Despite what eco-catastrophists believe, forecasting the medium to long-term weather is an uncertain science. However, the current signs indicate that what many hoped would be the Arab Spring might turn out to be yet another Middle Eastern political winter.
A visit to Israel, and to the Palestinian Authority capital Ramallah on the West Bank, served as a reminder that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not the principal cause of instability in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. Right now, this designation should apply to Iran. The British contemporary historian Michael Burleigh has described Iran as a ”rabid rogue state”.
As the International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed, Iran is getting closer to acquiring a nuclear bomb – it might be able to do so in less than two years. A Persian nuclear bomb threatens Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states as much as it does Israel. Europe and the United States also have reason to be deeply concerned.
This does not mean such nations will become Islamic theocracies like Iran any time soon. It is likely that, in the short term at least, the Islamist parties will share power with other organisations, including the army.
However, the success of the Islamists suggests that North Africa is a long way from embracing such concepts as democracy and human rights. The fact is that every time Arabs have been given a free vote during the Arab Spring, a majority have supported Islamist parties. This includes the outcome of the last election in the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has set May 4 as a date for an election, which is designed to end the 4½ year division between the West Bank (governed by Fatah) and Gaza (governed by the terrorist Hamas regime). It’s possible Hamas will win.
Hamas appears to be in ceasefire mode. Yet it has a long-standing commitment to the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. The hope in the Arab Spring does not seem to have diminished the deep strains of anti-Semitism in the Middle East.
In Nazi Palestine: The Plans for the Extermination of the Jews in Palestine, Klaus-Michael Mallman and Martin Cuppers documented the association in the early ’40s between Haj Amin el-Husseini, the Arab Mufti of Jerusalem, and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. A German victory in North Africa would have extended the European genocide to the Middle East.
In A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad, Professor Robert S. Wistrich traces contemporary anti-Semitism in North Africa. He quotes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as telling Al Jazeera in 2005 that ”Israel must be wiped off the map” and adding the following year that ”Israelis should know they are reaching the last days of their lives”.
Wistrich makes the telling point that ”Iranian anti-Semitism barely raises an eyebrow today in the Western media”. Yet Ahmadinejad is influenced by some of the same conspiracy theories that motivated the Nazis, including the Protocols of the Elders of Zion hoax, which depicts Jews as intent on world domination.
Jewish Israelis have reason to be concerned that Iran’s government-inspired anti-Semitism might spread within the Middle East. In late November, a Muslim Brotherhood rally in Cairo heard protesters pledging to ”kill all Jews”. And it is not only Jews who are threatened by the apparent rise of the Islamists. In Egypt, the Christian Copts are facing persecution, even murder, despite the fact that their history in Egypt predates that of Muslim Egyptians.
In the face of the growth of Islamism, any precipitated withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan would be most unwise. Already, President Barack Obama has erred in declaring 2014 as a withdrawal date for US forces, irrespective of the military situation on the ground at the time.
A return of the Taliban would be disastrous for Afghans, especially women. It would also re-establish Afghanistan as a base for Islamist terrorist attacks against the West.
Then there is the fact that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan could be in a position to co-operate with the Pakistan Taliban. Unlike Iran, Pakistan already has nuclear weapons – which potentially threaten India and more besides.
So far, at least, the Arab Spring has witnessed the growth of Islamism, rather than the advent of democracy.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of The Sydney Institute.