The Arab Spring has turned Israel’s once-predictable adversaries into the chaotic state of a Sudan or Somalia. The old understandings between Jerusalem and the Assad and Mubarak kleptocracies seem in limbo.
Yet these tragic Arab revolutions swirling around Israel are paradoxically aiding it, both strategically and politically — well beyond the erosion of conventional Arab military strength.
In terms of realpolitik, anti-Israeli authoritarians are fighting to the death against anti-Israeli insurgents and terrorists. Each is doing more damage to the other than Israel ever could — and in an unprecedented, grotesque fashion. Who now is gassing Arab innocents? Shooting Arab civilians in the streets? Rounding up and executing Arab civilians? Blowing up Arab houses? Answer: either Arab dictators or radical Islamists.
The old nexus of radical Islamic terrorism of the past three decades is unraveling. With a wink and a nod, Arab dictatorships routinely subsidized Islamic terrorists to divert popular anger away from their own failures to the West or Israel. In the deal, terrorists got money and sanctuary. The Arab Street blamed others for their own government-inflicted miseries, and thieving authoritarians posed as Islam’s popular champions.
Now, however, terrorists have turned on their dictator sponsors. Even the most ardent Middle East conspiracy theorists are having trouble blaming the United States and Israel.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry is still beating last century’s dead horse of a “comprehensive Middle East peace.” Does Mr. Kerry’s calcified diplomacy really assume that a peace agreement involving Israel would stop the ethnic cleansing of Egypt’s Coptic Christians? Does Israel have anything to do with Bashar Assad’s alleged gassing of his own people?
There are other losers as well. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted to turn a once-secular Turkish democracy into a neo-Ottoman Islamist sultanate, with grand dreams of eastern Mediterranean hegemony. His selling point to former Ottoman Arab subjects was often a virulent anti-Semitism. Turkey suddenly became among Israel’s worst enemies and the Obama administration’s best friends.
Yet if Mr. Erdogan has charmed President Obama, he has alienated almost everyone in the Middle East. Islamists such as former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi felt that Mr. Erdogan was a fickle and opportunistic conniver. The Gulf monarchies believed that he was troublemaker who wanted to supplant their influence. Neither the Europeans nor the Russians trust him. The result is that Mr. Erdogan’s loud anti-Israeli foreign policy is increasingly irrelevant.
The oil-rich sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf once funded terrorists on the West Bank, but they are now fueling the secular military in Egypt. In Syria, they are searching to find some third alternative other than Mr. Assad’s Alawite regime and its al Qaeda enemies. For the moment, oddly, the Middle East foreign policies of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the other oil monarchies dovetail with Israel‘s: Predictable Sunni-Arab nationalism is preferable to one-vote, onetime Islamist radicals.
Israel no doubt prefers that the Arab world liberalize and embrace constitutional government. Yet the bloodletting lends credence to Israel’s ancient complaints that it never had a constitutional or lawful partner in peace negotiations.
In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt dictatorship is gone. His radical Muslim Brotherhood successors were worse and are also gone. The military dictatorship that followed both is no more legitimate than either. In these cycles of revolution, the one common denominator is an absence of constitutional government.
In Syria, there never was a moderate middle. Take your pick between the murderous Shiite-backed Assad dictatorship or radical Sunni Islamists. In Libya, the choice degenerated into Moammar Gadhafi’s unhinged dictatorship or the tribal militias that overthrew it. Let us hope that one day Westernized moderate democracy might prevail, but that moment seems a long way off.
What do the Egyptian military, the French in Mali, Americans at home, the Russians, the Gulf monarchies, persecuted Middle Eastern Christians and the reformers of the Arab Spring all have in common? Like Israel, they are all fighting Islamic-inspired fanaticism. Most of them, like Israel, are opposed to the idea of a nuclear Iran.
In comparison to the ruined economies of the Arab Spring — tourism shattered, exports nonexistent and billions of dollars in infrastructure lost through unending violence — Israel is an atoll of prosperity and stability. Factor in its recent huge gas and oil finds in the eastern Mediterranean, and it may soon become another Kuwait or Qatar, but with a real economy beyond its booming petroleum exports.