’Tunji Ajibade, [email protected], 08057109819
This nation lives permanently behind visible and invisible perimeter walls. It’s not because it expects thieves. It’s because neighbours
hate its gut. Neighbours say the nation and its citizens have no reasons to be in the Middle East. They’ve even vowed to push both into the Mediterranean Sea at the slightest opportunity. Israel. It’s the most self-centred nation on earth when survival is the key word.
This is one nation which has security as a priority permanently ahead of economy. If a security arrangement in the Middle East doesn’t please Tel Aviv, then, it’s no arrangement. It’s not surprising Israel traditionally focuses on itself first. Every serious nation does. But Israel’s has an edge to it. This was a nation that emerged after a Second World War which saw some six million Jews exterminated. In the event, generations after that tragedy vowed to give their lives for their nation. They’ve lived up to their vows such that, these days, nations in the Middle East tread gently around Israel as though they’re treading around a king cobra. Israel is the sixth nation I’m looking at in the series meant to shed light on the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.
What role is Israel playing in this conflict?
That its neighbours have left it to conspire against another enemy should make Israel watch over its shoulders with less apprehension. That hasn’t happened. Israel keenly watches the goings-on in the Middle East, but, as usual, basically for its own safety. Fact is, issues that make its neighbours treat one another with suspicion in the ongoing conflicts also give Israel high blood pressure.
Take Iran for instance. It desires to have the nuke; it props up the Syrian government; it supports Hezbollah in Lebanon, and it spreads Shia brand of Islam wherever it can. These actions unsettle Saudi Arabia and its allies. They make Israel uncomfortable too, and Tel Aviv has threatened to bomb strategic places in Iran because of Teheran’s nuke ambition.
Note that Israel considers bombing Iran for its own safety, not for its neighbours. It doesn’t trust any of them. Yes, Israel cooperates with a few of them when it’s necessary, (even its neighbours avoid this if they can), but it doesn’t trust them.
For there was a period in history when these same neighbours had teamed up to clear it from the region. It had fought and survived that time. It has expressed readiness to fight even more, especially now that the United States(its traditional security umbrella in the region) has largely abandoned it to its fate; what with the manner the US unilaterally struck a deal in the recent Iran nuclear programme negotiations.
Barack Obama’s administration needed a plus in the Middle East, Iran’s case presented an opportunity, and Israel’s protest that time wouldn’t stop it. If the reasons Israel is uncomfortable with Iran are understood, then the challenges it has with almost all the other nations in the Middle East become easier to grasp. It’s because half the total number of nations in this region are under Teheran’s influence. Syria is one of them.
For the purpose of the ongoing conflict, Syria comes first for mention among the nations in the Middle East that Israel has problems with. Israel and Syria share borders. Tel Aviv is wary of Syria more than most of the other nations here. As I had pointed out last Friday, Syria is advanced in western ways relative to other Arab nations. So, it’s an enemy that must be taken seriously. Israel takes Syria seriously. After years of intermittent wars between them, Israel seized a part of Syrian territory, the Golan Heights. The fact that Syria is under Iran’s influence, and it forms one large land area with its location between Iran, Iraq and Lebanon further makes Syria a nation that Israel must watch. The distrust between both places them permanently in a state of war, and war does happen from time to time.
With Syrian rebels, Syrian Kurds and ISIS waging war against President Bashar al-Assad’s government inside Syria, what role is Israel playing? Would Israel be happy to see an end of Al-Assad’s administration in Syria? Israel isn’t physically involved in the conflict in Syria. But Tel Aviv makes it its duty to destroy weapons shipments into Syria whenever it considers them a threat to its security. The Israeli army also strikes back each time rockets fired from Syria get to its territory. Such attacks from Syria were common ever since Russia came into the conflict a year ago in order to assist al-Assad. It’s a sign that Damascus has been emboldened, showing Israel it’s not alone. Nevertheless, this hasn’t meant much for Tel Aviv to deploy troops in Syria; more so as none of the Syrian rebels fighting al-Assad has directed attacks on Israel.
In spite of this, threats to Israel are ever present. It cannot stand aside to watch the conflicts around it. It did until recently. But it has decided it’s got to work to see that the current government in Damascus goes away. Why? The outcome of the conflict in Syria will have effect on Israel’s security. Tel Aviv decided recently that al-Assad’s presence wasn’t good for its interest. On the other hand, the emergence of radical Islamists in Syria is also inimical to Israel’s security. The best it can do under the circumstance is work with neighbours that want al-Assad out of power to achieve the purpose. However, Lebanon is one other reason Israel wants al-Assad out. For Israel is ever in a state of war with Lebanon, and Syria supported by Iran assist Lebanon.
Over the past decades, clashes between Israel and Lebanon involved a series of military encounters. Lebanon’s case is more complicated than the feud Israel has had with Syria or Iran. This is because Lebanon is a haven for a host of elements that Israel is wary of – Palestine Liberation Organisation, Hezbollah, the Government of Lebanon, as well as other non-state militias. There was a period in history when the PLO leadership and its armed wings were sent out of Jordan for fomenting a revolt. Lebanon became their new home.
Thereafter, violent forays across Israel-Lebanon borders involving the PLO and Israel increased. In 1978, Israel invaded Lebanon to push the PLO far off its borders. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 1985, it still retained control of a 12-mile area. At the moment, different factions of Palestinians control West Bank and Gaza Strip (the proposed state of Palestine). Israel doesn’t just watch what happens here closely for its security, it invades these territories whenever it feels threatened.
Also present in Lebanon is the Hezbollah. This is a Lebanese movement. It’s armed, it’s Shia, and it has links with Iran. It dreams of obliterating Israel. Both had been involved in skirmishes, making Israel to cross into Lebanon at will. The UN had intervened in the Israeli-Lebanese conflict, but this didn’t stop the skirmishes between Hezbollah and Israel. Hezbollah is vocal, well-organised, deadly and it fears no one. Even the US takes note. Hezbollah could cross borders to capture Israeli soldiers and use them as bargaining chips. Back in 2006, the capturing of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah had led to the 2006 Lebanon War. The ceasefire that followed had a call for the disarmament of Hezbollah, and for Israel to respect the territorial sovereignty of Lebanon. This call exists only on paper. Threat of outbreak of violence forever looms between Israel and Lebanon.
With these and the conflicts in Yemen where a coalition of nations led by Saudi Arabia combat Iran-backed rebels-turned government, the Middle East is in a state of instability. This doesn’t pay anyone. It doesn’t pay Israel, especially. A few nations are working together to achieve some stability. Israel cooperates with the Saudis on this. But they face a daunting task with the opposite position Iran and Russia take in the conflicts here. Extremist groups who want to overthrow different governments add to the uncertainty. Other nations in the region may sleep fine with this chaos and its unpredictable outcomes.
Israel can’t. For no nation here sincerely cares if it is harmed or not. Despite the cooperation Tel Aviv engages in with some neighbours in order to achieve favourable outcomes in the ongoing conflicts, it still must look out for itself. Israel is condemned to be a self-centred nation if it must survive.