Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Of Moderates and Mullahs

Fareed Zakaria thinks Israel is causing itself more harm than good:

Look at the effects of the invasion. Moderate Arabs are on the defense. Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt despises Hamas-seen as an offshoot of its own outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. But after blaming the Islamists in the first few days of the Israeli assault, Mubarak has now hastily joined in the condemnations of Israel. Jordan and Saudi Arabia are similarly backtracking. This is a repeat of their reaction during Israel’s 2006 war with Hizbullah.

The Saudis are “moderate Arabs”? The war on terror must be working out better than I thought.

When it comes to regimes such as the Wahabist one in Riyadh and the autocratic one in Cairo, Zakaria should be celebrating their initial condemnation of Hamas–not lamenting their inevitable denunciations of Israel.

It is the inevitability of those denunciations that lives at the heart of the “moderate” question. The problem with so-called Arab moderates is that they are forever tilting toward Israel and the West, but never quite getting there. They prove Xeno’s paradox in political terms: each tack Westward covers a fraction of the distance of their previous move, so that the day never comes when they’ll say, “we fully embrace democracy, Israel, and the West.”

But the non-moderate Arabs don’t exactly hold back on their end, do they? So, while it’s always crucial to engage genuine moderates, any triage approach to Israel’s neighbors finds radicals to be the more immediate concern of the two.Zakaria’s ultimate point is that the Gaza operation is somehow emboldening Tehran:

Israel believes that the lesson of its 2006 war with Hizbullah was to improve its military tactics. And its superb defense forces have adapted well. But by crushing Gaza militarily, Israel might actually be giving Iran’s mullahs the ideological issue they thrive on. That might be the political lesson of this war.

On this point, it’s best to consider what Ze’ev Maghen wrote in “Eradicating the ‘Little Satan’,” his lead story for this month’s issue of COMMENTARY:

More and more Iranian Islamists today-together with their zealous coreligionists in other Muslim countries-believe that the erasure of the Jewish state from the map is a dream that can be realized in the here and now, whether in one fell swoop or through a relentless process of attrition and erosion. And one strong indication of this, beginning in 2005 and continuing and intensifying up to the present, is a major turnaround in government statements and published material about Israel and the Jews in the official Persian press.Up until recently, the prevalent tendency of such coverage had involved the traditional exaggeration of the power and influence of the “Jewish lobby” and the long arm and entrenched tentacles of the government of Israel and the World Zionist Organization. This entailed everything from in-depth “analyses” of how the Jewish cabal that owns Hollywood has utilized the enormous potential of “the world’s seventh art” to bolster Zionism and blacken the face of Islam; to “documentary evidence” that Zionist money and pressure is responsible for the anti-Iranian and anti-Shiite bent of the al-Jazeera television network; to in-depth “scholarly” exposés of the manner in which historically the Jews carved Protestantism out of Catholicism in order to re-impose on Christianity the ethos of the Hebrew Bible with its doctrine of the chosen people.But these and hundreds of other portraits of Israel and world Jewry as the “hidden hand” undermining Islam at every turn have dwindled considerably of late, giving way instead to their opposite. The emphasis now is on every detectable crack, fault, and weakness in the Jewish national edifice, and on Israel as a polity teetering on the brink of collapse.

It is the peddling of this conception of Israel as a state in fatal disrepair that serves as the mullahs’ rallying cry. A show of force like the one currently underway in Gaza completely undermines the new domestic and regional message emanating from Iranian leadership. Crack? Fault? Weakness? Collapse? Not according to all the coverage. The fighting in Gaza robs Ahmadinejad of his single talking point: the certainty of Israel’s destruction.



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