The Middle East's False Dawn of Democracy
by DR. AVIGDOR HASELKORN
February 21, 2011
The Obama Administration can barely contain itself over the prospect of a new democratic dawn breaking over the Middle East. It is pinning its hopes on educated, tech-savvy, democracy-loving youngsters to save Muslim societies from poverty, tyranny and religious fanaticism. Accordingly, the upheaval in the region is driven by political and economic, not religious, factors. In fact, Washington argues, the uprisings can be seen as a setback for Islamists. Yet whether the Administration is correct or woefully delusional it must address the reaction of Islamists to the dramatic changes.
America’s regional enemies are convinced the tide has turned their way. They are determined to demonstrate by word and deed that the West and its local friends are on the run and that soon they will be in control of the Middle East.
For example, Iranian state TV reported that for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian warships would sail through the Suez Canal on their way to Syria for training. Iran’s semi-official FARS news agency on February 18, described the vessels as “intelligence-operational fleet of warships”. It said the mission would boost the navy’s “operational range in international waters since the Iranian Navy is considered as a strategic regional force with a long operational range.” It drew attention to last September’s statement by Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari who said that the Iranian Navy's presence on the high seas and international waters is part of Tehran's strategy for defending its interests abroad.
Clearly, Iran wants to be seen as filling the vacuum now that America’s regional bases of power are teetering. Tehran is determined that no one in and out of the area misses the shift in the balance of powers. It is signaling that its Navy is no longer relegated to defending Iranian shores. Rather, it is ready to challenge Israel directly and extend an umbrella over its allies even before it acquired nuclear weapons.
Likewise, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Hizbullah organization in Lebanon, in an address on February 16, 2011, did his best to hype the dramatic transformation in the region:
"Twenty years ago, everybody was talking about the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, and nobody even imagined that anyone in Lebanon could possibly take over the north of Palestine, or the Galilee… However, brothers and sisters, today there are serious discussions in Israel about whether the resistance in Lebanon is capable of occupying the north of Palestine and taking over the Galilee region…I say to the mujahideen of the Islamic resistance: Be prepared for a day when…the commanders of the resistance may ask you to take over the Galilee. In other words – to liberate the Galilee."
Meanwhile, an operative of Hamas, the Islamist organization ruling Gaza, has told the Los Angeles Times that without the backing of Egypt, now that President Hosni Mubarak has gone, Israel could never launch another attack à la its 2006 Cast Iron operation launched to silence incessant rocket attacks from the Strip. Such a perception could signal a much more aggressive Hamas stand with marked escalation in attacks on Israel. Thus, senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar telling the paper "This is a new era. They [Israelis] should fear," sounds truly ominous.
Combined, these actions and pronouncements are meant to convince the region’s inhabitants that the battle against the “Great Satan” (the U.S.) and its evil creation—Israel (or the “Little Satan”)-- is about to be won. That Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's vision of a “new Middle East, without the Zionist regime and U.S. interference,” one where the "era of puppet regimes" backed by “global arrogance” (the U.S.) had ended, is at their fingertips.
It would be prudent to assume that in the coming months Islamists will act to underscore the new reality in the area and help it further along. The Obama Administration’s wide-eyed dreams of a democratic Middle East should give way to careful planning and preparations for a host of adversarial developments. First, Israel will be sorely tested. A spectacular terrorist or rocket attack against an Israeli target would be meant to demonstrate the growing shakiness of the old order and the rising prowess of the region’s new forces. It is not unthinkable that such a strike would be aimed to provoke a harsh Israeli response to further inflame the restive Arab/Muslim populations against Israel and its “master” the U.S.
New Iranian muscle flexing, and that of its proxies, would likely be felt elsewhere as well. Lebanon could face a new round of civil war if Hizbullah, with Iranian-Syrian backing, decides the time for political power-sharing had passed. Gulf sheikdoms efforts to placate Tehran, already well underway, can be expected to mount as Tehran heightens efforts to fashion its political orbit. For one, Bahrain could shortly become less hospitable to the U.S. 5th Fleet. Iranian support for the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan could be expected to increase. Tehran's ties to anti-American regimes in the Western Hemisphere, like that of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, will be intensified. Worst of all, it would be illogical to assume that Iran bent on demonstrating its new stature could be prevailed upon to stop its drive towards nuclear weapons. In that case the question is, Mr. President, what are you prepared to do except pontificating?