The reason why the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is doomed can be summed up in a paragraph. The Arab populations left in political limbo when Israel recaptured in 1967 the territory that it had lost to Egypt and Jordan in 1948 exist only as a strategic weapon of disruption. They have been shaped into a population that is defined only by terrorism because that is the purpose that their sponsors put them to. There can be no constructive outcome of the conflict because you cannot negotiate with a weapon.
The trouble is not that Israel is unable to reach a settlement with the Palestinians; but that the Muslim countries funding and operating the terrorist groups that constitute the Palestinian political factions are unwilling to give up their weapon. Negotiating with the Palestinian Authority or Hamas is like trying to negotiate with a gun or bargain with an attack dog. There is nothing to be gained from such a futile task. The conflict will end only when those countries that are behind it will decide that it should end. And they have no reason to want it to end.
Palestinian terrorism is a strategic weapon of disruption that confines and unbalances Israel. At a cost of millions, the sponsors of that terror have inflicted billions in economic damage. And there is no reason for them to stop. Watching Israel and America try to reason with their attack dogs amuses them and allows them to expand their own influence by offering to act as mediators.
For that same reason, Islamic terrorism in general is also not going anywhere. What the Palestinians are to Israel, Muslim terrorists are to the West and the rest of the world. They are strategic weapons which are allowed to exist because they serve the purposes of their sponsors. Like most living weapons, they occasionally turn in the hands of their sponsors, but that only makes the task of directing them at the proper targets more urgent.
Terrorism can never be defeated by fighting terrorists. Combine massive wealth in some parts of the Middle East with staggering poverty in other parts and the supply of mercenaries is nearly endless. Syrian Jihadists are being paid $150 a month by Qatar; a good salary for an unskilled laborer in a region where life is cheap and every family has plenty of surplus sons and mouths to feed. A barrel of oil can buy the services of a killer for a month and Qatar pumps out millions of barrels a day.
Terrorism is cheap for the sponsors, profitable for the participants and hideously expensive for the targets. A soldier in a First World nation can cost six figures. For that same amount, a backward oil tyranny can field a hundred men. When those hundred men kill a soldier, then his nation will be heartbroken and question the costs of war. When those hundred men die, their mothers will ceremonially wail and cry out for more martyrs to avenge them. And the terror will go on.
Islam makes the process easier. Like Palestinian nationalism, it is a war machine whose ideas lubricate the recruitment, rampages and replenishment of fresh cannon fodder for the wars of the old rich men of the region.
That difference in attitude and ideology is at the heart of the power imbalance. As long as that imbalance exists, then a hundred poorly trained fighters who can hardly shoot without killing themselves will still edge the Army of One.
No Muslim country has been able to field an army that will match a Western nation in some time. The Israeli-Arab wars punishingly drove that lesson home as the tiny Jewish State managed to prevail even when it faced superior numbers and at times even superior technology and surprise attacks.
Palestinian nationalism was born out of the humiliating realization that no amount of firepower and manpower would suffice to sweep Israel off the map. It was an attempt at creating a secularized Islam with a mythical nationalism replacing a mythical religion. But at its moment of greatest success, it began to merge with Islam, like a river returning to the sea. Under Hamas, Palestinian nationalism is completing its merger with Islamism.
Terrorism in the Muslim world was reborn out of that same realization, its secular attachments diminishing as it falls back into the Islamic roots of its birth. Arab Nationalism failed to produce a single army that could take on the West. Egypt’s armies were smashed by Israel. Iraq’s were torn apart by the United States. And so civilized mass warfare was instead replaced by a primitive calculated chaos.
Saddam’s Republican Guard could not even dream of defeating the United States, but years of terrorism could. Israel beat down entire armies, but blinked in the face of repeated terrorist attacks. An army is expensive, but a terrorist, even a suicide bomber, is cheap. War is expensive, but calculated chaos can be had at cut-rate prices.
Terrorism has no “off switch” because it’s too profitable. There is no down side for its sponsors who can inflict significant amounts of harm and collect enormous profits for a few million here and there. Their power to temporarily turn off the terror makes them even more powerful and influential.
Muslims have gone from nonentities in the Western political sphere to huge power players not through oil, but through the terror that they bought with that oil. Americans paid little attention to Muslims until September 11. Since then Muslims have been flattered and promoted, their political interests have been pandered to and their leaders have gained an enormous amount of influence. Not only has all this pandering failed to stop terrorism, it has instead provided a compelling motive for more terrorism.
Terrorism saw its field test in Israel where it successfully disrupted the national way of life. And then that weapon was deployed on a large scale in New York, Washington DC, London and Madrid.
In Israel, the terrorists became partners. Each act of strategic disruption further increased the scale of concessions in the hopes of getting them to accept that arrangement as the basis for a stable society. Now the United States has made Muslim sponsors of terrorism into its partners in the hopes of getting them to use their newfound power to build a stable international order. The predictable results of that disaster can be seen in the Arab Spring.
There is no way forward without accepting that Islamic terrorism is not a set of particular movements fighting over nationalist causes in Israel and India, over religious causes in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and over tribal causes in Nigeria and Somalia; it is a multi-headed hydra. Each head has its own identity, but it is the body that counts. That body lies under the surface in the form of ideological organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, but even deeper it lies in the flow of funds and influence from oil countries.
Until we accept that the terrorists matter less than their sponsors, we will be stuck fighting terrorism without end.
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