The Israeli-Islamist War

[Washington Institute for Near East Policy] Martin Kramer - The debate over who won and who lost in the summer war between Israel and Hizballah obscures the deeper significance of the war as the beginning of the third stage in the conflict over Israel. In the first stage, from Israel's creation in 1948 through 1973, rejection of Israel dressed itself as pan-Arab nationalism. But Egypt then opted out of the Arab collective by reaching a separate peace with Israel in 1979, and the Arab-Israeli conflict came to an end. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict took its place. But the Palestinian struggle also stalled as the PLO grew sclerotic, inefficient, and corrupt. Its transformation into the ramshackle Palestinian Authority only amplified its weaknesses. The death of Arafat in 2004 effectively marked the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the third and present stage, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been superseded by the Israeli-Islamist conflict. The Islamist component to the "resistance" against Israel had traditionally played a supporting role. It was Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Islamist revolution in Iran, who rejected the view that Israel had become a fait accompli and thereby entitled a place in the region. He believed that Islam had the power to call forth the sacrifice and discipline needed to deny legitimacy to Israel and ultimately defeat it. By establishing Hizballah as an armed vanguard in Lebanon, Khomeini sought to open a new Islamist front against Israel. A Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, filled the vacuum left by the PLO's incompetence. Hamas has regarded the elections last winter as a mandate to bend Palestinian strategy to the Islamist vision of gradual attrition of Israel. The possible combination of Iranian nukes, Hizballah rockets, and Hamas "resistance" has electrified the Arab-Muslim world. Might the forces of Islamism, acting in concert, achieve the victory that eluded Arab states and the PLO? A major weakness of the Islamist coalition is its lack of direct access to Israel's borders. In the summer war, Hizballah lost its exclusive control of Lebanon's border with Israel, arguably the most significant strategic outcome of the war. Without access to Israel's borders, the Islamist coalition cannot conduct a sustained war of attrition against Israel.

2006-09-22 01:00:00

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