The Daily Star (Editorial)
October 19, 2007 - 4:42pm

Israel offered a free lesson to its Arab and Islamic neighbors on Thursday, launching a diplomatic offensive designed to gain Russian and Chinese acquiescence in new UN sanctions against Iran over that country's nuclear program. Immediately following Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Tehran for a summit of Caspian Sea littoral states, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert headed for Moscow, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reportedly will travel to Beijing on Saturday. The gambits stand in stark contrast with the habitual inactivity of Arab regimes, and the effect of these very different levels of performance could not be more obvious: It is true that Israel derives tremendous benefit from the slavish backing it receives from the United States, but it supplements this by missing no opportunity to state its case to other nations around the world as well.

All of this goes a long way toward explaining how it is that a country with less than 7 million people has managed consistently to outmaneuver 300 million Arabs and more than a billion Muslims. In fact, far from being effectively punished for its promiscuous violations of international law, Israel is generously rewarded for the contempt it shows the rest of the world. Its influence over the United States is such that Washington actually makes a policy of ignoring its own laws to support the Jewish state - and of encouraging its citizens to do the same by giving them tax breaks to subsidize illegal colonies on occupied Arab land. On issues great and small, Israeli officials maintain a steady stream of contacts with governments far and wide, ensuring that their country's influence remains out of all proportion to its size and population.

The rulers of most Arab and Islamic countries, on the other hand, remain holed up in their palaces even as their interests and those of their peoples are assailed on all fronts. To make matters even worse, those rare leaders who break with this pattern of complacency generally do themselves more harm than good: Witness the antics of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who routinely visits foreign capitals but employs the kind of rhetoric that provides his country's enemies with a steady supply of diplomatic ammunition. In essence, therefore, the Israelis win most of their battles for international influence by default.

This dangerous weakness applies not just to governments but also to individual parties as well. Hizbullah, for instance, has demonstrated high degrees of professionalism on the battlefield and in building its domestic support base, but it has floundered badly in its efforts to engage both the outside world and even sectors of Lebanese society that fall outside its mainly Shiite constituency. This has had dire consequences for the movement's efforts to shake off the preposterous "terrorist" label affixed to it by the Americans and the Israelis, as well as for its bid to enter mainstream Lebanese politics.

Those who refuse to define themselves should not be surprised when others do it for them - and none too flatteringly. Unless and until Arab and Muslim political figures learn this simple lesson, they will continue, in effect, to further the influence of their most dangerous enemies.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017