding Arab armies in only six days in 1967 and won the 1973 war against the same Arab armies as well. Moreover, these were armies; Hezbollah was just a bunch of terrorists, so Israel believed. Thirty days later, Hezbollah had fought Israel to a draw and the IDF soldiers came home with their tails between their legs. Still, there was no feeling on Israel’s part that the 2006 war was any less secular than the 1967 and 1973 wars.
After the 2006 war, the dynamic began to change. Israel’s primary opponent was no longer the PLO or its successor, the PA, but Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, all of which have no interest in a two-state solution. They intend to replace Israel with a Muslim theocracy because Allah promised Muslims all he land between the Jordan River and the Sea.
In the 2006 election Hamas won control of the PA legislature. Following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, turning it over to the PA, Hamas, by force of arms, took control of Gaza which it rules as a theocracy. It has been firing missiles at Israel from Gaza ever since.
For at least 15 years the major threat to Israel has been Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and their ilk. They have convinced their Muslim followers that Israel is threatening the sacred Al Aqsa and must be eliminated as a result, thus steadily turning the conflict into a religious one.
Up until last year, the Israeli government was predominately secular. Netanyahu is secular. (He does not wear a kippa, except at religious occasions.) Last year, however, Netanyahu, who will align himself with anyone who will enable him to be Prime Minister, established a coalition of the right which now governs Israel. That coalition is composed of three parts:
1. Likud, whose members are increasingly religious,
2. Religious Zionism, led by the openly-racist, ultrareligious, ultrarightwing Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir,
3. The two Haredi (ultraorthodox) parties, Shas and UJT .
Without all three parts, the governing coalition falls and new elections must be held. This has allowed the religious parties to get almost everything they want from Netanyahu.by threatening to leave the coalition. So far, Netanyahu has not had the guts to stand up to them, though he refuses to give up control of foreign relations and defense policy.
This new coalition has torn Israel apart. Now for 20 weeks, hundreds of thousands of mostly-secular Israelis have protested what they see as a threat to Israel as a democratic nation.
The election of an ultrareligious government of Israel last year changed the religious/secular dynamic. Ben Gvir and Smotrich have significantly affected foreign policy by insisting that Jews have control over the Temple Mount, thus solidifying Muslim opposition to Israel. Ben Gvir has been especially vociferous in this regard. A Rabbi who follows the teachings of the long-dead terrorist Meir Kahane, he is also a felon, having been convicted of inciting a riot against Arabs. Until a few years ago, he a had picture of Baruch Goldstein on his wall. Goldstein’s claim to fame is that in 1994 he killed 29 and wounded 123 Muslims who were at prayer when he shot them. Just this week, the always-incendiary Ben Gvir led a group of Jews onto the Temple Mount, saying, “We are in charge here. I am happy to go up to the Temple Mount, the most important place for the Jewish people.”
After years of negotiating with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, Israel, while Netanyahu was Prime Minister entered into the Abraham Accords, in my opinion the biggest step towards peace that Israel has taken in over 40 years. Today, the Abraham Accords are all but dead. Amazingly, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran which had been fighting a hot war against each other, have become allies. According to newspaper reports, Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman al Saud (BSM) had a telephone call in which BSM conditioned improved relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia upon Israel giving control of part of the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to the PA. Those condition are completely unacceptable to Israel, as BSM knows..
By now almost the entire Muslim world sees Israel as its enemy. The factor that unified them? Religion. This does not to bode well for Israel.