Huffpost WorldPost
David Harris Headshot

Israel, the 'Arab Spring,' and the Wishful Thinkers

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

When it comes to Israel, advice is never in short supply.

It's doled out steadily by diplomats, scholars, editorial writers, columnists, you name it.

The onset of the so-called Arab Spring -- in actuality, it more closely approximates an Islamic Winter -- has unleashed another tidal wave of counsel and critique.

They are summed up along the following lines:

"[T]he Arab Spring holds out a historic opportunity to complete the peace process in the Middle East" (French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé);

"The Arab Spring is an Opportunity for Israel" (Natalia Simanovsky, The Journal of Turkish Weekly);

"Netanyahu's prescription is to do nothing" (New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman);

"There is a need [for Israel] to look over the horizon" (Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center).

It's as if some observers, wanting desperately to wax optimistic about the moment, fail to take note of another reality, one far more sobering for Israel.

Since the upheaval began in Tunisia, Israel's immediate security environment has become more, not less, challenging. The chances for peace, already remote, seem still more distant.

I say this with profound regret.

As a long-time supporter of a two-state agreement, I wish for nothing more than the day that enduring peace will come for Israelis and Palestinians alike -- and a more comprehensive settlement with the Arab world as well.

But wishful thinking has its limitations, especially in this rough-and-tumble neighborhood.

Consider the stark reality that Jerusalem faces today:

Let's begin with Lebanon, long under Syria's iron grip and now increasingly in the hands of Syria's -- and Iran's -- dependable ally, Hezbollah.

Named a terrorist group by the U.S., Hezbollah operates a state within a state. It has a well-trained militia and stockpiles of missiles and rockets estimated in the tens of thousands. The group's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, boasts that his weaponry can reach every part of Israel, a nation that, in his view, has no right to exist.

Then there's Syria. Yes, the very same Syria that's in the news every day for the savagery of its regime.

Should President Bashar al-Assad be ousted, could Israel then rest peacefully? Hardly.

Who would replace him? Most probably, Sunni Islamists. Al Qaeda has already endorsed the opposition forces. And who would control Syria's stockpile of advanced weapons, courtesy of Russia and Iran?

And if Assad somehow manages to hang on, with help from Tehran and Moscow, Israel now has an even better idea of the unbridled brutality of its northern neighbor.

To the east looms Iran.

Here is a nation that flouts UN Security Council resolutions and International Atomic Energy Agency strictures, while developing nuclear-weapons capability and calling for Israel's elimination. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on January 29th that Iran could get the bomb within a year.

Closer to the east lies Jordan, which has had quietly convergent interests with Israel for decades -- largely driven by common fear of Palestinian radicalism -- but may yet be touched by street protests and surging Islamist political muscle.

To the south is Gaza, the Hamas stronghold.

Want to understand Hamas? Read its charter, which sets forth its worldview in chilling detail. There is no place for Israel and not much love of Jews, either.

Listen to the words of Gaza's prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, who was just in Iran, where he declared for the umpteenth time that his group "will never recognize Israel."

And consider the thousands of deadly missiles and rockets in Gaza, supplemented regularly by the smuggling of weapons across the lawless Sinai and through the tunnels.

Then there's Egypt.

We all pray that, whoever ultimately gains power in Cairo, the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, will hold.

But with two-thirds of Egyptian voters choosing the Muslim Brotherhood or even more extreme Salafists, who today can be optimistic about the direction of Egyptian-Israeli ties?

And take note that, in the past year alone, there have been 12 separate terrorist attacks on the Egyptian gas pipeline to Israel (and Jordan).

Then there is the West Bank and the ruling Palestinian Authority.

President Mahmoud Abbas has been billed as Israel's best hope for an accord.

Maybe, but then again, maybe not.

Abbas, missing in action for most of the last three years, has had an odd way of demonstrating his commitment to the peace process. And his PA keeps undercutting the spinmeisters by glorifying Palestinian terrorists who have murdered innocent Israelis, and by teaching incitement to children.

To make matters still worse, Abbas has now embraced Hamas, the very group that ousted his forces from Gaza in a bloody coup nearly five years ago.

I don't know how long that marriage will last, but even if it turns out to be short-lived, what message does it send to Israel and the world?

The PA is ready to join forces with a group openly calling for Israel's destruction, and whose leader in Gaza travels to Iran to embrace its rulers. And yet Israel is supposed to see in all this an "historic opportunity"?

Oh, and by the way, one of Hamas's demands for tying the knot was dropping Salam Fayyad as prime minister. There goes the one Palestinian leader who, more than any other, invited hope for a better future.

And in this tour d'horizon, a word about Turkey.

Once a close regional partner of Israel, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken the country in a different direction.

He has embraced Hamas, pandered to the Arab street, and lambasted Israel every chance he gets, including in the recent dust-up with American author Paul Auster.

New chances for Israel thanks to the "Arab Spring"?

Much as I'd love to see them, where exactly are they?

So, to the advice givers, at least the well-intentioned among them, here are my two cents: Please show more restraint and greater understanding of Israel's difficult regional situation today.

Maybe in speeches, editorials, and columns there are easy answers. In Israel's real world, alas, there are not.

For more information, visit ajc.org.