- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2011

It was just a matter of time before the disruptions in the Middle East began to have an impact on Israel. Unfortunately, the border violence there over the weekend had more to do with preventing change than promoting it.

Sunday marked the annual Palestinian political ritual of Nakba (“the catastrophe”), which marks Israel’s founding in 1948. This year, thousands of people turned out to demonstrate. In Golan, hundreds of protesters burst through the border where they came under fire from Israeli troops. Soldiers clashed with demonstrators on the Lebanese, Gaza and Palestinian Authority borders as well. It was the largest such disturbance in many years.

The common factor in three of the incidents is Iran. The Islamic regime in Tehran is a major supporter of Syria, Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and the Hamas faction in Gaza. The Iranian mullahs have been working diligently to turn the recent Middle East disturbances to their favor, backing Shiite and other dissident groups in Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Tehran sees the risings as an opportunity to extend its influence throughout the region, targeting Arabs and Israelis alike.

Iran’s client, Syrian strongman Bashar Assad, has the most to gain from fomenting violence against Israel. His regime has been fighting for its life against pro-democracy protesters, killing at least 45 last week alone. The provocation in Golan can be read as a means of diverting popular attention - as well as the international media - away from the struggles of those thirsting for freedom inside Syria and toward the time-honored distraction of the conflict with Israel.

The White House said, “This is an effort to distract attention from the legitimate expressions of protest by the Syrian people, and from the harsh crackdown that the Syrian government has perpetrated against its own people,” and urged “maximum restraint on all sides,” a call which is likely to be heeded by no one. The theory being floated by the Obama administration, and even by some Republicans, is that the uprisings in the region represent a rejection of al Qaeda’s violent model for change and in favor of peaceful reform. To the contrary, Iran, Syria and other regional actors recognize the opportunity to harness the momentum for change to serve their state objectives.

The opportunistic move to put Israel at the center of regional chaos should inform the Middle East policy speech President Obama has scheduled for Thursday. Mr. Obama reportedly doesn’t want to bring up the issue of Israel in his speech, but ignoring it will not make it go away. Friday’s announcement of the planned resignation of administration Israeli-Palestinian mediator George Mitchell doesn’t inspire confidence that the peace process is going according to plan. Likewise, the ostensibly moderate Islamists Mr. Obama eagerly promotes as agents of change in the region won’t allow the “Israel problem” to drop.

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam El-Erian recently admitted his dream is that Israel will “destroy itself” somehow, and that Arabs and Jews will “live together as we did before the state of Israel. We lived in peace.” Of course, Mr. El-Erian and his cohorts could live in peace right now if they wanted, but Mr. Obama’s “lead from behind” strategy won’t get them there.