Archive for the ‘Arab nations’ category

The President Goes to Israel

May 18, 2017

The President Goes to Israel, American Thinker, Shoshana Bryen, May 18, 2017

It is worth getting out of the weeds of Washington on occasion and looking at the big picture. This is one of those occasions.

President Trump is going to Israel, visiting the one stable, prosperous, multiethnic, multicultural, democratic ally the United States has in a region marked by war, repression, and corruption. When he visits the Western Wall, he will be the first sitting president to do so — Barack Obama came as a candidate, George W. Bush as governor of Texas, George H.W. Bush as vice president, and Bill Clinton both before and after his presidency.

The fact that he will visit during the week of the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem is a potent symbol of American support for Israel’s determination to keep the city open to all religious faiths – and specifically open to Jewish worship. There is no forgetting that only for the past 50 years, only under Israeli control, have Jews been able to study, visit, and pray at Judaism’s holiest sites. During Jordanian occupation of the eastern side of the city, and for the 500 years of Ottoman rule before that, Jews were restricted or banned entirely from their heritage.

The President’s visit to the holiest site in the Jewish world — accessible to Jews for less than his lifetime – is an exclamation point.

The reunification of Jerusalem was, of course, accomplished in the context of the Six-Day War, and the presidential visit comes in that context as well. The war was waged by Arab States unreconciled to Jewish sovereignty in any part of the historic Jewish homeland. Visiting on the eve of the commemoration of Israel’s defense of its place and defense of its rights, Mr. Trump has chosen a time ripe with symbolism to assert America’s longstanding — and newly recovered — shoulder-to-shoulder defense of Israel’s legitimacy and right to sovereign security.

But the visit is not only about symbols; certainly security is never only about symbols.

Mr. Trump was preceded in Israel by Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford. Their visits were aimed at deepening U.S.-Israeli security cooperation and reversing the previous administration’s plan to enhance the role of Iran in the region and decrease American influence. Mr. Trump can be expected to praise the first and find additional ways to work with Israel to constrain Iran’s freedom of action in both missile and nuclear development, and in military activity in Syria, Yemen and the Persian Gulf.

The President will visit with Arab leadership in the Gulf before arriving in Israel. The Sunni Arab world knows Iranian aggression and radical Islam are its fundamental security problems, not Israel. They are thrilled with the administration’s harder line on Iran, and the understanding that American influence and American presence matters. They want to be on Mr. Trump’s “good side,” and that’s helpful. Responding to his interest in Israeli-Palestinian talks, a new incarnation of an “Arab Peace Plan” has been floated. Trying to appear reasonable, the Arabs say Israel has only to “stop building settlements in the West Bank and ease trade restrictions in the Gaza Strip.” In exchange, they will allow Israel access to Gulf State airspace and enable direct communications with Israel.

The good news is that the plan doesn’t appear to try to settle the whole problem in a grand gesture. It does get closer to reality — the prior “Arab Peace Plan” in 2002 required that Israel withdraw from all the territory acquired in the 1967 war, including Jerusalem, before the Arab States would consider — consider, mind you — ending their state of war with Israel. As things go, this is an improvement and an affirmation of the points made by Mr. Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu made in their joint press conference in February that progress on Palestinian-Israeli accommodation might be accomplished in a regional context.

The Palestinians, it appears, took the possibility that they will be sidelined to heart and went one better than the Arab States, dropping their eight-year insistence on an Israeli building freeze as a precondition to negotiations. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman put a nail in the coffin of “settlement freezes,” saying, “The U.S. won’t dictate how you should live together, that is something you will have to decide on your own.” Having lost the battle on that issue, the Palestinians will have to be content with the President’s visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Are there glitches? Yes. There is a long way to go before the Arab States meet their UN-mandated obligation to provide Israel with “termination of all states of belligerency and respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all States in the region.” The Palestinians aren’t likely to do it before their political and financial masters do.  And Americans David Berns and Jonathan Schrier, working in the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem — which sees itself as an embassy to the fictitious State of Palestine — tried to create a firestorm over an issue of sovereignty. It was more like a paper fire in a wastebasket, embarrassing the President, but doing no damage.

But those are points that can be left for later.

When the President of the United States arrives in Israel as Israel prepares to commemorate 50 years of the Six-Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem, Americans should be pleased and proud that President Trump chose this time and this place to cement relations with Israel — our ally and friend.

 

US-Israel security interests converge

April 28, 2017

US-Israel security interests converge, Israel Hayom, Yoram Ettinger, April 28, 2017

In 2017, the national security interests of the U.S. and Israel have converged in ‎an unprecedented manner in response to anti-U.S. ‎Islamic terrorism; declining European posture of deterrence; drastic cuts in ‎the U.S. defense budget; an increasingly unpredictable, dangerous globe; ‎Israel’s surge of military and commercial capabilities and U.S.-Israel shared ‎values. ‎

Contrary to conventional wisdom — and traditional State Department policy — ‎U.S.-Israel and U.S.-Arab relations are not a zero-sum game. This is ‎currently demonstrated by enhanced U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, ‎concurrently with expanded security cooperation between Israel and Egypt, ‎Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other pro-U.S. Arab countries, as well as stronger ‎cooperation between the U.S. and those same Arab countries. Unlike the ‎simplistic view of the Middle East, Arab policymakers are well aware of their ‎priorities, especially when the radical Islamic machete is at their throats. They ‎are consumed by internal and external intra-Muslim, intra-Arab violence, which ‎have dominated the Arab agenda, prior to — and irrespective of — the ‎Palestinian issue, which has never been a core cause of regional turbulence, a ‎crown-jewel of Arab policymaking or the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict. ‎

Israel’s posture as a unique ally of the U.S. — in the Middle East and beyond — ‎has surged since the demise of the USSR, which transformed the bipolar ‎globe into a multipolar arena of conflicts, replete with highly unpredictable, ‎less controllable and more dangerous tactical threats. Israel possesses proven ‎tactical capabilities in face of such threats. Thus, Israel provides a tailwind to the ‎U.S. in the pursuit of three critical challenges that impact U.S. national security, significantly transcending the scope of the Arab-‎Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue: ‎

‎1. To constrain/neutralize the ayatollahs of Iran, who relentlessly aspire to ‎achieve nuclear capability in order to remove the ‎U.S. from the Persian Gulf, dominate the Muslim world, and subordinate the American “modern-day Crusaders.”‎

‎2. To defeat global Islamic terrorism, which aims to topple all pro-U.S. Arab ‎regimes, expand the abode of Muslim believers and crash the abode of non-Muslim “‎infidels” in the Middle East and beyond.‎

‎3. To bolster the stability of pro-U.S. Arab regimes, which are lethally ‎threatened by the ayatollahs and other sources of Islamic terrorism.

Moreover, Israel has been the only effective regional power to check the North ‎Korean incursion into the Middle East. For instance, on Sept. 6, 2007, the ‎Israeli Air Force destroyed Syria’s nuclear site, built mostly with the support of ‎Iran and North Korea, sparing the U.S. and the globe the wrath of a ruthless, ‎nuclear Assad regime. ‎

While Israel is generally portrayed as a supplicant expecting the U.S. to extend a ‎helping hand, Adm. (ret.) James G. Stavridis, a former NATO supreme commander, ‎currently the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts ‎University, says otherwise. He maintains that Israel is not a supplicant but ‎rather a unique geostrategic partner, extending the strategic hand of the U.S. ‎through a mutually beneficial, highly productive ‎relationship with the U.S.

On Jan. 5, 2017, Stavridis wrote: “Our ‎best military partner in the region, by far, is Israel … as we stand together ‎facing the challenges of the Middle East. … Israeli intelligence gathering is ‎superb. … A second zone of potentially enhanced cooperation is in technology ‎and innovation. … In addition to missile defense, doing more together in ‎advanced avionics (as we did with the F-15), miniaturization (like Israel’s small ‎airborne-warning aircraft) and the production of low-cost battlefield unmanned ‎vehicles (both air and surface) would yield strong results. … We should up our ‎game in terms of intelligence cooperation. [The Israeli intelligence ‎services] of our more segregated sectors on a wide range of trends, including the disintegration of Syria, the events in Egypt and the military and nuclear ‎capability of Iran. … Setting up a joint special-forces training and innovation ‎center for special operations in Israel would be powerful. … It truly is a case ‎of two nations that are inarguably stronger together.” ‎

Unlike other major U.S. allies in Europe, the Far East, Africa and the Middle East, ‎Israel does not require U.S. military personnel and bases in order to produce an ‎exceptionally high added value to the annual U.S. investment in — and not ‎‎”foreign aid” to — Israel’s military posture.

For example, the plant manager of Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the ‎F-16 and F-35 fighter planes, told me during a visit to the plant in Fort Worth, Texas: “The ‎value of the flow of lessons derived from Israel’s operation, maintenance and ‎repairs of the F-16 has yielded hundreds of upgrades, producing a mega-‎billion-dollar bonanza for Lockheed-Martin, improving research and ‎development, increasing exports and expanding employment.”

A similar ‎added value has benefitted McDonnell Douglas, the manufacturer of the F-15 fighter plane ‎in Berkeley, Missouri, as well as hundreds of U.S. defense manufacturers, ‎whose products are operated by Israel. The Jewish state — the most ‎predictable, stable, effective, reliable and unconditional ally of the U.S. — has ‎become the most cost-effective, battle-tested laboratory of the U.S. defense ‎industry. ‎

According to a former U.S. Air Force intelligence chief, Gen. George Keegan: ‎‎”I could not have procured the intelligence [provided by Israel on Soviet Air ‎Force capabilities, new Soviet weapons, electronics and jamming devices] with ‎five CIAs. … The ability of the U.S. Air Force in particular, and the Army in ‎general, to defend NATO owes more to the Israeli intelligence input than it ‎does to any other single source of intelligence.” The former chairman of the ‎Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Daniel Inouye, revealed that “Israel ‎provided the U.S. [operational lessons and intelligence on advanced Soviet ‎ground-to-air missiles] that would have cost the U.S. billions of dollars to find ‎out.”

On Oct. 28, 1991, in the aftermath of the First Gulf War, then-Defense ‎Secretary Dick Cheney stated: “There were many times during the course of ‎the buildup in the Gulf, and subsequent conflict, that I gave thanks for the ‎bold and dramatic action that had been taken some 10 years before [when ‎Israel destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak].” The destruction of Iraq’s ‎nuclear capabilities in 1981 spared the U.S. a nuclear confrontation in 1991.

An Israel-like ally in the Persian Gulf would have dramatically minimized U.S. ‎military involvement in Persian Gulf conflicts, and drastically reduced the ‎monthly, mega-billion dollar cost of U.S. military units and bases in the ‎Gulf and Indian Ocean, as is the current Israel-effect in the eastern flank of ‎the Mediterranean.‎

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

Hamas Wants Quiet As It Prepares For Next Assault on Israel

April 27, 2017

Hamas Wants Quiet As It Prepares For Next Assault on Israel, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Yaakov Lappin, April 27, 2017

In the long run, Sinwar and his regime plan to continue to prepare for the ‘grand’ destiny they have chosen for Gaza. So long as Hamas rules Gaza, it will be the base of unending jihad against Israel, buffered by tactical ceasefires, until conditions are ripe for a new assault.

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Strategically, Hamas remains as committed as ever to its objective of destroying Israel and toppling the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority in the process. Tactically, however, Hamas exhibits pragmatism and won’t rush into wars with Israel when conditions are ill suited.

Hamas looks at the long run, and remains convinced that it can eradicate Israel, even if it takes decades or centuries. Yet it would prefer to bide its time, and build up its force until the next clash while working to decrease its acute regional isolation. For this to happen, Hamas needs to avoid plunging Gaza into a new war any time soon. Yet it remains far from clear that it will be able to do this.

Should a war erupt in the near future, it likely will be triggered by unplanned dynamics of escalation.

Gaza’s woeful living standards and infrastructure are among those factors. Crises such as the ongoing electricity supply problem plaguing the Strip could facilitate an early conflict, as Hamas may try to distract the population’s frustrations from its failings, and divert them to Israel.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is threatening to make matters worse by cutting off cash for Gaza’s power plant. It’s part of the ongoing feud between the Fatah-run PA in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza. Gazans now receive electricity only four to six hours a day due to this feud. In January, Gazans took the unprecedented step of protesting power cuts, making Hamas extremely nervous.

In addition to tensions over the electricity crisis, a Hamas-run terror cell could spark conflict if it carries out a mass casualty attack that spawns Israeli retaliation.

The sheer scope of such plots that Israel thwarts every year is enormous.

Last year, 184 shooting attacks, 16 suicide bombings, and 16 kidnapping plots were foiled, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman testified last month before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Hamas had “significantly increased” efforts to pull off attacks in the West Bank and in Israel, he said, adding that Israeli security forces arrested more than 1,000 Hamas members in the West Bank last year and broke up 114 cells.

These are risks Hamas is prepared to take, since the day that it ceases all attempts to carry out jihadist terrorism against Israel is the day that it stops being Hamas.

Yet Hamas is also a government now, and it must consider the Gazans it rules. Hamas is keenly aware of Palestinian sentiment. Its leaders grew up in Gaza’s refugee camps and always have their finger on the pulse of Gazan society.

Hamas leaders seem to understand that the public opposes a new damaging war with Israel. They recognize that the Palestinian public cannot stomach a war with Israel every two years. The reconstruction program in Gaza following the 2014 conflict is far from complete. There are still Gazans whose homes haven’t been repaired from the damage inflicted in 2014.

The general population, despite being exposed to Hamas’s daily propaganda diet of jihadist rhetoric, would likely be reluctant to be again be used as human shields by the military wing, barely three years since the end of the last clash.

The price of Hamas’s policy of embedding its rocket launchers and fighters in Gaza’s civilian areas also is not alluring to many Gazans.

On the flip side, one of Hamas’s worst fears is of being perceived as weak. After one of its senior operatives was mysteriously killed recently, it executed three people it accused of collaborating with Israel.

Hamas also responded to Mazen Fuqaha’s murder by sending threatening messages to Israel promising vengeance. Hamas videos suggest it will target senior Israeli security officials for assassination.

Fuqaha was a key figure in the Izzadin Al-Qassam Brigades, and reportedly in charge of setting up multiple terrorist cells in the West Bank. His bullet-ridden body was found last month outside of his Gazan apartment building.

The Israeli defense establishment takes these Hamas threats seriously. Despite the noise, however, Hamas has not rushed to respond just yet – underlining the fact that Hamas is aware of the restraints factors that it is under.

Since the end of the 2014 war with Israel, the Islamist regime has shied away from escalating the security situation with Israel.

Hamas’s leadership sees unfavorable regional conditions. They lack any powerful regional backer following the 2013 downfall of Muhammad Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood president in neighboring Egypt, in whom Hamas staked so many of its hopes.

In the past, Hamas enjoyed many partnerships, enjoying arms support and funding from the Shi’ite axis (Iran and Hizballah) – and forming relationships with Sunni powers.

But the Middle Eastern regional upheaval, which pits Sunnis against Shiites, and Islamists against non-Islamists, forced Hamas to make choices. It could no longer be on the same side of both Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, who are locked in a transnational proxy war. In the same vein, Hamas cannot be on the same side as both the Assad regime and the Sunni rebels fighting to remove him.

Worst of all from Hamas’s perspective, Morsi’s departure means it cannot rely on its primordial impulse to attach itself to a Sunni Muslim Brotherhood-led backer.

Five years ago, there were initial signs of a regional wave of Muslim Brotherhood successes. The Brothers rose to power in Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, and had Qatari backing. Morsi’s 2013 fall changed Hamas’s fortunes for the worse. The rise of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, a leader who identifies Hamas as a Gazan branch of his domestic arch-enemy, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, guaranteed Hamas’s isolation.

Relations with Cairo remain rocky despite recent Hamas attempts to improve ties. Egypt may open its Rafah border crossing a few days a week, but this does not change its core view of Hamas as a true enemy, to be held at bay, weakened, and deterred.

Hamas has also fallen out with Saudi Arabia. And Hamas and Iran do not get along very well either, despite Iran continuing to be the chief sponsor of the military wing, paying it $50-$60 million a year, according to various estimates.

This leaves Hamas with just two stalwart friends: Qatar and Turkey, neither of which can back them substantially. Turkey is not an Arab state, meaning that its role in the Arab world is limited, and its desire to lead the Arab world will always be met with suspicion. A failure by Turkey to infiltrate the region means that it can only do so much to assist Gaza. Qatar, though wealthy, is politically weak, and geographically distant.

New Hamas leader Yihyeh Sinwar, despite his fundamentalist inclinations, must consider these constraints and see that his Islamist-run enclave has little real backing.

To compound its problems, Hamas also has serious financial issues. It has three main sources of income: Donations from states, donations from private individuals, and Hamas’s network of investments.

Hamas gets far less money than it used to from its donors, according to Israeli assessments. Only Qatar and Turkey donate on a regular basis, while Iran continues to finance the military wing, but not the entire movement.

Hamas is a large organization, with operations in the West Bank, Qatar, and Turkey in addition to Gaza. In the Strip, it needs to pay salaries, and prepare for its next clash with Israel. Hamas also seeks to export terrorism to the West Bank and build up political support among West Bank Palestinians. All of this costs money. It is has offices and headquarters in multiple states overseas that require annual budgets.

Private Gulf State donors are drying up. Wealthy Saudis are more interested in supporting Syrian rebels. Hamas’s cause has moved to the back of the line.

Its investments, meant to be saved for a rainy day, now must be tapped.

So what can Hamas do? First and foremost, it continues its domestic military build-up, mass producing rockets, mortar shells, variants of shoulder-fired missiles, drones, and digging tunnels – all at the expense of the welfare of the 2 million Palestinians it rules.

That’s because Hamas drew many operational lessons from its last conflict with Israel, and is keen on rebuilding its terrorist-guerrilla army without interruptions.

One lesson was to focus on a perceived Israeli vulnerability through short-range strikes. To that end, it is building new rockets that carry 200 kilogram warheads – significantly larger than past rockets made in Gaza.

These projectiles are not accurate, but would cause enormous damage if they slammed into a southern Israeli town or village.

Hamas weapons factories produce simple RPGs as well.

Second, Hamas is trying to becoming more ‘acceptable’ to the region and to the world. It is about to unveil a new charter which will be an attempt to obfuscate its jihadist ideological leanings and ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, and present itself as being merely a national “resistance” organization.

In the long run, Sinwar and his regime plan to continue to prepare for the ‘grand’ destiny they have chosen for Gaza. So long as Hamas rules Gaza, it will be the base of unending jihad against Israel, buffered by tactical ceasefires, until conditions are ripe for a new assault.

Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the Israel correspondent for IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.

Al-Qaeda Mocks Arabs for Submitting to Haley’s ‘Kick in High Heels’

April 21, 2017

Al-Qaeda Mocks Arabs for Submitting to Haley’s ‘Kick in High Heels’, PJ Media, Bridget Johnson, April 20, 2017

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks with media at UN Headquarters in New York on April 20, 2017. (Albin Lohr-Jones/Sipa via AP Images)

Al-Qaeda mocked Arab rulers for being at the mercy of “the kicks of the high heels” of Ambassador Nikki Haley after her warning that things are going to change at the United Nations.

“I wear heels. It’s not for a fashion statement. It’s because if I see something wrong, we’re going to kick them every single time,” Haley said in a speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference last month in Washington.

“So how are we kicking? We’re kicking by, No. 1, putting everybody on notice, saying that if you have our back, we’re going to have the backs of our friends. But our friends need to have our backs, too,” she continued. “If you challenge us, be prepared for what for what you are challenging us for because we will respond.”

In the most recent issue of al-Qaeda’s al-Nafir Bulletin, published in several languages and distributed online by the Global Islamic Media Front, the terror group said “the representative of the bearer of the Cross America” — Haley — “sent a message to the apostate Arab rulers filled with sarcasm and mockery.”

The bulletin added that America was “the Hubal of the era to its worshippers the Arab rulers,” referring to a moon god worshipped at Mecca before Islam.

“You will not go beyond your worth, and you will receive a kick in high heels as punishment for any statement… that criticizes the Zionists,” they summarized Haley’s message to Arab rulers after quoting her directly.

“American and its Crusader allies will never allow anyone to stand before their support of the Zionists and the apostates of the Arabs and foreigners from the Muslim rulers, and they will not accept to end their robbery of the fortunes and resources of the Ummah [Muslim community], and that any Islamic project that seeks to establish the Shariah, and spread justice, and distribute fairly the fortunes of the Ummah, will face bombs and guided rockets, with the supporter of the apostate rulers who are ready to receive the kicks of the high heels from the Zionist Haley in case they go beyond the allowed limit, and gave wrong criticisms of the nation of the sons of Zion,” the bulletin stated.

Al-Qaeda added that the only “salvation” for Muslims “out of this delusion in the sea of weakness” was “targeting the real enemy.”

“O youth of Islam, attack global infidelity headed by America, and show Allah what is required of you,” the terror group told followers. “Shake their thrones, and bring down their interests, and target their great criminals.”

Al-Qaeda has previously used issues of the al-Nafir Bulletin to call for action against the United States. In February, the terror group accused the U.S. of withholding necessary medication from “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, the mastermind of the deadly 1993 World Trade Center bombing who died behind bars that month.

They also released a final statement from the sheikh complaining of strip searches that explored his private parts “front and back,” claiming that he could be poisoned behind bars and calling for “the most powerful and violent revenge” in the event of his demise.

Last month, the bulletin told jihadists to go forth and just kill Americans without any Islamic consultations first. Al-Qaeda called a U.S. airstrike that struck a mosque complex in Al-Jinah, Syria, “a horrible crime among the crimes of America and its damned president, Trump.”

INTO THE FRAY: Middle East meltdown

April 14, 2017

INTO THE FRAY: Middle East meltdown, Israel National News, Dr. Martin Sherman, April 14, 2017

But of course the most troubling of questions regarding the regional integration question is this: If the allegedly moderate regimes really desire Israel’s help in confronting formidable common threats (the menace of Jihadi cohorts and the specter of nuclear Iran), why would they predicate that help on precisely the same concessions from Israel that they demanded prior to those threats arising?  And were Israel to refuse those concessions would these “moderates” deny themselves the aid Israel could provide them—for the sake of the Palestinian-Arabs, for whom they have shown consistent disdain and contempt over decades?

Furthermore, if the “moderate” states see Israel’s strength as a determining factor in making it an attractive ally in combatting the common threat of radical Islamism, why would they insist on concessions that weaken it, and expose it to greater perils as a precondition to accepting its aid? Why would they press for concessions that are likely to fall—as they did in Gaza—to the very Jihadi elements that both they, and Israel, see as a common enemy?

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Worst Chemical Attack in Years; US blames Assad  – New York  Times, April 4, 2017.

Death toll climbs in clashes at Palestinian camp in Lebanon – Reuters, April 9, 2017.

Deadly blasts hit Coptic churches in Tanta, Alexandria – Al Jazeera, April 10, 2017.

Five Sudanese soldiers killed in Yemen conflict – Reuters, April 12, 2017.

These four recent headlines, spanning barely a week, bear chilling testimony to the grim and grisly realities of the Arab world.

Barbaric business as usual   

After all, had the several score killed in the April 4th chemical attack in Northern Syria been beheaded, or lynched, or burnt alive or slaughtered by any one of the other gruesome methods by which hundreds of thousands of civilians have lost their lives in the Syrian Civil War over the last five years, it is more than likely that their deaths would have gone largely unnoticed and unreported.Indeed, it would have been nothing more than brutal, barbaric business as usual for the region.

Across virtually the entire Arab world , from the Atlantic Ocean in the West to the Persian Gulf in the East; from the Sahara desert in the South to the upper reaches  of the Euphrates in the North, naked violence engulfs entire countries – Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya.  Others – like Lebanon and Egypt—are perennially on the cusp of its eruption; and in others (like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia), it lurks, simmering just below the surface, constrained only by the iron grip of police-state tyranny.

With painfully few—and dubious—exceptions (such as Iraq, teetering on the brink of failed state status and Tunisia, once the poster-child of the “Arab Spring”, now   increasingly threatened by Jihadi Salafi insurgents—see here and here), the Arab regimes are a noxious brew of theocratic tyrannies, military dictatorships and/or nepotistic monarchies. The violent exchanges that rage throughout the region occur between a wide range of protagonists and across a myriad of schisms: Sunni vs Shia, radicals vs. monarchs, rebel insurgents vs incumbent rulers, Islamist extremists vs traditional regimes.

Death, depravity and despotism

It is against this doleful and daunting backdrop that the fatal follies of the past and of the emerging prescriptions for the future course of what has been perversely dubbed “the peace process”, must be assessed.

For as growing numbers of erstwhile advocates of the two-state paradigm are becoming increasingly skeptical—indeed, even despairing—of its viability within any foreseeable future, rather than admit the enormity of their error, they are now turning to a new false deity, no less ppreposterous or perilous than the tarnished chimera of two-statism.

This is the new cult of “regionalism”, which attempts to invert the twisted logic of two- statism—but leaves it just as twisted.

At the core, regionalism is the idea that, rather than strive for an agreement with the Palestinians as a necessary precursor to its acceptance by the states of the region, Israel can, and should, establish a pan-regional alliance with allegedly “moderate” states, driven by a recognition of common threats (the menace of Jihadi cohorts and the specter of nuclear Iran)—thereby paving its way to a resolution of the Palestinian issue.

Central to this new cult is the bizarre belief that Israel’s “integration” into region—which, as we have seen, is little more than a cesspool of death, depravity and despotism –is a goal both necessary and worthy—and one that the nation ought to strive to achieve.

Risible regionalism

Significantly, there are several glaring logical inconsistencies, non sequiturs and factual inaccuracies that plague the regional-integration doctrine.

First of all, as commonly presented, it almost inevitably entails circular reasoning – i.e. Israel should pursue relations with the moderate Arab states as a means of arriving at a resolution of the Palestinian problem; but the only way to arrive at such relations with the Arab world is to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.  So, resolving the Palestinian issue becomes both the objective of the regional-integration and the means to achieve it!

Thus, for instance in an article, Regional integration only way for Israel to achieve security, Atlantic Council senior fellow H.A. Hellyer writes: “…the only realistic way for Israelis to thrive in the long term is for them to be integrated into the wider region, beginning with a comprehensive and just peace settlement…”

This statement is not only of dubious veracity—since Israel seems to be thriving rather well without (thankfully) being “integrated into the wider region—but seems to collide with a later contention by Hellyer, who writes elsewhere: “A sustainable peace for Israelis is predicated on their eventual integration into the wider region.”

So there you have it: “Integration into the wider region” must be preceded by “peace”; but “peace” must be predicated on (i.e. preceded by) “integration into the region”.  Thus, resolving the Palestinian issue (a.k.a. “peace”) is presented both as the cause and effect of integration –having to precede it on the one hand, while being predicated on it, on the other.

Confusing, isn’t it??

Puzzling Pardo

But perhaps one of the most puzzling and perturbing endorsements of the regional-integration paradigm came in a speech delivered by Tamir Pardo the former Head of Israel’s Secret Intelligence Service, Mossad.

In it, Pardo identified the emergence of “a rare confluence of interests between Israel and the moderate Arab states.”

Pointing to the drawbacks of relations that are entirely covert, he remarked: “Secret relations that take place “under the radar” are by their nature transitory.” Accordingly, he advocated Israel’s overt integration into the region: “The key to regional integration is to build economic and social bridges between countries, facilitating trade and tourism…. The deeper, the more open and above board relations are, the better suited they will be to survive the inevitable shocks and disruptions that take place from time to time…. Israel’s regional integration is a key to its very survival.”

But he warned “None of this will happen without a resolution of the Palestinian problem.”

There are several disturbing defects—both conceptual and empirical–in this portrayal by Pardo, which seem to indicate that his undoubted ability in covert operations is not matched by a commensurate acumen for political analysis.

So, while Pardo may well be correct in his doubts as to the durability of secret relations, his faith in more overt one seems wildly at odds with Israel’s experience in past decades, causing one to puzzle over what could possibly be the basis  for his unfounded contention, and his reasons for making it.

Puzzling (cont) 

Indeed, the examples of Iran and Turkey clearly indicate that robust overt “economic and social bridges” as well as “trade and tourism” are of little value if the regime should change. After all, the relations with pre-revolutionary Iran and pre-Islamist Turkey could hardly have been closer or more cordial.

Yet, with the ascent to power of Khomeini in Iran and Erdogan in Turkey these ties proved, indeed, “transitory”.  Of course, the metamorphosis was particularly dramatic and rapid in Iran, where Israel was transformed from being a trusted ally to a hated enemy almost immediately. In Turkey, the process was more gradual and less drastic, but there can be little comparison between the tight strategic ties of yesteryear and the hostile attitude that prevails today.

This volatility in relations between nations is one of the most profound flaws in the regional-integration proposal—especially when it is predicated on a resolution of the Palestinian issue. For while it is true that countries like Jordan, under the Hashemite dynasty,  Egypt under Sisi, and the incumbent regimes in the Gulf may face common threats, it would be more than a stretch to characterize this as sharing long-term mutual interests with Israel.

Indeed, a yawning gulf separates between the seminal values that define the differing societies – with regard to individual liberties, gender equality, social diversity, religious pluralism—which clearly portends ample room for renewed adversarial relations once the common threat has been eliminated.

Palmerston…on perpetual allies

Israel would do well to heed the words of British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston (1784-1865) on the fickleness of nations and their international ties “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow”.This caveat is particularly pertinent in the case of the regional-integration paradigm. For in essence the deal to be struck is as follows: Israel is called upon to make perilous permanent concessions (to resolve the Palestinian issue) in exchange for a temporary alliance, based on the (ephemeral) word of rulers, who head not only some of the most decadent and despotic regimes on the planet, but also some of the most threatened.

Accordingly, there is little guarantee that the Arab entity that makes commitments toward Israel will be the entity called upon to honor them when need be. After all, what would be the value of any understanding on integration entered into in 2010 with say Syria, or Iraq or Libya…
Moreover, Israel was unable to prevent an Islamist takeover of Gaza.  It is, therefore, highly unlikely that it could prevent an Islamist takeover by a resurgent Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or an Islamist coup in Jordan.

Thus, given the fact that the concessions Israel is called upon to make to resolve the Palestinian issue, are largely irrevocable, while the pledges given it are largely retractable, any regime change in Cairo and even more so in Amman would have potentially disastrous ramifications.

With an Islamist state abutting the envisaged Palestinian state from the East, dispatching irredentist insurgents to destabilize any purportedly peaceable Palestinian regime in the territory evacuated by Israel; with a regime in Cairo no longer interested in, or capable of, countering the Jihadi warlords in Sinai, pressing against Israel’s 200 km frontier and the land route to Eilat, Israel is likely to rue any credence it placed in regional integration.

The most troubling of questions 

But of course the most troubling of questions regarding the regional integration question is this: If the allegedly moderate regimes really desire Israel’s help in confronting formidable common threats (the menace of Jihadi cohorts and the specter of nuclear Iran), why would they predicate that help on precisely the same concessions from Israel that they demanded prior to those threats arising?  And were Israel to refuse those concessions would these “moderates” deny themselves the aid Israel could provide them—for the sake of the Palestinian-Arabs, for whom they have shown consistent disdain and contempt over decades?

Furthermore, if the “moderate” states see Israel’s strength as a determining factor in making it an attractive ally in combatting the common threat of radical Islamism, why would they insist on concessions that weaken it, and expose it to greater perils as a precondition to accepting its aid? Why would they press for concessions that are likely to fall—as they did in Gaza—to the very Jihadi elements that both they, and Israel, see as a common enemy?

Indeed one might ask: Why should Israel have to make any concessions so that the Arab states would deign to accept its aid in their battle against a grave common menace?

As Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland once sighed “It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.”   It sure would! Regional integration: What Isaiah would say?

Of course one can only puzzle over what merit proponents of regional integration see in its implementation. Do they really want Israel to be absorbed into the morass of cruelty, corruption and cronyism that is the Middle East?  What values that pervade their Arab neighbors, would they urge it to adopt in order to “integrate”?Misogynistic gender bias? Homophobic persecution of gays? Intolerance of social diversity? Repression of minority religious faiths?  Suppression political dissidence? For were Israel to resist adopting these and other regional values, how on earth could it integrate into the region?

So, with the Mid-East on the cusp of melt-down, one can only imagine what Isaiah (5:20) would say of the proponents of regional integration:  Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.  

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

Tehran’s treacherous reconciliation offer

April 13, 2017

Tehran’s treacherous reconciliation offer, Washington Times, Mohammed Alsulami, April 12, 2017

Illustration on Iranian treachery by Linas Garsys/The Washington Times

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Iran has recently been reaching out to its Arab neighbors to propose a fraternal reconciliation.

Some Arab nations have been criticized for their less-than-enthusiastic response to these overtures. But that criticism is naive. Iran’s history and political structure make clear that these efforts are nothing more than a poor attempt at public relations spin and cannot be trusted. The recently Arab Summit in Jordan passed 15 resolutions indicting Iran’s behavior in the region — its backing of terror groups, its meddling in the internal affairs of neighboring nations, its incitement of Sunni-Shiite conflict, its intervention in the Syrian civil war and several other of its hostile policies.

If Iran were actually trying to turn a page with its Arab neighbors — which have endured decades of Iran-sponsored interference and terrorism within their borders — Iran should show some evidence it has truly changed.

In fact, nothing has changed.

What signals have the Iranian regime given to indicate a serious wish to reconcile with the Arab nations of the region? What changes has it made to its policies and actions?

The answer: none. Tehran is continuing its business-as-usual sponsorship and export of terror in the region, backing Hezbollah in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen and other militant groups. More to the point, if this reconciliation attempt is to believed, who in Tehran should Arab nations respond to? Should they deal with the official Iranian government or the real power base — Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IGRC)?

Has Iran made any structural changes to its ruling class that would persuade Arab neighbors that things are really different in Tehran? Absolutely not. The clerics remain in charge in Iran and have the final say.

All of the Iranian government’s diplomatic efforts and political decisions are controlled by the theocratic leadership, the IRGC and its extremist sectarian affiliates. If that remains the case, any reconciliation offer is bogus.

This was demonstrated during the negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif insisted on moving the negotiation team during the talks to Tehran to enable Ayatollah Khamenei and the IRGC to monitor the discussions and to approve or reject every detail of the agreement until it met with the real leaders’ approval. This is proof that the Iranian government cannot act independently or make any binding commitments without the approval of the clerical and military leadership.

But might Ayatollah Khamenei himself seek reconciliation with Iran’s Arab neighbors? Isn’t peace good for everybody?

This assumption might be valid if it ignored the fact that Iran’s jurist leadership has prioritized “exporting the revolution” as a core tenet of the Islamic republic’s constitution. The IRGC masterminds and implements the regime’s aggressive interventionist policies and is inextricably intertwined with the theocratic leadership. The IRGC is synonymous with the country’s national security, which is the sole prerogative of Supreme Leader Khamenei.

If the Iranian regime were serious about wishing to hold negotiations with Arab nations, these would be led by the country’s supreme leader, not by the administration under his control. The government and the diplomatic corps have no independent power and are his tools.

Tehran’s latest efforts to initiate unilateral negotiations with its neighbors via its powerless administration are a fruitless exercise. The empty offer by Iranian leadership is to buy more time to advance its regional agenda of destabilization and terror and to evaluate other nations’ stances toward Iran, particularly that of the new U.S. presidential administration.

Without radically changing its policies, particularly its funding and deployment of extremist sectarian militias in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and its interference in the internal affairs of Lebanon, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the Iranian regime’s reconciliation rhetoric and talk of negotiations should be disregarded.

Any real negotiation requires mutual confidence and respect, which Tehran is unwilling to grant.

The international community should understand that Arab nations’ sour history with the Iranian regime’s duplicitousness and its brutal regional military expansionism gives them every right to be skeptical about this recent offer of reconciliation. The primary objective behind Tehran’s new diplomatic strategy is to convince the international community and Western powers that Tehran is a normal, reasonable and pragmatic government.

No one should fall for this ploy. Arabs in the United States and around the world will not.

• Mohammed Alsulami is a researcher at Umm Al-Qura University in Saudi Arabia, specializing in Iranian studies.

Middle East: A Shift from Revolution to Evolution

April 8, 2017

Middle East: A Shift from Revolution to Evolution, Gatestone InstituteNajat AlSaied, April 8, 2017

The lesson the Trump administration might learn from the disastrous mistakes of its predecessor is that the main sources of terrorism in the region are political Islam and all its related religious groups. All these radical groups, including ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Jabhat Al-Nusra and Hamas have been spawned by a political Islam driven by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The fight, therefore, should not be against Islam, but against political Islam. Islam needs to be practiced the way other religions are, as a private personal faith that should be kept separate from public life and politics, and whose expression should be confined to worship only.

Mosques, whether in the Arab and Muslim world or in the West, should be places of worship only and must not transformed to centers for polarizing society or for recruitment by political religious groups.

After each Islamist terrorist attack in the West, the public is divided into two camps: one angry and one indifferent. The problem with defeating Islamist terrorism seems to be that either it is attacked by conservatives who call Islam an evil cult or it is forgiven entirely by liberal apologists. What, then, is the answer?

One of the main failures in Western analyses of the origins of terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa is that the West attributes them to a lack of democracy and a lack of respect for human rights. This is, indeed, part of the cause, but the root of the problem is a lack of development and modernity. U.S. President Donald Trump did not exaggerate when he said that the Obama administration’s foreign policy was disastrous. It was catastrophic mainly for two reasons. One was the knee-jerk support for the “Arab Spring” and for extremist Islamic political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The second was the alliances the Obama administration built with unreliable countries such as Qatar, which supports radical political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, Obama made the mistake of continuing to try to appease Iran’s theocratic regime.

The Arab Spring’s uncalculated, hasty attempt to establish so-called democracy only generated more turmoil and chaos in the region. Certain radical political groups simply exploited the elections to serve their own political and sectarian agendas; that swoop for power only resulted in more authoritarian and dictatorial regimes, as have played out, for instance, in Egypt, where we have witnessed the murder of civilians and police officers by the Muslim Brotherhood. In other countries, the situation is even worse; attempts to install democracy have totally destroyed the state and facilitated the spread of terrorist militias, as in Libya.

It is ironic that Western countries and their advocates stress the need to apply democratic practices in Arab countries, but evidently do not recall that development and secularism preceded democracy in Western Europe. The United Kingdom, which has the oldest democratic system, did not become fully democratic until 1930. France became fully democratic only in 1945, 150 years after the French Revolution.

The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, at the Arab Summit in Jordan on March 28, 2017 delivered a speech in which he indicated his continuous support for the Muslim Brotherhood:

“If we are serious about focusing our efforts on armed terrorist organizations, is it fair to consider any political party we disagree with as terrorist? Is our goal to increase the number of terrorists?”

Many Arab leaders were infuriated by his speech; at the forefront was President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, who left the Arab Summit Hall during the speech to meet King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Most Arab leaders and analysts, in fact, are enraged by Qatar’s continuous support for Islamist political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, because these groups are a threat to their national security.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt speaks at the Arab Summit, on March 29. The previous day, Sisi walked out of a speech by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. Sisi was infuriated by Al-Thani’s declaration of support for the Muslim Brotherhood. (Image source: Ruptly video screenshot)

Another consequence of Obama’s foreign policy — in particular attempts to get close to Iran’s hostile regime — has been a fraying of relationships with old Arab allies of the United States. Some of Obama’s advisors thought that replacing Saudi Arabia with Iran was somehow “better” for the United States, if Iran “is beginning to evolve into a very civilized and historically important country” — an analysis that can be described as completely short-sighted.

The Saudi regime, with all its flaws, is a monarchy run by princes; the Iranian regime is a theocracy run by clerics. The Saudi regime is not a theocratic regime but a hybrid structure, which is neither wholly secular nor wholly religious. As such, the religious class functions under the authority of the ruling class. Princes are driven by self-interest; clerics are driven by ideology. In terms of extremism, the Iranian regime is pushing for hegemony, whilst Saudi Arabia has been taking only a defensive, rather than an expansionist, position.

The motivation of Saudi Arabia in exporting mosques world-wide and installing radical Saudi imams is defensive, not expansionist as in Iran. Saudi Arabia’s impetus is to confront Iran’s hegemony and the spread of its hostile ideology. It is this strategy, which Saudi Arabia has practiced since 1979 to balance Iran’s power and to combat its rebellious ideology, that must change.

That Iran’s Khomeini regime sought to embarrass Saudi Arabia — a country that is home to Islam’s two holiest mosques, in Mecca and Medina — by portraying it as not sufficiently Islamic, meant that the foundational Islamic Wahhabism of the Saudi Kingdom was aggressively reinforced. This emphasis resulted in even more constraints being put in place in Iran: especially on entertainment. Since the Khomeini revolution in 1979, all plays, fashion shows, international events, and cinemas have been banned. As for women, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has increasingly harassed them. As for minorities, especially Shia challenging the Iranian Shia regime and its support for Shia militias — particularly the dominant Revolutionary Guards — books were published attacking the Shia:

More books appeared, attacking the Shias and especially Khomeini’s views. These books – like the arguments of Khomeini’s followers – rejected modern thinking as an “intellectual invasion.” Saudi Arabia, considered the guardian of Sunni Islam, spent billions of dollars on challenging the Khomeini-backed Shiites.

This religious one-upmanship — a competition over which body can be the “most religious” — must stop. Saudi Arabia would do well to understand that in order to confront the hegemony of the Iranian theocratic regime, the answer is not to radicalize Saudi society but to return to the way it was before 1979.

The best way to defeat the rebel hostile regime in Iran might be through creating an inclusive and tolerant society in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia needs to change its approach towards Iran because the current strategy has not worked. The current strategy has done nothing except to strengthen the Iranian regime’s dominance; distort, globally, the image of Saudi Arabia and accelerate terrorism.

The lesson the Trump administration might learn from the disastrous mistakes of its predecessor is that the main source of terrorism in the region are political Islam and all its related religious groups. All these radical groups including ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Jabhat Al-Nusra and Hamas have been spawned by a political Islam driven by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. Extremist jihadists such as Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam and Ayman al-Zawahiri were all taught by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Political Islam practiced by the Iranian theocratic regime has been comfortably generating Shia radical militias, including the terrorist group, Hezbollah. The fight, therefore, should not be against Islam, but against political Islam. Islam needs to be practiced the way other religions are, as a private personal faith that should be kept separate from public life and politics, and whose expression should be confined to worship only. Mosques, whether in the Arab and Muslim world or in the West, should be places of worship only and must not transformed to centers for polarizing society or for recruitment by political religious groups. Unfortunately, Western countries have turned a blind eye to the political activities inside these mosques.

The danger of these religious political groups is that they do not believe in democracy or human rights; they just use elections to grasp power in order to impose a system of “Islamic Caliphate” as their only form of government. Most of these groups use religion as an ideology to oppose governments other than their own, and when they are criticized or attacked, they play the role of the oppressed.

The Trump administration needs to take advantage of the fact that the majority of people in the Middle East and North Africa have lost faith in religious political groups, especially since the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia.

Before the Arab Spring, support for these groups was huge; now it stands at less than 10% of the population. This study was conducted in the Arab world, not including Turkey. The Muslims who support Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are the Muslim Brotherhood.

Most recent polls indicate that the majority of people in Arab and Muslim countries prefer religion to be kept separate from politics.

The country that is working the most systematically to fight these religious political groups in the region is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There are several institutes and think tanks researching how to combat these groups. Dr. Jamal Sanad Al-Suwaidi, Director General of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), has given a robust analysis of these groups and how to combat them in his book, The Mirage. In it, he cites a study on public opinion on political religious groups: A survey of the UAE population, on how these groups are able to influence the public by taking advantage of certain flaws in the system: 53.9% because of corruption; 47.9% because of poverty and 29.1% because of an absence of civil society groups that confront these opportunists.

The Middle East-North Africa region will undoubtedly have to go through several stages before it can successfully establish democracy. An evolutionary developmental approach will definitely be better than the failed revolutionary democratic one pursued by the Obama administration.

Secularization is also crucial in the fight against terrorism. Trying to build a democracy before going through the stages of secularism and political reformation — which includes rectifying existing flaws, such as corruption; modernization which means the liberation of the region from extremist totalitarian religious dogma and all other forms of backwardness in order to kick-start a renaissance; and scientific development — will not only be inadequate but will actually generate more terrorism by helping radicals to keep gaining power. It would be like a farmer who wants to plant roses in arid desert soil full of thorns.