[OUTLOOK]‘New Middle East’ looks stillbornThe normally intelligent Condoleezza Rice made a calculatedly improper remark: She said that the happenings in Lebanon and Iraq today were the “birth pangs of a new Middle East,” which the Arab world vehemently denied.
The former prime minister of Israel, Shimon Peres, wrote a book titled “The New Middle East.” In it, Mr. Peres wrote that peace should be enhanced and sustained in the Middle East by tightening economic ties between Jews and Arabs. This sounds perfectly reasonable, but Arabs think that this suggestion is a conspiracy for Israel to remain in occupied Palestine and eventually to rule the Arab world. It is unclear whether Ms. Rice got the idea about a “new Middle East” from the book by Mr. Peres.
An article in the Palestinian newspaper Al Ayam was quoted in the Financial Times as insisting that the idea of a “new Middle East” is a conspiracy by the United States and Israel to eliminate Palestinian and Lebanese resistance and exert dominance in the Middle East.
The New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman shot back, “Condoleezza Rice must have been severely jet-lagged when she said that what’s going on in Lebanon and Iraq today were the ‘birth pangs of a new Middle East,... Oh, I wish it were so. What we are actually seeing are the rebirth pangs of the old Middle East, only fueled now by oil and more destructive weaponry.”
The worsening fight between Israel and Lebanon is due in part to the favoritism U.S. President George W. Bush has shown toward Israel while refusing to talk with Iran and Syria. Iran provides weapons to Hezbollah’s estimated 10,000 to 30,000 fighters. Syria also provides financial aid to the guerrillas.
President Bush had cut off Iran and Syria entirely even before Israel’s offensive in Lebanon started. The reasons cited were that the two countries opposed Israel, supported terrorist groups and were tyrannies. Israel, fully backed by the Bush administration, has been overreacting to the attacks by Hezbollah guerillas. The whole world was shocked when Israel bombed the village of Qana in southrn Lebanon, taking the lives of 57 civilians.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Sunni nations, would usually wish to see Hezbollah, which is composed of Shiite Muslims, wiped out. But these days, public opinion in these two countries has been transformed, condemning Israel and sympathizing with Hezbollah. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is usually pro-American, but he has complemented Hezbollah for forcing Israel to withdraw from Lebanon.
Hezbollah is gaining a good reputation and carving out a strong foothold, despite Israel’s overwhelming military power. This crisis in Lebanon will be resolved, although temporarily, after the toll of casualties rises and international troops are dispatched.
The fight between Israel and Lebanon is entwined with the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A lasting resolution to the crisis in Lebanon cannot be made if this fight is viewed apart from the entire situation in the Middle East, including the plight of the Palestinians, the chaos in Iraq and Iran’s nuclear development program.
Thus, we need to look back at the Middle East policy of the United States to understand the essence of this crisis.
The Middle East policy of the Bush administration is primarily piloted by neo-conservatives and right-wing evangelical Christians. More than 80 percent of the leading neo-conservative figures are Jewish. Evangelicals believe that Christians are called on to protect Israel, which is settled on Canaan, land that God promised he would give to Abraham’s descendents. It was clear from the beginning which direction the Middle East policies of the Bush administration would lean toward.
The war in Iraq has been only half successful. Iran’s nuclear adventurism was more successful than North Korea’s, so Iran placed the United States in a difficult situation. Washington performed an experiment with democracy in the Middle East, but that ended up only helping anti-American and anti-Israeli groups such as Hamas take power, and made allies of the United States, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, feel insecure. Syria has remained a constant threat to Israel.
Until President Bush forgets about the relationship between God, Abraham and Israel, shuns neo-conservatives who appear to be more interested in what’s good for Israel than what’s good for the United States, presents a “road map” to resolving the crisis, has talks about current issues with all the parties involved and puts as much pressure on Israel as he does on North Korea, the guns of the Middle East will never stop firing.
The road map should contain the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Otherwise, there will be no “birth of a new Middle East.” History will instead go backwards and conjure up the madness of the pre-modern era in the Middle East, as Mr. Friedman wrote.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie