By Paul Sheehan
August 7, 2014
It just gets worse. The unfolding disaster in the Middle East is so much bigger than the Israel-Palestine morass, now ongoing for 66 years. This is starting to look containable compared with the deepening, widening, bloody schism between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, which has cost more than 200,000 lives in the past three years and displaced more than a million people.
Ominously, this week the largest hydro-electric plant in Iraq fell into the hands of the Sunni jihadist force ISIL, which took control of the Mosul Dam. ISIL now controls a crucial piece of infrastructure in Iraq. In the process, it defeated Peshmerga Kurdish fighters in the first major skirmish between ISIL and the Kurds.
So the war has spread. A civil war has turned into regional war, and the regional war has turned into a religious war. A war built on ancient animosities.
Also ominously, in the past week the Lebanese Army has begun engaging elements of ISIL in the town of Arsal on the border of Lebanon and Syria. This is not a good sign in so many ways.
Lebanon is already divided along the Sunni-Shiite fault line, and already the victim of a civil war along this seismic divide. It has been drawn into the Syrian civil war by the actions of Hezbollah, the largest Shiite force in Lebanon. Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters across the border to help defend the Assad regime against the Sunni-dominated uprising in the country.
Iran has also invested heavily in supporting the Assad regime, because Iran is controlled by Shiite fundamentalists. Iran is the source of cross-border meddling and terrorism across the region via its proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. (Even though Hamas is Sunni it is supported by Iran in the name of jihad against the Jews, a core goal of the Iranian regime. Iran was also a key driver of the eruption of religious civil war in Iraq.)
One form of Muslim militancy has spawned a countervailing militancy. ISIL has spread into the vacuums left by the collapse of central authority in Syria and Iraq. This conflict is now pressuring not just Lebanon but Jordan, which has more than 750,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq.
As if all this was not bad enough, Hamas has been launching rocket attacks and incursions from Gaza into Israel for months, with the result that parts of Gaza now lie in ruins.
Why would Hamas, having taken control of Gaza’s 1.8 million population with its host of social needs, commit so much of its resources to building strategic tunnels into Israel and stockpiling weapons?
The answer is clear. The covenant of Hamas is unambiguous. It lays out its goals, and its actions have been entirely consistent with those goals.
''[Our] allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine ... In the face of the Jews' usurpation, it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised ...
''So-called peaceful solutions and international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement ... Those conferences are no more than a means to appoint the infidels as arbitrators in the lands of Islam....
''There is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility.''
Unambiguous. Consistent. It explains why Hamas spent hundreds of millions of dollars building tunnels, stockpiling weapons, regularly launching missiles, and wiring Gaza for war.
The aims of Hamas are similar, in their commitment to jihad, to the stated aims of ISIL, Hezbollah, various al-Qaeda affiliates in the region, and the government of Iran.
The common denominator in this regional religious war is the call to jihad. Most of the bloodletting involves Muslims being oppressed by Muslims. The Sunni-Shiite schism existed centuries before Israel came into existence and will continue long after Israel ceased to exist if Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIL, al-Qaeda and Iran got their wish.
The killing will go on because jihad is built into the fabric of Arab Islam. It is the way to power for those who chose to read the Quran as a call to arms rather than a call to peace.
The Arab spring quickly turned into the Arab winter, making a mockery of Western wishful thinking. We can only be thankful that the human spirit of kindness far outnumbers the closed and uncompromising certainties of fundamentalists in all their forms.