The Missile War

An Iranian Zelzal missile being test-fired

A sobering thought from veteran reporter David Hirst, whose latest book details the tumultuous history of Lebanon and the modern Middle East.

In the final chapter of Beware of Small States he warns that the next Arab-Israeli war could engulf the entire region, involving Syria, Iran and Hamas in what he calls a “Hizbullah-style ‘missile war’ writ large”.

Tensions in the region are simmering away. The Israeli cabinet has reportedly met to discuss the possibility of a Hezbollah coup in Lebanon following explosive reports that the Special Tribunal established to investigate the murder of the country’s former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, will indict members of the Iranian-sponsored Shia militia.

Anywhere one looks – be it towards the ailing Israeli-Palestinian peace process or the Iranian nuclear impasse – there seems to be little in the way of moderation.

Conventional wisdom dictates that the only thing which could lead to a final peace settlement in the region is a complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories seized during the Six Day War and the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state.

But speaking to the people who will have to accept this new reality in their midst, one wonders whether many Arabs will ever be able to accommodate Israel.

Take Lina, an educated, middle-aged English teacher from Damascus. Sitting down in her violet woollen cardigan, with matching eye-liner and resting a brown leather handbag on her knees, she looks the picture of what some Western politicians might call Arab moderation.

How does she hope a Middle East peace might be achieved?

“I think we need to get rid of Israel and drive the people out,” she says.

Asked what would happen to the Israelis she admits she does not know, then laughs and says: “Maybe we should send them back to Europe.”

She is not being entirely disingenuous. For Lina, and many people like her, there can never be a rapprochement with the Jewish State.

Speak to many Syrians they often take a long-term view of the current situation in Palestine – this region has seen its fair share of imperial imposters over the centuries, they think. They came and went, and Israel will be no different.

There will be many in the West who hope their analysis of history does not prove to be correct.

 

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