Haaretz’s Ari Shavit: The last colonialist

One of Israel’s prominent pundits subscribes to conspiracy theories, and has strange views of the Arab world.

Every time I make the mistake and read yet another article by Ari Shavit – the great bloviator of Israeli pundits – I later wonder why I did this to myself again. For the past few months I forced myself to let it slide, ignore the pompous ranting. Thursday’s column was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Let’s fisk (*) it.

To avoid the charge he is being partial to Arab autocrats, Shavit beings his article with:

there is no doubt – 2011 is the Middle East’s 1989. It could even be the Middle East’s 1789.

Isn’t there any doubt? And was 1789 really better than 1989? Don’t be petty. The meat comes in the next paragraphs. Just after the obligatory paragraph about the opportunity, Shavit leaps to where his heart lies – the danger:

But the great Arab revolution also holds great danger. In the past decade, the United States dismantled Iraq, took Egypt apart and lost Turkey. In doing so, it broke down the Sunni buffer against Iran. These days Washington is dismantling Bahrain, undermining Jordan and endangering Saudi Arabia – thereby turning Iran into the leading regional power. Unless the American policy changes, the result could be a geostrategic disaster.

Oy. For starters, the US has certainly dismantled Iraq. It was led by another president at the time, one that Shavit looked at with puppy eyes and kept prodding him to do the Zionist regime’s work for it and attack Iran. This did not happen, though Shavit kept fantasizing about it, or at least an Israeli strike (all links in Hebrew).

The US did not “break Egypt apart.” Last I checked, it was still there. The Mubarak regime was broken by the Egyptian masses; Egypt has its own history, hardly dependent on the question of who occupies the White House. In the same vein, the US did not “lose Turkey”: The country went on its own way, after a long internal conflict. The ability of the US to influence those long-term effects was nil.

Likewise, the US does not “dismantle Bahrain” and does not “endanger Saudi Arabia”: Their people have had enough of their despicable rulers. According to Shavit, the danger to SA and Bahrain is being ruled by their own people instead of some of the most corrupt oligarchies on the planet.

Of particular interest is Shavit’s fantasy of a raging Shiite tiger, held back by the effort of a “Sunni buffer zone.” He returns to this theme later on, when he writes:

Under the heading of “democratization,” the Shi’ite Muslims will take over a considerable part of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf.

Shavit apparently refers to the Bahrain uprising. In the Hebrew original, he refers not to the Persian Gulf but to the “Arab Gulf”. Let’s get some facts in here: Contrary to Shavit’s fantasy, Sunnis are the majority in the Arab (and Muslim) world; In Bahrain they are an oppressed majority; Unlike some Sunni states (such as Iraq, Syria and Egypt), Iran did not start a war in the last 80 years; and there is no good reason to believe the Iranian regime, barely holding its people in check, will attempt to expand militarily. For starters, it doesn’t have the budget to do so: Its military budget is six billion dollars annually. Incidentally, Israel’s military budget is more than double that, and its military expenditure per capita is 18 times that of Iran (Hebrew).

The interesting bit here is that the dread demon Shia, which Shavit uses as a scarecrow, is precisely the scarecrow used by the Sunni dictatorships for generations. Saddam Hussein was described – when he began his war of aggression against Iran – as the “Sword of the Sunni against the Shia”. It’s somewhat strange to see a prominent Israeli pundit mouthing the old, moldy slogans of the House of Saud. (Or is it?) Next!

Under the heading of “liberation,” radicals will take over a considerable part of the Arab world.

This decisiveness is puzzling. Nobody is sure where we are headed, except Shavit. Now, what does he mean by “radicalism?” And why is it necessarily bad, for the Arabs and their neighbours?

Peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Israel and Syria will become impossible.

Um, why? Can’t Israel live in peace with its neighbours, if they are ruled by their citizens, not by dictators? Not to mention it takes a large dose of chutzpah to speak about the dying chance for peace, when – like Shavit – you’ve spent much of your time as a shill of the Sharon family, of Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. The fact that the morning Shavit’s article was published we learned Netanyahu wasn’t even willing to consider negotiations with Syria (Hebrew) makes the point even more poignant.

Islamic, neo-Nasserist and neo-Ottoman forces will mold the Middle East. The 2011 revolution could end up the same way as the 1789 French Revolution did – some Bonaparte will hijack it, take advantage of it and turn it into a long succession of bloody wars.

Someone should inform Shavit that Islamism, neo-Nasserism and neo-Ottomanism (assuming the latter actually exists) contradict each other. The Nasserists consider the Islamics to be mortal enemies, and vice versa; and both of them reject the idea of the return of the Ottoman empire. Unlike France, which had a long tradition of political unity (with the exception of some regions, such as Brittany), a Pan-Arabic Bonaparte is almost unimaginable.

The change in the Arab world should have been sparked during another era – a decade or two ago. The change in the Arab world should have been generated in a different way – by reform, rather than revolution.

Notice the “should have”. It should have happened, but didn’t. The history of the Arab world is like clay in the hands of the potter, residing in Washington as he once did in London.

The Americans are right in siding with the masses who are demanding their rights. But the Americans are wrong to start with toppling their allies’ regimes. The Americans are wrong in paving with their own hands the road to victory for the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran.

Banging head against convenient wall.

To put it mildly, the Iranians and the Muslim Brotherhood are not the most natural of allies. The radical sects of the MB, the members of Islamic Jihad, consider the Shiites all too often as an enemy to be eradicated. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, in particular, put the Shiites at the top of its target list. Elements of the Pakistani regime persecute the Shiites. So did the Taliban. As a result, in the first shocked days after the attack of 9/11, a short-lived alliance came into being between the Americans and the Iranians, with an Iranian senior official providing the Americans with a list of targets in Afghanistan.

The Americans are not “toppling their allies regime”: they distance themselves from dictatorship. American history and ethos make it very difficult for any administration to openly ally with regimes who open fire on their own citizens. Not that they haven’t done it – particularly in South America and Central America – but they made an effort of not doing so in front of the cameras. Now the cameras are everywhere. Shavit, for all his contortions, would prefer the US to keep supporting the Sunni dictatorships. Shavit’s position is that of an agonized Zionist prophet, and he knows that if Zionism is to live, then the Arabs must submit to whips and scorpions.

There is only one way out of this catch-22. Moving from defense to offense. […]Don’t do it only in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain. Do it alongside forceful humanitarian intervention in Libya as well. Do it in Iran, too.
Take the spirit of freedom blowing through Cairo’s squares and bring it to Tehran’s squares. Take the Google, Facebook and Twitter revolts and bring them to the ayatollahs. Topple Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tyranny as you toppled Hosni Mubarak’s. Fight the Shia’s religious fascism and Muammar Gadhafi’s madness with the same relentlessness you fought the pro-Western dictatorships.

Wow. Wow. What can one say? What can you say to someone so ignorant, he thinks you can “Take the Google, Facebook and Twitter revolts and bring them to the ayatollahs?” Facebook and Twitters are vessels; the content in these vessels is created by the users, not the companies. It’s a fair assumption Khamenei will not step down, even if Mark Zuckerberg will inform him that the group demanding it now has a million members, that no citizen of Sudan will take to the streets of Khartoum because Groupon offers a three-for-the-price-of-one deal on insurrections, and that no Jordanian will march on the palace in Aman in the deluded of hope of becoming its Foursquare mayor. Twitter and Facebook serve the insurrectionists as a means of communications; they are means to a goal; they are not the strings of a hidden puppet-master, taking its marching orders from the White House.

Shavit’s implicit conspiracy theory – Obama can topple the Middle Eastern regimes, he just doesn’t want to – puts him on the same stand with American political entertainer Glenn Beck, who recently claimed that Google senior managers, who are in cahoots with the White House, are responsible for the fall of the Mubarak regime – a claim made also by the deputy prime minister of Russia. It’s strange company, to say the least, for a prominent Israeli pundit.

Beyond the conspiracy theories and the shockingly mechanistic concept of history, which deprives the Arabs of any agency in their own destiny, is Shavit so ignorant of Iran’s history, he does not know how catastrophic were the results of the CIA’s latest coup against a popular regime there, in 1953? And why, in heaven’s sake, does Gadaffi appear in this list – Gadaffi, who made great efforts in the last couple of years to become acceptable again to the West, efforts which bought him a few precious days when he started massacring his people?

And what does Shavit expect the Americans to do in Iran or Libya? Does he seriously expect them to invade yet another Muslim country? Let’s assume the Americans intervene in Libya, put an end to the massacres and put Gadaffi’s regime down. What happens after two more weeks, once the bodies are cleared from the streets? We’ll have a Western army occupying a Muslim country – and an African one, to boot – whose language it does not speak and with its culture it is unfamiliar; a country one may reasonably assume contains hostile groups, presumably armed. This is a blueprint for disaster – and we don’t have to look to Iraq and Afghanistan for that conclusion; Somalia will do. Can Ari Shavit, whose articles are avidly read by prime ministers and senior officials, really be so clueless?

Apparently so. For all his eminence, Shavit is just the mouthpiece of the Zionist elite, particularly of the military and the current defense minister; he is an amplifier loudly proclaiming their fears, screaming loudly it had been betrayed, abandoned, sold. He must believe in the propaganda of the old regimes – that the Middle East is composed only of the Muslim Brotherhood and the ayatollahs, who are a demonic, awesome force.

Otherwise, he may be forced to face the possibility of democratic Arab regime who, for all their new-found freedom, will still be hostile to Zionism – because, essentially, it requires an oppressive regime. He will have to face the possibility that Arabs have brought down their Berlin Wall, but that Israel still rules a large population, devoid of civil and many human rights. He will have, in short, to face a world in which Ehud Barak is seen more and more as yet another Mubarak.

The old tyrants were, after all, a kind of solution.