Imbalance of Power, the Middle East Problem

By Hasan Afif El-Hasan

Let us be realistic, the hypothetical creation of a just social contract by the international community that would liberate the Palestinians from their subjection and inequality has failed. Lack of progress in reaching a just solution to the Palestinian/Syrian/Lebanese conflicts with Israel is due to the imbalance of military power in favor of Israel vs. the Arab states combined. As long as the imbalance exists, the Israeli wars will continue to reign uncontrolled and there will be little hope that justice will prevail.

Balance of power is essential strategy of world politics. The efficacy of a balanced power in the Middle East can mitigate the international tyranny and the systemic hegemony of Israel. Balance of power means fewer wars and more incentive to resolve issues peacefully. The equally effect of nuclear deterrence between the US and the Soviet Union explains four decades of Cold War relative stability between them. But there were proxy wars between the super-power rivals and interventions to crush small states.

Relations among nation-states have been always chaotic even in the age of international laws, the United Nations Charter and things like the interdependence of commerce and the ecology that are of global concern. There is an empire today called unipolar international system; the Security Council that acts in the name of the international community on matters of peace and security is controlled by a few; the powerful state dominates the weak and the developed exploits the under-developed. Powerful states wage un-necessary wars, destroy countries, massacre civilians and call it collateral damage. They commit crimes against humanity and never been brought to justice although the International Criminal Court (ICC) was organized by the Rome Statute to prosecute such crimes.

Powerful states use force against the territory and the political sovereignty of weak people although it is considered crime of aggression by the international laws. Strong states intervene into the domestic affairs of weak states in violation of the 1965 UN General Assembly declaration that prohibits all forms of such coercive interference. Under the international system of anarchy rather than law and order, the Palestinians have been uprooted from their ancestral lands; they have been denied the right of return and the right to practice democracy. They are not allowed to defend themselves against occupation; and they are denied the right to self-determination and have a state of their own on part of the land they inhabited for centuries.

For many years, Israel has been occupying and colonizing Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese lands it conquered in its ‘preemptive’ 1967 war; It has been maintaining unprecedented measure of collective punishment on innocent civilians in besieged Gaza in a flagrant defiance of the international laws, only because Israel is the predominant power, and the international anarchy allows only the powerful to survive. The politics of the Middle East can best be explained by Machiavelli’s “good arms make good laws, good laws, good arms.”

Because there is no real global source of law and order, all nation-states have military for national defense; they guard their borders and join alliances to protect their territorial integrity and political sovereignty. The balance of power is at the heart of the nation-states politics where prudent and rational state elites aim at achieving, if they cannot do even better. Balance of power viewed differently by different policy makers and theorists. Hegemonic nations consider any effort by other states to achieve a balance of power as war provokers; others view it as the surest route to peace. The US and Israel who have stock pile of nuclear weapons, contemplate attacking Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear technology. In September 2007, Israel bombed a Syrian building alleged to have been a secret plutonium production reactor; and Israel is even against Jordan’s plans to build peaceful electricity producing nuclear reactors.

Former President Jimmy Carter believes that Israel has at least 150 nuclear weapons. In the first day of the 1973 war when the Egyptian military crossed the Suez Canal to liberate Sinai after failing to free it through peaceful means, Israel allegedly assembled nuclear bombs for possible use against the Egyptians who were trying to recover their occupied land. When the US replenished its lost war machine that was destroyed by the Egyptians, Israel did not drop nukes. Israel would never have considered the nuclear option if there was a balance of power with Egypt.

The balance of power according to Emerich de Vattel is “an arrangement of affairs so that no state shall be in a position to have absolute mastery and dominate over others.” It prevents the hegemony of any state or coalition of states. But the definition that describes with more precision the balance, or rather the imbalance, of power between Israel and the Arab states was stated by the nineteenth century German statesman Friedrich von Gentz. He referred to the balance of power as “that constitution which exists among neighboring states more or less connected with each other, by virtue of which none of them can violate the independence or the essential rights of another without effective resistance from some quarter and consequent danger to itself.”

For self preservation, states achieve balance of power by acquiring arms they need and forming alliances and alignments to protect their independence, freedom and liberty from the international anarchy. In dealing with the Israeli threat, the Arab state elites ignored the universality of power balancing for defending their independence; they chose to compromise their freedom and collaborate with the aggressor directly or indirectly with its major ally, to avoid entanglement.

Arab states elites seek personal survival as rulers. To that end they avoid disagreements with the US, the strategic ally of Israel. They do not want to meet the same fate as Saddam Hussein. It was not a coincidence that Muammar al-Gaddafi called on the US and the UK to come and pick up his secret WMD program hardware that was in its embryonic stage when a disoriented un-combed and un-washed Saddam Hussein was shown on television by the US military in 2003.

The Arab states lose power incessantly while Israel aims at superiority of power over them combined, not equality. Israel will continue to use its power advantage for maintaining the status quo and to solve every problem. The state of war in the Middle East persists, not peace.
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. His latest book, Is the Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on He contributed this article to

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