Middle East Wars: Historical Realities and Political Perspectives

by Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.

Borne out of the events of history we are living today with a series of unresolved conflicts within the Middle East. Indeed, the Gaza battlefront unfolding at this hour has some distinctive and disturbing features. This will mark the first time that the Palestinian-Israel conflict has a second front. Indeed, Hamas’ battle with the Jewish State is being fought on the streets of Paris, Los Angeles and elsewhere across the Western world. There has been a concerted effort on the part of some Islamic factions to extend this war to the neighborhoods and streets of Europe, and even America, as a way to intimidate Jewish communities. Fists, sticks and death threats are the weapons of choice being introduced within the pubic square.

While unable to win the battle on the ground, Hamas has cleverly designed multi-pronged offense to build support and sympathy for Palestinians residing in Gaza, while seeking to marginalize Jewish activism in the West and to discredit the case for Israel’s Operation Protective Edge before Western audiences.

Beyond the confines of this individual conflict, one needs to examine the Middle East roadmap from a very different perspective. The second decade of the 21st century is witnessing the undoing of the patchwork agreements that followed World War One, where France and Britain would carve up much of Southwest Asia creating artificial nation-states (among them Syria, Jordan, and Iraq). One hundred years after Sykes-Picot (1916) and the Versailles Treaty (1919), the world is enduring some of the problematic results of these accords that were designed to accommodate the European powers. Just as the outcomes of Middle East geo-politics are unraveling surrounding the era of the First World War, the goals envisioned for partitioning Palestine that the international community sought to construct at the end of World War Two are once again being trashed by the rejectionist camp as represented by Hamas, as this militant force seek to undermine with intention the opportunity for Palestinians and Jews to create two states in one land.

The dramatic shift in diplomatic roles is also evident as these various Middle Eastern wars continue. Where once the United States could offer its good offices to deliver cease fires or exert political pressure, this appears no longer to be the case as an array of third parties have entered the public arena. The transition from global powers alone weighing in on the military outcomes has given way to an assortment of marginal, regional actors. Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran are exercising their influence with relation to these different regional conflicts.

Where once the wars of the Middle East would be waged by nation-states, today’s conflicts are led by terrorist organizations and religious movements. The destiny and design of the region is itself at stake. Whether Syria will exist as a single country in the years ahead reflects one such scenario. Whether ISIS will be able to reshape Iraq and Syria into an Islamic Caliphate becomes a potential reality? Can Hamas produce a reign of terror that dismantles Israeli normalcy? These then are the new outcomes of war in the Middle East in 2014. Battles are no longer directly engaged by nations against one another but by surrogate armies of militants acting on behalf of regional political players including Iran and Saudi Arabia. In the case of the Gaza situation, Hamas must be seen as the militant proxy for the long term goals of Tehran to exercise its presence as a regional power and accordingly is seeking to take responsibility for the elimination of the Jewish State.

Today’s wars are not only about territory but also about religious conquest. If ISIS is seeking the removal of Christianity from the Middle East, Hamas is committed to the destruction of the Jewish State. Similarly, the power struggle between Sunni and Shia Islam is built around Muslim nations and their political allies exercising their influence to reshape the map of the Middle East along religious lines.

As these wars rage across the region, two political cultures are pitted against one another. Radicalism with its focus on religious authoritarianism and political terror is seeking to undermine through violence and war the Western norms and credentials of diplomacy, rationalism, and social order. At this moment in time, two world views are in play and the future of the Middle East hangs in the balance.

Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles. Recently, Professor Windmueller authored a new book on Jewish political power, entitled: “The Quest for Power: A Study in Jewish Political Behavior and Practice.” Excerpts from his writings are introduced in this article. See: www.thewindreport.com which is a repository for many of Dr. Windmueller’s writings.