Frederick Engels wrote in 1854, “We must not forget that there is a sixth power in Europe, which at given moments asserts its supremacy over the whole of the five so-called ‘Great Powers’ and makes them tremble, every one of them. That power is the Revolution.”
The same is true in the Middle East today. If you only focused on the military balance of forces, you would conclude that nothing much had changed since Israel’s latest war on Gaza.
Hamas now has longer-range Fajr-5 missiles that can hit Tel Aviv. But the Israel Defence Force (IDF) retains overwhelming physical superiority. But simply looking at the hardware and troops would be superficial. In reality everything has changed.
The liberal Israeli daily Haaretz carried a fascinating piece on deliberations last week among leading government figures—prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defence minister Ehud Barak and foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman—over the ceasefire proposed by Egyptian president, Mohamed Mursi:
“At Tuesday’s meeting, just before US secretary of state Hillary Clinton arrived, it became clear to Israel that the principles for a ceasefire being proposed by Egypt were much closer to Hamas’ positions than to its own.
“The assumption voiced by intelligence officials at the triumvirate meeting was that, contrary to the situation during Mubarak’s era, the Egyptians are aligning with Hamas and trying to provide it with achievements.”
Barak wanted to accept the ceasefire on the basis that the IDF had taught Hamas a lesson. Lieberman argued for a ground offensive and Netanyahu sat on the fence.
The three Israeli ministers asked Clinton to “pressure Egypt to present a more balanced ceasefire agreement”. Instead, backed up by phone calls from Barack Obama, she pushed them to accept Egypt’s terms.
And they did. Even the ultra-rightist Lieberman caved in, telling a broader group of ministers, “The decision is simple. Rabin [the Israeli prime minister assassinated for starting the ‘peace process’] said that if they fire from Gaza, we will reoccupy, but this is obviously difficult.”
Behind Mursi’s role in delivering a ceasefire that Hamas could claim as a victory lies the Arab revolutions. The latest Gaza war has shown how they are beginning to transform the geopolitics of the region.
Netanyahu has used Israel’s military superiority to regain the initiative. His demands for a war on Iran—technically very difficult to mount without the support of the US—were his first ploy. But he found himself blocked by a combination of his own security establishment and Obama.
Assassinating Hamas’s military commander Ahmad al-Jaabri at a time when a new Gaza ceasefire was being discussed was Netanyahu’s next stratagem.
Netanyahu backed Mitt Romney in the recent US elections. The Palestinian American journalist Ramzy Baroud speculates that the aim of the war was “to push the subject of Israel’s security on the top of the new administration’s agenda”.
But American eyes have turned eastwards. This was symbolised by the fact Obama visited Burma in an effort to draw it away from China during Israel’s assault on Gaza. So the last thing the US wants is another war in the Middle East.
And, inside the region, Netanyahu has lost some very powerful friends. Turkey, which had a military pact with Israel, has turned against it. Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced Israel as a “terrorist state” last week.
But Mursi and Erdogan have a problem. They may want to damage Israel symbolically and diplomatically, but they have no intention of resuming a military struggle against Israel.
Mursi in particular presides over a population for whom rhetorical denunciations and cabinet manoeuvres aren’t enough.
As he discovered last weekend, the Arab revolution is a dynamic force that can’t just be harnessed for the purposes of party intrigues. In Engels’s words, it makes every regime tremble, Arab as well as Israeli, even those who claim to be the product of the revolution.