Until then, though, the current situation that Israel faces – one of low level conflict consisting mostly of sporadic terror attacks and missile firings, punctuated by occasional flare-ups in the form of war or major military operations – is probably the best Israel can hope for in the years, perhaps even decades, to come.
Spyer has hist completed a major work on Israel and the Islamist movement, called "The Transforming Fire: Israel and the Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict."
Although at different ends of the Islamic religious spectrum, Hamas and Hizbullah have several things in common, Spyer says: Both are Islamist terror groups, interested in destroying Israel. Most Israelis see a “guiding hand” that coordinates the activity of these large groups, along with the myriad of smaller terror groups. But the reality is somewhat different, Spyer says. “There are dozens, even hundreds, of Islamist organizations, many of them working at cross purposes, with different ideologies and emphases. But there is no 'Islamist international' that controls all these groups, many of which are trying to unseat conservative Arabs leaders, like the people who run Saudi Arabia.”
Israeli leaders first realized that they were facing a new, obstinate enemy in Islamism during the Second Lebanon War, when Hizbullah lobbed thousands of missiles at Israel's north. However, says Spyer, already in the second intifada, Islamism was making its mark on the Israel-Arab conflict. “Islamism really started rising in popularity after Israel withdrew from South Lebanon in 2000. The Islamists were able to sell their program to the 'Arab in the street,' claiming that it was their brand of nationalistic religion and terror that beat Israel back. Since then, Islamism has been making great strides, and we may still be only at the beginning of the process of the rise of Islamism.”
In the coming years, Spyer says, Israel will of course be concerned with Iran's growing strength, its nuclear program, and its Islamist agenda. But the likelihood that Shi'ite Iran will ever control large Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt is close to zero. “One thing we learned from Wikileaks is how frightened mainline Sunni leaders are of Iran. Tehran will continue to advance its goals where it can, but Israel is not alone in its fight against Iran.”
That doesn't mean that Israel and its Sunni neighbors – including the PA – are likely to become fast friends anytime soon. “The Saudis and Egyptians, and even the PA, don't want us here as much as the Shi'ites don't want us here, but on this issue our interests and their interests coincide,” Spyer says. The terror activity and efforts to deligimitize Israel, largely funded by the Saudis, will continue. “They may hate Iran, but they would have no problem if we disappeared tomorrow.”
|The future of a so-called "Palestinian" state|
“Considering that there are two PA's right now – one in Gaza and one in Ramallah – of equal strength and legitimacy, that are unlikely to resolve their conflicts, we are likely to continue to experience the same low-level conflict with occasional flare-ups that has become a pattern, since there is really no ability – or desire – on the other side to resolve the conflict, based on the arrangements possible today.”
Exacerbating the conflict, of course, has been the rise of Islamism, which has made a major impact even on the ostensibly secular PA. But this too – hopefully – shall pass, says Spyer. “We need to remain strong against the Islamists, and if we do, one of their major promises – the destruction of Israel – will turn out to be a lie. And over time, ideologies that have failed to fulfill their promises in the Arab world have withered away.” It may take years – even decades – for Islamism to fade, Spyer says, “but I'm an optimist. I believe we will be able to ride out the Islamist storm and prevail.”