Things are starting to heat up rather abruptly for us here in Israel. Hezbollah is making noises about invading the Galilee, and two Iranian warships are said to be moving toward the Suez Canal on their way to Syria. Libya is calling on Palestinians to rise up and attack Israel. The Jordanian Foreign Minister — after recommending that a Jordanian soldier who shot and killed seven Israeli schoolgirls in 1997 be released early from prison — declared that Israel, which has a peace treaty with Jordan, is an enemy and a terrorist state.
Here’s a little thought experiment to help you understand why all this is happening all of a sudden.
Imagine you’re Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. You’ve managed to evict Sa’ad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister who refused to be extorted into cooperating with your coverup of Hezbollah’s involvement in the murder of his father, Rafik. You’ve got a Syrian-approved stooge in place as the new PM, so that’s all good. But you’re still faced with the prospect of a potentially unmanageable civil war should the pending UN tribunal indict Hezbollah members for Rafik’s assassination. The tribunal’s indictments have been filed but have not yet been made public. Leaked information strongly indicates Hezbollah will indeed be named. What to do?
Okay, now you’re the King of Jordan. Your regime, once relatively stable, is splintering out from under you. Your East Bank tribal leaders, suddenly uncowed by the sedition laws banning criticism of the royal family, have dared to state publicly that they disapprove of your Palestinian-Jordanian wife and expect you to strip her of her political role, stat. East Bankers and ex-West Bankers — i.e., Palestinian Jordanians — are attacking each other at soccer games. The East Bankers have a lock on the military and positions of influence, but the West Bankers control the country’s economy and outnumber the East Bankers. And they’re sick and tired of that “P” in their Jordanian passports, which makes them feel like second-class citizens. Thousands have gathered to make unprecedented demands for change, and your dismissal of the entire government doesn’t seem to have satisfied them. The fissures in your culture are bursting open, and you’re the one getting splattered. What to do?
Right. Now you’re Qaddafi. You’ve had your fist around Libya’s neck for forty-one years, but damn if even your citizens haven’t been affected by the revolutionary virus that’s sweeping the region. Hundreds of people poured into the streets of Benghazi today, setting fire to cars and clashing with police. In Zentan, protesters torched security headquarters and a police station. They’re chanting that they want the country’s “corrupt rulers” out, and out now. Tomorrow, Thursday, is supposed to be a Libyan “Day of Rage.” What to do?
Okay. Now you’re Ahmadinejad. The protesters keep coming, despite — or perhaps because of — the calls by your parliamentarians to have their leaders executed. You’re perfectly willing to mow them all down, but the rest of the world is watching. This doesn’t worry you particularly — indeed, you get a rather pleasant frisson from the prospect of slaughtering pro-democrats in front of the Americans and then watching them squirm their way toward a non-response — but tactically speaking, it would be as well to divert attention to an external enemy while taking care of business at home. The Americans and the Europeans seem to be less clear in their minds about the Green Revolution than they were about the Egyptian one, so it shouldn’t be difficult to distract them. Still, it’ll have to be done fast. The sooner the counterrevolution is put down, the better. What to do?
The answer in each case is the same as it has been for embattled Muslim regimes since 1948. Go on the offensive against Israel. It shuts up the populace, since you can’t very well side against your own government while it’s fighting the Little Satan. It tamps down internal divisions, since no internal squabble can compare with the endless existential fight with the Zionist colonialist imperialist oppressor. It shoves the Israeli-Palestinian problem back to the fore, enabling you to hide your countries’ problems behind it as you have done quite successfully for generations.
As of this writing, Bibi has responded verbally to the Hezbollah threat. Speaking tonight at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, he said there is no way Hezbollah will occupy the Galilee. “Anyone who hides in a bunker will stay in a bunker,” he said, referring to Nasrallah. “We have a strong army and a united nation. We tried for peace with all of our neighbors, but the army is prepared and ready to defend Israel against any enemy.”
Interestingly, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who broke the story about the Iranian warships, is under fire for having broken ranks: the Defense Ministry had apparently decided to keep a lid on the story when he started talking. Defense Minister Ehud Barak says we’re keeping an eye on the ships but declined to comment further, other than to say that we’ve alerted “friendly nations in the region.” There’s chatter in the blogosphere right now about what we might do if pressed, but so far it’s all speculation. Suffice it to say that tensions are rising in the neighborhood, and our brand-new Chief of Staff might have some serious work to do in the not-too-distant future.