Speaking on background this week, a senior Israeli official said that the threat of conventional war against Israel had fallen sharply due to instability in the Arab world.
The official predicted that the 22 members of the Arab League would split into 28 to 30 countries during the next five years as the so-called Arab Spring turns out to be an “Islamist winter.” Those who expected a democratic resurgence after the Arab revolts of 2011, he argued, “have no understanding of history and no understanding of the social circumstances of Arab countries. It isn’t like Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism. Eastern Europe had the experience of democracy between the wars, and it also had a great culture. Above all, it didn’t have a political religion dedicated to conquest.”
What the official characterized as “the implosion of the Arab world” would make it much harder for Arab countries to mount a conventional threat against the Jewish state, he said. “Between the alternative of having our enemies divided or united, we prefer to have them divided,” he added. “The states put together after World War I by Mr. Sykes and Mr. Picot won’t hold together. We are finding out that Arab countries aren’t really countries in the first place. Libya turns out to be not a country, but a collection of 140 tribes. And we hardly need talk about what is happening in Syria.”
He added, “The clout of the Arab League is falling, and Arab oil is becoming less important.” After the 1967 war, he observed, the Arabs consoled themselves for their defeat by asserting that time was on their side. “Now, no-one can say that time is on the side of the Arabs. They are in danger of disintegration. Time is on nobody’s side. Time is on the side of whoever prepares best for the future.”
Asked whether the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and other Arab countries might foster a supranational strain of radicalism in the Arab world, the official dismissed the scenario as extremely unlikely. “The Arabs are too divided among themselves for a unified Islamist movement to emerge. First, there is the Sunni-Shia split which probably will never be resolved. And within the Sunna, there are deep splits. The Muslim Brotherhood is at odds with the Salafists, for example; the Saudis are Salafist, and that is why the Saudis and the Egyptians are walking on eggshells when they talk to each other.”
As Jerusalem views the world, the official explained, two contradictory trends predominate. One is towards economic integration, and the other is toward geopolitical disintegration. “All through the Arab world the dialogue among intellectuals is about the dysfunction of their countries,” he said. The Arab world may be the most extreme example, he added, but it is not the only one: “Look at Scotland, or Catalonia. Who would have thought fifty years ago that the Scots might be voting on independence from England?”
Iran’s nuclear program remains the great danger, and April will be a pivotal month, the official added, both because of the rate of accumulation of highly enriched uranium, and because the campaign for Iran’s June presidential election will begin in that month. If Iran wants to avoid war, its political leaders will have to signal a change in policy to their own people in the lead-up to the elections.
Israel’s response to these trends is two-fold, the official said.
“The world has learned nothing two generations after the Holocaust,” citing the West’s failure to intervene to stop genocide in Rwanda and its belated response to massacres in southern Sudan. “That is why no-one can take away the right of the Jewish people to defend itself.”
Globalization, though, opens numerous opportunities for the Jewish state to distinguish itself through technology, business, and science. The world needs new energy technologies, more efficient agriculture, better water management, cost-effective medical diagnostics, and a range of other technologies where Israel excels. Israel aspires to a new image as the source of beneficial technologies and scientific achievements that improve the lives of people around the world.