5 Things to Know About the Middle East That Have Not Changed
The Middle East has changed dramatically over the past several years--and yet it has not changed at all. In all the drama over the Arab Spring, the Iranian "détente," the Syrian civil war, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and all the rest, there are still several constants.
If you've missed the last three years or so of news, a brief glance at today's headlines reveals all you need to know about what's going on in the region, and how little positive difference the President Barack Obama's policies seem to have made in five years.
1. Iran still hates America. Despite the election of "moderate" Hassan Rouhani as Iran's president (a move partly engineered by hard-liners to fool gullible western leaders), the regime hates the U.S. as much as it ever did. The country just held its largest anti-American rally "in years", Iran's Revolutionary Guards declared that it will never drop its "Death to America" slogan (popular in parliament, too), and the country's ailing tyrant, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that nuclear negotiators had no mandate for compromise with the U.S.
2. The Arab world still hates Israel. No, it's not the core of regional conflict, as the Arab Spring made clear. But even the most "enlightened" countries still hate Israel with self-destructive passion. Tunisia, seen as the most successful of the new democracies (despite recent unrest), was recently disqualified from the Davis Cup tennis tournament for telling its number one player "not to play against an Israeli." Saudi Arabia may be forging an alliance of convenience with Israel against Iran behind the scenes. Otherwise, little has changed.
3. Obama's no great friend of Israel, either. The Obama administration and its supporters like to point to increased security cooperation with Israel. Yet the administration is doing all it can to thwart an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran, and National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden revealed that the U.S. is spying on Israel. Meanwhile, Obama is pushing pro-Israel groups like AIPAC not to lobby for new Iran sanctions, after pushing them to lobby for an attack on Syria. (AIPAC now says it will not be deterred--we'll see.)
4. The Western left is as clueless as ever. Glenn Greenwald, the man who brought Snowden's leaks to the world, is soon returning to the U.S. for the first time since the NSA scandal--to address the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a radical group that often supports Islamist extremism. Greenwald, a gay rights advocate, shows little interest in CAIR's position on gay issues. What attracts him to the group is its anti-Israel fanaticism and its opposition to U.S. security policies. (They like him for the same reasons.)
5. The only people (barely) serious are the Israelis. While Palestinian peace negotiators are publicly trying to decide whether to quit, Israel is quietly taking care of business, hitting a Syrian military facility last week that could have transferred advanced weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Israel Defense Force is observing the fourth anniversary of its interception of the largest-ever weapons shipment from Iran to Hezbollah, sending a clear message. Whatever happens next, we'll find out after it's over.