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Angry Egypt Feels the Squeeze From Jihadis, US and Hamas: Avi Issacharoff, Times of Israel, Mar. 12, 2015 — There is one thing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can take comfort in regarding his relations with the US administration …
Hamas in Turkey: "Humanitarian Activity": Burak Bekdil, Gatestone Institute, Mar. 6, 2015 — In 2012, Abdullah Gul, then President of Turkey, when asked by reporters whether Hamas would open an office in Istanbul, said: "Contacts [with Hamas] continue. Time will tell where the dimension of our cooperation will lead us to."
Diplomat Debunks Obama’s Yemen ‘Success’ Story: Andrew Harrod, Frontpage, Feb. 16, 2015 — Yemen has been an “always almost failing state” for as long as Ambassador Barbara K. Bodine can remember …
Dueling Mosques and an American Beacon in Afghanistan: S. Frederick Starr, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 16, 2015 — Two new initiatives focused in Kabul but originating in the Middle East threaten to draw Afghanistan into the vortex of Middle Eastern strife and to undermine prospects for a secular government.
Al-Sisi and the Sinai Jihadis: Yoram Meital, Jerusalem Report, Mar. 8, 2015
Hamas Drones Said to Enter Egyptian Airspace: Stuart Winer, Times of Israel, Mar. 11, 2014
The Islamic Armageddon Lies Between Turkey and ISIS: Pinhas Inbari, JCPA, Feb. 26, 2015
Yemen’s Houthis Seek Iran, Russia and China Ties: Hakim Almasmari & Asa Fitch, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 6, 2014
The Hardest (and Most Important) Job in Afghanistan: Azam Ahmed, New York Times, Mar. 4, 2014
Times of Israel, Mar. 12, 2015
There is one thing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can take comfort in regarding his relations with the US administration — he is not the only Middle Eastern leader struggling to understand American President Barack Obama. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has also been at a loss in recent weeks amid the administration’s almost surreal conduct towards Cairo.
On Monday Sissi was asked what he and the other Arab allies thought of US leadership in the region. It is hard to put his response in words, mainly due to his prolonged silence. “Difficult question,” he said after some moments, while his body language expressed contempt and disgust. “The suspending of US equipment and arms was an indicator for the public that the United States is not standing by the Egyptians.”
It turns out that although the American administration recently agreed to provide the Egyptian Air Force with Apache attack helicopters, it has been making it increasingly difficult for Cairo to make additional military purchases. For example, the US is delaying the shipment of tanks, spare parts and other weapons that the army desperately needs in its war against Islamic State.
Egypt is currently facing the extremist group on two fronts: in the Sinai Peninsula, where Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis militants swore allegiance to IS, and to the west in Libya, where jihadists sworn to the group have established substantial military bases, gaining hold over territory in the country while simultaneously sending terrorists into Egypt. The mass execution of 21 Coptic Egyptians, who were in Libya seeking employment, led Sissi to authorize an Egyptian air assault against Islamic State targets in Libya.
Yet precisely during these difficult days for the Egyptians, Washington is delaying military assistance deliveries to Cairo, even as the White House and State Department preach in praise of the war against the Islamic State group, and go so far as to hint at plans to cooperate with Iran against the organization. Why? According to an Egyptian official, the formal explanation is that Cairo does not respect human rights. That is possible. But Egyptians cannot figure out how the Americans are prioritizing: Was the Muslim Brotherhood more respectful of human rights? Or the Iranian regime? Or the Islamic State and its friends?
Why is Egypt, which has become a vital player in the war against Islamic extremism and Islamic State expansionism, being punished by the Americans?
Wednesday morning, yet again, a terror attack was carried out against Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula. Another Egyptian officer was killed in North Sinai border town of Rafah. On Tuesday, two Egyptian soldiers were killed in a suicide attack in el-Arish, and for a moment it seemed as if the terror groups active in Sinai were overwhelming Egyptian security efforts. This is not the case, though. The vast majority of the attacks these days are being carried out in the northeastern tip of the peninsula, near the Gaza border. In the rest of the Sinai, there are rarely any security incidents. Just last month, the Egyptian army killed dozens of terrorists in the Sinai, mostly in the el-Arish and Rafah areas. Elite army units, the air force and UAV forces, are among the 14 battalions currently active in the region.
The area of the attacks and the proximity to the border raise strong suspicion in Egypt that the Sinai terrorists are receiving significant assistance from the Gaza Strip. This, in essence, is the source of the blatant hostility between Hamas and the Egyptian administration. Egypt’s attitude towards Hamas these days is far worse than Israel’s stance towards the terror group. Cairo closely followed reports…earlier this week regarding the various long-term ceasefire offers channeled through Western intermediaries, and Israel’s forgiving attitude toward Hamas was ill-accepted and even mocked. Egyptians fail to understand why Israel, which has been targeted so many times by Hamas and continues to prepare for the next war, insists on maintaining Hamas’s rule over Gaza.
First, it is no secret that terrorists in the Sinai receive weapons from Gaza and train there. The constant campaign to destroy tunnels linking the Gaza Strip and the Sinai continues, though Egyptian intelligence is aware Hamas fighters are overseeing efforts to rebuild the tunnels. The Islamists even use partially destroyed tunnels in order to dig out new ones. All the while, maritime smuggling continues. The Times of Israel was made aware of a list of Egyptian demands presented to Hamas as a condition for thawing relations: 1. Extradition to Egypt of Sinai terror suspects currently in Gaza. A prominent figure on the list is Shadi el-Menei, an Egyptian who fled to Gaza after being involved in Sinai terror attacks. 2. The closure of the smuggling tunnels. 3. Termination of terrorist training and arming. None of these requirements has been fulfilled by Hamas so far…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Gatestone Institute, Mar. 6, 2015
In 2012, Abdullah Gul, then President of Turkey, when asked by reporters whether Hamas would open an office in Istanbul, said: "Contacts [with Hamas] continue. Time will tell where the dimension of our cooperation will lead us to." Gul is a moderate Islamist compared to his successor as President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Guess what time told. Eight years after the 2006 visit to Turkey of the head of Hamas's political bureau, Khaled Mashaal, the Islamist organization — deemed a terror group by Egypt, the United States, Australia, Canada, Israel, and Japan — was coordinating its efforts in the West Bank with logistical support from a command center in Istanbul — a fact that annoyed even the Palestinian Authority (PA).
In 2014, Turkey was also host to Salah al-Arouri, a Hamas commander whom the PA accuses of planning multiple attacks against Israeli targets. The newspaper Israel Hayom calls Arouri "an infamous arch-terrorist believed to be responsible for dozens of attacks against Israelis." According to the Israeli media, the Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet) has evidence that the deadly attacks against Israelis were planned at the Hamas headquarters in Istanbul. In November, the Shin Bet reported the arrest in the West Bank of members of a cell preparing to attack Israeli targets, who had received military training abroad under the leadership of Hamas in Turkey. Last August, speaking at the World Conference of Islamic Sages in Turkey, Arouri admitted that Hamas was behind the "heroic action carried out by the al-Qassam Brigades, which captured three settlers in Hebron." The three teenage boys were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas operatives, an incident that triggered the spiral of violence that led to the vicious 50-day war in Gaza.
In December, Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon asserted that Hamas operatives in Istanbul were plotting terrorist attacks to be carried out in the West Bank and Gaza. "Hamas," he said, "is trying to build terrorism infrastructure in Judea and Samaria that will carry out attacks in different forms, and we must work aggressively and determinately against this." Ya'alon also claimed, when he met with then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in Washington, that Hamas moved its bureau from Damascus to Istanbul for the first time in late October 2014. His accusations came a month after Israel filed a complaint with NATO for Turkey's role in supporting terrorism by harboring and supporting Hamas officials. The complaint specifically mentioned Arouri, who has lived in Turkey since 2010. Also in December, a Hamas leader, speaking to World Net Daily on condition of anonymity, confirmed that his organization was using NATO member Turkey as a base for logistics, training and planning terrorist attacks.
When so much was in the public domain, the U.S. administration shyly felt compelled to act, and appealed to Ankara to prevent Hamas's military activity originating from any base on Turkish soil. After all, Turkey was a NATO ally and most allies viewed Hamas as a terrorist organization. Turkish diplomats and security officials neither deny nor confirm that Hamas has a logistical hub in Turkey. "Call it a bureau or anything else," said one official privately. Another senior official weighed in: "Hamas' activity in Turkey is limited to coordinating humanitarian aid and media work." A recent report in Al-Monitor quoted a Turkish diplomat as saying, "Turkey has a dialogue with Hamas but will absolutely not allow any terror organization to operate on its soil."
That line is where verbal "creativity" comes into the picture: "Turkey will not allow any terror organization to operate on its soil." Yes and no. Yes, because Turkey openly declares that it does not view Hamas as a terrorist organization. And no, because Hamas is in fact a terrorist organization. In January, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said: "For us, Hamas is not a terror organization; it has never committed any act of terror." But that was not Ankara's first sleight-of-hand for an entity that vows to kill every last Jew on earth. President Erdogan has repeatedly described Hamas militants as "freedom fighters." In December, Davutoglu hosted Mashaal at a high-profile party congress in Konya, Central Turkey. Taking the stage at the event, Mashaal congratulated the Turkish people "for having Erdogan and Davutoglu." Thundering applause, Palestinian flags waving passionately and thousands of AKP fans shouting, "Down with Israel!"
The scope of Hamas's activity through Turkish territory is an open secret. Hamas and Turkish officials claim the nature of that activity is humanitarian. Maybe. But in the real world, kidnapping Israeli teenagers and hitting Israeli cities with rockets might actually be considered a "humanitarian activity" by most Islamists, whether Palestinian or Turkish. The choice of Istanbul to host the Hamas bureau is not totally irrelevant: Tens of thousands of people in Istanbul take to the streets in the great metropolis every year to commemorate "Jerusalem Day," in which they customarily burn Israeli and American flags and chant, "Down with Israel, down with America!"
Frontpage, Feb. 16, 2015
Yemen has been an “always almost failing state” for as long as Ambassador Barbara K. Bodine can remember, she affirmed in her February 3 Georgetown University luncheon lecture, “Yemen: If This is a Policy Success, What Does Failure Look Like?” The truth of Bodine’s sobering presentation to a fifty-person conference room packed to standing-room-only was confirmed when, eight days later, America’s embassy in the capital Sanaa fell to Houthi rebels and U.S. Marines were forced to destroy their weapons before fleeing the country to prevent them from falling into rebel hands. The humiliating failure of American policy demonstrated that, President Barack Obama’s wishful thinking notwithstanding, Yemen will not be a policy success anytime soon.
Bodine, a career Foreign Service officer with extensive experience in the Middle East, directs Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. She spoke at the invitation of Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU). Associate director of ACMCU and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Professor of Islamic Civilization Jonathan Brown moderated and professor emeritus John Voll attended. According to Bodine, Obama left professionals with experience in Yemen “all baffled” when he “touted Yemen as a success” of anti-terrorism policy in a September address. “Whatever Yemen is, it is not yet a success,” she stated, describing the “resource deprived” country whose Sunni majority was overtaken by an insurgency of Shiite Houthi rebels supported by Iran earlier this year. Bodine warned that “solutions based on our timelines” do not work for a country like Yemen, which “never really gets fully stable, but . . . doesn’t quite go off the cliff, either.” Yemenis “do conflict resolution so well because they do conflict prevention so poorly,” she added.
Bodine criticized the Obama administration’s emphasis on using drones to fight al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is, “in many ways . . . the smallest problem in Yemen” given its instability. In her words, “drones have gone from being a tool to a strategy,” but they “tend . . . to piss people off” and do “not make friends” among local Yemenis when unaccompanied by explanation. She also criticized the “efficacy” of drones given that AQAP has grown from hundreds of followers in 2009 to thousands who now control Yemeni territory. Moreover, the Yemeni military, “never . . . a strong institution,” is often bested by Yemeni tribes and desperately needs aid.
Bodine lamented that drone strikes “have corroded an already fairly fragile state” and caused Yemenis to view Americans as merely “fighting a proxy war” while “not . . . engaged in governance” that benefits the populace. Americans “need to be seen as visible” in their ongoing aid to Yemen and to change their rhetoric from “always talking about al-Qaeda,” which causes Yemenis to “think that all we are is drones.” Not countering Yemeni “drivers of instability” entails that problems other than AQAP will plague the strategically placed country. A failed Yemeni state, for example, with twenty-five million refugees would mean that “Saudi Arabia has a problem.”
Yemen has “played host to other people’s proxy battles over the millennia,” Bodine noted, such as that between the Saudi Royal Family and Egypt’s former dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser during the Cold War. Iranians “muck around” in Yemen, supporting the Houthis as a means of countering the Saudis, who, in turn, “muck around” in Syria by providing aid to the rebels fighting that country’s dictator, Bashar Assad, an Iranian ally. However, she noted, Saudi Arabia’s “existential worry” in Yemen is not the Houthis, but AQAP. “If you are overly confused, you are doing well,” she joked, in reference to Yemen’s convoluted political dynamics. Audience members did not challenge Bodine’s presentation, with one person agreeing with her assessment that “drones are ineffective” and commenting on the “lack of depth in our understanding of foreign policy.” Similarly, Georgetown adjunct professor Joseph Saba, a specialist in fragile state development with World Bank experience in Yemen, concurred that “American interests are deeper and broader” in Yemen than drone policy.
Bodine succeeded in her principal objective of urging a dramatic rethinking of American policy towards Muslim-majority societies. Yemen’s decent into chaos contradicts Obama’s premature proclamation of “success,” while the future remains as murky in Afghanistan as it does with incessant efforts to achieve “land for peace” in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The shifting sectarian political sands in the region allow for groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to implement what Bodine termed a “brutal” yet “very clear idea” of “governing philosophy.” Such daunting realities demand policies derived from a clear grasp of the region’s history and current affairs, not vapid pronouncements of victory based on little more than fantasy.
S. Frederick Starr
Wall Street Journal, Jan. 16, 2015
Two new initiatives focused in Kabul but originating in the Middle East threaten to draw Afghanistan into the vortex of Middle Eastern strife and to undermine prospects for a secular government. America will need to present an alternative to forces that seek to roll back much of what has been accomplished in Afghanistan.
In November, Saudi Arabia launched a huge new mosque and Islamic Center on a hill in Kabul’s center. The Saudi ambassador declared unconvincingly that the mosque’s purpose is to fight terrorism and “present a moderate and true face of Islam.” Iran is also constructing a mosque in central Kabul and, if asked, would probably make the same claim. Both complexes include a mosque and school, but the similarity ends there. One will promote the Saudi’s hard-line Sunni Wahabbism, while the other will propagate the Ayatollahs’ hard-line Shiite Islam.
Just as these two states and religions are engaged in an undeclared but bloody war in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, they are at loggerheads in Afghanistan and view the struggle there as a zero-sum game. If either prevails, Afghanistan will be the loser.
So far the country has largely escaped the strife arising from the millennium-old conflict between Sunni and Shiite Islam and the more ancient struggle between Persians and Arabs. Afghans do not consider theirs to be a Middle Eastern country. Even the branch of Islamic law that prevails in Afghanistan, the relatively mild Hanafi school, sets it apart from the Saudis and Iranians.
If Afghanistan is pulled in either direction it will draw the country into a brutal religious storm. No less serious, either alternative poses a direct threat to the ideal—lost for decades but now taking hold again—of an educated and modern Afghanistan based on secular laws and open to new knowledge in all spheres; of a country where jobs are accessible equally to men and women, and where education challenges minds rather than inculcates doctrines.
Has America offered any alternative to the threat posed by these dueling mosques? It has in the form of the American University of Afghanistan, chartered in 2004 as the country’s first private and independent institution of higher education. Laura Bush launched construction the following year by announcing a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since then public and private donors have helped the university increase its faculty, build or remodel facilities, increase course offerings and expand its crucial scholarship program.
The university now offers programs in political science, public administration, business administration and computer science. Stanford helped create a five-year M.A. program in law; an M.B.A. program has opened, and a school of agriculture is planned. The university has even set up branch centers in three provincial capitals, where 300 young Afghan teacher trainers have begun spreading the university’s knowledge and values into thousands of school classrooms across Afghanistan.
Last month I delivered the graduation address at the university. The scene would have been familiar at any American college campus, as the graduates laughed, cried and tossed their mortarboards into the air. This is the wonder of the place. I met graduates with illiterate cousins who had fought with the Taliban. Others told me they had farmed or peddled dry goods to pay tuition. There were men and women who had already started their own businesses, while others who were determined to pursue careers in education.
At the epicenter of the new campus stands the gleaming new International Center for Afghan Women’s Economic Development. Some of the graduates perched their mortarboards atop Islamic scarfs while others came dressed in the height of Western fashion. The fact that half of all incoming students are women shows that the American University of Afghanistan has figured out how to translate its vision into reality.
Some of the parents and relatives at the ceremony were educated and prosperous, others barely literate. Two fathers told me through tears that “these children are our dream of a better life,” and “if they have no future, then Afghanistan has no future.”
Who is paying for this educational miracle? The question is important, since most of the campus has yet to be built and 70% of students require need-based financial aid. There is scarcely money to pay faculty salaries, and few Americans have stepped forward to fund urgently needed scholarships. Unlike either the Saudi or Iranian mosques, the American University here has no endowment.
Pondering these statistics, I think back over the years since 2001 and the enormous sacrifice the U.S. has made. Not just to fight al Queda or the Taliban, but to build a better life for Afghans, so their country—and ours—will never again fall prey to such barbarians.
What reasonable nation would sacrifice the lives of 2,254 of its young men and women fighting in Afghanistan and then pull back from funding an institution that can help prevent the kind of desperation that led to 9/11? What sane investor would sink $1 trillion into a country and then walk away?
Every day it becomes clearer what will happen if America takes this course, as we watch the Saudi and Iranian minarets going up in Kabul and read the grim news from Paris. The new university can be a powerful and enduring symbol of America’s values. But if it is not sustained, thousands of young men and women—people who could make their country the kind of place America fought for—will have been abandoned to a grim fate. If this happens, our promises will ring hollow and our sacrifice in lives and treasure will have been for nothing.
Al-Sisi and the Sinai Jihadis: Yoram Meital, Jerusalem Report, Mar. 8, 2015— In a lethal attack in late January, radical Sunni militants killed some 40 Egyptian soldiers and security personnel, most of them in the city of El Arish in northern Sinai.
Hamas Drones Said to Enter Egyptian Airspace: Stuart Winer, Times of Israel, Mar. 11, 2014—Hamas drones reportedly flew out of the Gaza Strip and into Egyptian airspace above the Sinai Peninsula several times last week as the Egyptian army stood by helpless to prevent the incursions.
The Islamic Armageddon Lies Between Turkey and ISIS: Pinhas Inbari, JCPA, Feb. 26, 2015 —Turkey sent a large armed force 23 miles into Syria on February 21, 2015, to a tiny enclave containing the mausoleum and body of a revered Ottoman leader who lived almost 800 years ago.
Yemen’s Houthis Seek Iran, Russia and China Ties: Hakim Almasmari & Asa Fitch, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 6, 2014—Houthi militants controlling Yemen’s capital are trying to build ties with Iran, Russia and China to offset Western and Saudi support for the country’s ousted president.
The Hardest (and Most Important) Job in Afghanistan: Azam Ahmed, New York Times, Mar. 4, 2014—A week on the front lines with the Afghan National Police.
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