By Saeed Naqvi
To win the March 17 Israeli elections or to postpone them , Benjamin Netanyahu is turning heaven and earth. Last month’s Israeli air strikes killed six Hezbollah commanders and an Iranian general in the Syrian town of Quneitra.
The purpose was to invite retaliation. Warlike atmosphere would block Secretary of State John Kerry with his skates on towards a nuclear deal with Iran.
What will be his next gambit? Some big skirmish in Gaza or Southern Lebanon or further afield. But after his March 3 meeting with Obama?
One may be forgiven for asking what came of the meeting of 21 world leaders in London, who swore to fight the ISIS? Those fighting the ISIS on the ground are Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, precisely last month’s Israeli targets. And now Jordan has been dragged in. At what possible cost? American public see the ISIS is the biggest threat to US interests, not Iran as Netanyahu does.
Whether Netanyahu wins or loses, Israel for the time being looks the most secure real estate in the region. But how long does a nation look safe when everything around it is falling apart?
Israel was once a softer place, with gentle Kibbutz and, in the shadow of Mount Hermon, Fa Giladi seemed a wonderful place to read, reflect, write. Peace was broken occasionally by shelling from Habbariya in Southern Lebanon. Both, Palestinian resistance and Israeli determination, seemed reconcilable – at some future date.
Then, suddenly, everything began to look irreconcilable once the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990. Even before that date, Ariel Sharon had moved into Lebanon. That was the beginning of the gradual decline of the world’s most elegant city – Beirut. Nabi Beri’s Shia Amal gave way to the religious, militarized Hezbollah. So, Israeli action splintered Lebanon into its religious components.
A decade later when Bosnian brutalities were daily fare in the global media, a senior French official told me in Paris: “The balance of power had shifted against the Christians in Lebanon; it was now shifting against the Muslims in Bosnia.”
At the time that Sharon was in Lebanon, the Soviets were in Afghanistan. Began the biggest manufacture in history of Islamist Jihadists on a scale that would match Pope Urban’s crusades beginning 1095. Zbigniew Brzezinski said he would not worry about some “stirred up Muslims” so long as the West won the Cold War.
That may have been Brzezinski’s perspective. But various world capitals, New Delhi included, were gripped by deep anxiety. The Indian Foreign office, like the rest of the establishment, was split down the middle. The Foreign Secretary was waiting for the coup to succeed in Moscow, while his colleagues celebrated when Boris Yeltsin appeared atop a tank in Moscow.
The inauguration of bandit capitalism in Russia was a benign act, we were told. The other day I saw Bill Clinton sharing his deep understanding of Russia with Fareed Zakaria. “Yeltsin was a much better President than Vladimir Putin”. The entire New York Times reading public of the free world would agree.
Was it Western triumphalism or pique, I cannot be sure, but one by one targets were picked from among the Arab states once in the Soviet bloc. Saddam Hussain’s picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine as Hitler. He may have been worse than Hitler, but the thousand mile road he laid from Amman to Baghdad was like a continuous billiard table. Hospitals, schools, colleges, universities thrived.
The best fish in the world, Masgouf, caught from the Dajlah (Tigris) and roasted on open fires along the river is now a delicacy lost. When I looked for my favourite Masgouf hut two years ago, I was told they now get their fish from a nearby lake because the river fish had turned scavenger. This was discovered by a customer who found a baby’s finger in the stomach of the fish.
I would not miss my delicacies if there were other compensations. But no. Totally secular Baath socialism was replaced by acute Shia-Sunni divisions.
After a decade of what Obama thought was a pointless involvement in Iraq, he was, at work again, this time in Damascus and then in Tripoli, destroying a secular and a moderate society to be replaced by rampaging Islam.
Nothing will ever measure upto Beirut, but Damascus too was quite a “markaz” for gracious living. Tripoli would not be boring if it had bistros and bars lining up the splendid boulevard. But it could boast being a city without Mullahs; the most educated in the neighbourhood could lead the Friday prayers. Its military academics for women, an efficient cradle to grave welfare system were not to be sniffed at.
Iraq, Syria, Libya, possibly because of their earlier Soviet affiliations, needed to be cleansed more thoroughly. In the new landscaping of the region, Israel looks fine. But, is it really? Surrounded by dysfunctional societies which were once the region’s most efficient states. Dictatorships, yes, but functional, unlike Afghan democracy where the winner is declared CEO and the loser, President.
Israel must know that a sort of fatigue is setting in all around at its persistent intransigence. I commend to my Israeli friends that they read Shibley Telhami’s opinion poll on shifting ideas in the US about Israel, something even Thomas Friedman is worried about. There may be a shaft of light.