Iran takes Beirut. Next, the world

Why does the West do noth­ing while Ira­nian prox­ies con­quer Le­banon?

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT & ANALYSIS - BARRY RU­BIN

AF­TER SEE­ING how West­ern lead­ers are han­dling — or not han­dling — Le­banon, said an Is­raeli of­fi­cial pri­vately, “Hizbol­lah could only laugh. We have to take it into con­sid­er­a­tion that no­body will ever help us.” Of course, Is­rael is not alone be­cause there are so many oth­ers be­com­ing vic­tims of a com­bi­na­tion of West­ern dither­ing and Ira­nian / Ira­nian-di­rected rad­i­cal ag­gres­sive­ness. Whether or not the West fig­ures it out, the other side knows well what is go­ing on. “There are only two sides — Iran and the United States,” said the Ira­nian news­pa­per Kay­han. An­other lead­ing Tehran daily, Jomhouri-e Is­lamia, ex­plained that as a re­sult of Hizbol­lah’s vic­tory in Le­banon, “The US’s in­flu­ence in the re­gion will stop, and the regimes iden­ti­fied with it will be re­placed.”

From Tehran’s view­point, that’s about 20 coun­tries — all but Syria, maybe Su­dan, and the Gaza Strip. To­day, Le­banon (or at least west Beirut); to­mor­row the world. For those coun­tries, the choice is stark: ally with ei­ther the US or Iran.

Th­ese peo­ple know they are at war, with the two fronts right now be­ing Le­banon and Iraq. A Gulf Arab jour­nal­ist, in an ar­ti­cle tellingly en­ti­tled, Iran is En­emy Num­ber One, wrote a few days ago: “The true feel­ing of the Saudis, Bahrai­nis, Kuwaitis and Qataris is that Iran is the en­emy and it must be brought down and weak­ened.”

The con­flict be­tween Is­rael and the wider Arab world still ex­ists but has be­come more of an Is­rael-Pales­tinian, Syr­ian and Ira­nian con­flict in prac­tice. For most Arab regimes, it is use­ful for mak­ing pro­pa­ganda and prov­ing their mil­i­tant na­tion­al­ist-Is­lamic cre­den­tials but things have changed a great deal from past decades.

Of course, this does not mean they will co­op­er­ate or make peace with Is­rael. Mod­er­a­tion not only threat­ens to ex­pose them to rad­i­cal sub­ver­sion but also to weaken their own dic­ta­tor­ships’ struc­ture, which rests heav­ily on dem­a­gog­i­cally blam­ing Is­rael for all their short­com­ings.

As one Gulf ruler put it pri­vately, “We can use Is­rael and bash Is­rael si­mul­ta­ne­ously.” In other words, Is­raelis must op­pose Ira­nian am­bi­tions for their own rea­sons any­way. So why should Arab regimes give them any­thing for do­ing so, even if it means pro­tect­ing their own sovereignty and sys­tems as well?

In this con­text, the idea that solv­ing the Pales­tinian is­sue will bring peace and sta­bil­ity in the re­gion, en­sure good Arab-West­ern re­la­tions, and quiet rad­i­cal Is­lamism be­comes es­pe­cially laugh­able.

Con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity of Iran get­ting nu­clear weapons. It is a cer­tainty that no West­ern coun­try will stand against it, Arab regimes will rush to ap­pease it, and hun­dreds of thou­sands of Mus­lims will join rad­i­cal Is­lamist groups to re­place all those regimes Iran says must go.

For the mo­ment, how­ever, Le­banon re­sem­bles Spain dur­ing its civil war, just be­fore the main con­flict. A demo­cratic ma­jor­ity, a united front of Chris­tians, Druze, and Sunni Mus­lims, de­fies ter­ror­ist at­tacks spon­sored by Syria, Iran’s ally. They sim­ply don’t want to live un­der an Iran-style Is­lamist regime. Gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers are an­gry that Hizbol­lah can launch war on Is­rael when­ever it pleases at great cost to their na­tion. They re­mem­ber decades of Syr­ian dom­i­na­tion, re­pres­sion and loot­ing.

A Fas­cist-free Spain, of course, be­came pro­gres­sive hu­man­ity’s cause of the 1930s. Such peo­ple were hor­ri­fied that the West­ern democ­ra­cies would not help the Repub­li­cans while the Ger­mans and Ital­ians poured troops, weapons and money into the Fas­cist side.

But why didn’t Bri­tain and the oth­ers act? Their mo­tives were pre­cisely the same as in­hibits de­ter­mi­na­tion to­day. They feared war and the re­sult­ing cost and ca­su­al­ties. They prof­ited from trade with the other side. They dis­liked the great power that was more in­volved in the war (in those days the USSR, to­day Amer­ica). Since the Catholic Church backed Gen­eral Fran­cisco Franco’s cause they didn’t want to be la­belled what to­day would be called “Catholo­pho­bic”. They lacked con­fi­dence in their own so­ci­ety, which Ezra Pound called a “botched civil­i­sa­tion”. Pound even­tu­ally pre­ferred the Fas­cists, as too many in­tel­lec­tu­als and artists now find the Is­lamists the lesser of the two evils.

All rather sim­i­lar to what hap­pened in 2006, when the UN de­cided that troops would be sent to south­ern Le­banon, Hizbol­lah would be kept out and dis­armed, and weapons smug­gling would be blocked. Hizbol­lah dis­agreed and did what it wanted. The world gave in: Hizbol­lah (Syria and Iran), 1; World, 0. If the world won’t even help Arab, Mus­lim-led, demo­cratic, Le­banon, why should Is­rael give cre­dence to such prom­ises?

Ah, but Is­rael can de­fend it­self. It is the tough­est of all Iran’s in­tended tar­gets.

Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill re­called in De­cem­ber 1941, speak­ing to Canada’s par­lia­ment, that col­lab­o­ra­tionist French gen­er­als warned him that if Bri­tain, too, didn’t sur­ren­der to Hitler, “In three weeks Eng­land will have her neck wrung like a chicken.” Churchill wryly told his cheer­ing au­di­ence: “Some chicken; some neck!” A few years later, Hitler lay dead and de­feated. Mr Ah­madine­jad, take note. Barry Ru­bin is di­rec­tor of the Global Re­search in In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs (GLO­RIA) Cen­ter and ed­i­tor of the Mid­dle East Re­view of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs (ME­RIA) Jour­nal. His latest book is The Is­rael-Arab Reader (sev­enth edi­tion), with Wal­ter Laqueur (Vik­ing-Pen­guin)

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