Israel’s Peace with the Arabs

It may seem peculiar to say when just a year ago Israel was fighting a two-front war, but the reality is that Israel has peace with the Arab states. While everyone focused on the battles in Gaza and Lebanon, fewer people noticed what did not happen, namely, intervention by the Arab states. The truth is that today Israel’s principal enemy is militant Islam and the Arab states have all but accepted Israel as an inconvenient reality in their midst.

Though no one realized it at the time, and few even understand it today, the turning point in the Arab-Israeli conflict was 1973. Though Israel was surprised, and nearly defeated, Israel staved off destruction and proved that for the foreseeable future no combination of Arab armies could defeat it. Equally important, the United States intervened at a critical moment, albeit only with supplies, and demonstrated that it would not permit Israel to be overwhelmed.

Since 1973, Israel has not fought a war with an Arab state. Though formally maintaining a state of belligerency, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Syria have scrupulously avoided attacking Israel. It is true that Syria has used Hizballah and Palestinian terrorists as proxies to attack Israel, and briefly engaged Israeli forces in 1982, but Syria has not launched an attack from Syrian soil since 1973 and conspicuously avoided a fight even though Israeli forces were fighting on its doorstep.

Some might bring up the last war in Lebanon as a counter example, but that was not a war that the nation of Lebanon started or wanted. In 1982, as is the case today, the fight was between Israel and terrorists who had created a state within a state in Lebanon. In fact, during the war Israel negotiated a peace agreement with Lebanon that was scuttled by Syrian interference.

The informal end of the conflict at the state level occurred in late 2001 when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared that PLO chairman Yasser Arafat was irrelevant and isolated him in his headquarters in Ramallah. Television pictures showed Arafat sitting in a small candlelit room with a gun beside him as he made desperate calls to Arab leaders begging them to come and save the Palestinians from the Israelis. To his dismay, no one answered his pleas.

Six years later, the picture is even clearer. Israel again mounted a major operation against Palestinian terrorists and no Arab state lifted a finger or protested. Even in the face of what Palestinians have claimed is a humanitarian crisis, Arab states have only reluctantly contributed a pittance in financial aid. Meanwhile, people throughout the Arab world, and journalists in the government-controlled press of Arab states, openly talk about being tired of the Palestinians and their unwillingness and inability to put their house in order and reach an agreement with Israel.

Similarly, the Arab states remained silent while Israel attacked Hizballah in Lebanon. No Arab state was prepared to go to war to defend Lebanon and Arab leaders made no secret of their belief that the Muslim radicals brought the disaster they faced on themselves.

The fact that the Arab states are unwilling to defend their fellow Arabs doesn’t mean that they have come to love Israel. Most, if not all of the Arab states still would prefer that Israel did not exist, but they do not have the military power or the wherewithal to pursue the war any longer. To date only Egypt and Jordan have signed formal peace agreements with Israel, but the gulf states and some North African nations have been willing to engage in trade and limited diplomacy with Israel. The main obstacle to closer ties is the continuing peer pressure of the Arab League to maintain the facade of a united anti-Israel front while the Palestinian issue remains unsettled.

The good news for Israel is that the danger of facing the conventional armies of its neighbors has been greatly reduced. Though still unlikely in the short-term, the possibility at least exists now of reaching informal, if not formal understandings with much of the Arab world.

The bad news is that the war is now with religious fanatics with whom no political compromise is possible. Despite the wishful thinking of the diplomatic class, the conflict with Hamas and Hizballah cannot be resolved because they are driven by a religious rather than a political agenda. They believe Allah has given them marching orders to reconstitute the Islamic empire and, ideally, expand it throughout the world. For them, Israel is a cancer in the Islamic body that must be excised.

Israel cannot achieve the type of peace its citizens long for if radical Muslims have a foothold near its borders. So long as the Islamists are denied nonconventional weapons, however, they can only terrorize Israel and not threaten its existence.