Thursday, January 1, 2009

Radical Linkages & the Exploitation of Gaza

The radical Islamist agenda in the Mideast according to an anonymous Arab observer: radicals exploiting Gaza crisis.

We are indebted to Laura Rosen and the Friday Lunch Club blog for this analysis:

Sketch out the regional scenario: two unsympathetic forces hinged by Hamas. You have the Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Iraqi Islamist parties on the one hand, on one side of the hinge. ... And you’ve got the Muslim Brotherhood regional project for overthrowing [moderate Arab regime] governments on the other.
The hinge is Hamas. Because Hamas is a core member of Leninist-style collection of national Muslim Brotherhood parties. It is also the only Sunni member of the pro Iranian alliance because of the money it gets through Khaled Meshal. Hamas is a hinge, Syria is a hinge. You've got Meshal in Damascus who gets lots of money from Iran. Hamas is not neutral in the moderate Arab regimes vs. Iranian alliance rivalry.
Both stand to benefit here. One project advances [unrest] in Egypt to the benefit of the Muslim Brotherhood. And while that is not something to be overjoyed for for Nasrallah, it's very helpful if it advances the Islamist agenda to destabilize your enemies.
It's limited ultimately. It's very unlikely to result in direct destabilization of Egypt. But they shoot for it, and hope that it contributes to the discreditation of all the [moderate, pro American] Arab regimes [egypt, jordan, saudi arabia] and in that sense, shows that there is an authentic movement in the region that has two manifestations, the Iranians and the Muslim Brotherhood, who are resistant to the regional order and the status quo. ...

This argument that various competing radical Islamist groups in the region are linked tactically (despite all their disagreements about ultimate goals) by the Gaza crisis, which they are exploiting to great advantage, goes well beyond Egypt. Violence empowers radicals by appearing to justify their own extremism. Violence by Hamas empowers expansionist, militarist tendencies among Israeli neo-cons just as violence by Israel empowers Hamas relative to more moderate Palestinian factions. The quote above is critically important as a warning about the potential danger to Egypt, but the same basic argument could be made about the whole competition between the West and Islamic activists: the more the competition revolves around violence, the shakier the position of moderates, not just in Egypt but also in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan.

The above quote refers to groups "who are resistant to the regional order and the status quo." Given the state of "regional order and the status quo"--economic warfare against the people of Gaza, not to mention the rest of Palestine; threats of attack by nuclear powers against Iran; the horrifying destruction that has been visited upon Iraq; the widening civil war in Pakistan--what else could one expect?

Arguments about whether one should be on the side of murderous Western neo-cons (see below) and Arab dictators demanding social quiescence or on the side of murderous Islamic extremists demanding harsh religious rule miss the point: there isn't just one third way...there are an infinitude of third ways.

One is to open up the Gaza passages and cease inflicting ineffective collective punishment on 1.5 million Gazans, making clear that Israel's quarrel is only with the Hamas military and political leadership in Gaza and beyond. Once this operation is over, and assuming Israel emerges from it in a position of strength, that would be the time to take this step.

Another is to seek direct talks with Hamas, on the assumption that the movement is here to stay and cannot be ignored forever. This is not simple: most (but not all) Hamas leaders don't want to talk to us; those who do have a limited and problematic agenda that does not include recognition of Israel or peace. Then too, we have to be careful not to undercut the leadership of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who does recognize Israel and does wants peace. Still, this option must find a place on our strategic agenda, if only in the form of informal, unofficial contacts

Change will happen. Building a wall against change will simply make the change all the more uncomfortable when it comes. Better to focus on trying to define change so as to maximize the influence of moderates. For those Americans who think only supporting Israelis is acceptable, no problem: there is a vigorous Israeli peace movement of moderates who deserve our support (e.g., here)and might just have the key to solving this problem...before the militarists' wall comes tumbling down.

The question is how long it is going to take for the West to awaken to the fact that its behavior is empowering its enemies and undermining its friends in the Mideast.

One example--from Juan Cole--of how "violence empowers extremists:"

Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah , according to al-Hayat reporting in Arabic, addressed an enormous crowd of thousands in the south Beirut Shiite slums on Monday afternoon in which he called for an urgent Arab summit on the issue, which he said some were attempting to stop. He also called for a third Intifadah or popular uprising. Nasrallah toned down his attacks on the government of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt for not removing the checkpoints that keep Gazans bottled up in Gaza. He had called for massive crowds to pour into Egyptian streets to protest Egypt's compliant attitude toward Israel.

A second example--from Ghassan Khatib:

It is notable that following that declaration, which was echoed by all Hamas spokespeople, the call to open the Rafah crossing and criticism of Egypt for failing to do so became the main rallying call in almost all solidarity demonstrations across the Arab world. That is a strong indicator that there are well-organized groups taking advantage of Arab sympathy with the Palestinians of Gaza to make political gains on a regional level. The harmony between Hamas and Islamic political parties in the region is significant.

A third example--from The Media Line--shows rising influence of the Islamic Brotherhood:

On Monday, thousands of Egyptians marched in downtown Cairo, chanting phrases such as, “Off to Gaza we go, martyrs by the million,” and “We all belong to Hamas.” ... While the Brotherhood has been leading efforts to demonstrate, those protesting are a mixture of the Egyptian opposition spectrum: secularist, Islamist, Communist and others, who believe Israeli military action is unjustified and hold the Egyptian government responsible for what is occurring in Gaza.

A fourth example--from Reuter's--shows Nasrallah's calls for a change in Egyptian policy:

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, whose Shi'ite guerrillas gained huge prestige by fending off Israel's military might in the 2006 Lebanon war, is unlikely to open a "second front" by unleashing his rocket arsenal to relieve the Palestinians in Gaza.Instead, he has echoed Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in reviving the rhetoric of the 1980s, when Iran sought to export its Islamic revolution, and chastising Washington's Arab allies for passivity, or worse, in the Gaza crisis.Nasrallah's call on Sunday for the Egyptian people and armed forces to compel their leaders to open the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt amounted to an appeal for popular unrest and mutiny -- and has drawn a fierce response from Cairo.

And in case anyone needs a reminder about the neo-con role in this whole affair, see this report from Conflicts Forum by Mark Perry...

Deputy National Security Advisor, Elliott Abrams — who Newsweek
recently described as “the last neocon standing” — has had it about for some
months now that the US is not only not interested in dealing with Hamas, it is
working to ensure its failure. In the immediate aftermath of the Hamas
elections, last January, Abrams greeted a group of Palestinian businessmen in his White House office with talk of a “hard coup” against the newly-elected Hamas government — the violent overthrow of their leadership with arms supplied by the United States. While the businessmen were shocked, Abrams was adamant — the US had to support Fatah with guns, ammunition and training, so that they could fight Hamas for control of the Palestinian government. While those closest to him now concede the Abrams’ words were issued in a moment of frustration, the “hard coup” talk was hardly just talk. Over the last twelve months, the United States has supplied guns, ammunition and training
to Palestinian Fatah activists to take on Hamas in the streets of Gaza and the
West Bank. A large number of Fatah activists have been trained and
“graduated” from two camps — one in Ramallah and one in Jericho.
The supplies of rifles and ammunition, which started as a mere trickle, has now
become a torrent (Haaretz reports the U.S. has designated an astounding $86.4
million for Abu Mazen’s security detail), and while the program has gone largely
without notice in the American press, it is openly talked about and commented
on in the Arab media — and in Israel. Thousands of rifles and bullets have been
poring into Gaza and the West Bank from Egypt and Jordan, the
administration’s designated allies in the program. ...

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