New Middle East

Contrary to criminal US-Israeli plans, the new Middle East emerging is one of the triumphs of Arab resistance, writes Ramzy Baroud:

When Israel unleashed its military fury against Lebanon for several weeks in July-August 2006, it had one major objective: to permanently “extract” Hizbullah as a fighting force from South Lebanon and undermine it as a rising political movement capable of disrupting, if not overshadowing, the “friendly” and “moderate” political regime in Beirut.

As Israeli bombs fell, and with them hundreds of Lebanese civilians and much of the country’s infrastructure, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sprung into action. She too had one major objective: to delay a ceasefire, which the rest of the international community, save Britain, desperately demanded. Rice, merely but faithfully reiterating the Bush administration’s policy, hoped that the Israeli bombs would succeed in achieving what her government’s grand policies failed to achieve, namely a “New Middle East”.

In a friendly meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem, 25 July 2006, Rice eagerly although rashly tried to interpret for equally eager journalists the political promise within the Israeli onslaught. “As we deal with the current circumstances, we need always to be cognizant of — and looking to — what kind of Middle East we are trying to build. It is time for a new Middle East,” she said. Olmert nodded.

Neither Rice nor Bush nor Olmert were indeed interested in shifting the status quo in the Middle East in any way that might jeopardise Israel’s regional standing as a powerful ally with astounding military outreach. Indeed, there was hardly anything new in the New Middle East. Like the old one, the New Middle East was also meant to be realised via the barrel of a gun. But why the element of “newness”?

It was very clear to both Israel and the United States that their Middle East policies were failing, and miserably so; but both governments were still insistent that the problem was not in the use of force, but rather not using enough of it. It is, perhaps, the kind of arrogance that accompanies power. But arrogance can also be the powerful downfall.

As world patience began running out, especially following the second Qana massacre of July 2006, Rice still insisted on beautifying the horror in Lebanon. The Israeli war against Lebanon, despite the tremendous hurt it caused was, according to Rice, the “birth pangs of a new Middle East”.

And a New Middle East it was, although not the one that Rice and Olmert reflectively envisioned in Jerusalem; a different one, which changed the political landscape in Lebanon in favour of Hizbullah and denied Israel any sense of victory.

In fact, the new “New Middle East” did more than that. It once more renewed a long abandoned idea in the minds of many Arabs — especially Palestinians — that resistance was far from futile after all.

Hizbullah’s triumph and its ability to thwart various attempts at igniting a civil war in Lebanon, accompanied by group leader Hassan Nasrallah’s fiery speeches, began penetrating the Arab psyche, defeated and accustomed to defeat. Nasrallah became the new Gamal Abdel-Nasser, and like Nasser, he too polarised Arabs: peoples versus regimes.

New terminology also sprung up. Words that were not uttered, at least not in any realistic context, in decades began encroaching into Arab vocabulary: “victory”; “resistance”; “Arab nation” with “one fate”, “one future”, and so on. The language and the culture it espoused proved immensely threatening to the US camp, which too enjoyed its own language and designations: “friendly”, “moderate”, etc.

Rice’s New Middle East has failed. It has failed because the representatives of the old Middle East prevailed: Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas, but most importantly the people throughout the region, who began once again constructing a sense of collective identity. The new “axis of evil” somehow managed to withstand immense pressures, and in the case of Hizbullah, and Hamas in Gaza, numerous bombs. Israel’s pressure on the US to go after Iran failed for various reasons. Israel’s own Middle East project remains on hold, jeopardised by Iran’s rising influence in the region, Hizbullah’s proven formidability in the north, and Hamas’s irritating ability to hold onto power and its insistence to govern by its democratic mandate, even if in besieged Gaza.

As both Olmert and Bush were readying to hand over the torch to their successors, and as folders of the New Middle East project were about to be tossed into the recycle bin, Israel opted for one last chance at proving its military prowess, for force is the only language that Israel is capable of thoroughly communicating, it being under the odd impression that it’s also the only language that its enemies understand. Olmert once again unleashed his country’s military fury, this time against Gaza. The Strip was supposedly an easy target, for the tiny stretch of land, blocked from all directions, lacks everything. It is home to a largely young population, the majority of whom are malnourished as a result of the Israeli siege.

Israel hoped that Gaza would grant it a victory, any victory, even if a small token of triumph. Starting 27 December and for many days, Israel pulverised entire neighbourhoods, killed and wounded thousands, mostly civilians, mostly children and women. Another New Middle East was in the making with its own “birth pangs”. Entire families perished; children died in droves, in their homes, in schools; a panicking population ran in circles, hopelessly trying to flee the death machines that hovered everywhere, but there was no escape. Borders remained sealed as the region’s “moderates” watched the demise of the “extremists”. Rice, again, grinned, brazenly justifying Israel’s new war. The world watched in horror as the drama unfolded. But Gaza fought back, withstood, resisted, and the language once again was altered. Arabs are now speaking of “victory”, hailing the “resistance”, singing the praise of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Gaza’s resistance is nothing short of a “miracle”, said Al-Jazeera’s military expert. Millions of Arabs around the world agree. The New Middle East defined in Lebanon in July-August 2006 was confirmed in Palestine in December-January 2008- 2009. A new language with new terminology and a new culture is springing up from the ashes and the rubble of Gaza. Arabs are eager to shed years of defeat and defeatism. A New Middle East, indeed.

* The writer is editor of .

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