The recent attempt by yet another Arab terror group to break the Israeli embargo has served to highlight the problems that Israel faces but more importantly it acts as a reminder of how fragmented Islam is. This issue of Islamic infighting was covered in great detail in a strategic report which I have digested in the following comments and added my own editorial observations.
There is little doubt but Israel is once again losing the battle for public opinion but that was the objective of the entire flotilla exercise from the outset, even the selection of the contraband was intended to further the case for public outrage. But when you look behind the blather what do you see? What you see is very little action, lots of talk, and interestingly enough no calls for military action against Israel other than the usual Hamas terrorism.
The reality of the situation is the powers outside of the Middle East will continue to blather away against Israel but any significant action by the Islamic nations in the area is unlikely because they are so divided among themselves and have such divergent relations with Israel and each other that any effective coalition against Israel doesn’t exist and is unlikely to exist in the near future. Of course the nuclear threat from Iran exists but that threat is mitigated somewhat by the world at large. Consequently while the tide of public opinion rises against Israel it is unlikely that little action will be taken and the Israeli’s will continue their policies unchanged.
Since it was the “humanitarian” effort to bring aid to the Palestinians it is probably best to examine the relations between the factions within the Palestinian community. There is of course the Palestinians themselves who can be classified as victims – not of the Israeli’s but of their own political groups, Fatah and Hamas, neither of which seem to care about the plight of the people. These two groups are at war with each other and with Israel. Fatah dominates the West Bank while Hamas dominates the Gaza Strip and Israel occupies the middle ground. The result is that these two Palestinian groups operate as if they were separate and hostile countries – countries with distinctly different ideologies.
Fatah is secular and springs from the socialist movement started by Nasser in Egypt and aligned with the old Soviet Union. Fatah was the dominant faction in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) which was an umbrella group headed by Yasser Arafat until his death. But upon his death the PLO was left with a corrupt bureaucracy but no leader, no coherent strategy, and worst of all – no agreed upon ideology. The result was the PLO ceased to exist and fragmented into the Hamas and Fatah factions. Hamas is an Islamist (Shia) organization supported and subsidized by Iran. Hamas rejects Israel’s right to exist but the “liberation” of Palestine is not the paramount objective – the objective of Hamas is to establish an Islamic state, which makes it hostile to Fatah.
Fatah is Islamic but secular at its base. While it preaches the destruction of Israel it is much more pragmatic and seeks a true country of Palestine and is much more willing to negotiate with Israel. But Hamas and Fatah are irreconcilable in their ideologies and Hamas views Fatah as corrupt making both groups easily manipulated by Israel as well as other outside forces. Hamas sees any set back to Fatah as a victory just as Fatah views any failure of Hamas as a win for their side. Currently the world focus is on Hamas and their clear public relations victory so it is only a matter of time before Fatah will find some way to undo these gains by Hamas. It is this deep division between the Palestinians that makes Israeli efforts to pit one against the other as almost unnecessary since they are at war with each other.
But the Palestinian situation is actually a microcosm of the Arab states surrounding Israel which have issues of their own. Jordan, Syria, and Egypt surround Israel and publicly condemn Israel, the Israeli Embargo, and support the Islamic cause – at least publicly but underneath things are much less clear.
Egypt may be the oldest country in the world and while essentially an Islamic state it is a secular country and totally hostile to Hamas. Hamas is an intensely religious organization with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood – a semi-secret organization responsible for the assassination of Anwar Sadat among others. The Muslim Brotherhood is considered by the Egyptian government to be its greatest domestic threat and President Mubarak has moved against Islamic extremists and sees Hamas and their ideology as a threat since it could spread to Egypt. Thus Egypt has maintained its own blockade of Gaza and remains much closer to the Fatah whose secularism derives from the Egyptian secularism. Consequently Hamas (supported by Iran) distrusts Cairo which is secular and Sunni.
Jordan on the other hand doesn’t trust Fatah since Arafat attempted to overthrow the monarchy. This effort by Fatah cost 10,000 Palestinian lives and Fatah has never forgot this massacre – initiated by them but in typical fashion blamed on Jordan. The idea of an independent Palestinian State in the West Bank is not popular with the Jordanians, especially since so much of their population is Palestinian. But the Jordanians are not enthusiastic about Hamas either since they have such close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood which has caused problems in Jordan. So while Jordan acts as an Islamic state and gives lip service to the condemnation of Israel the reality is both Jordan and Egypt have peace treaties with Israel which remain in place and apparently unthreatened.
And that brings us to the more interesting and complicated issue which is Syria. Syria supports the Palestinians but that seems to be more rhetorical than real. Syria is focused on Lebanon and along with Iran a sponsor of Hezbollah, which is anti-Israeli rather than pro-Palestinian. Hezbollah is a Shiite Organization supported by Iran that is dedicated to the destruction of Israel not to the creation of a Palestinian state. The Palestinians are little more than a casus belli for Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel. The Syrian government is focused on Lebanon and when Hezbollah becomes aggressive against Israel the Syrians become upset with Iran whom they see as responsible. But there are other issues here because Hezbollah is a Shiite organization but the Palestinians are generally Sunni so it isn’t clear that the Palestinians would want Hezbollah to establish a regime in Palestine. So Syria is playing a complicated game as it tries to balance all of these conflicting goals that only have one common one which is the destruction of Israel, when their goal is the domination of Lebanon. But these aren’t the only countries that make up Islam
Turkey is a secular Islamic country with aspirations to join the EU but it is also dealing with an insurgent Kurdish issue and a rising Islamic fundamentalism fueled by radical clerics. The Turkish government is condemning Israel at the moment but that is probably the government’s attempt to mollify the radicals. Then you have the threats the PLO gave to the Arabian states. Like all Arabs the Saudi’s and other Arabian peninsula states are long on memory and short on forgiveness so it is unlikely they will rush to the aid and support of the Palestinians in any meaningful way. Of course Iran would like to influence if not dominate the Palestinians as they pursue their objective of the destruction of Israel but Fatah doesn’t trust the Iranians and Hamas is Sunni while Iran is Shiite so there is not a lot of trust there either. So all of these convoluted relationships are fragile and not built on trust.
Given these conflicts in policy, religion, and political goals among the Islamic states, it renders the anti-Semitism of Europe and hostility to Israel as more of a diplomatic issue than any significant threat to Israel. To the Israeli’s Gaza represents a dagger at their throat and it is unlikely they will loosen their grip and from their perspective Fatah ultimately supports their suppression of Gaza and Hamas. More importantly Egypt participates with Israel in this suppression of Hamas through their own embargo, Jordan is relieved by the Israeli policy, and Syria is indifferent to it but may continue their blather. In effect these divisions among the Islamic states render them ineffective and thus Israel has no reason to reduce their pressure on Gaza and Hamas.
To confirm this assessment it is worth noting that as the Israeli Navy intercepted this Turkish Flotilla, not one Egyptian aircraft threaten the Israeli’s nor did any Syrian or Turkish warship approach or make any effort to intervene with the Israeli’s. The threat of rocket attacks and suicide bombers from Gaza remains but any significant deterrent threat from the other Islamic states is unlikely to go beyond rhetorical condemnations.