The Arab Spring began 2010. Many across the region continue to protest against repressive governments that are robbing populations of their basic human and civil rights. The "revolution" that has gripped the region has had vastly different impacts. Nevertheless, while the Arab masses continue to fight for their freedoms, Israel is, in turn, speechless because it realizes that it too is part of the oppression game. Israel is, in essence, one of the oppressors.
It is quite clear to the Israeli government that this regional push toward democracy will directly affect them in a negative manner. After all, Israel continues to occupy over three million Palestinians in the West Bank and keep another million or so imprisoned in Gaza. Not necessarily a positive in anyone's book.
As the Arab Spring continues, Western influence wanes. In tandem, Israel is becoming more isolated. This isolation has not transitioned into support of the democratic civil society movements of its neighbors. In fact, it has done quite the opposite. These anti-regime populist movements, which arguably started with the Green Revolution in Iran, have instead pushed Israel toward a more agitated, fear based and increasingly paranoid posture.
In response, the Israeli government has moved on two fast and furious initiatives. The first is to escalate the annexation of the West Bank by increasing settlements and confiscating land, while keeping Gaza under its thumb with daily aerial bombardments. And the second is to ensure its hegemonic position in the region by directly challenging its only capable opponent -- Iran.
According to a new report by Israeli organization Peace Now, Torpedoing the Two State Solution - The Strategy of the Netanyahu Government, there has been a "20% rise in construction starts in the settlements -- at least 1,850 building starts for housing units, 35% of them (650 units) in isolated settlements east of the planned route of the Separation Barrier" and "at least 3,500 units under construction during 2011 (started to be built or continued construction from previous years)."
The report goes further to say that although the Netanyahu government promised to dismantle illegal outposts, this has been skirted by, instead, making them legal. In addition, more roads connecting Palestinian towns have been severed by settlement expansion making it close to impossible to travel and if Palestinians do, they will encounter even more checkpoints. There are some 500-plus "physical impediments," as the United Nations calls them, in the West Bank. B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, reported that, in addition to permanent checkpoints, the army erects hundreds of surprise flying checkpoints along West Bank roads at will.
Israel is successfully appropriating the West Bank to ease its fear-based obsessions. It craves a level of security that is non-existent yet these policies continue.
Despite the consequences, keeping the Palestinian territories is, in the Israeli mind, one major step to keeping them protected. This along with their ever-growing stockpile of weapons, nuclear and otherwise allows the Netanyahu government plenty of time to focus on its desire for imperial dominance and the destruction of its only regional competitor -- Iran.
Israel has been testing the waters for some time to see if it can in effect bully Iran into relinquishing its, to date, minimally influential regional place. To keep the pressure on, Israel has relied on the West to impose sanctions while continuously threatening Iran with military strikes. This has been going on since about 2004. For almost ten years now -- give or take -- Israel has claimed that Iran is building a nuclear weapon and at any moment it will drop it right in the middle of a bunch of nations it actually has good relationships with just to destroy Israel.
No one can deny Iranian President Ahmadinejad's bellicose rhetoric against Israel, but if they were to really to use nuclear weapons that would be a surefire way to wipe out not only Israel, but major portions of the five surrounding states in the process and most probably would poison many more -- including Iran itself.
Our bombs today are much more powerful than they used to be. "Today, the B-2 Stealth bomber is capable of delivering 1,280 times the destructive power that the Enola Gay brought to bear on Hiroshima in 1945" says Peter Fedewa in his Ploughshares Fund blog post Nuclear Weapons To Scale. Thanks to the US taxpayers, Israel has twenty-five of them.
Various authors, including this one, have voiced numerous ways to use diplomacy to solve this Israeli-Iranian doomsday scenario. Iran is in no way perfect, but it has at the very least shown ample willingness to talk. It is most unfortunate though that Israel, and by proxy its US supporters, are hell-bent on war.
It seems that Israeli leaders have dismissed the fact that "all options on the table" includes robust diplomacy and actually conversing. Although it took about seven years for Muammar Qaddafi to come around, the Iranians were only allotted about twelve weeks from the Obama Administration to put up or be punished with yet more sanctions. Bush, as you might recall, labeled it as part of the 'axis of evil," which gave that Administration a sub-zero chance.
Yes, talks take time. It may be easier to pick up a weapon; however, that would probably guarantee one of two things: 1) everyone will end up right back where they started or 2) due to nuclear fallout -- we will all be dead.
Sanctions at this point are definitely working. How can they not? In addition to freezing Iran's hard currency assets and boycotting their banks, the West has successfully sanctioned everything from pistachios to caviar and carpets and now they are targeting Iranian oil. This has not only starved a lot of very poor Iranians who don't even like their government, it has set Iran's nuclear timeline back several years back.
Let us get real, though: sanctions will not and cannot work forever so why not get our diplomatic efforts moving toward preemption through negotiation instead of preemption through total destruction.
The US can and should immediately take the lead in this effort. It would behoove the Israelis to forgo war and jump on board -- for once.
Israel's short-term future may be guaranteed by occupation and bullying. In the long run, however, it is a high-risk wager to continue on such a violent path. A path that will only ensure more anxiety, mistrust and unrelenting blowback, which we have already seen for many years. Reaching out with a handshake instead of a weapon is the only way to guarantee the semblance of the security the Israeli state desires.
It is time for Israel, and those who support it, to rethink its defensive posture and look at the regional push toward democracy as an opportunity instead of a threat. No, it won't gain friends overnight, but at least it will start to convey that it is a willing partner in the region. A partner that prefers peace and security for all, not just Israelis, as well as one that is against war and destruction not committed to it.