Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Friday, September 20, 2002
And, apropos of yesterday's post about naming Israel's current war, a friend writes that the Arab side as much as the Israeli has no clear goals in mind. I understand his point: certainly the war has achieved no goals in terms of territory or statehood or a better life for the Palestinian people. And it seems clear that those among the Palestinian leadership who care about such things are having second thoughts about the war they launched. But that doesn't mean the war had no objectives, or that none of them are being achieved. Nor is the Palestinian leadership Israel's only enemy in the current war. I think the various actors on the scene mostly have pretty clear and logical objectives, but they don't all line up perfectly. Here's my rundown of the principal Arab and Muslim powers involved in the conflict, state and non-state actors, and what I think their war aims are:

FATAH: Long-term goal is to establish a Palestinian state in all of Israel and Jordan. Short-term goal is to avoid either the explicit renunciation of the long-term goal or the surrender of important material sources of power (e.g. the existence of the P.A. and its security forces). To that end, the current terror war's purpose is to achieve an official Israeli withdrawal from most or all of the territories, in exchange for no substantive concessions in terms of Palestinian power or ultimate claims. This objective has not been met, but the war isn't over yet; if Chaim Ramon's unilateral separation plan is put into effect, Fatah will have achieved essentially all of its war aims. In addition, note that the current war has been named successfully by Fatah: it's called the al-Aqsa Intifadah. That name expresses very clear goals: the liberation/conquest of Jerusalem. Even if that goal is not attained by war - and it's not clear to me to what extent Arafat ever expected Israel to fold that easily - the establishment of Jerusalem as a war objective, and tying that to the "intifadah," a term that is presumptively self-justifying in much of the world the way "national liberation" was in the 1970s, serves Fatah's interests, because that objective can be a nationalist rallying cry to carry the war forward from whatever base of support they have left when the war is over.

HAMAS: Long-term goal is to establish an Islamist state in all of Israel and Jordan. Short-term goal is simply to derail any possible settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would provide its domestic opponents (the PLO) with a stable power base. Given Fatah's current goals, there is no real conflict between Fatah and Hamas, which has facilitated cooperation. If Fatah moves clearly to a posture of strategic retreat - accepting a cease-fire in exchange for a state in Gaza, for example, with no peace and no end to the conflict - then those goals will diverge eventually, and probably sooner rather than later.

HIZBALLAH: Long-term goal is to establish effective control of all of Greater Syria under an Islamist regime: Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. Short-term goal is to build on its propaganda and material success in driving Israel out of Lebanon; successful terrorist attacks win it allies in all of its target countries. Hizballah is playing a long-term game and doing very well, and alone among the terrorist groups now at war with Israel it does not care what the end-game is in the territories, because it does not have a presence on the ground there. It is also actively cooperating with al-Qaeda and Iraq as well as with its patron, Iran, and has thereby linked its regional struggle for power with a larger war within the Islamic world to overthrow existing regimes and establish an anti-Western Islamic Empire.

JORDAN: Long-term goal is to secure the survival of the regime and establish the Hashemites as the protectors of Jerusalem. Short-term goal is to avoid falling to an Iraqi invasion, or a Palestinian revolution, or coming into conflict with the Americans. Jordan does not actively support the terrorist war against Israel. Jordan was deeply threatened by the establishment of the P.A. and by the current war, which is defined by Arafat as a war for Jerusalem, a city that the Hashemites see as part of their sphere of influence. Jordan would be very happy to see the end of the P.A., but it cannot overtly act to undermine it for fear of a domestic uprising. Jordan's policy is therefore to stay as quiet as possible and wait in the wings for an opportunity to reassert a formal role in Jerusalem specifically.

EGYPT: Long-term goal is domination of its immediate region and establishment as America's most (or only) important regional ally. This requires emasculating Israel's power to the greatest degree possible without direct conflict. To that end, Egypt's short-term goal in 2000 was to prevent an Israeli-Palestinian settlement that would help further integrate Israel into the region; Mubarak at the time advised Arafat against signing a deal. Now, however, Egypt's short-term goal is keeping a lid on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without a decisive settlement, since a large regional war would threaten Egypt's interests as much as peace. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the two powers with the greatest interest in an internationally imposed solution that would restrict Iraeli power and sovereignty and put an international force in the territories, because both governments are willing to cooperate with the West, both governments want to avoid general war and upheaval, and both governments are hostile to Israel.

IRAQ: Long-term goal is dominant leadership of the Arab world as a whole. Short-term goal is to avoid destruction by the Americans. Support of the Palestinians in their terror war serves both long-term and short-term goals, in that Iraq wins allies in the Arab world and distracts the world's - and America's - attention from Iraq to the Middle East. Further, alliances with the Palestinian terrorist groups provide Iraq with a delivery mechanism for massively destructive attacks against Israel, attacks which would precipitate a larger regional war. Because America seeks to avoid such a war, the possibility of such attacks act as a deterrent to American action against Iraq.

SAUDI ARABIA: Long-term goal is dominant leadership of the Arab world as a whole. Short-term goal is to avoid either overthrow by domestic Islamist opponents or permanent rupture of the relationship with America. Saudi Arabia's support of the Palestinian terrorist war serves the regime's long-term interest and the short-term interest of appeasing those who would overthrow the regime, but it poses risks to the relationship with America. Saudi Arabia's policy is, I think, very short-term oriented and schizo, because the regime's basis of support is now in contradiction with itself.

IRAN: Long-term goal is to become a great power on a world scale and leader of the Islamic world, decisively replacing Saudi Arabia as the Islamic center of gravity. Short-term goal is to avoid falling to internal or external enemies. As with Iraq, Iran has a policy of supporting terrorism in order to curry favor with Muslim masses worldwide. But Iran is also supporting these groups because, if they achieve their objectives, they will be powerful Iranian allies. The key group is Hizballah, but Hamas also receives support. The Iranian regime is well aware of its domestic unpopularity and its vulnerabilities. But if it achieves major objectives internationally - either directly through terrorist warfare or indirectly by cowing Western powers into appeasement - it knows these achievements will help bolster the regime. Iran will cooperate tactically in the West to remove mutual enemies, like the Taliban or the Iraqi regime. But it will not cooperate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or anywhere where Western objectives do not dovetail with Iranian objectives.

SYRIA: Syria is a strange case because it is not obvious to me that Bashar Assad is behaving rationally in his regime's self-interest. All the other countries and organizations involved seem to me to have a concrete and rational plan. The plan may be evil, but it is not crazy, even in the case of Iraq. But I'm not sure that's the case for Syria. Assad appears to be very immature, and to have become fixated on Sheik Nasrallah of Hizballah as a kind of father/guru figure. An argument can be made that Syria is now to some extent a Hizballah puppet, to a lesser degree but in much the way that Afghanistan was an al-Qaeda puppet. Attacking America was a very stupid thing for an Afghan government to do, but a very sensible thing for al-Qaeda to do. So the fact that al-Qaeda was allowed to plot the attacks from Afghanistan suggests that the Afghan regime was less interested in survival than in serving the goals of al-Qaeda. I think something similar is going on in Syria now, or at least in its President. Hizballah is actively trying to provoke a regional war, a war that would be devastating to Syria. But it's not clear that Assad totally cares, or understands that that would be the consequence. Israel is operating very carefully in the North because it does not want a regional war either, but it is hard to see how any Syrian objective is served by Hizballah's provocations, which continue to get more serious, and will likely become extremely serious when war erupts in Iraq. I worry enormously about the Northern front precisely because of this element of irrationality on Syria's part.