Posts Tagged ‘Moshe Ma’oz’

On Samir Quntar’s homecoming and Lebanese/Arab Culture

July 22, 2008

[Being Civilized]

Comment: Those familiar with the field of Middle Eastern Studies know the culture debate (i.e. blaming all the ills of Arab/Muslim society on culture, rather than on hard political, economic factors etc.) is nothing new. French scholar Maxime Rodinson referred to the tendency of ‘Orientalists’ (or scholars of the Orient, which has now become a dirty word) to attribute all actions of Muslims to their religion as Theologocentrism. Mahmood Mamdani of Colombia University has a good survey of the culture debate in his Foreign Affairs piece Wither Political Islam?, in which he sides against the culturists.

While it’s clear that culture cannot account for all of these ills, let’s face it, the ‘victory’ rallies for Samir Quntar in Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon — given what he did — epitomize a deep sickness in Arab culture and society. In what other region would the populace consider ‘victory’ as involving a war that results in 1,200 deaths and many more maimings, a ruined country and $5 billion in economic damages, all for the perceived humiliation of Israel and the successful return, among other lesser prisoners, of this unsavory character, Quntar? What kind of inferiority complex must there be for that to constitute ‘victory’?

To be fair, as the below Jerusalem Post article points out, not all Lebanese are in fact happy about Quntar’s release — not because he killed a baby — but because many of them who are opponents of Hizbullah worry about the domestic implications of another Hizbullah victory.

(Jerusalem Post) — “(Eyal) Zisser said the response in Lebanon was completely different from one that would have been seen in Israel due to cultural differences. Israel wouldn’t use the return of soldiers for political gain, and the celebration in Israel would have been about “the return of the individual,” and not victory, he said. “This is something you can only find in primitive societies,” said Zisser.

So why is there a need to celebrate the return of a terrorist known to have killed a child? “When you have an ideology that Zionism is the epitome of evil, when you dehumanize your enemy, you can justify anything,” said Litvak. “He didn’t kill a child. He killed a Zionist.”

Moshe Maoz, a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Hebrew University, said the need to defeat Israel was deeply entrenched in the Arab culture.

“Anything they can recover from the feeling of humiliation [following past losses against Israel] is welcome,” Maoz said… Click for full article


‘Attacking Iran Could Backfire Badly’

July 22, 2008

[Shipping Lanes in the Strait of Hormuz]

Comment: The Iranian problem: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

“But Moshe Ma’oz an Israeli Professor Emeritus of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem… told The Middle East Times that any attack on Iran would be an “absolute disaster.”

“I doubt very much that Iran will attack first. All the Iranians need to do is close the Gulf of Hormuz and thereby threaten the West’s supply of oil if they want to flex their muscles. They will not strike first but if attacked their ability to retaliate on a significant scale is worrying,” explained Ma’oz…” Click for full article

Perspectives on Israel/Syria Progress

April 30, 2008

[Israeli soldiers overlooking the Golan Heights]

There’s been a spike in chatter about renewed Golan Heights negotiations on a level not heard since last summer, following Syrian expatriate affairs minister Buthaina Shaaban’s announcement on Al Jazeera television over a week ago that, “Olmert is ready for peace with Syria on the grounds of international conditions; on the grounds of the return of the Golan Heights in full to Syria.”

The usual debate spawned by renewed talks over the Golan Heights, a part of Syrian territory captured by Israel in the 1967 War, was sharpened today after Dr. Samir Taqi, an aide to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (who is also the high-level emissary handling Syrian government contacts) stated on Al-Manar television (Hizbullah’s media arm) that “It would be naive to think Syria will neglect or abandon its strategic alliances that do not stem from the Arab-Israeli conflict.” His statment only confirms what renowned Syria expert Patrick Seale already said last year about the limits of Syria’s likely concessions in any peace agreement with Israel — drawing the line at cutting historical regional alliances with Iran, Lebanon and the various Palestinian groups. This is what Seale had to say last June as Golan Heights talks were then beginning to heat up:

“Olmert has hinted that he is ready for a deal with Syria if it severs its links with Iran and Hizbullah and ends its support for Hamas and other Palestinian militants. These are wholly unrealistic preconditions — rather like asking Israel to sever its ties with the United States. Syria’s ties with Iran and with the Shi‘ite community of South Lebanon are decades old and will not be loosened until there are clear signs that Israel is ready for a withdrawal from occupied Syrian and Palestinian territory and a comprehensive peace.

So the question is this: If it’s unrealistic to expect that Syria will cut ties with its regional allies, and indeed Syria is not prepared to make these concessions to Israel, then why should Israel give up the Golan Heights? For what? It would be very easy for Syria to renege on any promises made to Israel, but for Israel there is no going back once it pulls out of the Golan, destroys its settlements there and makes way rapid Syrian settlement of the land. All the risk is lopsidedly with Israel, at least over the immediate issue.

There would be other risks for Syria however, such as further isolating itself in the Arab world and vis a vis its Iranian ally. In a Ynet op-ed (Israel’s largest circulation newspaper) Guy Bechor of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliyah argues quite persuasively that such a move is indeed against Israel’s interest, and even against Syria’s interest.

Rather than a step towards lifting Israel’s regional pariah status, a peace treaty would only serve to bring Syria down with it, making it a pariah by association. This is what happened when Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel. To this day there’s a major thoroughfare in Tehran named after Khalid Islambouli, the man who assassinated former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat after he formally recognized Israel in the peace agreement. This may be a sign of what Syria can expect from Iran should it make peace with the enemy.

On the other hand Dr. Moshe Ma’oz, who is regarded as Israel’s foremost expert on Syria, also a personal friend of mine, believes it would be worthwhile for Israel to give up the Golan Heights. He argues that Bashar al-Assad is serious about peace with Israel, but doubts that Ehud Olmert is as serious on the Israeli side, predicting Olmert’s reluctance will last for at least the remainder of Bush’s presidential term in the United States.

Ma’oz holds no illusions that Syria will immediately cut ties with any of Israel’s regional enemies but believes, as he has stated in other forums, that Syria may reduce these ties following a peace agreement. Ma’oz’s view here is similar to Seale’s understanding that these ties can eventually be “loosened.” The hope is that any such reduction in relations will come in the realm of military assistance to Hamas, Hezbollah etc. Perhaps over-optimistically, perhaps not, Ma’oz believes that peace is the best security, even better than any security advantage offered by the strategic Golan Heights. Watch his interview with IBA television here