Why we must stand with Israel

Par Marcus Gee

Géopolitique du Proche-Orient

Communiqués from the Group of Eight are not known for their piercing analyses of world events. Somehow, though, this year's G8 leaders managed to state a central truth about the latest Middle East conflict. It results, they said, "from efforts by extremist forces to destabilize the region and to frustrate the aspirations of the Palestinian, Israeli and Lebanese people for democracy and peace."
The extremist forces were not named, but everyone knows who the G8 was talking about. Syria and Iran, through their proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, are trying to seize control of events in the Middle East by taking on the despised "Zionist enemy" and, by doing so, to strengthen their hand in their struggle with the United States and its allies.
This is a feat of geopolitical jujitsu. Until recently, both Syria and Iran were on the defensive. Syria was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after the democratic, nationalist upheaval there that followed the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri last year. Damascus is also under pressure from Washington for letting insurgents sneak into Iraq and for giving safe haven to Hamas and another Palestinian extremist group, Islamic Jihad.
Iran, of course, faces pressure from the U.S. and the European powers to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. It is no accident that the Hezbollah attack on Israel comes just as the Americans and their allies are pressing attempts to sanction Tehran over its defiance of the United Nations in its pursuit of nuclear technology. By making war by proxy against Israel, Iran takes attention away from the issue and puts on the mantle of heroic resistance to the "cancerous tumour" (as Iran's supreme leader charmingly put it) called Israel.
It's all part of a larger game to spread the militant creed throughout the region. British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke last weekend of an "arc of extremism" in the Middle East. In Iraq, Shia Iran is asserting its power through the Shia religious parties that have become Iraq's most powerful political force. In Lebanon, Iran is backing Hezbollah, sending Revolutionary Guards to train its fighters to fire Iranian-supplied rockets at Israeli civilians. In Palestinian politics, Iran is thought to be backing Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas political leader who is held responsible for the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit on Israel's frontier with Gaza. That act opened the first front in the proxy war against Israel. Hezbollah opened the second.
It is not just the G8 and the Israelis who see the dark forces behind this dispute. Conservative Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have (cautiously) denounced Hezbollah for what the Saudis call its "irresponsible adventurism." Jordan's King Abdullah II, echoing Mr. Blair, warns of a "Shiite arc" sweeping from Iran through Iraq to Lebanon.
The leading role of Iran and its militant proxies make this Middle East conflict different from those that have gone before. When Israel was up against Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Jordan, the old anti-Zionist axis, there was at least a hope that the conflict could be defused by settling the Palestinian issue, trading occupied Palestinian land for Arab recognition of Israel.
What chance is there that Iran, which wants Israel wiped off the map, would go for that? Notice that both recent attacks on Israel have come from land that Israel has already handed over: southern Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza last year. The message from the militant powers could not be clearer: Go ahead, give us back our land. We will still attack and we will keep attacking till you are finished. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah calls Palestine an "occupied land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River" - a span that includes all of Israel.
Now that the extremists have hijacked the dispute with Israel, it is futile to rattle on, as outside powers used to do, about the "peace process" and the "road map" and "land for peace." As much as Palestinians deserve a country of their own, these are useless antiques in today's struggle. What the world needs to do is recognize the new reality and stand with Israel as it combats this remorseless enemy - a threat not just to the Jewish state but to the whole democratic world.
mgee@globeandmail.com


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