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Fareed Zakaria “But, first, here’s my take. Yasser Arafat’s body has been exhumed for investigation, bringing back memories of the unpredictable Palestinian leader and the Middle East in which he operated.

The news broke at a time when a conventional wisdom began to take hold that the Middle East today is much more dangerous, unstable, violent and anti-American than before. So let’s take a look at the facts.

In the 1980s, the newly empowered, radical Islamic Republic of Iran unsettled the region with its promise to spread its revolution elsewhere. Lebanon was in the midst of a bloody civil war that engulfed not only itself but also the Palestinians and Israel.

Iran and Iraq fought a gruesome war with over 1 million casualties. Hezbollah attacked U.S. armed forces directly, forcing a humiliating withdrawal from Lebanon. A CIA station chief was tortured and killed, and U.S. secrets and interests compromised. And that was just in one decade.

Or consider those days from Israel’s point of view. During the 1980s, Jerusalem faced well-armed regimes in Iraq and Syria, leading members of the so-called rejectionist camp that urged permanent hostilities against Israel. No Arab regime other than Egypt would dare speak openly of peace with Israel. The official charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization called for the destruction of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian state. Arafat’s chief tactic was terrorism against Israelis, Europeans and Americans.

Today the Soviet Union has collapsed, Saddam Hussein is gone, the Syrian regime is tottering. Israel, on the other hand, has grown to become a regional military superpower.

Its defense budget is larger now than that of all its neighbors put together. Its technological advantages put it in another league. The Palestinian Authority affirms Israel’s existence and works with it regularly.

Iran remains a real threat, but it is isolated, sanctioned and contained like few other countries in history. It is also roiled by discontent at home and facing the combined opposition of the secular Arab states, Israel and the Western powers.

Amidst the disorder, there is a broader contest for regional power. Israel has by far the most powerful economy and military, but it lacks political power for obvious reasons. Turkey has economic and military power as well, and it also has growing regional clout.

Egypt, meanwhile, is the natural leader of the Arab world, but at the moment is not in a position to dominate. Its economy is a shambles, its military second rate and under pressure from its people, and its democracy still very fragile.

President Mohamed Morsi’s recent power grab is worrying, but the public opposition to it has been reassuring.

So the Middle East today is mixed, complex region that is changing fast. Grand generalizations about it are likely to be undone by events. But it is a more vibrant, energetic, open, even democratic place than the Middle East of a generation ago.”

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1212/02/fzgps.01.html

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