After the recent decision of Donald Trump to move the US embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, thus formally recognizing it as the capital of Israel, many expected a stormy reaction of the Arab and the Islamic world. However, nothing special happened.
One can positively state the Arabs did not go beyond the ‘verbal rhetoric’, which does not involve any real actions, even political ones. After holding an extraordinary meeting on 9 December in Cairo, of the League of Arab States, by Foreign Service heads, it was an Emirati politician, Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs, Anwar Mohammed Qarqash, who posted a comment on Twitter, with regards to a relatively calm reaction of the Arab world to Donald Trump declaring the formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which characterises it best of all: “The ability of the Arab countries to give a response to these words is quite limited. This came as the result of the split of the region caused by the events of the ‘Arab Spring’. However, self-reproach will not help here”.
Baghdad also voiced criticism on the decision of the Council of the Arab League. The position of the Arab League on Jerusalem remains ‘spongy’ as compared to the threat that the city is faced with after declaration of the US President, Donald Trump, – The Iraqi Ministry of Interior announced; “The Arab countries should take more political and economic measures in the question of the city of Jerusalem and protecting its status, – they underlined in the ministry. The decision of the ministers of the Arab League does not correspond to the level of threats that Jerusalem faces”.
Based on the outcomes of the meeting, the Pan-Arab organisation appealed to the USA to refuse the step violating the international legislation and contradicting the decisions of the UN Security Council. The ministers also spoke in favour of an extraordinary summit of the Arab States to consider the consequences of the US decision regarding Jerusalem. It is to be held in Jordan, where the previous summit was also held. At the extraordinary meeting of the Arab League it was decided to consider it open and hold the next meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs not later than within a month, to discuss the situation as it might change. The Muslim world and the Arab League confined themselves to yet another portion of bellicose statements. The US administration was announced as ‘encouragers of occupants’, laying the responsibility on it for the failed Peace Process. Quite moderate at this stage are the protest campaigns on the territory of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, did not postpone his visit to Europe and flew onto Paris, whilst the Security Cabinet of Israel assesses the current situation as stable.
Quite naturally, a question arises; why is it such indifference on such a sensitive question for all the Arabs and Muslims? As a matter of fact, a wish was shown to limit themselves with the wordage and to do nothing in practice. The answer is quite evident and lies on the surface: the Arab world does not exist anymore in the way it was prior to the invasion of Iraq by a United States-led coalition, and especially after the wave of ‘colour-coded revolutions’ in the Arab countries (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria). It had split previously into various camps with regards to many issues: ‘separate peace’ of Egypt and Israel, Libyan Civil War, Invasion of Kuwait, the NATO war in Libya and others. However, such a disarray, and to be more precisely, absence of slightest unity in the Arab ‘ranks’ was not observed before. Factually, one can state that as of now, the Arab League is dead as an instrument of co-ordinating the unified position of the Arab states. And indeed, the domestic situation in many Arab countries is such now that they are not ‘in the mood’ for Jerusalem – thinking of rescuing themselves instead. This refers to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrein, Qatar, Sudan and Mauritania. Whereas in Syria and Yemen, the blood-letting war is still going on. With this background, only the United Arab Emirates and Oman seem the main islands of stability, possibly Kuwait and Morocco as well. However, something needed to be said, in order to calm down the ‘Arab streets’, who are ready to rise to massive protest under the influence of radicalised Muslims.
There are several explanations to this phenomenon of the total weakness of the Arab world; however, the main thing is in the redistribution of roles in the Arab world in 2011-12, when the traditional leaders represented by Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, and long before Iraq, were replaced by the monopolist Saudi Arabia and its allies from the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf. However, the Kingdom did not cope with the role. And indeed, it could not do so. The financial wealth alone is not enough to lead the way among 300 million Arabs. Powerful military forces, respect and authority are needed, as well as political capital and diplomatic skills. This is exactly what the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia lacks. There is only readiness to buy with money the position of the other members in the Arab League. Saudi Arabia itself is bulging at the seams, having mired itself in the Yemen crisis, the Qatar-Saudi Arabia proxy conflict, Syria’s war and the adversarial relationship with Iran. Let alone the domestic problems that arose due to excessively frisky crown prince Mohammed, who arranged the reprisals among the ruling clan. And what is more, the fall in oil prices have seriously undermined the financial might of the Kingdom.
However, under these conditions, when Sunnis have walked out on the Palestinians, Iran and its Shia allies came to the foreground in the Arab world, first, the Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraq and Damascus. After Donald Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem, the Shia key players are changing their priorities in the Middle East. The statement of the leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Nasrulla Hasan, made on 12 December in Beirut testifies to this. As per his words, after the decision of the USA on formal recognition of Jerusalem, the problem of the Palestinians plays centre stage. “I am speaking on behalf of the Axis of Resistance (Hezbollah, Iran and the government of Syria – author’s note) – the peoples, states and organisations, Nasrulla asserted, “The Axis of Resistance overcame the previous stages (the conflict in Syria is meant here, in which both the militants from Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps participated, together with the Shia fighters from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – author’s note), even these days it remains powerful and victorious. Now Palestine and its people, Al-Quds Brigades (the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organisation) are reviving its priority”. This priority, in the opinion of the Shia politician, should be the fight against Israel and protection of the Palestinians. In Nasrulla’s opinion, the people of Palestine “should call for the third ‘infantida’ at all territories, in response to the declaration of Donald Trump on formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel”. The leader of Hezbollah appealed to the Arab peoples to “start a campaign on isolation of Israel and to make the ruling regimes curtail all co-operation with it”. Nasrulla expressed his conviction that the Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem should lead to “the defeat and the end” of the Jewish state.
Tehran also expressed its position on the matter. The Iranian senior military officer in the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution and commander of its Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, expressed his willingness to provide assistance to the Palestinians, commensurate with their abilities. In his telephone conversation with the leadership of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades and Islamic Jihad Movement, this well-known Iranian commander declared that his country is ready to support the Palestinian militant groups. At the same time, Soleimani noted that Iran and its regional allies are ready to defend with deadly force Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Iranian Parliament (the Iranian Majlis) also urged to block Israel.
The wind of change in the Middle East was first felt in the EU. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, announced that France is opposed the empowerment of Iran in the region. “We are saying a decided ‘no’ to the Iranian presence in Syria, to support of Hezbollah movement by this country (Iran) and its intention to create an axis from Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea”, – he said in the interview to France-2 television channel.
Although, as it appears, it is too early to talk about the shift in priorities. The statements on part of the Shia politicians and militaries as of today are rather populist slogans to attract the attention of the Arab ‘street protestants’. The fact that such a decision by Donald Trump would cause protests and flag burning was well expected. Effectively, this is not about any re-orientation. This refers to all forces, including Hezbollah. Everybody is milking it for all its worth. Even more so that the ‘agon’ of the Middle East as of today is the standoff of Saudi Arabia, backed by the USA and Israel, towards Iran and their allies, that is the battleground between Sunnis and Shiites created by Riyadh to consolidate the Arab countries on the platform of opposing the certain Shiite Expansion. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself sparked off the ‘coloured revolutions’ with the assistance of the USA and Qatar; however, now it is understood that this wave is going to crash upon Saudi Arabia itself. Therefore, a common enemy from without is needed to distract attention from the internal problems, and Iran was chosen as such.
Thus, until now, one can calmly forget both the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the issue on Jerusalem status. The Palestinians will never get any viable state, and Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel. The Arabs simply need time to put up with this new reality. It is equally evident that soon the Arabs will rush in a crowd to establish relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia is already moving in this direction very actively. And the main problem of the region will not be the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at all; however, the contest for influence between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Turkey will likely to be involved in it as well. This opposition will define the vector of development for the events in the Middle East. Hence, the territory is not immune to war or local violent conflicts. The region will remain the main hot spot on the planet as it always used to be. It is only the power landscape that has changed; however, the new configuration of opposition appeared.
Peter Lvov, Ph.D in political science, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”