by Doris Strub Epstein
The Middle East in the 21st Century is no longer a group of nation-states. The new map of the Middle East is based on ethnic groups -Kurds, Alawites, Druze, Yazidis. They come from “time immemorial” says Professor Uzi Rabi, Director of the esteemed Moshe Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern and African Studies, speaking on “Today’s Reality – A Geopolitical Change in an Ever Changing Region to an overflow audience at Adath Israel Synagogue.
In Jordan, one out of five is a Syrian Refugee. in Lebanon one out of seven is an Iraqi refugee. “People are moving back and forth according to their primordial identity,” he said.
At the heart of the area a huge sectarian war is being fought between Sunnis and Shiites, creating a gale of terror. It is the key conflict in the Middle East, not the Israeli -Arab conflict. In Iraq the violence is genocidal. “The difference between this region and other parts of the world is the fight over religion.” There are also power struggles between secular versus Islam, especially in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood, in Turkey and in Iran.
Ethnic and religious divisions are how we must view the Middle East in the 21st century, not states, he said. War and armed conflict between the sectors is consuming broad swaths of the region. There are 14 million displaced people. While the tension between Shias and Sunnis goes back in history, the ferocity of their recent clashes in unprecedented.
The Arab Spring was the catalyst for the rapid changes. Dictators were toppled, leaving a vacuum and lacunas of power. Islamists of every stripe rushed into the vacuum. The US is no deterrent. It is viewed as a “giant in retreat”. Many countries like Syria, Iraq and Lebanon were created after WW 1 by the League of Nations, who mapped them out with arbitrary borders and ignored the ethnicity of the populations. “We do not deal with states,” he said. “There is an alternative map.”
“Israel has to be very smart, very alert and be equipped with an iron fist. ISIS is just one of many threats. They must know the new map, and develop an army of diplomats who know Arabic, the culture, the history, the language and the mind-sets, what he has in back of his mind, then come up with a geo- political analysis.”
Iran is vying with Turkey as the regional super power although it antagonizes its Arab neighbours by fomenting divisions in Iraq and Lebanon and by aiding Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories
Israel must seek a wide common denominator to build cooperation. “The enemy of my enemy could be a friend for the time being,” such as Egypt, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia, who gave money to ISIS at first, and now views them as a threat. Israel has presently good relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government engaging in diplomacy and signing trade agreements.
Israel must realize it is not in control of the destiny of the Middle East.”Let them run themselves. We can’t fix it. We have to know who the newcomers are and how to deal with them.”
Professor Rabi’s lecture was MC’d by TV personality and journalist, Ezra Levant and sponsored by Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University in partnership with the Consulate General of Israel. Consul DJ Schneeweiss pointed out that public opinion is rising in support for Israel and condemnation is rising for Hamas creating a “new reality”.
The Moshe Dayan Centre at Tel Aviv University is indisputably one of the most influential think tanks in the region. The first of its kind in Israel, it’s where American presidents, sought advice, as do scores of foreign governments today.