The Failing Arab World: Geoffrey Clarfield, National Post, Feb. 23, 2017— The Arab World stretches from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf. It is home to five per cent of the world’s population.
The Three-Headed Hydra of the Middle East: Victor Davis Hanson, Washington Times, Feb. 15, 2017 — The abrupt Obama administration pre-election pullout from Iraq in 2011, along with the administration’s failed reset with Russia and the Iran deal, created a three-headed hydra in the Middle East.
The Fast Track to Armageddon: Louis Rene Beres, Breaking Israel News, Feb. 13, 2017— When all pertinent factors are taken into account, U.S. President Donald Trump could sometime undertake more-or-less selective military action against Iran.
Myth: American Ties to Israel Harm US Interests in the Muslim Middle East: Prof. Hillel Frisch, BESA, Mar. 1, 2017— Modern advanced states and their citizens pride themselves on being scientific and rational, with opinions and convictions that are tested against facts.
The Politics of Oil: How Russia Pursues Its Energy Dream in the Middle East: Yury Barmin, Alsharq Forum, Feb. 24, 2017
U.S., Middle East Allies Explore Arab Military Coalition: Maria Abi-Habib, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 15, 2017
The New Arab–Israeli Alliance: Michael J. Totten, World Affairs, Jan., 2017
How Israelis See the Settlements: Yossi Klein Halevi, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 2, 2017
National Post, Feb. 23, 2017
The Arab World stretches from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf. It is home to five per cent of the world’s population. According to the UN its people are responsible for 45 per cent of all global terrorist attacks. It is also the home of 17.6 per cent of the world’s violent conflicts and 68.5 per cent of the world’s battle-related deaths. 47 per cent of the world’s internally displaced people come from the Arab world.
Despite having more than 43 per cent of the world’s total proven oil reserves and producing a third of the world’s oil supply, the Arab world’s military spending is 65 per cent higher than the global average. This overinvestment in war fuels the near continuous suffering of the people in the Arab world. So, it is not surprising that the recent comprehensive UN Development Report on the Arab World paints a dismal picture of life there, especially for the youth who comprise the overwhelming majority of today’s Arabs.
In January, Israeli analyst Nimrod Raphaeli summarized the report in a bulletin for the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Raphaeli’s good summary misses some key points about the nature of the Arab world, which I raise below. The report points out that despite the initial excitement of friends of the Arab world during the Arab Spring of 2011, the largely youth-driven protests have not led to any political gain. No wave of democracy engulfs the Arab world as in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990. As Raphaeli points out, “Arab youth today remain mired in poverty; they are politically marginalized and voiceless, economically disenfranchised, and socially prone to radicalization and violence.”
I would add that what the report fails to explore in any depth is the gerontocratic and patriarchal nature of Arab political leadership which is a reflection of the clan, where the oldest males holds almost all authority until they die. This social structure is more than 1300 years old. The report points out that 30 per cent of the population is comprised of 15 to 29-yearolds. Very few of them have economically viable skills and it is possible that by 2050 the development levels of the Arab world will be similar to those of sub-Saharan Africa. This is not “underdevelopment” but a “development decline.” In the Arab world’s failed economic model, where the public sector dominates, everyone wants to work for the government. Since the government elites control most of the oil wealth, they create a vast bureaucracy to support their families and tribal clients and to keep other people down.
The report talks about “forged uncompetitive and monopolistic alliances.” In simple English we call this a kleptocracy. Simply put, manufacturing is not a major factor in the Arab world. Oil wealth and remittances drive almost everything there and it is common knowledge that much oil wealth is invested overseas, as violent elite replaces violent elite, so you cannot keep your money safely in your own country. This is a key aspect of the failed economic model that the report does not explore. The report also fails to emphasize that in earlier UN Arab development reports, it was pointed out that the number of translations from foreign languages into Arabic pales in significance to that of Europe. This is connected to the absence of freedom of speech and a general lack of interest in science in the region, what one historian has called a “curiosity deficit.” A modern economy cannot develop in this kind of cultural milieu as government censorship is everywhere.
And so, conspiracy theory dominates the not- so- free Arab press. Left-leaning journalist Reese Ehrlich points out that the most common themes are that “the U.S. created the Islamic State… the U.S. was the secret instigator of all the Arab Spring uprisings…. the Syria uprising was not a popular movement but instead was instigated by the U. S. in order to remove the anti-imperialist Assad…. the U.S. intentionally creates failed states like Libya in order to keep the region in turmoil… the Bush administration planned the 9/11 attacks in order to further repression and start wars in the Middle East.”
From 2009- 2014 about 22 million Arabs have left their homes. The report does not mention that a majority of Arab émigrés to Europe make their homes in the radicalized “no go” zones of European cities from where so many jihadis have attacked Europeans on their own streets, thus exporting their own conflicts. Neither Raphaeli nor the report adequately explains the recent upsurge in radical Islam, that it has been driven by millions of dollars of Saudi funding; nor do they address the surging jihad against the Christian minorities of the Arab world, which is now reaching genocidal proportions.
Given that these kinds of UN reports are supported by funds from Arab countries, we cannot expect them to give us anything more than the facts. It is clearly not in the interest of the Arab League- dominated UN to give us much else. For the monitors of this same report are the representatives of those same governments who are causing so much of their own people’s problems and who censor anything written in their own countries.
Victor Davis Hanson
Washington Times, Feb. 15, 2017
The abrupt Obama administration pre-election pullout from Iraq in 2011, along with the administration’s failed reset with Russia and the Iran deal, created a three-headed hydra in the Middle East. What makes the Middle East monster deadly is the interplay between the Iranian terrorist regime and its surrogates Hezbollah and the Assad regime; Russian President Vladimir Putin’s deployment of bombers into Syria and Iraq after a 40-year Russian hiatus in the region; and the medieval beheaders of the Islamic State.
Add into the brew anti-Americanism, genocide, millions of refugees, global terrorism and nuclear weapons. ISIS is simultaneously at war against the Assad regime, Iran and Iranian surrogates such Hezbollah, and Russian expeditionary forces. ISIS also seeks to energize terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe. Stranger still, ISIS almost surely is receiving stealth support from Sunni nations in the Middle East, some of them ostensibly American allies.
This matrix gets even crazier. The authors of reset policy during the Obama administration are now furious at President Trump for even talking about what they tried for years: reaching out to Mr. Putin. Yet in the Middle East, Russia is doing us a favor by attacking ISIS, even as it does no favors in saving the genocidal Assad regime that has murdered tens of thousands of innocents — along with lots of ISIS terrorists as well. Iran is the sworn enemy of the United States, yet its foreign proxies attack our shared enemy, ISIS. The very troops who once blew up Americans in Iraq with shaped charges are for now de facto allies on the Syrian and Iraqi battlefields.
Given that there is now no political support for surging thousands more U.S. troops into Iraq to reverse the disastrous Obama administration pullout, there are three strategic choices in dealing with the Middle East hydra, all of them bad: One, hold our nose, and for now ally with Russia and Iran to destroy ISIS first. Then deal with the other rivalries later on. (The model is the American-Soviet alliance against Hitler that quickly morphed after 1945 into the Cold War.)
Two, work with the least awful of the three, which is probably Russia. (The model might be Henry Kissinger’s outreach to Mao’s China that left Moscow and Beijing at odds and confused over the role of the United States.) Three, simply keep out of the mess and let them all diminish each other, despite the collateral damage to the innocent. (The model is the savage Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88 that weakened U.S. enemies Saddam Hussein and the Iranian theocracy but resulted in some 800,000 deaths.) In the short-term, Option Three is ostensibly the least costly — at least to the United States. But 2 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees have swarmed Europe, coinciding with an uptick in radical Islamic terrorism. Syria is becoming the new Balkans or Rwanda — and nonintervention would mean allowing the wasteland to spread, as hundreds of thousands more civilians die or flee westward.
Which of the other two options is the least objectionable? After 2014, we quietly pursued Option One by fighting in parallel fashion with Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and the Assad government against ISIS, the more dreadful enemy. Apparently, the Obama rationale was that when ISIS was destroyed, the U.S. could then come to terms with an energized and empowered Iran rather than with Russia. The jury is out on that strategy.
The second option so far seems to be President Trump’s preference: a new detente with Mr. Putin in hopes that he will back off even a bit from his support of Iran and Hezbollah as we jointly fight ISIS. The flipping-Russia approach may seem unlikely: It assumes nuclear Russia is far less of a threat than soon-to-be-nuclear Iran. Would Mr. Putin really be willing to write off a half-century of Russian support for Syria? Or can Mr. Putin see that the United States has mutual interests with Russia in opposing all Islamic extremism — both ISIS and Mr. Putin’s Iranian clients? Would the mercurial Mr. Putin work with moderate Sunni regimes, Israel and the U.S. to provide regional stability? Can Mr. Trump persuade Mr. Putin that having Iran as yet another nuclear power near the borders of the old Soviet Union (in addition to Pakistan, India, North Korea, China and NATO forces) is not in Russia’s interest?
Would overlooking Mr. Putin’s autocracy be any worse that the Obama administration’s negotiations with a murderous Iran, the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism? What would be Mr. Putin’s steep price to abandon Mr. Assad, to ensure that Iran stays non-nuclear, and to finish the destruction of ISIS? Overlooking Russian autocracy? Keeping mum should Mr. Putin threaten autonomous nations on his border? These are bad choices. Mr. Trump, a political outsider, did not create the monster. Rather, he inherited from past U.S. leaders the three-headed hydra of the Middle East.
Louis Rene Beres
Breaking Israel News, Feb. 13, 2017
When all pertinent factors are taken into account, U.S. President Donald Trump could sometime undertake more-or-less selective military action against Iran. In response, the Islamic Republic – then having absolutely no meaningful option to launching at least certain forms of armed reprisal – would target American military forces in the region and/or carefully chosen Israeli targets. Whatever its precise configuration of selected targets, Tehran’s retaliatory blow would be expressly designed so as not to elicit an unacceptably massive (possibly even nuclear) counter-retaliation. With particular regard to Israel, moreover, this sort of retaliation would plausibly include, inter alia, a substantial reliance upon Iran’s own surrogate militia forces in Hezbollah.
All such bewildering calculations, of course, must assume perfect rationality on all sides. If, for example, the new American president should cast all caution to the winds with his own first strike (a strike that would be defended by Washington, in law, as an allegedly legitimate expression of international law-enforcement, or “anticipatory self-defense”), the Iranian response, whether rational or irrational, could expectedly be “proportionate” – that is, comparably massive. In that prospectively escalatory case, any contemplated introduction of nuclear weapons into the ensuing conflagration might not necessarily be dismissed out of hand.
At that point, moreover, any such introduction would have to originate from the American and/or Israeli side. This indisputable inference is “true by definition,” “simply” because Iran would not yet have become an operationally nuclear power. In such circumstances, Trump, especially in view of his favored argumentum ad baculum stance in virtually all matters, might decide upon a so-called “mad dog” strategy vis-a-vis Iran. Here, the American president would display a last-resort dependence upon a strategy of pretended irrationality, or what I have called in my own latest books and monographs, the “rationality of pretended irrationality.” Significantly, any such residual reliance, while intuitively sensible and apparently compelling, could still backfire, thereby opening up an “Armageddon path” to a now unstoppable escalation.
If, on the other hand, Trump’s “punishing” or defensive initial strike against Iran were conspicuously less than massive, a fully rational Iranian adversary would likely ensure that its chosen reprisal was correspondingly “limited.” But if Trump’s consciously rational and calibrated attack upon Iran were wittingly or unwittingly launched against an irrational enemy leadership, the Iranian response could then be “roaring missiles,” or an all-out retaliation. This presumably unanticipated response, while non-nuclear, could be directed at some as yet undeterminable combination of U.S. and Israeli targets. Cumulatively, it could still inflict very substantial harms.
For the moment, at least, any Iranian missile reprisal against U.S. interests and personnel would have to exclude the American homeland. This same limiting prediction, however, cannot be made in reference to any considered Israeli targets. On the contrary, any reciprocal Iranian attack directed against Israel would plausibly target that country’s military assets and could also include a significant number of “soft” civilian populations and corollary infrastructures.
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Even if it is being played only by rational adversaries, the advancing strategic “game” would demand that each contestant relentlessly strive for “escalation dominance.” Ominously, it is in the thoroughly unpracticed internal dynamics of any such rivalry that the serious prospect of a genuinely “Armageddon” scenario could sometime be realized. This intolerable outcome could be produced either in unexpected increments of escalation by any or all of the three dominant national players, or instead, by any sudden quantum leap in destructiveness undertaken by Iran, Israel and/or the United States…
In the final analysis, informed citizens and participants in these hideously complicated games of strategy will need to recall that it is mathematically meaningless to assign any comforting probabilities to unique events. Because an authentic nuclear war would represent precisely such an event, one with utterly unforeseen intersections, interactions and “synergies,” we can never predict with any reassuring degree of precision whether such a conflict would actually be more or less probable. Indeed, should Trump ever proceed to strike Iran on the erroneously nonspecific assumption that his generals have already “got everything covered,” he ought then to be reminded of the classic military warning of Carl von Clausewitz: Long before any military planners could even envision a nuclear war, the great Prussian general had cautioned about “friction,” or “the difference between war on paper, and war as it actually is.” Where it would be minimized or disregarded altogether by Trump, this difference could propel the unsteady Middle East toward an irreversible Armageddon.
Prof. Hillel Frisch
BESA, Mar. 1, 2017
Modern advanced states and their citizens pride themselves on being scientific and rational, with opinions and convictions that are tested against facts. One widespread conviction among many State Department officials, academics, think tank professionals, and members of the informed public is that US financial and military support for Israel at the UN harms American interests, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. In this region, the majority of states take a dim if not openly hostile view towards Israel. This is a hypothesis that can be tested. One avenue among many is to see if US support for Israel, which is certainly powerful at the UN and in other international fora, has a negative effect on exports of the US to the countries of the region.
This is a good test, because most states demand that imported goods identify their country of origin on the packaging. This means the purchaser – be it a government or a public or private consumer – has a clear choice whether or not to buy the product. The degree of choice involved is amplified by the fact that there are similar products available for almost all goods exported from the US to the Middle East. These alternative products are produced by other states, some of which vote the same way predominantly Muslim states do at the UN.
One would expect that US exports to the region would be adversely affected in the long run, and especially so during eras of conflagration between Israel and its enemies. These eras are easy to identify. They include the height of the second intifada (2001-04); the month-long Israel-Hezbollah confrontation in June 2006, better known as the second Lebanese War; and the three rounds of hostilities between Israel and Hamas: in December 2008-09, in October 2012, and in July-August 2014 (the longest “war” in the history of Israeli-Arab wars). All these rounds of conflict were extensively reported by the media, the last four by new media as well. Since most exports from the US to MENA are relatively sophisticated, one can safely assume that the buyers of these products form the media-attentive public in their respective countries. In other words, their purchasing choices cannot be said to have reflected their ignorance during and after these bouts of violence.
Surprisingly, it is not easy to chalk up the data. This is because, contrary to popular perception, the Middle East and North Africa is a small consumer market for products made in the US or indeed the rest of the world. Only 5% of total US exports are purchased by this vast region of 21 states. The leading regional importers of US products are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel. Only 1% of investments in the US economy are made by Middle East investors (mostly the sovereign funds of the oil- and gas-producing Arab states). Investors in the US are not particularly keen on investing in the Middle East, which attracts only 1% of their investments. The two leading beneficiaries are Egypt and Israel, the former because it is a relatively large, albeit poor, consumer market; the latter because it is attractive as a high-tech nation.
To investigate whether or not the US suffers by supporting Israel, let us look at the data for exports to OPEC (which includes a minority of non-Muslim countries) and for Saudi Arabia. In neither case is there any indication that US support for Israel has had any effect on Muslim and Arab consumers. For starters, growth in US exports to the region has characterized the last sixteen years for which there are data. Exports to Saudi Arabia between 1999 and 2015 more than doubled, from US$8.3 billion to US$19.6 billion, and for all OPEC countries, it more than tripled (from US$20.6 billion to US$72.3 billion). The growth rate for both was greater than in other regions except for East Asia (mainly China), where exponential economic growth took place that brought with it a growing ability to buy American products (and of course imports from other countries).
Perhaps the Saudi public reduced its demand for US goods during Israel’s bouts with the Palestinians during the second intifada, or during its clashes with Hezbollah and Hamas? Again, there is little evidence that this occurred. In 2001, US exports slightly increased after a sharp fall in 2000, slightly decreased in 2009 after the first round between Israel and Hamas, increased greatly during the 2012 bout, and decreased again in 2014. The same lack of a political pattern holds true for the OPEC countries as a whole.
It is not politics but world oil prices that explain these yearly fluctuations. When oil prices dropped, so did demand for American products. In 2000, the world economic crisis and low oil prices brought about the drop. An increase in US exports took place the following year, when the world economy and oil prices made a comeback. In 2009, it was the world recession – not the Israel-Hamas standoff – that influenced energy prices and demand for US products. The sharp drop in oil prices from US$110 a barrel to half that in 2014 saw the purchase of American goods tumble by a hefty 25% in Saudi Arabia. The similarity in trends between Saudi Arabia and the OPEC countries, albeit of different magnitude, demonstrates that it was the wiles of the world economy and subsequent fluctuations in oil income that explain the demand for American goods, not politics, and certainly not the Israeli-US relationship. The widely held conviction that the US’s relationship to Israel harms its interests is a myth. Its persistence relies on premises that no rational educated person should harbor.
The Politics of Oil: How Russia Pursues Its Energy Dream in the Middle East: Yury Barmin, Alsharq Forum, Feb. 24, 2017—Against the backdrop of instability in the global energy industry, Moscow is seeking to consolidate its share of the oil and gas markets as well as ensure that its revenue stream from the oil trade does not thin out.
U.S., Middle East Allies Explore Arab Military Coalition: Maria Abi-Habib, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 15, 2017—The Trump administration is in talks with Arab allies about having them form a military alliance that would share intelligence with Israel to help counter their mutual foe, Iran, several Middle Eastern officials said.
The New Arab–Israeli Alliance: Michael J. Totten, World Affairs, Jan., 2017—During the early years of the Obama administration, conventional wisdom in Washington held that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict trumped everything else in the Middle East, that no problem could be resolved until that one was out of the way. “Without doubt,” former president Jimmy Carter said, “the path to peace in the Middle East goes through Jerusalem.” The reason, said his former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, now a professor of foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University, is because, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the single most combustible and galvanizing issue in the Arab world”.
How Israelis See the Settlements: Yossi Klein Halevi, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 2, 2017— A billboard near the highway entering Jerusalem proclaims in Hebrew: “The Time for Sovereignty Has Come.” It is part of a new campaign for the formal incorporation into Israel of Ma’ale Adumim, one of the largest settlements in the West Bank and barely a 10-minute drive east of Israel’s capital. The campaign’s sponsors, backed by several ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ’s coalition, see annexing Ma’ale Adumim as the first step to annexing the entire West Bank and preventing the creation of a Palestinian state.