Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.
The operational, intelligence and political fiascos that led to and followed the September 11 jihadist assault on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, all derive from the same problem. That problem is the failure of US President Barack Obama’s conceptual framework for understanding the Middle East.
The Islamic revolutionary wave sweeping across the Arab world has rent asunder the foundations of the US alliance system in the Middle East. But due to Obama’s ideological commitment to an anti-American conceptual framework for understanding Middle Eastern politics, his administration cannot see what is happening.
That framework places the blame for all or most of the pathologies of the Muslim world on the US and Israel.
What Obama and his advisers can see is that there are many people who disagree with them. And so they adopted a policy of delegitimizing, discrediting and silencing their opponents. To this end, his administration has purged the US federal government’s lexicon of all terms that are necessary to describe reality.
“Jihad,” “Islamist,” “radical Islam,” “Islamic terrorism” and similar phrases have all been banned. The study of Islamist doctrine by government officials has been outlawed.
The latest casualty of this policy was an instructor at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia.
Until he was sacked this week, the instructor taught a class called “Perspectives on Islam and Islamic Radicalism.”
According to Col. Dave Lapan, spokesman for the Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, the instructor was fired for committing a thought crime. He “portrayed Islam almost entirely in a negative way.” Dempsey himself ordered the probe of all Islamic courses across the US military educational system.
The administration’s refusal to accept the plain fact that the Islamic regimes and forces now rising throughout the Muslim world threaten US interests is not its only conceptual failure.
Another failure, also deriving from Obama’s embrace of the anti-American and anti-Israel foreign policy narrative, is also wreaking havoc on the region. And like the conceptual failure that led to the murderous attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, this conceptual failure will also come back to haunt America.
This second false conceptual framework argues that the root of instability in the region is the absence of formal treaties of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. It claims that the way to pacify the radical regional forces is to pressure Israel to make concessions in land and legitimacy to its neighbors.
Obama is not unique for his embrace of this conceptual framework for US Middle East policy. He is just the latest in a long line of US presidents to adopt it.
At the same time the concept that peace processes and treaties ensure peace and stability collapsed completely during Obama’s tenure in office. So what makes Obama unique is that he is the first president to cling to this policy framework since it was wholly discredited.
Israel signed four peace treaties with its Arab neighbors. It signed treaties with Egypt, Jordan, the PLO and Lebanon. All of these treaties have failed or been rendered meaningless by subsequent events.
Today Israel’s 31-year-old peace treaty with Egypt is a hollow shell. No, Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood regime has not officially abrogated it. But the rise of the genocidally anti-Semitic Muslim Brotherhood to power has rendered it meaningless.
The treaty is no longer credible, because the Muslim Brotherhood, including Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, reject Israel’s right to exist. Their rejection of Israel’s right to exist is not a primarily political position, but a religious one. Morsi and his regime perceive Jews as the enemies of Allah deserving of annihilation.
Morsi himself has a rich record of pronouncements attesting to this fact. For instance, in November 2004 he said, “The Koran has established that the Jews are the ones in the highest degree of enmity towards Muslims.”
He continued, “There is no peace with the descendants of apes and pigs.”
In January 2009, Morsi called Israelis “Draculas who are always hungry for more killing and bloodshed using all kinds of modern war weapons supplied to them by the American administration.” He accused Israelis of “sowing the seeds of hatred between humans.”
With positions like these, Morsi has no need to pronounce dead the peace treaty for which Israel surrendered the Sinai Peninsula, and with it, its ability to deter and block invasions from the south. Its death is self-evident.
The peace was made with a regime. And once the regime ended, the peace was over. The fact that the peace was contingent on the survival of the regime that made it was utterly predictable.
In 1983, Israel signed a peace treaty with Lebanon. The treaty was abrogated as soon as the regime that signed it was overthrown by Islamic radicals and Syria.
Then there was the peace with the PLO. That peace – or peace process – was officially ushered in by the signing of the Declaration of Principles on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993.
Today, the Obama administration opposes PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas’s attempts to receive international recognition of a Palestinian state through an upgrade of its position at the UN to non-member state status.
Monday US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice explained that the Obama administration opposes the PLO’s move because it believes it “jeopardize[s] the peace process.”
But this is not a credible reason to oppose it. The reason to oppose it is because the PLO’s move harms Israel.
The peace process is dead. It is dead because it was a fraud. The Palestinians negotiated in bad faith from the beginning. It is dead because the Palestinian Authority lost the Gaza Strip to Hamas in 2007. It is dead because Abbas and his PA have no capacity to make peace with Israel, even if they wanted to – which they don’t. This is so because their people will not accept peaceful coexistence with Israel. The Palestinian national movement is predicated not on the desire to establish a Palestinian state, but on the desire to destroy the Jewish state.
Abbas made this clear – yet again – this week in a statement published on his official Facebook page. There he said outright that his claim that Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian territory applies not only to Judea and Samaria, but rather, “the point applies to all the territories that Israel occupied before June 1967.”
With peace partners like this, it is beyond obvious that there is nothing that Israel can do short of national suicide that will satisfy them.
This brings us to Jordan. Jordan is one of those stories that no one wants to discuss, because it destroys all of our cherished myths about the nature of Israel- Arab relations, the relative popularity of jihadist Islam and the US’s options going forward.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is composed of three population groups. Ethnic Palestinians comprise the vast majority of Jordan’s citizenry. The Hashemites have always viewed the Palestinians as a threat to the regime, and so blocked their integration into governing and military hierarchies. The Palestinians have always been opposed to Israel’s existence.
The second largest group of Jordanians is the Beduin tribes. Until the last decade or so, the Beduin tribes in Jordan, like those in Israel and Sinai, were not particularly religious, nor were they inherently opposed to peaceful coexistence with Israel.
Israeli Beduin served in the IDF in large numbers. The Beduin of Sinai served in Israel’s Civil Administration in Sinai and opposed the peace treaty that returned them to Egyptian control. And the Beduin of Jordan did not oppose the monarchy’s historically covert, but widely recognized, strategic alliance with Israel.
All of this has changed in the past 10 to 15 years as the Beduin of the area underwent a drastic process of Islamic radicalization. Today the Beduin of Sinai stand behind much of the jihadist violence. The Beduin of Israel have increasingly embraced the causes of irredentism, radical Islam and jihad. And the Beduin of Jordan have become even more opposed to peaceful coexistence with Israel than the Palestinians.
This leaves the Hashemites. A small Arabian clan installed in power by the British, the Hashemites have historically viewed Israel as their strategic partners and protectors of their regime.
Since the fall of the Mubarak regime, Jordan’s King Abdullah II has been increasingly stressed by regional events and domestic trends alike. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has empowered the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. The rise of pro-Iranian Shi’ite forces in post-US-withdrawal Iraq has made pro-Western Jordan an attractive target for triumphant jihadists across the border. The rise of Islamist forces in the Syrian opposition, not to mention the constant subversive activities carried out by Syrian regime agents, has limited Jordan’s maneuver room still further.
Emboldened by all these forces, the Jordanian Beduin are now in open revolt against the monarchy and its refusal to abrogate the peace treaty with Israel.
This revolt was exposed in all of its ugliness in recent weeks following Abdullah’s appointment of Walid Obeidat to serve as Jordan’s new ambassador to Israel.
Obeidat’s tribe disowned him and his family and branded him a traitor for accepting the appointment. His tribe invited the other tribes to join it in a mass rally demanding the abrogation of the treaty and the destruction of Israel.
In this state of affairs, the strategic value of Israel’s peace treaty has been destroyed. Even if Abdullah wished to look to Israel as a strategic protector, as his father, King Hussein, did in the 1970 Jordanian civil war between the Hashemites and the Palestinians, he can’t. In 1970, the Syrians shared Hussein’s antipathy to Yasser Arafat and the PLO and therefore did not intervene on their behalf. Today, there is no Arab force that would back him in an Israeli-supported fight against Islamic fundamentalists.
Perhaps in recognition of the fragility of the Hashemites’ hold on power, last week it was reported that the US has deployed military forces to the kingdom. According to media reports, the force consists of a few hundred advisers and other teams whose main jobs are to assist Jordan in handling the 200,000 refugees from Syria who have streamed across the border since the onset of the civil war in Syria, and to help to secure Syria’s chemical and biological arsenals. It is more than likely that the force is also in place to evacuate Americans in the event the regime collapses.
In the current situation, the US has very few good strategic options. But it does have one sure bet. Today the US has only one ally in the Middle East that it can trust: Israel. And the only no-risk move it can make is to do everything in its power to strengthen Israel.
But to adopt this policy, the Americans first need to discard their false conceptual frameworks regarding the Middle East. Unfortunately, as the US response to the Benghazi attack and its continued assaults on Israel make clear, there is no chance of that happening, as long as Obama remains in the White House.
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