In the eye of a growing regional storm, Israel’s founding principles continue to serve it well

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By Norman Bailey

A mere two and a half years ago the Middle East and North Africa were organized in the following categories:

  • Democracies: Israel and Turkey
  • Traditional monarchies: The gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Jordan Oman and Morocco
  • Secular dictatorships: Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt and Syria, of which Libya and Syria were state sponsors of terrorism.
  • Occupied countries: Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Failed state: Lebanon
  • Clerical dictatorship: Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism
Modern Israel is in an enviable position in the emerging Middle Eastern /North African configuration.
Modern Israel is in an enviable position in the emerging Middle Eastern /North African configuration.

In a remarkably short period of time a new Middle East and North Africa is emerging, the outlines of which are visible, but which is very much still in flux.

Major changes:

(1) A stable Turkey, morphing gently into into mild Islamist semi-dictatorship, is suddenly plunged into internal conflict, with the government confronted by secularists, gulenists, Alevis and Kurds.

(2) Every one of the secular dictatorships, except for Algeria, has been overthrown or in the case of Syria is in the midst of civil war. Basically, they have given way to a struggle among Muslim Brotherhood extreme Islamists, even more extreme Salafists and secularists, in a heady brew seasoned by tribal groupings, urban gangs and terrorist organizations.

(3) Iran and Afghanistan, respectively, have regressed to communalism and tribalism.

(4) A resurgence of Kurdish nationalism affects four countries in the region and threatens them with secession.

(5) Renewed religious rivalry and hatred between Sh’ia and Sunni Muslims, across countries, areas within countries and even terrorist groups, with now open hostility, for example, between Hamas and Hizbullah. Only the traditional monarchies, with the exception of Bahrain, have so far escaped the turmoil. For how much longer is an open question. And, of course, Israel and Iran.

Outside forces attempting to influence this witch’s brew include particularly Russia, a fading United States, an entirely feckless Europe, and from within the region, Iran. The latter is emerging as the champion not of the Muslims in general, as was often thought to be the Islamic republic’s goal, but only the Sh’ia. This will substantially restrict its projection of influence. With Turkey’s emerging instability the Sunni have no champion to set against Iran, unless Egypt stabilizes politically, socially and economically, which looks increasingly unlikely. Russia could try to fill that role, but it has chosen the narrow objective of protecting its naval base at Tartous, by supporting the Alawite regime of Assad.

In short, at least for the foreseeable future, the country that gains the most from all of this surrealistic turmoil is the one hated (and feared) by most of the contending forces in the Arab, Persian and Turkish worlds — Israel. It is also emerging as the formal or informal protector of the traditional monarchies, the anti-semitism and anti-zionism of which has historically been rather muted in comparison to the Islamists.

A flourishing economy, astonishing civilian and military advances in technology, and the only truly formidable military force other than Iran, Israel is in an enviable position in the emerging Middle Eastern /North African configuration. There are no reasons to abandon, or radically modify any of the principles, internal or external, upon which the state of Israel has been based since 1948. They have been serving it well and continue to do so.

Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, D.C., and a researcher at the Center for National Security Studies, University of Haifa. This column was published by Globes, an online business publication in Israel.