Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
8 - 14 October 1998
Issue No.398
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

The last war?

By Rasha Saad

Even before signing the 1978 Camp David peace accords with Israel, the late President Anwar El-Sadat vowed that the October War would be the last between the Arabs and Israel. Experts interviewed by Al-Ahram Weekly over the last week cited a major Israeli attack against southern Lebanon in 1978, the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the 1996 Qana massacre, but agreed, nevertheless, that a full-scale Arab-Israeli war was unlikely in the foreseeable future. And this, despite the stagnation in regional peace-making that has followed Binyamin Netanyahu's rise to power in Israel. But, there was also broad agreement that the Arab-Israeli conflict would continue in other forms.

Presidential adviser Osama El-Baz, addressing the closing panel discussion of the October War symposium, ruled out the possibility that Israel, under the rule of a right-wing coalition, would wage war. "It is unlikely that the current situation will lead to a full-scale war. Israel is all too aware of the amount of losses it would suffer," El-Baz said. But he expressed apprehension that Netanyahu's intransigent policies might result in an escalation of violence in the region.

El-Baz said that the Arabs' commitment to peace should be matched by an Israeli commitment. "Both the Arabs and Israelis agreed to end their conflict peacefully, through negotiations or arbitration... and denounced the use of force or the threat of force," El-Baz asserted. But if Israeli actions show a disregard for the commitment to peace, "this could eventually push the other side [the Arabs] in the other direction," he warned.

Nassif Hitti, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo and an Arab League assistant secretary-general, did not expect a full-scale war, either. But he pointed out that the absence of Arab solidarity and the present biased US position had allowed Israel to launch attacks against southern Lebanon and exercise "systematic violence" in the Occupied Territories.

Hitti argued that neither Israel nor the Arabs want another war. "Israel is satisfied with the status quo, which is in its own interest," he said. "And the Arabs are not prepared for war because they lack the military capability and because they are very much involved in the peace process."

Abdel-Rahman Rushdi, a strategy expert, also agreed that the October War will be the last between the Arabs and Israel. That was Sadat's decision, he said, because Egypt's strategic objective is to establish a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Moreover, the United States would act to prevent the outbreak of another war because it would be against its interests not to. One of America's goals is to guarantee Israel's security. "Accordingly, the US seeks to maintain peace in the region by striking a balance between ensuring Israel's security and maintaining its interests with the Arab countries, especially the Gulf Arab countries," Rushdi said.

Hassan El-Karamani, a defence expert, said the eruption of a full-scale war was now unlikely not only in the Middle East but anywhere in the world. The reason, he said, is the high cost, both financial and psychological. "Weapons and military equipment have become very expensive, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, and very destructive," he explained. Moreover, the notion of war has become universally unacceptable. "Now at the beginning of a new century and with the advance of mass media coverage, the notion of man killing his fellow man is unacceptable to public opinion. The world now is for diplomatic solutions," he added.

Karamani believes that the Arab-Israeli conflict will continue in other forms. "An economic war can achieve results that cannot be achieved by military hostilities," he said. As an example, he cited the collapse of the Soviet Union which, in his opinion, was the result of the collapse of Soviet economy.

The Arabs can play the economic card, he argued, because Israel is in great need of the Middle East market. "United Arab economic power can be used as a bargaining tool in the negotiation process," he said. "The Arabs should not allow Israel into the Middle East market unless it offers serious concessions."

The experts taking part in the panel also discussed the means available to prevent the outbreak of another regional war. They put the stress on the importance of Arab security arrangements, but also urged Israel to honour its peace commitments. El-Baz argued that Israel cannot agree to negotiate with some parties and refuse to talk to others -- an obvious allusion to Syria. "Israel should not stop in the middle of the road and push the whole process back to where it began," he said.

El-Baz also warned against signing peace agreements which were inherently unfair. According to El-Baz, such treaties "will not stand the test of time" and their collapse might well provoke another war.

Ahmed Fakhr, head of the National Middle East Studies Centre, discussed Arab security arrangements in his address to the closing panel of the symposium. All parties in the region, he said, should understand that the Arabs have the capability to deter any act of aggression aimed at them. "Military ineptitude will tempt other powers to attack us. We [Arabs] should not abandon the idea of a unified Arab defence force, which is the only means of deterring our enemies," he asserted.

Fakhr argued that the search for peace between Israel and the Arabs does not imply that there will necessarily be mutual interests or cooperation. He predicted that disputes would continue and viewpoints would continue to clash. "The only difference will be that the solutions will have to be found through peaceful methods," he said.