Monday, October 7, 2013

Israel is the only real winner of the Arab Spring

Israel is the only real winner of the Arab Spring

This is another guest post by Brian Goldfarb, a frequent reader and contributor to this blog.

Destruction of Homs, Syria.

Israel is the only real winner of the Arab Spring as this article in the Tower has it (via the Elder of Ziyon, may his tribe increase). It is music to my ears and, I hope, to all readers of this site. The article is by Gabriel Scheinmann, PhD candidate at Georgetown University, Washington DC.

He starts by noting tha:

conventional wisdom holds that Israel has been the biggest loser of the revolutionary tidal wave known as the “Arab Spring.” The unraveling of stability on its borders and the empowerment of Islamic radicals are believed to be grave setbacks for Jerusalem.”

Indeed, for many, this is a common view. However, this is, as various other commentators have also noticed, far too simplistic an approach. In practice, as Scheinmann argues, and the headline quote confirms, the chaos on the other side of Israel’s borders may well be to her benefit. His article is as full of quotable extracts as a Shakespeare play (sorry, as a Brit, Will), and I’ll get to them shortly. The starting point (and where Scheinmann ends) is that Israel has been, effectively, untouched by the chaos across her borders.

The most obvious case is Syria, just across the 40 year-old cease fire line on the Golan Heights. Until the so-called “Arab Spring” hit Syria, this was a stable border: Assad (and his father before him) knew better than to rouse the IDF. Both knew that their armies were no match for it. Indeed, despite the occasional rocket or artillery shell across the de facto border during the current civil war, no-one thought that this would change. Nor has it, probably because the Israelis have refrained from serious retaliation for these infringements of Israeli sovereignty.  There is another, and more serious, possibility as to why Assad has refrained from provocation.

As Scheinmann has it:

“Estimates published by the Associated Press suggest as many as 15,000 government soldiers have been killed, while the Institute for the Study of War estimates that 20 to 30 percent have defected. Whether the Assad regime survives or not, the Syrian military will be unable to challenge Israel for a generation.”

As I noted above, music to my ears! Inevitably, even if the Assad regime were to “win” the civil war, the army would be seriously depleted and weakened in all sorts of ways, and no threat to the IDF. For Assad (and his sponsors) it could get worse, much worse:

“Another possible outcome, the balkanization of Syria, could be even more advantageous for Israel. Syria could easily break up into rump Alawite, Sunni Arab, and Kurdish entities. Not only would this sever the regime’s alliance with Iran, but the power of Sunni jihadists would be seriously blunted.”

The possible advantages for Jerusalem (as these pretend diplomatic writers always put it, rather than saying Israel) go further:

“Moreover, Jerusalem could find an ally in the currently stateless Kurds, whose century-long quest for a state mirrors that of the early Zionists. Quiet Kurdish-Israeli contacts go back decades and will be useful to Israel against an aggressive Iran, a recalcitrant Turkey, or a chaotic rump Syria.”

Wouldn’t that be an unanticipated and very positive consequence!

However, it gets better:

“In addition, Assad’s allies, Iran and Hezbollah—perhaps Israel’s most implacable enemies—have expended vast resources on Syria that could otherwise have been directed against Israel. Iranian and Hezbollah forces are actively engaged in helping Assad suppress the Sunni rebellion and have suffered numerous casualties.”

Scheinmann goes further and notes that

“Some analysts have suggested that Syria is Iran’s “Vietnam” or its “Stalingrad,” doomed overextensions that could have lasting strategic consequences.”

Hundreds of thousands protest against the Morsi government in Tahrir Square, Cairo, November 2012.

Scheinmann has much more in his article (as befits a PhD candidate), including some incisive analysis of both Egypt and Jordan, and why they are very far from being a military threat to israel while, hopefully, remaining stable, but the tone can perhaps be summed by the following:

“The Arab states have fought four major wars against the Jewish state, all won convincingly by Israel. In the intervening 40 years, the IDF has only gotten stronger while Arab armies have petrified. Israel currently maintains a massive qualitative edge over its potential enemies, honed over decades of battle experience. The Egyptian and Syrian armies, untested since the Yom Kippur War, are not even capable of controlling their own territories, while Jordan has not gone to war since 1967. The Arab states know full well that they would be decimated in any large-scale conflict with the Jewish state.”

Of course, at one, possibly cynical, level, this is because Israel cannot afford to lose even one war, while the Arab states (providing they are prepared to sacrifice what Kingsley Amis in his novel “Lucky Jim” has his central character call the Poor Bloody Infantry – the PBI) can afford to lose any number: they have to get lucky only once.

Anne adds:

The article is full of much more information about the strategic and economic situations of all of Israel’s neighbours: Egypt, Jordan and of course Syria, and is well-worth reading in full.

Brian claims that “you’d never think, from the above, that I was leftist, pinko pacifist, would you? As far as the defence of democracy and Israel is concerned, only the first two are true!”.

I think he does himself a disservice. I find his views much more centrist (his leftist friends might even call him a right-winger!) than he gives himself credit for.

Thank you again for an incisive and informative analysis.

I’ll conclude with the final optimistic words of the Tower article:

the Arab Spring has compromised strategic rivals and devastated a number of these threats. While its neighbors are roiled by chaos and violence, Israel remains strong. By exercising restraint, keeping a low profile, and strengthening its defenses, Israel is in a better position now than it was several years ago. In fact, Israel may be the only real long-term winner of the Arab Spring.