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The End of Normal

The Arab Spring didn’t accomplish a whole lot beyond swapping out a handful of dictators for their more obscure henchmen and Islamist allies, but it did kill the treaty model of regional normalization completely dead.

European models of conflict settlement never mapped well onto a region where there is no enduring form of government. Middle Eastern states are tribal arrangements ruled over by a combination of force and local consensus. A signed treaty with them was not an enduring agreement inherited by a republic, but an agreement with a family or an oligarchy. The overthrow of Mubarak and the subsequent rejection of Camp David by his successors is a reminder that even the most famous regional peace accord could not outlast Sadat and his chosen replacement.

Israeli politicians on the left and the right have chased after the will-o'-the-wisp of normalized relations, but a normalization of relations that permanently moves conflict out of the sphere of armed warfare, and into that of trade competition and soccer matches does not exist in the region. The Saudi peace plan with full regional normalization is something that they could not offer to Israel, or even any significant Arab Muslim state in the region.

The Middle East's players ricochet from competition to armed confrontation, each regional player always has its eye on the other, alliances are made, broken and reformed in only a few years. Anyone who thinks the region is driven by honor and revenge only has to look at how quickly leaders will ally with the murderers of their own fathers for a temporary advantage. Or how quickly they will turn on their brother if the price is right.

Blood and religion create nebulous allegiances and enmities that are permanent in the long view, but flexible enough to accommodate temporary alliances. A Sunni and Shiite alliance cannot be sustained over the long term, but it is common enough in the short term. Jews and Christians can never form a long-lasting agreement with a Muslim state for the same reason. But official and unofficial alliances are common.

European diplomats pressure Israel to do whatever it takes to achieve regional normalization, but they forget that their own regional normalization only occurred after hundreds of years of war, culminating in a devastating global conflict that displaced them from world power status. Europe's internal peace did not come from higher enlightenment, but the firepower of Pax Americana which settled two world wars and averted a third.

The only possible Middle Eastern peace could come from a regional hegemony by a superpower. And half the conflicts in the region have been driven by the aspirations of Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Turkey to become that superpower. Should such a peace come about, it would be a Caliphate, a pseudo-Islamic empire built on repression and terror.

The Pax-Americana imposed a peace based on free enterprise and human rights. A peace built on the sacrifice of soldiers, wealth and trade. A Pax-Caliphatica is unlikely to make similar sacrifices for regional stability. Like Saddam Hussein's Iraq or Ataturk's Turkey, it will be a prison of nations, overseen by an ethnic elite, whether it be Turks, Persians or Arabs, and a religious elite, Sunnis or Shiites, with brutal suppression of minority uprisings.

And that is the only credible hope for peace in the Middle East.

Regional stabilization through treaties and agreements worked poorly in Europe. Only unexamined diplomatic dogma could make anyone think that it would work in a region centuries behind it. But the shreds of that unexamined dogma have been dragged by Western diplomats through conflicts in every part of the world.

At the heart of that dogma is the great European delusion which led to the second world war and nearly led to a third. That diplomacy and international agreements based on humanitarian principles are stronger than greed, power and empire building. They are not and were not. And if they failed there-- they are not about to work anywhere else.

The absurdity of Israeli leaders signing peace treaties for generations with Muslim leaders who can be overthrown any minute was always obvious. But the fall of Mubarak brought it home. Had they foolishly bowed to pressure and turned over the Golan to Assad for another peace treaty, the loss would have been even worse.

Similarly the Palestinian Authority was not able to outlive Arafat. The current Abbas/Fayyad entity financed by international aid and propped up by Israeli soldiers will fall to Hamas sooner or later. And on top of that Israel is forced to prop up Jordan's King Abdullah II, the last of the British Empire's line of Hashemite puppet kings, whose own restive population will eventually toss him out.

It's not unusual for regional players to have their own client states, but Israel is the only one whose client states keep trying to kill it. Hezbollah doesn't shell Syria, and Syria doesn't harbor terrorists  who carry out raids on Iran. That's not because they wouldn't contemplate doing it. There is no love lost between the Shiites of Lebanon and the Alawis of Syria, or the Alawis of Syria and the Persian Shiites of Iran. But there would be consequences. Hamas has already paid the price for failing to back Syria. Hezbollah has been careful not to make the same mistake.

But Israel doesn't understand how to play by regional rules. It's only slightly less clueless in this regard than America and Europe. Europeans pride themselves on a colonial background that makes them more in touch with the realities of the region than Americans. And Israelis pride themselves on their behind the scenes contacts that keep them even closer to the pulse of the Arab world than the Europeans. Unfortunately all of them keep making variations of the same mistakes.

And the greatest of those mistakes is the failure to understand that nothing is permanent in the desert. Sooner or later the shifting sands will swallow everything. All treaties, alliance and arrangements are temporary. Governments are unstable, friendships will be broken, so will enmities. All is passing. Each day is a temporary phenomenon that will never come again. Words are rarely true. And the faces of the men you deal with shift as quickly as the sand.

Look closely enough at any solid object under a microscope and the illusion of solidity falls apart. The same is true for regional stability in the Middle East.

Stack enough sheiks, generals and presidents in a room, write up treaties that run for hundreds of pages and it all looks very solid. But look under the surface, and the mirage ripples and boils away in the desert heat.

Western diplomats have been convinced that solving the Rubik's Cube of the Muslim-Israeli conflict is the key to regional stability. But the Arab Spring disproves it on both points.

The Arab Spring is a reminder that it is only a bit player in the larger dramas of the Muslim world. A  scapegoat for Muslim states who come to terms with it behind the scenes, while using their state controlled media to spread paranoid and bigoted conspiracy theories about it. And a reminder that no treaty can create regional stability when it can hardly outlast the men who sign their names to it.

Even if a Palestinian state is created, what of the Kurds, who have also acted as the Palestinians of Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq. And what of the countless stateless ethnic and religious minorities in the region. What of the Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf who duplicate on a smaller scale the dilemma of Palestinian refugee camps. Even if all these people received their own micro-states, the violence would still not end. And if it somehow did, that would only mean less proxy warfare through terrorist groups and more direct confrontations between regional armies. Is that something anyone really wants?

The Middle East has never been normal, or rather it is as close to normal for a baseline that goes back thousands of years. The progressive model applied to the West has no relevance to its Muslim conquerors. And there is no normalization to be had anywhere here.

If the Arab Spring has accomplished anything, it is to destroy the illusion that a treaty signing and a handshake will stabilize the region and allow Israeli mothers to stop worrying about their sons. These childish ideas have created an entire peace industry built on expectations that have not been realized anywhere in the region.

It is a moral and mental laziness that the peace depends upon. A willingness by the public to believe sentimental slogans about the power of love and of politicians to think that a shortcut to market stability can be reached with territorial concessions and foreign aid. This laziness carries as high a price as war, but with far less to show for it.

The Pax Americana is losing its grip on the Middle East, and its American and European leaders are pressuring the one country still intimidated by them. The one regional democracy that they can count on as an ally. Such foolishness is not unprecedented. The political history of the world is full of such betrayals. But the Pax would not be nearly as determined, if not for the lack of a firm "No". There have been all too few Israelis politicians who said, "No" and meant it. And diplomats have learned that the Israeli right makes more of a show of saying, "No", but is just as likely to say, "Yes" under enough pressure.

While the Pax goes on believing that it can bring up the Middle East to European standards, a tide of immigrants is instead lowering the Pax to Middle Eastern standards. And when the Pax Americana falls, the last of its progressive illusions will fall with it.

The end of that illusory normalcy that provided safety, security and open markets to over a billion people is being swept away on the tide of the very belief that such a state was normal and that its very normalcy could be infinitely reproduced with enough goodwill and treaties.

There will be a high price to pay for that mistake. But Israel is paying it already and will go on paying it until the illusions die, the mirages are swept away and the naked truth will stand revealed. That treaties are worthless, agreements shift as quickly as the desert sand, and it is only those plants which defend themselves with prickles and tough skin that will survive. There is no use being an orchid in the desert. It is the sabras that survive.


  1. Obama's arab spring is the beginning of the total surrounding of Israel by nations completely ruled by religius wackos and terrorists.

  2. Could you get this, once more hitting the nail of the problem right on the head analysis of yours, to be read by all foreign secretaries of the Western countries and Glenn Beck (as the latter might act on it ;-). Pls get it published out of only your magnificent blog (enough feathers in your tush).

  3. Marc D23/8/11

    A powerful piece. Would that I could distribute it to the members of the council of Europe, and President Obama's cabinet members, under a pen name and minus the last sentence. Would it make a difference, though?

    "Israeli politicians on the left and the right have chased after the will-o'-the-wisp of normalized relations…". Yes. Like chasing UFOs.

    "The only possible Middle Eastern peace could come from a regional hegemony by a superpower. "

    Russia is quite well positioned in the region. They have good ties with Iran. They have helped Syria to renovate two Mediterranean ports to accommodate Russian warships. Assad's future fall is unlikely to hurt ties. Their time has come in Egypt, too. Unfortunately, the mid- to longer-term interests of Russia and Israel do not seem to dovetail.

  4. "adds an 'o' to religious" just for the heck of it.

  5. LOL, Lemon's last comment was pretty funny -- especially considering how grim this article is.

    India and Israel have experienced 60+ years of Islamonazi terrorism, if the "moderate" muslimes exist why haven't they done ANYTHING about this? It's not like they haven't had plenty of time and petrodollars to do so.

  6. Well said, Daniel, and a strong closing comment.
    The 'cold peace' between Israel and Egypt is over. Now begins the cold war.
    Interestingly enough, though, Ethiopia is gaining strength, through its Chinese allies (owners?), and they control the source of the Nile.
    A little audacity, some sneakiness, and Israel could have Egypt by its family jewels.
    Muslims can pray to Mecca ten times a day, it won't make sand bleed water.

  7. Good article, Daniel. Is that supposed to be Jimma Carter in the Wal-Mart, super-sized dish towel?

  8. Cornholio asked: "if the "moderate" Muslims exist why haven't they done ANYTHING about this? It's not like they haven't had plenty of time and petrodollars to do so."

    There is no such thing as a "moderate Muslim," any more than there were "moderate Nazis" or "moderate fascists." Rank-and-file Muslims do not question their creed or its ideology. Even if they had second thoughts about it. It would demand exceptional courage of a Muslim to contradict Islamic doctrine, especially the doctrine that says, “Kill the Jews wherever you may find them.” And the only courage we have seen “moderate” Muslims take is to demonstrate in streets while carrying signs promising homicide for non-believers. But then Islam doesn’t require thought, does not encourage it, and in fact forbids it. Everything must be taken on faith, no questions asked, except for how best to comply and conform to the creed. “Thinking” is left to imams and mullahs and other “authorities.” This is why “moderate Muslims” are mute and act as a sanctioning “silent majority.”

    Politically “moderate Muslims” are no prizes. They are mere pragmatists, especially when they are being paid (mostly by the U.S.) to be civil to Jews or Israel. Daniel’s assessment of the end of the Israeli-Egyptian d├ętente is correct. Mubarak is out. Open hostilities against Israel are the next step.

  9. Mark Matis23/8/11

    You say:

    "...nothing is permanent in the desert."

    I believe you are wrong. I would bet that mass quantities of dead ragheads ARE permanent. Or at least worth trying.

  10. Anonymous23/8/11

    Islam is built on lies, grounded in lies, and that the sand castle described in your article.
    Promises, treates means nothing in islam, because it's lies destroys that which could be good.

  11. Excellent summary, very astute portrayal of the qualities of the Middle Eastern manner of social and religious allegiances. I am a big fan of Robert Baer, read most of his novels and try to keep up on his small scale Time Mag blog. His big concern has been Iran and for years. I would say that although he is very wary of the Israeli's, as he has seen them from the inside of a CIA field agent, he often sounds similar to Bibi...when it comes to all things Iran and apocolypse. Baer also knows the Iranians and other groups very well and I cannot help but think that he'd agree with many of your observations. Well done. With Gadaffi's strong hold falling today and with the rebels nearly at the end of their overthrow, and knowing that they are not fond of Israel, I grew worried that one victory could lead to a new enemy for Israel.

  12. Really enjoyed this article, Daniel. Well done.

  13. Anonymous23/8/11

    Outstanding, as usual.

  14. Great article. You should get it published everywhere.

  15. Anonymous24/8/11

    "The absurdity of Israeli leaders signing peace treaties for generations with Muslim leaders who can be overthrown any minute was always obvious" ..but that does not mean that it was stupid to have peace with Egypt for the last 30 years!

    If leaders of Israel adopted your way of thinking Israel would not have existed for one day. You have to do what is possible knowing and taking into account all the risks .

  16. Israel existed until Camp David. How did that happen?

    We didn't have peace with Egypt for the last 30 years. We had a truce based on several Israeli victories. It would have been the same thing without Camp David.

  17. Anonymous24/8/11

    Existence is more than army and borders and you need to find a way to keep that anti Israel flames under control with minimum effort so that you can invest in other areas.
    This is and was the aim of leaders of this country.

  18. "Existence is more than army and borders"? Huh? How do you have a country without borders? Or do you think when the islamonazi monkeys ranted and raved about "pushing the Jews into the sea" they were just joking?

  19. Existence is more than armies and borders, just as a man is more than a heart and lungs. But without those as a baseline, there is no existence.

  20. The best way to keep anti Israeli flames under control is by being a strong, fear-inspiring power in the region.
    Weaklings pick on the weak. End of line.

  21. Daniel: how do you forsee the endgame in Syria? If Assad falls, will the country also fall into civil war? If yes, are there are indications as to how this would play out? A military coup or Egyptian style caretaker regime? Step by bloody step, Syria is taking on all the worst elements of post-Gulf War 2 Iraq, with kill teams out trolling the streets....also reminds me of Chile and Pinochet (may he rot)....all of it looks bad and worse for Israel. Your thoughts?

  22. @HermitLion

    I agree. Trying to appease the islamonazis has only resulted in 60 YEARS of continuous islamonazi terrorism in Israel and India.

    Level them.

  23. Sultan,

    sadly, sometimes you make it seem like you're in love with your pen more than you are in love with the truth. You should avoid writing about issues in which you're not an expert.

    Only shi'ites acknowledge Alawites as at all muslims. Sunnites dont even consider the Alawites as muslims, but rather as pagans, with obvious consequences.

    So dont go rushing into writing nicely-penned sentences which are otherwise in startling contradiction with the truth of the matter.

    Which is, Shi'ites of Iran are the Syrian Alawites' only friend. Hizballa and Iran their strategic partners.

  24. And?

    The entire topic of this article is that allegiances are relative. The Alawis are closer to Iran than to the Saudis, but if you think Shiite Islam views Alawite beliefs all that favorably, you are mistaken.

    Alawi are not considered true Muslims by the general consensus of either Sunnis or Shiites, though they have been recognized as such at times when there was a political interest in doing so.

    Alawi beliefs really do not fit within anything resembling the norm in Iran.

    Finally I don't see why a comment dealing with categorizing religious deviation in Islam needed to include a slam at my writing.

  25. Anonymous26/8/11

    speaking as a lurker with great admiration for your work (now everyone knows my bias)

    he doesnt need to take a swipe at your writing or your choice of topic.

    its done out of jealousy.

    hell, im jealous/


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