(August 30, 2021 / JNS) The shockwaves from the Taliban’s lightning-quick takeover of Afghanistan are continuing to reverberate throughout the Middle East, and Islamist forces are feeling energized by the U.S. withdrawal.
But according to Prof. Eyal Zisser, a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University, that boost in morale isn’t translating into rash attacks and warfare.
“I think that while the extremist forces are seeking to build on the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s victory for morale purposes, they are realistic enough to understand that this is not Afghanistan, that the reality here is difference, and therefore, Hezbollah and Hamas are congratulating the Taliban but they are careful not to go after it and launch a conflict with Israel,” Zisser told JNS.
After the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted of victory for propaganda purposes, but in actuality he remained in his bunker and has been very careful not to provoke Israel for most of the time since the war, said Zisser.
The developments in Afghanistan create a new opening for further strengthening the alliance between Israel and pragmatic Sunni states, who are equally threatened by radical Islamist elements, whether Shi’ite — the Iranian axis — or radical Sunni Islamists, ranging from ISIS to the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The fear of an American abandonment of the area after Afghanistan has of course grown stronger, and I think this is sufficient to strengthen cooperation between the Gulf States and Israel,” said Zisser. “But there is also a need to continuously strengthen their sense that Israel can indeed assist them.”
Zisser argued that the U.S. is not about to leave the Gulf region, noting it retains significant forces in that area. “This is not Iraq or Afghanistan — the Americans are wanted in this area [the Gulf], so I assume that talk of abandoning the area is premature. The question is whether the Iranians will decide to challenge the U.S., and if so, will the U.S. respond militarily as the Trump administration did, or will [President Joe] Biden simply desire to avoid a conflict at all costs? Time will tell,” he added.
An additional Israeli perspective on events unfolding in Afghanistan could be found in a recent paper published by the Institute for Policy and Strategy Team at IDC Herzliya, which stated that “the swift, chaotic and humiliating evacuation of American forces and assets from Afghanistan is a transformational event whose long-term impact it is too early to assess.”
At the same time, the paper argued, “past experience shows that victories of extremist forces across the Middle East generally carry with them radicalization processes and amplify terror threats.”
In the shorter term, the team wrote, Israel can draw a number of key conclusions from the developments. First among them is the “resounding expression of the failure of the ‘nation-building’ project and inculcation of a democratic system embarked on by the United States some two decades ago.”
Against this backdrop, the Israeli perspective — which prefers stability over externally “implanting” democracy and a liberal set of values on countries of the region — was revalidated, said the paper.
“Thus, Israel must continue to support the moderate and monarchic Sunni regimes in the Middle East, particularly in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Even if these regimes are not democratic, they still curb religious forces of the political Islam, fight against what remains of ISIS, and like Israel, are disturbed by the growing shadow of Iranian influence and Shiite terrorism,” it stated.
Such positions are likely a reflection of how the Israeli defense establishment is viewing events in Afghanistan.
“Israel needs to deepen its cooperation with moderate regimes in the diplomatic, military and intelligence realms, and take action in every way possible to strengthen them,” said the paper. “It appears that events in Afghanistan have created opportunities for Israel to step up military ties with the Arab states.”