Samson Blinded: A Machiavellian Perspective on the Middle East Conflict
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Does Israel want economic and social progress in Arab countries?

Israel has to decide how to affect Arab countries. Israel may help the Arabs build prosperous democratic states where people grow averse to war. The instantaneous artificial democratization of feudal Arab societies, however, is futile, as we are seeing in Iraq; in the best-case scenario, it would take decades. Germany, though nominally a monarchy, rigorously adhered to the rule of law and had parliamentary experience, crucial factors in transforming into democracy. In Japan, hierarchy, respect for authorities, and little difference in the political parties’ platforms (because critical issues are few) keep the country essentially autocratic under an umbrella of electoral democracy. Arabs are best compared with Russia: no rule of law, religious (Arabs) and ideological (Russians) hypocrisy, contempt for authorities, widespread corruption, technological backwardness, aggressiveness, high tolerance to suffering, and zeal. So far every Russian attempt at becoming a democracy has failed, despite almost ninety years of elections after the downfall of the monarchy. People need certain qualities to keep governments at bay and prevent the slide into autocracy—basic political education, love of freedom, respect for the law—qualities that take time to acquire. That is especially relevant to Palestine: mild autocracy may keep violence at bay, while democracy would bring the Islamists to power, both because they are the only morally untainted group and because they can promise an influx of subsidies from Saudi Arabia and Muslim charities worldwide.

Israelis have already tried to develop Palestinians economically and showed some progress in agriculture, though none in other sectors. The failure is understandable from a historical perspective. Arabs have lagged behind Westerners for centuries, with no technological progress in Muslim lands. Even medieval Arab science consisted largely in translating and digesting works by Greek authors. Despite all the perks Arab governments provide to students and businessmen, both scientific research and non-oil business in Islamic countries are close to nil, and whatever small trading activity there is involves Indian immigrants. In the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Libya, locals are employed almost exclusively in government sinecures; on the West Bank, Palestinians have lived on welfare for three or four generations. A bit more progress, though minor, came in Westernized Turkey and Egypt, but overpopulation, the emigration of educated people, the wave of fundamentalism, and an influx of rural population to urban areas overcame it. It takes time for people to acquire the skills of Western civilization and culture. Most Arabs are only thirty years from camels and primitive farming and generations behind Europeans in that regard.

Or Israel could fuel the internal religious and class strife in the Arab world. An easy political option for Israel would be to flood the Arabs with American proposals on political, economic, and cultural matters, forcing a lively debate on them. There are many ways for Israel to support—money, printing presses, international media coverage, recognition, weapons—or discredit political parties during elections. United States observers could raise an outcry about the inevitably rigged Islamic elections.

The first candidates for Israeli support are the Shia, increasingly oppressed by spreading Wahhabism, and immigrant workers. The time is ripe, further, to destabilize Saudi Arabia: the welfare the royal family passes out has decreased as population has increased,[7] and the Saudis could be made resentful of the House of Saud. The easiest would be to supply the Arabs with obsolete Israeli weaponry and ammunition and let them kill one another, then introduce puppet regimes dependent on Israel, or to install an Israeli peacekeeping administration. Finally, Israel could simply annex their territory, from which a large part of the Arab population would have fled already. Annexing and exiling the remaining indigenous population is more practical for Israel, since administration by international mandate or by local traitors would only foment Arab nationalism. But Israel is wrong to do either intermittently, to promote stability first, then provoke internal conflict in Muslim countries.

That is, the Israelis may say one thing and do another,[8] for example, support democratic grassroots movements in the Arab world in order to destabilize the situation and offer an acceptable to Israel and locals alternative to Islamic fundamentalism. If that worked, the democratic Arab states would redistribute the wealth, greatly diminish the state’s power to wage war with Israel, and at the same time make local Arabs more wary of Israeli retribution and thus less belligerent. Wealthy people are peaceful; wealthy governments, militaristic. To feed the Arabs democratic ideology is easy, but America and Israel should package it as a return to true Islamic roots of equality and communal decision-making. When lying, it is important not to believe the lie and to keep track of the real Israeli objective. Israeli policy should be to weaken the Arab states, not destroy them, because destruction would clear the way for Islamic terrorist domination on the ruins of failed Islamic states. To that end, Israel might support NGOs advocating human rights in Arab countries. Bad governments rely on fear and lies; the watchdogs are effective against both. They undermine militaristic government and create dissent. The West should not make human rights in the Arab world a policy cornerstone, since acquiring the appropriate political culture would take Arabs a long time; but freedoms should not be sacrificed, since many Arab opinion-making intellectuals and students long for them, and the general population would also like more liberties. Small but widely publicized liberalization would create good will for the West.

No people becomes liberal overnight. Japan, the textbook example of democratization, is an oligarchy with touches of technocratic autocracy. Turkey and Bahrain, the most Westernized Muslim countries, are far from responsible popular democracies. Since Muslims are not ready for democracy, enlightened autocracy under rulers like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt or King Hussein I of Jordan is an option. Israel does not need Islamic neighbors who rule by brutal force. Then the only people who operate freely are the Israel-hating jihadist clergy who should be gotten rid of in the first place. One should not confuse dictators with authoritarian rulers. The Egyptian and Jordanian rulers respect law and cannot be likened to demagogues like Ayatollah Khomeini. Yet the game is dangerous even with authoritarian leaders, because they may shift to fundamentalism and anti-Israeli position if their support base weakens. The religious establishment is the biggest coherent group in the Muslim world and influences democratic elections; Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan relies on the clergy. When regimes are overthrown, power goes to the ulema by default. The support game damages Israel in the case of dictatorships. Enemies trained against other enemies tend to be aggressive in general and in time turn against their sponsors, as the Afghan Taliban did to the Americans who armed them. Alliance with the anti-Israeli devil is short-term. No country can achieve long-range success by promoting totalitarianism for short-range tactical reasons but will incur the subject population’s hatred and see a drift to fascism of some kind. Better that Israel seeks and fosters potentially powerful and ideologically amenable small groups among the Islamic enemy which would oppose and undermine the radical ulema’s claim to be the only alternative to corrupt local regimes. Israel must avoid a common mistake of supporting one party only: any party in the corrupt environment invariably becomes corrupt, and ulema emerges again as the only honest Islamic opposition. Rather, Israel shoud support many parties simultaneously to dissipate the Arab protest votes. Israeli support should not be half-hearted, such as only produces resentment, but substantial and unambiguous.

That reasoning has an important exception of limited application for Israel. Sometimes acting against a stable, democratic Islamic country like Egypt under Mubarak is problematic, although the necessity of Israel destroying its chemical, biological, nuclear arsenal is clear. In those cases, an internal coup offers justification for an Israeli attack, since weapons of mass destruction might fall into the hands of Islamic terrorists—though even then the cost-benefit ratio of Israel supporting an Islamic coup is questionable.

That doubt is not, however, an absolute prohibition. Israeli collaboration, especially tacit collaboration, with dictators is a valuable tactical tool. Sensible dictators generally shy from foreign involvement and would not attack Israel. Dictators can hardly risk arming their people and stirring up the will to fight, for fear it might turn on them. The expansionists Caesar, Augustus, Attila, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, and Hitler enjoyed popular support. When Iraqi support for Saddam became acquiescence, he could no longer risk large wars, even with Israel. The Arab monarchs and dictators are concerned with their own survival, pressing Israel to create an external enemy. They started wars in 1967 and 1973 to reestablish credibility of rhetoric. Semi-democratic Iran and the PLO crowd[9] threaten Israel more than the authoritarian Arab states, though the latter can also be aggressive: Syria is, and until 2003 Iraq was. Israel should not get involved in supporting and setting up oppressive Islamic regimes, since the Israeli-Islamic collaboration would not last long, and drawbacks would soon outweigh benefits. Israel should support only regimes with a good grip on their local affairs—in their conflicts with other Arabs.

America should give up promoting democracy in Syria if Assad reins in the Islamic Jihad at home and Hezbollah in Lebanon, especially if Hezbollah grew nationalist and anti-Syrian. Israeli and American intervention should come only if a Muslim regime causes trouble internationally, like harboring Islamic terrorists, not for its domestic policies. The best idea is for Israel not to meddle with Muslim societies but to exploit changes by offering minimal support to Arab groups with acceptable objectives. Israeli politicians rarely possess such skills.

As the imperially established borders enclosing different Arab tribes and faiths collapse, Israel can reduce war expenditures since Israel would not need to maintain cutting-edge weaponry against emerging small Islamic states. Small and failed states do not develop nuclear weapons or seriously threaten Israel. Israel should not support dictators for fear of a failed state per se; they would fail anyway. Rather, Israeli strategists should consider whether a failed state could be reorganized, as was Yugoslavia. Dividing Iraq into Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish mini-states could work, especially if the United States agreed to relocating the Turkish Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey would love to rid of troublesome people, and Kurds could not oppose relocation.

But do Muslims not deserve freedom and democratic government? Israel does not care. Israel's interests dictate Israeli policy, not the concerns of others. Many, like socialists, accept limited freedom as long as governments guarantee welfare and pensions. Many people value ideology or loyalty above freedom, especially poor people who have little use of freedoms, and strive for esteem through communal attachment and hatred. People value only freedoms they win. The Arabs do not want democracy imported from Israel or the United States.

Fostering dissidents and insurgents, Israeli and American bureaucrats must overcome affinity to foreign bureaucrats that makes them distasteful to dissidents. This treacherous affiliation is well-known in the relations of royal houses: Russian, German, and British monarchs corresponded civilly during the WWI slaughter. Supporting democrats and Westernizers without local followings is futile and waster of Israel's money. American diplomats prop up mannerly, nicely dressed, religion-hating leaders, even if they are self-proclaimed. Promoting their values is one thing, advancing them politically is another—and wrong. The underground voices of tyrannized countries are often uncivil.

Israel should not expect to seed controversy among Muslim terrorist groups by dividing them along ethnic or religious lines. Terrorists of various creeds often work together. Terrorists' leaders, used to sending their people to their death, are necessarily cynical. Bribing one terrorist group to fight another does not work. The money would go to fighting old enemies, and once a new common goal or enemy appeared, the groups would overcome their internecine hate. Many secular Israelis support the ultra-orthodox Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories financially and politically. Discontent and dissent in Arab countries, however, weakens the Islamic terrorists’ financial and social base.

Promoting political and religious division in hostile Islamic countries is a proper Israeli policy. Most Muslims profess fundamentalist, militant Wahhabite Islam.[10] The Saudis accept the faction as their state religion and finance everything Wahhabite, from schools to Islamic terrorists abroad. Wahhabism, however, is a theologically questionable eighteenth-century innovation posing as the teaching of the medieval Islamic radical, Ahmed ibn Taymiyya, a controversial figure repeatedly jailed for his unorthodox views. By declaring other Muslim rulers apostates, Wahhabism suits the Saudi dynasty. It is not the only school of thought in Islam and has produced little scholarship. Israel might support Islamic factions through foreign foundations to dissipate Wahhabi authority and remove an important motive of Arab aggression. Israel should keep a watchful eye on theological developments in Islam, since Wahhabism might eventually become a conservative state religion and marginalize the radicals.

While Saudi financing accounts for the proliferation of Wahhabism among clerics, they also mean to oppose fundamentalism to secularism. Helping them find an acceptable way to counter secularism might work. The Catholic Church transformed theology into Christian culture. The process does not have to be slow. Islam might succumb to Westernization quickly, thanks to the pervasiveness and persuasiveness of the mass media.

The suggestion that Israel support both anti-state Islamic fundamentalism and Westernizing forces may seem contradictory, but if Israel does both, she addresses different groups simultaneously to split Arab society along many lines. Islamic fundamentalism is not sustainable in the modern world where ideas compete freely and will soon become absurd and lose many adherents. Encouraging it speeds up disillusionment, and works for Israel. In a rare demonstration of goodwill toward America, tens of thousands of Iranians rallied in her support after 9/11. Fundamentalism’s promise of an egalitarian society undermines governments when Westernization beckons. Fomenting fundamentalism, however, requires caution on part of Israel. If the clerics retain power for long, they will harm Israel a lot more than today’s cynical Arab autocrats.

Israeli support of Islamic fundamentalism will not be a problem, since even democratically chosen fundamentalism will not last long. As in Iran, the clerics will not deliver, and the population will soon grow dissatisfied with them. Iran provides another example. France, which for years subverted the Shah and did a lot to install Khomeini, received no favor in return. Iran was even more hostile to France than to the U.S. Similarly, Israel cannot expect gratitude from the Muslim fundamentalists Israel would support but rather must rely on their predictable actions as part of Israel's strategy. The support for radical Islamists, furthermore, is weak: they took only 11% of the vote recently in Pakistan. Any secular party that champions equality and the overthrow of corruption would get more votes than the Islamic religious fanatics. Since nationalist rhetoric very closely resembles fundamentalist rhetoric, Arabs are unlikely to choose copy-cat nationalist parties instead of the clerics they scorn. The emergence of authentically local Westernizers like Ataturk is much more probable. The clerical states are not as bad as a superficial look at Iran and Afghanistan might suggest. In both cases, the ulema bureaucratized themselves shortly after coming to power, and bureaucracy led to conservatism. Iran all but stopped terrorist bombings in the West, reduced its support of Islamic terrorists to little more than rhetoric, and leaned toward rapprochement with the United States.[11] Similarly, the Taliban clerics confronted the opium industry, a positive development checked by international sanctions which left illicit drugs the Afghan government’s major budget source. Another benefit of clericalization is subsequent imminent secularization, since Arabs will hardly live under fundamentalist rule in the twenty-first century. The trend is clear both in Saudi Arabia and Iran and seems to be the case in Afghanistan as well.

Islamic democracies present a problem, since the United States would likely support them. The nominal democracy of such countries provides an excuse for Israeli and American political cowardice. The United States tolerates "democratic" Arabs acquiring nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, delaying a showdown while CBN arsenals burgeon. A regime change could direct those weapons against Israel. On the other hand, promoting fundamentalism makes Israel America’s only politically correct ally in the oil-rich region, while other countries cooperate implicitly. Liberal democracy will not stop Muslim support for Islamic terrorists and war with Israel. Europeans kept right on warring long after the French Revolution articulated concepts of freedom and human rights. On the other hand, totalitarian regimes like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Kuwait are reasonably peaceful. No political order makes people pacifist; wealth and the fear of losing it in a war does. Arabs would need decades of liberal policies to acquire distributed wealth preventing them from fighting Israel, and therefore liberalizing Muslims is not an immediate solution.

However Israel relates to Arab governments, all the positive programs, especially those initiated by the United States, should be addressed to the general population rather than to officials. Under the present system, financial aid buys government-to-government collaboration, not Arab popular goodwill, since most people do not benefit. American-sponsored colleges in Arab countries, Arab students in America[12], food delivered directly to the hungry (“Grown in the USA” clearly marked in Arabic), free U.S.-sponsored newspapers, public criticism by American diplomats of local governments’ unpopular actions—that should buy the West friends in the world of Islam.

In most Arab countries, where freedom of speech means criticizing the United States for shutting down Islamic terrorist Web sites, Muslim citizens cannot vent their spleen over government policies. Their grievances, most related to class conflicts, sublimate into the only permissible controversy, hatred of Israel. American pressure on the Arabs to permit freedom of speech would dissipate the accumulated discontent and reduce anti-Israeli sentiment. It makes sense likewise to take a hard stand on human-rights issues (not including police abuse, indispensable for dealing with Islamic terrorists), like the status of women, restrictions of Shia and other religious minorities, bureaucratic corruption, fair distribution of oil profits, and transparent government spending. Such a policy would also build considerable goodwill for Americans among Arabs who correctly believe the West and even particularly Israel support their oppressors with little regard for common people.

There are sound arguments for democracy and for dictatorships in the Arab world, for controlling population or growing it to make states poorer and weaker, for helping or hindering economic development. The best Israeli policy is to let things run their course. In the long term, Israel only wastes Jewish resources working against the tide or speeding things up which are fast in global society anyway. Instead, Israel should concentrate on destroying the immediate threats: WMDs and Islamic terrorists.

Israel should work to divide Muslims along ethnic and religious lines. Though most Islamic nations have little identity and would gladly dissolve into a pan-Muslim empire, Iranians and Azeris, Iraqis, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Kazakhs, and Tajiks have strong national identity. African Muslims, seen as inferiors in Islamic tradition, have what might be termed negative identity. Nigeria is the largest country affected by Islamic racism. The United States might nurture those countries’ nationalist claims for a bigger role in pan-Islamic institutions.

Although Muslims proclaim themselves one umma, they share the wealth differently. Minuscule elites in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Kuwait enjoy much more income than the billion-plus other Muslims. America and Israel should incite Muslims everywhere to claim their share of oil proceeds from the immoral oil fiefdoms.

Adding insult to injury, the Saudis restrict access to the holy places they hold in trust on behalf of the whole umma by introducing small hajj quotas for various countries, preventing Muslims from entering paradise. Saudi Arabia keeps much more populous Pakistan and Bangladesh, and increasingly Indonesia, quiet by financing the local ulema. Using Islamic proxy organizations, Israel should expose those shrewd, inexpensive, and efficient tactics as corruption which damages those countries’ national interests. Not Israel, butu major players—the United States, France, Russia—may consider copying the Saudis and bribing influence peddlers among non-Arab Muslims through some supranational foundation.Would the local imams boycott those funds? Perhaps. Then educate new imams in alternative madrassas. Look for dissenting, venal imams and bribe them with money, invite them on lecture tours in the United States, publish their books, build mosques for them, anything to make them collaborators. The expenses are huge, but this is a war, not a cultural exchange. The West could outspend Saudi Arabia in financing moderate Islam, as it outspent the Soviet Union in the arms race.

Replacing Islam with Islamic nationalism is not Israel's goal. Traditional Palestinian terrorists like the PLO or Abu Nidal were not religious. The Palestinian terrorists’ current religiosity is a propaganda exercise for external consumption. Nationalism is no less murderous and endangers Israel than religious zealotry. The West should promote only enough nationalism to break up the professed unity of the Muslim world and no more.

Yet another front is exploiting intra-Arab disputes. Although Israel does not want a head-on collision with Egypt, Israel can wear Egypt down by rearming Sudan’s and Oman’s large armies with obsolete weapons. Oman maintains trade relations with Israel, and its ruler, Qaboos bin Said, is reasonably friendly. Reacting to a war buildup, even without explicit hostile intent, would drain Egypt’s economy to mobilize a mass army like Sudan’s and Oman’s, not a smaller and advanced, Israeli type force. An Egyptian buildup would pose no threat to Israel. Both Israel and the United States could focus on Oman, where the population is somewhat more tractable, and foster its advancement in the Arab world.

The United States invasion of Iraq eliminated the opportunity for perpetuating the Iraq-Iran conflict, which devastated two of Israel’s enemies for years. The opportunity may return when the United States withdraws from Iraq and Israel should exploit it.

Israel should abet the civil war in Lebanon, if the Jews have designs on that country, with arms sales to all sides.

Israel indirectly supports India on Kashmir, but unless the Pakistani nuclear capability is eliminated, Israel should keep close ties with the Pakistani military. America’s estrangement from Pakistan created the demand for Israeli war services and supplies.

Numerous other disputes could be exploited to sunder Muslim anti-Israeli unity.

Islamic collectivism, aggressive religion, bad education, hatred, and xenophobia are economically inefficient traits. Religiously or ideologically strict cultures are uncompetitive. Islam transfers human goals into the other world.

The pursuit of worldly objectives and individualism might not be morally superior to Islamic ethics, but the Western outlook is far more efficient than Islam in spurring technological progress and the accumulation of wealth. The gap between the West and Dar al-Islam will grow until the latter either dies out or sheds its religious baggage. Even so, without the work ethic behind several Far Eastern economies, Muslims will acquire no significant industrial wealth in the near future.

Better-organized creatures and societies force the less organized to adopt more effective behaviors or die. Let Muslims go their way. Comatose societies may live off oil and American and U.N. welfare. Israel needs to survive the death pangs of the moribund Islamic culture. Israeli blend of mild religiosity and moderately active working habits is remarkably sustainable.

[7] It is only in knowledge-based economies that population increase develops the stock of knowledge leading to a rising GDP, even the per-head GDP.

[8] Deceit, though denounced in modernity when people became too lazy to discern it and too weak to risk suffering from it, was noble among ancients. Deceit, the old charge leveled against the Jews, would not provoke anti-Semitism, unless one believes this was the actual reason for the hatred, not a mere rationalization. The Torah prohibits deceit in court only to the detriment of one’s neighbors. Talmudic rabbis taught that a Jew should not deceive even gentiles, but their views refer to civil relations, certainly not to warfare. No one doubts the applicability of deceit to war affairs—and Israel is at war. There is a long history of lying even to one’s allies, especially when the alliance is one of convenience: the British issued memorandum to Stalin of April 19, 1941, warning him ofan impending British pact with Germany which would allow the Nazis to turn their forces against the U.S.S.R.; the idea was to push Stalin into an alliance with the British and a preemptive strike against the Nazis. Governments at war routinely lie to their own people; democracy does not work in wartime. Even soldiers are not told the truth about upcoming operations. Israel surely has less obligation to world opinion.

Bureaucratically executed deceit is even worse than its absence. Recall the memorandum of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff of 1962 on justification for U.S. war intervention in Cuba, concerned with setting up a pretext for invasion. There is nothing inherently wrong in lying to the public in order to justify overrunning an enemy (Soviet, in this case) outpost, something that requires no extraneous justification in the first place. But being ready to violate international law and to fake a casus belli, the JCS staff could not bring itself to violate the rules of paperwork processing, archiving the implicating memorandum. Secret operations are by definition illegal. They should be recognized and handled as such.

[9] The Iranian government, for all its authoritarian policies, is still more or less freely elected. The Abbas regime, although autocratic, is democratically chosen from the host of other factions, such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

[10] While the clerical bureaucracy tends to interpret this doctrine conservatively (less aggressively), the likes of bin Laden who infuse Wahhabism with a new spirit of struggle are likely to prevail.

[11] It is doubtful that the U.S. would accept such rapprochement. Wherever possible, suffocating the country into a change of regime á la the U.S.S.R. seems preferable. The problem in applying such a policy to Iran is that, unlike the U.S.S.R., Iran has few fixed expenses and could scale the debit side of its budget to decreasing income. Finishing Iran’s war with Iraq was in that regard a mistake Israel ignored.

[12] Many short-term students, not few long-term who often move to the West.