Jonathan Kay

National Post, February 25, 2012

In Syria, the Assad regime continues to rain artillery on rebel positions in the city of Homs, killing journalists and innocent civilians alike. Iran’s mullahs are set to execute a Canadian citizen for the crime of operating a web site they don’t like. The new Libyan regime is torturing Gaddafi loyalists. And Egypt’s rulers are prosecuting NGO leaders on trumped-up charges. And so next week, Canadian left-wing activists will congregate in Toronto to express their hatred of…you guessed it: Israel.

The events of March 5-9 will take place as part of the 8th annual Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), and will feature presentations such as “Cutting the Ties to Israeli Apartheid: Cultural and Academic Boycott,” and “Rhymes Of Resistance And The Sounds Of Existence—with poets Remi Kanazi, Red Slam and Chand-nee.” The IAW website is full of the usual rhetoric about Israel’s “criminal” actions. There is not a word of acknowledgement about how utterly ridiculous it is to run a week-long event vilifying Israel when right next door in Syria, the government has just exterminated more Arabs than were killed in both Intifidas, the 2008 Gaza conflict, and the 2006 Lebanon war combined.

The timing of IAW this year truly does represent something of a farce. The eyes of the entire world are focused on Syria and the Strait of Hormuz. Even West Bank Palestinians themselves now seem more concerned with building up their economy than with grand international gestures aimed at the Jewish state.… In the streets of Cairo, Sana’a and Tunis, no one is talking about Israel—only about when they will get the democracy they were promised. Only among cultish, single-minded anti-Israel activists has the news of the Arab Spring failed to circulate.

The word “cultish” is used here advisedly—because even some veteran anti-Israel activists are getting tired of the false mantras that circulate at IAW events. This includes no less an anti-Zionist than Norman Finkelstein (who has called Israel a “vandal state” that “relentlessly and brutally and inhumanly keeps these vicious, murderous wars”). Speaking to an interviewer earlier this month, he attacked the animating philosophy behind IAW—the movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel (BDS)—as a “cult,” and an unsuccessful one at that.…

“All [the BDS] claims about ‘victories’ [against Israel]: These 10 fingers more than suffice to count their victories,” Mr. Finkelstein said this month. [According] to Finkelstein…“We have to be honest: They [BDS activists] don’t want Israel. They think they’re being clever. They call it their three tiers. ‘We want to end of the occupation,’ ‘We want the right of return [for Palestinian refugees],’ ‘And we want equal rights for Arab citizens.’ But they know the result of implementing all three is—what? You and I both know: There’s no Israel.…”

[Everyone] should understand that IAW and BDS are not what they seem: As some of Israel’s own fiercest critics themselves now admit, these are dishonest cults meant to enlist ill-informed activists in a campaign to destroy the Jewish state.

Zvi Mazel

Jerusalem Post, January 27, 2012

Western countries, it appears, deluded themselves about the so-called Arab Spring and the compatibility of Islam and democracy.

Since Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979, it has received $70 billion from the United States in military and civilian grants. Civilian grants were intended to help improve education, infrastructure and develop the economy, as well as further democracy. Grants to the army were meant to ensure the stability of the country and help Egypt sustain its role as a leader of the Arab world against Iran and terror organizations.

Hundreds of modern F-16 planes, Abrams tanks and other state-of-the-art materiel replaced outdated Soviet-era equipment. Joint exercises were held; thousands of officers were sent to the US for advanced training, in the hope that they would discover and appreciate the merits of democracy.

During the long rule of Hosni Mubarak the army was often called “the silent partner.” Generals did not try to interfere in the ruling of the country, though they quietly started taking over greater and greater segments of the economy. First military industries then industrial and trade companies; the army now holds about one third of the economy.…

Army leaders were careful not to let Islamist militants into their ranks. They remembered only too well the Sadat assassination, carried out in 1981 by a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement during a military parade. Mubarak, who had survived that day, was convinced that by favoring his generals and letting them enrich themselves he would ensure their continuing loyalty and support.

Yet it took only one week of violent street demonstrations in Cairo for America to abandon its ally of 43 years and for President Barack Obama to tell Mubarak to go. Obama probably thought that freed of the chains of dictatorship, a new regime would turn to democracy and strengthen its ties with America. It was a very bad miscalculation.

There was an outpouring of hatred towards the United States; worse, extremist Islamic parties won 75 percent of the seats of the new parliament. The Muslim Brotherhood…defeated democracy by knock-out.

What now? America watches impotently as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)…accused the American University of Cairo, situated not far from Tahrir Square, of fomenting troubles.… The generals may have been trying to deflect criticism in a time-honored Egyptian manner by throwing the blame on another—and America made a convenient scapegoat.

Then came the December raid on 17 NGOs, including well known American civil organizations. Documents were seized, offices closed in what was seen as a deliberate provocation against America.… Though Egypt insists that it is a purely legal issue and that the organizations did not have the necessary permits to operate…it is not a satisfactory explanation: instead of launching the raids with no advance warning, why not first warn the United States that if the organizations did not register within a given number of days or weeks, sanctions would be taken? In the meantime 43 NGO employees, including 19 American citizens, are being prevented from leaving the country.…

The SCAF appears unfazed by the turn of events, as if it has come to the conclusion that channeling against the hated Americans the frustration of increasingly disillusioned masses who have yet to see some positive results of the revolution is a sound political move. Both the Muslim Brothers and the Salafists, who view American democracy as their most dangerous enemy, support them. When Congress threatened to cut off aid, public opinion polls showed that 71% of the Egyptians declared that Egypt did not need that money and that they could get the same amount from Arab states, a position which was backed by Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri as well as by the head of Al-Azhar University.

However, and at the same time, Issam Alarian, one of the leaders of the Brotherhood, warned that should the Americans stop their aid, it would lead to a review of the peace treaty with Israel.…

What happened to the much touted friendship between American top brass and their Egyptian counterparts? What about a little gratitude for the considerable sums poured into Egypt to help the country’s development and the modernization?…

To sum up: far from leading to greater openness and democracy, the ouster of Mubarak has led to brutal oppression and an open rift with the United States.… As for the Muslim Brothers,…they see in democratic America a major stumbling block on the road to setting up an Islamic regime in Egypt and doing away with the peace treaty with Israel.

Barry Rubin

Jerusalem Post, February 5, 2012

Dear readers, I’d like to share a secret. Every day I read articles, or some form of writing, by people who claim to be experts on the Middle East. I have read them on land; I have read them at sea; I have read them in the air. And they will never surrender to reality. Here are the two main causes of error:

1. They think the Middle East is just like the West, so they can extrapolate from their own experience. When someone say[s], “If I were Yasser Arafat, I’d…” my response [is always]: You are not Arafat or [Ayatollah] Khomeini or Saddam Hussein or whatever, and unless you have some understanding of how they actually think—and not your own Western idea of what they should think—there’s no sense in discussing it.

2. They think the Middle East is just what they’d like it to be. Peace? Easy. They have a plan. My response: I’d love to hear your plan but I’m all booked up to hear Middle East peace plans for the next three years. I’ll put you on the waiting list and get back to you.

By the same token, they sometimes lie to make things seem better. You can’t criticize the Palestinian Authority—or the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Turkish regime, etc.—even by telling the truth about them, because that would damage the cause of “peace.” They don’t understand that not telling the truth is the best way to undermine any chance for peace, or any understanding of why there is no peace.

The Middle East is so strange in Western terms, so different, that unless you are really aware of those differences, please pick something else to be an expert on. And that brings me to a case in point that I have before me right now.

The Wafd is a “liberal,” “moderate” Egyptian party, right? It is the biggest non-Islamist party in Egypt’s parliament with 7.6 percent (pretty pitiful, huh?) of the seats. So if you are a Western reporter, policymaker, or “expert” you would say that it is one of the great hopes—perhaps the greatest—for moderate, liberal Egyptian democracy, right?…

But how many “liberal,” “moderate” parties have had: A deadly shoot-out between two factions over control of their headquarters; An alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood—which might be renewed; A deputy leader who explains that September 11 was a US-Zionist plot, the Holocaust never happened, and Anne Frank was a phony?

And now this article, courtesy of the party’s official newspaper, appearing on January 27, 2012.… In brief, the article charges that a small US Navy Medical Research Unit in Cairo that conducts research on tropical and Third World diseases is in fact engaged in plotting to send “Medicines, pesticides, food products and seeds [to Egypt], after these have been dangerously tampered with, so as to harm the Egyptians’ health.… [These are] biological weapons, which, if deployed, could exterminate the entire Egyptian nation, or any other nation.…” It goes on to suggest that various disease epidemics in Egypt were caused by the United States and charges that the US “sees the Egyptian children as an opportunity to test new medicines…causing increases in infertility, mental retardation and disability among Egyptians born in recent years.…” And all this is done “in accordance with America’s will, which has Israel standing forcefully behind it.…”

This one article is a rich source of knowledge about Egypt and the Arabic-speaking world, not so much in terms of health issues but in terms of political and intellectual structures. Of course, there are the common conspiracy theories and the idea that the Zionists are everywhere, but that’s only the beginning of the issue. Don’t be fooled into thinking that conspiracy theories are silly, funny, archaic ideas that don’t mean anything precisely because they are inaccurate.

Here are some of the implications: 1. An American attempt to help Egypt is portrayed as a harmful and aggressive activity; 2. The priority for the nation is to fight foreign conspiracies, not to fix domestic shortcomings; 3. Since internal problems are blamed on outsiders they are thus made impossible to solve. Science and modernity are viewed not as solutions but with suspicion, as attempts to destroy one’s own society through imperialist takeover, social transformation, and atheism.…; 4. If Americans are so evil then it makes sense for people to become terrorists and to slay or drive out the horrible villains.…

Together these four symptoms block progress, inflame hatred and extremism and produce conflict. This is a common pattern in the Middle East whether aimed against Israel, the United States, or the West in general.…

So, in short, the Islamists are not “moderate,” and many of the alleged moderates are not moderate. Hence, the hopes for moderation and real democracy is limited by the small numbers of those who hold them. We were told not so long ago that the young, social-media using kids who made Egypt’s revolution would dominate the country thereafter. Question: What percentage of the vote in parliamentary elections did the young, social-media using kids who made Egypt’s revolution get? Answer: 1.3 percent.

(Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research and International Affairs (GLORIA) Center.)

National Interest

Bruce Riedel, February 10, 2012

In the year since Hosni Mubarak was toppled, most of our attention has rightly been focused on Cairo and the Nile heartland of Egypt.… But there have also been important developments in Egypt’s eastern frontier, the Sinai Peninsula bordering Israel.

The Sinai has long been at odds with Cairo. The Bedouin population that lives in the arid and forbidding desert has long felt neglected by the government in Cairo and ignored by the Egyptian mainstream. Smuggling and crime are rampant among the tribes. Several acts of terror against Western and Israeli tourists along the Gulf of Aqaba in the last decade were blamed on the Bedouin.…

During the revolution last February, police stations in the Sinai were abandoned or attacked and looted by disaffected Bedouins. A shadowy new organization emerged that went by several different titles, including al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula and Ansar al-Jihad. It took credit for attacks on the Egypt-Israel natural-gas pipeline that crosses the Sinai.

At the end of July, dozens of armed men attacked the police station in El Arish, the capital of the peninsula. In the wake of this attack, pamphlets were circulated announcing a “Statement from al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula.” The statement called for creating an Islamic emirate in the Sinai, implementing sharia law, breaking the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, halting discrimination against the Sinai’s Bedouin tribes and demanding Egyptian military intervention on behalf of the Hamas regime in Gaza. The mix of global jihadist demands with local Bedouin grievances suggested the long-repressed Bedouin population of the Sinai had been radicalized by al-Qaeda activists or at least sympathizers. A video surfaced soon after repeating the demands.

In response to the violence and chaos, the Egyptian military sent a couple thousand more troops and police into the Sinai to restore order, at least in El Arish. Under the terms of the 1979 peace treaty, Egyptian military forces in the peninsula are limited in numbers and equipment, so Cairo had to get Israeli approval for the troop deployment.

None of al-Qaeda’s official media outlets has recognized the jihadists in the Sinai as a formal branch of al-Qaeda. And yet Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian who has replaced Osama bin Laden as emir of al-Qaeda, has publicly congratulated those jihadists who blew up the pipeline and has called for more attacks on Israeli targets in his audio commentaries on the Egyptian Revolution. Many Zawahiri supporters are among those released in the jailbreaks in Egypt last year, and he has long tried to rebuild the infrastructure of the terror underground he led in Egypt in the 1990s.…

Now the group in the Sinai using the name Ansar al-Jihad has formally pledged its loyalty to Zawahiri and recognized him as the legitimate successor to bin Laden. It released a message in late January to Zawahiri supporting him as the leader of their jihad. This month, the group attacked the Egyptian-Israeli natural-gas pipeline for the twelfth time since the revolution.

For Israel, the chaos in the Sinai means the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and intelligence community must reorient scarce resources to the South. For the last few decades, the Sinai was quiet and the border peaceful. That changed last year with a major Palestinian terror attack on the border and the mob sacking of Israel’s embassy in Cairo. The IDF is already building up its capabilities in the Negev adjacent to the Sinai and must strengthen its intelligence resources devoted to Egypt as a whole and the Sinai in particular.

The Sinai is the land bridge between Africa and Asia; it is also the gateway to Gaza and Israel from Egypt.… For Zawahiri and al-Qaeda, the emergence of a sympathetic jihadist infrastructure in Sinai would be a strategic gain in a pivotal arena. Even a relatively small number of terrorists hiding in the remote mountains of the central Sinai would be a dangerous threat to the stability of the region. They could target the pipeline, the border, tourists at Sharm el-Shaykh and even American troops serving with the twelve-nation-strong Multinational Force Organization that is charged with monitoring the peace agreement in Sinai. If al-Qaeda can open a new front here, it will be a danger to peace and stability in the region as a whole.…