Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The silver lining in the Arab Spring's cloud

In my previous article, "Thinking the unthinkable about Lebanon, shiites and Hezbollah", I predicted that if the Assad regime in Syria is defeated, there will be a catastrophic shakeup of the middle-east, not all to the detriment of Israel, and very possibly much to its advantage. I further hoped that Israel is now in its post-Turkey phase actively encouraging the Kurds to take this possibly never to be repeated opportunity to wrest another portion of their nascent state away from Syria.

Today I read that this is indeed happening, that the Iraqi autonomous Kurds have been training Syrian Kurds, that there is what appears to be a united command being formed, and that the Syrian Kurdish region is now at leat semi-independent of the Assad regime. Happily Assad is not interested in picking a fight with the Kurds, and only too eager to let them pose a headache for Turkey next door. Turkey is of course training, protecting and supplying the islamists fighting to bring Assad's regime down. The weapons and money are s upplied mainly by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the USA. Obama gave Turkey's islamist government responsibilty for the supply of the opposition to Assad with the predictable result that the islamists gain. Michael Totten believes that the islamists will nevertheless not have it all their own way once Assad falls as there are to many fissures in Syrian society. But the counter to that is that with enough brutality any rule can be imposed, such as that of the Assad family all these years, or the unpopular Mullahs in Iran, or a sunni majority regime post Assad. Force of arms has time and again been shown to be the antidote to any lack of popular support.

The news could however hardly be better. Non-arab Kurds, natural allies of Israel have at the very least a loose federation now. Turkey has 14 million restive Kurds with no love at all for the Turks occupying their lands. Their territories in eastern Turkey (which also contained a million Armenians until the genocide) make up a third of the total land in the present Turkish state.

And then there are the Kurds of Iran, who could right now be wondering when their turn will come? And come it well might if sanctions are made to bite even harder. A collapse of the Iranian economy may well lead to the large population of restive Azeris and the Sunni minority to look to their own futures away from Iran.

The tectonic plates are shifting in the middle east, and the picture is not all bad for Israel. Indeed, the slow burn of Syria is the best of all possibilities, steadily weakening this most implaccable of Israel's foes, a country responsible for thousands of dead Israelis, for a generation to come. One can not rejoice over killing, but both sides in the Syrian civil war have great hatred of jews and Israel, and would turn their guns on Israel if given the opportunity. That they choose to kill themselves means that much less of a chance of Israelis, jews and arabs being killed by terrorists from Syria or Lebanon.

There is a lesson here not only for Israel, but for the USA, that it is not always helpful to intervene in other people's disputes. Rarely does it work out as previously anticipated and Israel has learned this lesson well from its past ventures (justified) into Lebanon. This time Israel steered well clear of helping either side in the civil war, a  wise policy. It might be nice to see a group friendly to Israel take power in Syria, but failing that impossible situation arising, then what is happening now could not be bettered. The Assad regime and its opponents are bleeding the country, which is very possibly going to split asunder into separate cantons ruled by the different tribes and ethnicities. As a unitary country Syria could possibly cease to exist.

Which brings us again to Lebanon. In my previous article I surmised that maybe the shiites could be weaned off their enmity for Israel once the reality of their position amongst a sea of sunni hostility sinks in. The Lebanese shiites have been sitting pretty for many years in their radicalism and acts of aggression against not only Israel but against the Lebanese people. And as if they did not have enough enemies, the Lebanese shiites seem to have backed the wrong horse in Syria. Well they weren't really given an option, as the minority shiite/alawite Syrian regime has protected and supplied them all these years, giving them the feeling of a deep hinterland all the way to Iran. But that is all about to end.

Iran's long arm in Lebanon is looking intensely vulnerable. Once Assad goes, Hezbollah is in shtuch. The Lebanese might very well sink again into civil war and the christians and sunnis, along with the Druse might soon be looking to rid themselves once and for all of Hezbollah, and settle some old scores with the shiites in the south. Of course there is a large shiite enclave in Beirut that could be the first to feel the heat. The shiites in the south, as the christians before them could well change their spots and look to Israel's support as a replacement for that of Iran. Israel would do well to encourage this split in the shiite camp when the time comes, during a future Lebanese civil war. This could see Hezbollah ceasing to exist. Israel's north would then be protected by a new buffer as in the 1970's.

In the Lebanon alliances are ephemeral, Israel must be prepared to take advantage of situations when they happen.

And all this  with hardly a mention of Turkey's problems such as its economy wedded to hot credit, consumption and tourism that has slumped this year. Arab and Iranian tourism has melted away. Long term Turkey has an aging population, unlike the Kurds.

And as for Israel, it will keep growing and gaining strength as long as it keeps its head, and doesn't have any more Olmerts who wish to give Israeli lands to its enemies (Did you know that Russia was given a mass of real estate in the centre of Jerusalem, courtesy of Olmert?). Despite our leaders, we can always depend on arabs to help. If Abbas had accepted all the lands Olmert had offered in 2008, Israel would have become in defensible again.

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