The state of Israel is almost sixty years old. It has been in a formal state of war every day since then. Formal states of war often exist when there is no actual fighting. But in the case of Israel, there has been a permanent fighting war too. Some periods have been quieter than others. Many have been quieter than the past week. None has been without bloodshed.
Why has the violence flared up now? What is different about July 2006 that did not also apply in June 2006, or even the summer of 2005.
I would suggest that those on the jihadist side who thrive on violence are suddenly feeling defensive. They are scared that they no longer have the automatic ability to rally the entire Muslim world to their cause.
This is not wholly new. There have been divisions among Arabs and Muslims before. But in 2006 the fissures have become deeper and, perhaps more significantly, it is now apparent that the divisions are between populations, and not just between governments.
The Arab League condemned Egypt in the 1970s for making peace with Israel. But these divisions were minor compared to today. In a sense, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still united Arabs. Arabs sided with the Palestinians. The question was over tactics.
The Iran-Iraq war divided the Muslim world, but more or less united Arabs, though Syria was sympathetic to the Iranian side.
The Gulf War of 1990-91 was rather different. Arabs fought Arabs. Iraq invaded Kuwait. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states provided money and bases for western countries to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. Syria put troops into the field against Iraq. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained a source of unity. Saddamís survival strategy was to fire on Israel: to force Israel to defend itself, so that Syria and other Arab states would withdraw from the international coalition.
But now things are very different. Saddam is insanely convinced that Iran, Israel and the US jointly plotted his downfall. Iran remains a country deeply distrusted by almost all Arab states. Meanwhile, Iraq, with the support of its Coalition allies has unleashed a virus into the Arab world that all its neighbors fear: freedom. People in Iraq elected their government. People in Iraq read independent newspapers and listen to free TV and radio. They write their own blogs.
And, worse, there are vectors for this virus. Right across the Middle East people have internet access. There are two competing pan-Arab news channels: Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. They have different takes on the situation in Iraq, and now on the conflict in the Lebanon. Arabs have access to competing points of view, and can make up their own minds.
Iran, under international pressure because of its nuclear program believes that by inciting renewed conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors it can unify the Muslim world on its side. That was a huge miscalculation. Arab governments are calling on Iranís client, Hezbollah, to desist. Al Arabiya is carrying anti-Iranian and anti-Hezbollah messages across the Arab world. And the west is more convinced than ever that the mad mullahs cannot be allowed nuclear weapons. It is not just talk. They would start a nuclear holocaust.
Quentin Langley is editor of www.quentinlangley.net an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.