Sunday, November 18, 2012

How will Gaza arm?

Because one can't discuss the Israeli assault on Gaza as if nothing has happened. As if between Cast Lead and Pillar of Smoke there hasn't been a tumultuous rupture in Middle East politics. One whose main effect has been to weaken Israel's regional position and destroy many of the certainties upon which Zionist statecraft has been conducted for some decades. Israel had already been weakened by its defeat at Hezbollah's hands, but the loss of its ally Mubarak, the uprising in Syria, the revolt in Bahrain, even the germinal tremors in Jordan and Kuwait, all make Israel's future bargaining position uncertain.

Israeli politicians warn about an "Islamist winter", of "Tehran 1979" all over again. But as when American and European politicians fulminate about 'Al Qaida', one gets the sense that 'Islamism' is just a convenient name for all their fears - Arab democracy, Palestinian liberation, that sort of thing. Israeli officials claim that it may take decades for democracy to 'set in' and thus allow Arabs to accept Israel. Translation: it may take decades for the effects of democratic revolt to be neutralised and contained, and thus for Arabs to be forced to accept the apartheid state. In that time, who knows, Israel might actually lose its privileged alliances with Egypt and Jordan. Saudi Arabia may implode. The Gulf States may be transformed.

This is a serious fear, and Egypt is the sharp end of this fear. When the Muslim Brothers were winning in the polls against the SCAF candidate, Ehud Barak deemed it "very, very disturbing" - probably not because he sees the Muslim Brothers as anything but a conservative, cautious force, but rather because he fears the erosion of SCAF's traditional power to control the Egyptian population. As pathetic as Morsi's response has been to the Israeli assault thus far, the fact is that the Egyptian masses have proven themselves to be a serious historical force, capable of transforming the whole future of the region. The Egyptian military, for so long the exclusive ruling bureaucracy, has been forced to accept a parliamentary system and a limited degree of popular government. If it is characteristic of the Muslim Brothers to seek a quietist, compromising path with the imperialist states (and one can add that this tendency will be reinforced many times over by the demands of running a capitalist state), they also have a tendency to vacillate under pressure due to their popular roots. The protests already taking place in Egypt are capable of being the start of a movement to force the Morsi government to move beyond calling for arbitration, and start to give material assistance to the Palestinians.

It is predictable that Morsi will fight to avoid losing the grants from the US that adhering to Egypt's peace treaty with Israel entails. And SCAF will fight to ensure he doesn't deviate from that path. But the fact is that there are other paths that Egyptian capitalism could take, other alliances. It isn't bound to the US in perpetuity, even for $1bn a year. Sufficient popular struggle could change the strategic calculus of the ruling class. And if that happens, Egypt is a major industrial state in the region, a 'natural' regional leader, which is capable of transforming the whole dynamics of the conflict. Israel's panic at this prospect is palpable.