Remember the Arab Street? Once upon a time, it was the ultimate authority on American policy in the Mid East. Any time the US did something, we were warned by the cable (and later internet) experts that the Arab Street might not like it.
It was like some sort of global gong show. Invade Iraq? Could enrage the Arab Street. New sanctions on Iraq? Better check with the Arab Street.
The Arab Street was particularly important in matters concerning Israel. Any time an Israeli wanted to add a shed to his house in East Jerusalem, we had to fret about how the Arab Street would take it. That shed might harbor a cat, and the cat wouldn’t be a Palestinian cat but rather a Zionist Racist Imperialist cat. Riots in Gaza and Hebron would invariably follow with sympathetic (state-approved) protests in Damascus and Teheran (yes, I know Iranians aren’t Arabs, but American elites don’t).
Now of course Israel is administering a much-deserved thrashing to Hamas (indeed, my fear is that they won’t pound them hard enough) and the Arab Street is…gone.
The only serious demonstrations have been in Europe (particularly France) where they an imported version. The actual Arab Street, however, is too busy with fighting in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and unrest in Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan to do anything.
This was always the dirty little secret behind the Arab Street: It was an artificial construct of authoritarian rulers to distract their people from their own failed governments.
Stuck on the dole with no hope of advancement? Blame the Jews. Tired of watching your country’s GDP keep falling while the cronies who run the show steal everything in sight? Blame the Jews.
Israel was the one thing all the Arabs could agree to blame for their failures. You see, if Israel didn’t exist, Egypt could develop a functional economy and actually feed its people.
While it may seem crazy to us, to the Credentialed Experts it made perfect sense. The New York Times in particular bought into the notion that if only Israel could surrender enough land, all the problems in the region would go away.
Alas, like many leftist delusions, this one has had a fatal collision with reality.
Bashar Assad is busy fighting for his life. He has to divide his resources between maintaining a grip on Lebanon through his proxy Hezbullah and keeping the rebels out of Damascus. The initial crisis of the Syrian episode has passed (thanks to American fecklessness and rebel disunity) so he has recently been able to make up some lost ground. But he absolutely will not provoke Israel into smashing his worn-down military.
Similarly, Hezbullah is keeping quiet because their ability to draw supplies through Syria has been compromised. In fact, their best fighters are busy sustaining their patron. Not a good time for a two-front war.
Jordan isn’t going to try anything. The country is awash in refugees from both Iraq and Syria and there are concerns that the monarchy itself (which is Bedouin rather than coastal Arab) might be toppled. Picking a fight with the IDF is a sure loser.
Egypt is likewise focused on internal threats. Watching Hamas – an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood – get smacked around suits the generals just fine.
Iran may make some noise about hating the Jews, but they have their hands full with propping up their puppets in Lebanon, Syria and building up their bridgehead in Iraq. Now is not a good time for them.
As for the Arabian Peninsula, they are also terrified of internal unrest. The collapse of the Iraqi Army has forced the Saudis to heavily reinforce their northern frontier. In addition, they have to maintain an expeditionary force ready to prop up the Gulf States (like Bahrain) and protect them from civil disorder.
In short, the only one making credible noise is Turkey and I believe that is mostly for show. The current Turkish leadership is nursing fantasies about rebuilding their lost empire. It is almost a century since the last Sultan was deposed that there would be some nice symmetry in creating a new one on the centennial.
Turkey is a major power with a strong army but a faltering economy. Cutting loose the Kurds and sweeping down into the Tigris and Euphrates valleys would be a fairly easy thing for them to do. Assad could keep a coastal protectorate if for no other reason than digging out the Alawites would be too much trouble. In one sweep the Turks could crush ISIS, sort out Iraq and place its banners at the head of the Persian Gulf. All that oil might give the GDP a nice boost.
This would explain Turkey’s strident anti-Israeli attitude. For decades the Turks were closely allied with Israel. However, as the country has turned from the secularism of Attaturk to the soft Islamism of Gul and Erdogan, the old alliance has collapsed.
If Turkey is to play hegemon in Mesopotamia, it must do so as a protector of Muslims. As always, their support for the Palestinians is only for show.
The Arab Street’s disappearance gives Israel what it has long needed – a free hand in Gaza. Not only are the neighboring regimes distracted, they are more powerless than ever to influence events. I hope Israel makes the most of this opportunity.