Today's date:
Fall 2006

This Is A Clash of Civilizations

Shabtai Shavit was director general of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, between 1989 and 1996. Now the chairman of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, he spoke with NPQ in July.

Herzliya — Instead of lambasting Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan condemned Hezbollah for provoking the war in Lebanon. This means that these major Arab Sunni states now see Iran and the emerging “Shiite crescent” from southern Lebanon through Iraq to Tehran as a greater threat to the region than Israel.

The strategic perception of the region by the moderate Arab leaders and their European counterparts as well as the United States has shifted to finally seeing the truth of the matter. This is not a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah over a piece of land on the Israeli-Lebanese border. Rather, it goes deep down to the core of the conflict that exists between Western societies and fundamentalist Islam. As politically incorrect as it might be to say, let’s face it: This is a clash of civilizations. Or, as some euphemize it, a fight between the forces of order and disorder.

One side does not accept the idea of coexistence but believes it has been ordained by God Almighty to make the rest of the world Islamic—or to eliminate it. Whenever I say this, it sounds like I’m describing medieval times. Unfortunately, it is the real story.

Iran carries the flag of radical Islam. If the world does not stop the mullahs that run that regime, in a few years their hands will be on the nuclear trigger. And we are target number one.

SYRIA | During the Cold War, Syria was supported by the Soviet Union. When the Soviets disappeared, Syria was alone in a vacuum. This vacuum was filled by the Iranians. Syria had to choose whether to remain alone and vulnerable to change, or to link up with Iran as a substitute. It chose the Iranians.

Anyone who wants to split Syria from Iran would have to convince the Americans to pay such a high price for Syria—in essence a guarantee of the survival of the Assad regime. I find it doubtful they would pay. For Syria to split with Iran without such a guarantee would be regime suicide.

IRAQ | Judging by the statements of Iraqi Shiite leaders in favor of Hezbollah, the idea of democratization is still too early for the Arab countries to adopt. It was definitely a wrong assumption that a democratic regime in Iran would automatically be pro-Israel. Democratization in the Arab world right now is the ultimate recipe for radical Muslims to take over moderate governments through elections. The first example was Algeria, of course, but they were not allowed to take power. Then the Palestinian Authority was replaced by Hamas. Then there is Iraq today. In the future, maybe Lebanon. Hezbollah was already brought into government by elections.

There are three different kinds of Muslim fanaticism. First, the fanaticism that comes from the school of Osama bin Laden, a worldwide terrorist network. The second kind is state terrorism—the Iranians. The third, regrettably, is the fanaticism of the Wahabis. They are the smartest because they spread their anti-West message peacefully all over the world through spending huge amounts of money building schools and mosques.