The Crippling Arab Cold War

Patrick Seale
Agence Global
January 19, 2009

The total inability of the Arabs to respond effectively — in word or deed,
whether diplomatically or militarily — to Israel’s devastating war on Gaza
has revealed what was known but rarely admitted, namely that Arab leaders
hate and fear each other more than they hate and fear Israel.

In these terrible weeks of carnage, the world has witnessed the crippling
effects of the Arab Cold War. Gaza has burned, but Arab leaders, so deep are
their mutual antagonisms, have been incapable even of convening an official
summit meeting.

Arab diplomats, interviewed for this article, speak despairingly of the “end
of the Arab regional order.” Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the so-called
‘moderates’, find it more urgent to fight their ‘radical’ rivals for regional
leadership, than to join forces with them in confronting Israel.

Even when their vital interests are at stake — even when Israel slaughters
Palestinians to the outrage of Arab and Muslim opinion — Arab leaders have
proved unable to deliver a common message, let alone resort to the kind of
aggressive international diplomacy which the situation so obviously calls for.

Under the leadership of the Emir of Qatar, the so-called ‘radicals’ — the
leaders of Syria, Algeria, Sudan and Oman among others — held a meeting in
Doha, attended by Iran’s President Ahmadinejad and by Khaled Mishaal, the
exiled Hamas leader who lives in Damascus. This meeting gave Hamas
formal and public consecration as the Arab force — the only one — confronting
Israel with armed resistance.

Qatar severed its trade ties with Israel; Mauretania broke off its diplomatic
relations; Syria declared that its tentative peace talks with Israel were
now at an end, and called for Arab states to cut all ties with Israel. It
demanded that the Arab Peace Plan of 2002 be withdrawn. This plan offered
Israel peace and normal relations with all 22 Arab states, if it withdrew to
its 1967 borders. Israel dismissed it.

The President of Egypt and the King of Saudi Arabia stayed away from the
Doha meeting, as did Mahmud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority.
The fault lines are thus drawn between those countries hostile to Iran and
close to the United States — and, in the case of Egypt and Jordan, linked
by peace treaty to Israel — and a rival group comprising Iran and Syria,
together with Hizbullah and Hamas, supported by Qatar among others, and
enjoying important backing from Turkey.

Turkey has had close ties with Israel for many years. But Turks have taken
to the streets in the tens of thousands to denounce Israel’s war. Prime
Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan warned Israel that a ‘curse’ would fall on it
for the children it had killed. History, he said, would judge Foreign
Minister Tzipi Livni
and Defence Minister Ehud Barak “for the black stain
they are leaving on humanity.”

The Arabs’ fatal impotence was first revealed in 1948 when, weak and
divided, they failed to prevent the nascent Israeli state from seizing more
than three-quarters of historic Palestine. In 1967, Israel again trounced
the squabbling and mutually suspicious Arabs, conquering what
was left of Palestine, as well as large tracts of Egypt and Syria, and thus
demonstrating that it had become the regional superpower.

Israel has now done it again in Gaza. It has inflicted another strategic defeat
on the Arab world. The Arab League, which was meant to defend common
Arab interests, has been exposed as toothless and wholly ineffectual, to the
great shame of its secretary-general, Amr Moussa. The Arabs have failed
to make use of the many cards they possess — their great numbers, their oil
and gas assets, their financial clout, their international friendships.

The cost to Israel of its insane war has been immense. It has aroused
tremendous hate. More than ever, it is now a pariah. Its rash and
blood-thirsty leaders risk facing sanctions and boycotts. They could be
indicted for war crimes. The whole region has been radicalised. This is the
ground from which terrorism springs. Rather than improving Israel’s
security, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his principal colleagues, Barak
and Livni, have exposed their compatriots — and Jews everywhere — to
revenge attacks. Arabs have long memories.

In addition, Israel has lost all hope of peaceful integration into the
region for the foreseeable future. It may not care. By its pitiless war, it
has demonstrated yet again that, rather than wanting to coexist in peace
with its neighbours, it prefers to assert its military supremacy in the
harshest possible way. Its evident intention is to push Gaza into Egypt’s
lap, while extending its control and absorption of the occupied West Bank.

The essential aim of Israel’s war in Gaza has been to impose a crushing
defeat on the Palestinians and thus prevent the creation of a Palestinian
state. But the means it has chosen are so outrageous — and have so shocked
international opinion — that the outcome might be the very opposite.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author
of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East;
and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.
Copyright © 2009 Patrick Seale