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TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY—ON ISRAEL, IRAN, PA, & ISLAMISM—A “MARKED DEPARTURE” FROM OBAMA
Volume X1, No. 3,983 • February 13, 2017 • February 13, 2017
Only Washington Can Forge a Moderate Mideast Axis: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 4, 2017— In recent years, it has become customary in much analysis of the Middle East emerging from Israel to divide Middle Eastern countries into a series of alliances or "camps."
The Trump Way of Winning the War: Caroline Glick, Real Clear World, Feb. 4, 2017— The PLO is disoriented, panicked and hysterical.
Know Thine Enemy: From GWOT to CVE to DIT?: Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, BESA, Feb. 12, 2017— With President Trump’s administration now busily dismantling much of what his predecessor left behind, it is more important than ever to proceed from a clear identification of adversary forces.
Now for the Post-Post-Cold War Era: Thomas Donnelly, Weekly Standard, Jan. 23, 2017— As Barack Obama leaves the Oval Office, so too will the “post-Cold War era" exit the scene.
Trump’s Bluntness Unsettles World Leaders: Carol E. Lee, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 3, 2017
The US Strikes a New Tone at the UN by Standing With Israel: Gabriel Groisman, Algemeiner, Feb. 12, 2017
A Five-Part Plan for Trump to Rebuild US Relations With Israel: Greg Roman, The Hill, Jan. 27, 2017
Trump, China, and the Middle East: Roie Yellinek, BESA, Feb. 7, 2017
Jerusalem Post, Feb. 4, 2017
In recent years, it has become customary in much analysis of the Middle East emerging from Israel to divide Middle Eastern countries into a series of alliances or "camps." These camps are identified in a variety of ways. But the most usual depiction notes a tight, hierarchical bloc of states and movements dominated by the Islamic Republic of Iran. An alliance of "moderate" states opposed to Iran and including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Israel is seen as the principal adversary and barrier to the hegemonic ambitions of the Iran-led bloc.
Some depictions also posit the existence of a smaller alliance of states and entities associated with Muslim Brotherhood-style Sunni political Islam (Qatar, Turkey, the Hamas enclave in Gaza). The picture is then completed with the addition of the rival Salafi Islamist regional networks of al-Qaida and Islamic State.
This picture, in its coherence and elegant simplicity, is pleasing to the eye. It posits a powerful regional alliance, of which Israel is seen as a member. Whether the picture conforms to reality, however, is questionable.
Specifically, while the blocs led by Iran and the transnational networks of the Salafi jihadists are certainly observable, it is far more doubtful if anything resembling an alliance of "moderate" states really exists. The so-called 'moderate bloc' consists of countries that disagree bitterly on important issues. Iran stands at the head of an alliance that has made significant gains across the region over the last half decade. Its Lebanese client, Hezbollah, is increasingly absorbing the institutions of the Lebanese state. Its clients in Yemen (the Ansar Allah movement or Houthis) control the capital and a large swath of the country.
President Bashar Assad of Syria is no longer in danger of being overthrown and now dominates the main cities and coastline of his country, as well as the majority of its population. In Iraq, the Shi'a militias of the Hashd al-Shaabi are emerging as a key political and military player. The Iranian alliance is characterized by a pyramid-type structure, with Iran itself at the top. In the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Tehran has an agency perfectly suited for the management of this bloc. As the Syrian war has shown, Tehran is able to muster proxies and clients from across the region and as far afield as Afghanistan and Pakistan, in order to deploy them in support of a beleaguered member of its team. This is what an alliance looks like.
By contrast, the so-called moderate bloc in fact consists of countries that disagree bitterly on important issues, while agreeing on some others. Russia, Syria, and Iran display far more unity of purpose than the Sunni governments opposing them. Observe: Saudi Arabia was the first country to express support for the military coup in Egypt on July 3, 2013. The friendship between Cairo and Riyadh looked set to form a Sunni Arab bulwark against both the Iranian advance and the ambitions of Sunni radical political Islam. That is not the way it has turned out. On a number of key regional files, the two are now on opposite sides.
In Syria, Saudi Arabia was and remains among the key supporters of the rebellion. The Assad regime, as a client of Iran, was a natural enemy for the Saudis. The Egyptians, however, saw and see the Syrian war entirely differently – as a battle between a strong, military regime (like themselves) and a rebellion based on Sunni political Islam. In November 2016, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said that Assad's forces were "best positioned to combat terrorism and restore stability" in the country. Sisi identified this stance as part of a broader strategy, according to which "our priority is to support national armies... and deal with extremist elements. The same with Syria and Iraq."
This places Egypt and Saudi Arabia, supposedly the twin anchors of the "moderate" bloc, at loggerheads in two key areas. In Libya, in line with this orientation, too, Egypt, along with the UAE, fully supports Gen. Khalifa Haftar and his forces in the east of the country. Saudi Arabia, by contrast, is largely indifferent to events in that area. In Yemen, meanwhile, the Egyptians have offered only halfhearted support to Saudi Arabia's war against the Houthis. This, in turn, relates to a further key difference between the two – regarding relations with Iran.
While the Saudis see the Iran-led regional bloc as the key regional threat to their interests, the Egyptians are drawing closer to Tehran. The two countries have not had full diplomatic relations since 1980. But the Iranians acknowledged their common stance on Syria, when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif specifically requested of John Kerry to invite Egypt to send a delegation to talks on Syria in the Swiss city of Lausanne on October 15, 2016. In the same month, to the Saudis' fury, Cairo voted for a Russian-backed UN Security Council resolution allowing the continuation of the bombing of rebel-held eastern Aleppo.
In turn, when Saudi oil giant Aramco announced the cessation of fuel transfers to Egypt, Sisi declared that "Egypt would not bow to anyone but God," and the government of Iraq agreed to step in to make good the shortfall, at the request of Iran and Russia. So the core Egyptian-Saudi alliance is fraying.
Israel views its chief concerns as Iranian expansionism and Sunni political Islam; Egypt is concerned only with the latter of these. Saudi Arabia meanwhile, is increasingly concerned only with the former. Representatives of King Salman met late last year with officials of the Muslim Brotherhood in Istanbul, London and Riyadh. On the agenda was the possible removal of the Brotherhood – Egypt's key enemy – from Saudi Arabia's list of terrorist organizations. Salman has taken a view of Sunni political Islam far more forgiving than that of his predecessor, King Abdullah. This, in turn, has led to Saudi rapprochement with Turkey, whose leader despises the Egyptian president for overthrowing his fellow Muslim Brothers.
Thus, the three main corners of the "moderate" alliance are drifting in different directions – Riyadh appears headed toward rapprochement with political Islam, while maintaining opposition to Iran. Egypt is moving toward Russia, Syria, Iraq and a stance of support for strong states. Only Washington can bring the disparate enemies of Iran and Sunni Islamism into a united front…
[To Read the full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Real Clear World, Feb. 4, 2017
The PLO is disoriented, panicked and hysterical. Speaking to Newsweek this week, Saeb Erekat, PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas’s chief conduit to Israel and the Americans, complained that since President Donald Trump was sworn into office, no administration official had spoken to them. “I don’t know any of them [Trump’s advisers]. We have sent them letters, written messages. They don’t even bother to respond to us.”
The Trump administration’s shunning of the PLO is a marked departure from the policies of its predecessor. For former president Barack Obama, together with Iran, the Palestinians were viewed as the key players in the Middle East. Abbas was the first foreign leader Obama called after taking office. Erekat’s statement reveals something that is generally obscured. Despite its deep support in Europe, the UN and the international Left, without US support, the PLO is irrelevant. All the achievements the PLO racked up under Obama – topped off with the former president’s facilitation of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 against Israel – are suddenly irrelevant. Their impact dissipated the minute Trump took office.
Israel, in contrast, is more relevant than ever. While Trump occasionally pays lip service to making peace in the Middle East, his real goal is to win the war against jihadist Islam. And he rightly views Israel as a woefully underutilized strategic ally that shares his goal and is well-placed to help him achieve it.
During the electoral campaign, Trump often spoke derisively of Obama’s nuclear pact with Tehran. And he repeatedly promised to eradicate Islamic State. But when asked to explain what he intended to do on these scores, Trump demurred. You don’t expect me to let the enemy know my plan, do you? Trump’s critics dismissed his statements as empty talk. But since he came into office, each day signals that he does have a plan and that he is implementing it. The plan coming into focus involves a multidimensional campaign that if successful will both neutralize Iran as a strategic threat and obliterate ISIS.
Regarding Iran specifically, Trump’s moves to date involve operations on three levels. First, there is the rhetorical campaign to distinguish the Trump administration from its successor. Trump launched the campaign on Twitter on Wednesday writing, “Iran is rapidly taking over more and more of Iraq even after the US has squandered three trillion dollars there.” Shortly before his post, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Abadi appointed Iranian proxy Qasim al Araji to serve as his interior minister. At a minimum, Trump’s statement signaled an abandonment of Obama’s policy of cooperating with Iranian forces and Iranian-controlled Iraqi forces in the fight against ISIS in Iraq…
On Sunday, Iran carried out its 12th ballistic missile test since concluding its nuclear deal with Obama, and its first since Trump took office. On Monday, Iranian-controlled Houthi forces in Yemen attacked a Saudi ship in the Bab al-Mandab choke point connecting the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. Flynn condemned both noting that they threatened the US and its allies and destabilized the Middle East. The missile test, he said, violated UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that anchored the nuclear deal. Flynn then took a step further. He drew a sharp contrast between the Obama administration’s responses to Tehran’s behavior and the Trump administration’s views of Tehran’s provocative actions.
“The Obama administration failed to respond adequately to Tehran’s malign actions – including weapons transfers, support for terrorism, and other violations of international norms,” he noted. “The Trump administration condemns such actions by Iran that undermine security, prosperity and stability throughout and beyond the Middle East and place American lives at risk.” Flynn ended his remarks by threatening Iran directly. “As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” he warned. While Flynn gave no details of what the US intends to do to Iran if it continues its aggressive behavior, the day before he made his statement, the US opened a major, multilateral, British-led naval exercise in the Persian Gulf. US naval forces in the region have been significantly strengthened since January 20 and rules of engagement for US forces in the Persian Gulf have reportedly been relaxed.
Perhaps the most potent aspect of Trump’s emerging strategy for defeating the forces of jihad is the one that hasn’t been discussed but it was signaled, through a proxy, the day after Trump took office. On January 21, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a remarkable message to the Iranian people on his Facebook page. Netanyahu drew a sharp distinction between the “warm” Iranian people and the “repressive” regime.
Netanyahu opened his remarks by invoking the new administration. “I plan to speak soon with President Trump about how to counter the threat of the Iranian regime, which calls for Israel’s destruction,” the prime minister explained. “But it struck me recently that I’ve spoken a lot about the Iranian regime and not enough about the Iranian people, or for that matter, to the Iranian people. So I hope this message reaches every Iranian.”
Netanyahu paid homage to the Green Revolution of 2009 that was brutally repressed by the regime. In his words, “I’ll never forget the images of proud, young students eager for change gunned down in the streets of Tehran in 2009.” Netanyahu’s statement was doubtlessly coordinated with the new administration. It signaled that destabilizing with the goal of overthrowing the regime in Tehran is a major component of Trump’s strategy. By the looks of things in Iran, regime opponents are taking heart from the new tone emanating from Washington. Iranian dissidents have asked for a meeting with Trump’s team. And a week and a half before Trump’s inauguration, regime opponents staged a massive anti-regime protest…
[To Read the full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman
BESA, Feb. 12, 2017
With President Trump’s administration now busily dismantling much of what his predecessor left behind, it is more important than ever to proceed from a clear identification of adversary forces. "Know thine enemy" is an ancient strategic precept that has been largely been forgotten in recent years. The fuzzy concepts of the Obama era have now given rise to the contrarian tendency towards an outspoken determination to defeat radical Islam. Some, in Israel and elsewhere, find this approach refreshingly straightforward, but one must be careful not to take this strategy in the wrong direction. There is an enemy to defeat and destroy, but it is not Islam as such. It is the modern, totalitarian (per)version of Islam known as Islamism.
Islamism is a poisonous tree with three current main branches: Iran and its proxies, IS and other al-Qaida clones, and the Muslim Brotherhood. It is these forces that should be confronted and ultimately destroyed, as other totalitarians were in the last century. This needs to be done with the help of moderate, non-radicalized, and de-radicalized Muslims. A clear understanding of the forces one is up against is the foundational element for all intelligence work, as well as for strategic planning and the proper mobilization of national resources and international alliances. “Knowing thine enemy” was easier in World War II and in the days of the Cold War than it is today. With the "New World Order", the political, economic, and intellectual hegemony of the West has been violently challenged by unexpectedly ferocious elements.
Who are these enemies and how are they to be defeated? After 9/11, the Bush administration launched what came to be called a "Global War on Terror" (GWOT). But terror is, after all – while morally repugnant and legally banned – a tool of war, not an enemy. The term was parodied as an analogy to calling WWII "a war on tanks". The real enemies were identified, at first, as al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But once Afghanistan was liberated, the neoconservative agenda, inspired by Reagan’s success in bringing down the Soviet empire, transformed the War on Terror into a War on Tyranny: hence the retroactive justification for the invasion of Iraq as an act of deliverance and democratization.
Obama did not entirely abandon the so-called Freedom Agenda, echoing it during his Cairo speech in 2009 and in his reactions to the turmoil in the Arab world since 2011. But generally speaking, he took a cautious line, focusing on "root causes" and social and political ills rather than on enemies (the main exception being Bin Laden and, later, IS). His persistent refusal to "call a spade a spade" – to look upon Islamist radicals as an enemy force in the full sense, not just as a sub-species of the social phenomenon "Violent Extremism" – came to be seen by many as a highly problematic exercise in conflict avoidance and a willful denial of political and strategic realities.
This dismay probably played a role in empowering forces on both sides of the Atlantic that aggressively challenged the predominant, politically correct culture; hence Trump and his parallels in Europe and elsewhere. But to let the pendulum swing all the way over, as some fear, into a Huntingtonian template in which all of Islamic civilization is the enemy is to go too far in the wrong direction. True, the executive order suspending entry to the US from seven hostile or chaotic countries is not in itself anti-Islamic, but the clumsy way it was handled gave rise to this interpretation of the administration's long-term intentions – not least because of the views ascribed to Steve Bannon and to President Trump himself.
Still, people in high positions in Washington are attentive to other Muslim voices. President Sisi of Egypt, with whom President Trump has struck a good relationship, is a strong advocate of "reforming the [Islamic] religious discourse" and reversing the Salafi-Jihadi tendencies that have stained it since the nineteenth century. The Saudi perspective – which has the attention of Secretary of State Tillerson, a former Exxon CEO, and Secretary of Defense Mattis, a former C-in-C of Centcom – has shifted in a similar direction, despite residual influences of the Wahhabi worldview. Even in Israel, sober voices prefer a nuanced worldview (and a warm relationship with Muslim nations from Jordan to Central Asia to Africa) over civilizational Armageddon. It is in the interests of all the key players to latch onto a coherent interpretation of who the enemy is and how to defeat it. That war could be called by the shorthand DIT, or Defeating Islamist Totalitarianism…
[To Read the full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Weekly Standard, Jan. 23, 2017
As Barack Obama leaves the Oval Office, so too will the “post-Cold War era" exit the scene. Another Lost Ark, it may wind up in an endless, dusty warehouse, a torrent locked in a raw wood crate. What was the post-Cold War era—a time first and forever defined by what it was not? Was it even a fleeting Pax Americana, this "unipolar moment"? Or were such pronouncements merely hubris, the pride that inevitably comes before a fall? The temptation always has been to see this period as one shaped by ineluctable forces: a Hegelian end of history revealing liberal democracy as the only legitimate form of government, or the apoth-eosis of "geoeconomics," when commerce supplanted military power and national sovereignty "devolved" to supranational institutions or super-localism or some hybrid of the two. The Big Thinking of the past generation has been one long parade of Big Ideas, none of which seemed to last more than a season or two.
But to be content with Lexus-and-olive-tree history is to lose a sense of the contingencies, the counterfactuals, and especially the influence of individuals and their decisions on the course of events. This past generation has been, when compared with the recorded past, a unipolar moment. "Nothing has ever existed like this disparity of power, nothing," wrote Paul Kennedy, previously the prophet of the rise and fall of great powers, of U.S. preeminence in 2002. Yet now, at the transition from Obama to Donald Trump, it is apparent that this unprecedented disparity was not translated into anything of permanence. The unipolar moment did not become a Pax Americana. Far from it. What happened?
The answer to that question must begin by recollecting what a surprise the collapse of the Soviet Union was, how rapid it was, and how it reflected internal rot much more than external pressures or influence. The conventional wisdom at the time was that the twilight struggle with Moscow's empire would go on for ever. In their remarkably plainspoken memoir, A World Transformed, George H. W. Bush and his national security adviser Brent Scowcroft reacted to the events of 1989 as though they were reruns of similar Eastern Bloc tumults from previous decades. What they feared most was a replay of Hungary 1956: "I did not want to encourage a course of events which might turn violent and get out of hand," Bush wrote, "and which we then couldn't—or wouldn't—support, leaving people stranded at the barricades."
That the Soviet empire imploded quietly was an astounding stroke of luck, and the principal strategic result—the reunification of Germany in NATO—was an achievement of immense proportions, the seeming resolution of centuries of bloodshed. But such an epoch-defining event proved disorienting, perhaps understandably so, to men such as Bush and Scowcroft. They had grown up in a world where the aim of statecraft was stability, managing and preventing great-power confrontations, and defending the frontiers of freedom rather than exploiting the weaknesses of autocracies.
So if they were coldly cautious in guiding Mikhail Gorbachev to ground in Moscow, Bush and his lieutenants froze in place when faced with the Tiananmen Square crisis and massacres in Beijing. The president was deeply and personally involved with China policy—although, as unofficial ambassador in Beijing, he had been largely out of the loop when Henry Kissinger engineered his "opening" during the Nixon years—and felt he knew Chinese leaders well. He embraced the gospel of the "U.S.-China relationship" as a pillar of U.S. strategy. Tiananmen suggested a degree of great-power instability and uncertainty beyond what Bush, Scowcroft, and company could handle…
[To Read the full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Trump’s Bluntness Unsettles World Leaders: Carol E. Lee, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 3, 2017—President Donald Trump’s blunt, win-the-deal approach to diplomacy has U.S. adversaries and some allies struggling to assess its impact for their countries and puzzling over how to react if they land in the new American leader’s crosshairs next.
The US Strikes a New Tone at the UN by Standing With Israel: Gabriel Groisman, Algemeiner, Feb. 12, 2017—Newly instated US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley passed her first test on Saturday, showing loyalty to her country’s greatest ally in the Middle East, Israel.
A Five-Part Plan for Trump to Rebuild US Relations With Israel: Greg Roman, The Hill, Jan. 27, 2017—The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States has ostensibly ended an eight-year deterioration of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Now it’s time to repair the damage.Trump, China, and the Middle East: Roie Yellinek, BESA, Feb. 7, 2017—Ever since Donald Trump won the US presidential race, the issue of US-China relations has been high on the agenda of both parties. The subject preoccupies the president more than Islamic terror, Vladimir Putin, and other more pressing issues facing the world. This should not be surprising. Throughout the campaign, Trump pointed his finger time and again at China. His attacks often occurred during speeches in declining, heavy-industrial cities in the "Rust Belt" states, where he subsequently achieved unexpected victories.
Prof. Frederick Krantz, Director (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)
Prof. Harold Waller (McGill University)
Prof. Ira Robinson, Associate Chairman (Department of Religion, Concordia University)
Baruch Cohen, Research Chairman (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)
Rob Coles (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)