Thursday, August 03, 2006

The West against the Rest

Amir Taheri echoes our sentiment from yesterday's "Masterstroke" post:

A westernised, democratic Lebanon, on the other hand, could become the graveyard of Hezbollah and its messianic ideology. And if the US succeeds in fulfilling George W. Bush's promise of a "new Middle East" there will be no place for regimes such as the Islamic Republic in Iran and Syria's Baathist dictatorship.

Taheri's analysis is insightful and unsettling:

MANY IN THE WEST see the mini-war between Israel and Hezbollah, now in its fourth week, as another episode in a tedious saga of an Arab-Jewish conflict that began with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, a political version of the "original sin". The conventional wisdom in the West is that the whole tale would end if Israel were to return the occupied territories to the Palestinians, allowing them to create a state of their own.

But that analysis does not reflect the Middle East's new realities. All the wars in that region of the past century, including the one between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, revolved around secular issues — border disputes, the control of territory and water resources, security and diplomatic relations. Although fought in the name of nationalism or pan-Arab aspirations, none had a messianic dimension.

The first two wars of the new century in the Middle East, however, were ideological ones. The United States toppled the Taleban in Afghanistan and the Saddamites in Iraq not in pursuit of territory but in the name of an idea: democracy.
In the Lebanese conflict, Israel and Hezbollah are the junior proxies for the rival camps. Israel is not fighting to hold or win more land; nor is Hezbollah. But both realise that they cannot live in security and prosper as long as the other is in a position to threaten their existence.
The present rupture in Lebanon has much to do with who will lead the fightback against the West. For almost a quarter of a century there has been intense competition within the Islamist camp over who could claim leadership. For much of that period Sunni Salafist movements, backed by oil money, were in the ascendancy. They began to decline after the 9/11 attacks that deprived them of much of the support they received from Arab governments and charities. In the past five years Tehran has tried to seize the opportunity to advance its own leadership claims. The problem, however, is that Iran is a Shia power and thus regarded by Sunni Salafists as "heretical". To compensate for that weakness, Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made the destruction of Israel a priority for his regime. The war triggered by Hezbollah is in part designed to show that President Ahmadinejad is not bluffing when he promises to wipe Israel off the map as the first step towards defeating the "infidel" West.

The West is ill-prepared for an ideological war. Unless immediately and mortally threatened most of the West with the exception of some of the Anglophone countries will prefer to concede and retreat. While the Islamists grow stronger.

No comments: