(HOST) Commentator Barrie Dunsmore covered many of the Middle East conflicts of the past forty years. This morning he puts the current crisis into that historical perspective.
(DUNSMORE) Where is Yassir Arafat now that we really need him? There are probably few Israelis who remember the late chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization very fondly. But as they find themselves at war on both their northern and southern borders with radical Islamic enemies who reject Israel’s existence – they might secretly wish for the good old days of Arafat’s secular PLO which eventually had accepted a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Ironically, the recent democratic elections that were strongly encouraged by the Bush administration, resulted in the Palestinian movement Hamas taking power in the Palestinian territories – while a new vote in Lebanon gave Hezbollah increased influence in the government in Beirut. Those are the groups fighting Israel today.
That irony strikes me as just one of the many in the Middle East, where the law of unintended consequences seems to prevail more than any other.
For example: In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, initially to destroy the PLO. The villagers in south Lebanon, who were mostly disenfranchised Shiite Muslems, actually welcomed the Israelis with flowers as they were happy to see the Palestinians expelled. But eventually those same villagers, along with other Shiites in the slums of South Beirut, would join to become Hezbollah, the party of God. This Islamic fundamentalist movement, with a terrorist wing backed by the Shiite clerics in Iran, would make up the main resistance to Israel’s eighteen year occupation of South Lebanon. Hezbollah could therefore claim the credit when the Israelis finally withdrew in 2000.
Likewise when Hamas, the Palestinian Fundamentalist movement was first emerging in the late 1980’s, it was actually encouraged by the Israelis as a possible counter to the power of Arafat. Now Hamas rejects the very peace principles once accepted by the PLO.
This time around, Israel may be able to weaken Hamas and Hezbollah – but not likely the ideas that inspire them. And Syria and Iran, who are heavily involved in this crisis as they seek to challenge American influence in the region, will remain implacably hostile to Israel. This has led to demands from hardliners in this country and Israel – that what is really needed now is regime change in Teheran and Damascus. Sound familiar? Three years ago, getting rid of Saddam Hussein was supposed to make the region safer but does anyone think it’s safer today? To the contrary, America’s failures in Iraq have emboldened its adversaries and weakened its historical role as an evenhanded Mid-East peace broker.
The movie Munich, directed by Steven Spielberg, is a quasi-historical account of the aftermath of the killing of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics in 1972. In the most graphic terms, Spielberg shows us that whatever the provocations – vengeance and retaliation ultimately lead to nowhere except, more and more killing. Sadly, in the Middle East – that’s still where we are today.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.