A major economic conference was supposed to take place last week. There was no international clamor, there were no demonstrations on campuses, the BDS anti-Israel brigade were nowhere in sight, but the conference still failed due to a boycott.
Surprisingly, this wasn't a conference that was supposed to be held in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem—it was the Fourth Arab Economic and Social Development Summit, held in Beirut and boycotted by the leaders of the Arab countries, with the exception of Qatar and Mauritania.
Is the Arab world boycotting Lebanon? Officially, no. In practice, yes. Like so many problems in the Middle East, Iran was the reason this time as well. Lebanon could have been the most prosperous country in the Arab world, wrote Abdulrahman al-Rashed, former editor of the Asharq Al-Awsat daily and current director-general of Al-Arabiya, but that will never happen because Iran controls Lebanon.
Al-Rashed wrote: "The region is experiencing a series of crises, whose common denominator is a connection to Iran. Unfortunately Lebanon will not be stable, the Palestinians will achieve neither statehood nor normal life, in Yemen, Iraq and Syria there is no hope for a better future for as long as Iran continues with its policy of causing chaos there," he said.
As opposed to former US president Jimmy Carter and Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, who subscribe to the belief that everything wrong in the region is down to "the oppression of the Palestinians by Israel," courageous elements in the Arab world, such as al-Rashid, are pointing the finger at Iran.
Iran, regardless of the bust that was the Beirut conference, is in trouble. Before the nuclear agreement of July 2015 was reached, the sanctions against Iran had led to a slump in the country's GDP per capita, from $7,832 in 2012 to $4,862 in 2015 (for comparison, the Israeli GDP per capita in 2015 was $36,690). Two years on from the nuclear agreement and the easing of sanctions, that figure was $ 5,593 in 2017 (in Israel, it was $40, 270.) But because the US has decided to renew the sanctions, Iran's situation is once again deteriorating.
For years, the country has been suffering from drought. The area surrounding Tehran itself is on the decline, which could cause an environmental disaster of an unknown magnitude. The only one of its neighbor with the ability to cope with the drought is Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu even offered help. It would have been wonderful for Iran to choose regional cooperation over developing nuclear weapons and financing subversion in every possible corner of the Arab world, but it didn’t.
Instead, the ayatollahs prefer to invest billions in the industry of death to solving the serious problem of it physically sinking. Admittedly, this is the eternal problem of radical Islam, Sunni and Shi'ite—it always chooses destruction over development and prosperity.
And this is where one of the global scams of the modern age comes in. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement may dent Israel's image, but it certainly does not upend reality as it claims to. Instead of the Western educated elite recognizing that the main problem in the Muslim world is religious extremism and jihad, those members of the elite are busy cultivating the conspiracy that Israel is the problem. This is of no help to Muslims in general and the Palestinians in particular. On the contrary, it transforms those westerners into the propaganda arm of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. While this is a great way to perpetuate the problem, it definitely is not the way to effect change.
From an Arab perspective, things look different. While the word "refugees" was bandied about repeatedly at the conference, this time it meant Syrians, and the Palestinians were not mentioned at all. The Palestinians have become a kind of chronic illness, with no real expectation that this issue will ever be resolved. But so that the Syrian refugees do not become refugees forever, the talk of them returning home—willingly or otherwise—is gaining momentum.
Al-Rashed correctly defined Iran as the region's central problem. It is a definition accepted by most of the leaders of the Arab states, whose take a similar stance to Israel. It is a pity that something is becoming increasingly understood in the Arab world is less and less understood by the progressives of the West.