Tag: arabs

ISRAEL’S ELECTION: DEMOCRACY STRONG AS NETANYAHU WIN IN OFFING — IRAN REMAINS KEY, AS OBAMA, EUROPEAN PRESSURES LOOM

 

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(Please Note: articles may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click link for the complete article – Ed.)

 

 

Making Conservative Choices: David M. Weinberg, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 20, 2013—Israelis will elect a conservative government this week because they think it prudent to do so, not because they are “turning inwards” or backwards or developing antidemocratic tendencies. They want Binyamin Netanyahu, not Tzipi Livni (or Shimon Peres, or any other candidate of the Left), to lead the country, because caution – not hollow and unsubstantiated hope – is the prevailing watchword.

 

Weak Netanyahu Finish Suggests Unwieldy Coalition: Joshua Mitnick, Wall Street Journal, Jan 18, 2013—There is little question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party will emerge at the head of a ruling coalition when Israelis vote in nationwide elections on Tuesday. But polls also show his campaign is limping to the finish line amid falling support, which is likely to leave him weakened and heading a coalition more fragile than the current one.

 

Unseating Netanyahu a Tricky Game: Matthew Fisher, Postmedia News, Jan. 20, 2013—Having led every poll taken from the beginning to the end of a national election campaign that has lasted for months, Benjamin Netanyahu appears poised to be re-elected as Israel’s prime minister on Tuesday. But in Israel, where any of the 34 parties that are contesting the election get more than two per cent of the vote gets seats in the Knesset, election day is the first part of what is a long, tortuous electoral dance.

 

 

On Topic Links

 

 

 

Israeli Electoral Politics – A Guide for the Perplexed: Gil Hoffman, Jeruslaem Post, Jan. 10, 2013

Zionism’s New Boss: Liel Leibovitz, Tablet Magazine, Jan. 14, 2013

A Far-Right Israeli Electorate?: Lee Smith, Tablet Magazine, Jan. 16, 2013

Netanyahu Coalition Forming Dilemmas: Joseph Puder, Front Page Magazine, Jan. 21, 2013

PA Hopes Syrian 'Red Herring' Discredits Netanyahu at Polls: Chana Ya'ar, Israel National News, Jan. 21, 2013

The Bennett Threat – and Why the Pols are Scared: Moshe Dann, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 31, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

MAKING CONSERVATIVE CHOICES

David M. Weinberg

Jerusalem Post, Jan. 20, 2013

 

Israelis will elect a conservative government this week because they think it prudent to do so, not because they are “turning inwards” or backwards or developing anti-democratic tendencies. They want Binyamin Netanyahu, not Tzipi Livni (or Shimon Peres, or any other candidate of the Left), to lead the country, because caution – not hollow and unsubstantiated hope – is the prevailing watchword. It’s important to say these things, because in the global punditocracy there is an inaccurate narrative taking root, to wit Netanyahu’s reelection means that Israel being overrun by Right-wing and religious fanatics, and that it is choosing isolationism over opportunities for peace.

 

In fact, clever pundits like David Remnick of The New Yorker and Ari Shavit of Haaretz have tried to portray the current Israeli election campaign as a historic choice between two competing narratives: that of the isolationist-nationalist Israeli Right, and the liberal-democratic-peace-seeking Israeli Left. But these brainy journalists are all-too-slick and only superficially sophisticated. The dichotomous moment they have summoned-forth is false, and their reading of Israeli society and polity is terribly off-base. Very few Israelis see things the way Remnick and Shavit do.

 

Israelis don’t see themselves as standing at a historic juncture. They don’t believe that Middle East circumstances are ripe for peace. Given Oslo’s sorry 20-year record, they are indeed wary of Palestinian statehood. They know that withdrawal from the West Bank at present would be suicide, given the Islamic blitzkrieg across the Mideast, along with Abbas’ weakness and Hamas’ ascendency in the Palestinian arena. They still pine for peace, but given the situation in Sinai, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iran (and Ramallah), sadly they expect conflict.

 

And so, the Israeli public overwhelmingly does not buy the well worn argument, advanced obstinately by the Left and the international community, that the peace process is stuck because of settlements or lack of Israeli diplomatic flexibility. They simply feel that caution militates against dramatic diplomatic moves at this time. They are waiting-out the Arab Spring and other storms, taking no irresponsible risks, and voting for steady hands at the helm of state.

 

That is why Tzipi Livni’s “I can bring the peace” messaging never took hold during the current campaign. It is important to reiterate that Israelis are not becoming callously defiant of the world and the Palestinians, nor wildly “annexationist.” They are not making a grand choice this week between good and evil, between peace and war, between liberalism and fascism. They are simply choosing responsible government. And what they assume will emerge from the election is a go-slow Netanyahu government with parties of both the Zionist Right and Left; another complicated coalition government, with built-in checks and balances.

 

One thing is for sure: Israelis don’t buy the doomsday scenarios drawn by Remnick and Shavit, or by some Diaspora Jewish leaders like Eric Yoffie of the Reform movement or Daniel Sokatch of the New Israel Fund, about Israel forfeiting its democracy, becoming a Spartacus state, or losing its global friends.

 

So why the apocalyptic analyses? Unfortunately, I sense that the Israeli and American-Jewish ideological Left has gone stir-crazy with Netanyahu hatred. They can’t accept the fact that the political Left’s 20-year-long crusade for Palestinian statehood has been proven bankrupt; they can’t stand the fact Netanyahu is going to be reelected; and they are setting a trap in which to bring him crashing down.

 

By positing that Israel is at an apocalyptic crossroads, and that Israel is pig-headedly making wrong and dangerous choices, the stage is set for “wiser” actors to intervene “to save Israel in spite of itself.” This is the upshot of Jeffrey Goldberg’s celebrated Bloomberg News column, in which he describes the lack of trust and frustration in the White House concerning Netanyahu. Netanyahu just “doesn’t understand what Israel’s best interests are,” Goldberg has Obama saying, and “his conduct will drive Israel into grave international isolation.”

 

With such isolation, even from the United States, Israel won’t survive, Goldberg (or Obama) opines. “Israel’s own behaviour poses a long-term threat to its existence.” Therefore, real friends have to step in to save Israel from itself, by imposing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – which is the swift establishment of a full-fledged Palestinian state. For Israel’s own good, of course.

 

Like Peter Beinart before him, Goldberg says that Obama is not going to directly pressure Israel on this matter, and this seems correct. Instead, Obama has outsourced the Palestinian issue to the Europeans. Europe is going to take the lead in wedging Israel into a corner against its own self-perceived interests (but in reality “for its own good”) – with Obama “leading from behind.” This explains the overwhelming European vote at UN in November in favor of upgrading the status of “Palestine,” even though Washington was opposed (at least in public) to the move and voted against it.

 

Nevertheless, Obama didn’t seem too upset with the Europeans for voting against Israel and the US. Like I said, it’s called outsourcing the pressure on Israel to Europe. The next European move (with Obama “leading from behind”) will be an attempt to impose an internationalized framework for Israeli-Palestinian talks with terms of reference that basically settle everything in advance in favour of the Palestinians (1967 lines, etc.) The Palestinians will be forgiven for their unwillingness to enter direct and unconditional negotiations with Israel. Europe will dispense with insistence on that venerable principle of the peace process. After all, they no longer trust Israel to do what is in its own best interests (to withdraw), even if there were direct talks.

 

So best just get on with it and impose the outlines of a “settlement” in indirect consultations or an international forum. And besides, the main point of the process will not be real negotiations or true peace, but the dethroning of Netanyahu.

 

The author is director of public affairs at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, 

 

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WEAK NETANYAHU FINISH SUGGESTS UNWIELDY COALITION

Joshua Mitnick

Wall Street Journal, Jan 18, 2013

 

There is little question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party will emerge at the head of a ruling coalition when Israelis vote in nationwide elections on Tuesday. But polls also show his campaign is limping to the finish line amid falling support, which is likely to leave him weakened and heading a coalition more fragile than the current one….

 

One coalition possibility is an alliance with centrist parties that could push for domestic economic reforms and also support diplomacy with the Palestinians. That would be a salve to Mr. Netanyahu, who is grappling with a looming fiscal austerity plan and increased international isolation, including strained ties with President Barack Obama.

 

But the most apparent option—easier to form, but more challenging to govern—would be a far-right coalition that opposes a Palestinian state. Such a coalition would likely be more fractious and unstable than the current multiparty coalition led by Mr. Netanyahu's center-right Likud Party and the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, which with smaller religious and far-right parties currently controls 66 of the Knesset's 120 seats.

 

Following Tuesday's vote, should Mr. Netanyahu's bloc add the projected seats of four smaller right-wing and religious parties, it would maintain its 66-seat majority, according to a Smith Institute poll for the Israeli financial daily Globes. Some five center-left parties would control 44 seats, according to the poll, and Arab-Israeli parties would control 10 seats. Other polls have shown a religious-right bloc could hold from 63 to 69 seats.

 

Mr. Netanyahu's re-election bid has been bolstered by the lack of any formidable rival and a fragmented center-left opposition. His campaign ads tout him as a strong leader keeping the Jewish state stable amid regional turmoil. For the most part, the opposition has shied away from challenging his assertions that the Palestinians are to blame for the peace-process impasse, and that Arab Spring tumult demands that Israel approach new concessions with skepticism. "The major macro issues aren't being debated here to the point that it might have been, if you had two popular leaders from major parties," said Amir Mizroch, the editor of the English edition of Israel Hayom.

 

The closest challenger is Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yachimovitch, whose party would capture about half as many seats as Mr. Netanyahu's Likud, according to the polls. A former television and radio host, Ms. Yachimovich has struggled to persuade the Israeli electorate that she is qualified to be prime minister. She has vowed not to join a government led by Mr. Netanyahu. Her support has been eroded by two center-left parties. One is led by Tzipi Livni, the former foreign minister who has made restarting peace talks the center of her campaign. A second, headed by former news anchor Yair Lapid, has also skirted foreign policy. The three camps have sparred over whether to form a collective front to face Mr. Netanyahu.

 

Center-left parties are largely to blame for the absence of a foreign-policy debate, said Ari Shavit, a columnist at the liberal Ha’aretz paper. These parties, he said, have focused on domestic issues rather than formulating a fresh pitch on peace. "The old peace ideology collapsed, and it was never replaced," he said….

 

Polls show Mr. Netanyahu is losing support to politicians on the right. His merged party slate with Avigdor Lieberman—who stepped down from his post as foreign minister just last month after a fraud indictment—is running at about 15% below the parties' current 42 seats in the outgoing parliament, polls show. The beneficiaries have included the pro-settler Jewish Home party and its charismatic leader, Naftali Bennett, who opposes a Palestinian state and supports annexation of most of the West Bank.

 

Although a coalition of Likud-Beiteinu, Jewish Home, Shas and United Torah Judaism would be the easiest option for Mr. Netanyahu, "few in the political establishment are willing to bet on this outcome, mainly because with this composition, it will be impossible to pass a dramatic budget cut, to pass new laws on equally sharing the burden [created for subsidies and draft exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox] and to respond to the international pressure on holding negotiations with the Palestinians,'' wrote Zeev Kam, in the Maariv newspaper.

 

Such a coalition could also make it difficult for Mr. Netanyahu to find common ground among a large number of parties, especially among foreign-policy moderates queasy about joining a hard-line coalition. "Netanyahu called elections, but he might end up with a worse situation that he ended walking out of, with less power than he had in the last government," said Reuven Hazan, a political-science professor at Hebrew University.

 

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UNSEATING NETANYAHU A TRICKY GAME

Matthew Fisher,

Postmedia News, Jan. 20, 2013

 

Having led every poll taken from the beginning to the end of a national election campaign that has lasted for months, Benjamin Netanyahu appears poised to be re-elected as Israel’s prime minister on Tuesday. But in Israel, where any of the 34 parties that are contesting the election get more than two per cent of the vote gets seats in the Knesset, election day is the first part of what is a long, tortuous electoral dance. What follows will be days and perhaps weeks of horse trading as Netanyahu scrambles to find the numbers to form a stable right-wing or centre-right coalition government from among the eight or nine parties expected to win more than a few of the parliament’s 120 seats.

 

“Even if he is re-elected, what kind of a coalition will Netanyahu have? What kind of coalition can he build?” asked Eytan Gilboa, director of Bar-Ilan University. “I think he will have a rough time of it because his position will probably not be as strong as it was in the last election. At the end of the negotiations Netanyahu may find himself in a weak, problematic position.”

 

Polls taken last week indicated that the 63-year-old Netanyahu, his right-wing Likud Party and its strongly nationalist partners, Yisrael Beiteinu, led by [former] Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman and strongly backed by Israel’s one million Russians, have been losing support. Nevertheless, the partners were still expected to end up on top. A poll by the Ha’aretz daily gave them as many as 32 seats. Labour, whose leader Shelly Yacimovich has already declared her party will not be part of a Netanyahu-led coalition, was a distant second with about 17 seats….

 

What really matters on election night is how the right-wing religious bloc stacks up against the centre-left-Arab bloc. Polling has suggested that the right-left split may be closer than seemed likely a few months ago. If the pollsters are right, Netanyahu and his likely coalition members appear set to control 63 seats to about 57 seats for the opposition.

 

The biggest election-day drama may turn out to be the size of the bite taken out of Likud’s vote by the hard right, Jewish Home Party (Bayit Yehudi). It is a new party led by Naftali Bennett, a charismatic 40-year-old newcomer to electoral politics who lived for several years as a young boy in Montreal where, according to Ha’aretz, he and his family became religiously observant. Some years after returning to Israel he became a special forces officer and war hero in Lebanon. After that he became a high-tech millionaire. Between 2006 and 2008 he served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff before the two men had a falling out that was never fully explained by either but has been the subject of considerable media speculation.

 

“I think Bennett is real. The question is how many seats is he going to get and how many votes will he take away from Netanyahu,” said Gilboa. “Bennett has adopted a clever election strategy. He says Netanyahu will be prime minister. I will support him and join his coalition. But he is also suggesting that he will constrain Netanyahu. “It has been effective so far. Likud has attacked Bennett lately because it has become concerned by him. It may harm Netanyahu, but that will not effect the right-wing bloc that much because the right-wing vote stays in the bloc.”

 

Bennett has outflanked Netanyahu, who also had a distinguished military record in the special forces, by being even stronger than his former boss on what many Israelis regard as the core issue of retaining West Bank settlements. Sensing the political danger posed by Bennett, who had said he wants to be “a third hand on the wheel” on the wheel of Netanyahu’s coalition government, the prime minister told the Jerusalem Post that “you know that you have to have two steady hands of one driver on the wheel, and if you have other people grab the wheel, pretty soon the car overturns.”

 

The future of the settlements, the lack of peace talks with Palestinians and the issue of whether Israel should attack Iran’s nuclear programme may have vexed U.S. President Barack Obama and the Jewish Diaspora in the United States. Opponents and some columnists in Israel have severely criticized Netanyahu for baldly appearing to back Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, in last fall’s American elections. Furthermore, the Israeli media have made much of private remarks allegedly made by Obama to the effect that Netanyahu was “moving his country down a path towards near-total isolation,” by approving the further expansion of a major settlement near Jerusalem….

 

Sensing an opportunity at the other end of the political spectrum, Bennett has run front-page ads saying, “as Israel faces unparalleled international pressure, Prime Minister Netanyahu will need a large Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) by his side.” But none of this appears to have made much of a difference to many voters. Their leading concerns have been with the growing deficit, education, health, social justice, the cost of housing, high taxes and the economy generally.

 

Labour has, with some success, stayed clear of such issues as national security and foreign affairs, which usually figure prominently in Israeli elections. They have stressed economic issues. But this can be a tricky game. Whatever Netanyahu’s weaknesses because he is too strong or too soft on issues involving the Palestinians and the Iranians, he has presided over one of the world’s more successful economies at a time when many countries have dire economic problems.

 

As politicians elsewhere have learned again and again, it is difficult to unseat an incumbent when the economy is doing well.

 

 

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Israeli Electoral Politics – A Guide for the Perplexed: Gil Hoffman, Jeruslaem Post, Jan. 10, 2013—There was good news and bad news this week for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. On the one hand, a failed effort by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni to begin a process intended to unite the three parties on the Center-Left after the January 22 election helped Netanyahu’s Likud Beytenu stop its tailspin in the polls and win back two seats it had lost to its satellite parties.

 

Zionism’s New Boss: Liel Leibovitz, Tablet Magazine, Jan. 14, 2013—Under rookie politician Naftali Bennett, religious Zionism is finally becoming Israel’s political mainstream. Naftali Bennett’s press conference late last month was to the Israeli election cycle what a high-speed car chase is to a middling Hollywood action movie. With the chronicle of Bibi Netanyahu’s re-election more or less foretold, Israelis were vying for a shot of adrenaline that would rescue what had otherwise become a bloodless procedural, and Bennett was on hand to deliver.

 

A Far-Right Israeli Electorate?: Lee Smith, Tablet Magazine, Jan. 16, 2013—Perhaps Bibi’s infamous bluster has had its purpose. While his belligerent rhetoric unnerves his many critics, including world leaders, it’s helped keep Israel out of armed conflict. He has presided over more economic success and less war than almost any other Israeli leader in history.

 

Netanyahu Coalition Forming Dilemmas: Joseph Puder, Front Page Magazine, Jan. 21, 2013—The question Israeli political pundits ask regarding the upcoming January 22, 2013 Knesset (parliamentary) elections is not what party will be asked by President Shimon Peres to form the next government,  nor are they asking who will be the next Prime Minister of Israel. The operative question is which parties will join Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu to form the next coalition government.  The answer to that will determine the direction and the likely policies of the next Netanyahu government.

 

PA Hopes Syrian 'Red Herring' Discredits Netanyahu at Polls: Chana Ya'ar, Israel National News, Jan. 21, 2013—On the eve of Israel’s national elections, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is doing his best to discredit Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, claiming the Netanyahu government approved entry of 150,000 Syrian refugees into Judea and Samaria.

 

The Bennett Threat – and Why The Pols Are Scared: Moshe Dann, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 31, 2012—Naftali Bennett is a product of Israeli society; articulate and smart, a Sayeret Matkal veteran, he’s an insider that understands what’s going on. He is also a financial success. But that is not what makes him dangerous to the establishment. The threat he poses stems not so much from his ideology, but rather from the fact that that he actually has one, that he articulates what he believes and stands for.

 

 

 

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AS EGYPT’S ECONOMY TANKS & IRAN TIES WORSEN, SUDAN’S SHADOW FALLS OVER CHRISTIANS’ SITUATION

Download Today's Isranet Daily Briefing.pdf 

 

Contents:                          

 

(Please Note: articles may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click link for the complete article – Ed.)

 

 

Morsi, Egypt Face Economic Meltdown: Felix Imonti, Al-Monitor, Jan. 8, 2013—Six months of street violence over the preparation of the constitution has led to the neglect of an economy. The budget deficit rose by 38%, or $13.1 billion over six months, the Egyptian pound slipped 6% against the US dollar, unemployment rose from 8.9% to 12.4% and GDP growth fell from 5.0 to 0.5%.

The Enduring Egypt-Iran Divide: Mehdi Khalaji, Washington Institute, Dec. 31, 2012—Initially, the Muslim Brotherhood's ascent to power in the aftermath of the massive popular protests that toppled Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, inspired hope of renewed diplomatic ties with Iran. But, despite shared ideological principles, significant political obstacles continue to inhibit bilateral cooperation.

 

A 'Sudanese Genocide' in Egypt?: Raymond Ibrahim, Front Page Magazine, Jan 4, 2013—The current tensions in Egypt between the Muslim Brotherhood-led government and a fragmented populace that includes large segments of people who oppose the Islamization of Egypt—the moderates, secularists, and Christians who recently demonstrated in mass at Tahrir Square and even besieged the presidential palace—is all too familiar. One need only look to Egypt's immediate neighbour, Sudan, and its bloody history, to know where the former may be headed.

 

On Topic Links

 

 

Qatar to Egypt $2.5-Billion Lifeline Props Up Pound: Yasmine Saleh & Patrick Werr, Globe and Mail, Jan. 8, 2013

Cables Show State Department Disregarded Muslim Brotherhood Threat: John Rossomando, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Jan. 8, 2013

Preacher Alarms Many in Egypt with Calls for Islamist Vice Police: Egypt Independent, Jan. 9, 2013

Morsi Manages Egypt’s Economic Decline: Nervana Mahmoud, Al-Monitor, Jan 7, 2013

Diving Currency Adds to Egypt's Woes: Matt Bradley, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 30, 2013

Egyptian Cleric Threatens Egypt's Copts with Genocide: Raymond Ibrahim, Gatestone Institute, Dec. 28, 2012

 

 

 

MORSI, EGYPT FACE ECONOMIC MELTDOWN

Felix Imonti

Al-Monitor, Jan. 8, 2013

 

It took a mere 20% of the electorate to bring into effect the new constitution. Eighty percent of voters either rejected it or did not vote — for whatever reason . The obsession that Morsi had with imposing the constitution has placed him in the middle of a political minefield. Six months of street violence over the preparation of the constitution has led to the neglect of an economy that has come to a near halt. The budget deficit rose by 38%, or $13.1 billion over six months, the Egyptian pound slipped 6% against the US dollar, unemployment rose from 8.9% to 12.4% and GDP growth fell from 5.0 to 0.5%.

 

Added to those problems, foreign reserves were halved with the flight of capital and the transfer of savings abroad. The outflow led to the imposition of currency controls at the end of December, when reserves had diminished to $15 billion, enough to finance only three months of imports. Egypt runs a 50% trade deficit that used to be offset by earnings from tourism and remittances from workers abroad, but the tourists are staying away and economic conditions around the world make it more difficult for Egyptian workers to find employment.

 

Due to the political instability and the worsening financial plight of the government, Standard & Poor's downgraded Egypt's credit standing to B-minus, six levels below credit grade. Before the downgrade, Egypt paid 13.54% for a one-year treasury bond. After the downgrade, the sale of bonds was cancelled to avoid higher interest rates. Credit swops show Egypt ranking among the ten worst credit risks, along with Greece and Pakistan….

 

The certain rise in import prices will increase the inflation rate above the current level of 4.1%. The impact could be offset by expanding subsidies, which would increase the budget deficit beyond the current 10%. Already, subsidies form 30% of the budget; and it is that which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the government to reduce in order to qualify for the $4.8 billion loan. Terms for the loan had been settled after a year of negotiations only to be cancelled by the Morsi government, which feared increased taxes and reduced subsidies would spark more riots before the vote on the referendum. The IMF loan is critical for acquiring the additional $10 billion from the European Union, the African Development Bank and other sources. Without it, Egypt will be frozen out of the international financial markets.

 

As most of the Egyptian government debt is owed to domestic banks, those banks face insolvency. The National Bank of Egypt, Banque Misr SAE and Commerce International Bank have been downgraded in anticipation of a government default. Egypt suffers from a shortage of investment capital due to the lack of savings. Only if there is an influx of foreign direct investment can Egypt expect to see capital available for economic expansion. That, however, is being stifled by the unrest and the effort by groups inside Egypt to reverse the sale of state enterprises made during the Mubarak regime.

 

Starting in 2004, the Mubarak government embarked upon an economic-reform and privatization program. Over the next four years, $9.4 billion in state industries were sold to foreign and domestic buyers. The GDP growth rate rose from 4.1% to 7.2%. Foreign reserves expanded from $16 billion to $34 billion. Even during the global economic crisis of 2010, the economy continued to expand at 5%, but all of that came to an abrupt halt when the mobs flooded into Tahrir Square.

 

Now, some of the sales are being reversed. Foreign investors are viewing them as future risks better avoided. Foreign direct investment is only 16% of what it was in 2007, and much of that is in the petroleum sector.

 

A bad situation is being made worse by spreading worker discontent. Workers are demanding the right to unionize and to strike. Their call for “bread, freedom and justice” was for them the purpose of the revolution. Instead, the Morsi government is breaking up strikes with the police and has jailed union activists just as the Mubarak government had done before. If anything, workers are complaining that Morsi’s administration is worse than what was overthrown.

 

Most businesses are small. Yet, it is they that are providing the bulk of Egyptian employment. Business owners are complaining that the new government is doing nothing to reduce the suffocating regulations and corrupt bureaucracy. If they try to raise capital to invest, they are forced to compete with the government borrowing to finance its growing budget deficit or with the large private and state corporations that are given preference.

 

Whatever the ideology expounded, the Muslim Brotherhood is comprised mainly of professionals, with many involved in businesses. Like the crony capitalists of the Mubarak era, the government has become an instrument to protect their interests.

 

Back in November, Morsi seized power and moved to block the Constitutional Court to save his concept of democracy. There is nothing to say that he will not break the labour unions to save his vision of the economy. He should look very carefully at the mere 20% of the voters who supported his constitutional efforts and realize that he has been given a warning. The people of Egypt are not marching in his parade.

 

Felix Imonti is the retired director of a private equity firm where he was an investment strategist for seven years. 

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THE ENDURING EGYPT-IRAN DIVIDE

Mehdi Khalaji

Washington Institute, Dec. 31, 2012

 

Despite ideological affinities between the Muslim Brotherhood and Tehran, political disagreements make a rapprochement unlikely. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi may look besieged at home, but by brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in November, he enhanced his diplomatic stature mightily across the entire Middle East. Indeed, as 2012 comes to a close, Egypt's centrality to regional diplomacy has been restored. The big question for 2013 is whether Morsi will follow his achievement in Gaza by tackling another major diplomatic challenge: rebuilding relations with Iran after more than three decades of animosity.

 

Initially, the Muslim Brotherhood's ascent to power in the aftermath of the massive popular protests that toppled Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, inspired hope of renewed diplomatic ties with Iran. But, despite shared ideological principles, significant political obstacles continue to inhibit bilateral cooperation.

 

Relations between the two countries collapsed in 1980, after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in Iran's Islamic Revolution and severed ties in response to Egypt's formal recognition of Israel the previous year. Egypt's then-president, Anwar El Sadat, granted the exiled Shah of Iran permission to live in Egypt, and supported Iraq in its eight-year war with the Islamic Republic. The Shah was ultimately buried in a mosque in Cairo….

 

Islamists in Iran and Egypt have a strong ideological connection. They share anti-Israel sentiment, and support Hamas against the secular-nationalist Fatah in the Palestinians' internecine struggle. Committed to governance under Sharia (Islamic law), they both view Western culture as a threat.

 

Iran has made some efforts to establish stronger economic relations with Egypt's Islamist government and, in turn, cement a powerful anti-Israel front in the region. Iran's attempt to strike a deal to sell Egypt crude oil would also help the Iranian government to cope with economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union. But, although Iran's oil minister, Rostam Qassemi, said in October that negotiations were underway, Egypt's minister of petroleum and mineral resources, Osama Kamal, quickly disavowed any such deal.

Beyond economics, Khamenei has an emotional attachment to Egypt. A student of the Egyptian style of Koran recitation, he gathers Koran reciters from Egypt, as well as from other Islamic countries, in his home every Ramadan. More important, his outlook has been heavily influenced by the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian theoretician of the Muslim Brotherhood. Prior to the revolution, Khamenei translated three of Qutb's books into Farsi.

 

Despite these ideological affinities, political disagreements make a rapprochement unlikely. The Muslim Brotherhood considers itself the bastion of modern political Islam, and believes that it should assume a leadership role for all Islamist groups and states. For his part, Khamenei describes himself as the "leader of the Islamic world," and calls Iran its "mother city" (Umm al Qora).

 

Moreover, the Sunni-Shia divide could pose a major challenge for Egypt-Iran relations. The Muslim Brotherhood is working to strengthen ties with Sunni allies, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and even Turkey, rather than with Iran's Shia regime, which threatens Sunni regimes by exporting revolution and pitting Shia minorities against their governments.

 

In fact, since Mubarak's ouster, anti-Shia propaganda has gained traction in the Egyptian public sphere, with books alleging Shia corruption of Islam's true meaning filling the shelves of Cairo's bookstores. But this campaign largely reflects the growing influence of Egypt's Sunni allies — particularly the Gulf monarchies, led by Saudi Arabia — rather than a genuine threat from Egypt's small and quiescent Shia community….

 

These countries then export their anti-Shia discourse to countries, like Egypt, that do not necessarily have a history of Sunni-Shia conflict. Indeed, many of Cairo's cultural landmarks, for example, were built under the Shia Fatimid Caliphate. And, before last year's revolution, Egypt was considered one of the most Shia-friendly Sunni countries in the Arab world. But the Muslim Brotherhood remains financially dependent on the Gulf monarchies, which are using Egypt as a platform for their anti-Shia, anti-Iran agenda.

 

The most urgent dispute between Iran and Egypt, however, relates to Syria. During its years in opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood considered Iran's Islamic Revolution an example of how a transnational Islamist government might assume power. But, in the face of a popular uprising in Syria, Iran has supported the brutal, repressive policies of President Bashar al-Assad's regime. As a result, Islamists in Egypt are beginning to view Iran as a status quo power, not an agent of revolutionary change.

 

Furthermore, the flow of military supplies from Iran, together with battlefield support for Assad's regime from Iran's Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, reinforce the perception of a Sunni-Shia conflict in Syria. In this context, the collapse of Assad's regime would likely exacerbate tensions between Iran and Egypt — especially given that Syria's Muslim Brotherhood, the leading opposition group, would likely play a strong, even dominant, role in a new Syrian order.

 

For now, Egypt's government is putting national interests ahead of pan-Islamist aspirations. Rather than inciting an escalation in fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Egypt worked with the US and other regional allies to broker a cease-fire. By contrast, Iran's military leaders boasted about their support for Hamas, offering no indication that they wanted the fighting to end.

 

Less than two years after Egypt's revolution, Morsi's government is struggling to address domestic challenges, including the proliferation of armed radical groups in Sinai. But, as regional tensions continue  to rise, the chances of an Egypt-Iran detente are likely to deteriorate.
 

Mehdi Khalaji, a Qom-trained Shiite theologian, is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute.

 

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A 'SUDANESE GENOCIDE' IN EGYPT?

Raymond Ibrahim

Front Page Magazine, Jan 4, 2013

The current tensions in Egypt between the Muslim Brotherhood-led government and a fragmented populace that includes large segments of people who oppose the Islamization of Egypt—the moderates, secularists, and Christians who recently demonstrated en mass at Tahrir Square and even besieged the presidential palace—is all too familiar. One need only look to Egypt's immediate neighbour, Sudan, and its bloody history, to know where the former may be headed.

 

The civil war in Sudan, which saw the deaths of millions, was fundamentally a by-product of an Islamist regime trying to push Sharia law on large groups of Sudanese—Muslim, Christian, and polytheist—who refused to be governed by Allah's law, who refused to be Islamized. Although paying lip-service to pluralism and equality in the early years, by 1992, the Islamist government of Khartoum declared a formal jihad on the south and the Nuba, citing a fatwa by Sudan's Muslim authorities which declared that "An insurgent who was previously a Muslim is now an apostate; and a non-Muslim is a non-believer standing as a bulwark against the spread of Islam, and Islam has granted the freedom of killing both of them."

 

In other words, Khartoum decreed that: 1) It is simply trying to do Allah's will by instituting Islamic Sharia law; 2) Any Sudanese who objects—including Muslims—is obviously an infidel; 3) All such infidels must be eliminated. Accordingly, countless people were butchered, raped, and enslaved—all things legitimate once an Islamic state declares a jihad. While South Sudan recently ceded, the Nuba Mountains in the north is still continuously being bombarded.

 

Now consider how the above pattern—false promises of religious freedom, followed by a Sharia push and a declaration that all who oppose it, including Muslims, are infidels and apostates to be killed—is precisely what has been going on directly to the north of Sudan, in Egypt.

First, although Muhammad Morsi repeatedly promised that he would be a president who represents "all Egyptians" during presidential elections, mere months after coming to power, he showed that his true loyalty—which should have been obvious from the start, considering that he is a Muslim Brotherhood leader—was to Sharia and Islamization.

Even so, Egyptians did not forget that Morsi, during presidential elections, had said the following in a video interview:

 

The Egyptian people are awake and alert—Muslims and Christians; and they know that, whoever comes [to become Egypt's president], and does not respect the rule of law and the Constitution, the people will go against him. I want the people immediately to go against me, if I ever do not respect the law and Constitution.

 

Accordingly, when Morsi aggrandized himself with unprecedented presidential powers, and then used these powers to sidestep the law and push a Sharia-heavy Constitution on Egypt, large segments of the Egyptian people did rise against him; at one point, he even had to flee the presidential palace. And just as in Sudan, Morsi's Islamist allies—who, like Morsi, during elections spoke glowingly of Egyptian unity—made it a point to portray all those Egyptians opposing Morsi, the majority of whom are Muslims, of opposing Islam, of being apostates and hypocrites, and thus enemies who should be fought and killed.

 

Radical online cleric Wagdi Ghoneim, for instance, incited Muslims to wage jihad on and eliminate anyone protesting against Morsi, adding that any Muslim found protesting is, in fact, an apostate hypocrite, who wants to see Islam wiped out of Egypt. He justified the jihad on such Muslims by quoting Quran 66:9: "O Prophet! Strive hard against the infidels and the hypocrites, and be firm against them." He added that the hypocrites were supported by "Crusader Christians" (a reference to the Copts) and "debauched" liberals and seculars—all of whom must also be fought and even killed.

 

As for those Muslims who were protesting but were still "true" Muslims, Ghoneim portrayed them as being misguided—asking them, "Why are you siding with crusaders and infidels against Sharia?"—and thus also needing to be fought until they come to their senses.

 

He correctly pointed out that Islam forbids true Muslims from fighting each other—despite the fact that history (and current events) are replete with Muslims slaughtering each other—and rationalized his call to fight fellow Muslims by quoting Quran 49:9: "If two factions among the believers fight, then make settlement between the two. But if one of them oppresses the other, then fight against the one that oppresses until it returns to the ordinance of Allah." In this context, the moderate Muslims opposing Sharia are the ones "oppressing the other"—the true Muslims, Morsi and his supporters, who want Sharia, that is, who want to "return to the ordinance of Allah."…

 

Egypt is still not Sudan, but it is going down the same path and following the same pattern, specifically, an Islamist government trying to Islamize society, and characterizing as infidels and apostates all who resist. Undoubtedly Egypt's Islamist government will continue to try to Islamize all walks of Egyptian life; undoubtedly there will be those who reject it. The question is, will their resistance ever be staunch enough to prompt the government to act on the aforementioned fatwas, formally declaring all those Egyptians opposing Sharia as infidels and apostates to be hunted down and eradicated with impunity? Only time will tell.

Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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Qatar Throws Egypt $2.5-Billion Lifeline to Prop up Pound: Yasmine Saleh & Patrick Werr, Globe and Mail, Jan. 8, 2013—Qatar threw Egypt an economic lifeline on Tuesday, announcing it had lent Egypt another $2-billion and given it an extra $500-million outright to help control a currency crisis. Political strife has set off a rush to convert Egyptian pounds to dollars over the past several weeks, sending the currency to a record low against the U.S. dollar and draining foreign reserves to a critical level.

 

Cables Show State Department Disregarded Muslim Brotherhood Threat: John Rossomando,

Investigative Project on Terrorism, Jan. 8, 2013—The Obama administration chose to listen to voices suggesting that Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood was moderate rather than those who warned it would resort to violence if it came to power, cables obtained by the Investigative Project on Terrorism show.

 

Preacher Alarms Many in Egypt With Calls for Islamist Vice Police: Egypt Independent, Jan. 9, 2013—Many Egyptian viewers were horrified when preacher Hesham al-Ashry recently popped up on primetime television to say women must cover up for their own protection and advocated the introduction of religious police.

 

Morsi Manages Egypt’s Economic Decline: Nervana Mahmoud, Al-Monitor, Jan 7, 2013—As fear for the economy grows in Egypt, a comparison to the conditions faced in the ’70s and early ’80s becomes more plausible. How far will the economy deteriorate? Can Morsi’s team save it? Every household ponders these questions while watching a devalued Egyptian pound and witnessing the hike in food prices.

 

Diving Currency Adds to Egypt's Woes: Matt Bradley, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 30, 2013—Egypt's currency plumbed new depths on Sunday as policy makers tried to reassure the public and investors that they can prevent a full-scale currency devaluation while still repairing Egypt's budget deficit. The country's worsening economic crisis comes after President Mohammed Morsi isolated his political opponents to push through Egypt's Islamist-leaning constitution, sparking weeks of riots, protests and political uncertainty.

 

Egyptian Cleric Threatens Egypt's Copts with Genocide: Raymond Ibrahim, Gatestone Institute, Dec. 28, 2012—Islamic leaders continue to portray the popular protests against President Morsi and his recently passed Sharia-heavy constitution as products of Egypt's Christians. 

 

 

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WHILE WORLD CONCERN GROWS OVER SYRIAN CHEMICAL WEAPONS, & ASSAD’S “PEACE PLAN” OFFERS USUAL BRUTALITY, BASHAR’S STILL THERE

Download Today's Isranet Daily Briefing.pdf 

 

Contents:                          

 

(Please Note: articles may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click link for the complete article – Ed.)

 

Hints of Syrian Chemical Push Set Off Global Effort to Stop It: Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger, New York Times, Jan 7, 2013—In the last days of November, Israel’s top military commanders called the Pentagon to discuss troubling intelligence that was showing up on satellite imagery: Syrian troops appeared to be mixing chemicals at two storage sites, probably the deadly nerve gas sarin, and filling dozens of 500-pounds bombs that could be loaded on airplanes.

 

Assad Offers Only More Of The Same – Mukhabarat Brutality: Hassan Hassan, The National, Jan 7, 2013—The world still blinks every time that Bashar Al Assad speaks, as if it has not learnt anything from 21 months of violence. In his speech yesterday [Jan 6] – his ninth since the uprising began – the dictator offered a plan that would include a lengthy, complicated process of gradual change and "truth and reconciliation".

 

Syria: Why Assad May Yet Claim Victory: Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, Jan 7 2013—Reacting angrily to President Bashar al-Assad's speech on Sunday calling for an end to the rebellion, the US State Department said the Syrian leader was "detached from reality". But much the same might be said of the US and of Assad's other Western and Arab foes, and with greater justification.

 

On Topic Links

 

The Endgame in Syria is Nowhere In Sight: Kenneth Bandler, FoxNews, Jan 4, 2013
Strategic Briefing on ‘Jabhat al-Nusra’: Noman Benotman and Roisin Blake, Quilliam,  Jan 8, 2013

Hezbollah Sent 5,000 Fighters to Help Assad, Daily Reports: Elhanan Miller, Times of Israel, January 8, 2013

A Syrian Way Out of The Civil War: David Ignatius, Washington Post, Jan 4, 2013

Syrian Refugees Attack Aid Workers in Jordanian Camp Over Terrible Conditions: Dale Gavlak, National Post, Jan 8, 2013

A Two-Year Travelogue From Hell: Christoph Reuter, Der Spiegel, Jan 4, 2013

Assad and the U.S. Are Blind To Reality in Syria: Editorial, Washington Post, Jan 7, 2013

UN: Million Syrians Short of Food: YNet News, Jan 8, 2013

Fighting Flares in Palestinian Camp in Damascus: YNet News, Jan 8, 2013

 

 

 

HINTS OF SYRIAN CHEMICAL PUSH
SET OFF GLOBAL EFFORT TO STOP IT

Eric Schmitt And David E. Sanger

New York Times, Jan 7, 2013

 

In the last days of November, Israel’s top military commanders called the Pentagon to discuss troubling intelligence that was showing up on satellite imagery: Syrian troops appeared to be mixing chemicals at two storage sites, probably the deadly nerve gas sarin, and filling dozens of 500-pounds bombs that could be loaded on airplanes.

 

Within hours President Obama was notified, and the alarm grew over the weekend, as the munitions were loaded onto vehicles near Syrian air bases. In briefings, administration officials were told that if Syria’s increasingly desperate president, Bashar al-Assad, ordered the weapons to be used, they could be airborne in less than two hours — too fast for the United States to act, in all likelihood.

 

What followed next, officials said, was a remarkable show of international cooperation over a civil war in which the United States, Arab states, Russia and China have almost never agreed on a common course of action. The combination of a public warning by Mr. Obama and more sharply worded private messages sent to the Syrian leader and his military commanders through Russia and others, including Iraq, Turkey and possibly Jordan, stopped the chemical mixing and the bomb preparation. A week later Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said the worst fears were over — for the time being.

 

But concern remains that Mr. Assad could now use the weapons produced that week at any moment. American and European officials say that while a crisis was averted in that week from late November to early December, they are by no means resting easy. “I think the Russians understood this is the one thing that could get us to intervene in the war,” one senior defence official said last week. “What Assad understood, and whether that understanding changes if he gets cornered in the next few months, that’s anyone’s guess.”

 

While chemical weapons are technically considered a “weapon of mass destruction” — along with biological and nuclear weapons — in fact they are hard to use and hard to deliver. Whether an attack is effective can depend on the winds and the terrain. Sometimes attacks are hard to detect, even after the fact. Syrian forces could employ them in a village or a neighbourhood, some officials say, and it would take time for the outside world to know….

 

The Obama administration and other governments have said little in public about the chemical weapons movements, in part because of concern about compromising sources of intelligence about the activities of Mr. Assad’s forces….The head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, warned in a confidential assessment last month that the weapons could now be deployed four to six hours after orders were issued, and that Mr. Assad had a special adviser at his side who oversaw control of the weapons, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported. Some American and other allied officials, however, said in interviews that the sarin-laden bombs could be loaded on planes and airborne in less than two hours. “Let’s just say right now, it would be a relatively easy thing to load this quickly onto aircraft,” said one Western diplomat.

 

How the United States and Israel, along with Arab states, would respond remains a mystery. American and allied officials have talked vaguely of having developed “contingency plans” in case they decided to intervene in an effort to neutralize the chemical weapons, a task that the Pentagon estimates would require upward of 75,000 troops. But there have been no evident signs of preparations for any such effort. The United States military has quietly sent a task force of more than 150 planners and other specialists to Jordan to help the armed forces there, among other things, prepare for the possibility that Syria will lose control of its chemical weapons.

 

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was reported to have traveled to Jordan in recent weeks, and the Israeli news media have said the topic of discussion was how to deal with Syrian weapons if it appeared that they could be transferred to Lebanon, where Hezbollah could lob them over the border to Israel. But the plans, to the extent they exist, remain secret….

 

In response, Syria has reached deeper into its conventional arsenal, including firing Scud ballistic missiles at rebel positions near Aleppo. Over the past week a new concern emerged: Syrian forces began shooting new, accurate short-range missiles, believed to have been manufactured in Iran. None had chemical warheads. But their use showed that the Syrian military was now deploying a more accurate weapon than the notoriously inaccurate Scud missiles they have used in previous attacks.

 

As the fighting has escalated, American and other allied officials have said that government troops have moved some of the chemical stockpiles to safer locations, a consolidation that, if it continues, could actually help Western forces should they have to enter Syria to seize control of the munitions or destroy them. Syria’s chemical weapons are under the control of a secretive Syrian air force organization called Unit 450, a highly vetted outfit that is deemed one of the most loyal to the Assad government given the importance of the weapons in its custody.

 

American officials said that some of the back-channel messages in recent weeks were directed at the commanders of this unit, warning them — as Mr. Obama warned Mr. Assad on Dec. 3 — that they would be held personally responsible if the government used its chemical weapons.

 

Asked about these communications and whether they have been successful, an American intelligence official said only, “The topic is extremely sensitive, and public discussion, even on background, will be problematic.” Allied officials say whatever safeguards the Syrian government have taken, there remains great concern that the weapons could fall into the hands of Islamist extremists fighting the government or the militant group Hezbollah, which has established small training camps near some of the storage sites.

 

“Militants who got their hands on such munitions would find it difficult to deploy them effectively without the associated aircraft, artillery or rocket launcher systems,” said Jeremy Binnie, a terrorism and insurgency specialist at IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. “That said, Hezbollah would probably be able to deploy them effectively against Israel with a bit of help.”

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ASSAD OFFERS ONLY MORE OF THE SAME:
MUKHABARAT BRUTALITY

Hassan Hassan

The National (UAE), Jan 7, 2013

 

The world still blinks every time Bashar Al Assad speaks, as if it has not learnt anything from 21 months of violence. In his speech yesterday [Jan 6] – his ninth since the uprising began – the dictator offered a plan that would include a lengthy, complicated process of gradual change and "truth and reconciliation". That would, in theory, lead to a new coalition government and a new constitution.

 

The speech was preceded by an aggressive two-week diplomatic campaign by the regime's allies and the UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. That renewed push for diplomacy followed 140 countries' recognition of the National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people, NATO Patriot missiles and military personnel that were dispatched to Turkey's border, and pledges of increased support for the opposition.

 

The diplomatic overture by the regime is part of a Russian-backed plan that would keep Al Assad in power until presidential elections in the summer of 2014. And the diplomacy appears to have succeeded in slowing down aid to the rebels, with reports that arms supplies are drying up. But the speech yesterday should remind the world that this dictator has no place in a future Syria and that support for the rebels is the only way forward.

 

Russia probably pressured Al Assad to announce a plan of reconciliation. But the speech sounded more vindictive, dismissive and exclusivist than even his previous bombast. For example, he said the plan was directed only at segments of the opposition, and that "those who reject the offer, I say to them: why would you reject an offer that was not meant for you in the first place?" In other points, he emphasized vengeance rather than reconciliation. He also blamed the rebels for the destruction of infrastructure and for cutting off electricity and communications.

 

"Syria accepts advice but never accepts orders," he said. "All of what you heard in the past in terms of plans and initiatives were soap bubbles, just like the [Arab] Spring." It was clear that he tried to sound steadfast, but his voice betrayed him several times. And before his departure from the room, the crowds chanted "may God protect you" – a chant that is used when someone is threatened. The usual party line is "with our soul and blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you".

 

Why would the regime offer a plan now, when it has not made a single meaningful concession since the beginning of the uprising? The violence would never have reached such staggering levels had Al Assad offered reasonable reforms from the beginning. Any hope that he can engineer an end to the violence is an illusion, which will only prolong and worsen the crisis. If anything, the speech showed that the regime will not change its policies except under duress.

 

The aim seemed to be threefold: to create the impression that the rebels refuse political settlements; to add to the world's reluctance about arming the rebels; and to question the legitimacy of the National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people. The proposal of a new constitution is merely a red herring. Syrians did not rise up against the constitution, nor have they demanded constitutional change. People rose up against brutality, and the fact that the existing constitution was never honoured – the mukhabarat apparatus has dominated almost every aspect of Syrian life. The immediate cause of the uprising in Deraa was the mukhabarat, who arrested and tortured school boys for writing anti-regime graffiti and then humiliated their families.

 

Nor did Syrians rise up to be included in a coalition government. Any government that includes these same criminals will be no different. People rose up against the security apparatus that has plagued Syrian society, prevented progress, infringed on individual and public liberties, and tortured and killed tens of thousands of Syrians. These crimes, so obvious during this uprising, have been a normal state of affairs even during periods of calm. If a transition does not affect Al Assad, the mukhabarat apparatus and the army structure, then what does it offer?

 

Compromise does not exist in the regime's lexicon: political settlement means surrender, dialogue means subjugation, and a Syrian-Syrian solution means leaving Syrians to the regime's mercy. If the world wants to help Syrians, there is only one way: step up support for the rebels. The Assad speech was a sign of desperation. Recent moves, including the recognition of the opposition and the pledges of support, can work. More support for the rebels only increases the chances of a political settlement, which might even include safe passage for Al Assad. But a solution cannot come on his terms.

 

To be helpful, support for the rebels cannot simply prolong the fighting. The rebels need to be able to tip the balance. As the situation stands now, the regime may be able to fight for years, not just months…

 

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SYRIA: WHY ASSAD MAY YET CLAIM VICTORY

 

Simon Tisdall

The Guardian, Jan 7 2013

 

Reacting angrily to President Bashar al-Assad's speech on Sunday calling for an end to the rebellion, the US state department said the Syrian leader was "detached from reality". But much the same might be said of the US and of Assad's other western and Arab foes, and with greater justification. After two years of bloody attrition, the unpalatable truth is Assad is still in power, shows no sign of heeding demands to quit and is far from beaten. The evolving reality is that Assad may yet see off his many enemies and claim victory in Syria's civil war.

 

Explanations for this remarkable feat of survival lie not with Assad's personal abilities, which are limited, nor with the durability of his domestic supporters, who are in the minority, nor with the president's ruthlessness in prosecuting the military campaign. More potent has been his subtler achievement in convincing would-be western interventionists that awful though he is, what might follow him would almost certainly be worse. When leading Washington commentators such as David Ignatius [Washington Post] start talking up a "truth and reconciliation" process, you kind of know the battle is lost.

 

This process of geopolitical re-education – it might be termed psychological counter-insurgency – has been gradual but highly effective. One powerful aspect is the highlighting of the growing role of Islamist fundamentalists inside Syria, whom Assad regularly decries as foreign terrorists threatening the Syrian nation. This jihadi "scare factor" is rooted in last February's video message by the al-Qaida leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in which he called on pious Muslims, primarily Sunnis living in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, to help destroy the Syrian regime.

 

"Since then, the message has spread further afield, and the lure of joining the jihad in Syria against a Shia dictator is drawing in young men from around the world," said analyst Tobias Feakin in The Australian. Rising numbers of volunteers, estimated at up to 2,500 in total from as far away as Indonesia and Xinjiang in China, have dispersed in myriad suspect groups including the Free Syrian Army, Liwa al-Islam, Katibat al-Ansar, Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra, which has close links with al-Qaida in Iraq.

 

The dawning realisation that Syria was not another Egypt or Libya, whose revolutions produced relatively clear-cut results, and that it might well become another failed state, harbouring al-Qaida fanatics bent on global confrontation, has had a big impact on western opinion, not least in the US….

The West's hedging of bets over Syria has become glaring in recent months even as its rhetoric has intensified. Political demands, principally that Assad step down immediately and without preconditions, have become ever more inflexible.

 

Led by France, the western position is that nothing less than regime change at the top will do. But at the same time, the argument about doing what needs to be done militarily and logistically to ensure that objective, for example by arming the rebels, seems to be over – and the rebels are the losers. Despite the rebooting of opposition forces under the umbrella Syrian National Coalition, weapons supplies and financial aid are drying up. Even the Sunni Gulf states seem to be having second thoughts as they contemplate a post-Assad Syria sliding into post-Saddam style anarchy.

 

Israel's decision to build border defenses across the Golan and Turkey's deployment of Patriot missiles along its border symbolize this shifting reality. The aim now is not to liberate Syria but to isolate it and quarantine it and to contain the contagion. The fact that the US and Britain have looked on as a second UN peace mission by Lakhdar Brahimi runs into the sand (the first, led by Kofi Annan, collapsed last year), the fact that no substantive pressure has been put on Russia's Vladimir Putin to drop his Syrian diplomatic protection racket, the fact that military intervention is publicly and noisily ruled out and the fact that no concerted international humanitarian relief effort has been mounted to assist Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan all point to one conclusion: that the west is not serious about enforcing Assad's demise. It is a message that Assad has undoubtedly heard.

 

"Despite the efforts of Brahimi – and also of more sympathetic powers such as Russia and China, as well as Assad's Lebanese ally, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah – to promote a negotiated settlement, the regime has shown no interest in acceding to a democratic transition that would lead to its ouster. And its leaders believe they are fighting the rebels to a stalemate," said Tony Karon in Time. Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma, told Karon that, whatever the US state department might say, the fact is that Assad is not budging.

 

Landis said:

 

    "Absent some dramatic increase in external intervention, Assad could still be there in 2014. There's nothing obvious in the current dynamic that's going to force him out. He has barricaded the major cities with layers of security, allowing the impoverished periphery of some to fall into rebel hands, but then using his air power and artillery to devastate those neighbourhoods. Almost two years into the uprising and despite the rebels' recent momentum, they have not yet taken full control of a single major city or town.

    Despite the confident predictions coming from the rebels and their backers, nobody in the opposition today can explain how they're going to win. The regime has the unity, it has all the heavy weapons. Many of the rebels continue to operate on the assumption that the US will intervene to tip the balance for them."

 

But despite all the huffing and puffing in Washington (and London), decisive intervention is extremely unlikely. It is time the likes of Obama and William Hague admitted this reality and started dealing with what is, rather than what might have been.

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The Endgame in Syria is Nowhere In Sight: Kenneth Bandler, FoxNews, Jan 4, 2013—Wither Syria? Some observers interpreted UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s visit to Damascus and certain Russian statements as proof positive that the Syrian conflict will be resolved soon. It will not. Predicting that the endgame for Syria is imminent, it turns out, is wishful thinking.

 

Assad And The U.S. Are Blind To Reality In Syria: Editorial, Washington Post, Jan 7, 2013—Syrian President Bashar al-Assad delivered a speech Sunday that had the virtue, at least, of offering clarity. No, he insisted, he would not step down. He would not negotiate with the rebels who control much of the countryside and parts of major cities. He would not consider the compromise “transition” proposal being pedaled by a U.N. envoy with the backing of his ally Russia, as well as the United States. Instead, he said, he would fight to the end against “enemies of God and puppets of the West.”

 

A Two-Year Travelogue From Hell: Christoph Reuter, Der Spiegel, Jan 4, 2013—We've driven along this road once before, in April 2012, which these days seems like an eternity ago. At the time, there was still electricity here, and people still lived in Taftanas, Sarmin, Kurin and other villages in Idlib Province, in northern Syria. But now, in December 2012, entire villages are empty and pockmarked with bullet holes, their residents having fled from airstrikes, hunger and frigid temperatures.

 

Syrian Refugees Attack Aid Workers in Jordanian Camp Over Terrible Conditions:Dale Gavlak, National Post, Jan 8, 2013—Syrian refugees in a Jordanian camp attacked aid workers with sticks and stones on Tuesday, frustrated after cold, howling winds swept away their tents and torrential rains flooded muddy streets overnight

 

A Syrian Way Out of The Civil War: David Ignatius, Washington Post, Jan 4, 2013—To help oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an opposition group has drafted a plan for a transitional justice system that would impose harsh penalties against die-hard members of his inner circle but provide amnesty for most of his Alawite supporters.

 

Hezbollah Sent 5,000 Fighters to Help Assad: Elhanan Miller, Times of Israel, January 8, 2013—Some 5,000 Hezbollah combatants entered Syria in December to aid the faltering regime of Bashar Assad, a Saudi daily reported on Monday. According to Al-Watan, a government daily, four “support battalions” comprising at least 1,300 soldiers each had succeeded in killing some 300 rebel soldiers in recent weeks as battles raged between government and opposition forces around the capital Damascus.

 

Strategic Briefing on ‘Jabhat al-Nusra’: Noman Benotman and Roisin Blake, Quilliam,  Jan 8, 2013—‘Jabhat al-Nusra is one of the most publicised rebel groups in the current Syrian crisis, despite having a relatively small membership – a result of their hard-line ideology and guerrilla tactics, and because of the mystery surrounding their activities – mystery which only serves to increase the level of fear amongst many sectors of Syrian society and the international community.

 

UN: Million Syrians Short of Food: YNet News, Jan 8, 2013—About one million Syrians are going short of food, most of them in conflict zones, due to government restrictions on aid distribution, the United Nations said on Tuesday. The UN's World Food Program (WFP) is handing out rations to about 1.5 million people in Syria each month, still short of the 2.5 million deemed to be in need.

 

Fighting Flares in Palestinian Camp in Damascus: YNet News, Jan 8, 2013—Representatives of Palestinian factions in Syria are calling for an immediate cease-fire after fighting flared at a refugee camp in Damascus. Activists say five people were killed in the Yarmouk camp Tuesday, including four who died when a shell struck their street and a fifth shot by a sniper. The fighting pits gunmen loyal to President Bashar Assad against rebels, who now control much of the camp.

 

 

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CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing attempts to convey a wide variety of opinions on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world for its readers’ educational and research purposes. Reprinted articles and documents express the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

 

 

Ber Lazarus, Publications Editor, Canadian Institute for Jewish ResearchL'institut Canadien de recherches sur le Judaïsme, www.isranet.org

Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284 ; ber@isranet.org

IRAQ: OIL RELATED INSTABILITY – GROWING TENSIONS: INTRA-SHI’ITE, BETWEEN SHI’ITE AND SUNNI, & BETWEEN ARABS & KURDS

Download Today's Isranet Daily Briefing.pdf 

 

Contents:                          

 

(Please Note: articles may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click link for the complete article – Ed.)

 

Sadr and Maliki Battle Over Iraqi Oil: Ali Abdel Sadah, Al-Monitor, Jan 3, 2013—At long last, the political rivalry between the Dawa Party — led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — and the Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr has been renewed.

 

Will Kurdistan’s Energy Wealth Lead to the Next Iraq War?: Jay Newton-Small, Time World, Dec. 18, 2012—Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was infuriated when Kurdistan began inking its own oil contracts – including some in disputed areas — with Exxon, France’s Total, Russia’s Gazprom and Chervron.

 

Iraq Could Dissolve Parliament in 48 Hours, Sources Say: Paul D. Shinkman, US News, January 4, 2013—In a move that could draw Iraq back into the throws of religious infighting and potential civil war, the fledgling Baghdad government may be on the brink of dissolving parliament within days, a source tell U.S. News.

 

On Topic Links
 

 

Sadr Allies With Sunnis in Challenge to Maliki: Mushreq Abbas, Al-Monitor, Jan 6, 2013

The Redacted Iraqi Jews: Nabil Al-Hadairi, Gatestone Institute, Dec 27, 2012

The Steep Price of American Disengagement: Max Boot, Commentary, Dec. 1, 2012

Both Sides Have Too Much to Lose in Arab-Kurd Rivalry: Ranj Alaaldin, The National, Dec 7, 2012

Iraq Needs Inclusive Governance: Editorial, Gulf News, Dec 28, 2012

Kurdistan’s Vast Reserves Draw Oil Majors: Guy Chazan, Financial Times, Jan 7, 2013

32 Pilgrims Killed by Bombings in Central Iraq: Yasir Ghazi & Christine Hauser, New York Times, Jan 3, 2013

China’s Oil Quest Comes to Iraq: J. Michael Cole, The Diplomat, Dec 2, 2012

 

 

SADR AND MALIKI BATTLE OVER IRAQI OIL

Ali Abdel Sadah

Al-Monitor, Jan 3, 2013

 

At long last, the political rivalry between the Dawa Party — led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — and the Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr has been renewed. This comes against the backdrop of the prime minister rejecting a proposal made by Sadr’s followers in parliament which called for the insertion of a clause into the 2013 budget that would distribute a portion of the surplus from oil revenues as cash dividends to Iraqi citizens.

 

Baha al-Araji, head of the Sadr-affiliated Ahrar Bloc in parliament, was visibly upset at a news conference in early December 2012, due to the lawsuit Maliki won against the oil surplus dividends clause. That day he said, "Maliki is responsible for starving the Iraqis." He also expressed his support for the proposal of his leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, which included providing $233 to every citizen and around 40,000 jobs for unemployed youth. Immediately following the decision, Sadr’s supporters took to the streets protesting against Maliki in the capital city of Baghdad, as well as in Najaf — Sadr's stronghold — and cities in the central and southern Euphrates regions. The Sadrists chanted angrily condemning Maliki, saying that he is attacking their leader. Those scenes churned up old memories of the long quarrel that had formerly persisted between the two sides.

 

There are marked differences between the Dawa Party and the Sadrist Movement. The majority of Sadr’s followers have considered Maliki an enemy ever since he led the 2008 Charge of the Knights, which was the harshest security crackdown the country had seen against the Mahdi Army — Sadr’s armed wing — and killed hundreds of his followers and imprisoned many more. Ever since the clampdown, which took a heavy toll on the city of Basra, the relationship between the two sides has taken on a vengeful dimension.

 

The fierce competition for leadership of the Shiites brings an additional dimension to their rivalry. For whereas the Dawa Party has successfully remained in power and presents an institutionalized model of leadership, the Sadrist Movement continues to increase in influence due to the widespread support it enjoys among the poor, unemployed youth whose zealous opposition to Maliki grows increasingly radical….

 

The Sadrist public is preoccupied with the religious details concerning Shiite leadership and authority; meanwhile the political elite of the Sadrist Movement are still considering taking a swing at Maliki.

The movement has demands it describes as final and necessary if the dispute with Maliki is to be resolved. It makes note of the dozens of Sadr’s followers in government prisons, in addition to ambitious demands to gain access to sensitive positions in the security apparatus. Sadr still carries the bad memories of 2008 with him and strives to rein in Maliki, sooner or later.

 

Sadr has also been subjected to significant political shake-ups, which are almost to be expected given his broad base of supporters. One especially controversial shake-up occurred after the 2010 elections, when his Sadrist Movement granted Maliki voting powers in parliament in order to receive a comfortable majority with which to form a government….

 

Past volatility ensures that any alliance between Sadr and Maliki will always be shaky, but they have not permanently separated either. Ministers from the Sadrist Movement still work with Maliki. Both sides are motivated to bury the hatchet because of their entrenched historical interest to keep Shiites at the helm. Fears over the collapse of the Shiite alliance, which would benefit the Sunnis, trouble Sadr and Maliki equally. In fact, these fears among the Shiite leaders, as the sect which acquired power after Saddam Hussein, force Maliki and Sadr to — if only temporarily — put aside their differences and maintain unity among the Shiites, lest the Sunnis depose them.

 

But within this coalition there is still hitting below the belt, which has begun to take on a variety of shapes with the approaching provincial elections scheduled for April 2013. The latest manifestation of which was the controversy surrounding the oil surplus dividends. The row over the oil surplus dividends began back in September 2011, when Sadr told Maliki’s government that he would postpone his followers’ mass demonstration against the poor quality of utilities if Maliki promised to distribute 25% of the surplus revenues to Iraqis and to create at least 50,000 jobs for the unemployed.

 

In February 2012, Iraq's parliament approved the budget, worth about $100 billion. Two days before the voting session, on Feb. 23, the Sadrist Movement said it would withdraw its vote unless the clause authorizing the dividends proposal was included. Over the past year, information has been scarce as to the size of the surplus. However, Araji related in his press conference that — according to Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi — it is estimated to be around $20 million.

 

Meanwhile, statistics concerning benefits for the retired and job opportunities for the youth are beginning to appear that reek of electoral pandering. The latter may be an attempt to prevent bringing real development to the service sectors. Iraqi civil society activists are finding that the rivalry between political forces impedes legislation that would pump money into Iraq’s vital sectors upon which people’s lives depend.

 

Study of the evolution of the story surrounding the dividends proposal leads one to conclude what Haider al-Abadi — a leader in the Dawa Party and head of the Finance Committee in parliament — concluded when he said that the distribution of dividends depends on the consent of the ministries of finance and planning. He made this statement to journalists in May, three months after the Sadrist Movement’s announcement of the legislative approval of the proposal. Abadi had said, “There are those who want to advance special interests at the expense of citizens, manipulate the emotions of the masses, and character assassinate political figures for their own purposes." His message seemed to be directed at the Sadrists. With campaigning bound to start soon, the bitterness and scope of the rivalry within the alliance is plain to see…..

 

Ali Abdel Sadah, a writer and journalist from Baghdad, is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Iraq Pulse. 

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WILL KURDISTAN’S ENERGY WEALTH LEAD TO THE NEXT IRAQ WAR?

Jay Newton-Small

Time World, Dec. 18, 2012

 

Playing tourists in one of the world’s most dangerous cities is not how we imagined we’d end up spending Tuesday[Dec 11], but there we were atop Kirkuk’s ancient citadel admiring – and mourning – the crumbling ruins of the five mosques that once occupied the plateau overlooking the contested city. “See, look,” says Akam Omar Osman, pointing to the north. “You see how in Kurdish areas we pick up the trash, we have services. And then how in the south,” he says, swinging around, “you have nothing.” Osman is the translator provided by the Peshmerga Kurdish forces who brought us here.

 

The north does look to be relatively bustling, while storm clouds gather over the quieter southern areas of the city, filled with banks of trash. This pivotal oil city, home to Iraq‘s main pipeline and numerous refineries, is part of the disputed territories between Iraqi Kurdistan and the Iraqi central government. And Kirkuk is now on the frontlines of a two-week old military stand-off. After a December shootout between Iraqi police and Peshmerga in another disputed city, Tuz Khormato, left one dead and several injured, both the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Army have ringed Kirkuk.

 

But the tensions are far greater than just a single firefight. Baghdad recently created a new command overseeing security forces in the disputed areas, angering the country’s ethnic Kurds. The Kurds were further incensed when Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir al- Zaidi, who has been linked to Saddam Hussein‘s genocide of hundreds of thousands of Kurds in 1988′s Anfal campaign, was placed in charge of the Iraqi forces at their doorstep.

 

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was infuriated when Kurdistan began inking its own oil contracts – including some in disputed areas — with Exxon, France’s Total, Russia’s Gazprom and Chervron. Not to mention a deal under way to build a pipeline between Turkey and Kurdistan, allowing the Kurds a route that did not have to cross the rest of Iraq to export the 45 million barrels believed to be beneath Kurdish lands. Maliki argues that the regional government doesn’t have the authority to sign such contracts.

 

On Tuesday morning in Erbil, Kurdistan’s capital, we met with the Minister for Peshmerga Sheikh Jafar Mustafa, before heading down to see what we thought were the front lines. “It is illegal for Baghdad to use the Iraqi Army to settle provincial disputes,” Jafar says. “They make the same words — use the same words — as Saddam.”…

 

If it were to come down to violence, there’s a big question who’d win the fight. The Iraqi Army is better equipped, thanks to the Americans, but the Kurds have passion and knowledge of the treacherous mountains on their side. The ill-equipped Kurds, after all, succeeded in tormenting Saddam’s powerful army for decades. And it’s not clear how many Iraqi Army minority forces — Sunni and Turkmen — would want to fight their allies and friends. (The Iraqi army is predominantly Shi’a.)

 

About half way into the hour’s drive, Osman asks us if we’d like to see Kirkuk. Ivor doesn’t have a visa to enter Iraq – the Kurds grant Americans and Europeans instant 10-day visas upon arrival that are only good for their territory, whereas Iraq requires a lengthy application process accompanied by a certified HIV blood test – but Osman says that’s not a problem because Kirkuk is part of their territory, a point they’re clearly keen to highlight. As to our concerns about danger, he waves them away: “With us, you’re perfectly safe,” he says, pointing at his gun. “And, besides, it’s safe, you’ll see.” We probably wouldn’t have gone in if I hadn’t heard from Western diplomats the night before that they travel to Kirkuk all the time and the areas controlled by the Kurds are, indeed, quite safe.

 

Kurdistan is the safest part of Iraq these days. Travelers do not need to move in secured convoys or with bodyguards. Electricity, still unreliable to the south after more than $20 billion in investment, is stable in Kurdistan. The economy is booming: cranes building 30-floor five-star hotels dot Erbil’s skyline, road and tunnel construction is everywhere and foreign business and tourism are flourishing.

The Kurds have extended much of that stability to northern Kirkuk. The bazaar here is bustling. Every one I interview tells me they want to live in an independent Kurdistan, even the Arabs. “Barazani,” Hadji Subiq, 80, tells me with a toothless grin, referring to Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, “if he’s alive then we’re all alive. If he’s dead then we’re all dead.”

 

At first I think they’re only saying nice things about the Kurds given that I’m flanked by three heavily armed Peshmerga as I approach people. But soon, Osman and I sit down for a tea at a cafe and a crowd of 30 or more surrounds us, all eager to talk about how much they hate Maliki and love the Kurds.

 

By Thursday [Dec 13] the central government and the Kurdish regional authorities had come to an agreement to deescalate the troops, though no timetable for withdrawal was set and the two sides did not solve any of the underlying issues. In the meantime, tens of thousands of troops – by some estimates as many as 60,000 – are facing off in other locations, some as close as 100 meters to each other. “With two armed groups in close proximity, the danger is that accidents do happen and things blow  and you get an inadvertent war,” says Harry Schute, a former U.S. Army colonel who led U.S. forces into Kurdistan in 2003 and has come back in his retirement to advise the Kurds on security.

 

Both sides have an incentive to find a solution. Maliki faces provincial elections in six months and a populace sick of sectarian violence, political saber-rattling and bureaucratic bumbling. And the Kurds place a high premium on stability. “We hope it doesn’t come to war, we know that there’s a lot to be lost with this fight,” says Falah Mustafa Bakir, Kurdish minister of Foreign Relations. “Safety and security is essential to our growth, the growth that we want to continue and expand. Kurdistan is open for business.”

Top of Page

 

 

IRAQ COULD DISSOLVE PARLIAMENT IN 48 HOURS, SOURCES SAY

Paul D. Shinkman

US News, January 4, 2013

 

In a move that could draw Iraq back into the throws of religious infighting and potential civil war, the fledgling Baghdad government may be on the brink of dissolving parliament within days, a source tell U.S. News. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who leads the Shiite majority government, has used strong-arm tactics to marginalize opponents, mostly among minority Sunnis, says an official at private intelligence company Stratfor. These actions, along with some spill-over from the civil war in Syria, have lead to violent protests in Iraq in recent days.

 

The Iraq government may dissolve the parliament in as soon as 48 hours, according to Iraqi sources and media reported by Stratfor. This was first reported by Arabic news service Al Arabiya. "It seems like there is enough momentum built up now where the resolution may be in dissolving parliament and holding fresh elections," says Kamran Bokhari, vice president of Middle Eastern and South Asian Affairs for Stratfor.

 

Regional instability has contributed to the fragility of the Iraqi parliament, leading to deadly demonstrations in recent days. "[Al-Maliki] is seen by the Iranians and the Iraqi Shiite allies as jeopardizing their communal interests," he says. "Given the way things are heating up in Syria and the rise of Sunnis over there, I think the Sunnis in Iraq are being energized by the phenomenon across the border."

 

Dissolving the parliament before the next elections in early 2014 is further complicated by the absence of much of the presidency council, which would participate in the temporary caretaker government. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is currently in Germany for treatment following a stroke, and one of the two vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashemi, is currently in exile following murder charges.

 

"Right now I doubt the Maliki government is easily accepting the idea there should be a caretaker government to come in in the interim and take over the elections," says Bokhari. "If that's the position of this government, and you return to sectarian fault lines, we could easily see this descending into violence if there is gridlock that continues for a long time."

 

He also points to al Qaida operatives in Syria trying to exploit the chaotic situation there. A new sectarian fight in Iraq might prove another "fertile ground for jihadists," Bokhari says. A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the reports. When asked about the protests in Iraq, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Friday the U.S. ambassador meets weekly and sometimes daily with top Iraqi leaders.

 

"We have had contacts with the Iraq government," she said. "Our ambassador in Iraq has meetings with all the key leaders, encouraging them to work with each other, to settle issues that they have through dialogue, to protect and preserve the basic tenets of the Iraqi constitution."

 

Two Iraqi officials told Bloomberg Businessweek they did not call for dissolving the parliament, but did not deny that it could happen.

 

When asked if the prime minister's State of Law bloc had issued the statement, lawmaker and member of the bloc Khalid al-Asadi told Bloomberg, "It's not true. The State of Law didn't ask to dissolve the parliament," he said. "But when any party asks for dissolving the parliament and dissolve the government and call for early election, we will not stand against it."

 

Maliki senior aide Izzat al-Shahbender told Bloomberg "this was one of options we discussed in the National Iraqi Alliance, which we have raised long ago, but we didn't issue a statement."

 

Top of Page

 

 

 

Sadr Allies With Sunnis in Challenge to Maliki: Mushreq Abbas, Al-Monitor, Jan 6, 2013—No one in Iraq had ever imagined that a popular and political alliance would one day bring together Muqtada al-Sadr and the Sunni Arabs. The two parties participated in an excruciating civil war (2006-2008) that resulted in thousands of casualties on both sides.

 

The Redacted Iraqi Jews: Nabil Al-Hadairi, Gatestone Institute, Dec 27, 2012—The recent Conference of Religions and Sects in Sulaymaniyah, organized under the supervision of Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, was an important milestone: The first such conference to take place in Iraq that seriously covered the defense of religions and sects after the collapse of the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein.

 

The Steep Price of American Disengagement: Max Boot, Commentary, Dec. 1, 2012—It is hardly surprising to read that the flow of Iranian arms continues to reach Syria via Iraqi airspace. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had promised the Obama administration that he would inspect aircraft overflying his country, but his promise has proved hollow. 

 

Both Sides Have Too Much to Lose in Arab-Kurd Rivalry: Ranj Alaaldin, The National, Dec 7, 2012—The threat of war is hanging over Iraq. In recent months, Arabs and Kurds have gone head to head over long-standing disputes centred on land, oil and power.

 

Iraq needs inclusive governance: Editorial, Gulf News, Dec 28, 2012—The sectarian drift of the Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, needs to be reversed. Al Maliki is a leading Shiite politician, but in his position as the head of a government, he needs to serve the entire Iraqi population and his government must work to be inclusive of all Iraqis.

 

Kurdistan’s Vast Reserves Draw Oil Majors: Guy Chazan, Financial Times, Jan 7, 2013—For decades, the rugged hills of northern Iraq were the sole preserve of sheep herders and the Kurdish militia known as peshmerga. Now they play host to some of the largest oil and gas companies in the world, drawn by its estimated 45bn barrels of oil.

 

32 Pilgrims Are Killed by Bombings in Central Iraq: Yasir Ghazi & Christine Hauser, New York Times, Jan 3, 2013—Attackers killed at least 32 pilgrims in Iraq on Thursday, the police said, in what appeared to be a spate of sectarian-motivated violence as the country continued to struggle with a political crisis in its fractured government.

 

China’s Oil Quest Comes to Iraq: J. Michael Cole, The Diplomat, Dec 2, 2012—A lot of attention has been paid in recent years to energy-hungry China’s billion-dollar bids on oil fields in Canada and the Asian giant’s reliance on oil from countries like Iran and Sudan to fuel its growing economy. 

 

 

Visit CIJR’s Bi-Weekly Webzine: Israzine.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing is available by e-mail.
Please urge colleagues, friends, and family to visit our website for more information on our ISRANET series.
To join our distribution list, or to unsubscribe, visit us at http://www.isranet.org/.

The ISRANET Daily Briefing is a service of CIJR. We hope that you find it useful and that you will support it and our pro-Israel educational work by forwarding a minimum $90.00 tax-deductible contribution [please send a cheque or VISA/MasterCard information to CIJR (see cover page for address)]. All donations include a membership-subscription to our respected quarterly ISRAFAX print magazine, which will be mailed to your home.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing attempts to convey a wide variety of opinions on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world for its readers’ educational and research purposes. Reprinted articles and documents express the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

 

 

Ber Lazarus, Publications Editor, Canadian Institute for Jewish ResearchL'institut Canadien de recherches sur le Judaïsme, www.isranet.org

Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284 ; ber@isranet.org

COMING JAN. 22 ELECTION: AS ISRAEL, REFLECTING STATUS QUO, SHIFTS TO RIGHT,  OUTLINE OF EMERGENT “TWO-PARTY SYSTEM” DISCERNABLE

Download Today's Isranet Daily Briefing.pdf 

 

Contents:                          

 

 

(Please Note: some articles may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click on the article  link for the complete text – Ed.)

 

 

Why Israel Has Shifted to the Right: Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary, Dec. 20, 2012—If liberal American Jews weren’t already dismayed about the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is a shoe-in to be re-elected in next month’s election, the latest political news out of Israel may give them conniption fits. The results of new polls show that Netanyahu’s Likud and its coalition partners are set to exceed the strong governing majority they had in the current Knesset.

 

Israelis: No More ‘Big Ideas to Alter Status Quo’: Evelyn Gordon, Jerusalem Post Magazine, Jan. 3, 2013—Yet if you look at what Netanyahu hasn’t done, his popularity becomes instantly understandable. He didn’t sign a breakthrough “peace” agreement that created a terrorist quasi-state in the West Bank, from which Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen proceeded to slaughter over 1,300 Israelis in a little over a decade.

 

Israel’s New Two-Party System: A Force For Extremism: Donniel Hartman, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 3, 2013—A new feature has emerged in Israeli politics this election season: the evolution of our political culture into a de facto two-party system similar to the Republican and Democrat divide in the US, referred to here as the Right and the Center-Left.

 

 

On Topic Links

 

 

 

A Dose Of Nuance: Not Just France With Humous: Daniel Gordis, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 13, 2012

Say No To Hallucination Dealers: Dan Margalit, Israel Hayom, Jan. 4, 2013

Shamir: If  Convicted, My Leader [Liberman] Must Leave Politics: Ron Friedman, Times of Israel, Jan. 4, 2013

Likud Rises as Leftists Vow No Coalition: Maayana Miskin, Israel National News, Jan. 4, 2013

A Labor-Habayit Hayehudi Alliance?: Mati Tuchfeld, Israel Hayom, Jan. 4, 2013

 

 

 

 

WHY ISRAEL HAS SHIFTED TO THE RIGHT

Jonathan S. Tobin

Commentary, Dec. 20, 2012

 

If liberal American Jews weren’t already dismayed about the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is a shoe-in to be re-elected in next month’s election, the latest political news out of Israel may give them conniption fits. The results of new polls show that Netanyahu’s Likud and its coalition partners are set to exceed the strong governing majority they had in the current Knesset. But the really interesting numbers are those that show that the main party to the right of the Likud—the Habeyit Hayehudi or Jewish Home Party–is on track to be the third largest in the next parliament with only Likud and Labor (set to finish a distant second) ahead of it.

 

This will give residents and supporters of the settlement movement an even louder voice in the next Knesset than their already healthy contingent in the current one. This will be interpreted by some on the left as a sign of Israel’s depravity or indifference to peace. But the reason for it is clear.

 

Whereas in Israel’s past it could be asserted that the Likud represented Israel’s right-wing constituency, it has, to the shock and dismay of many in the left-wing Israeli media, become the center. That is not because more Israelis are supporters of increasing settlement throughout the West Bank. They are not. Rather it is due to the fact that the Israeli center as well as even many on what we used to call the Israeli left, have given up on the Palestinians. They know that neither Fatah in the West Bank nor Hamas in Gaza will ever recognize Israel’s legitimacy no matter where its borders are drawn. So they have abandoned those parties that hold onto the illusion of peace in favor of those with a more realistic vision while those on the right are now embracing parties like Habeyit Hayehudi in order to hold Netanyahu’s feet to the fire and prevent him from making concessions that will neither entice the Palestinians to the negotiating table nor increase its popularity abroad.

 

Habeyit Hayehudi is the beneficiary in part of the merger of the Likud with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu. Rather than polls showing Likud getting as many seats as the two parties got in the last election, it is registering a loss of several places as some nationalist voters abandon the new conglomerate for its more ideological rival to the right. Though the enlarged Likud will still gain several seats from the mark it won in the 2009 vote that brought Netanyahu back into power and make it by far the largest in the Knesset with 35, Habeyit Hayehudi is set to get 12 with another pro-settlement party getting another two. That will double the number of seats those smaller parties won four years ago. Combined with the Orthodox religious parties, that will give Netanyahu nearly 70 seats out of 120 next year even before any of the centrist members join him as some undoubtedly will do.

 

Habeyit Hayehudi also has the advantage of a new leader in the 40-year-old Naftali Bennett. He is the son of American immigrants who is a former chief of staff to Netanyahu and who earned great wealth through the sale of his Internet security firm. In him, Israel’s nationalist camp now has an articulate and savvy figure who can say things about the Palestinians that Netanyahu, who, as David Horovitz of the Times of Israel pointed out in an insightful analysis, cannot utter for fear of worsening relations with the United States.

 

Bennett’s powerful position, which will be enhanced by a Cabinet portfolio that he will demand and get, will make the next Knesset harder for Netanyahu to manage. The absence of several Likud moderates who have been replaced by more nationalist and younger figures on the party’s Knesset list will also ensure that the prime minister will not be straying far from the wishes of his voters the way some of his predecessors have done.

 

This won’t necessarily mean that Netanyahu will move to build throughout the West Bank the way Bennett would like. But it will strengthen his resolve to continue to do so in Jerusalem and its suburbs as well as the major settlement blocs that Israel will hold onto even in the theoretical scenario where the Palestinians finally give in and accept a two-state solution.  That will lead to much gnashing of the teeth on the part of liberal Jews who are uncomfortable with Netanyahu, let alone those to his right. But those who lament this development should understand that the Israeli people are making this choice with their eyes wide open.

 

Even Labor, the party that is historically associated with the peace process, has more or less abandoned the issue of reconciliation with the Palestinians in this election and instead is concentrating on economic and social justice issues. Those lists that are still devoted to the peace process, including the new party led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, have been thoroughly marginalized.

 

Unlike most Israelis, many if not most American Jews and many non-Jewish friends of Israel haven’t drawn conclusions from the last 20 years of failed peace processing. They cling instead to the fables about the Palestinians that once fueled the post-Oslo euphoria in Israel but which have now been discarded there.

 

 

 

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ISRAELIS: NO MORE ‘BIG IDEAS TO ALTER STATUS QUO’

Evelyn Gordon

Jerusalem Post Magazine, Jan. 3, 2013

 

Writing in The Jerusalem Post on Friday [Dec. 28], Donniel Hartman lamented the lack of “new ideas” in this election campaign. Campaigns, he proclaimed, should be a time for politicians to put forth “noble and naïve ideas,” to compete over “new ways to change the status quo;” a campaign that doesn’t do this is “dangerous for Israel and its future.”

 

Hartman’s plaint is a perfect snapshot of the thinking that has made Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu the unchallenged king of Israeli politics. Because for 20 years, Israelis have suffered through a succession of prime ministers who not only produced, but implemented, “noble and naïve ideas” to “change the status quo.” And what Israelis discovered is that such ideas are frequently far more “dangerous for Israel and its future” than the cautious conservatism Netanyahu epitomizes.

 

This isn’t to imply that Netanyahu has no ideas. He actually has quite a few, and many are even good ones. But none are of the big, radical, “noble and naïve” type. What he has consistently proposed, over two terms of office, is cautious, incremental change that will hopefully leave the country a bit better than he found it, but probably won’t affect a major revolution. And Israelis confidently expect the same from a third term.

 

Ironically, Netanyahu’s discomfort with big, radical ideas led him to a landslide loss in 1999, when Israelis opted for a rival who promised a host of them: unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, a final-status agreement with the Palestinians, a socioeconomic revolution that would finally “get the old woman out of the hospital corridor,” and more.

 

Yet that very same aversion to big, radical ideas is why he enjoys massive margins of support today. A Haaretz poll last week, for instance, asked respondents which party leader they trusted most on security, economics and diplomatic negotiations. On all three issues, Netanyahu outpolled his nearest rival by more than 2:1; on security, the margin was more than 4:1.

 

If you look merely at what Netanyahu has done, these numbers seem almost incomprehensible. After all, he hasn’t won any wars or thwarted any major security threat; the high cost of living and other economic problems sparked the biggest socioeconomic protests in decades last year; and not only has he failed to negotiate any major diplomatic agreements, but much of the world holds him responsible for this failure.

 

Yet if you look at what Netanyahu hasn’t done, his popularity becomes instantly understandable. He didn’t sign a breakthrough “peace” agreement that created a terrorist quasi-state in the West Bank, from which Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen proceeded to slaughter over 1,300 Israelis in a little over a decade. He didn’t unilaterally withdraw from Lebanon or Gaza, thereby abandoning them to the rule of terrorist organizations that have subsequently fired more than 16,000 rockets at Israel. He didn’t launch a grand diplomatic summit that ended up sparking a terrorist war. He didn’t conduct any failed wars, in either the military or the public-relations sense. He didn’t propose any sweeping territorial concessions that, had they been accepted, would have proven as detrimental to Israel’s security as every previous such concession has.

 

In short, unlike his predecessors, he produced no big ideas for changing the status quo – no “peace agreements,” no unilateral withdrawals, no sweeping final-status proposals, no failed wars “to destroy Hezbollah or Hamas once and for all” (a wildly inappropriate aim if you’re unwilling to do what’s necessary to achieve it). And Israelis, battered and shell-shocked by the disastrous consequences of all these previous big ideas, are grateful for the quiet his cautious, risk-averse policies have produced. But it’s not just that his aversion to grandiose ideas has prevented any major new disasters. It’s that by eschewing such big ideas, he has managed to implement modest but significant improvements.

 

On the security front, he has a laudable track record on counterterrorism. During his first term, he reduced terrorist deaths by 70 percent, from 211 in 1993-96 to 63 in 1996-99. During his current term, he kept terror at the relatively low level inherited from his predecessor.

 

Economically, for all the real problems that sparked last year’s socioeconomic protests, Israel is doing well compared to the rest of the West. Its 7% unemployment rate is vastly better than the Eurozone average of 11.7%; in some Eurozone countries, like Spain and Greece, unemployment has soared to over 25%. The Eurozone has also experienced zero or negative growth for the last four quarters; Israel, by contrast, posted growth of about 3.3% this year.

 

And diplomatically, Netanyahu succeeded in getting the world to impose much tougher sanctions on Iran, something all his predecessors signally failed to do. Indeed, even his most bitter opponents find themselves forced to acknowledge his achievements. Here, for instance, is what columnist Ari Shavit of the far-left Haaretz wrote in October: “Netanyahu's government … correctly focused on the Iranian nuclear challenge and acted against it with skill and ingenuity, most of the time. It led a necessary reform of higher education and an important reform of preschool education, paved roads and built railway lines.”

 

And here’s Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn, writing two weeks ago: “[Netanyahu] said he'd mobilize international public opinion to escalate the sanctions against Iran and prepare the Israel Defense Forces for attack, and he did. He said he'd act to raise the Palestinians' standard of living, and it rose. He spoke out against unilateral withdrawals, and he didn't withdraw. He promised that Israel's students would reach the top 10 in international exams, and their performance has improved. He wrote he would take care of the crime families, and they've dropped out of the public agenda.”

 

Like many Israelis, I think Netanyahu could and should have done far more to address Israel’s numerous domestic problems, and I’m disappointed that he didn’t. Nevertheless, one could do far worse than making some modest improvements while avoiding any major disasters. And after two decades of “noble and naïve” ideas that left the country battered and bloody, Israelis understand this quite well. That’s why most are breathing a quiet sigh of relief at the prospect of four more years without them.

 

 

 

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ISRAEL’S NEW TWO-PARTY SYSTEM: A FORCE FOR EXTREMISM

Donniel Hartman

Jerusalem Post, Jan. 3, 2013

 

A new feature has emerged in Israeli politics this election season: the evolution of our political culture into a de facto two-party system similar to the Republican and Democrat divide in the US, referred to here as the Right and the Center-Left. There are indeed two sectorial groups outside this divide – haredim and Arabs. The former, however, will join either of the two “parties,” depending on which is willing to greater serve the interests of its sector, while the latter always remains in the opposition.

 

It is true that these two parties are divided into multiple mini-parties. However, the fact that the two major parties (the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu) on the Right have amalgamated, and the third (Bayit Yehudi) is running on the platform of being their coalition partner, while on the Left, politicians are jumping from sub-party to sub-party, avoiding a formal unification primarily because of ego, are all evidence of the fact that the old multiple party system is dead.

 

Voters and politicians are no longer loyal or bound to a sub-party but to the larger party bloc, and shift their affiliations freely within this bloc without feeling any remorse or nostalgia. The sub-party is but a means and a platform to serve them without any ability to generate sustained loyalty. Thus, for example, Amir Peretz can wake up in the morning as one of the leaders of the Labor Party and go to sleep at night as one of the leaders of The Tzipi Livni Party (Hatnuah), itself formed by Livni, the former leader of the Kadima Party. Those who see all of this as opportunism fail to realize the profound shift within Israeli political culture from the multiparty to the two party system.

 

Similarly, the dramatic growth in popularity of the heretofore religious-Zionist sectorial party, the Bayit Yehudi, with the support of secular former Likud loyalists, the significant infiltration into the Likud Knesset candidates list of individuals and ideologues who are using the Likud base to mainstream positions which in the past were the domain of the extreme Right, and on the Left, with the disintegration of the popular base of Kadima, the largest party in the last Knesset, and its redistribution within the Center-Left “party,” are again evidence of the fact that the electorate is thinking within the context of a two-party model, with the sub-parties being merely the vehicle du jour to best represent their core commitments.

 

While this emergence of a two-party system generates greater clarity for the electorate and promises stability for the government, the fact that, as distinct from the United States, it is based on sub-party components, creates a foundation for a particularly toxic and destructive phenomenon. Because most voters are already clearly aligned within one of the two blocs, the main campaigns of the sub-parties are not against those within the other bloc but within their own. This reality generates a move to unnecessary radicalism, as each sub-party attempts to brand itself as unique.

 

In the current election season, the right-wing “party,” which will win the next election, is plagued by a competition amongst its sub-parties as to who is more “pro-settlement,” more “anti-Mahmoud Abbas” and more vociferous in protecting and caring for the “Jewish Israel.”

 

In the past, the conventional wisdom was that you could only win an election in Israel from the Center. While Binyamin Netanyahu, from the perspective of those on the Left, is clearly on the Right, the cornerstone of his political success was his laying hold to the position of the Center- Right. His embrace of Bennie Begin, with his steadfast commitment to democracy and liberalism, and Dan Meridor, a longstanding supporter of both of these values, as well as moderation in foreign policy, together with his 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech and ongoing vetoes of most of the anti-democratic legislation put forward by the Knesset, all served to make Netanyahu both electable and acceptable to a broad spectrum of Israelis on both sides of the political divide.

 

In this campaign, however, not only is Netanyahu going into the electoral battle without the above allies, but more and more of his party members believe that the most effective way to combat the Bayit Yehudi is to outflank it on the Right. In this context, the Bar-Ilan speech accepting a two-state solution in theory is now a liability, and spokespeople for the heretofore center-right Likud allow themselves to vocalize a nationalistic, xenophobic and at times even anti-democratic rhetoric that in the past never would even have been considered.

 

One of the lessons of the recent US election is that you cannot win the country from either extreme, and the Republican Party, if it wants to return to power, will have to look carefully at the consequences of a platform that represents the radical Right within the party. The advantage that the Republican Party has is that it lost the election. There is nothing like the harsh reality of failure to generate reevaluation and refocus.

 

In the Israeli dual-party, sub-party system, however, such a corrective does not exist. The right-wing party will win on the basis of a center-right majority within Israel. However, this center-right will be governed by individuals and platforms which represent extreme sub-party ideologies. There are some who find comfort in the belief that election rhetoric does not represent day-after Election Day policies. This is the case only when there are moderating forces at the table. In our frenzy to win the sub-party battles, however, we have stacked the deck against moderation, and I am fearful that we lack the internal forces to heal ourselves.

 

As we move toward the end of the election season it is critical that Center-Right voices emerge with moral and ideological clarity, compelled by a vision of what will be good for the country, regardless of its significance in the sub-party conflict. It will be a mistake if these voices remain silent, waiting to emerge in the safety of the day after the elections. A culture, rhetoric and public discourse about policy are taking root in these elections which will not be easily uprooted. As our rabbis teach us, if not now, when? Every day that this discourse is allowed to rule dramatically changes not the outcome of this election but the future of Israeli society.

 

Finally, sub-parties on the Center-Left must enter into the fray, not as voices in the opposition but as unabashed coalition partner aspirants. The cynics will say that in doing so they are expressing a void of values and a commitment to power over ideology. Nothing could be further from the truth. Politics is about using power to actualize ideology. In the new Israeli two-party system, we don’t need a national unity government. We need sub-parties from both “parties” to join together to save us from ourselves.

 

Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute.

 

 

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A Dose Of Nuance: Not Just France With Humous: Daniel Gordis, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 13, 2012— What Jewish vision animates your social goals for Israel? If you’ve got nothing to say about that, why should any of us vote for you? Are you saying anything about your vision for this country that you couldn’t say if you were running for office in France, or Sweden or Denmark? Anything at all about the Jewish nature of this country? If you did, I might just vote for you.

 

Say No To Hallucination Dealers: Dan Margalit, Israel Hayom, Jan. 4, 2013—A voice is needed that combines bravery, prudence, strength and cool-headedness. A voice is needed that warns the young, engaged in their own personal problems, against false prophets. A voice against those who promise everything for free. A voice against those who prattle on in the language of charlatans about how, if we just let them, they can bring peace now or redeem the entire land.

 

Shamir: If  Convicted, My Party Leader [Liberman] Must Leave Politics: Ron Friedman, Times of Israel, Jan. 4, 2013—Rookie politician says public servants who’ve faltered should make way for those who haven’t; accuses Netanyahu of flip-flopping on Palestinian state

 

Friday Polls Show Jewish Home Surge May Have Been An Outlier: Joshua Davidovich, Times of Israel, Jan. 4, 2013—Right-wing party seen getting 13-14 seats, and not 18 predicted by Israel Radio poll a day earlier. Both polls show the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu joint list leading the pack, with 36 seats according to Maariv, and 34 according to Israel Hayom. The ruling party had been predicted to get over 40 seats in early preelection polling, but recent polls have shown it bleeding voters on the right to Jewish Home.

 

Likud Rises as Leftists Vow No Coalition: Maayana Miskin, Israel National News, Jan. 4, 2013—Likud Beytenu regains losses in the polls, ending with enough support to win 36 Knesset seats, according to a new poll released Friday by Maariv/nrg. Left-wing parties say they will try to thwart a coalition.

 

A Labor-Habayit Hayehudi Alliance?: Mati Tuchfeld, Israel Hayom, Jan. 4, 2013—Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett isn't ruling out the possibility of joining forces with Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich • In the meantime, he is trying to keep Eli Ben-Dahan and Orit Struck, fellow party members that he views as too extreme, under wraps.

 

 

 

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“AS SYRIA IMPLODES, WILD CARDS EMERGE: MUSLIM BROTHERS, CHEMICAL WEAPONS, SCUDS, OBAMA’S [SHIFTING] “RED-LINE[S]”

Download Today's Isranet Daily Briefing.pdf 

 

Contents:                          

 

Who Will Rule Syria? A Detailed Assessment: Barry Rubin, Jewish Press, Dec.13, 2012—For all practical purposes, President Barack Obama has now recognized the Syrian opposition group as the government of Syria. Specifically, he called them the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people.”

 

 

Assad’s Chemical Card: Tony Badran, Now Lebanon, December 13, 2012—Last week, President Obama issued another warning to Syria’s embattled dictator against making the “tragic mistake” of using chemical weapons (CW). There remain a number of real scenarios in which we could see Bashar al-Assad use these weapons down the road.

 

Don't Let the Syrian Rebels Win: Glenn E. Robinson, Foreign Policy, December 10, 2012—A negotiated outcome remains the best solution to end the killing and prevent the worst elements from either side ruling Syria. An outright opposition victory would likely produce a momentary air of euphoria before the steep decline toward autocracy and darkness begin.

 

On Topic Links

 

 

Libya Helps Bankroll Syrian Opposition Movement: Washington Post, November 5, 2012

Syrian Opposition Boosted by U.S. Recognition: Vivienne Walt, Time World, Dec. 12, 2012

Syrian Rebels Gain, but for How Long?: Alex Rowell & Amani Hamad, NOW Lebanon, December 7, 2012
Russia: Syria’s Assad Could Be Defeated By Rebels: Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post, Dec. 13, 2012

Mordechai Kedar: The Division of Syria: Dr. Mordechai Kedar,  Jeewish Press, February 21st, 2012

 

 

WHO WILL RULE SYRIA? A DETAILED ASSESSMENT

 

Barry Rubin

Jewish Press, Dec.13, 2012

 

For all practical purposes, President Barack Obama has now recognized the Syrian opposition group as the government of Syria. Specifically, he called them the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people.” The European Union did the same a few days earlier. While this has move little immediate, practical effect, it is enormously interesting for understanding this issue. And it is also yet another signal that the civil war in Syria is moving into the end-game.

 

First, the implications include the following:

 

–Thank goodness that only happened after the U.S. government switched its allegiance from the Syrian National Council (SNC). That group, basically created by U.S. initiative (implemented by the Islamist Turkish government) was about 100 percent controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. The new group which Obama recognized, the Syrian Opposition Council, is “only” about 40 percent controlled by the Brotherhood. That means there is at least hope of a non-Islamist regime in Syria (see below). [See note at end of article for an example of how U.S. policy gave behind-the-scenes support to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.]

 

–Let’s take a moment to remember that despite all the talk about the problems of backing dictatorships, the Obama Administration did back the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in Syria. It then easily changed sides to back the opposition. In Egypt, too, Obama switched sides to support the opposition.

 

There are two lessons here. First, you can support a dictatorship and then back the opposition if a big challenge happens to take place. Second, what’s most important for U.S. interests is not whether the Americans want to befriend an opposition but whether the opposition once in power wants to befriend the Americans. If they are Islamists, abandon hope of that happening.

 

–Ironically, of course, the group recognized as being the true representatives of the Syrian people was largely created due to U.S. and Western patronage and power. While the new Council did arise from discussions among Syrians, of course, this decision shows that as in the nineteenth century the West—Obama Progressives as much as Victorian era imperialist–still tries to control who gets into power in Third World countries. Power politics is still the name of the game; the question is whether that game is well-played.

 

In the American presidential campaign, Mitt Romney made the little-noted assertion that the United States should put the emphasis on ensuring that moderates win in Syria. That notion is totally alien to the Obama Administration.

 

–The Syrian Opposition Council does not really represent Syrians, not only because those within the country haven’t voted but also because this is an external organization with little or no influence inside the country. It also doesn’t have the guns. What it will have is control over Western economic aid in future but this Council cannot be expected to be the basis for a post-civil war government.

 

–In sharp contrast to Libya, we know a lot about the Syrian opposition groups and their leading personalities. The problem, however, is to determine the relative military strength of each group. No doubt, the CIA has a project to analyze the situation in every province and city. I wish we could see their data but since we can’t we have to try to figure out the balance of forces.

 

This situation is made even more complex because so many groups exist and ideology is cut across by the existence of five different ethnic-religious sectors: Sunni Arab Muslims (about 60 percent), Christians and Alawites (about 12-14 percent each); Kurds and Druze.

Will Alawites end up being cut out entirely because that group formed the basis for the Assad regime? Probably.

 

Will Christians end up being cut out almost entirely because that group backed the Assad regime due to fear of the Islamists who now will probably try to cut them out? Probably.

Will there be massacres of Alawites and Christians by a victorious opposition, accompanied by tens or even hundreds of thousands of cross-border refugees? Very possibly, yes.

Will the Kurds gain autonomy for their home region in the northeast, an autonomy they are ready to defend using armed militias? Very possibly yes…

 

The ultimate complication in Syria is the existence of six distinctive ideological camps:

 

–Salafist groups allied with al-Qaida. There may be more than 25 such organizations and they also include fighters from a wide variety of European and Middle Eastern countries. These groups have no chance of taking power or even a large share of any future parliament.

 

Their threat is that they would be dangerously disruptive: attacking Alawites, Christians, and also Kurdish autonomists; trying to attack Israel from Syrian territory; fomenting anti-American and anti-Western views or even waging terrorist attacks on Western people and institutions in Syria; and attacking more secularist politicians, women who favor modern ways, etc. But, again, they are not well organized and will not gain any domestic political power.

 

–Salafist groups not allied with al-Qaida. Everything said about the al-Qaida linked groups also applies to them except that they might have significant foreign backing from Saudi Arabia (which wants to subvert Muslim Brotherhood power) and they could get a significant share of parliamentary seats if they are able to unite. But this sector, too, is not likely to gain state power.

 

–The Muslim Brotherhood. This is the only truly united group in Syria that has a significant national appeal, a clear agenda, and a disciplined hierarchy. It is backed by Qatar and Turkey, while the Western countries seem to be totally uninterested in countering the Brotherhood’s appeal and ambitions.

 

Whatever the relative size of their military forces, they are closer to being an army than the other relatively rag-tag, ad hoc forces. Historically, the Brotherhood has been far smaller proportionately than its fraternal group in Egypt. A Brotherhood takeover of Syria is by no means inevitable but if one had to bet it seems the single most likely scenario. A key issue is whether the Brotherhood can gain hegemony among traditionalist, pious Syrians who have never had anything to do with the Brotherhood organizationally but would approve of a lot of its platform regarding a Sharia-oriented state and rejecting a modern liberal or Arab nationalist approach.

 

–The moderates. There are a lot of liberal forces in Syria, especially among urban Sunni Muslim Arabs who are intellectuals or in business. They are far more sophisticated and skilled than their Egyptian counterparts (sorry, Egyptian friends, but it’s true) and they could form alliances with Kurds and Christians also. Unfortunately, the West hasn’t helped them very much. They also have some characteristic weaknesses. These include factionalism, a blindness toward the practical political work of mobilizing the masses, problems in communicating with their traditionalist fellows.

 

Most of all, they lack the killer instinct. They don’t have guns or militias, and they aren’t willing to intimidate or murder their rivals. That can be a fatal shortcoming in an anything-goes post-civil war Syria. Still, this group is the main alternative to Muslim Brotherhood rule. These people are not—unlike their Western counterparts—naïve about Islamists. Whatever compromises they will need to make they have no illusions that the Islamists are moderate or will become so.

 

–Local strongmen. This group is important even if it cannot gain power on a national level. Such people are in real control of many areas of the country; they have lots of guns; and they are able to appeal to traditionalist Syrians in rural and small town areas. They are not Islamist and don’t want Salafist or Brotherhood cadre to tell them what to do or how to live. But they will have to form alliances to have a wider effect and opportunism might drive them into the Brotherhood’s camp.

 

–Defected army officers. These men are the most effective military specialists. They tend to be Arab nationalists. Yet they do not form a political group and won’t do so. Their relevance comes from the likelihood that they will form the leadership of the new Syrian army which, down the road, might come to exercise some political influence or even power.

 

The key to Syria’s future state, then, is between two broad blocs—Islamist and non-Islamist—which will work together at least for a while to defeat the remnants of the Assad regime and create a stable new government.

 

The Brotherhood needs to work out something with the Salafists and to build a broad appeal with conservative-traditionalist Syrians and perhaps with local strongmen. The moderates have to learn street politics, win over local strongmen; find a way to split the conservative-traditionalist masses from the Islamists; and work out some alliance with Christians and Kurds without being branded as traitors to Sunni Arab interests.

 

Not only does the Brotherhood have the easier task but it also can expect more foreign support and money, even possibly from the United States. The battle isn’t yet lost but things don’t look great.

 

That’s especially true since a West that set up a new regime in Libya and helped (albeit fairly little) the opposition overturn the Syrian regime, suddenly freezes when it comes to helping ensure that Syria has a pro-Western government that contributes to regional stability and is less repressive at home.

 

Note:The Libyan government gave 50 percent of the funds to finance the budget of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Council (SNC) budget. Since Libya is very much a U.S. client, it’s reasonable to conclude that the Obama Administration encouraged this generosity. Yet this money was financing a Muslim Brotherhood front.

 

By the same token, a lot of arms have been flowing from Libya to Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip and to radical forces in Syria. Some claim that the U.S. government was coordinating that traffic though this has not yet been proven. But at least indirectly the U.S. government was helping to arm the Brotherhood by overseeing Qatar and Turkey delivering weapons to the Brotherhood’s militia without making any attempt to identify and arm moderate and non-Islamist forces instead.

 

This means the Obama Administration was using a barely disguised channel to pay for a revolutionary Islamist movement seeking to take over Syria. The fact that this group was also anti-American, antisemitic, and genocidal toward Jews seems significant.

 

The rest of the SNC budget came from Qatar (38 percent) and Saudi Arabia (12 percent).

 

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ASSAD’S CHEMICAL CARD

Tony Badran

Now Lebanon, December 13, 2012

 

 

Last week, president Obama issued another warning to Syria’s embattled dictator against making the “tragic mistake” of using chemical weapons (CW). There remain a number of real scenarios in which we could see Bashar al-Assad use these weapons down the road. But whether he does so any time soon or not, Washington’s reaction to his latest trial balloon with the CW provided him with the answers he sought at this point. The White House’s response has likely, if inadvertently, emboldened Assad to continue to wield the threat of using CW, if not really use them. Here's the strategic upside as Assad sees it.

 

The Syrian president realizes that his chemical arsenal is the ace up his sleeve. From the beginning of the Syrian revolution, it was amply demonstrated to him that his CW capability separated him from Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi. Syria is not Libya, the mantra went. The usual justification pointed to Assad’s air defenses, but it’s clear that the major reason was precisely Syria’s CW stockpile. Assad understood that his deterrent worked.

 

Moreover, Assad figured that as long as he held this card, he would remain politically relevant. This was reinforced by the public messages the Obama administration kept sending him.

 

Assad’s stunt last week wasn’t the first time he tested the waters by moving chemical weapons around. In July, US intelligence noted such movement and declared that it would “hold accountable” those responsible. Then, in a curiously worded statement, the administration said that it expected “the Syrian government … to safeguard its stockpiles.”

 

The US position was contradictory. A year earlier Obama said Assad had lost legitimacy and called on him to “step aside.” And now the US was asking him to maintain control and safeguard these CW sites.

 

Assad put his finger on the essential incoherence of Washington’s policy. He smelled that the US was still not certain about the endgame in Syria. In as much as the US wanted him to go, it remained uneasy about what would come next. Assad understood, therefore, that Washington had a fear he could exploit, perhaps giving him a bargaining position down the road, as regime-controlled territory contracted.

 

In addition, this episode proved to Assad that playing around with chemical weapons could grab Obama’s attention as it seemed nothing else could, not even the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrians. In other words, Assad figured he had leverage on the US. Up until that point, Obama had made very few statements on Syria. But a month later, in August, the US president directly addressed the situation. Although his comments at the time were viewed as a stern warning to the regime, a closer reading shows why Assad saw an opening to keep pushing.

 

“We cannot have a situation in which chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people,” Obama said. This reinforced the State Department’s wording, emphasizing that the problem was not the fact that these weapons were under the control of Assad, a man who had ordered the slaughter of Syrians, facilitated the killing of Americans in Iraq, supported terrorism throughout the Levant, and constructed a secret nuclear arms facility. Rather, the problem was the prospective loss of his control over these arms. Indeed, a senior administration official emphasized to the New York Times that Mr. Obama’s warning “was aimed at large-scale transfers of weapons that would make them vulnerable to capture by radical forces, not movements by the government intended to secure the arsenal.”

 

Even Obama’s “red line” was not aimed exclusively at Assad, but also at “other players on the ground,” presumably those same “radical forces.” The red line covered further “moving around” of CW as well as their possible use.

 

But a month later, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that CW were being moved again. However, he added that the regime was relocating them in order to better secure them. So, although Assad had clearly defied Obama’s red line, Assad still got a pass, setting the stage for this month’s episode.

 

As observers have noted, this time around, Obama slightly shifted the previous red line, removing any reference to “moving around” CW, as Assad had already crossed that line with no consequence. The red line now is only about actually using the weapons.

 

There are plausible scenarios in which Assad would use CW in a tactical manner against his domestic enemies—and it’s not at all clear that he wouldn’t get away with it. Assad will fight tooth and nail to maintain control over Damascus, while also securing the route from Homs to the coast (an area that witnessed regime ethnic cleansing attacks). As I noted in July, the CW are Assad’s insurance policy to protect his retreat into the coastal redoubt.

 

At the time, some in the administration had a similar reading, placing the potential use of CW in the framework of a “targeted ethnic cleansing campaign” by Assad, and proposed that he could use “the threat of a chemical attack [to] drive Sunnis … from their homes.” Seen this way, CW could work just as well to maintain a grip on Damascus by forcing hostiles out and keeping them out.

 

It’s true that the administration has warned Assad against using CW against his people, but it’s doubtful that Assad finds Obama’s threat credible. For one, the administration has loudly made it known that securing the CW sites would require 75,000 troops—effectively ruling it out as an option. Besides, Assad has seen Washington ignore other benchmarks—such as the use of fixed winged aircraft, cluster and incendiary bombs, and now apparently Scuds or “Scud-type” missiles—and has probably concluded that Obama is unlikely to send in the cavalry should a few more hundred Syrians perish in a tactical chemical attack.

 

What’s more, Obama has now offered Assad another loophole with the designation of the Jabhat al-Nusra group as a terrorist organization. As soon as news came out that the designation was forthcoming, the regime rushed to claim that rebels had seized control of a toxic chlorine factory in east Aleppo, and may now use these chemicals in an attack. Such bogus stories set the stage for a possible attack in the future and provide Assad, and his backers in Moscow, with enough to muddy the waters.

 

Similarly, there have been opposition claims that Assad has already used CW. It’s difficult to verify these claims, but that’s all Assad needs. Recall how at the time of the Houla massacre, many paused and wondered if this wasn’t an attempt by the opposition to force an intervention. Others claimed it was the opposition’s own doing. There were no good guys in Syria, after all, just like there were no “good options.”

 

The question Assad likely asks himself is: Would the US really intervene over a deniable incident, the facts of which may not be clear, and that might claim the lives of a couple hundred Syrians when it has sat idly by as 40,000 were killed?

 

Assad is banking that the basic parameters of US policy will remain the same. The administration’s performance this past week, going back to July, probably reinforced his conviction that not only are his CW a useful bargaining asset, but also that the odds are decent he could get away with it if he used them shrewdly.

 

Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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DON'T LET THE SYRIAN REBELS WIN

Glenn E. Robinson

Foreign Policy, December 10, 2012

 

 

 

It may well be true, as recent news reports tell us, that Bashar al-Assad's regime in Damascus, increasingly desperate in the face of an unrelenting rebel onslaught, is prepared to use chemical weapons against its own citizens. The Syrian leader himself, all the main power brokers in his government, and virtually all of the country's military officer corps come from a long-persecuted minority that legitimately fears that this war is a matter of "kill or be killed" for the Alawites, who make up around 12 percent of Syria's population. The Alawites left what is now Iraq a millennium ago and settled in the dusty hills of northwest Syria overlooking the Mediterranean. A doubly heretical sect in the eyes of orthodox Sunni Muslims — as an offshoot of Shiite Islam — the Alawites lived an isolated existence for centuries as their religion evolved to reflect various folk traditions.

 

The Alawites have few defenders in the Arab world, both because of the unorthodox nature of their religion and because of the horrible nature of the Baathist regime they have controlled since the 1960s. Nor does it help that they are widely seen as pawns of Iranian interests in the region. The regime's fall — which is still far from certain — will not be widely mourned in the Arab world, outside of Tehran and in Hezbollah circles.

 

The fall of the House of Assad will likely be celebrated by many in the West. But banking on the well-heeled Syrian expatriate community to come to power for any length of time is a losing bet. The exiles may have won the support of the Obama administration and others, but have little chance of holding power in Syria for any length of time, barring international occupation of the country. And nobody thinks the United States has any appetite to occupy another Arab country militarily, even for a relatively short period of time.

 

In other words, forget about the expats. The people that will ultimately take power in Syria are the armed men who control the country's streets, villages, and towns right now. They do not speak with a single voice, and are often people just looking to protect their families and communities from the Assads' onslaught. As for the rebel "Free Syrian Army," it is no army at all in the sense of having any kind of command and control over its constituent units.

 

What about the budding terrorist groups we hear so often about? The specter of foreign jihadis — al Qaeda and its fellow travellers — infiltrating the Syrian opposition and coming to power in Damascus is a silly, unrealistic notion promoted by those overeager to send in the U.S. Marines to Latakia. There is little evidence that foreign jihadis represent anything more than a sliver of those fighting the Assad regime.

 

But Syria does not need foreign jihadis and radical Islamists — it has more than enough of the home-grown variety. This is where people so often miss the nature of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood, easily the most coherent political force in Syria's opposition today. It is an organization stuck in a time warp from 1982, when it lost the last round of Syria's long civil war, and has been waiting for its chance at revenge. Syria's Muslim Brotherhood is not like its analogues in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, or Morocco; it has not been part of the political process for decades, "tamed" by having to get its hands dirty in the everyday stuff of politics. It has been a capital offense to be a member or give any support to the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria for three decades. As a result, the organization is secretive and opaque, and it's not clear how much its cadres inside the country interact with its exiled leadership.

 

Many of the fighters currently battling the Syrian regime honed their guerrilla skills in Iraq, learning urban combat techniques fighting Americans in Iraq from 2003 to 2007. Those who were not killed in Iraq made their way back to Syria (the largest entry point for foreign jihadis entering Iraq during that war), and have taken up arms against their own regime. Their ability to kill a large number of regime forces from the outset of this current round of civil war is indicative of the skill set they already possessed 19 months ago. The body count of 4:1 during the early months of this civil war — that is, four opponents killed for every soldier killed — is quite good for unorganized insurgent groups.

 

In fact, the insurgents might be too good. Neither Syria nor the region would be well served by a decisive victory by either the Assad regime or by the opposition. Breathless supporters of Syria's revolution need to be careful what they wish for. The most powerful elements of Syria's armed opposition would almost certainly be no friend of liberal democracy were they to seize power for themselves. Consider this: The dissidents who brought down autocratic governments in Egypt and Tunisia, even the political Islamists among them, were far more politically liberal than what we see in Syria. And look at those countries now.

 

What, then? It is not fashionable to say so, but a negotiated outcome remains the best solution to end the killing and prevent the worst elements from either side ruling Syria. An outright opposition victory would likely produce a momentary air of euphoria before the steep decline toward autocracy and darkness begin.

 

Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

 

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Libya Helps Bankroll Syrian Opposition Movement: Washington Post, November 5, 2012—The top financer of the Syrian opposition is no Arabian Peninsula oil kingdom or cloak-and-dagger Western spy outfit, but struggling, war-ravaged Libya, which is itself recovering from a devastating civil conflict.

 

 

Syrian Opposition Boosted by U.S. Recognition: Vivienne Walt, Time World, Dec. 12, 2012—With three weeks of fighting in Damascus signaling the accelerating erosion of the Assad regime’s control of Syria, Western diplomats are pressing the exiled opposition leadership to take charge of governing rebel-held areas.

 

Syrian Rebels Gain, but for How Long?: Alex Rowell & Amani Hamad, NOW Lebanon, December 7, 2012—The resignation of Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi on Monday is just one of a series of recent setbacks for the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The news follows a week of unprecedented military victories for rebel forces.

 

Russia: Syria’s Assad Could Be Defeated By Rebels: Michael Birnbaum and Babak Dehghanpisheh, Washington Post, Dec. 13, 2012— Russia acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that Syrian rebels are gaining in their effort to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad…There was no sign that Russia — Syria’s most powerful patron — would join other foreign nations, including the United States, in supporting the opposition or pressuring Assad to step down.

 

Mordechai Kedar: The Division of Syria: Dr. Mordechai Kedar,  Jeewish Press, February 21st, 2012—Syria comprises 14 administrative districts that reflect the demographic distribution of the population. Following the collapse of the central government, Syria is likely to be divided up according to its ethnic groups, and this division will be fairly similar to the map of administrative districts: six main districts; the rest will either become independent/autonomous, or some or all of them will be subsumed by one of the [other] groups.

 

 

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IRANIAN-SAUDI TENSION IN GULF, AND NOW IN JORDAN, PART OF INCREASINGLY UNSTABLE MIDDLE EAST SITUATION

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Engulfed by Fear: Mordechai Kedar, Mordechai Kedar Blog May 26, 2012 —The Persian Gulf suffers from severe geo-political disproportionality: on its eastern shore lies one large state, Iran, which operates methodically and consistently to implement its agenda, the goal of which is regional, if not wider, hegemony.

 

More Trouble in Jordan: Mudar Zahran, Gatestone Institute, Nov. 23, 2012—Last week, protests broke out in Jordan after a government decision to raise fuel prices. While protests have been taking place in Jordan for almost two years now, for the first time there is major involvement from Jordan's Palestinians, with open calls for toppling the regime.

 

 

On Topic Links

 

 

Has the US Administration Decided to Get Rid of Jordan's King Abdullah?: Khaled Abu Toameh,  Gatestone Institute, November 20, 2012

The Trouble With Jordan: Joseph Hammond, The European Magazine, Dec. 10, 2012

What's the Deal with Qatar?: Greg Scoblete, Real Clear World, Dec. 10, 2012

Qatar’s Takeover of Europe: Giulio Meotti, Front Page Magazine, November 14, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

ENGULFED BY FEAR 
Mordechai Kedar

Mordechai Kedar, May 26, 2012

The Persian Gulf suffers from severe geo-political disproportionality: on its eastern shore lies one large state, Iran, which operates methodically and consistently to implement its agenda, the goal of which is regional, if not wider, hegemony; while on its western shore lie no less than twelve Arab states: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the seven states of the United Emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharqah, and Umm al-Quwain. Each state has its own story: a family that dominates the leadership, a unique character, its own internal problems, and its own individual agenda, which differs from state to state. As long as Iraq was under the control of Saddam, it was a counterweight to Iran, and the states of the Gulf took shelter in the shadow of Iraq. They also paid protection money to Iraq in the form of partial funding of the Iraqi military efforts during the years of the war against Iran between 1980 and 1988. Since their establishment, the ultimate goal of the Gulf states was to survive among the giants, Iraq and Iran, and the Emirates kept their distance from Saudi Arabia. Recently the Iranian titan took control of the Iraqi titan.
 

Persian Gulf States

The states of the Arabian Peninsula have been trying for years to create a mechanism that would result in a united agenda, mainly from a security point of view, and in light of the war between Iran and Iraq, they created the "Gulf Cooperation Council" (GCC) in May 1981. The main achievement of this Council was the establishment of a military force by the name of the "Peninsula Shield Force", whose role is to defend its members from external attack. However, the Force was too weak and therefore unable to rescue Kuwait in 1990 from the Iraqi invasion. The most successful action of the Force was in March of 2011, when they became involved in the internal struggle in Bahrain to stabilize the minority Arab-Sunni rule over the majority Persian-Shi'ite population, which was rebelling against the regime under the influence of the "Arab Spring" and with the encouragement of Iran.

Since the regime of Saddam was overthrown in the year 2003, and since Iran has succeeded during the last year to bring Iraq into its sphere of influence, the Gulf states feel that the Iranian steamroller is approaching nearer and nearer to them, and the guillotine of the Ayatollahs is threatening the connection between the heads and shoulders of the sheikhs, princes and kings who live in the Arabian Peninsula. The states of the Peninsula feel that they are increasingly dependent on the United States and the West to guard their independence and their political and economic maneuverability, but the West seems tired and exhausted now, as a result of their failure in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its leadership – especially the current resident in the White House, who is heavily influenced by the approaching elections – lacks a backbone and has no ability to deter the Iranians and stop them from galloping towards regional hegemony that will include the whole Arabian peninsula. The Gulf states know that if Iran invades Kuwait and conquers it, as Saddam did in August of 1990, the world will not send its armies to rescue Kuwait again, but will sacrifice it on the Iranian altar in hopes that the Ayatollahs will be satisfied with that. And any other country can expect the same treatment.

The inherent split among the states of the Arabian Peninsula has been exacerbated recently by the internal problems that are tearing Yemen from within: the conflict between the North and the South awakens the desire among the tribes of South Yemen to renew the independence that they lost 22 years ago, in the never-ending war between the Sana'a regime and the Hawthi's in the district of Sa'da in the North and the activities of Al-Qaeda (and especially egregious was the terror attack that caused about a hundred fatalities among the soldiers of the army) against the central regime, weakening the domestic front of this state and threatening its integrity.

As a result, the geo-political situation in the Gulf in the recent period is that of total inequality: On one side is one unified state with a clear goal, possessing great power and a willingness to use it and the proven ability to do anything it wants without regard to the international community; and on the other side are 13 states including Yemen, with various competing concerns, and with complex internal conflicts. And in some of the states, large Shi'ite minorities exist which are an Iranian-Shiite "Trojan Horse" within Arab-Sunni states. And added to this already problematic situation is the history, which is no less complex and problematic: The Iranian takeover of three islands that belong to the Emirates which occurred back in the days of the Shah, but continues to be a focus of tension; the visit of Ahmadinejad to one of these islands about two months ago as a sign of Iranian sovereignty over them; Iranian naval maneuvers to close off the Strait of Hormuz; Iranian talk about the historical connection between Iran and Bahrain, which has a Persian-Shi'ite majority and Iranian talk about the obligation of Bahrain to return to the Iranian bosom; Iranian complaints to Saudi Arabia about how it relates to its Shi'ite minority that resides in the area of the oil fields; and the provocative behavior of Iranians who make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, arousing sectarian tension among the Sunnis.
 

Middle East Map

All of these factors together, and especially the lack of trust that the West and the United States will support them in their hour of need, has created among the leaders of the Gulf states great fear of the Iranian giant that is threatening to take them over, and today they are dominated by the feeling that there is no choice for them except to change the geo-political equation vis a vis Iran. To do this they must create common ground for their political and security policies, because the divisiveness that prevails in the Arabian Peninsula weakens them. Saudi Arabia, which sees itself – and very justifiably – as the main target of the Iranians, is leading this process. The Saudis know well that the main goal of the Iranians in the Arabian Peninsula, after or even before the oil, is the two holy cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina. Ever since the Ibn Saud family took over the Hijaz 90 years ago, the king boasts that he is "the Custodian of the Two Holy Places" and uses this as the basis of Islamic legitimization for his rule. A Shi'ite takeover of the Peninsula, which was stolen by the Sunnis, will turn back the wheel of history to the middle of the Seventh century, to the days of the Caliphate of Ali bin Abi Talib, the fourth caliph, and even now the Shi'ites dream of returning Islamic hegemony to his family. The Saudis view Shi'ism as a kind of heresy.

The Saudi push for some kind of unity in the Peninsula was declared in January 2012, when the emergency summit of the Gulf states met to discuss the Iranian threat in light of the developments of the "Arab Spring" and their ramifications for the stability of the Gulf states. In this summit, which met in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi King Abdullah spoke to the attendees with this language (my comments are in parenthesis, M.K.): "We are meeting in the shadow of a challenge that demands that we wake up, and at a time when we must unify our forces and our voices.” The king declared to his listeners that there are threats to the security and stability of the Gulf; and despite the fact that he did not mention the source of the threats, there was no doubt to whom he was referring. He called to the leaders, his neighbors, "to rise (above the disputes) to the necessary level of responsibility that is required of them, and since the attendees were all part of the (Islamic) nation they must support their brothers (the Syrians) in order to rescue them from the bloodshed (of the Syrian regime, which is supported by Iran)".

King Abdullah added: "Our accumulated history and experience have taught us not to be satisfied with just talking about our situation and leaving it at that, because he who acts in this way will find himself at the end of the line and will be lost. And since this is not acceptable for any of us, I request from you to progress from this phase of cooperation to the phase of unification as one entity; this will remove the evil and bring goodness." There is no expression more severe than these religiously charged words in diplomatic Arabic language that can be used in order to convey a message about Iran. The fact that the name of Iran was not explicitly mentioned does not detract from the strength of the words. It must be assumed that behind the scenes, sharper, less diplomatic and more explicit expressions toward Iran were heard.

The anxiety of the Gulf states was exacerbated with the provocative visit of the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in April of this year, to the island of Abu Musa, one of three islands that belong to the United Arab Emirates according to the claim of the UAE, and that Iran took over in the days of the Shah, in 1971. This island is located in the Strait of Hormuz, opposite the shore of Abu Dhabi, and the military base that Iran established on it could serve the Iranian forces if they try to block the Strait. The visit triggered a wave of severe verbal responses by the UAE, and Iran responded with a wave of foul statements against the Gulf States. This response is important because it created a very bad atmosphere and high tension between the two sides of the Gulf. Here it is worthwhile to mention that the Arabs call the Gulf "The Arabian Gulf", while the Iranians insist on calling it "the "Persian Gulf", and whenever an Arab leader says "Arabian Gulf", the Iranians become upset and call in the ambassador for a scolding.

Hassan Sheikh al-Islam, the adviser for International Affairs to the head of "Majlis al-Shura" the Iranian parliament, said that "declarations by the leaders of the Emirates regarding the islands in the Persian(!) Gulf are part of an old plot that is supported by the leaders of Britain (which was the governor of the Gulf until it left during the process of the sixties) and the Zionist entity." Accusing the states of the Gulf of Zionism is meant to shut the mouths of Iran's detractors. (It's worthy of note that also Hitler in his day, would accuse his detractors of cooperation with the Jews.) The islands, according to Sheikh al-Islam, are an inseparable part of the land of Iran, so the president's visit to the island is a natural thing. He also accused Saudi Arabia of forgetting the two Saudi islands, Sanafir and Tiran, located at the mouth of the Gulf of Eilat, which Israel conquered in 1967 in the Six Day War, and still controls, according to him, because Sadat did not demand to get them back since they belong to Saudi Arabia. He claims that the Saudis are quiet so that they will not aggravate their friends in Tel Aviv, just as they and their friends in the Emirates are quiet about the Jewish occupation of Judea and Samaria that belong to the Palestinians, the occupation of the Golan Heights that belongs to Syria, and the Israeli takeover of Sheba Farms that belongs to Lebanon.

The Iranian spokesman accused "Abu Mut'ab" (the use of the nickname of Abdullah, King of Saudi Arabia is intended to express disrespect) of supporting the Syrian rebels, and that his Sheikhs issue fatwas (religious rulings) that obligate the Muslims to go to jihad against the Syrian rulers in order to establish a Salafi and Wahhabi regime in Syria similar to that of Saudi Arabia. Everyone knows that the enemy of the Islamic world is Israel, so why do the Gulf media deal with subtle things like the visit of Ahmadinejad to Abu Musa? The Gulf media should focus on Israel! These words against the media in the Gulf are aimed mainly at the al-Jazeera channel, which broadcasts from Qatar, and caused – in the opinion of the regime in Syria and Iran and the leaders of Hizbullah in Lebanon – the wave of Arab violence called the "Arab Spring" that was intended to improve the situation of the Zionist Entity by means of overthrowing Arab rulers.

The Iranian spokesman finished his words with a general declaration that Iran will not fall into the trap of regional bickering with the Arabs and saves all of its strength for coping with the real enemy, the Zionist enemy. The goal behind this declaration is to relax, or rather pacify, the Emirates in the Gulf, so that there will be no noise when Iran takes them over. However, their leaders know the deceptive ways of the Iranians, and are well aware of the fact that talk of the Zionist entity is precisely the proof that Iran sees the states of the Gulf as the first target for its tentacles.

In the middle of the month of May, about one week before this writing, it became known that the head of the "Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies" in Jedda, General Dr. Anwar 'Ishqi, said that the council of the summit of the Gulf states that was supposed to meet in Riyadh would decide on "a certain type of unity between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain". The meaning of such a declaration is that Saudi Arabia is already in secret negotiations with the Bahraini royal house, with the goal of declaring a union to fend off the Iranian attempts to take over the island, and to give legitimacy to the Saudi military involvement against the Persian-Shi'ite majority of the citizens of Bahrain. A union of this sort will turn such involvement into an "internal matter", so that other states will have nothing to say about it. These rumors have worried many people, in Bahrain as well as outside of it. For the Bahraini Shi'ite opposition, a union such as this would be the kiss of death; for Iran it might push off the day in which it will again control Bahrain, but the other ruling families in the Gulf states don't want to give up their independence and their wealth to become an organ in the aged Saudi political body.

All of the observers were reminded of the saying of King Abdallah from last January quoted above, and understood that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain indeed have passed from a stage of cooperation to the stage of becoming one entity in a way that will be acceptable for all sides. They are reminded that in the first Council of the Summit, a decision was taken to establish a think tank that would include three representatives from every state and would deal with the way in which the Gulf states can create some kind of union among them. The schedule was fairly tight: In February, names of participants were supposed to have been submitted, and in March – just one month afterward – the team was supposed to have served its recommendations.

When they heard about the idea of a union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the Iranians were beside themselves with rage. The official news agency "Fars" called the idea "an evil Saudi-Gulf step intended to give legitimacy to the occupation of Bahrain", and the Iranian spokesman said in an interview on BBC that "if Bahrain unties with any other state, it must unite again with Iran, not with Saudi Arabia".

It could be that the declaration of 'Ishqi was intended to be a "trial balloon" to see what the reaction would be, and they would decide what action to take afterward, but it could also be that it was intended to prepare public opinion in the Gulf states for the time when they must accept the hegemony of the Saudi "big brother" so that it can rescue them from the "neighboring giant" of Iran. In many Gulf states there are significant Shi'ite minorities, some of which speak Persian, and the leaders of these states are well acquainted with the Iranian attempts to arouse these minorities to rebellion against the Sunni regimes such as that in Bahrain.

They watch with great concern how the balance of power is changing to their detriment globally, while China and Russia paralyze the West and enable Iran to race forward with its nuclear military plans. Their fear is increased when the head of the International Atomic Energy Association returns this week with an "agreement" that might be no more meaningful than the 2012 version of the "Munich Agreement”, which Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Great Britain, brought in 1938, declaring "peace in our time" which ended a year after that in the bloodshed that enveloped Europe as well as the rest of the world.

The leaders of the Gulf do not believe even one word that comes out of the Iranians' mouths, and they fear that the West may again fall into the trap of deception that Sa'eed Jalili laid in Baghdad. Western naiveté – in their opinion – will ultimately cause the states of the Gulf to fall at the feet of the Iranians and therefore they are trying now to find a way to create a union with Saudi Arabia. Bahrain is the weak link in the chain formed by the states of the Gulf, and therefore the union will begin with it. And the more that time passes and the further the West falls into the Iranian trap, the more the states of the Gulf will be pushed by their fear into the warm bosom of the Saudi family.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a member of the CIJR’s International Board, is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam, Bar Ilan University, Israel. 

 

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MORE TROUBLE IN JORDAN

Mudar Zahran

Gatestone Institute, November 23, 2012

 

Last week, protests broke out in Jordan after a government decision to raise fuel prices. While protests have been taking place in Jordan for almost two years now, for the first time there is major involvement from Jordan's Palestinians, with open calls for toppling the regime. With the future of Jordan's King Abdullah in jeopardy, so is regional stability a,s well as Jordan's peace with Israel. Pro-Western forces have critical options to consider.

 

The protesters, last week, started openly to call for the king to step down. The Independent noted that previously the protests had been "peaceful and rarely targeted King Abdullah II himself," and reported that this time crowds "chanted slogans against the king and threw stones at riot police as they protested in several cities."

 

Al Jazeera, as well, reported that protests have been taking place "across the width and the length of the country," with "most chanting for toppling the regime." Several of the king's photographs – regularly displayed in public places in Jordan – were set on fire.

 

What came as a surprise in the recent protests, according to Al Jazeera, is that Palestinian refugee camps have been also participating to the fullest. These protests apparently broke out in the Al-Hussein refugee camp, close to Jordan's capital, Amman. Protesters were seen calling for toppling the regime.

 

In another protest, Al-Hussein refugee camp protesters chanted: "Our god, may you take away our oppressor. Our country Jordan has existed before the Arab Revolution," referring to the revolt against the Turks by which Jordan's king's great grandfather established the Hashemite kingdom.. Al-Hussein refugee camp protesters eventually marched into lively Douar Firas area near central Amman, where they were attacked by the fearsome Jordanian gendarmerie.

 

The gendarmerie officers were even harsher in the Al-Baqaa refugee camp, Jordan's largest, where protests broke out for the first time, and slogans targeted the king with demands that he step down. Protesters reportedly burned tires, blocking the highway which borders the camp and connects Amman to Northern Jordan.

 

The Jordanian news website Ammon published a video showing an al-Baqaa refugee camp leader calling for "calm" within camps in Jordan, while admitting that the refugee camp's leaders, usually favored by the regime over the Palestinian public, were not able to form a public committee to reach out to protesting youths. The Palestinian-dominated Jabal Al-Nuzha camp has also been the site of regular protests, with demonstrators also calling for toppling the king.

 

Other Palestinian-dominated areas are witnessing first-time protests as well, including Al-Ashrafiah, the Hiteen refugee camp and the broader East Amman.

 

It is not the Palestinians alone who are protesting against the king. "East Bankers" in Northern Jordan had generally kept away from the protest movements until last week, when the residents of Irbid, the biggest city in Northern Jordan, started calling for toppling the regime.

 

Other major protests have been taking place in several parts of the country. Tensions ran high in the southern city of Kerak, an East Banker-dominated city. A known opposition leader in Kerak, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he was expecting serious escalation from the regime, and alleged that Jordanian police were cracking down on protesters and arresting their leaders. His claim was consistent with footage that appeared on YouTube, exhibiting parts of the unrest. He also claimed that southern Jordanians "have made up their minds, they will not tolerate the king any longer …it is too late for him to make any reforms."

 

The Muslim Brotherhood too organized a protest, in the city of Rusifay, east of Amman. Their demonstration, critical of Abdullah's Prime Minister, Al-Nosuor, but with no criticism of the king or calls for toppling his regime, simply demanded that fuel prices be reduced.

 

On November 18, the popular Jordanian news website, Al-Sawt, published an article entitled: "Will the Muslim Brotherhood get the price for its realism and positivity during the fuel-prices protest?" In the article, editor in chief, Tarek Dilawani (also a seasoned journalist for the Jordanian daily, Ad-Dustor), claims that the Jordanian regime had "an arrangement with the Muslim Brotherhood not to surf the tide of the protests, and to keep their demands fixed on peaceful reform of the regime."

 

Nonetheless, the supposed arrangement between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Hashemite regime has not worked. It has not stopped protests by either Palestinians or East Bankers. As The Independent recently wrote: "The protesters…were led by activists that included the secular Hirak Shebabi youth movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, and various nationalist and left-wing groups." It is therefore possible that the Muslim Brotherhood is only a part of the opposition, and not "the opposition."

 

On 20 November, the Muslim Brotherhood-formed National Reform Council held a public conference attended by the Brotherhood's most senior Jordanian leaders. In the conference, Zaki Bani Rushied, the head of the Brotherhood's political party, the Jordanian Islamic Action Front Party, addressed the media: "The people of Jordan have chosen to reform the regime; people can choose to topple the regime or reform it, and here in Jordan we have chosen to reform the regime."

 

The Muslim Brotherhood does not seem to want the regime to fall, but rather to change in a manner that gives them control over the government as occurred in Morocco, where King Mohammed VI appointed Islamists to form the government. Further, the Muslim Brotherhood may not be confident that, if the regime falls, it can dominate future elections. The current protests have shown that, contrary to what it has always claimed, the Muslim Brotherhood does not have full control of the Jordanian opposition. Its members therefore would apparently prefer King Abdullah to hand them control over the government.

 

The current situation in Jordan raises concerns for pro-Western forces, including Israel, and rightfully so. With all its shortcomings, the Hashemite regime has kept Israel's longest border worry-free for the last forty years. If the king falls, will the future regime in Jordan keep the peace treaty with Israel, and the borders calm?

 

While the protests show that the Muslim Brotherhood does not have full control over the Jordanian opposition, if the King falls, the Muslim Brotherhood will be the only group that is financed and organized enough to win any future elections. Even if the Brotherhood does not win a landslide victory, it will be the group most able to influence Jordanian politics, and which has connections with Iraq and Iran – both anti-Israel and anti-West – thereby forming a major bloc of fundamentalism and terrorism.

 

Those interested in sustaining peace between Israel and Jordan, as well as global forces keen for peace in the Middle East, have the option of either supporting the King or supporting secular opposition forces in Jordan who might come to power should the king fall.

 

In a recent article, Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, opines there may still be time to help the King of Jordan, by pushing him "to enact meaningful reforms," "ensuring that international donor funds continue to flow," and "providing security guarantees that he [the king] will not go the way of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak." These might be the few steps necessary to keep the king in his place; still, these steps might be unlikely to take place now under the current US administration, which, perhaps inadvertently, at worst assisted the Islamists in taking over Egypt, and at best did nothing to offer the Egyptians a pro-democratic alternative.

 

Those interested in keeping Jordan calm, peaceful, and out of the hands of Islamists should either support the king significantly, or find a quiet plan B to support the secular opposition in Jordan. As the active opposition figure Kamal Khoury, a Palestinian Christian, said, "The seculars in Jordan are strong in their numbers and following, they just need financial and media support to dominate the arena." Dr. Khalid Kassimah, an East Banker opposition member residing in exile, stated: "The non-Islamist Jordanian opposition is no more in disarray than the Syrian secular opposition once was; minimal Western support might work wonders here; and I would not be surprised if a Jordanian opposition council is to be established in exile just as was the case in Syria."

 

Raed Khammash, an East Banker and well-known anti-Hashemite opposition member, active against the regime on social media networks, said, "I believe the opposition's success lies within the refugee camps, as they make up the majority of the population. Whoever cares for Jordan should establish contact with their leaders".

 

It seems the situation in Jordan is moving towards change at a faster pace than before. There ought, therefore, to be some serious effort to establish contact with, and examine the potential of future support for, the secular opposition's heads within the refugee camps, the Hirak Shababi (Youth Movement) and seculars within the East Bankers' opposition.

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Has the US Administration Decided to Get Rid of Jordan's King Abdullah?: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, November 20, 2012—Unless the US clarifies its position regarding King Abdullah and reiterates its full backing for his regime, the Muslim fundamentalists are likely to step up their efforts to create anarchy and lawlessness in the kingdom.

 

The Trouble With Jordan: Joseph Hammond, The European Magazine, Dec. 10, 2012—In recent weeks Jordan has seen its most dramatic protests since the start of the Arab Spring. Indeed, protests have flared in regions outside the capital, traditionally known for their loyalty to the regime. Some protesters have directly called for the removal of King Abdullah II and the Hashemite dynasty which has ruled the country since independence in 1946.

 

What's the Deal with Qatar?: Greg Scoblete, Real Clear World, December 10, 2012—There's one thing the revolt against Libya's Gaddafi and the revolt against Syria's Assad have in common: weapons have been provisioned to Islamic extremists and al-Qaeda syndicates by the government of Qatar.

 

Qatar’s Takeover of Europe: Giulio Meotti, Front Page Magazine, November 14, 2012—A hateful wind emanating from the small Islamic emirate is now blowing toward Europe, a wind accompanied by an ocean of poisonous, oily, bloody money – all coming from the peninsula in the Persian Gulf which today is the world’s richest country.

 

 

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Ber Lazarus, Publications Editor, Canadian Institute for Jewish ResearchL'institut Canadien de recherches sur le Judaïsme, www.isranet.org

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Charles Bybelezer: Israelis Are Not Racists

 

 

Originally published, October 29, 2012 in The Jewish Tribune.

 

Last week, Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper ran a front page article claiming that “most Israeli Jews support an apartheid regime in the country, if the territories are annexed.”

 

The publication of the piece, promoting the findings of a recent poll, created a firestorm, setting abuzz every antisemitic and jihadist website in the Middle East and even garnering the attention of media overseas, including the Globe and Mail.

 

Apparently, it seems not to matter that the poll is littered with inconsistencies and pejorative nuances, or that the survey’s financiers and promoters are, to understate the matter, of dubious integrity; so long as any propaganda, masquerading under the guise of a “study,” provides antisemitic fodder, anti-Israel travellers worldwide will revel in the opportunity to muddy Israel’s name.

 

That those involved in the poll acted in bad faith, and that the article in question is profoundly flawed, is easily deduced through a cursory analysis of Ha’aretz’s piece. The first red flag is that, after Israelis are accused of supporting the implementation of ‘apartheid’ in the headline, the following qualification is buried 16 paragraphs later: “The survey conductors say perhaps the term ‘apartheid’ was not clear enough to some interviewees.”

 

Accordingly, the newspaper, though obtuse on the applicability of the term ‘apartheid,’ contends that most Israelis support apartheid, whereas a small majority believes that apartheid is already practised to a degree in the country; this, despite the acknowledgement of ‘some’ not knowing what apartheid means and thus what it actually entails. If someone is unfamiliar with the institutionalized racism against blacks that existed in South Africa, then obviously they cannot be expected to discern that no such system, process or attitudes shape or inform Israeli society or its mindset.

 

Significantly, there remains the small matter of the inclusion of the word ‘IF’ in the context of annexing ‘territories,’ itself an ambiguous term which Ha’aretz insinuates to be a reference to the West Bank, also known as the ‘Palestinian territories.’ In fact, respondents were never asked whether they supported the annexation of any predominantly Palestinian areas in the West Bank, containing some 2.5 million Arabs over whom the so-called ‘apartheid regime’ would, presumably, be implemented. (That poll after poll shows a strong majority of Israelis opposing any such move no doubt accounted for the question’s omission.)

 

Instead, participants were only asked whether they would support the incorporation into Israel of an unspecified number of “settlements,” which cover a fraction of the overall geographical area of the West Bank, are comprised almost entirely of Jews, and which invariably would remain under Israeli sovereignty in any future peace deal forged with the Palestinians. Even this prospect was rejected by a plurality (48%) of those surveyed.

Accordingly, one is hard-pressed to fathom how Ha’aretz arrived at the conclusion that “most Jews would support an apartheid regime…if the territories were annexed,” given that a plurality of respondents rejected annexation of any ‘territories,’ including ‘settlements’ devoid of Palestinians.

 

To further expose the journalistic disingenuousness of Ha’aretz, it is noteworthy to compare the paper’s use of the vague word ‘territories’ in connection with UN resolution 242, adopted in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War. The resolution set as a condition for “the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East…[the] withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” Specifically omitted from that text, however, was any reference to “all” or “the” territories captured by Israel in order, thereby, to recognize under International Law Israel’s right to retain – even in the event a future peace deal calling for limited territorial withdrawals – land vital to preserving its security. In other words, the notoriously anti-Israel UN conscientiously used the undefined term ‘territories’ with a view to conferring legitimate legal rights upon Israelis, whereas Ha’aretz did so in order to slander them.

 

That media worldwide felt no compunction about uncritically regurgitating Ha’aretz’s libel reaffirms the prevailing anti-Israel bias; that the New Israel Fund (NIF), which in the past proudly has lent its name to initiatives defaming the Jewish state, disassociated itself from the survey reveals the extent of that bias.

 

On the very same day that Ha’aretz wrote that the poll “was commissioned by the New Israel Fund’s Yisraela Goldblum Fund,” the NIF issued a statement saying the organization “does not stand behind the survey in Ha’aretz and is not related with it in any way.”

That the far-left NIF assumed and publicly asserted such stance confirms a level of partiality in the poll surpassing even the infamous Goldstone Report, formulated in conjunction with and featuring testimony from Israeli NGOs backed by the NIF, which falsely accused Israel of perpetrating “war crimes” during its 2008-2009 incursion into Gaza. (Richard Goldstone, who chaired the UN’s “fact-finding mission” into the Gaza War and after whom the Report was named, repudiated the allegation in a highly publicized Washington Post op-ed in April 2011). The full significance of the organization’s denial is best understood in the context of Wikileaks’ release in 2010 of a confidential US government cable quoting Hedva Radanovitz, the NIF’s Associate Director in Israel, as expressing hope that “in 100 years Israel would be majority Arab and that the disappearance of a Jewish state would not be the tragedy that Israelis fear since it would become more democratic.”

 

The NIF’s decision likely had something to do with the fact that the Yisraela Goldblum Fund was created by Amiram Goldblum, the more radical leftist founder of Peace Now, who still runs the foundation named after his late wife Yisraela, herself a former senior official at the NIF.

 

Goldblum’s thoughts on Israel were restated as recently as this past May 5 at a Peace Now event: “Israel’s future regarding elections and demography has already been predetermined…in the bedroom of the settlers and the ultra-Orthodox.” Goldblum then called on the global left to counter the growing strength of Israel’s right by finding a way to impose its agenda on the country through foreign political entities.

 

Perhaps even the NIF realizes that this kind of racist, seditionist rhetoric precludes someone from commissioning an objective poll. In fact, it takes a special type of Israel-hater to disseminate such invective in ignorance of the forgoing.

 

Enter Gideon Levy. Not only did Ha’aretz’s resident anti-Zionist pen the article presenting the findings of the survey, Levy also wrote an accompanying opinion piece, Apartheid without shame or guilt. In his op-ed, he waxed hysterically: “We’re racists, the Israelis are saying, we practise apartheid and we even want to live in an apartheid state. Yes, this is Israel.”

 

In a moment of charitable wilfull blindness in his favour, one could attribute to Levy a desire to provide analytical commentary on what he deemed to be a reliable survey – if not for the fact that in May Levy wrote a column entitled, Israel is the most naive and racist country in the West. Now ask yourself whether Levy, like Goldblum, is qualified to critique objectively a study alleging Israeli racism, given that he already held the position that “Israel is the most naive and racist country in the West.”

 

As but one example of Levy’s bias extending even beyond the parameters of the poll, consider that in his op-ed he wrote: “The majority [of Israelis] doesn’t want Arabs to vote for the Knesset, Arab neighbours at home or Arab students at school. Let our camp be pure – as clean of Arabs as possible and perhaps even more so.” Yet, in fact, no plurality of respondents answered in the affirmative any of the questions connected to Levy’s assertions – not for banning Arabs from voting for parliament or for the implementation of segregation in apartment buildings and schools.

 

That the editors of Ha’aretz failed to definitively declare Levy’s patent conflict of interest perfectly encapsulates why the newspaper currently is on life-support. In this respect, this episode also reflects a shameless attempt by a gasping newspaper to grasp any straw-man to generate publicity and a few more subscriptions.

 

On the macro level, the survey is yet another example exposing the depths to which the Israeli left has sunk. First its failed policies were discredited; then it was abandoned by its base; and now it is self-destructing.

 

Charles Bybelezer, former Publications Editor for CIJR,  recently moved to Israel to begin working as a breaking news editor at The Jerusalem Post.

SYRIA A TRAP: REBELS OVER-REACHING, GANGS NOT “DEMOCRATS”, KURDS SEPARATING AND M. BROS. NO SWEETHEARTS

Contents:

 

Articles:

More than They can Chew

In Syria, Role of Kurds Divides Opposition

Gangs of Aleppo

The Arab Trojan Horse

Stay out of Syria Intervention is a trap

On Topic Links

An action plan for Syria

Syrian Rebels Working in Collaboration with Turkey

A Phantom Wrapped in an Enigma Wrapped in a Riddle

On the Edge

Syria's Explosive Crumbs

Guess Who's Helping Assad Get Away With Murder?

 

_______________________________________________________________________

 

MORE THAN THEY CAN CHEW
Antakya And Idleb,
The Economist, August 27, 2012
 
A MONTH after rebel forces launched a blazing attempt to capture Aleppo, Syria’s second city, they are starting to wilt. The regime claims to have routed them from their main stronghold in the Salaheddin district. Clashes continue in the southwest of the city and around the airport, but the best that rebel commanders can now hope to achieve is to draw the regime into a quagmire.…
 
Many Syrians—as well as outside observers—conclude that the rebels overreached by taking the fight to Aleppo. “Rebel commanders had a sensible strategy of fighting a war of attrition that matched their capabilities. They were going after roads, military outposts and consolidating control of the rural areas where the regime has retreated,” says Emile Hokayem, an analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Then suddenly they diverted to a plan to ‘liberate’ a city which they knew they couldn’t do.”
 
Part of the problem is that the rebels are failing to win hearts and minds among the urban middle class in Aleppo. The same was true of the failed attempt to take the capital, Damascus, in July. Most Aleppans cannot stomach the regime, whose brutality has left some 20,000 dead. But they find the rebels’ tactics off-putting too, including summary executions such as that of Zaino Berri, head of a pro-regime militia. Some rebel groups have sent captives in booby-trapped cars to blow up checkpoints.…
 
Foreign powers are trying to strengthen civilian institutions inside the country. Late last year they cheered local co-ordination committees coalescing into more sophisticated councils overseeing cities and provinces. “But many of those have now been taken over by the rebels as the militarisation grows,” says one dejected activist. Fuel and bread go to fighters first.
 
Some help from Western governments, including intelligence, is still reaching the rebels. In the country’s east and north-west, fighters hope to push the army out of smaller cities by making it too dangerous for them to use the roads to resupply bases. But without a no-fly zone or plenty of surface-to-air missiles to bring down regime jets many rebels think they will struggle.…
 
The Idleb Military Council is one of nine or so provincial military councils that were set up late last year by defectors to oversee the fighting groups that are staffed mainly by volunteers. But this is far from a unified force. “There was a lot of hope these councils would create a nationwide military, but we haven’t seen that,” says Asher Berman at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
 
Competition for resources and personal feuds have already led some groups to fall out. The two main rebel forces in the Homs area, the Khaled Ibn Walid Brigade and Farouq, both work out of the rebellious town of Rastan, but their leaders are at loggerheads. …One of Idleb’s largest groups, Saquor al-Sham, churns out mini-documentaries…These films are used to attract funding, which comes mainly from wealthy Syrians abroad and Gulf traders. Because the West will not arm and defend the opposition, weapons must often be bought with cash. So far at least there is no sign of its running out. (top)
______________________________________________________________________
 
IN SYRIA, ROLE OF KURDS DIVIDES OPPOSITION
Babak Dehghanpisheh,
Washington Post, August 18, 2012
 
Opponents of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad are showing signs of splintering along a deep regional fault line, with Arabs and Turks uneasy about a military offensive last month by Syrian Kurds, who overran four towns in the country’s north.
 
The attacks marked the first time since the 17-month-old uprising began that Kurdish fighters had joined in military action against Assad’s forces. But the Kurdish muscle-flexing has rattled groups such as the Arab-led Free Syrian Army, which until now has played the leading role in the upheaval, and it has unsettled neighboring Turkey, whose animosity toward Assad is surpassed only by apprehension about the Kurds’ broader ambitions in the region.
 
“Turkey is in a predicament,” said Joost Hiltermann, the deputy Middle East director for the International Crisis Group. “Turkey is very much pushing for the Syrian regime to fall. The predictable consequence and almost the inevitable consequence is the empowerment of Syrian Kurds.”
 
As one of the largest stateless groups in the world, the Kurds have long sought autonomy, a cause that unnerves governments across a broad belt sprawling from Syria into parts of Turkey, Iraq and Iran, which have all fought long and bloody battles with Kurdish separatists. In Syria, the Kurdish region is home to 2 million people (the actual number is more like 4 million and everyone keeps repeating the lower number without knowing the truth) , and many Turkish officials fear that the Kurds will begin using the area as a base from which to launch attacks on the Turkish military, as they have done for years from neighboring Iraq.
 
Until the recent attacks, Syrian Kurds had stayed on the sidelines, mostly, it appeared, out of concern that a victory by Arab-led opposition groups over Assad’s forces might do little to alter a power balance that has left Kurds relatively weak in Syria. There has been little cooperation between the armed Kurdish groups in the north and the Free Syrian Army, and their relationship seems to be one of mutual distrust.
 
But in response to the Kurdish moves, Syrian opposition groups such as the Free Syrian Army were quick to reiterate a vow that they will not permit Syria to be divided along ethnic or sectarian lines. The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he stood ready to send troops into Syria to confront Kurdish forces there if it becomes a base for incursions into Turkey by Kurdish guerrillas.
 
The U.S. government has also expressed alarm, warning Kurdish groups in Syria that they should not seek to work with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, whose insurgency against the Turkish government has killed at least 40,000 people.
 
Many Kurds still dream of a greater Kurdistan, stretching across the borders of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria, but few Kurdish leaders dare discuss it….“Every Kurd believes in this dream of a united homeland,” said Alan Semo, the London-based foreign affairs representative for the PYD. “But in the regional and international circumstances today, we can’t demand separation for a united Kurdistan.”
 
It’s not clear how appealing this pan-Kurdish sentiment — or the idea of regional autonomy — is to the Kurdish community in Syria. But it could lead to bitter fighting between Kurds and Arabs there if Assad falls. In the view of many Kurds, the Arab-led Syrian opposition, including the Free Syrian Army, embraces the same kind of Arab nationalism that has been used to quash rights in the past.
 
The main Kurdish attacks took place July 19, when fighters loyal to the PYD spread out in the town of Kobani and pushed forward for three days, taking over Efrin, Derik and Amuda. There was no fighting and no casualties were incurred.…The situation has become even more complicated because of the role being played by Kurds from neighboring Iraq, where the division of power after the fall of Saddam Hussein has left Kurds with a strong base. Massoud Barzani, a prominent Iraqi Kurdish leader, said last month that he was helping to arm and train fighters from the Kurdish National Council, which is jockeying for power in Syria as a rival to the PYD.
 
Barzani organized a meeting this month in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Irbil that brought Kurdish and Arab Syrian opposition leaders together with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu but excluded the PYD, the Syrian Kurdish group regarded by the Turks as the most problematic.
 
“What Turkey needs to do is divide and rule, and that’s exactly what they’re going to do,” said Hiltermann, of the International Crisis Group. “They’re going to woo some Kurds, and they’re going to fight a lot of Kurds. And they’re going to use one Kurd against another Kurd.” (top)
__________________________________________________________________________
 
GANGS OF ALEPPO
William S. Lind
American Conservative, August 28, 2012
 
In the view of our Laputan foreign-policy establishment, what is happening in Syria and elsewhere is a conflict between “democracy” and dictatorship. Valiant youths who fight for “freedom” are destined to triumph, bringing happiness and prosperity to their formerly oppressed lands. This is the Whig version of history—the progressive narrative. It bears little resemblance to reality.
 
A Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi came closer to truth. He was quoted in the New York Times as saying that Syria faces “gang warfare.” Gangs are one of the most basic, and most potent, building blocks of stateless Fourth Generation war. [from state to non-state warfare,  conflict common in pre-modern times – Ed..] We commonly think of gangs in connection with crime. But through most of history, the line between crime and war was blurred, often to the point of vanishing. (See Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century.)
 
It was the state that drew the line clearly, but today in much of the Middle East and elsewhere states and the state system are collapsing. What is succeeding the state looks much like the 14th century Europe Tuchman describes: people and regions are at the mercy of roving bands of armed men who hire themselves out as soldiers when they can and otherwise take what they want from anyone too weak to resist them. Their only loyalty is to each other—to their gang.
 
One of the characteristics shared by most disintegrating states is a vast surplus of young men who have no access to jobs, money, or women. Gangs are a magnet for them. We see this in American contexts as well: in public schools, in ethnic neighborhoods, and in our prisons.…Young men are also drawn to fighting, which, conveniently, is something gangs do. 
 
Much of what we see in states struggling for their lives such as Syria is supply-side war. Fighting spreads not because of some “cause” like democracy but because idle young men see a fight and join in. Why not? They have nothing to do, nothing to lose, and thanks to their new gang and AK-47, lots to take: money, women, and fame. The New York Times reported from Aleppo:
 
Residents said there were not just clashes between the government and insurgents, but also rival militias from the countryside fighting for control of individual streets. … In a central old quarter, one man said a friend had warned him not to visit because young gunmen had established a checkpoint to rob car passengers.
 
Gangs fight not only the government but also each other, and their internecine wars further weaken the state.…The state arose to bring order, and widening gang wars reveal the state’s impotence. In the struggle for legitimacy that lies at the core of Fourth Generation war, a state that cannot control gangs becomes an object of contempt for friend and foe alike.…
 
The voices in Washington who call for us to suppress gangs in places halfway around the world underestimate the opponent.…If you want to envision places such as Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali—the list keeps growing—you could do worse than to think of spreading rumbles in the ’hood. That is a far more accurate picture than the two-sided “democracy vs. dictatorship” image purveyed by politically correct Polyannas. The bulletins of the Syrian Foreign Ministry, it seems, mislead less than those of the U.S. State Department. (top)
_____________________________________________________
 
THE ARAB TROJAN HORSE
Eiad Wannous
Syria Today, August 2012
 
The Arab Spring has changed the political scene in the Middle East. Most striking is the re-touching of the image of a radical organization such as the Muslim Brotherhood to that of a potential “civil” form for future governance in the region. One might argue: “As other ideologies have not achieved well-being for Arabs, why don’t we try Islamism?” When it comes to Syria, the Egyptian presidential election and the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise within the “Egyptian Spring” have re-enforced such arguments, especially given the general public’s disappointment with the Ba’ath party’s socialist policies.
 
However, before any judgment can be made, a few points related to both the general history of the Brotherhood and its history within Syria must be reviewed. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna, a fundamentalist Egyptian schoolteacher who advocated violent jihad and the replacement of secular governments with a worldwide totalitarian caliphate governed under strict Islamic sharia law. By the 1940s, branches of the Brotherhood had been established across the Arab world; during this period, the Syrian branch was considered second only to Egypt’s in size.
 
The Muslim Brotherhood is known for its supposed hostility to US policies and Israel. What is not well-known is that the spread of the movement in Arab countries was facilitated by the CIA during the Cold War era as part of the famous “strategy of containment”, the anti-Soviet, anti-communist initiative adopted by Eisenhower’s administration which lasted until the late eighties. Over these decades, the Muslim Brotherhood turned into a “Trojan horse” within countries allied with the Soviet Union.
 
This is not a “conspiracy theory”. Rather, recall the July 1953 photo of Eisenhower with the Princeton Islam Seminar delegation at the White House: Said Ramadan, Banna’s son-in-law and then the most distinguished figure within the Brotherhood’s hierarchy, is standing second from the right.
 
Now, however, although the Brotherhood’s success in Egypt may have revived its dream of becoming a 'regional governance system', differences among its branches make that a long shot in practice.…
 
The organisation entered Syria in 1936 thanks to Mustafa al-Siba’i, a pupil of Banna, who returned from Cairo after studying at Al-Azhar Mosque. The major shift took place in 1973, when the Vanguard Fighters, the Brotherhood’s armed wing, was established to change the Ba’athist secular government by force of arms and establish an Islamic state in Syria. A violent rebellion conducted in Syria during the late 1970s and into the 1980s left bloody memories of doctors, academics, and army officers assassinated by Muslim Brothers, along with the massacres they carried out against civilians in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama.
 
Such memories make this organisation much less appealing for Syrians, especially since fundamentalists represent only 1 percent of Syrian Muslims….Currently, the Muslim Brotherhood has managed to benefit from the Egyptian Spring, although it is too early to say it has succeeded in taking over the country’s political system. But in Syria, the situation does not seem promising for the Brotherhood or its allies.  [Eiad Wannous is a Syrian political analyst and journalist.] (top)
____________________________________________________________
 
STAY OUT OF SYRIA INTERVENTION IS A TRAP
Daniel Pipes
Washington Times, August 20, 2012
 
Bashar Assad’s wretched presence in the presidential palace of Damascus may, contrary to Western assumptions, do more good than harm. His murderous, terroristic and pro-Tehran regime is non-ideological and relatively secular; it staves off anarchy, Islamist rule, genocide and rogue control of Syria’s chemical weapons.
 
As Syria’s civil war intensifies, Western states increasingly are helping the rebels overthrow Mr. Assad and his henchmen. In doing so, the West hopes to save lives and facilitate a democratic transition. Many Western voices call for more than the nonlethal aid now being offered, wanting to arm the rebels, set up safe zones and even join their war against the government.
 
Helping the rebels, however, neglects a fundamental question: Does intervention in Syria against Mr. Assad promote our own interests? This obvious question is missed because many Westerners feel so confident about their own well-being that they forget their security and instead focus on the concerns of those they perceive as weak and exploited.… Westerners have developed sophisticated mechanisms to act on these concerns (e.g., responsibility to protect, animal rights activism).
 
For those of us not so confident, however, fending off threats to our security and our civilization remains a top priority. In this light, helping the rebels entails multiple drawbacks for the West.
 
First, the rebels are Islamist and intend to build an ideological government even more hostile to the West than Mr. Assad‘s. If the rebels prevail, their break in relations with Tehran will be offset by their assistance for the barbarism of Islamism’s Sunni forces.
 
Second, the argument that Western intervention would reduce the Islamist thrust of the rebellion by replacing materiel pouring in from Sunni countries is risible. Syria’s rebels do not need Western help to bring down the regime (and wouldn’t be grateful for it if they did receive it, if Iraq is any guide). The Syrian conflict at its core pits the country’s disenfranchised Sunni Arab 70 percent majority against Mr. Assad’s privileged Alawi 12 percent minority. Add the assistance of foreign Islamist volunteers as well as several Sunni states (Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar) and the Assad regime is doomed.…
 
Third, hastening the Assad regime’s collapse will not save lives. It will mark not the end of the conflict but merely the close of its opening chapter with yet worse violence likely to follow. As Sunnis finally avenge their nearly 40 years of subjugation by Alawis, a victory by the rebels portends potential genocide. The Syrian conflict likely will get so extreme and violent that Westerners will be glad to have kept a distance from both sides.
 
Fourth, the continuing Syrian conflict offers benefits to the West. Several Sunni governments have noted the Obama administration’s reticence to act and have taken responsibility to wrest Syria from the Iranian orbit. This comes as a welcome development after their decades of accommodating the Shiite Islamic Republic. Also, as Sunni Islamists fight Shiite Islamists, both sides are weakened, and their lethal rivalry lessens their capabilities to trouble the outside world. By inspiring restive minorities (Sunnis in Iran, Kurds and Shiites in Turkey) continued fighting in Syria also could weaken Islamist governments.
 
When the regime falls, the Alawi leadership, with or without Mr. Assad, might retreat to ancestral redoubts in the Latakia province in Syria. The Iranians could well supply it by sea with money and arms, permitting it to hold out for years, exacerbating the confrontation between Sunni and Shiite Islamists and further distracting them from assaulting others.
 
The one exception to the policy of nonintervention would be to secure Syria’s vast chemical-weapon arsenal to prevent terrorist groups from seizing it and Mr. Assad from deploying it in a Gotterdammerung scenario as he goes down, although this difficult mission could require as many as 60,000 foreign ground troops deployed to Syria.
 
Nothing in the constitutions of Western states requires them to get involved in every foreign conflict. Sitting this one out will prove to be a smart move and staying away permits the West eventually to help its only true friends in Syria, the country’s liberals. (top)
________________________________________________________________________
 
 
∙       The Ottawa Citizen, August 23, 2012

Irwin Cotler

∙       BIA News Center, 28 August 28, 2012
Ayça Söylemez

∙       Gatestone Institute, August 11, 2012
Claire Berlinski

∙       Syria Today, August 2012
Alma Hassoun

∙       Gatestone Institute, July 8, 2012
Claire Berlinski

∙       Real Clear Politics, August 8, 2012
Austin Bay

 

________________________________________________________________________

Visit CIJR’s Bi-Weekly Webzine: Israzine.

 

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing is available by e-mail.

Please urge colleagues, friends, and family to visit our website for more information on our ISRANET series.

To join our distribution list, or to unsubscribe, visit us at http://www.isranet.org/.

 

The ISRANET Daily Briefing is a service of CIJR. We hope that you find it useful and that you will support it and our pro-Israel educational work by forwarding a $90.00 tax-deductible contribution [please send a cheque or VISA/MasterCard information to CIJR (see cover page for address)]. Or subscribe on line at: ISRANET

 

All donations include a membership-subscription to our respected quarterly ISRAFAX print magazine, which will be mailed to your home.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing attempts to convey a wide variety of opinions on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world for its readers’ educational and research purposes. Reprinted articles and documents express the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.