Israel Closer to the Arabs than the West?

Since it became an independent state, Israel has been at war with all or most of the Arab world and allied with the West. The reasons are that Israel shares the same values and similar interests with the West. Today, however, the West, led by the United States, has lost its way and seems unclear of its interests, whereas the moderate Arab states suddenly find their interests are in sync.

Certain realities have not changed. Israel’s democratic and ethical values remain alien to the Arab world. Similarly, the West has not shifted its principal interest in securing oil supplies and expanding trade in the Middle East. Another constant is that the West remains largely clueless about the dynamics of the region while the Israelis and Arabs share an intimate knowledge of who they are and who threatens them.

The West and its Middle East allies share an interest in regional stability, but it is clear that they have very different conceptions of what that means. The United States, in particular, has decided that it should restore relations with Iran, at almost any cost, and that the Iranians will help stabilize the region. The Arabs and Israel, however, view Iran as the principal cause of instability and an imminent threat to their nations.

The West also has no understanding of the role religion plays in the region and the mores of the Arab societies. This is one of the reasons the United States and its allies completely misunderstood and mishandled the Arab spring. It was pure ignorance to believe, as the Obama administration and others in the West did, that the upheaval in the region was the result of democracy seeking liberal Arabs using social media to provoke a revolution.

The absurdity of this notion was immediately apparent in Egypt where, as true Middle East experts predicted, holding elections did not result in democracy but an effort by the radical Muslim Brotherhood to impose a theocracy on the naïve protestors and their fellow Egyptians. Moreover, Obama’s decision to align the United States with the terrorists and throw Hosni Mubarak under the bus sent the message that the United States could not be counted on to support its allies, a signal that continues to reverberate today.

The West now is so focused on defeating ISIS that it is ignoring the bigger threat posed by the equally radical Muslim regime in Iran. This is a function of either misunderstanding the dynamics of Sunni-Shiite relations or choosing to ignore them to avoid entanglement in the wars now raging in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Moreover, the Iranian nuclear issue may not only irrevocably damage the Western-Arab alliance, but is likely to trigger a nuclear arms race that will permanently destabilize the region and increase the threat to the West of nuclear terrorism or war.

The evidence of the alienation of Western allies has become very public. While in the early months of the Arab spring, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states grumbled privately, they are now expressing their anger, frustration and mistrust openly. Israel’s prime minister went over the president’s head to tell Congress that Obama’s deal with Iran is a recipe for disaster. When the president tried to mollify the Gulf Arabs at last week’s summit, their leaders snubbed him.

While Obama threatens a reassessment of U.S.-Israel ties, the Saudis have already decided they cannot rely on the traditional U.S. security umbrella while Obama is in office and believe his Iran policy is catastrophic. Consequently, the Saudis openly state their intention to seek nuclear weapons to defend themselves against Iran.

Egypt, too, has lost faith in Obama because of his ambivalence toward the current regime and reluctance to provide it with weapons. This has driven the Egyptians back into the waiting arms of the Russians, who had been marginalized in the region by Obama’s predecessors.

Obama further alienated his allies by his inaction in Syria, his weak response to the ISIS threat, and failure to see the greater danger posed by Shiites from Iran and Iraq. The failure to back up his threat to use force if Syria deployed chemical weapons reinforced Obama’s image as a weak leader and destroyed the credibility of a military option to stop Iran’s nuclear program. This is yet another example of failing to understand a region where weakness is exploited.

All of these factors have brought Israel and the moderate Arabs together. The Israelis share the Gulf Arabs’ concerns about Iran and contempt for Obama’s inept Middle East policy. The Israelis and Egyptians now share an interest in eradicating the threat of radical Islam in the Gaza Strip and Sinai. Egypt has strengthened its blockade of southern Gaza and declared Hamas enemies of the state. Israel and Jordan also see eye to eye on the danger of Islamists as well as the potential for the Syrian war to spill across their borders. Israel and the Saudis view the radical Muslim terrorists of Hezbollah as Iranian proxies that are contributing to the dissolution of Syria and have already brought ruin to Lebanon.

The shifting alliances in the region reinforce the argument I made in my book, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews that the Arab-Israeli conflict is over. Arab states may not love Israel, but they no longer see themselves at war with the Jewish state. The real conflict is between the radical Islamists and the Jews in Israel and beyond.

Muslim extremists are also at war with the remnants of the Christian communities of the region – as well as those outside the Middle East – and Muslims they consider apostates (radical Shiites and Sunnis see each other this way).

It is not too late for the West to take advantage of the interests shared by Israel and the Arab states. An opening, albeit a small one, now exists to focus on strengthening these ties. Unfortunately, in one of the most common examples of the West’s learning deficiency, France, the United States and others seem intent on taking their eyes off the most grave issues and resuming their Sisyphean obsession with the Palestinian issue. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has no interest, authority or support for negotiating with Israel, let alone making the concessions necessary to reach a peace agreement.

If Western leaders were smart, and they’re not, they would wait for a Palestinian leader to unite the people behind a peace initiative. Until then, they will continue to spin their wheels and fail to address the critical threats to their interests and those of their regional allies.

Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.

About the Author
Dr Mitchell Bard is the Executive Director of the nonprofit American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) and a foreign policy analyst who lectures frequently on U.S.-Middle East policy. Dr. Bard is the director of the Jewish Virtual Library, the world's most comprehensive online encyclopedia of Jewish history and culture. He is also the author/editor of 24 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.