Prof. Mordechai Kedar is a lecturer on Arabic and Islamic studies at Bar-Ilan University in Be’er Sheva. Fluent in Arabic, he served as a lieutenant-colonel in the Israeli Defence Forces’ intelligence branch. He is a frequent commentator on the politics of the Arab world and in 2008 appeared on Al Jazeera, where he sparred with the host and asserted the Jews’ historic claim to Jerusalem.
Kedar was in Toronto last month as part of a month-long North American speaking tour. In addition to addressing university students and synagogue congregations, he sat down for an interview with The CJN.
Your topic at Beth Tikvah Synagogue was on Israel and its enemies. Given the disarray in the Arab world, isn’t Israel’s strategic position pretty good right now?
We have peace with Egypt and Jordan and Syria as a state is dysfunctional, so it’s also not anymore on the list of active enemies. Also we have Hezbollah to the north. This is one circle of enemies.
In the second, wider circle in the Middle East, I would count Iran as a strategic threat to Israel, because of its nuclear program, which I believe was never abandoned. So these are the enemies which are states. However, in the Middle East, there are non-state players – terrorist organizations like Hamas and the Islamic State (ISIS). Since the lead in the Arab world has been transferred from governments to organizations, we see organizations today also posing also a threat to Israel.
Do these non-state players threaten Israel existentially?
No, terror cannot topple a state. But terror can make life bitter and hard. This is what we’ve seen during the last few months. And this brings us to the third kind of threat, the knife intifadah, the stabbings of Jews. This is a threat against the Jewish part of Israel by people who are working within us. Since Israel is not an apartheid state, Arabs can go wherever they like, whenever they like – to work, to cinema, to restaurants – because they are citizens.
Some take advantage of this. They come to the workplace and stab Jews. This is a threat, because it makes everyone a potential stabber. How do you tell one from the other?
This phenomenon no doubt comes from the Islamic State, which turns the use of a knife or cleaver into an art in order to terrorize infidels. Clips of beheadings are uploaded to the Internet. People watch them, are impressed and take the knife in order to do it to the Jews.
Is ISIS trying to infiltrate Gaza, take over and supplant Hamas?
This is ISIS’ strategy not only in Gaza. It’s in many places. So far, around 20 organizations all over the world, from the Philippines in the east all the way to the Sahara in the west, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Gaza is one of the places where the Islamic State tries to convince Salafist groups to pledge allegiance to them. Gaza is no different than Nigeria, where Boko Haram has already pledged allegiance to ISIS. Sinai became the Sinai District of the Islamic State.
It doesn’t stop with these organizations. In many states in the world, there are individuals who fall in love with the Islamic State, with the methods it employs and with the goals that drive it. San Bernardino, the Boston Marathon, Ottawa, Times Square, Paris, Toulouse and Sydney are only a partial list of places where individuals are walking in the footsteps of the Islamic State.
Does that suggest that what’s happening in Israel, where people are attacked with knives, is something we can expect in North America and the rest of the western world?
It’s already happening. A few months ago, a Muslim employee slaughtered his boss at work in France. In London, a soldier was beheaded while walking to his workplace. In Oklahoma, there was a case of beheading by a Muslim. So the methods of ISIS are being exported, mainly by social media, in clips that everybody can watch.
So what do you make of the European decision to bring in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees? Canada also is going to bring in 25,000.
Well they have to be checked very carefully. Children definitely deserve to be protected, as do women in most cases and old people who are fleeing from death. However, young adults, or people 18 to 35, should be checked very well.
What should the Jewish community’s attitude to the Yazidi people be?
We Jews should view the Yazidi genocide by ISIS as if it was perpetrated against us, no less. After the Yazidis, the jihadists will go after the Christians, the Alawis, the Shiites and the Jews.
We are in line, so we have to step up now, before it comes to our necks. The Jewish community should do what it can to save Yazidi girls from slavery, to stop the genocide and to push forward the establishment of a political unit, whether an autonomous area or independence for the Yazidis, so they can defend themselves.
Let’s talk about the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Is it at a particularly low point now?
There are some levels of co-operation between Israel and the United States. On the level of intelligence co-operation, I think the relations are as usual.
The economic relations are excellent.
When it come to political issues, there are two big differences between the Obama administration and Israel. The first is about the deal with Iran. Israel, from the left to the right, considers it an existential threat. The Obama administration views the deal as something that will bring more stability and peace to the world, and everyone will sit around the fire and sing Kumbaya.
Another issue is a Palestinian state. In Israel, even the left is afraid that a Palestinian state, especially in Judea and Samaria, will turn into another Hamastan, either by elections or by military coup d’etat. So Israelis on the left and right assume that this will be the fate of a Palestinian state, and that all those who preached to us, day and night, to create a Palestinian state will not come to chase Hamas out after they take this state over, and we’ll be stuck with the problem.
If Hamas controls the West Bank, it will be able to target 80 per cent of the Jewish population of Israel, with short-range missiles. The longer range missiles will arrive everywhere, including Haifa harbour. This might paralyze Israel totally, so this is an existential threat.
Let’s talk about your plan for the West Bank. You’ve written that the Palestinians aren’t a nation requiring a nation-state, but rather are divided into tribal groupings.
There is a Palestinian nation, just like there’s a Syrian nation, Iraqi nation, Libyan nation, Sudanese nation: all are imaginary creations of the West. On the ground, these states are highly fragmented to tribes, ethnic groups, religious groups and sectarian groups that never constituted a nation. The Palestinians are the same. The fact these states failed to replace people’s loyalty to these traditional frameworks is the source of the problems we see in the Middle East today.
Because if there were a Syrian nation, they wouldn’t kill each other the way that they do. If there was an Iraqi nation, they would live in peace with each other. If there was a Libyan nation, they wouldn’t slaughter each other.
The Palestinians are highly divided into clans. Not only that, they don’t marry each other. The only way to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East, including with the Palestinians, is to create states that would be socially homogeneous, like the Gulf emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where everyone is from one tribe – the Nashashibis in Jerusalem, Barghoutis in Ramallah, Erekat in Jericho, Masri in Nablus. Since tribalism in the Middle East is still alive and kicking, we should follow it rather than negate it. That’s why the only plan that can bring stability to the Palestinians is eight Palestinian emirates. This will give them stability and prosperity, and give us security.
What do you think will happen with Iran? Will it get a nuclear weapon?
The Iranians were caught cheating time after time over the last 18 years of negotiations. They never implemented what they committed themselves to. I think nobody would buy a used car from them, so why should someone in their right mind buy from them a promise while they are acting day and night to undermine the Middle East, in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. Where they are responsible for the bloodbath in Syria and Iraq. When they could not care less about human life and they consider all those who negotiated with them to be wine-drinkers and swine-eaters who are worth nothing compared to true believers like themselves.
I don’t believe even one word they say and sign. They are compulsive liars who hide behind the idea of taqiya, the Shia concept of deception, which is a necessity to survive in a hostile environment.
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.