I feel sad that, as a journalist who was born and raised in Lebanon, and whose journalistic career has taken me to almost all the world’s continents, I have only visited one border point between Lebanon and Israel: the Naqoura UN post.
However, friends and relatives who have visited the border area, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, used to tell me about the unfortunate and stark difference between what they saw on either side of the barbed-wired fence.
The land of occupied Galilee was green and well-tended by the Israeli Kibbutzim settlers, while the land on the Lebanese side was neglected and in bad shape for many reasons, including fear of cross-border attacks and the intentional lack of development under the sway of political feudalism.
But what used to interest the curious visitors most was how Israeli settlers always carried their sub-machine guns while taking care of their fields and farms. This, in my view—personal emotions aside—was pretty symbolic. It meant, and of course continues to mean, that if one is committed to building a homeland one needs to take care of all the aspects and never forsake one priority for another. In Israel, the famous Arab slogan “No voice is louder than the voice of battle” took hold. That slogan, as innocent and honorable as it was then, led to catastrophic consequences for the Arab world.
In fact, Israel has succeeded not only because it is a military powerhouse and is well supported by the West, but also because it is a country that has successfully defined its priorities. Israel has organized its priorities without abandoning anything: military efforts never meant economic development was neglected, and embarking on economic development took nothing away from paying attention to the media and propaganda machine, while providing resources for that machine was never at the expense of scientific research. As for us, Arabs, as well as Muslims, we must admit that we have failed for at least 60 years in building a homogeneous and effective lobby in the West, particularly in the US.
Among the principal reasons for this failure are the following:
— Lack of strategic vision that is based first and foremost on defining the aim, and then diagnosing the problems and defects.
— Individualism in carrying out work and “personalizing” this work. In any sophisticated society the desired results can only be achieved by dealing between institutions, individuals come and go while institutions remain.
— Short-term efforts while expecting speedy outcomes. In order to have the desired impact in a Western environment, one that is alien to our domestic culture and social concepts, we must have patience and undertake long-term planning.
— Ignorance of these environments, their nature and complexities. This ignorance means we have no chance of getting the message across. There is no alternative to knowledge and education.
Today, Arabs in the West, more so in the US, are being subjected to an increasingly ruthless and complicated media onslaught, when compared to what they have previously experienced in their long struggle against Israel’s lobbies. This time their attacker is the Iranian lobby.
Iran’s lobby has been active for a while, and it has been intelligently working, organizing, and cooperating with several pressure groups. Its activities have varied from tempting multi-national commercial and industrial companies with the hidden riches of Iran—to be made available the moment UN sanctions are lifted—to pleading with human rights, progressive and liberal groups by highlighting the “suffering” of Iranian people under the international sanctions and world embargo.
As if this is not enough, the Iran lobby is now busy engaging with anti-terrorism groups, of all people, after managing to re-define terrorism, and exonerate Tehran of accusations of sponsoring and aiding religious and sectarian extremism throughout the Middle East.
This lobby is currently quite happy with President Barack Obama’s foreign policy based on retreat from global hotspots, bringing the troops home and ending all kinds of foreign adventures. It is even happier that Washington has kept quiet about Iran’s expansionist and interventionist policies and activities throughout the region in the hope that this facilitates reaching an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. Therefore, for a military-confessional state like Iran it would have been stupid not to take advantage of such a situation, bearing in mind its initial declared regional intention of “exporting the [Khomeinist] revolution.”
For some time, the Iranian lobby has been keen not to mention what Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have been doing in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, preferring instead to focus on the “peaceful nature” of Iran’s nuclear program and the suffering of its people “as a result of sanctions” (rather than the nature and policies of the regime). However, the situation is now different. This lobby is now more sophisticated and skillful, to the extent that it has managed to build a propaganda machine that has allowed it access even to mainstream, respectable US media.
This lobby is now more confident in moving forward in the service of Iran’s regime—not only its people—while still claiming it is not directly connected with the leadership. In this capacity it is recruiting far and wide. Central to its present campaign is re-defining terrorism, attaching it exclusively to extremist Sunnis groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda et al. This is being cleverly done after cleansing the West’s collective memories of the terrorism of the 1980s and 1990s, which saw many victims in Iran, Lebanon, Kenya, Tanzania, Europe, and throughout the world, that has always been supported and venerated by Tehran’s rulers.
At present Iran’s lobby describes what is happening in Yemen as nothing more than a “Saudi attack” or “Arab aggression,” without touching on the military arsenal Iran has supplied to the Houthi rebels and their accomplices since 2009, which has recently been uncovered, according to the latest UN reports. Its discourse also totally ignores Iran’s master-plan for hegemony in the region, which includes controlling international waterways like the Strait of Hormuz and Bab El-Mandeb. On the contrary, the glossy message this lobby—which now includes Americans, Europeans and Arabs, in addition to Iranians—is promoting is that Iran is a “natural ally” to the West and the US in the ongoing fight against ISIS, Al-Qaeda and their ilk after confirming the exclusive Sunni nature of terror and terrorism.
We are now encountering a challenge that we can ill afford to underestimate.
We must not comfort ourselves with the thought that Iran’s poor economic conditions will convince the Tehran leadership to stop its meddling and aggression. This regime seriously believes it can fight, plan, arm and twist facts, all at the same time.