Category Archives: Middle East

Global order and the Middle East


After the end of cold war and the bipolar system the world experienced 25 years of mutation toward a new world order, that cannot be defined yet. The American hegemony, called unipolar world at the beginning, has not been balanced by any other great power in this time (the famous balance of power, the main assumption of realism has not been realized yet). The international system has been moving towards something new that has been difficult to define. Sometimes scholars (like Ian Bremmer1) defined it “zero-polar” world, others (like Richard Haas2) “no-polar world”, others (like Fareed Zakaria3) multipolar world. We don’t know what will be the future world order but what we know is that in the new era of globalization will have to be more inclusive and less ethnocentric if it wants to reach stability and security for all. The interdependence, transnationalism and globalization that we are living today don’t seem to go toward the “clash of civilizations”, as per Huntington definition(4), even if neither toward the “convergence of civilizations” (5) as per Mahbubani definition(6). The ‘unrevealing’ of the post-Cold War order is nevertheless happening under our eyes, and the US influence is much reduced in this process, as Haas masterly explains in his recent article on Foreign Affairs (7). And the Middle East is the place where this disorder is stronger and the US is weaker today.

Is it possible to contemplate order for the region that is considered the less adapt to it, being an area where mistrust always developed among religious cleavages, unresolved interstate and intrastate conflicts and Western interventions? It could seem a dream but also in Europe we didn’t think that we would have enjoyed the longest time of peace of our history at the beginning of last century. The Middle East have not had the total wars that Europe experienced (and we hope that it will never have them) but in the long run common threats (like today ISIS) could maybe represent the cement for such now unthinkable regional order to happen? The Arab Spring has been compared to the start of a Middle Eastern “Thirty years’ war”(8), remembering the war that gave space to the start of the nation states in Europe with the Peace of Westphalia, or to the 1848 European revolutions with the so called “Spring of the Nations” (9) (from which the name Arab Spring) for more democracy and justice. Neither one of the comparison is very encouraging for the future of the Middle East, as the Thirty years’ war was the bloodiest war of Europe until then and the 1848 revolutions were repressed by reactionary forces, and new orders needed long time to take place. With the end of Cold War also the new architecture of the Middle East seems similar to that of Europe in the 19th century, with mid-sized powers trying to expand their spheres of influence (from Iran to Saudi Arabia, from Turkey to Egypt). In the Middle East today the shifting alliances and the covert or overt struggle for sphere of influences are interrelated with the forces of new definition of borders and ethnic, religious or cultural identities. Therefore the process of transition to a new Middle East order, after the end of the post-Ottoman one, will not be short and without conflicts and chaos. And will be more important (and doable) to manage it than to solve it. No more regime change interventions but soft power and external leading role. The US has to start a new path.

1Ian Bremmer. Every Nation for Itself: What Happens When No One Leads the World. Portfolio Trade, 2013
2Richard Haas. The age of nonpolarity. Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008.
3Fareed Zakaria. The Post American world. W. W. Norton & Company, 2009
4Samuel Huntington. The clash among civilizations?, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, N. 3, Summer 1993.
5An interesting UN initiative called “UN Alliance of Civilizations” seems to aim to a similar direction.
6Kishore Mahbubani. The great convergence: Asia, the West and the logic of one world. PublicAffairs, 2013.
7Richard Haas. The Unraveling, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2014.
8Richard Haas. The New Thirty Years’ War, Project Syndicate July 21, 2014.
9Jonathan Steinberg. 1848 and 2011. Bringing down the old order is easy; Building a new one is tough. Foreign Affairs, September 28, 2011.

The US and Iran: a peace to end all wars?


The next few years will be of fundamental importance to the future of the Middle East, the ‘pivotal region’ for the US and world order in the XXI century, but this month could be the turning point. At the beginning of XX century nobody would have thought that Europe was going to have the worst first half century of its history, even if followed by probably the best second half century. Today it is difficult to imagine how will be the XXI century for the Middle East: could be catastrophic or surprisingly idyllic, but probably will be neither of one. Both historian and political scientists have difficulty to predict the future everywhere and in the Middle East even more: while the firsts today need to avoid easy analogies the latters need to build a new paradigm for understanding the current international system. In our era of globalization, complexity and constant mutation of the international system it is difficult to reach the goal of reducing the uncertainty of the future, and the Middle East is one of the most difficult regions for such objective.

Admittedly, the Middle East has always been one of the world’s crucial regions and, for the past several decades, for the United States as well. Notwithstanding a reported US “pivot” to Asia, the Obama administration has recently been pulled back into the Middle Eastern quagmire. This was already true after the dramatic events of 9/11 and the subsequent Iraq war; but it is even clearer today, in the context of the civil wars and the new terrorist groups that have been born since the Arab Spring. Faced with lesser domestic and political pressures during the last two years of his second administration, Obama is at a crossroad: will he end his mandate with some positive achievement that would confirm he deserved the Nobel peace prize and that his new approach to American foreign policy, based on dialogue and non-intervention, was real and not a rhetoric proposition? Will the Middle East be the region where he will show his skills of a transformational leader?

I think that even in a so called ‘post-American/post-Western’ world, the United States will still play a fundamental role as the ‘international leader’ in the Middle East. The future of the Middle East (as the future of the world) may well be post-American and post-Western but it will not become non-American and non-Western as the United States remains a crucial actor. But I also think that the US will not be able to play their role effectively without the support of new regional powers. This means that Israel and Saudi Arabia cannot remain the only countries that the US feel comfortable to cooperate with, and more partners and allies will be needed for the United States to recuperate the efficacy and legitimacy lost in Iraq, to help solve the Middle Eastern conflicts. More specifically, two other regional powers should be included by the US in the Middle East chessboard, in order to build in the future a ‘peace to end all wars’, to paraphrase the sentence of Wilson one century ago — two non-Arab Muslim countries that have millenary civilizations and recently re-emerged as significant regional powers: Iran and Turkey.

While the US and Iran have been bitter rivals in the Middle East for 34 years, their conflictual relationship is increasingly difficult to sustain. A possible rapprochement, announced with the recently-launched nuclear talks will not be easy, but will be possible. It will require, among other things, also to convince Israel that a deal will be sooner or later make, and that the case of a future nuclear Iran would be manageable, allowing Iran’s return to the international community but at the same time guaranteeing the protection of Israel. In order to reach this goal the US might need the support of other regional powers, including one – Turkey – that is a NATO ally and could become the second stronger US ally in the Middle East after Israel. Six years after Obama entered the White House he does not seem to have a clear strategy yet, not only because of the chaos in the Middle East but because the US finds it difficult to deal with a multipolar world, being much more at ease with the bipolar world of the Cold War. But if the US wants to retain its leadership and ‘soft power’ in the world needs to have a clear strategy and efficacy in implementing it, and the last two years of the Obama administration (with a majority of the Congress in the hand of Republican opposition) could force the President to take bold actions in this direction. The first of this bold actions should be a nuclear deal with Iran at the end of this month.

The nuclear issue is first, to be sure, but there are other issues too, related to stability and peace in the Middle East, which cannot be postponed much longer as time is running out, from the ISIS war to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The factors of mistrust have not changed between the US and Iran for 34 years, but Obama seemed to wish to abandon this road to nowhere. From his speeches in Cairo and Oslo (where he received the Nobel Peace Prize) in 2009 it took 5 years to arrive to the ‘Geneva interim agreement on the Iranian nuclear program’ in 2013, the first treaty between US and Iran in 34 years. But diplomacy needs time and patience. Will Obama be able to become the transformational leader that he wanted to be with the Iranian détente? Or will he fail to bend Iran allowing the crossing of the red line? This is the test for America in the nuclear deal with Iran. That is why a deal at the end of November is a must, as it could really start a positive rapprochement with spillover effects for the stability of the region, in the long term, that we cannot even imagine right now.

“Democratic ideals and reality”, Halford J. Mackinder, 1919. Is this text still actual?

Map of the "Heartland Theory", as published by Mackinder in 1904.

Map of the “Geographical Pivot of History”, in the article of Mackinder published by Royal Geographical Society in 1904 (15 years before his book “Democratic ideals and reality”)

Mackinder, English geographer and one of the founding fathers of geopolitics and geostrategy, wrote his milestone book almost one century ago, between the two WWs, like Carr’s “Twenty years crisis”. “Democratic ideals and reality” is a product of the concepts of political geography and environmental determinism, and has played an important influence on American strategic and international studies until today. Two decades before Carr’s distinction between realist and utopian ideas, Mackinder’s realism is based on geopolitical analysis and on opposite concepts of ‘organizer’ (realist) and ‘idealist’ foreign policy.
The author argues that idealism is the ‘salt of the earth’, to move societies and civilizations, but in 1919 it had lost its social momentum, its hold on reality. The WWI had just ended and Wilson 14 points, as well as the Versailles treaty, were not convincing Mackinder. The British academic made an excursion since the end of the 18th century with the French principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, to the 19th century with the principle of nationality to the 20th century with the creation of the League of Nations and its democratic ideals (for a world community and a fair division of wealth). He argued that in reality productive power and social organization are more important in the modern civilization and that the great organizer is the great realist, because his imagination turns to ‘ways and means’ instead of ‘elusive ends’. Therefore he tried to define the geographical and economic ‘realities’ of modern world in order to help the organizer to balance the world, speaking about the ‘seaman’ and ‘landman’ points of views and considering the land power superior to the sea power.
The core geopolitical message of his book, passed through generations, is that “who rules East Europe commands the so called Heartland, who rules the Heartland commands the world-island (or great continent, that is the Euroasianafrican continent) and who rule the world-island commands the world”. Mackinder defines the Heartland as the internal part of the Euro-Asian continent, which goes from the Arctic coast to central deserts on the east, and from the Baltic to the Black Seas on the west. Mackinder believed that the power in the world was shifting from the sea-borne empires to countries that included the great land masses and who had both could have dominated the world. So if either Germany or Russia (that could have access to the sea) were able to conquer the heartland they would have conquer the world. Actually the rivalry of empires on this issue started already when Russia, as the Heartland, was the rival of England, the sea power, in the 19th century and also Germany took the lead to dominate East Europe in WWI for the same reason.
But Mackinder speaks also about other elements apart the geographical approach to international relations. In particular he dedicates two chapters to the freedom of the nations and the freedom of men, arguing that both need the same thing: a balanced and complete life. The first has to be based on equality of resources and so on external control of the economic growth with a balanced development of each nation (in order not to get out of hand and clash). The second should be based more on balanced life of provinces than on class organization. This is a very interesting point as the author remembers how the independent cities of Athens or Florence were foundational of our civilizations because they had complete and balanced microcosms, in which human beings could put in practice their ideals, remembering a sentence of Bernard Shaw: “he who can does, he who cannot teaches”. For Mackinder therefore we should go back to human scale provinces, and the national organization should be based on provincial communities. This is very actual also today with the trends of globalization counteracted with the localization, in a ‘glocalization’ process, in particular when he speaks about the demand for ‘home rule’ in Ireland or Scotland, to recuperate the values of local life against the nation-wide class organization. One hundred years after we had a referendum for autonomy in Scotland, exactly to recuperate this connection with locality, destroyed by modernization, international capitalism, and globalization.

The influence of this famous book is still discussed but has been said to have affected Hitler ideas (through the German geo-politician Karl Haushofer, who supported an alliance between Germany and the USSR in order to defeat the maritime powers). We don’t know for sure but the Hitler idea of Eastern expansion is similar to the idea of Mackinder. The book has influenced also the US, given that US grand strategy cannot allow domination of either end of Eurasia by a potentially hostile power (that today could be China ).
I would argue that Middle East, more than Eastern Europe, is the pivot region of the world today. May be the XX century saw the three world wars (the third being the Cold War) fought around Eastern Europe (and even today it is crucial as we can see on the “battle for Ukraine”) but at the time of Mackinder the energy resources of the Middle East were not discovered yet. And resources are more important than land in our modern world: who controlled them, more than who controlled Eastern Europe, won the WWI and II (UK and France, with the support of the US and URSS) and the Cold War becoming the world hegemon (the US). Also the superiority of the land countries respect to the sea-born countries is disputable today, one hundred years after Mackinder book, as again the US is a maritime power in the world. In the future actually, as George Friedman argues(1), US will retain its power thanks to this and Mexico will become an important force on the geopolitical stage. To be surrounded by oceans became the foundation of American security and wealth, economic and military power, and in the globalization era to control the sea seems more important than to control an “impregnable fortress” like the Heartland, as we can see from the naval presence of the US in East Asia and Southwest Asia (or Middle East) that allow the US to avoid the domination of either end of Eurasia by a potentially hostile power.

(1)George Friedman. The Next 100 Years. A Forecast for the 21st Century. Anchor, 2010

Robert Kagan recent article “America’s Dangerous Aversion to Conflict”: looking always to the past instead of to the future


Robert Kagan(1) is back. In his recent article on WSJ, with his classical realist pessimist self-fulfilling prophecies of inevitability of violent conflict because of “has always been like that”, he explains us that similarly to Europe after WWII, “who sought an escape from the tragic realities of power that had bloodied their 20th century”, the US, after Iraq and Afghanistan wars, “seems to be yearning for an escape from the burdens of power and a reprieve from the tragic realities of human existence”. And it goes without saying that for Kagan human existence is based on power, conflict and war.

In its very much debated and famous article written on the aftermath of 9/11, “Power and Weakness”, he explained to the world how the US and Europe were to be considered always on a different track in their approach to international politics, order and security. We had “to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world”(2). The bases of unipolarism were explained with this impacting analysis and the “New American Century” had to start, because Europe and the US had different identity and perceptions and could not go together towards a new world order after the end of the Cold War. Kagan believed that the European insignificance in solving major conflicts was based on its faith in the international law: European comes from Venus, with a vision of peace and rule of law while Americans comes from Mars, with a dream of “Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness”.

Let’s analyze more in depth his old “Power and weakness” article, to see from where comes his idea that “raw force remains a key element in international politics”. The sharp distinction that Kagan did between the US and the EU didn’t give much space for mutual rapprochement, as the US will always be more prone to the use of military force while European will always look for diplomacy and less harder interventions (like economic sanctions). According to Kagan this depended not only on different military powers and ability to project them (when European powers were strong they were using strength and martial glory, now it was the turn of the US) but on their identity based on different values: America has a Hobbesian vision of the world while Europe a Kantian one. So the European project and the mere maintenance of peace in Europe has always depended on the American military protection with the NATO presence (a clear realist view that deny any role to economic interdependence or construction of common values) not on the idealist construction of integration and institution of supranational sovereignty. Today, Kagan says, also “a majority of Americans (and of the American political and intellectual classes) seem to have come close to concluding not only that war is horrible but also that it is ineffective in our modern, globalized world”. And instead of considering it an achievement he defines it a danger.

My criticism to Kagan (and all the realists as Mearsheimer) is that even if he is right on shaping the differences of identity between the US and Europe and on the fact that European invasion from Russia could have been avoided overall because of American presence, the European “Kantian paradise” is not a result only of the US protection. France and Germany didn’t attack each other anymore not because of the American presence but because of the will to build a ‘new identity’, based on the European integration. As constructivism teaches us ideas shape policies and social practices creates new ideas and new identities. Plus the US never had fortunately the experience Europeans had of national ideological folly and war tragedies since millennia and this make the American realist analysis unable to grasp European reasons behind its evolution.

As Cicero said “history is master of life” so if Kagan and his realist friends keep just looking back to history,  from Peloponnesian war to WWII, just as a cyclical repetition, they are not helping to envision the future, on the opposite: they are trapped in a self-fulfillment prophecy of repeating the past. True, the European legal order is something that is still in process, but an international order based on law cannot be created “from the day to the night” (as we say in Italy) in particular in a world that is constantly shifting and moving from one side to another as our modern globalized, complex and liquid world. Each institutional building that change the bases of an international system needs time as it must change minds and hearts of people and political wills of states. The fact that the ICC born after many years of discussion (even if with many countries outside its sphere of action, like the US indeed) is a demonstration of that.

Besides this we saw also how long the American unipolar moment lasted, with the disaster of Iraq war and the consequences we are living today, so we cannot take for granted that the diplomacy is not a valid approach to security as much as powerful interventions. Even if the US is now still a “primus inter pares” it has not anymore the global hegemony, and notwithstanding the fact that is the world’s longest democracy and wants to bring freedom and happiness with its Manifest Destiny, we can say with President Jimmy Carter that “America didn’t invent the human rights, human rights invented America”(3). So it is time for the US to stand up to its democratic principles (created in the European enlightenment) also on his actions in international arena. America has to listen to other perspectives of great or less great powers overcoming the thought of being the only entitled power that have the duty to bring order to the world(4).

At the end of the day the recent diplomatic efforts of the US and Europe in the Middle East (Iran, Syria and Palestine) demonstrate that the US is starting a new track respect to what Kagan keep saying about the ‘inevitability of Hobbesian intervention’ (since already the “New beginning” speech of Obama in Egypt in 2004). And I believe that Middle East has to be let to govern itself sooner or later, as Jeffrey Sachs argue(5) , as the regional powers of Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia will have to decide by themselves if going on during this century with their cleavages and national interests or create a community of security and economic integration (as the EU did, even if after two world wars) for the stability of the region and as a seed of the future world order.


1) Robert Kagan is senior fellow at Brooking Institute, Council of Foreign Relations and co-founder of “Project for the New American Century”/PNAC (famous think tank that promoted American leadership and strongly influenced Bush administration). His recent article on WSJ:

2) Robert Kagan, Power and weakness, Policy Review, June/July 2002.

3) Jimmy Carter, speech at FLACSO, Quito, Ecuador, 2009

4) See on this “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy”, William Pfaff, 2010.


The “West” and the Growing ISIS Threat


From a dear friend and ex colleague at Carter Center an interesting article on ISIS and Middle East situation

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has caused the Western world to shiver with news of the Sunni militant group’s execution and persecution of Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities. In addition, the recently released video of a British rapper turned violent Jihadi beheading American reporter James Foley has augmented American fears toward the Islamist groups growing control of northern Iraq and eastern Syria. During the past couple of weeks, American media outlets such as Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC have been beating the war drum in order to enable President Barack Obama to prevent ISIS from attaining more territory in the troubled region by deploying American troops, stepping up airstrikes in Iraq, and directing airstrikes in ISIS controlled eastern Syria.

Let’s take a step back and ponder how the media has been able to lure criticism of Obama in regards to this growing ISIS threat. Perhaps the answer could be the media’s obsession of constantly showing glimpses of Foley’s execution video in order to instill fear into the American public, so Congress and other executive departments could justify an entanglement in Syria and Iraq in front of a war weary American public. Anybody remember the execution video of Nick Berg back in 2004 when Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Mussab Al-Zarqawi, beheaded the innocent American? Western media, and other countries participating in the Iraqi invasion, incessantly showed the video on television to strike fear into the hearts and minds of Americans in order for the US and its allies to continue the souring Iraqi occupation. In this case, the same tactic is being utilized, and no media outlet seems to bring up the Berg execution video’s success of intimidating many Westerners into continuing their support for the 2003 invasion.

If ISIS has been able to grab vast amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria is because the territory just so happens to be settled by marginalized Sunni Muslims that are looking for a separation from Iranian and Western influence in their countries’ governments. Furthermore, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime’s brutal attack on Sunni moderates and intellectuals during Syria’s revolution has enabled the country’s Sunni population to adopt radical allegiances; especially among lower socio-economic Sunni populations in eastern Syria. The same can be said for former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s pro-Shiite/Iranian policies and former President Jalal Talabani pro-Western/Kurdish government portrayal that has oppressed Iraq’s Sunni Arab population.

Essentially, a possible answer to the ISIS threat is not American muscle, but rather American logistics to organize and support a moderate Sunni Arab coalition to combat ISIS while assisting and advising Iraq and Syria to install all-inclusive/moderate governments because of the militant group’s growing strength stemming from Iraq and Syria’s dysfunctional government institutions. Most importantly to note, the remainder of Iraq’s military in conjunction with Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and even Morocco have been receiving American military aid and equipment since the 1940s due to constructed treaties for mutual benefits, so the notion of these regional players not being able to do anything about ISIS is absolutely nonsense. Egypt and the UAE recently coordinated aerial attacks on militants in Libya that are threatening stability in North Africa and OPEC’s interests which leads me to question why these countries cannot conduct a broader assault on ISIS. The West, Iran, and Israel cannot combat the ISIS threat alone because well, individuals are joining ISIS due to these three factions’ controversial hegemony in the region for religious and political reasons.

Hence, the answer lies within the US’ organizational abilities to create a coalition of moderate Sunni Arab countries that perceive radical Islam as a threat to global order and their own government’s legitimacy. The example of George H.W. Bush’s coalition against Saddam Hussein in Operation Desert Storm back in 1990 is a sufficient example of gathering moderate Sunni Arab countries together while utilizing Western logistic and military support to oust a threatening government from having detrimental control of the world’s oil supplies. The ongoing lethargic and sluggish actions taken by the Obama administration could hinder building this coalition, or this could be a part of a regional game for the US to team up with the Assad regime to hit ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq in terms of pleasing Iran and Russia for an Iranian nuclear deal. Unless Obama carries out a foreign policy victory in regards to the Iranian nuclear deal, or defeating ISIS, the American public will deem Obama’s second term foreign policy agenda as a failure.

(Jowi Asmar is a final year student at the University of Nevada, Reno, double majoring in Political Science and International Affairs with an emphasis in Diplomacy)

After Gaza: A Changed Status Quo



From a dear friend, student at Princeton University, an interesting analysis on new possible scenarios for negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the third Gaza war:


As the war in Gaza appears to wind to a close, it may be time to take a retrospective look at the conflict and what, if anything, has changed as a result of it.


The first, and possibly most important, consequence of the war is a diplomatic rift between the United States and Israel. While publicly, the US government consistently affirms Israel’s “right to defend itself,” and Israel considers the US to be its most important ally, the situation behind the scenes is clearly different. US Secretary of State John Kerry was caught on camera sarcastically calling the Israeli invasion a “hell of a pinpoint operation,” referencing the heavy number of civilian casualties, while Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu told President Obama to “never second-guess me” when it came to Hamas in a phone conversation. The lowest point in the relationship came with the rejection of John Kerry’s week-long ceasefire proposal by Israel’s security cabinet. The proposal, which called for a week-long ceasefire, before discussion began on a wide-range of topics (including the Israeli blockade, the transfer of funds to Gaza, and Israel’s “security concerns”) was blasted by Israeli media and government personalities as a “prize for terror.”What Israeli officials were most upset about was not what was included in the proposal, but rather what was not: explicit mentions of the demilitarization of Hamas or the destruction of tunnels from the Gaza Strip. The proposal never promised anything to either party, only that a ceasefire would precede negotiations, but nevertheless Kerry was vilified in the Israeli media with State Department officials baffled at the level of hostility. Israel’s ambassador to Washington said that the criticism of Kerry was unwarranted but the damage was already done. Interestingly enough, current negotiations in Cairo will inevitably discuss all of these issues as part of a long-term truce agreement.


The second consequence is changing attitudes towards the Palestinian unity government. While Hamas scored statements of support by Turkey, Qatar and Iran, during the fighting, what is far more important is the postwar power dynamic between Palestinian factions. In the first days of the war, the Palestinian unity government appeared impotent and irrelevant to respond to the Israeli invasions. But now, the major Palestinian factions: Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are all representing one delegation in Cairo and have united behind one set of demands. Prior to the fighting, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu called for the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority’s unity government. Now Netanyahu is starting to realize that PA President Mahmoud Abbas was his best possible partner for peace. How the PA emerges from the truce negotiations will have significant consequences for Palestinian unity, especially if the PA reestablishes a security presence in Gaza, as some are suggesting. Hamas has come out on top so far, thanks to perceptions that it is the only group resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but international support for Abbas and his moderate faction could tip the scales.


Finally, while war is tragic, it can create the conditions for peace. Negotiations spectacularly failed between the PA and Israel earlier this year (as detailed in this excellent New Republic piece). But this current conflict has brought Palestinian and Israeli negotiators back to a table with one another. If the ceasefire stands and if international political will can hold, the framework for a long-term agreement on Gaza can be worked out. Even if not implemented immediately, it can be used in future negotiations as a step to resolving the status of Gaza, something not even discussion during the Kerry Initiative. While I don’t believe we are closer to peace now than we were earlier this year, I do believe leaders on both sides have realized that the situation is untenable. The status quo is dead and, one way or another, things will change.

From democracy to tyranny: is Israel, our “Western democratic” product in the Middle East, going downhill the Agamben “state of exception” or the Plato Tyranny regime?


“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” (Nelson Mandela)

There are many conflicts and cases of extreme violence today around the planet, causing suffering and destruction for innocent civilians, many in Middle East and Africa, but also in Asia and Latin America. However the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to cause more resentment and popular uprising in the world, both the European-Atlantic one and the ‘Eastern’ Hemisphere one, respect to the other places. There is a reason among many: Israel is a democracy (actually praising itself to be the only one in the Middle East) that at the beginning of XXI century is becoming more and more radical and extreme in its lawlessness political practice, starting to commit something not far from a genocide, after applying occupation, reduction in imprisonment and apartheid, to a population residing in its land, that has been neglected since 66 years its right of existence.

At the same time in the world population the Jews are beginning to protest to Israeli ‘policy’ since the beginning of last war on Gaza. Even if Likud keeps being supported by majority of Israeli Jews, the Jews around the world are starting to rebel against the way the Israeli government is dealing the conflict with Hamas (also because of the growing planetary sympathy for Palestinian cause). This could represent a sign of healthy and maturity in a democracy, in particular for Israel, that consider itself the state of the Jews, it seems right that all the Jews in the world, not only in Israel, are entitled to comment, criticize and call accountable the Israeli government. Nevertheless Israel keeps its extreme policies without feeling threatened in its legitimacy by the criticisms of Jews population and, on the contrary, believing that the support of its local constituency entitle it to go on with its final goal, that is to chase sooner or later the people from Gaza, and in general the people from Palestine (actually what is remained of it, with Gaza and West Bank) whatever it takes. This is clearly shown by attacking not only the elected representatives in Gaza and its civilian population but also the culture and the identity of Palestinians (from the schools to the recent bombing of mosques and the Islamic University, accused to be sites of fabricating weapons).

From what is coming the radicalization of Israeli right government? Could be just a fear of losing control by the Israeli population with the clear recent possibility of a Palestinian state (like in authoritarian countries such as China and Thailand, where many middle-class people feeling threatened by the rising demands of the poor, support authoritarian governments that protect their class interests). Or there could be other reasons. But whatever reasons are there to which extreme and how far right a government that calls itself democratic can go before to enter in the sphere of autocracy? Israel clearly shows actions of apartheid, imprisonment, mass murdering and expulsion of population from Gaza and West Bank. (1) Is this a legitimate goal and policy for a democracy, even if it claims is for its legitimate defense? Or is it a symptom of a “permanent state of exception”, as my compatriot Giorgio Agamben would say, and so not anymore a real democracy? Is Israel still a democracy or is going downhill on the path to tyranny as Plato would have said? (2)

A “permanent state of exception” is a state in which the government, all powerful, operates outside the laws, and “a modern totalitarianism can be defined as the establishment, by means of the state of exception, of a legal civil war that allows for the physical elimination not only of political adversaries but of entire categories of citizens who for some reason cannot be integrated into the political system” (3). We could speak about crisis in the functioning of modern democracies, and so also Israel, when the so called “national interests” applied by governments are distant from the requests of their constituencies, because they lack real channels to shift government policies apart from during the elections. Or we could say that Israeli people are more and more distant from democratic values because of the immigration from former Soviet Union and the increasing number of national-religious Jews that are waiting for the Messiah and so are on far right and extreme positions. We could also argue that the UN, the only possible representative of international community, is already an institution out of history being a reflection of post WWII, and today is accepting helpless the policies of a state of exception as it is not able to even declare it as a ‘state of exception’, being its schools bombed and his places passing from places of protection to places of risk. Whatever is the reason though the “permanent state of exception” of Israel seems clear with its recent actions, carried out in particular in the last 10 years. And the third Gaza war seems to set forth the death of this already moribund democracy, which is becoming more a dysfunctional democracy and so almost a kind of tyranny (being in a permanent state of exception).

But the worst isn’t even this for the future of Israel democracy. The worst could be represented by the fact that to maintain the support from the population a tyranny has only one way: use the education, the media and the political rhetoric to do a brain washing to its people, making them believe that the things the autocratic government is doing are for its own good and that the others are the evil. Israeli state needed since its foundation for example to rely heavily on the advocacy and lobby to foster his cause around the world, but today the Israeli government is using this tool more and more evidently to retain its legitimacy even inside his state and among the Jews in the world, instead of thinking to shift or change policies towards more moderate ones in order to recuperate support. So finally the newest democracy product of the “West” could become not only a form of tyranny in the future but a form of “marketing product”, a state based on marketing itself with money, media and lobbies (first of all the most powerful of the lobbies in the world probably, AIPAC in the US). And it would base its legitimacy not on constructive and sustainable policies but on “delegitimizing the delegitimisers”, the ones they consider their enemy, as an interesting recent article from The Economist points out (4). It is the so called “logic of the oppressor” at its extreme potential, that allow for example Mr Netanyahu in his last farce, the press conference after the Gaza war, to say for example that every civilian loss in the last war was “a tragedy of Hamas’ making.” (5) This manipulation of reality trough the use of the media is a typical technique borrowed from autocracies by modern democracies (in Italy we are very expert on this with the capsizing of the truth on every issue by the media magnate and long time Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi).

So is this the future of democracy that is waiting for Israel and for us in the “Western” world? Is a polarized world trying to gain public support to its part, selling its product, manipulating reality trough the subjugation of media and stigmatizing the others that oppose us our future? It seems to me that this kind of future would be even more scaring of the Big Brother. Because if everyone will be not only controlled but brainwashed and taught to create divisions and hate, in order to gain support against the opposition, instead to care, in order to gain compromise with it, that would be the biggest loss of our civilization of democracy.  And there are indicators of this kind of polarization also in Europe and in the US, with a strong wall to wall between populist/nationalist and reformist/democrats in Europe or Democrats and Republicans (Tea Party in particular) in the US since the election of Obama. So we need to start to work against this kind of approach now, without any further delay, and we need to build laws, systems and educative paths that will allow democracies to flourish and evolve, and not to go backwards, citizens to be really active and empowered citizens, and political system to step up on democracy and not go back to tyrannies, especially in a world going dangerously towards crony capitalism and private funding of party politics like our ‘Western’ world.



(1) Actually this attitude of Israel is currently facilitating a reunification of the Palestinian parties (Al Fatah, Hamas and Palestinian National Authority) and their visions. In fact in the West Bank there is another civilian disobedience movements and Intifada starting now, like the first Intifada, where Palestinian people seems unifying again in some way, realizing that they will have to struggle for their freedom, as a peace process with Likud, and Israel for that matter, is not going to be possible.
(2) According to Plato the government of humans is made of five type of regimes that progressively degenerate starting from Aristocracy, Timocracy (similar to plutocracy, where wealthy citizens govern), Oligarchy, Democracy and finally Tyranny. As Plato says the tyrannical man is the worst form of man, because he is consumed by lawless desires to do many bad actions, like mass murdering, close to complete lawlessness, as the idea of moderation does not exist in him.
(3) Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, 2005, pag 2

Israel existence after 66 years: from a legitimate goal badly realized to the need of reconciliation.



“An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”, said Mahatma Gandhi. And the world has been blind already so many times and for so long periods in its history that it unfortunately got accustomed. Nevertheless, sooner or later, humankind miraculously always recuperates its sight. Is it time for the Middle East to do so? May be, but we need a cultural revolution for that.

The conflicts that we have lived since the beginning of our history until the modern times, from the wars that characterized the Empires of the past (Europe docet) to the wars that have destroyed the Middle East since generations, demonstrated that human beings have still a strong instinct of revenge. The ‘eye for an eye’ vision (stumped in the Bible as a symbol of justice later becoming more a symbol of hatred) creates an escalation that cannot be stop, as the eye that has been taken away cry for revenge in a never ending violent cycle. It is unfortunately a logic and natural law, until we stop this cycle. This vision also creates the belief that we are the only ones to be victimized and that justice is something that can be made only from one side, ours, forgetting about the suffering of the others. So following the ‘eye for an eye’ concept finally our legitimate goals lose their legitimacy, as from being rights become in reality impositions.


The Zionism had its legitimate goal since the beginning of its foundation: to find a place for the Jews and liberate them from the anti-Semitic discrimination and persecutions lived for millennia in their diaspora. We could argue that there are other groups, like Romani people, that have also been discriminated and persecuted during all their history and have never been interested in the ownership of a land. But this is another discourse that has to deal with the identity of every culture and so we are not going to analyze it here. The birth of an Israel state, not only for the Shoa, had its reason and legitimacy. But the way in which Israel put that right in practice made it less defendable. The point is that when you want to defend your right to leave in peace, freedom and justice you have to think that this right ends where the same right starts for the others. You cannot claim the need of a state or a land without respecting the same need of the others, in particular if the others were living on that land before you. If you do that you have only one solution: occupy with force. And when you occupy a land with force you have three possibilities with the local populations: wipe them out (like we did with Indian Americans) put them in reserves (as we did with Australian Aboriginals) or chase them away (as we are doing with Arab Palestinians). All these cases, and many more, happened with the use of force and violence but the difference is that the last one is currently happening under the eyes of the international community. And history will call us all more and more accountable of the things happening around the world nowadays, because the international community is every day more and more informed and cannot say “I didn’t know”.

Mahatma Gandhi also said: “as the means so the end; the means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree”. So if you claim peace waging wars you will never have peace, this is another logic and natural law. We saw that too in our humankind history. Since the beginning of its existence Israel has been seeking to defend itself from the attack of the neighboring Arab states using counter or preventives attacks. It was his right as it was risking its survival, but how Israel actually born? It born with a unilateral imposition because the people living in Palestine and the Arab leaders never accepted the UN Partition Plan Resolution 181 to create from the Mandatory Palestine two independent Arab and Jews states. One million Palestinian were forced out of their homes and every year Palestinians remember the foundation of Israel as the Nakba, the ‘Great Catastrophe’. So when you impose something unilaterally with force, as Ben Gurion did in 1948, the result that you get is a contrary reaction based also on force. Again it is a logic and natural law, and we human beings are natural beings, as we follow the Golden rule that is derived from the third Newton’s law of motion: “when one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body”. This is what is happening in Palestine since almost 66 years (apart that is not exactly ‘equal in magnitude’).

Israel, with the approval of the UN, occupied a land violating the principle of national self-determination of the people 66 years ago and the result was that Israelis had their state but at the expenses of the Arabs and also at their own expenses, as Jews in Israel are leaving since then in fear all their life. Which kind of life is that? Is the life that Zionism legitimate looked for the Jews? It doesn’t seem so to me. It seems more that Israel went far from its original survival need with the wars, the settlements in occupied territories and recently the invasions of Gaza. And also with the construction of walls that made the Palestinians living in prison (besides than in refugee camps). As we know if you want to defend yourself you can build walls, and in the short term they may have a positive effect on your defense, but if you don’t address the root causes at the base of the attacks against you finally news fences are just going to call for more attacks. Also because the Israelis Gaza and West Bank barriers are not like the Great Wall of China or the Berlin wall, that were built to avoid invasions and migrations. The walls build by Israel are there to avoid the attack of people that have been displaced from their land since almost 70 years and are looking for their freedom and rights, having lived their lives for generations without them.  Besides that these walls have the effect to keep those people in a trap and under siege. For example Gaza has only one little exit in the south with Egypt and the government of Egypt today, with General El-Sisi, is not exactly interested in defending or welcoming friends of Muslim Brotherhood as the Palestinians. So what do you expect from people being displaced, killed and put in trap if not fight for their survival with the tools that they have, from the rocks to the rockets?

If Israel wants to have a brighter future instead of keep living in misery and fear needs to have a cultural revolution. A cultural revolution based on humanitarian values and universal justice, stopping to look at his small garden, that is actually very far from the paradisiac promised land they dreamed for millenia, and glance up towards the world, embracing the brothers of others faiths and looking for a pacific cohabitation in the ‘sacred land of all’. And the Arabs have to do the same: Palestinian state has the right to come into existence after so many decades but if Hamas keep defending that rights with rockets and calling for the disappearance of Jews state they are not going far for the settlement of disputes in Middle East. Cultural revolutions needs a long time but they can start as soon as we want, we just need a small gesture, that require however an enormous shift in our and other’s mind, a small gesture that Madiba Mandela was able to do already in his tormented land twenty years ago. It is called ‘reconciliation’.

Reconciliation is based on apologize and forgive, two actions that have the same root, they come from the humanistic principle of “I care” and they can replace the hatred principle of “I don’t mind”, that is at the base of revenge (as Don Milani, a Florentine educator, proposed in his educational revolution). If we care we will be able to apologize for the suffering inflicted on both sizes and so we will be able also to forgive as everybody is guilty in a war. If we want to look for peace instead of eternal war we need this cultural shift, in Middle East as everywhere. We need to emphatically embrace the suffering of the others and put ourselves in their shoes to understand their needs and legitimate goals. Is very difficult to do it in an area in conflict since generations, with total lack of empathy between the two parts, but is the only solution. An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind but a hand shake for a hand shake could make the whole world less afraid and more trustful. It seems impossible but we can do it, it just take a little courage from the people. And a lot of courage from their leaders, who may risk to become martyrs as Rabin or Sadat (like Martin Luther King and Gandhi too). As a matter of fact this is what we miss today in Middle East: great leaders that appeal to the real core principles of the Abrahamic religions, the humanistic principles of love and compassion. But Palestinians and Israelis can push their leaders to do so if they want, instead of voting and supporting radical and extreme parties. That is why the cultural revolution is urgently needed, hopefully trough the education of new generations.

As Mandela when he was in prison felt empowered by the message of self-mastery of the famous Invictus poem also today those people in the prisons of their fears might be empowered repeating this to themselves and to the others: “I am the master of my faith, I am the captain of my soul”. Let’s hope and pray for a free and peaceful Holy Land one day.


PS See here two interesting articles of Haaretz, the Israel’s oldest daily newspaper (since 1918):