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Politics Among the Arabs

The exchanges between Hamas (in Gaza) and Israel are treated most of the time as a morality play in American media. And there is an assumption in some political quarters that the Israelis should forebear because, after all, the Arabs are becoming united in holy zeal. Supposedly, it's best to appease that sentiment, however wrong. The default position of the Obama Administration, after the election, is back to urging restraint--on Israel.

In reality, the Middle East is always a bubbling torrent, with cross-currents of many kinds, unexpected back waves and unnoticed eddies. Maybe things--and sides--are not what they seem.

Who had noticed, for example, that domestic politics in Egypt are conditioning the new government's reactions to the Hamas/Israel conflict? Yet that manifestly is the case, and not as one might expect. The Arab Spring is now in autumn, and the folks who demonstrated in Tahir Square and ushered the Muslim Brotherhood into office in expectations of rapid improvements in their living standards are now growing frustrated. Most of them apparently have better sense than to think a war with Israel is the way to resolve their domestic problems.

Meanwhile, Hamas, a faction of the Palestinians (they run Gaza, Fatah runs the West Bank), is riven itself by factionalism: the local crowd versus the exiles. (Fatah is pledging support to Hamas, but don't take that to the bank.)

Then there are the outside interests, from the Turks, who are eager to re-establish the influence that has waned after the Ottomans departed, to the Iranians and their Lebanese clients, Hezbollah, and on to Qatar and whoever else wants to throw in some aid or advice. And down the road, Syria is engaged in its own immensely complicated civil war.

Against this busy confusion of interests and personalities and, yes, ideologies, truly democratic Israel seems almost placid and predictable in comparison. That, and the new Iron Dome, are part of its strength.

You can email brucechapman@discovery.org

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