From the Crusader Kingdom to the Jewish State through the Islamic Revolution

As a response to Iran's efforts to export the Islamic revolution throughout the region, it appears that some Middle Eastern countries are starting to change their approach toward Israel. Special analysis by Brig. Gen. (res.) Hannan Gefen

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a ceremony in a military academy in Tehran (Photo: AP)

The occurrences that shaped the short 70-year history of the State of Israel taught us to look around us with skepticism, to identify the threats as they arise and prepare ourselves to address them. When other processes, embodying the promise of change and hope, emerge – we find them hard to identify, and even harder to believe. This opinion piece points to a fascinating process involving Arab recognition of the State of Israel.

Immediately following the declaration regarding the establishment of the State of Israel, the "Jewish State," all of the Arab countries rose up in an attempt to eliminate the "Zionist entity." The colossal Arab failure in 1948 and their crushing defeat in 1967 led to the proliferation of the theory comparing Israel to the "Crusader Kingdom" (the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1099-1291) – the one that disintegrated after 200 years.

The analogy between the crusaders and the Jews (according to the Arab interpretation) attempted to establish similarities between foreigners who had come from across the sea, found themselves isolated in a hostile environment and were eventually subdued or assimilated – a reinforcement for the arguments describing Israel as a colonial, artificial and ephemeral state.

At the same time, the Palestinians developed the "step-by-step theory," intended to support the disintegration of the "artificial Zionist entity" through a similar process. These theories were widely held by writers, ideologists, and the general public.

Even the leaders of the neighboring Arab countries, including Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, toyed with the idea again and again, counted down the years and tried to adopt for themselves the title of Saladin, the great Muslim conqueror (who was of Kurdish origin). During the years prior to the Yom-Kippur War (1973), President Sadat of Egypt spoke about "Reinstating Israel to its natural dimensions."

Some significant diplomatic processes began thirty years after the establishment of the State of Israel. The Yom-Kippur War ended very disappointingly for the Arab countries – the Egyptian 3rd Army Corps was encircled, and additional parts of the Syrian Golan Heights were captured by Israeli forces.

Consequently, negotiations and dialogs were initiated under the auspices of the superpowers, and these processes led to formal peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and to a long-lasting and stable ceasefire agreement on the Golan Heights. These countries – Egypt, Syria and Jordan – never went back to the slogans calling for the liberation of Palestine or the annihilation of the State of Israel, thereby eliminating, de facto, the "Crusader Kingdom" narrative among the leaders of these Arab countries.

However, these changes failed – almost completely – to permeate into the minds of the masses. The views of the general public sectors in Egypt and Jordan, including intellectuals and other circles, remained as they had been all those years ago and even grew more extreme, as reflected in the voicing of anti-Israeli views.

A second and more significant wave of change began in the last decade as a response to the exportation of the Iranian Islamic revolution. Iran intensified its activity among Shi'ite communities in the Gulf States, financed supporting forces in Yemen, trained Shi'ite militia forces in Iraq and deployed Shi'ite "volunteers," Afghanis and others, to Syria – thereby implementing, on the ground, the concepts of exporting the Islamic revolution.

The Iranians speak openly about the reinstatement of the Persian Empire, the rising power of Islam opposite the decline of the West and their authentic version of Islam opposite the heretic Sunni Islam. As their sense of success and confidence grows, the statements made by officials and publicists grow more audacious and provocative.

The feeble US policy of the Obama government and the nuclear agreement signed with Iran triggered the alarm sirens in all of the Gulf States and led to the establishment of a coalition charged with the task of blocking the Iranian expansion. Israel was included as a primary force in that axis, which reflected the dramatic change with regard to how Israel and its position in the Middle East were conceived.

One should merely follow the reports and the responses of the nearly-enthusiastic listeners, viewers, and readers of the media in the Gulf States regarding Israeli activities against the Iranians to sense the enormity of the change. Sunni Arabs generally and in the Gulf States in particular have redefined the enemy – and their new enemy is Iran.

The confrontation between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites will continue well into the future. Consequently, the Gulf States, led by Saudi Arabia, deem it necessary to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and remove it from the agenda so as to focus, along with Israel, on the long-term struggle against the Iranians.

So, some surprising statements may be heard regarding the Jews' rights to the Land of Israel and God's promise to Moses, to bequeath the land to the Israelites. These statements are made openly through major Arab media channels.

On the 70th anniversary of Israel's independence, this may be regarded as the modest contribution made by the Iranian Islamic revolution toward Arab recognition of the State of Israel.