As has by now become painfully obvious (especially to me) I’ve been somewhat remiss in my blogging of late. (“Of late”, in this context, means that I haven’t posted anything since May; “somewhat remiss” my oversized butt!) In my defense – and a flimsy defense it is, I admit – I’ve been rather busy with other activities, including projects at work and other such trivial pastimes. Mea maxima culpa.
At the same time, since Hezbollah attacked Israel and Israel attacked back, I’ve been kept rather busy answering questions at AllExperts.com. Even my monumental capacity for sloth cannot prevent me from writing answers to these questions, since if I don’t respond to them within a few days I’ll be unceremoniously purged from the AllExperts list of distinguished pundits on every subject from crises to cockatoos to carburetors. For some reason I can’t quite fathom, I’m quite protective of my status as an AllExperts “expert” – even though I’m paid nothing for my effort and occasionally receive abuse from some of my less philo-Semitic querents. Mine is not to wonder why; mine is just to write or die – metaphorically, of course.
I recently received the following question (which I’ve edited slightly):
The Israel Arab conflict is bad. Currently it seems like the U.S. has the most sway in the region, and influences the politics of many of the countries there. However, as you know, other countries are gaining political strength. As India and China gain in power, and their influence grows in the Middle East, how do you think this will affect the Israel-Arab conflict?
Are China and India more pro-Arab or pro-Israel? Is this changing? I know that India also has problems with the Muslims in Kashmir; will India favor Israel? What about China?
I find this question interesting, because those two countries are greatly increasing in importance. They will gain influence in the Middle East, and this could change the crisis there. What do you think?
Here is my answer:
Dear J____ –
China and India are indeed major nations, and are both becoming more significant powers as time passes. Your question about their current and future influence in the Middle East is thus a very good and important one.
To date, both China and India have played only a rather subdued role in the region – basically saying nice things to everyone, buying oil from the Arabs and weapons from Israel, and doing their best not to upset anyone too much. While the oil issue obviously gives the Arabs a degree of leverage (especially with China, whose appetite for oil is large and growing), it’s equally true that India (to a huge extent) and China (to a lesser extent, but with significant problems with Muslim separatists in Xinjiang) are threatened by Islamic radicalism. Israel is a natural ally to both countries in confronting this threat. (Of course, India has a large Moslem population of its own – so while many Hindus might be ready to embrace Israel more closely, the Indian government is careful not to befriend Israel too openly.)
Both countries, then, have chosen a rather typical (if perhaps less than admirably forthright) approach: In public pronouncements, U.N. votes, and so on, both tread a rather pro-Arab line; while in private conversations with Israelis, representatives of both countries explain that these public statements are basically for show, and we should not take them seriously. Of course, we Israelis respond (or at least I do, when I get the chance) that public pronouncements, even when not backed up by concrete action, can still do a great deal of harm.
I can’t really predict the future – or at least, I can’t do so and expect to be any more accurate than anyone else! The obvious prediction in the short term would be for both India and China to continue doing more or less what they’ve been doing: condemn Israel when they feel it’s diplomatically advisable to do so, buy arms from us, get advice from our counter-terrorism experts, and otherwise try to be friendly to everyone. I don’t see any real reason for either country to do otherwise; after all, they have nothing much to gain by ruffling anyone’s feathers.
While I don’t see any reason for a change in China’s or India’s muted approach to the Mideast conflict in the near future, the further we look ahead the more uncertain the picture becomes. I really can’t say what either country will be thinking, saying, or doing twenty or more years from now. Of course, it’s equally hard to predict what will happen in the Middle East between now and then.
Tomorrow I’ll post another question and answer from today; someone asked about Lebanon, a small country somewhere north of Afula where there has evidently been a bit of unpleasantness recently. Stay tuned!
(This post can also be found at the Guns and Butter Blog.)