Why this month could be a repeat of May 1967
History surely repeats itself. Things are heating up in the Middle East. They bring to mind the events of May 1967, which preceded the disastrous defeat of June 1967. The region has yet to recover from the consequences of that. In just a handful of days, Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the Sinai. Only Egypt has reclaimed its territories, thanks to the bravery of a true patriot named Anwar Sadat.
During the same period, Hafez Assad was following a policy of neither war nor peace with Israel and was looking at expanding his influence on neighbouring countries with one goal in mind: to maintain his minority rule in Syria.
The Palestinians had made the mistake of going along with the Arab League’s decision to consider the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. They had fallen into the trap of taking slogans for reality.
They later committed the crimes of starting armed confrontations with Jordan in 1970 and with the Lebanese between 1969 and 1982. By their choices and actions, they had robbed Jordan of its ability to appeal to international law and decisions such as UN Resolution 242 to get back its occupied territories.
The West Bank and East Jerusalem had been under Jordanian mandate when Israel occupied them. Jordan was excluded from international negotiations over the West Bank, giving Israel a golden opportunity to find legitimacy for its crime of annexing the territory and abrogating Palestinian rights.
Israel argued that the West Bank was a “disputed territory” because, on June 4, 1967, it was not under Palestinian authority. Jordan had no choice but to look after its own interests and decided to emulate Egypt, signing a peace agreement with Israel in 1994. The Syrian regime continued to play games and ante up the false game with Israel.
Israel wouldn’t have engaged in and won the 1967 war without America’s collusion. The best illustration of this collusion is Washington’s meek reaction to the sinking of the US Navy’s USS Liberty, a spy ship in international waters off the coast of Sinai during the Six-Day War. Israel’s goal was to destroy any evidence of its attacks on Arab land.
Israel is also being served royally by big changes in Washington. Mike Pompeo replaced Rex Tillerson as US secretary of state and John Bolton replaced H.R. McMaster as national security adviser. With these two on the Trump team, Israel will have a free hand in the region.
Iran has always managed to give Israel the needed excuses for violating the rights and territories of Israel’s neighbours. Iran does not realise that its real problem is not the nuclear deal that US President Donald Trump might tear into small pieces. Iran’s problem is that it cannot, under the current regime, become a normal state in the region.
Iran is under the impression it can step into Gamal Abdel Nasser’s shoes in the Arab world and that it has filled the void left by the death of Hafez Assad and the fall of Saddam Hussein and that it can become a Mediterranean country. Is this normal?
It would be truly scary if it turns out that Iran is purposely ignoring the balance of power in the region. Iran believes it can take control of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen and, at the same time, strike deals with the United States, the same country known inside Iran as the “Great Satan,” with Israel being the “Little Satan.”
Iran finds it easy to take risks in its chess game with the Great Satan and the world because it has been using Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese and Yemeni pawns. Their blood is cheap.
The logical conclusion of Iran’s dirty game is a scenario similar to events of 1967 and Iran does not seem to realise that. It doesn’t even realise that it has no place in either Syria or Lebanon in the long run.
Iran cornered itself and has limited choices. Its withdrawal from Syria will surely have consequences inside Iran itself. The Iranian regime is battling with a profound political, economic and social crisis that is exacerbated by the advanced age — 78 — of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran’s request that the United States and the other G5+1 countries honour their commitment to the nuclear deal should be seen as a sign of weakness not a sign of strength. Iran has no other choice but to retreat from Syria and Lebanon. It cannot become a Mediterranean country and will never be one. The best thing it can do is to spare the Middle East another disastrous war.
When reason and realism take leave of politics in the Middle East, May 1967 will repeat itself in May 2018.