Iran, Turkey, Russia Threaten Israel in Eastern Mediterranean: Efraim Inbar, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 17, 2018—The fifth Cypriot-Greek-Israeli summit will take place in Beersheba on December 20.
The True Arab Spring is the Dawning of Genuine Peace with Israel: Mike Fegelman, National Post, Nov. 30, 2018 — The sands have certainly shifted in the broader Middle East.
The Fragility of Middle East Alliances: Dr. James M. Dorsey, BESA, November 12, 2018— Three recent developments lay bare the fragility of Middle Eastern alliances and a rebalancing of their priorities…
Praying for Israel: Interview with Former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon: Machla Abramovitz, Community, Dec., 2018—…To assess the current state of Israel’s security, we sat down with former IDF Chief of Staff General Moshe (“Boogie”) Ya’alon, following his keynote address at the 30th anniversary gala of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR) in Montreal.
On Topic Links
Israel and the Arab States (Video): Amb. Dore Gold, JCPA, Dec. 9, 2018
The Spring of Israel’s Relations with its Arab Neighbors: Elie Podeh, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 8, 2018
What Happened to Arab Support for the Palestinians?: Dr. George N. Tzogopoulos, BESA, Nov. 16, 2018
The Grim Cost of the “Oslo War”: Guy Millière, Gatestone Institute, Sept. 14, 2018
IRAN, TURKEY, RUSSIA THREATEN ISRAEL
IN EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN
Jerusalem Post, Dec. 17, 2018
The fifth Cypriot-Greek-Israeli summit will take place in Beersheba on December 20. While much of Israel’s attention is focused on Iran’s proxies on the country’s northern and southern borders, this high-level trilateral meeting is a noteworthy strategic event. Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iranian militias in Syria, and Hamas in Gaza are serious military challenges along Israel’s northern and southern borders. They contribute to a new emerging threat in the eastern Mediterranean. Each of these bad actors is under Iranian influence.
Iran, which is seeking a Shi’ite corridor from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, plans its own air and naval bases on the Mediterranean coast, too. This would allow Iran to project power into the Balkans along the Mediterranean shores, and further west, too, toward the Muslim communities in Europe. There are three Muslim states in the Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo) that have already been penetrated by Muslim powers Turkey and Iran.
Turkey has adopted a neo-Ottoman foreign policy orientation and signaled its desire for expansion. It is a strong state with a long Mediterranean coast. Turkey’s military has invaded parts of Syria and Iraq, and it has had a long territorial dispute with Greece in the Aegean. Since 1974, Turkey has occupied the northern part of Cyprus, a strategic location in the eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey’s behavior is also motivated by Islamist instincts. It has supported the radical Islamic Hamas government in Gaza and nourished good relations with jihadist elements in Syria and Libya – both Mediterranean countries. Turkey is bolstering its naval capabilities, and has even threatened to send its navy to accompany ships that attempt to break the Israeli naval blockade around Gaza. Ankara’s Islamist preferences clearly put it at loggerheads with Jerusalem.
Unfortunately, the Mediterranean is no longer a Western lake. Over the Obama years, the US significantly retreated from the Middle East. President Donald Trump has also displayed isolationist sentiments, despite a commitment to enhance US military power. A weakened American military posture is reflected in that the US Sixth Fleet no longer has a permanent aircraft carrier presence in the Mediterranean. (This is also true of the Seventh Fleet in the Indian Ocean.) European naval fleets have similarly lost some of their capabilities and reduced their presence in the eastern Mediterranean.
Instead, the Russian eastern Mediterranean naval presence is growing. Russia secured for itself the naval base at Tarsus and the air base at Khmeimim in Syria, by intervening successfully in the Syrian civil war. Cyprus and Egypt also allow Russia use of their ports. The importance of the eastern Mediterranean in international affairs has grown due to the discovery of large underwater natural gas fields, with more likely to be yet discovered. These gas riches are coveted by Iran’s allies (Syria and Hezbollah) as well as by Turkey and Russia.
The eastern Mediterranean has always been important to Israel because over 90% of Israel’s foreign trade traverses this area. The gas fields discovered and now being mined in Israel’s Mediterranean economic waters have magnified the importance of the Mediterranean arena. The gas is expected to make a significant contribution to the well-being of Israel by providing cheap and clean energy, and by transforming Israel into an energy exporting country. However, Israel’s gas riches are under threat. Hamas and Hezbollah are investing in their naval forces. Hamas already has fired missiles against an Israeli-operated gas rig, and Hezbollah has threatened to do so. Russian and Turkish navies might yet adopt more adventurous postures, too. There may soon be an Iranian naval presence commensurate with Tehran’s hegemonic ambitions.
Thus, Israel has one more strategic flank to protect. Unfortunately, the naval component in the Israeli military has not been sufficiently prioritized. Israel needs a bigger and stronger navy. The rationale for a larger Israeli naval force is even more compelling given the enormous missile threat aimed at Israel, making Israel’s airfields and strategic ground assets ever more vulnerable.
Israel’s military deficit in the eastern Mediterranean is striking, in light of its diplomatic success. It became a close partner in an eastern Mediterranean alignment that consists of Greece and Cyprus. Egypt is indirectly also a member, although it prefers to interact separately with Israel. The four countries share similar concerns about Turkish foreign policy directions and have similar energy interests. Cooperation in Washington on eastern Mediterranean issues is also important; indeed, the US is mulling the option of joint military exercises with Israel and Greece.
THE TRUE ARAB SPRING IS THE
DAWNING OF GENUINE PEACE WITH ISRAEL
National Post, Nov. 30, 2018
The sands have certainly shifted in the broader Middle East. Though peace and the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world have proceeded at a glacial and sometimes raucous pace, new relationships have been forged, and old, dormant ties, rekindled. Patience and steadfast determination seem to be a virtue.
The warming of ties between Israel and Sunni-majority Muslim nations and Gulf countries have taken place in the backdrop of shared concerns over Shia Iran’s destabilizing efforts, its supporting terror proxies, and quest for nuclear weapons. The Saudis, just like the Israelis, are grievously concerned about Tehran’s expansionist efforts to gain hegemony in the Middle East and its direct involvement in propping up Syria’s Assad regime, its fomenting violence in Iraq, and its supporting rebels fighting in Yemen and terror groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Hamas, and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
Israel’s détente with its Arab neighbours, both publicly and pseudo-privately, is on full display for all to see. Many Arab world countries are co-operating with Israel on security and defence matters, as well as Israel’s growing high-tech industry. When the mainstream media claim that Israel is “isolated,” these journalists are simply detached from reality.
This past week, Chad President Idriss Déby visited Israel and sought to re-establish ties and relations with the Jewish state. Chad is one of the first majority-Muslim African states to re-establish diplomatic relations with Jerusalem. Chad is a member of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will soon pay a visit to the African nation to formalize the matter. It’s also speculated that Israel plans to establish ties with the Muslim-majority African countries of Sudan, Mali and Niger.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Economy Minister, Eli Cohen, received an official invitation to attend a conference in Bahrain next year, and it’s believed that Israel is working to normalize ties and sign a peace treaty with that Gulf nation. The event, dubbed the “Startup Nations Ministerial Conference,” is a perfect fit for Israel, which is regarded as the world’s leading “startup nation.” As to Bahrain, in May, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa wrote on Twitter, in a message intended for the whole world to see, that Israel has the right to defend itself against Iran.
Also in the news recently, Oman welcomed Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife, along with the head of the Mossad, in a surprise visit last month. This was viewed by regional experts as an apparent sign of Israeli progress in improving ties with Gulf countries and Oman, which has traditionally acted as a regional mediator. Israel’s Transportation Minister, Yisrael Katz, visited Oman for a transportation conference to present his plan for a rail link between Gulf Arab countries and Israel. Importantly, Netanyahu’s meeting with Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Oman serves as an epic failure for BDS activists who want the world to boycott, divest and sanction Israel. Ironically, it’s the Arab and Muslim world who are doing the opposite, and their BDS activism includes Buying, Developing and Supporting Israeli businesses and entrenching relations with Israeli politicians and diplomats.
In the United Arab Emirates, a scene once unthinkable occurred recently when Israeli Cabinet Minister Miri Regev proudly sang Israel’s national anthem “Hatikva” at a sports event in the heart of the Arab world and toured the grand Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Qatar warmly hosted an Israeli gymnastics team in October and Israelis have been invited to attend the World Cup there in 2022. Then there’s Air India’s historic announcement that it will operate a direct route between Tel Aviv and Delhi over Saudi Arabian airspace, which is seen as a game-changer. There was also news of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s secret visit to Tel Aviv. Israeli military chief Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot reportedly told a Saudi news outlet that he seeks closer ties with the kingdom, and there are continued rumblings about how the Saudis would let Israeli jets use their air space to attack Iran.
From former back-channels of communications to public appearances that have busted long-held taboos, we’re witnessing a remarkable regional shift from the Arab street with unthinkable invitations, gestures of genuine recognition and collaborative efforts where Jews and Muslims work to complement each other’s efforts, not work in contradiction. In recent years, Israel has entered into unprecedented relationships with Arab world countries to discuss security matters and to even share intelligence and co-ordinate security operations. In 2017, Prime Minister Netanyahu boldly stated during a visit to the White House that “for the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy but, increasingly, as an ally.”
As Newsweek Magazine recently noted, Arab countries seek to establish direct telecommunication lines and abolish trade limitations with Israel. Additional normalization steps being weighed include the granting of visas to Israeli athletes and business people interested in visiting Gulf states. The signs of progress in the Persian Gulf and the warming of relations with the Jewish state yield the potential for a comprehensive peace to be procured in one of the world’s most volatile regions, abetted by cautiously employed and pragmatic, incremental steps.
Once taboo and clandestine, Israelis are cozying up with the Saudis, Emeratis and Gulf, African and Muslim nations, proving once and for all, that old wounds can be mended, and bitter rivals can become friends, albeit, when based on shared interests, not necessarily shared values. Interestingly, Iran may be the one to thank as its emboldened efforts were likely the catalyst for the public rapprochement that we are bearing witness to. Who would have thought that the long road to normalization between Israel and the Muslim and Arab world would run through Tehran!
THE FRAGILITY OF MIDDLE EAST ALLIANCES
Dr. James M. Dorsey
BESA, November 12, 2018
Three recent developments lay bare the fragility of Middle Eastern alliances and a rebalancing of their priorities: the Russian-Turkish compromise on an assault on the rebel-held Syrian region of Idlib, the fate of troubled Abu Dhabi airline Ettihad, and battles over the reconstruction of Syria. These developments highlight the fact that competition among Middle Eastern rivals and ultimate power within the region’s various alliances is increasingly as much economic and commercial as it is military and geopolitical. Battles are fought as much on geopolitical fronts as they are on economic and cultural battlefields such as soccer.
As a result, the fault lines of various alliances across the greater Middle East, a region that stretches from North Africa to northwestern China, are coming to the fore. The cracks may be most apparent in the Russian-Turkish-Iranian alliance, but they also lurk in the background of Gulf cooperation with Israel in confronting Iran, as well as the unified front put forward by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Russia prevented, at least for now, a rupture with Turkey by delaying an all-out attack on Idlib despite Iranian advocacy of an offensive. Turkey, already home to three million Syrians, feared that a Syrian-Russian assault would push hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more refugees across its border. If Iran was the weakest link in the debate about Idlib, it stands stronger in its coming competition with Russia for the spoils of reconstruction of war-ravaged Syria. Similarly, Russia appears to be ambivalent towards a continued Iranian military presence in post-war Syria, a potential flashpoint given Israel’s opposition and Israeli attacks that led recently to the downing of a Russian aircraft.
By the same token, Turkey, despite its backing of Qatar in its 15-month-old dispute with a Saudi-UAE-led alliance that is boycotting the Gulf state diplomatically and economically, poses perhaps the greatest challenge to Qatari efforts to project itself globally by operating one of the world’s best airlines and positioning itself as a sports hub. Turkey, despite its failure to win the right to host Euro 2024 and its lack of the Gulf’s financial muscle, competes favorably on every other front with Qatar as well as the UAE, which is also seeking to project itself through soft as well as hard power. The UAE opposes Erdogan because of his Islamist leanings, ties to Iran, and support of Qatar. Turkey wins hands down against the small Gulf states when it comes to size, population, location, industrial base, military might, and sports performance.
That, coupled with a determination to undermine Qatar, was likely one reason why the UAE’s major carriers, Emirates and Etihad (which is troubled by a failed business model), have, despite official denials, been quietly discussing a potential merger that would create the world’s largest airline. Countering competition from Turkish Airlines, which outflanks both UAE carriers with 309 passenger planes that service 302 destinations in 120 countries, may well have been another reason. Emirates, the larger of the two Emirati carriers, has a fleet of 256 aircraft flying to 150 destinations in 80 countries.
These recent developments suggest that alliances, particularly the one that groups Russia, Turkey and Iran, are brittle and transactional. They are geared towards capitalizing on immediate common interests rather than shared long-term goals, let alone values. This is true even if Russia and Turkey increasingly find common ground in concepts of Eurasianism. It also applies to Turkey and Qatar, who both support Islamist groups, as well as to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who closely coordinate policies but whose different goals are on display in Yemen.
The fragility of the alliances is further underscored by Turkish, Russian, and Iranian aspirations of resurrecting their respective empires in a 21st century mold and the Saudi quest for regional dominance. Notions of empire have informed policies since long before the realignment across Eurasia as a result of the shift in the American focus from the Middle East to Asia, particularly the rise of China. Relations between the West and Russia have been increasingly strained, and Middle Eastern states like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran have been increasingly assertive…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
PRAYING FOR ISRAEL:
INTERVIEW WITH FORMER IDF CHIEF OF STAFF MOSHE YA’ALON
Community, Dec., 2018
…To assess the current state of Israel’s security, we sat down with former IDF Chief of Staff General Moshe (“Boogie”) Ya’alon, following his keynote address at the 30th anniversary gala of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR) in Montreal…
Ya’alon is critical of the Obama administration’s Middle East policies. “Yasser Arafat’s duplicitousness didn’t matter to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, as they were trying to curry support among the Arabs by propping up Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians. The JCPOA [the deal reached by the Obama administration with the Republic of Iran] is a disaster. President Donald Trump, on the other hand, is doing wonderful things for Israel. Over 80 percent of Israelis support him.” The following is an edited transcript of the rest of our conversation with the General:
CM: Are wars between Israel and Iran, as well as Hamas, inevitable?
Ya’alon: Let’s distinguish between Iran and Hamas. The Iranians are trying to open another front against us in Syria. In 2015, they started launching missiles at Israel. In less than a year, this attempt ended after Israel hit back hard. This February, their units began launching drones and rockets. Subsequently, the IAF destroyed 15 Iranian units. Iran understands that they cannot successfully challenge Israel. Israeli power is superior to theirs militarily and intelligence-wise.
We don’t want Iran to either violate our sovereignty or arm our enemies; any violations on their part contravenes what we call our Red Line Strategy. [Israel prevents the Iranians from shipping arms to Hezbollah by bombing their ammunition depots and highways traveled by convoys.] I don’t see a war with Iran coming soon. Hezbollah’s 15,000 long-range, guided missiles are a problem, which Israel will eventually deal with. I foresee the possibility of a massive Israeli assault in Lebanon. Because Hezbollah installs these missiles in villages and towns and next to hospitals – as they do in Gaza – this will result in a large-scale PR problem because specific civilian structures must be destroyed to root these missiles out.
The challenge with Hamas is different. Since 2014, Hamas didn’t shoot a single bullet; and they arrested any proxy group that did. They don’t want to escalate the situation to a full-scale war. During Operation Protective Edge, we destroyed over 10,000 buildings in Gaza. They’ve been reconstructing Gaza for 20 years. So, Gazans are now releasing dangerous, incendiary balloons and kites, and are demonstrating along the border to express their frustration. The IDF is responding in a limited way. I don’t like this. We should not have accepted this behavior from the onset. It’s impossible to intercept every balloon and every kite. We must confront these terrorists vigorously. It’s the only way to handle things in the Middle East. Still, it’s not deterministic that we are going to war, even though the Middle East can erupt at any time even when it’s not intentional. I hope the government and the IDF will be able to change the rules of the game. The rules as they exist now are not in our favor.
CM: Despite Israel’s ability to manage Iranian aggression in Syria, doesn’t Iran remain a severe threat to its security?
Ya’alon: Iran remains a crucial issue. Still, with enough pressure placed on it, I believe the current regime can be persuaded to act in Iran’s best interests. Iran suspended its nuclear project in 2003 when the US invaded Afghanistan. They were afraid of President George W. Bush. The project was renewed two years later when Ayatollah Khamenei saw that the US lost its stomach for war. In 2012, he decided to re-engage with America because of political isolation, crippling economic sanctions, a credible military option, and a fear of a general uprising among Iranians. His economists told him his regime could not survive another year if he continued with his expansionist policies. Unfortunately, President Barak Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry headed the negotiations. President Trump’s determination to renew the sanctions is an excellent idea. This “irrational” regime becomes very rational when presented with a dilemma, whether to continue with their hegemonic drive or choose to survive [due to the implosion of the economy and fear of a popular uprising.] I believe they will choose to survive…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Machla Abramovitz is a CIJR Academic Fellow
On Topic Links
Israel and the Arab States (Video): Amb. Dore Gold, JCPA, Dec. 9, 2018—An Insider’s View of Israeli Diplomacy. Dore Gold at the Hudson Institute, November 27, 2018
The Spring of Israel’s Relations with its Arab Neighbors: Elie Podeh, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 8, 2018—In the past few weeks it seems that Arab and Muslim countries have been competing with each other over Israel. Following news on back-channel intelligence ties with Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited to a well-publicized visit to Oman.
What Happened to Arab Support for the Palestinians?: Dr. George N. Tzogopoulos, BESA, Nov. 16, 2018—Debate with Sarah Feuer, Jonathan Schanzer, Asaf Romirowsky, Michael Wilner, Hillel Frisch, Neri Zilber, James Dorsey.
The Grim Cost of the “Oslo War”: Guy Millière, Gatestone Institute, Sept. 14, 2018—September 13, 1993. Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the lawn of the White House. They have just officially signed the document that was supposed to start Peace: the Oslo Accord. The cogs of this machine began their work.