Tag: Bahrain

GULF STATES, FEARING ISLAMISTS & NUCLEAR IRAN, ALIGN WITH ISRAEL AS QATAR LOSES BET ON MORSI

We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Ber Lazarus, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, PO Box 175, Station  H, Montreal QC H3G 2K7 – Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284; E-mail:  ber@isranet.org

 

 

 Download an abbreviated version of today's Daily Briefing.

 

Israel and the Gulf States: It’s Complicated: Raphael Ahren, Times of Israel, Aug. 9, 2013—In February 2009, a few days after Israel concluded its Operation Cast Lead against Gaza terrorists, the chief of protocol at Qatar’s Foreign Ministry invited Roi Rosenblit, who at the time headed Israel’s interest office in Doha, for a meeting in his office.

 

Qatar’s Geopolitical Gamble: How the Gulf State May Have Overreached: Viviene Walt, Time World, July 23, 2013—Qatar, the tiny gas-rich peninsula in the Persian Gulf, had poured nearly $5 billion into Morsi’s government in its one short year in office, propping up Egypt’s teetering economy, and investing — or so it thought — in a lasting relationship with the Arab world’s most populous nation.

 

Kuwait's Hidden Hand in Syria: Daniel R. DePetris, The National Interest, July 16, 2013—It is often assumed that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been the most adamant about arming Syria’s fractious rebel movement. But there is growing evidence that clerics and opposition politicians in Kuwait have also been stepping up their own efforts in an attempt to collect as much cash for Bashar al-Assad’s opponents as possible.

 

On Topic Links

 

Israel as a Gulf State: Malcolm Lowe, Gatestone Institute, July 29, 2013

Oman Has Its Cake and Eats It Too — For Now: Daniel Wagner & Giorgio Cafiero, Real Clear World, July 29, 2013

Mideast's Real Battle: Saudi Arabia vs. Qatar: Jonathan Tepperman, New York Times, July 12, 2013

 

 

ISRAEL AND THE GULF STATES: IT’S COMPLICATED

Raphael Ahren

Times of Israel, Aug. 9, 2013

 

In February 2009, a few days after Israel concluded its Operation Cast Lead against Gaza terrorists, the chief of protocol at Qatar’s Foreign Ministry invited Roi Rosenblit, who at the time headed Israel’s interest office in Doha, for a meeting in his office. Rosenblit knew exactly what awaited him: a few days earlier he had seen how then-Qatari prime minister Hamad bin Jassim, angry over Palestinian casualties, announced live on al-Jazeera that the period of normalization with Israel needed to end.

 

The Qatari diplomat welcomed Rosenblit, friendly as always, served him tea with za’atar, and then handed him an envelope. In the letter, the government of Qatar politely yet determinedly informed the Israeli that he had one week to close down the Israeli mission on 15 al-Buhturi Street, and leave the country. Since then, Israel no longer officially maintains diplomatic relations with any of the Arab states in the Gulf — or does it?

 

It is widely believed that Jerusalem still maintains some sort of engagement with various states in the Persian Gulf region. Yet the government is extremely careful not to publicly admit such ties — in order not to jeopardize them. One thing is certain: Jerusalem is vocally advocating for stronger ties with the overwhelmingly Sunni Gulf states in the Gulf, hoping both for commercial opportunities and geo-strategic advantages. On July 18, the Israeli Foreign Ministry opened a Twitter channel exclusively “dedicated to promoting dialogue with the people of the GCC region.” The GCC, short for Cooperation Council of Arab States in the Gulf, includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait. (Never mind that Israel still officially considers Saudi Arabia an enemy state and prohibits its citizens from entering the country.)

 

Within less than a month, the “official channel of the virtual Israeli Embassy to GCC countries” picked up more than 1,100 followers. On Tuesday, on the occasion of the Eid al-Fitr holiday (which marks the end of Ramadan), the channel hosted a live chat with Foreign Ministry director-general Rafi Barak. The top diplomat mostly stuck to slogans, saying that Israel is interested in peace and neighborly relations with all its neighbors. One Kuwaiti wanted to know how he could visit Israel in the absence of an Israeli embassy; “You can apply for a visa in any Israeli mission abroad,” Barak responded, suggesting citizens of Arab states turn to the Israeli embassy in Amman.

 

Benoit Chapas, a EU official dealing with the Gulf states, wondered whether Israel had any “plans to reopen” its offices in the area. “We will be happy to,” Barak replied. He might as well have said: “we already did,” because, since earlier this year, Israelis know that the Foreign Ministry has recently taken a symbolically meaningful and potentially significant step indicating that ties between Israel and the Gulf are warming up again. A carelessly edited version of the 2013 state budget revealed that Israel opened a diplomatic office somewhere in the Persian Gulf. On page 213 of the document, readers learn that between 2010 and 2012, Israel opened 11 new representative offices across the globe, including one in the Gulf. Foreign Ministry sources in the know said they asked the Finance Ministry to remove the sensitive clause from the budget, but it is still there for anyone to see.

 

The exact nature of that mission — where it is, how many diplomats are or were stationed there, and whether it is still open — remains unclear. Unsurprisingly, the Foreign Ministry is unwilling to comment any further on the issue. “Others in the Foreign Ministry disagree with me, but as I see it, talking about it publicly would serve absolutely no purpose, other than risking whatever cooperation we have,” an Israeli diplomat well-versed in Jerusalem’s relationship with the Arab world said.

 

Indeed, the secrecy surrounding Israel’s mysterious office in the Gulf goes so far that even senior diplomats, including those dealing on a daily basis with the GCC, gave The Times of Israel conflicting information about it. Some asserted that “we have absolutely nothing” in the Gulf and that the line in the budget must have been an error. Others admitted that there is — or was — something but declined to detail.

 

Not everyone in the Foreign Ministry is happy with the idea of establishing a “virtual embassy” to openly engage with the residents of the Gulf states via social networks. “This ‘virtual activity’ will put our tangible activity at risk,” one diplomat opined. Israel and the Arab world have been engaging for decades, in various, mostly clandestine ways. In the 1990s, in the wake of the Oslo Accords, trade and political ties grew stronger, so much so that the Israeli chamber of commerce published a guide in Hebrew on how to do business in the Gulf. In 1994, then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin visited Oman, where he was greeted by Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said (who is still reigning in Muscat). In 1995, a few days after Rabin was assassinated, then-acting prime minister Shimon Peres hosted Omani foreign minister Yusuf Ibn Alawi in Jerusalem….

 

It is not difficult to figure out why the Gulf states would be interested in closer cooperation with Israel. Most importantly, the Jewish state is a regional superpower, widely assumed to possess an impressive nuclear arsenal, and has openly vowed to prevent Iran from acquiring such weapons. The Gulf states, some of which have decades-old territorial disputes with Tehran, are just as scared as Israel is of a nuclear-armed Iran.

“In the Gulf, there is a particular concern over Iran and what appears to be the lackluster performance in Obama’s administration in stopping them from getting nuclear weapons,” said Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum, senior research associate at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. “This will lead, if it hasn’t already, to closer cooperation between Israel and the Gulf states.”

 

Indeed, Arabs in the Gulf believe in Jerusalem’s role in fighting Iran “because of their perception of Israel’s close relationship with the US, but also due to their sense that they can count on Israel against Iran,” then-Foreign Ministry deputy director-general (and current ambassador to Germany) Yacov Hadas-Handelsman said during a briefing with senior US officials in 2009. ”They believe Israel can work magic.”

 

But it’s more than just Iran. Israel and the Gulf states also have in common their fear of extremist political Islamism, such as practiced by Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, or Hezbollah. While it is true that Qatar has good ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas — last year, the emir became the first head of state to visit Gaza since it was taken over by the Palestinian terrorist group in 2007 — the GCC states in general are afraid of political and religious extremists that threaten their rule, especially from Shiite elements. (Qatar is unique in the sense that it manages good relations to all players in the region and even the US).

 

According to experts, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, are more worried about the Muslim Brotherhood than about Iran. “Israel and Gulf states seek stability and they work together to further this stability. This leaves lots of room for common tasks, as long as they keep it secret,” said Teitelbaum, whose research focuses on political and social development in the Arab world and the Persian Gulf in particular.

 

If the GCC and Jerusalem are in the same camp, geo-strategically speaking, why the need to sweep any sort of cooperation under the rug? “Why should they cause problems when there are none?” Teitelbaum said. “They have so many other issues to deal with, the last thing they need to is to publicly call for cooperation with Israel.”

 

Public opinion in the Arab world was always against Israel, and Qatar and Oman could only allow themselves to open up to Israel after Rabin’s peace process had come into gear. As soon as Israeli-Palestinians violence flared up, they cut all official ties.

 

Perhaps ironically, the Arab Spring does not make easier for the Gulf states’ autocratic leaders to get closer to Israel again, experts say. For the first time in history, public opinion has become a determining factor of the Arab world’s political system, and the rulers in the Gulf will think twice before admitting any sort of engagement with the Zionist entity.

 

It’s not so much about the Gulf nations’ love for the Palestinians. “The leaders of the GCC states couldn’t care less about the 1967 borders,” said a Jerusalem source intimately familiar with GCC politics. “For all that matters to them, the Green Line could be somewhere between Ohio and Maryland. It is the conflict that bothers them, because it strengthens the radical forces in the region.”

 

The recent resumption of Israeli-Palestinians peace negotiations, unlikely as they are to yield any results, will not be enough to allow the Gulf states to openly reengage with Israel. There are ways, however, in which Israel could make it easier for them to work towards an détente, Teitelbaum suggested. For example by speaking positively about the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative – in which the entire Arab world offered normal diplomatic relations with Israel in return for a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians – or making a similar proposal to reach regional peace.

 

In the mean time, the GCC states will just stand on the sidelines and go on with business as usual — covert cooperation in the economic and intelligence fields but no official rapprochement. “Unless there is an official treaty with the Palestinians, I don’t think we can expect anything like formal relations,” Teitelbaum said. “That’s just how they are. From their perspective, it just doesn’t much sense…they have everything to gain from keeping it the way it is currently.”

Contents

 

 

QATAR’S GEOPOLITICAL GAMBLE:
HOW THE GULF STATE MAY HAVE OVERREACHED

Viviene Walt

Time World, July 23, 2013

 

Nearly three weeks after Egypt’s military forced the country’s President Mohamed Morsi out of office and jailed him and officials of his Muslim Brotherhood party, the explosive reaction on Cairo’s streets has brought death and turmoil— and in another country more than 1,200 miles away, an uneasy sense of loss. Qatar, the tiny gas-rich peninsula in the Persian Gulf, had poured nearly $5 billion into Morsi’s government in its one short year in office, propping up Egypt’s teetering economy, and investing — or so it thought — in a lasting relationship with the Arab world’s most populous nation.

 

It was not to be. In just the latest blow to Qatar’s influence peddling, the emirate has lost a key ally, and with it, its clout. Back in 2011, Qatar seemed a crucial player, willing to invest its immense wealth in the revolutions sweeping the region, and its global clout to persuade the Arab League and the U.N. to back an international bombing campaign against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in Libya. Protesters in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt carried Qatar’s maroon-and-white flags in tribute, and banners reading “Thank you al-Jazeera,” since the Qatar-owned news network had trumpeted their cause.

 

Two and a half years on, the contrast is stark. Protesters have regularly burned Qatar’s flag alight in Tahrir Square, enraged by its strong support for the Muslim Brotherhood, and earlier this month, the Egyptian military rounded up 28 of the channel’s staff in Cairo and hounded its correspondent from a press conference, claiming that al-Jazeera endangered Egypt’s national security….

 

With billions of its petrodollars to gamble on the region’s conflicts, Qatar is clearly under no budgetary constraints. But the same can be said for its oil-rich neighbors — and in Egypt, the bitter political battle is shaping up as a contest for influence between old rivals in the Gulf. Since the Egyptian military forced Morsi out of power and installed an interim government nearly three weeks ago, money has poured in from the Gulf states. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have jointly committed about $12 billion, dwarfing Qatar’s $5 billion aid package to the Muslim Brotherhood last year, and making the U.S.’s yearly $1.5 billion to Egypt’s military look suddenly insignificant. That could mean dwindling clout for the U.S., especially as Washington has not intervened in the biggest conflict in the region, Syria, says Shadi Hamid, research director for the Brookings Institution in Doha. “The [Obama] Administration has very little interest in playing a big role in the region,” he says. “Their threats are no longer credible.” By contrast, Hamid says, “the fact that the Saudis, UAE and Kuwaitis have committed $12 billion means they will have most leverage going forward. They want influence with the new political order.”

 

The first signs of a potential shift in Qatari policy came on June 24, when Qatar’s Emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, handed over power to his son Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, 33, in an act that stunned people in other Gulf countries, whose leaders invariably hold on to power for life. Hamad had named Tamim his heir apparent in 2003, and last month said he thought it was time for Tamim and a new generation to “shoulder the responsibility with their dynamic potential and creative thoughts.”

 

Qataris have hailed the transition as seamless. Traveling around Doha last week in torpid midsummer heat, I heard several officials boast that the only shift was that they had swapped the old and new Emirs’ photographs on the wall, so that Tamim now occupies the more important left position.

 

But the change could involve more than a shift in decor. Analysts in Doha believe Tamim could downscale Qatar’s heavy involvement in Middle East conflicts, pointing as evidence to his first speech as Emir, when he said, “We as Arabs refuse to divide Arab societies on a sectarian basis” — an apparent reference to the criticism that Qatar’s interventions have intensified Shi‘ite-Sunni violence in several parts of the region. Judging from reports, the Qataris have been reliable supporters of more radical Sunni factions across the Arab world — at least until now. On his third day on the job, the new young Emir dismissed his father’s veteran Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, who was also Qatar’s Foreign Minister and a member of the ruling clan, and had been the key interlocutor with the U.S. in critical conflicts around Africa and the Middle East.

 

For Qataris, the change could be welcome. In unguarded moments, some say that foreign conflicts are less important to them than what is happening at home, and that after years of rocketing growth, Qatar needs to focus on streamlining its way of doing business, in a country where most decisions are made by a handful of men. “With Sheik Tamim being our age, he might better represent our generation,” says Khelifa Al-Misnad, 33, who obtained a law degree at the University of Texas at Austin and now runs a law firm in Doha. “It is new blood, new energy, new vision.”…

 

That retreat may prove costly for the rebellion in Syria. President Bashar Assad’s forces have consolidated gains in recent months, as rebel groups fracture into deadly rivalries and as the U.S. and Britain stall on sending weapons to the rebels. Qatar’s sheiks, who broke ties with Assad soon after the war erupted in 2011, are crucial backers of Syria’s opposition and rebel fighters, supplying millions in aid to refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and arming rebel commanders. As TIME documented in May, Qatar was behind a pipeline conveying heavy weaponry to the rebels from Gaddafi’s looted arsenals in Libya. The New York Times reported in June that four Qatari cargo planes had stopped in Libya earlier this year, three in Tripoli and one in Benghazi, before traveling to Qatar’s military base, and then on to Turkey. Effectively, the planes were collecting stores of weapons to drop off with the rebel commanders.

 

Such support is crucial — and Syria’s opposition is keen to lock it in, now that Qatar has a new ruler. After Tamim’s coronation last month, Syria’s opposition ambassador to Qatar, Nizar al-Hrakey (Qatar expelled Assad’s envoy in 2011) stood in line at the royal palace to offer his congratulations. But the real purpose was to plead for him to keep his father’s Syrian policy in place. “We had a few moments together when we spoke, I wished him well and told him I hoped for continuation,” al-Hrakey said, sitting in his air-conditioned office in a villa in Doha’s diplomatic district, which opened last February as the official Syrian embassy. Al-Hrakey said Qatar’s Emir “reassured me that they would help Syrian people,” and that the new Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah had told him “that he would support Syria until the fall of the regime.”

 

To the surprise of many, though, the embattled Assad regime has now outlasted the rule of Qatar’s recently retired Emir. The planeloads of weapons and millions of dollars sent from this tiny state are a sign, perhaps, that Doha bit off more than it can chew.

 

Contents

 

 

KUWAIT'S HIDDEN HAND IN SYRIA

Daniel R. DePetris

The National Interest, July 16, 2013

 

It is often assumed that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been the most adamant about arming Syria’s fractious rebel movement. But there is growing evidence that clerics and opposition politicians in Kuwait have also been stepping up their own efforts in an attempt to collect as much cash for Bashar al-Assad’s opponents as possible. Millions of dollars in Kuwaiti dinars have reportedly been flown from Kuwait to Turkey and Jordan, where the cash is then distributed to the various branches of the Syrian resistance movement. “There is a great amount of sympathy on the part of the Kuwaiti people to provide any kind of assistance to the Syrian people whether inside or outside Syria,” Kuwaiti foreign minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah told Reuters.

 

Along with tens of millions of people in the Arab world, the conflict, which has crossed the threshold of one hundred thousand dead, including women and the smallest of children, has torn at the heartstrings of ordinary citizens in the small Gulf Arab sheikhdom. The only difference, it seems, is that the Kuwaiti government is perfectly content with going its own way instead of following the lead of its Saudi and Qatari neighbors. Why rely on other states, they reason, when one can contribute independently and with no strings attached?

 

That job, it appears, has been undertaken by powerful individuals in Kuwait, including religious figures and former parliamentarians—many of whom hold great sway over some segments of the population, despite the country’s pro-Western leanings. One Salafist group in Kuwait, the Great Kuwait Campaign, has been so successful in raising money for Syrian rebel groups that twelve thousand Syrian rebels could now be fully armed as a result of their pledges. For an opposition movement that has constantly complained about being underfunded and underequipped, the donation campaign from the Kuwaiti group is a rare but welcome development.

 

Dr. Waleed al-Tabtabai, a former Kuwaiti member of parliament and a man integrally involved in the fundraising, wants to go a step further. Instead of delivering cash, why not deliver what the rebels need the most: heat-seeking antiaircraft missiles? Those shipments, while applauded by the Free Syrian Army, would certainly arise anger and suspicion in Washington and in Europe, where arming the anti-Assad fighters with such advanced weaponry has long been used as a reason to act prudently and cautiously.

 

In addition to exacerbating the violence in Syria, the Kuwaiti effort to supply the insurgency with more money and arms will no doubt give the United States, Europe and the United Nations another reason to worry. Where would the weapons go? Who would monitor their distribution? And how can there be any certainty that antiaircraft weapons would not be used for purposes other than targeting Bashar al-Assad’s MIGs and helicopters?

 

Unlike assistance that has been provided by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, much of which is now closely coordinated with the United States, Great Britain, France, Turkey and Jordan, the money being sent from private donors in Kuwait is outside official channels set up by the Friends of Syria group. Kuwaiti clerics and MPs who hold some connection with Islamist movements are doing much of the door knocking and fundraising. By virtue of these Islamist leanings, it may be safe to assume that most of the funds are being delivered to the types of Syrian factions that the international community is most worried about. Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and Al Qaeda in Iraq are three of the most powerful, but three of the most extreme.

 

If President Barack Obama found it difficult to intervene on behalf of Syrian rebel forces a few months ago, news that the private donors in Kuwait are raising money and trying to pump advanced weapons into the conflict—perhaps with the quiet consent of the Kuwaiti government—will increase that tension to a new level.

 

As the Syrian conflict continues to grind on and as the United States gets more involved militarily, those who want to push Bashar al-Assad out need to answer a tricky question: how do you defeat Assad’s regime without empowering the very people that are the most likely take Syria’s politics, economy and society backward? Given the world’s reactive policy towards the war, it doesn’t look like the United States or its allies have been able to find an easy answer.

 

Daniel R. DePetris is a researcher at Wikistrat and an independent analyst.
 

Contents

 

Israel as a Gulf State: Malcolm Lowe, Gatestone Institute, July 29, 2013—It is a longstanding complaint that Israel is unfairly harassed in those international forums that deal with human rights. On the other hand, countries that are too big to harass, such as Russian and China, or that are oil rich, such as the Gulf states, get away with anything.

 

Oman Has Its Cake and Eats It Too — For Now: Daniel Wagner & Giorgio Cafiero, Real Clear World, July 29, 2013—Oman's primary foreign policy objectives appear to be to ensure stability in the Arabian Gulf and maintain independence from Saudi Arabia. For decades, a pillar of Muscat's foreign policy has been to balance its alliances with the U.S., its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, and Iran.

 

Mideast's Real Battle: Saudi Arabia vs. Qatar: Jonathan Tepperman, New York Times, July 12, 2013—In 15 years of thinking, reporting and writing about global affairs, I’ve come to the conclusion (after plenty of false starts) that often the best way to understand and explain big events is not by focusing on them directly, but by approaching them through smaller stories.

 

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 Chairman, 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

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

Download Today's Isranet Daily Briefing.pdf 

 

Contents:                          

 

 

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. 

 

Top of Page

 

 

 

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.

Top of Page

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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

EGYPT, SYRIA, BAHRAIN: WHAT SHALL IT BE, M.E. REVOLUTION, EVOLUTION, OR DEVOLUTION?

 

 

 

DID ISLAMISM WIN EGYPT’S REVOLUTION?
Barry Rubin

Pajamas Media, March 23, 2011

 

The world’s eyes focused on Egypt’s dramatic revolution. Yet incredibly, the media, government intelligence agencies, and experts haven’t answered a simple question: Who made the revolution and what were their motives and aims?

We have been repeatedly assured that the forces that began and led the upheaval were young, liberal, pro-democratic, technically hip people. Their organizational framework was the April 6 Youth Movement. The movement’s leadership appears to be a small group of independent people and participants with no structure. These leaders and the main activists seem to be genuinely moderate—in Egyptian political terms—and supporters of democracy.

However, whenever one can identify organized groups participating in this revolution they fall into three categories: left-wing radical Marxists or nationalists, reformists allied at the time to the Muslim Brotherhood, and Islamists. Since it began, the April 6 movement itself has worked closely with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The evidence for this assertion comes from simply analyzing the history of the April 6 Youth Movement. It started as a Facebook support group for a 2008 workers’ strike. By the following year, the group claimed to have a network linking 70,000 people. It is not clear who these people were but it is hard to believe that they all “joined” one at a time, as individuals with no other organizational affiliation.

Egyptian politics and Arab politics in general are often based on linkages that make strange bedfellows in Western terms. The neo-Marxist left contains strong Islamist and nationalist elements, as well as powerful anti-Western and anti-Israel sentiments. Islamists, precisely because they want to centralize power in the state, have socialist overtones. And people who seem liberal reformers often hold views quite distant from those of Western counterparts.

It is amusing that right-wing conspiracy theorists in the United States and Middle East have leaped on a Wikileaks document showing that one member of the April 6 Youth Movement attended a State Department seminar in the United States as “proof” that the U.S. government was behind the revolution. At the same time, though, the far larger-scale involvement of leftist activists in the movement and demonstrations is ignored, while that of revolutionary Islamists is minimized or explained away as harmless.

Other than backing a labor strike, the two specific issues on which the April 6 Youth Movement was active were support for bloggers being persecuted by the government and for ending sanctions on the Gaza Strip. Helping Gazans is a popular cause in Egypt. Yet the political implications of that stance are revealing. The Gaza Strip is ruled by Hamas, a radical Islamist group that brutally suppresses internal dissent.

Whatever the intentions—often portrayed as humanitarian—a campaign to end Egyptian sanctions on Gaza was helping to entrench Hamas’s dictatorship and making it possible to smuggle in more arms for use in attacking Israel. It also sought to help the Muslim Brotherhood’s number-one foreign ally to become stronger. This activity—rather than a domestic issue or helping the repressed people of Sudan, Syria, or Saudi Arabia—was one of the movement’s two top priorities. This, too, is revealing of the participants’ politics.

Aside from well-meaning, hi-tech independents, the April 6 Movement was helped—or, if you wish, infiltrated—by four groups. Tagammu is Egypt’s leftist party, with strong Marxist overtones. Three other organizations have their origins in apparently liberal groups. These are the al-Ghad party, led by former opposition presidential candidate Ayman Nour; the Kifaya movement; and the National Association for Change, led by Muhammad ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Nobel Peace Prize winner, and presidential candidate.

Despite its liberal origins, by the time it allied with the April 6 Movement, Kifaya was largely taken over by the Brotherhood. Its origin was in a radical nationalist and leftist movement against the U.S.-led attack on Iraq in 2003 (defending, by default, the Saddam Hussein regime). It reached its peak in 2005, though deep divisions among its Marxist, leftist, Arab nationalist, Islamist, and secular liberal members were tearing it apart. In 2006, trying to build its base through populist demagoguery—and avoid repression by the Mubarak regime—the group switched to focusing on anti-Israel agitation, including a demand to abrogate the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

Some of Kifaya’s own members, “deep inside, are against democracy and reform,” said Bahaa al-Din Hassan, director of Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies at the time. In 2007 the group’s leader became Abdel Wahhab al-Messiri, a former Communist and Muslim Brother, as well as one of the country’s leading antisemites, a purveyor of Jewish conspiracy theories based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

While itself liberal reformist, ElBaradei’s National Association for Change was a small group largely dependent on the Brotherhood for organizational support and vote-getting activity.

Despite all their ideological differences—left-wing, nationalist, liberal, or Islamist—all four of the groups associated with the April 6 Youth Movement had as one of their top-priority issues the goal of ending the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

But there is also an additional factor. Knowing that any direct association with the Brotherhood would discredit it in the eyes of many, the April 6 Youth Movement had an understanding with the Brotherhood. The two would cooperate and exchange information but the Brotherhood would not become too directly involved in the movement.

Contrary to many reports, the Brotherhood was fully informed of the April 6 Youth Movement’s plan to start an anti-government uprising last January but held back so as not to taint the campaign and to avoid repression if the struggle fizzled or failed. Once it saw that the movement was succeeding, the Brotherhood joined in fully.

In April 2009, the April 6 Youth Movement directly participated in creating the Egyptian Coalition for Change. This umbrella group also called for abrogating the treaty with Israel, thus putting the April 6 Youth Movement on the record as favoring this step. The April 6 Youth Movement’s partners in this coalition were mainly al-Wasat—the Brotherhood’s least radical faction, which split away convinced that the parent group would never become moderate; Brotherhood members; and al-Karama, a socialist, anti-Western, radical nationalist party.

In August 2009, the April 6 Youth Movement expressed support for the Brotherhood. It is important to understand that while the April 6 Movement was not a front for the Brotherhood, many of its activists were Islamists and leftist, while most of its members held strongly anti-Western and anti-Israel views. Moreover, the movement viewed the Muslim Brotherhood as a major partner and ally.

This is not to deny that the movement’s members called for free elections and the end of the dictatorship or that the leaders genuinely wanted democracy and human rights. Yet the best-organized elements had an interpretation of democracy rather different from the Western definition of that concept.

The idea that enemies of dictatorship are themselves radicals hostile to the West seems strange to Western observers. Similarly, the idea that people who use Facebook, favor democracy, and even seem secular are sympathetic with Islamism also appears strange. Nevertheless, such cross-overs are fairly common in the Arabic-speaking world.

Similar factors shape the views of the Egyptian military leaders, the men who made the revolution possible. It is well-known in Egypt that many of the highest officers are conservative, pious Muslims who do not perceive the Brotherhood as an enemy. A symbolic sign of these attitudes has been the increasingly “Islamic dress” of the generals’ wives. By supporting the revolution, radical nationalism, and more Islamization, the officers know they can be popular and ensure that their personal wealth and business enterprises will remain untouched.

Many of these officers and their families watch clerics like Yusuf al-Qaradawi on television and like what he says. From the standpoint of many in the military as well as many of those involved in the revolution, Islam is the answer not because of what’s been done in Tehran but as a response to their own society’s needs.

Facing what they see as unattractive Westernization, increased crime, and injustice—while doubtful about rapid material progress—officers see Islam as the answer to problems of identity, social justice, and internal stability. Thus, a far more Islamic Egypt is attractive. Those who would never want the Brotherhood to rule the state are often open to its having far more influence in running the religious establishment and society.

Similarly, there is a popular and deep-seated hatred of Israel, America, and the West. This relates not only to opposition to policies but an interpretation of those policies as far more aggressive, anti-Islam, and anti-Egypt than they are. This hostility has been unaltered by the efforts of President Barack Obama to make Muslims like America. Indeed, this has only led to a new conspiracy theory that Obama favors the Brotherhood and the Islamization of Egypt.

Certain U.S. government actions—the special invitations of Brotherhood figures to President Obama’s Cairo speech, the president’s definition of the Arab world in Islamic terms, and his unilateral statement of supporting Brotherhood participation in the next Egyptian government—have deepened that belief. This has not led to increased popularity for the president or the United States but merely convinced some influential Egyptians to jump on the Islamist bandwagon that seems—supposedly even to the Americans—destined for victory.

The reading of Egyptian politics prevalent in the West—a joyous revolution producing an inevitably stable, moderate democracy, whose total success can only be questioned by hateful people—is profoundly misleading. A group of 100,000 politically independent young, urban middle-class Facebook users can make a revolution, at least if the army supports them. But Egyptians in the tens of millions—overwhelmingly not middle class, urban or Facebook users—will back organizations that are radical nationalist, Islamist, and far left. The moderate secular liberals, dependent on hardline forces, have now have been shoved aside in the battle for power.

The referendum on constitutional amendments demonstrated this fact. The leaders of the nationalist (Amr Moussa) and moderate democratic (ElBaradei) blocs campaigned against the changes. Yet 77 percent of Egyptians voted the way the Muslim Brotherhood urged. That doesn’t mean they were all supporters of Islamists. Yet in this test of strength, the Islamists emerged as victors.

In addition, with the Brotherhood and ElBaradei now having a bitter quarrel—hundreds of Islamists threw stones at ElBaradei to prevent him from voting—the seemingly democratic coalition has lost most of its activist backers and voters for the presidential election.

By the end of 2011, Egypt is likely to have a radical anti-American president who was the most bitterly anti-Israel of all the Mubarak era’s establishment politicians. It is also likely to have a parliament that is about 30 percent Islamist and another 30 percent plus radical nationalist.

This parliament will write a new constitution. Facebook liberals will be of minimal importance; the 8 million Christians, about 10 percent of the population, will be ignored. The Constitution will define Egypt as a Muslim state with Islam either being the main—more likely—or perhaps the sole source of law.

Anti-American, anti-Israel, and antisemitic sentiments run far deeper and wider in Egypt than Western observers perceive. The boundaries between liberal, Islamist, radical nationalist, and extreme leftist are far more porous than is assumed. And apparently hip, Facebook users can favor a Sharia state.

All of these factors will become more obvious in the coming months. Nevertheless, the disaster for regional stability and Western interests that will exist in December should have been obvious in January.

 

FOR ALL HIS FAULTS, ASSAD IS THE DEVIL WE KNOW
Yaakov Katz
Jerusalem Post, March 23, 2011

 

Since the Yom Kippur War of 1973, one of the strongest arguments some Israelis make against withdrawing from the Golan Heights and making peace with Syria is basically, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Of all of Israel’s borders including, the so-called peaceful ones with Jordan and Egypt, the border with Syria has always been the quietest. Yes, Israel fought a major war there in 1973, but since then, the border has been peaceful, with only a rare terror or criminal infiltration.

As Israel watches the ongoing demonstrations in Syria against President Bashar Assad, its greatest concern for the moment is the uncertainty that change in Syria would bring to the region. Israel has gotten used to Assad and he is almost predictable. A new regime, led by a new actor, would likely be unpredictable and when considering the large arsenal of long-range Scud missiles Syria has stockpiled over the years and the accompanying chemical warheads, Israel needs to be considered.…

It is no secret that Syria is in an economic crisis, lacking basic resources such as water, oil and produce. Assad has for years rejected opportunities to do business with the West—particularly Europe—and with runaway inflation and high unemployment he is now paying the price.

But when Israel looks at Syria it also sees the possible development of a new enemy, far more radical and extreme than the Assad they are familiar with. While not as strong and large as the Egyptian military, the Syrian military has obtained some advanced capabilities which, if the country falls apart, could fall into terrorist hands or be used by the country against Israel.

Just in recent years, Syria announced a decision to rebuild its aging air force and to procure new Russian MiG fighter jets. It has some of the most advanced surface-to-air missile systems and also has a significant number, perhaps hundreds, of Scud missiles.

In the meantime, Israeli intelligence services are cautious in trying to predict how the riots in Syria will end and whether Assad will be prepared to cede power as easily as Hosni Mubarak did in Egypt.

 

OPPOSING SYRIA’S CRACKDOWN
Editorial
Washington Post, March 24, 2011

 

In February 1982, the Syrian dictatorship headed by Hafez al-Assad responded to an uprising in the city of Hama with extraordinary violence. The town was indiscriminately bombarded by tanks and artillery; security forces then swept through the rubble and massacred the survivors. Estimates of the final death toll ranged from 10,000 to 40,000 or more. Hama became a symbol in the Arab world of what its authoritarian regimes were prepared to do to keep themselves in power.

Now the Arab uprising of 2011 has reached Syria, and Assad’s son, Bashar, is trying to apply his father’s solution. Early Wednesday, security forces stormed a mosque in the city of Daraa, where there had been five days of protest marches, and opened fire with live ammunition. According to Western news reports, the assault on the surrounding neighborhood continued through the day; an Associated Press reporter heard automatic weapons fire. At least 15 people were killed, including a prominent local doctor who was trying to provide medical aid. That brings to at least 21 the number of civilians murdered by Mr. Assad’s forces in Daraa since Friday.

The question now, for Syria and for the world, is whether the Hama approach still works.…

There are signs that Mr. Assad’s brutality is also producing a backlash. In Daraa, angry crowds numbering in the tens of thousands responded to the first shootings on Friday by burning down the ruling party headquarters and other buildings linked to the regime. On Monday, after another shooting death, the protests spread to at least two other towns.

After Wednesday’s massacre, Syrians are likely to feel still angrier—but they also will be watching the response of the outside world. That’s why it is essential that the United States and Syria’s partners in Europe act quickly to punish Mr. Assad’s behavior.…

For the past two years, the administration has pursued the futile strategy of trying to detach Mr. Assad from his alliances with Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah through diplomatic stroking and promises of improved relations. It recently dispatched an ambassador to Damascus through a recess appointment to avoid congressional objections. Now it is time to recognize that Syria’s ruler is an unredeemable thug—and that the incipient domestic uprising offers a potentially precious opportunity. The United States should side strongly with the people of Daraa and do everything possible to ensure that this time, Hama methods don’t work.

 

HIGH STAKES OVER BAHRAIN
David Ignatius
Washington Post, March 15, 2011

 

The Obama administration and its support for democratic change in the Middle East has been on a collision course with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other traditional monarchies of the Persian Gulf. The crunch finally came this week with a sharp break over how to deal with protests in Bahrain.

The stakes in this latest crisis are high, even by Middle East standards, for it contains all the region’s volatile ingredients: tension between Saudis and Iranians, between Sunni Muslims and Shiites, and between democratic reformers and status-quo powers. Underlying this combustible mixture is the world’s most important strategic commodity, Persian Gulf oil. How’s that for a witch’s brew?

U.S. officials have been arguing that Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy must make political compromises to give more power to the Shiite majority there. The most emphatic statement came last weekend from Defense Secretary Bob Gates, who said during a visit to Bahrain that its “baby steps” toward reform weren’t enough and that the kingdom should step up its negotiations with the opposition.

This American enthusiasm for change has been anathema to the conservative regimes of the Gulf, and on Monday they backed Bahrain’s ruling Khalifa family with military force, marching about 2,000 troops up the causeway that links Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. A senior Saudi official told me the intervention was needed to protect Bahrain’s financial district and other key facilities from violent demonstrations. He warned that radical, Iranian-backed leaders were becoming more active in the protests.

“We don’t want Iran 14 miles off our coast, and that’s not going to happen,” said the Saudi official. U.S. officials counter that Iran, so far, has been only a minor player in the Bahrain protests and that Saudi military intervention could backfire by strengthening Iran’s hand. “There is a serious breach” between the Gulf countries and Washington over the issue, warned a second Saudi official. “We’re not going in [to Bahrain] to shoot people, we’re going in to keep a system in place,” he said.

The Bahrain issue is the most important U.S.-Saudi disagreement in decades, and it could signal a fundamental change in policy. The Obama administration, in effect, is altering America’s long-standing commitment to the status quo in the Gulf, believing that change in Bahrain—as in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya—is inevitable and desirable.

The split reflects fundamental differences in strategic outlook. The Gulf regimes have come to mistrust Obama, seeing him as a weak president who will sacrifice traditional allies in his eagerness to be “on the right side of history.” They liken Obama’s rejection of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt to Jimmy Carter’s 1979 abandonment of the shah of Iran.

The crackup was predicted by a top UAE sheik in a February meeting with two visiting former U.S. officials. According to notes made during the conversation, the UAE official said: “We and the Saudis will not accept a Shiite government in Bahrain. And if your president says to the Khalifas what he said to Mubarak [to leave office], it will cause a break in our relationship with the U.S.” The UAE official warned that Gulf nations were “looking East”—to China, India and Turkey—for alternative security assistance.

The Obama White House hasn’t yielded to such pleas and threats from the Gulf. U.S. officials believe the Saudis and others have no good option to the United States as a guarantor of security. They note that military and intelligence contacts are continuing, despite the sharp disagreement over Bahrain.

In the end, this is a classic liberal-conservative argument about how best to achieve stability. The White House believes that security crackdowns won’t work any better in Bahrain than they did in Egypt or Tunisia—and that it’s time to embrace a process of democratic transition across the region. The Gulf monarchies and sheikdoms counter that concessions will only empower more radicalism—and that the big beneficiaries, in the end, will be Islamic radicals in Iran and al-Qaeda.…

EGYPT, SYRIA, BAHRAIN: WHAT SHALL IT BE, M.E. REVOLUTION, EVOLUTION, OR DEVOLUTION?

 

 

 

DID ISLAMISM WIN EGYPT’S REVOLUTION?
Barry Rubin

Pajamas Media, March 23, 2011

 

The world’s eyes focused on Egypt’s dramatic revolution. Yet incredibly, the media, government intelligence agencies, and experts haven’t answered a simple question: Who made the revolution and what were their motives and aims?

We have been repeatedly assured that the forces that began and led the upheaval were young, liberal, pro-democratic, technically hip people. Their organizational framework was the April 6 Youth Movement. The movement’s leadership appears to be a small group of independent people and participants with no structure. These leaders and the main activists seem to be genuinely moderate—in Egyptian political terms—and supporters of democracy.

However, whenever one can identify organized groups participating in this revolution they fall into three categories: left-wing radical Marxists or nationalists, reformists allied at the time to the Muslim Brotherhood, and Islamists. Since it began, the April 6 movement itself has worked closely with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The evidence for this assertion comes from simply analyzing the history of the April 6 Youth Movement. It started as a Facebook support group for a 2008 workers’ strike. By the following year, the group claimed to have a network linking 70,000 people. It is not clear who these people were but it is hard to believe that they all “joined” one at a time, as individuals with no other organizational affiliation.

Egyptian politics and Arab politics in general are often based on linkages that make strange bedfellows in Western terms. The neo-Marxist left contains strong Islamist and nationalist elements, as well as powerful anti-Western and anti-Israel sentiments. Islamists, precisely because they want to centralize power in the state, have socialist overtones. And people who seem liberal reformers often hold views quite distant from those of Western counterparts.

It is amusing that right-wing conspiracy theorists in the United States and Middle East have leaped on a Wikileaks document showing that one member of the April 6 Youth Movement attended a State Department seminar in the United States as “proof” that the U.S. government was behind the revolution. At the same time, though, the far larger-scale involvement of leftist activists in the movement and demonstrations is ignored, while that of revolutionary Islamists is minimized or explained away as harmless.

Other than backing a labor strike, the two specific issues on which the April 6 Youth Movement was active were support for bloggers being persecuted by the government and for ending sanctions on the Gaza Strip. Helping Gazans is a popular cause in Egypt. Yet the political implications of that stance are revealing. The Gaza Strip is ruled by Hamas, a radical Islamist group that brutally suppresses internal dissent.

Whatever the intentions—often portrayed as humanitarian—a campaign to end Egyptian sanctions on Gaza was helping to entrench Hamas’s dictatorship and making it possible to smuggle in more arms for use in attacking Israel. It also sought to help the Muslim Brotherhood’s number-one foreign ally to become stronger. This activity—rather than a domestic issue or helping the repressed people of Sudan, Syria, or Saudi Arabia—was one of the movement’s two top priorities. This, too, is revealing of the participants’ politics.

Aside from well-meaning, hi-tech independents, the April 6 Movement was helped—or, if you wish, infiltrated—by four groups. Tagammu is Egypt’s leftist party, with strong Marxist overtones. Three other organizations have their origins in apparently liberal groups. These are the al-Ghad party, led by former opposition presidential candidate Ayman Nour; the Kifaya movement; and the National Association for Change, led by Muhammad ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Nobel Peace Prize winner, and presidential candidate.

Despite its liberal origins, by the time it allied with the April 6 Movement, Kifaya was largely taken over by the Brotherhood. Its origin was in a radical nationalist and leftist movement against the U.S.-led attack on Iraq in 2003 (defending, by default, the Saddam Hussein regime). It reached its peak in 2005, though deep divisions among its Marxist, leftist, Arab nationalist, Islamist, and secular liberal members were tearing it apart. In 2006, trying to build its base through populist demagoguery—and avoid repression by the Mubarak regime—the group switched to focusing on anti-Israel agitation, including a demand to abrogate the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

Some of Kifaya’s own members, “deep inside, are against democracy and reform,” said Bahaa al-Din Hassan, director of Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies at the time. In 2007 the group’s leader became Abdel Wahhab al-Messiri, a former Communist and Muslim Brother, as well as one of the country’s leading antisemites, a purveyor of Jewish conspiracy theories based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

While itself liberal reformist, ElBaradei’s National Association for Change was a small group largely dependent on the Brotherhood for organizational support and vote-getting activity.

Despite all their ideological differences—left-wing, nationalist, liberal, or Islamist—all four of the groups associated with the April 6 Youth Movement had as one of their top-priority issues the goal of ending the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

But there is also an additional factor. Knowing that any direct association with the Brotherhood would discredit it in the eyes of many, the April 6 Youth Movement had an understanding with the Brotherhood. The two would cooperate and exchange information but the Brotherhood would not become too directly involved in the movement.

Contrary to many reports, the Brotherhood was fully informed of the April 6 Youth Movement’s plan to start an anti-government uprising last January but held back so as not to taint the campaign and to avoid repression if the struggle fizzled or failed. Once it saw that the movement was succeeding, the Brotherhood joined in fully.

In April 2009, the April 6 Youth Movement directly participated in creating the Egyptian Coalition for Change. This umbrella group also called for abrogating the treaty with Israel, thus putting the April 6 Youth Movement on the record as favoring this step. The April 6 Youth Movement’s partners in this coalition were mainly al-Wasat—the Brotherhood’s least radical faction, which split away convinced that the parent group would never become moderate; Brotherhood members; and al-Karama, a socialist, anti-Western, radical nationalist party.

In August 2009, the April 6 Youth Movement expressed support for the Brotherhood. It is important to understand that while the April 6 Movement was not a front for the Brotherhood, many of its activists were Islamists and leftist, while most of its members held strongly anti-Western and anti-Israel views. Moreover, the movement viewed the Muslim Brotherhood as a major partner and ally.

This is not to deny that the movement’s members called for free elections and the end of the dictatorship or that the leaders genuinely wanted democracy and human rights. Yet the best-organized elements had an interpretation of democracy rather different from the Western definition of that concept.

The idea that enemies of dictatorship are themselves radicals hostile to the West seems strange to Western observers. Similarly, the idea that people who use Facebook, favor democracy, and even seem secular are sympathetic with Islamism also appears strange. Nevertheless, such cross-overs are fairly common in the Arabic-speaking world.

Similar factors shape the views of the Egyptian military leaders, the men who made the revolution possible. It is well-known in Egypt that many of the highest officers are conservative, pious Muslims who do not perceive the Brotherhood as an enemy. A symbolic sign of these attitudes has been the increasingly “Islamic dress” of the generals’ wives. By supporting the revolution, radical nationalism, and more Islamization, the officers know they can be popular and ensure that their personal wealth and business enterprises will remain untouched.

Many of these officers and their families watch clerics like Yusuf al-Qaradawi on television and like what he says. From the standpoint of many in the military as well as many of those involved in the revolution, Islam is the answer not because of what’s been done in Tehran but as a response to their own society’s needs.

Facing what they see as unattractive Westernization, increased crime, and injustice—while doubtful about rapid material progress—officers see Islam as the answer to problems of identity, social justice, and internal stability. Thus, a far more Islamic Egypt is attractive. Those who would never want the Brotherhood to rule the state are often open to its having far more influence in running the religious establishment and society.

Similarly, there is a popular and deep-seated hatred of Israel, America, and the West. This relates not only to opposition to policies but an interpretation of those policies as far more aggressive, anti-Islam, and anti-Egypt than they are. This hostility has been unaltered by the efforts of President Barack Obama to make Muslims like America. Indeed, this has only led to a new conspiracy theory that Obama favors the Brotherhood and the Islamization of Egypt.

Certain U.S. government actions—the special invitations of Brotherhood figures to President Obama’s Cairo speech, the president’s definition of the Arab world in Islamic terms, and his unilateral statement of supporting Brotherhood participation in the next Egyptian government—have deepened that belief. This has not led to increased popularity for the president or the United States but merely convinced some influential Egyptians to jump on the Islamist bandwagon that seems—supposedly even to the Americans—destined for victory.

The reading of Egyptian politics prevalent in the West—a joyous revolution producing an inevitably stable, moderate democracy, whose total success can only be questioned by hateful people—is profoundly misleading. A group of 100,000 politically independent young, urban middle-class Facebook users can make a revolution, at least if the army supports them. But Egyptians in the tens of millions—overwhelmingly not middle class, urban or Facebook users—will back organizations that are radical nationalist, Islamist, and far left. The moderate secular liberals, dependent on hardline forces, have now have been shoved aside in the battle for power.

The referendum on constitutional amendments demonstrated this fact. The leaders of the nationalist (Amr Moussa) and moderate democratic (ElBaradei) blocs campaigned against the changes. Yet 77 percent of Egyptians voted the way the Muslim Brotherhood urged. That doesn’t mean they were all supporters of Islamists. Yet in this test of strength, the Islamists emerged as victors.

In addition, with the Brotherhood and ElBaradei now having a bitter quarrel—hundreds of Islamists threw stones at ElBaradei to prevent him from voting—the seemingly democratic coalition has lost most of its activist backers and voters for the presidential election.

By the end of 2011, Egypt is likely to have a radical anti-American president who was the most bitterly anti-Israel of all the Mubarak era’s establishment politicians. It is also likely to have a parliament that is about 30 percent Islamist and another 30 percent plus radical nationalist.

This parliament will write a new constitution. Facebook liberals will be of minimal importance; the 8 million Christians, about 10 percent of the population, will be ignored. The Constitution will define Egypt as a Muslim state with Islam either being the main—more likely—or perhaps the sole source of law.

Anti-American, anti-Israel, and antisemitic sentiments run far deeper and wider in Egypt than Western observers perceive. The boundaries between liberal, Islamist, radical nationalist, and extreme leftist are far more porous than is assumed. And apparently hip, Facebook users can favor a Sharia state.

All of these factors will become more obvious in the coming months. Nevertheless, the disaster for regional stability and Western interests that will exist in December should have been obvious in January.

 

FOR ALL HIS FAULTS, ASSAD IS THE DEVIL WE KNOW
Yaakov Katz
Jerusalem Post, March 23, 2011

 

Since the Yom Kippur War of 1973, one of the strongest arguments some Israelis make against withdrawing from the Golan Heights and making peace with Syria is basically, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Of all of Israel’s borders including, the so-called peaceful ones with Jordan and Egypt, the border with Syria has always been the quietest. Yes, Israel fought a major war there in 1973, but since then, the border has been peaceful, with only a rare terror or criminal infiltration.

As Israel watches the ongoing demonstrations in Syria against President Bashar Assad, its greatest concern for the moment is the uncertainty that change in Syria would bring to the region. Israel has gotten used to Assad and he is almost predictable. A new regime, led by a new actor, would likely be unpredictable and when considering the large arsenal of long-range Scud missiles Syria has stockpiled over the years and the accompanying chemical warheads, Israel needs to be considered.…

It is no secret that Syria is in an economic crisis, lacking basic resources such as water, oil and produce. Assad has for years rejected opportunities to do business with the West—particularly Europe—and with runaway inflation and high unemployment he is now paying the price.

But when Israel looks at Syria it also sees the possible development of a new enemy, far more radical and extreme than the Assad they are familiar with. While not as strong and large as the Egyptian military, the Syrian military has obtained some advanced capabilities which, if the country falls apart, could fall into terrorist hands or be used by the country against Israel.

Just in recent years, Syria announced a decision to rebuild its aging air force and to procure new Russian MiG fighter jets. It has some of the most advanced surface-to-air missile systems and also has a significant number, perhaps hundreds, of Scud missiles.

In the meantime, Israeli intelligence services are cautious in trying to predict how the riots in Syria will end and whether Assad will be prepared to cede power as easily as Hosni Mubarak did in Egypt.

 

OPPOSING SYRIA’S CRACKDOWN
Editorial
Washington Post, March 24, 2011

 

In February 1982, the Syrian dictatorship headed by Hafez al-Assad responded to an uprising in the city of Hama with extraordinary violence. The town was indiscriminately bombarded by tanks and artillery; security forces then swept through the rubble and massacred the survivors. Estimates of the final death toll ranged from 10,000 to 40,000 or more. Hama became a symbol in the Arab world of what its authoritarian regimes were prepared to do to keep themselves in power.

Now the Arab uprising of 2011 has reached Syria, and Assad’s son, Bashar, is trying to apply his father’s solution. Early Wednesday, security forces stormed a mosque in the city of Daraa, where there had been five days of protest marches, and opened fire with live ammunition. According to Western news reports, the assault on the surrounding neighborhood continued through the day; an Associated Press reporter heard automatic weapons fire. At least 15 people were killed, including a prominent local doctor who was trying to provide medical aid. That brings to at least 21 the number of civilians murdered by Mr. Assad’s forces in Daraa since Friday.

The question now, for Syria and for the world, is whether the Hama approach still works.…

There are signs that Mr. Assad’s brutality is also producing a backlash. In Daraa, angry crowds numbering in the tens of thousands responded to the first shootings on Friday by burning down the ruling party headquarters and other buildings linked to the regime. On Monday, after another shooting death, the protests spread to at least two other towns.

After Wednesday’s massacre, Syrians are likely to feel still angrier—but they also will be watching the response of the outside world. That’s why it is essential that the United States and Syria’s partners in Europe act quickly to punish Mr. Assad’s behavior.…

For the past two years, the administration has pursued the futile strategy of trying to detach Mr. Assad from his alliances with Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah through diplomatic stroking and promises of improved relations. It recently dispatched an ambassador to Damascus through a recess appointment to avoid congressional objections. Now it is time to recognize that Syria’s ruler is an unredeemable thug—and that the incipient domestic uprising offers a potentially precious opportunity. The United States should side strongly with the people of Daraa and do everything possible to ensure that this time, Hama methods don’t work.

 

HIGH STAKES OVER BAHRAIN
David Ignatius
Washington Post, March 15, 2011

 

The Obama administration and its support for democratic change in the Middle East has been on a collision course with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other traditional monarchies of the Persian Gulf. The crunch finally came this week with a sharp break over how to deal with protests in Bahrain.

The stakes in this latest crisis are high, even by Middle East standards, for it contains all the region’s volatile ingredients: tension between Saudis and Iranians, between Sunni Muslims and Shiites, and between democratic reformers and status-quo powers. Underlying this combustible mixture is the world’s most important strategic commodity, Persian Gulf oil. How’s that for a witch’s brew?

U.S. officials have been arguing that Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy must make political compromises to give more power to the Shiite majority there. The most emphatic statement came last weekend from Defense Secretary Bob Gates, who said during a visit to Bahrain that its “baby steps” toward reform weren’t enough and that the kingdom should step up its negotiations with the opposition.

This American enthusiasm for change has been anathema to the conservative regimes of the Gulf, and on Monday they backed Bahrain’s ruling Khalifa family with military force, marching about 2,000 troops up the causeway that links Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. A senior Saudi official told me the intervention was needed to protect Bahrain’s financial district and other key facilities from violent demonstrations. He warned that radical, Iranian-backed leaders were becoming more active in the protests.

“We don’t want Iran 14 miles off our coast, and that’s not going to happen,” said the Saudi official. U.S. officials counter that Iran, so far, has been only a minor player in the Bahrain protests and that Saudi military intervention could backfire by strengthening Iran’s hand. “There is a serious breach” between the Gulf countries and Washington over the issue, warned a second Saudi official. “We’re not going in [to Bahrain] to shoot people, we’re going in to keep a system in place,” he said.

The Bahrain issue is the most important U.S.-Saudi disagreement in decades, and it could signal a fundamental change in policy. The Obama administration, in effect, is altering America’s long-standing commitment to the status quo in the Gulf, believing that change in Bahrain—as in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya—is inevitable and desirable.

The split reflects fundamental differences in strategic outlook. The Gulf regimes have come to mistrust Obama, seeing him as a weak president who will sacrifice traditional allies in his eagerness to be “on the right side of history.” They liken Obama’s rejection of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt to Jimmy Carter’s 1979 abandonment of the shah of Iran.

The crackup was predicted by a top UAE sheik in a February meeting with two visiting former U.S. officials. According to notes made during the conversation, the UAE official said: “We and the Saudis will not accept a Shiite government in Bahrain. And if your president says to the Khalifas what he said to Mubarak [to leave office], it will cause a break in our relationship with the U.S.” The UAE official warned that Gulf nations were “looking East”—to China, India and Turkey—for alternative security assistance.

The Obama White House hasn’t yielded to such pleas and threats from the Gulf. U.S. officials believe the Saudis and others have no good option to the United States as a guarantor of security. They note that military and intelligence contacts are continuing, despite the sharp disagreement over Bahrain.

In the end, this is a classic liberal-conservative argument about how best to achieve stability. The White House believes that security crackdowns won’t work any better in Bahrain than they did in Egypt or Tunisia—and that it’s time to embrace a process of democratic transition across the region. The Gulf monarchies and sheikdoms counter that concessions will only empower more radicalism—and that the big beneficiaries, in the end, will be Islamic radicals in Iran and al-Qaeda.…