Editor’s note: this is a selection from a longer article by Uri Avnery
Isis as an Existential Threat to Israel by Uri Avnery
ISIS (“the Islamic State”) poses no military danger. The present and former generals who shape Israel’s policy can only smile when this “danger” is mentioned. A few tens of thousands of lightly armed fighters against the huge Israeli military establishment? Ridiculous.
As indeed it is. In military terms.
Israelis, like Americans, are practical people. They don’t appreciate the power of ideas. They think like Stalin who, when warned of the Pope, asked: “How many divisions does he have?”
It is ideas that change the world. Like those of the legendary Moses. Of Jesus of Nazareth. Of Muhammad. Of Karl Marx. How many divisions did Lenin have, when he crossed Germany in the sealed train?
ISIS has an idea that can sweep the region: to do what Muhammad did, to restore the Caliphate which ruled from Spain to India, to wipe away the artificial borders that divide the Islamic world, to drive away the pitiful and corrupt Arab rulers, to destroy the infidels (including us).
For millions upon millions of young Muslims in their impotent and impoverished failed states, this is an idea that straightens their back and swells their breast.
Ideas cannot be detected by spy drones. They cannot be blown out of existence by heavy bombers. The American conviction that you can solve historical problems by bombing from the air is a primitive illusion.
IT IS an old Israeli complaint that whenever something goes wrong in our region, Israel is always blamed. Take Sabra and Shatila. As our then Chief of Staff exclaimed: “Goyim kill goyim and the Jews are blamed.”
Once more. ISIS has nothing to do with us. It is a purely Islamic affair. Yet many people blame Israel.
However, this time the blame is not without reason. Israel considers itself an island in the region, the famous “villa in the jungle”. But that is wishful thinking. Israel is located in the middle of the region, and whether we accept it or not, everything that we do or do not do has a huge impact on all the countries around us.
ISIS’ astonishing successes are a direct outcome of the general frustration and humiliation felt by a new Arab generation faced with our military superiority. The oppression of the Palestinians is felt by everyone in the Arab world.
(Yesterday I happened to see on TV an old Saudi movie about a high-school student who was punished by her teacher for riding a bicycle. The punishment was a fine “for our Palestinian brothers”. The movie had absolutely nothing to do with Palestine.)
IF ISRAEL did not exist, ISIS would have had to invent it.
Indeed, somebody with a taste for conspiracy theories could well arrive at the conviction that Binyamin Netanyahu and his minions are secret ISIS agents. Is there any other reasonable explanation for their doings?
It is one of the main tenets of ISIS that the struggle against Israel is a religious war, at the center of which is the Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem.
For months now, a group of Jewish zealots has been kicking up a storm in Jerusalem by advocating the building of the Third Jewish Temple on the sites of the two Islamic shrines – the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque. This group is tolerated and even promoted by the police and the government, and makes news daily.
The Noble Sanctuary (or “Temple Mount”) is one of the most sensitive spots in the world. Who in his right mind would upset the status quo and allow Jews to pray there, turning the political conflict into a religious one, just as ISIS desires?
These days, violent protests in annexed East Jerusalem are daily occurrences. The government has just passed a law that allows stone-throwing Palestinian teenagers to be imprisoned for nine years. That’s not a typo: years, not months.
The recent Gaza war has stirred sentiments throughout the Arab world. The human and material losses suffered by the Palestinian population remain immense, as does the rage throughout the region. Who gains? ISIS.
And so forth. A constant stream of deeds and misdeeds designed to upset the Palestinians, all Arabs and the entire Muslim world. Food for ISIS propaganda.
WHY, FOR God’s sake, are our politicians doing this? Because they are just politicians. Their sole interest is in winning the next elections, which may come sooner than the law requires. Keeping the Arabs down is popular. And the traditional contempt for all things Arab is blinding them to the serious dangers ahead.
ISIS may be the beginning of a new era in our region. A new era necessitates a re-evaluation of reality. Yesterday’s enemies may become today’s friends and tomorrow’s allies. And vice versa.
If ISIS is now the paramount existential danger for us, we must reassess our policies comprehensively.
Take the Arab Peace Initiative. For years now it has been lying around, like a discarded sandwich paper. It says that the entire Arab world is ready to recognize Israel and establish normal relations with it, in return for the end of the occupation and a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Our government has not even responded. The occupation and the settlements are more important.
Does this make sense?
Peace with Palestine on the basis of the pan-Arab initiative would take much of the wind out of ISIS’ sails.
If ISIS is now our main enemy, yesteryear’s enemies become potential allies. Even the abominable Bashar al-Assad. Definitely Iran, Hizbollah and Hamas. Israel must reconsider its attitude to all of them.
When the Mongol invasion destroyed Iraq in 1260 and threatened the entire Arab world, the Crusader state opened its gates and let the Muslim army pass through it to march to Ain Jalut in the valley of Jezreel, where they crushed the Mongols in a battle which changed history.
ONLY AN Israel that makes peace with Palestine can join a new regional alignment to face ISIS, before it engulfs the entire region. This is a matter of survival.
A great Israeli statesman would recognize the historic challenge and the historic opportunity – and seize it.
Unfortunately, there is no great Israeli statesman in sight. Only the little Netanyahus.