Archive for April, 2010

April 14, 2010

Syria is Looking for a Way Back into Lebanon

by Gedalyah Reback

Syrian policy, faster than Iranian policy, is driving the region toward war with furiosity. Much of this is a direct cause of the United States’ reducing pressure on the Assad regime at the same time Tehran gives Syria breathing room. The transfer of scuds to Hezbollah is part of a series of maneuvers on the part of Damascus to reassert its military influence and control over Lebanon that is nothing short of expansionary.

Since the opening given to him by the Obama Administration, Syrian pressure on Lebanese politicians has become unbearable. A dozen high-profile assassinations have occurred in Lebanon the last five years, prominently that of Rafik Hariri but hardly the climax of the killings. Without the US, Lebanese politicians are visiting Damascus with visited often arranged by Hezbollah. So far, the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and even Prime Minister Saad Hariri have felt the compulsion to visit Assad – often awkward and mafia-reminiscent politics.

Syria’s recent offer to control to help control violence between Palestinian fighters in Qusaya and Kfar Zabad needs to be seen as part of a strategy to make Syrian intervention again part of Lebanese political discourse. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea cynically commented on the Syrian offer, blaming Syrian training and funding of Palestinian guerrillas for the flare ups.

Michael Young, an opinion editor for Lebanon’s Daily Star, openly referred to the Scud transfers as an attempt to lay that groundwork on a more massive scale for redeployment. If Hezbollah were to start a new war with Israel, Syria could enter Lebanon on the premise of checking Hezbollah’s power, much as it did in 1976 in regards to the PLO.

His scenario is awkward, precisely because it overlooks the causus belli the Scuds might represent in regards to an Israeli offensive against both Hezbollah AND Syria. But it relates the concern that many in Lebanon have about Syrian plays inside of Lebanon regarding Hezbollah, Palestinian militias and threatening the political echelon. More than likely, the more Hezbollah continues to strengthen itself, the more Israel would consider attacking the militia, which might solicit extensive international pressure on Israel and force it to make consessions.

While the peace process would necessitate what Western countries would see as an Israeli withdrawal, Syria sees it as an opportunity to meet Israeli military contraction with Syrian military expansion. Israel’s best move would be to draw up its military contingencies while renewing pressure on Hezbollah and Syria diplomatically. With politicians in Washington clamouring for a change in the Obama Administration’s policy, it is an issue Jerusalem cannot led fade to the background.

Joshua Reback has a BA in Middle Eastern Studies from Rutgers University

April 12, 2010

Israel’s Jewish Engagement with the Muslim World

by Gedalyah Reback

Much ado is being made about the return visit of Oxford Professor for Islamic Studies (and grandson to Islamic Brotherhood founder Hassan al Banna) Tariq Ramadan to the United States, after an official six-year ban being brought to an end by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. The visit is without a doubt controversial in a country where the political atmosphere enabled such a ban just six years ago, but it no doubt was made possible not by a passive end to the policies of the Bush Administration, but the active ones of the Obama government.

While American engagement with the Islamic world undoubtedly coming at the expense of its relationship with the Israelis, it should raise the prospect of what an Israeli engagement with the Islamic world would look like. Just the same, Israel just saw a potential parallel event, realistic or not, floated by Sheikh Mohammed al-Areefi of Saudi Arabia when he said he intended to visit Jerusalem.

It should be a welcome challenge for the country to bring professors, intellectuals and sheikhs of Ramadan’s or Areefi’s stature to Israel not to lecture Israelis about how they can accomodate Islam, but for Ramadan and others like him to feel the pressure of the Israeli and Jewish perspectives on the world.

In a paradoxical way, Israel should be consolidating its Jewish identity for the purpose of engagement with espousers of Muslim identity. This is essentially vital to Israel’s future prosperity in the Middle East, especially now that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is homing in on religious aspects of the fight beyond political and territorial. Progress on Jerusalem will not be as easy to accomplish as were the Oslo Accords (which in their own right have been in danger of being rolled back). They necessitate religious engagement. The value of Jerusalem in terms of a momento or a heritage is undoubtedly overweighed by the religious significance of the center of the city. If Muslims cannot comprehend the vitality of the Temple Mount in Judaism, there will be no reinforced willingness to share the city no matter with whom Israel might have to share it.

The only way this country can maintain a healthy Jewish identity is to make it resilient. The integration of different Jewish communities, obviously referring to the Ultra-Orthodox but potential thousands of liberal Jewish immigrants as well, requires a tough push for Jewish religious identity that will be undoubtedly uncomfortable for virtually every corner of Jewish – not just Israeli – society. Without engagement with each other, Jews will not have a ground on which to stand when approached by the other religious and traditionalist groups of the world.

As lofty as it sounds, such a radical push toward a common approach to Judaism has happened before. In the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, the Land of Israel and the urge to move there reasserted itself on the stage amongst virtually every party in the Jewish world.

The centrality of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel, which today are again central tenets of every Jewish demonination, are being challenged by the political climate, which has a momentous cultural advantage over religious observance and identity in the Western world and among the ruling class in most countries. The jobs of the Ministers of Religion, Diaspora Affairs and Interior should be gearing their policies in the directions implied above. At that point, Israel’s engagement with the Muslim world – and every religious people for that matter – will enable a true influence of Jewish values on global affairs and the centrality of Israeli standing in it.

So invite the Tariq Ramadans of the world to Israel. We should want them to come. Make Israel not just a bastion for dialogue but a capital for religious intellectual freedom unchallenged even in the Islamic world. But first get the biggest guns in the Jewish intelligensia together and get their constituents to listen. Those encounters and those debates are what Israeli culture and Jewish religion will need to push forward with a common Jewish identity. Right now Muslims are getting across the message Jerusalem is their third holiest place. Jews are pathetically asserting that it’s their first.

Joshua Reback has a BA in Middle Eastern Studies from Rutgers University

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