Israel and Democratic Developments in the Middle East

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cyrus Faizee
Expert on Middle East & US Affairs

Zionists both in Europe and the United States have been trying for years to make the world believe that “Israel is the sole democracy in the Middle East.” For years, the United States and Europe have looked to the Middle East and its developments from the viewpoint of Israel and made their policies accordingly. Thus far, any measure taken by the Middle Eastern countries to weaken Israel has been construed and suppressed as being “anti-democracy.” In addition, the west has never accepted logical demands to pressure Israel into mending its ways. In more than six decades since Israel was established, they have argued that Tel Aviv is the sole haven for the liberal democracy against anti-democracy forces in the Middle East and a focus from where democratization in the Middle East may begin. This argument has been used to buy Israel international legitimacy and provide a safe margin for this “only democracy” in the Middle East.

Bernard Lewis maintains that Israel had lost its strategic importance for the west at the end of the Cold War, but regained that importance following 9/11 terror attacks and became part and parcel of the western “crusade” against the Muslim world. The ongoing democratic developments in the Middle East have put Israel and the west in a difficult situation by refuting their democratization claims. Israel is wondering what policy it should adopt in the face of huge waves of democratization in the Middle East? The main question is will Israel give in to results of the ongoing trend?

Since its inception, Israel has been sensing the void of “security” and lack of “regional legitimacy.” Long borders, blazing sentiments of Arab nationalism under Gamal Abdel Nasser, population imbalances, and surprising resistance from Islamist groups have been major problems nagging the country. Before recent uprisings in the Middle East, Israel had managed to solve those problems through generous blessings of the west. Israel secured its borders through 1967 conflicts and occupation of Arab lands; it broke down the Arab nationalism with unbridled support from the west; population imbalances were set right during and even after the Cold War by taking in Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Europe; and quite recently, it moved to suppress the Islamist movements to the maximum extent possible, rendering them practically ineffective.

Israel’s legitimacy problem has entered a new phase in the light of recent developments. Thus far, Israel and the west have been denouncing any anti-Israeli measure on grounds of being nondemocratic. At present, democratic uprisings are in full swing and pose a serious challenge to regional position and legitimacy of Israel. Reopening of Rafah border crossing by Egypt was the first measure which has greatly concerned Israel. Israelis are especially worried about developments in Egypt and Syria as their most important neighbors. With Mubarak and Assad family in power, Israel has had no serious concern about his neighborhood. Some analysts even maintain that the airstrike against the Syrian nuclear facility in Deir ez-Zor in September 2007 was an effort by Israel to have a trump and play it in future games, not to show animosity toward Assad. Israeli officials believe that both governments of Assad and Mubarak do not owe their power to their people and are pragmatic leaders who can be convinced into a deal or be scared.

Following recent developments, Israel has been severely concerned about changes in regional security puzzle as a result of democratization. The question is why Israel cannot get along with democratic developments. A possible answer is that more than being a democratic regime, the Israeli government is an ideological regime with special racial and ethnic views. Therefore, widespread protests to its performance cannot be easily brushed aside in a democratic Middle East. The double-edged sword which is currently being used by the United States and the west in their fight against terror will backfire. Then, both the west and Israel should review their interests. If the west decided to continue the current powerful support for Israel, it would be a loser. Israel, on the other hand, should show resilience in the face of regional developments and should change in parallel to all other regional regimes and become truly “democratic” in order to survive. Therefore, the most important challenge facing Israel and its present regime is “democracy.” Thus, one may claim that the current Israel regime is by no means a “democratic” one.

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