The peace process might turn either way. Arab governments have accepted Israel, but those governments are crumbling. We should expect Islamic revolutions in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. The last two are particularly doomed, like any monarchies. In Syria, the population will revolt against Alawite dominance.

The ayatollahs’ regime is crumbling, but at the same time it is taking over other states: Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, and Sudan. In Egypt, too, Iranian influence is rising. It remains unknown whether the Iranian satellite regimes will become viable before the ayatollahs lose their power. Hamas operated for many years without Iranian assistance before Israel assassinated the fiercely independent Sheikh Yassin, and Hezbollah also proved capable of surviving by selling drugs and low-level money counterfeiting.

Israeli-Arab peace is not forthcoming

In any entropic system, the overall trend is toward moderation, and we would expect the Middle East to moderate just as Europe did. On other hand, there will be many pangs on the road to moderation, and even Europe is arguably still capable of producing violent outbursts.

The price of oil is in the $70 range, which spells trouble for Arab economies. Oil is the only thing that differentiates them from African paupers, but when the price reaches $60–70 alternative fuels become attractive and start replacing oil. Additionally, increased fuel efficiency will decrease the long-term demand for oil as older, fuel-hungry cars break down and retire. The oil consumption boom in India and China may not spell riches for the Arabs, as Russia is a more likely supplier, the worldwide crisis has set back developing economies considerably, and their fuel-efficient micro-cars are not like the Buicks of the American baby-boomer generation. Faced with politically motivated interruptions of the gas supply from Russia and Iran, Western European countries avidly seek alternative energy sources.

Most importantly, oil and gas cannot beat the overall trend of the Arab world’s declining share of natural resources in the world’s GDP. Even as Arab oil income is rising, it is falling in relative terms; Arab economies continue to shrink compared to Western ones. Oil buys the Arabs progressively less Western weapons and corporate shares. The dwindling of their oil income is particularly painful on the background of exploding Muslim populations and their ever-increasing demands for welfare. Rural populations stream into cities where they get used to welfare. The increased political awareness of the population requires the unpopular governments to continuously increase welfare allocations in order to buy compliance.

Economic troubles won’t preclude the Arabs from developing high-ticket nuclear weapons as the development became cheaper due to the proliferation of nuclear technology. Iran won’t become so poor as to be unable to spare a few hundred million dollars per year for subversive movements in other countries. If Israel’s nuclear deterrence holds, and wars are limited to conventional weapons, the economic downturn will preclude Muslims from maintaining capable armies, and diminish the chances of a large-scale war. On other hand, cash-strapped Iran waged a Chinese-style war with Iraq, in which the ayatollahs relied on insufficiently equipped but suicidally-minded soldiers. Though primitive mass armies might fight wars between Arab states, there is little chance of a similar attack on Israel: Egypt, potentially a Muslim Brotherhood country, cannot march its troops across the vast Sinai desert to attack Tel Aviv; Hezbollah cannot amass that many suicidal soldiers in laid-back Lebanon, and Syrians are very far removed from the level of religious indoctrination necessary to push them by the millions over the Golan Heights into Israeli population centers.

Whatever is the long-term trend, in the short term Israel’s enemies will become more radical. Iran is besieging Israel from almost all sides: Hamas is dependent on it for weapons, Hezbollah for money, Assad is just in love with the ayatollahs, and Egyptian radical groups have developed substantial ties with them. Bringing democracy to Lebanon and the Palestinian territories dealt a mortal blow to moderates: now they cannot brutally suppress their radical opponents and must compete with them in elections. Abbas cannot afford to be seen as less anti-Israeli than Hamas. He lacks Hamas’s credibility, which was won by unrelenting struggle against the Zionists and which can justify compromises. Abbas therefore cannot agree to any concessions whatsoever, ever the minor territorial exchanges that Olmert offered him. Even if Abbas signs a deal with Israel, even if he pushes it through his corrupt PLO Council, Hamas and PIJ won’t accept the deal—and it is only their acceptance which matters in terms of ending terrorism. Fatah’s younger terrorists of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and Tanzim cannot look inferior to Hamas, and would join it in rejecting a deal with Israel—unless Israel cedes the Temple Mount to the Palestinians and allows potentially millions of refugees to return. Israel’s crackdown on Hamas in Gaza created a situation in which the terrorist group’s Syrian leadership became its international mouthpiece, and with Iranian help, the financier. Heavily dependent on Iran, and lacking independently minded leaders of Sheikh Yassin’s caliber, Hamas cannot be made to change its rejectionist stance any time soon—not until the ayatollahs’ regime falls down.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah has to remain militant. The terrorist group has developed a reasonably sophisticated military wing, but has no civilian agenda. In peacetime, when the Shiites do not need its protection from Israelis, Palestinians, or local Christians, Hezbollah has no platform with which to attract voters. Even though Lebanon slipped toward Islamization after much of its middle-class Christian population emigrated, the country is still far removed in its religious fervor from the Shah’s Iran. There are no significant centers of Islamic studies in Lebanon such as were available in Iran. Despite the influence exerted by armed fundamentalists, Lebanon remains a secular country. That, however, is not a guarantee against a Hezbollah takeover. The terrorist group has built a parliamentary bloc of over 30 percent, amassed significant arsenals, and infiltrated the US-backed Lebanese army, thus credibly positioning itself for a putsch.

Many revolutionaries have faced dilemmas similar to the Hezbollah’s: once they come to power, they have to enforce their values on society or they will quickly disappear in political competition. The Bolsheviks and ayatollahs imposed their values upon their respective societies, but Hezbollah stands very little chance of repeating their ugly successes. It is inconceivable that Lebanese Christians, Druze, Sunnis, and atheists would accept Hezbollah’s fervent religiosity or pan-Islamic patriotism. Hezbollah’s only option if it wishes to remain a prominent force is to continue its militancy. Judging by its tremendous military buildup in the absence of Israeli designs on Lebanon, the terrorist group clearly aims to take the fight into the Galilee, first to liberate former Shiite villages, then to return the refugees, and finally to help the Palestinians regain their entire country.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood might take power in transparent elections, or through riots if the central power is weakened; the first scenario is more likely. The Brotherhood will renounce the peace treaty with Israel, or at least circumvent it with extensive aid to Palestinian terrorists.

In Syria, young Assad is an admirer of Hezbollah and Iran. Less pragmatic than his late father, he is also smarter and more daring. It might be possible to woo Assad away from Iran with strong economic incentives, but such support must be unequivocal. The low-level American messengers who demand much, offer little, and provide no guarantees cannot induce Assad to abandon Iran. Assad became even less likely to embrace the United States after the Russians offered extensive military cooperation. That situation would only change if Iran were to prove unable to finance Syrian-Russian deals and the Russians refused free goodies to Syria. Israel can achieve peace with Syria in exchange for the Golan Heights, but that peace would be different from normalization. No agreement would prevent Assad from sponsoring Hamas, PIJ, and Hezbollah. Since the Americans have pushed him out of Lebanon, Assad cannot abandon Hezbollah, his major arm there. Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon assured still closer links with Hezbollah: while his father had allowed only Iranian shipments to reach the terrorist group, and even stopped them on occasion, young Assad delivered to Hezbollah Syria’s own Russian-made weapons.

No one is willing to fight a war. Syria stands no chance against Israel. As for the guerrillas, a large-scale confrontation would turn them from an efficient terrorist force into an inept army. It took Khomeini’s persuasion to churn out tens of thousands of suicidal soldiers; Hamas and Hezbollah cannot scramble more than a handful of martyrs who only inflict statistically minor damage on Israel. The state of extreme hostility will persist, ruptured occasionally by violent outbreaks.

The peace process solves nothing.