Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Jihadists are in control.

Op-Ed Columnist

As Israel Goes for Withdrawal, Its Enemies Go Berserk


Why is this Middle East crisis different from all other Middle East crises? Because in all other Middle East crises, Israel’s main rivals were the P.L.O., Egypt, Iraq and Syria, but in this crisis the main rivals are the jihadists in Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and, most important, Iran. In all other crises the nutjobs were on the fringes, but now the nutjobs in Hamas and Hezbollah are in governments and lead factions of major parties.In all other crises, the Palestinians, thanks to Yasir Arafat’s strenuous efforts, owned their own cause, but now the clerics in Iran are taking control of the Palestinian cause and turning it into a weapon in a much larger struggle. In all other crises there was a negotiation process, a set of plans and some hope of reconciliation. But this crisis is different. Iran doesn’t do road maps. The jihadists who are driving this crisis don’t do reconciliation.In other words, this crisis is a return to the elemental conflict between Israel and those who seek to destroy it. And you can kiss goodbye, at least for the time being, to some of the features of the recent crises.You can kiss goodbye to the fascinating chess match known as the Middle East peace process. That chess match was dependent on a series of smart and reasonable Arab players with whom Israel could negotiate. Those smart and reasonable interlocutors still exist. They still invite visiting Westerners to dinner and may still represent the majority of their countrymen. But they are not running the show now. Iran has conducted a semi-hostile takeover of what used to be known as the Arab-Israeli dispute. Iran has deepened and widened its support for its terrorist partners. Iran and the Islamists are fueled by the sense that the winds of history are blowing at their back. They pushed the Soviets out of Afghanistan, the U.S. out of Lebanon, Israel out of Lebanon and Gaza and they seem on the verge of pushing the U.S. out of Iraq. After centuries of Muslim humiliation, these people know how to win.So Hamas and Hezbollah audaciously set the pace of confrontation. Maybe the moderates will eventually crack down on the radicals (there’s a first time for everything), but in the meantime there will be no peace process. There will be no shuttle diplomacy. Instead, the main mode of communication will be death: the minuet of missile launches and retaliations, escalations and de-escalations that irreconcilable enemies use to talk with one another.You can also kiss goodbye to the land-for-peace mentality. In all other crises there was the hope that if Israel ceded land and gave the Palestinians a chance to lead normal lives, then tensions would ease. But this crisis follows withdrawals in Lebanon and Gaza, and interrupts the withdrawals from the West Bank that were at the core of Ehud Olmert’s victory platform.Israel’s main enemies in this crisis are not normal parties and governments that act on behalf of their people. They are jihadist organizations that happen to have gained control of territory for bases of operations. Hamas and Hezbollah knew their kidnappings and missile launches would set off retaliation that would hurt Gazans and Lebanese, but they attacked anyway — for the sake of jihad. They answer to a higher authority and dream of genocide in his name.What’s happened over the past few years, in short, is that public opinion in Israel has moved to the center at the same time that decision-making power on the other side has moved to the extreme.Now there is a debate over how Israel should respond to this situation. Some say Israel should temper its response so Arab moderates can corral the extremists, which would be great advice if the moderates had any record of ever doing that or any capacity to do so in the near future. Others say Israel simply must degrade the capabilities of its fanatical opponents.But this is a secondary issue. The core issue is that just as Israel has been trying to pull back to more sensible borders, its enemies have gone completely berserk. Through some combination of fecklessness and passivity, the Arab world has ceded control of this vital flashpoint to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar al-Assad. It has ceded its own destiny to people who do not believe in freedom, democracy, tolerance or any of the values civilized people hold dear.And what’s the world’s response? Israel is overreacting.

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