Analysis from Israel

As I noted yesterday, many world leaders seem to be stuck in a time warp, in which any new information that contradicts paradigms conceived decades ago is simply filtered out. But in their defense, the same is often true of two of the main sources they rely on for information: think tanks and the media.

A salient example is a study recently published the Rand Corporation, one of America’s most prestigious think tanks and a frequent consultant to U.S. governments. In it, author Alireza Nader concludes that containing a nuclear Iran is feasible, because Iran’s nukes wouldn’t threaten either America or its Middle Eastern allies; Tehran wants them mainly for defensive purposes. “Iran does not have territorial ambitions and does not seek to invade, conquer, or occupy other nations,” Nader asserted.

That might have been a tenable theory 25 years ago, when Iran was still licking its wounds from an eight-year war with Iraq that the latter started. Since then, however, Iran has effectively taken over Lebanon and is now seeking to do the same with Syria. And it isn’t using peaceful suasion, but force of arms.

The takeover of Lebanon was completed in 2008, when Iran’s wholly-owned Lebanese subsidiary, Hezbollah, staged an armed occupation of Beirut to reverse two government decisions (the government had planned to dismantle Hezbollah’s independent telecommunications network and dismiss an airport security official who facilitated Iranian arms shipments to the organization). Hezbollah removed its troops only after the government signed a power-sharing deal that effectively gave the organization a veto over all government decisions.

Now, Iran is trying to annex Syria. As Lee Smith noted in the Weekly Standard, not only is it arming and training President Bashar Assad’s forces, both regular and irregular, but it has also sent Hezbollah, Iranian-backed Iraqi militias and units of its own Revolutionary Guards Corps to join his fight against the Sunni rebels. Add in the billions of dollars it has given Assad to prop up his regime, and it’s clear that if he survives, Syria will be another wholly-owned Iranian subsidiary.

Nor does Iran hide that this is its goal. As one senior Iranian cleric helpfully explained in February, “Syria is the 35th province [of Iran] and a strategic province for us. If the enemy attacks us and wants to take either Syria or Khuzestan [in western Iran], the priority for us is to keep Syria….If we keep Syria, we can get Khuzestan back too, but if we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran.”

Yet Rand’s analyst simply ignored all these developments, blithely asserting that Iran “does not seek to invade, conquer, or occupy other nations” even as it has already effected an armed conquest of Lebanon and is pouring in troops in an effort to do the same in Syria.

The Rand paper is a particularly egregious example of an all-too-common phenomenon. Media reports, for instance, still frequently assert that Hezbollah’s main mission is fighting Israel, making its role in the Syrian civil war a surprising departure. Fifteen years ago, that was a reasonable theory. Yet by now, it should be obvious that Hezbollah’s main mission is furthering its Iranian master’s interests–which often means fighting Israel, but currently means fighting Syrian Sunnis. Seen from that perspective, Hezbollah’s role in Syria isn’t the least surprising.

Scholars and journalists are supposed to help leaders understand world events. But by clinging to outdated paradigms, they often end up obfuscating events instead. 

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How Israel’s Electoral System Brings the Country’s Fringes Into Its Center

Like Haviv Rettig Gur in “How and Why Israelis Vote,” I, too, think the advantages of Israel’s parliamentary system outweigh its disadvantages, and for essentially the same reason: because it keeps a great many people in the political system who would otherwise remain outside it.

Critics of the system’s plethora of small parties—as Gur notes, no fewer than 43 parties have been vying for Knesset seats in this year’s election—maintain that it should be streamlined and redesigned so that only big parties would be able to enter the Knesset. In that case, the critics argue, people who currently vote for small parties would simply switch their votes to large ones.

No doubt, some voters would do so—but many others would not. There are at least three groups among whom turnout would plummet if niche parties became by definition unelectable: Arabs, Ḥaredim (including some ḥaredi Zionists), and the protest voters who, in every election, propel a new “fad” party into the Knesset. (In 2015, as Gur writes, the fad party was Kulanu. This year, it’s been Moshe Feiglin’s pro-marijuana, libertarian, right-wing Zehut party, which Gur doesn’t discuss although polls have consistently showed it gaining five to seven seats.)

Together, these three groups constitute roughly a third of the country, and all three are to some extent alienated from the mainstream. If they were no longer even participating in elections, that alienation would grow.

Why does this matter? In answering that question, I’ll focus mainly on Ḥaredim and Arabs, the most significant and also the most stable of the three groups (protest voters being by nature amorphous and changeable).

It matters primarily because people who cease to see politics as a means of furthering their goals are more likely to resort to violence. Indeed, it’s no accident that most political violence in Israel has issued from quarters outside the electoral system.

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