Why does the Arab World fear the Blue and White?

As Israel and Palestine enter into one of their deadliest interactions aside from a proper war, the Middle East seems to offer their traditional diplomatic stance. The Middle East’s previous engagements with Israel have churned quite a few questions as to how much would the Arab countries be willing to contribute to pacification and how much would they be content on being part of the global complacency in a botched mediation. As Turkey aspires to assume an alpha role, most of the Middle East’s traditional high-fliers have somewhat shown reluctance to engage more actively. As the conflict grows intense and the death toll rises, Israel not only receives crucial military assistance from Biden Administration but also uses this as an opportunity to showcase its defensive capacity. The narrative is built around precision-guided munitions and missile defence systems as a means to prove that Israel is acting in self-defence and not in an offensive manner. Amassing its forces around the border is also being deemed a defensive manoeuvre targeted to deter any intrusion inside its territory, a claim Israel makes with respect to suicide attacks and other asymmetric activities. The Arab countries, however, are stuck in a strategic limbo of not being able to secure a decisive military advantage against all their expeditions against Israel. Their recent performances in Yemen, Syria, and preventive stance against Iran have also been a weak show, to say the least.

The MENA (Middle East and North Africa) has had its fair share of confrontations with Israel ever since the latter declared itself independent in 1948. Sequentially, every time there was a joint venture to aggressively engage with Israel, it would end up either with fragmentation in their coalition leading to peace processes or implosive sub-conflicts causing abrupt termination of hostility directed against Tel Aviv. Each infighting moment allowed Israel to decisively alter territorial positions and America to assist in regime changes and enhanced support to Israel. With each confrontation, Israel committed to enhancing its strategic partnership with America and invested heavily in indigenous weapon systems. The aim was to strengthen defensive and offensive capabilities to a point where a preemptive strike or provocation could be successfully defended against reprisals. For the MENA, the situation was particularly grim; regime instability, subsequent compartmentalisation, fracturing, and trust deficit prevented them from cogently investing in upgrading their military postures. Outdated doctrines, lack of effective training, and inability to indigenously produce weapon systems led the Arab world to resort to extremely marginalised warfighting capabilities. Even after recently procuring substantial military equipment, they continue to display inefficiency and latency in achieving doctrinal consistency with the procured hardware.

Israel and America have extensively invested in Iron Dome as a means to ensure it receives all the upgrades required to maintain its functionality to optimal levels. With Rafael and Raytheon jointly working on more advanced missile defence systems, the Arab world still struggles with adjusting to modern warfare. The schematics of war in the Arab world are peculiar; escalation dominance has historically been transitory and there is a questionable lack of learning and readjustment to doctrines and warfighting manoeuvers. Dependence on foreign equipment without a significant military-industrial complex puts them in a questionable position. Further dependence on proxy or assisted engagements has also corroded their ability to independently gauge their warfighting potential. Israel, while being surrounded by adversaries, has always managed to outmanoeuvre its competitors during conflicts by combining warfighting with diplomacy. Through attritive war for territorial gains and blitz operations against immediate targets, it has secured decisive victories, allowing it to gain an advantage both geographically and strategically. American assistance recuperates depleted financial and technological resources, resetting the clocks to an Arab disadvantage. Continued practice of this same routine first fractured the Middle Eastern states to accept Israel’s claims and subsequently to distance themselves from any proactive measures in favour of Palestine. The recent handshakes and diplomatic affability are also a sign that for the MENA, Israel is an invincible entity.

Even if countries like Pakistan, Turkey or Malaysia indicate a willingness to offer a cogent deterrent alternative, the Middle East hesitates in investing in such manoeuvers for fear of exposure of their domestic warfighting capabilities.

Israel has been able to effectively maintain nuclear ambiguity, successfully enhance its military footprint, constantly test its warfighting capabilities and sufficiently promote latent reciprocity from its Arab competitors. Even after Israel’s unsuccessful bout with Iran and its deterrent alternatives, the Arab countries chose not to dissect Tel Aviv’s insecurities and instead resorted to complacency without driving a hard bargain. Donald Trump’s precarious presidency had pushed America away from almost all global platforms except the Middle East; a region that reinvigorated his tenure for want of avoiding another military disaster. The Middle East’s warfighting doctrine is built around coalition posturing with shared objectives. It aims at combining multiple armies in a single alliance to not only divide the financial load but also to induct a wide array of military experiences. A major contributor to this theme is Middle East’s experiences with the NATO and British Expeditionary Forces (BEF). There are two fundamental problems if both these models are applied as the NATO and BEF maintained a centralised command structure and their participants had common objectives with little to no room for personalised deviation; none of which exists in Arab countries. The Middle East has so much deviation and distinguished objectives during conflicts that maintaining a coalition has almost always been an uphill endeavour. Lack of effective diplomatic consensus and unavailability of efficient decision-making further impairs the Middle East’s well-equipped but poorly utilised military architecture.

Despite conducting military exercises with a host of nations and improving on tactical and operational readiness, the Middle East still lacks sufficient exposure to new dimensions of warfare, disruptive and electronic warfare, enhanced information and intelligence systems, and actual readiness in conflicts. Fragmentation and insistence on traditional warfighting strategies have pushed the Middle East to actually avoid any possibility of confrontation with Israel; a prospect that allows Israel to play bolder gambits on its claims. Even if countries like Pakistan, Turkey or Malaysia indicate a willingness to offer a cogent deterrent alternative, the Middle East hesitates in investing in such manoeuvers for fear of exposure of their domestic warfighting capabilities. Such fear is built around the same fractures that have always marred their ability to decisively conclude a conflict once initiated. Doctrinal fatigue, lack of indigenous learning, and insufficient real-time manoeuvering have exacerbated the Middle East’s excessive dependence on international assistance or assisted security. Even after significantly augmenting their defence spending, the Middle East has been unable to stand at par with Israel’s military capabilities, despite sharing the same investor. Polarisation and normalcy of violence in the Middle East are caused by anxiety towards introspection which has often spelled trouble in the most desperate of times. For the Middle East to truly extinguish its “Iron Dome Syndrome” or Israel’s Goliath-like posture in the region, it would have to independently and interdependently aim to establish both offensive and defensive capabilities. American interests in the region would not allow Washington DC to act brashly as it would then be recreating Trump’s vacuum that was sufficiently filled by America’s competitors. Middle East’s pursuit of peace rests in its ability to gain confidence that it can defend itself without assistance or secure its interests indigenously if and when required.

Muhammad Shareh Qazi

The author is an Assistant Professor at Department of Political Science, University of the Punjab, and author of the book titled ‘Escalation Patterns in South Asia: Future of Credible Minimum Deterrence’. He can be reached at shareh.polsc@pu.edu.pk

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