As three of the world’s great faiths celebrate the festivals of Ramadan, Easter and Passover in the cradle of those religions, various parties have been deliberately provoking tension toward all-out conflict. Exchanges of rockets across the Lebanon–Israel–Syria borders are evidence of an inflammatory situation that nobody has control of.
Attacks by Israeli security forces on Ramadan worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, in which about 40 Palestinians were injured and 350 arrested, are symptomatic of these escalatory tendencies. Why was the mosque raided when there was no credible security threat? Simply because Israeli officials currently calling the shots are wedded to an approach of maximum harassment and kneejerk overreaction. About 1,000 radical settlers then stormed Al-Aqsa on April 9, and Jordan warned Israel of the “catastrophic consequences” of deliberately inflaming the situation around Jerusalem’s holy sites.
We see the same gratuitously provocative approach applied to settlement expansion, demolition of homes, and security crackdowns in Palestinian areas. Newly appointed extremist Israeli ministers enjoying their first taste of power are spoiling for a fight, even castigating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not going far enough. Tensions have been further exacerbated by the killing of two British Israelis in the Jordan Valley and a car ramming in Tel Aviv.
In the lead-up to Easter there was a surge in hate crimes against Christians and Christian holy places by Jewish fanatics who increasingly feel that they can act with impunity — including desecrating graves and carrying out violent attacks against Palestinian Christians. In his Easter message, the Pope made a general reference to Jerusalem tension, but global Christian institutions should be taking up this cause more vigorously.
Who fired 34 rockets into Israel from Lebanon? Israel appears happy to buy into the fiction that it was Hamas, but these strikes certainly emanated from locations where nothing happens without Hezbollah’s blessing. And who believes that Hamas would have embarked on such adventures without Hezbollah approval, even if the latter would prefer a fig leaf of deniability for the time being? Iran and Hezbollah have been losing personnel to daily airstrikes in Syria, but they play make-believe that these humiliations have little to do with them.
Based on strategic calculations alone, Netanyahu should be 100 percent focused on the encroaching nuclear and paramilitary threat from Iran; instead he has been allowing his pyromaniac political stablemates to ignite one bushfire after another, fueling a situation of anarchy and volatility in Israel that has little precedent. Hundreds of thousands of protesters rightly believe that Netanyahu’s latest efforts to eviscerate the judiciary and turn his extremist allies into omnipotent paramilitary warlords pose an existential threat to Israel’s future.
If Israel refuses to make peace now from a position of relative strength, a time will come when it is compelled to beg for peace while it still possesses some remnants of a state to negotiate with.
Hassan Nasrallah likewise has become a prisoner of his own evermore bellicose rhetoric, threatening to unleash war with Israel at the slightest provocation — a war that Hezbollah and Lebanon are in no position to wage. Hezbollah may possess far greater missile capabilities than in 2006, but we should be under no illusions that Israel’s military would make short work of Lebanon. The civilian loss of life would be horrific – and no country is set to rush to Lebanon’s aid.
These developments demonstrate the fundamental long-term weakness of Israel’s position. As long as it refuses to make peace with an ever-multiplying Palestinian population, it can only futilely run around in circles igniting fires and putting them out. Israel could easily win a war against Hezbollah, but in doing so it would create a new generation of implacable enemies. Israel says it wants peace with Arab states, but shows no readiness to do what it would take to stimulate genuine peace and put a halt to the endless cycle of conflict.
Israeli officials are unnerved by the recent Saudi-Iran deal, and partial Arab rapprochement with Bashar Assad in Syria. Meanwhile Iran-backed paramilitary forces encircle Israel from numerous states, and Tehran gets ever closer to the nuclear and ballistic capacity which it gloats could wipe Israel off the map. Last week the US deployed a guided missile submarine to the Gulf region after specific Iranian threats to Israeli and regional shipping.
Because Israel has got away with killing and oppressing Palestinians in the past, it believes that its ongoing repression won’t carry a cost. This is a dangerous mistake, as the situation has been transformed in ways that Netanyahu apparently fails to comprehend — not least the likelihood of triggering a new intifada.
Furthermore, Israel’s increasingly radicalized and anti-democratic trajectory will ultimately lose it the international friends it has always relied upon for financial and military support. Through America and Europe condoning and facilitating its actions, Israel became the over-demanding spoilt child of the West. If the West really is still a friend, it is morally obliged to draw Israel back from the brink of self-destruction.
Israel can deny the historic reality of Palestine all it wants, but this only blinds it to the demographic fact that Palestinians are trending toward being the majority. If Israel refuses to make peace now from a position of relative strength, a time will come when it is compelled to beg for peace while it still possesses some remnants of a state to negotiate with.
There is likewise a growing awakening throughout Lebanon, and specifically among Hezbollah’s supporters, that this Tehran-backed entity is less an agent of protection and “resistance,” and more a catalyst for Lebanon’s destruction.
Many media commentators look at these recent escalations and complacently tell us that war is unlikely because the parties don’t desire it. Instead they should be warning that these parties are not rational actors, are not fully in control of events, and have done much to fan the flames through their incompetence and self-interested agendas.
Following the chaos of recent days, war is an increasingly likely prospect. We should collectively be doing everything in our power to halt these maniacs before they take us all to hell.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.