AS THE U.S. UNDER OBAMA RETREATS FROM MIDDLE EAST, ISRAEL INCREASES TIES WITH MODERATE ARAB NEIGHBORS Posted on June 20, 2016June 20, 2016 U.S. Mideast Retreat a Boon for Moscow and Tehran: Efraim Inbar, Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2016— The United States is in retreat in the Middle East, and the adverse implications of this policy shift are manifold. ‘Mirror Imaging’ and America’s Dangerous Middle East Illusions: Henry A Crumpton & Allison Melia, Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2016— Intelligence officers are taught to avoid “mirror imaging.” Israel's Emerging Mideast Foreign Policy: C. Hart, American Thinker, June 18, 2016— The 16th annual Herzliya Conference a prestigious gathering that attracts senior Israeli and international leaders in government, economics, and academia, has just wrapped up in Israel. Israel Among the Nations: Robert M. Danin, Foreign Affairs, July 2016— They are the last eyewitnesses, their hair white, their gait unsteady, but cloaked in determination as powerful as their searing memories. On Topic Links Sorry to Tell You, But….: Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Arutz Sheva, Apr. 22, 2016 Hope for the Arab World?: Robert Fulford, National Post, June 10, 2016 America: History's Exception: Victor Davis Hanson, Town Hall, June 9, 2016 The End of the Sykes-Picot Era: Prof. Eyal Zisser, Israel Hayom, May 17, 2016 U.S. MIDEAST RETREAT A BOON FOR MOSCOW AND TEHRAN Efraim Inbar Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2016 The United States is in retreat in the Middle East, and the adverse implications of this policy shift are manifold. These range from acceleration of Tehran's drive to regional hegemony; to the spread of jihadist Islam; to the palpable risk of regional nuclear proliferation following the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA); to Russia's growing penetration of the region; to the possible satellization of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian basin by a resurgent Iran. The manifest U.S. weakness is also bound to have ripple effects far beyond the Middle East as more and more global players question the value of a partnership with a vacillating and feckless Washington. From his early days in power, President Barack Obama has pursued a grand strategy of retrenchment based on the belief that the Bush administration's interventionist policies had severely damaged U.S. standing and that a very different strategy was required: a non-aggressive, multilateral, and noninterventionist approach. This has resulted in the erosion of U.S. clout in several regions, notably Eastern Europe, the Far East, and the Middle East. Most unambiguous was Obama's intent to reduce the U.S. presence in the Middle East, and the rationale for this policy shift is clear: The region is among the world's most volatile areas with anti-U.S. sentiments particularly rampant. U.S. forces had fought two costly wars there in the past decade, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, in an attempt to prevent these states from becoming hotbeds of terrorism and to promote their democratization, only to be taught a painful lesson about the limits of power and the need for greater foreign policy realism. As Washington's deficiency in political engineering in the Middle East became clearer, overseas interventions became less popular at home. This evolution in domestic attitudes facilitated Obama's strategic shift. The desire for a lower profile in the Middle East was not the only factor behind Washington's retreat from the region. Dependence on energy resources from the Persian Gulf has been reduced, thanks to new technologies that can extract natural gas and oil within the continental United States. The country has, in fact, become an influential producer in the global energy market and is heading toward energy independence. According to an Energy Department report, even with low prices, U.S crude oil production was expected to hit a new record in 2015. Under these new circumstances, the Middle East appears less directly relevant to U.S. interests. However, in the long run, this perspective might prove short-sighted as the decline in energy dependency could be temporary. The preference to downgrade U.S. involvement in the Middle East was reinforced by Washington's pronounced decision to "pivot" toward China, an emerging global challenger. While Asia has always been important for the United States, Obama emphasized that his administration would no longer be diverted by secondary arenas such as the Middle East and would instead elevate Asia to top priority. Despite such declarations, however, "pivoting to China" remains primarily a slogan with little policy content, only underscoring Washington's inaction and weakness. As a result of this re-prioritization, the Obama administration has reduced military assets available for projecting power in the Middle East. To take one example, there was a recent period during which there were no aircraft carriers in either the eastern Mediterranean or the Gulf—an unprecedented situation since October 2015. And while officials within the Navy continue to recognize the need for a permanent aircraft carrier presence in the gulf or in its vicinity, the department is going ahead with plans for longer periods during which there will be no carriers in the area at all. A U.S. spokesperson has said that the reduced presence is due, not to lack of need, but to the availability of fewer carriers and the prioritization of the Asia-Pacific. As President Obama's reluctance to act in the Middle East became clearer, his policies were often viewed within the region as unwise, projecting both weakness and a lack of understanding of Middle Eastern politics. One early example was the administration's initial inclination to try to engage foes, such as Iran or Syria. Other defining moments were the passive approach toward the mass protests against the rigged June 2009 Iranian presidential elections; the desertion of long-time ally Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in February 2011; the "leading from behind" strategy in the Western intervention in Libya in March-October 2011, and the retreat from threats to use force against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for crossing a chemical weapons "red line" that Obama himself had promulgated in August 2012. These decisions contributed to widespread perceptions, both in the Middle East and beyond, that Obama is a weak, unreliable ally with a questionable grasp of regional realities. The campaign against ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sha'm [Greater Syria]) provides additional evidence of the retreat of U.S. power in the Middle East. In August 2014, after a long and confused decision-making process, Washington concluded that ISIS's land conquests were evolving into a significant threat to U.S. interests and ordered its air force to attack ISIS installations and forces in Syria and Iraq. By the summer of 2015, the territory in those areas under ISIS control had indeed shrunk, but ISIS had made gains elsewhere… [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.] Contents ‘MIRROR IMAGING’ AND AMERICA’S DANGEROUS MIDDLE EAST ILLUSIONS Henry A Crumpton & Allison Melia Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2016 Intelligence officers are taught to avoid “mirror imaging.” That is, assuming your adversary shares your analytic reference points and thinks the way you do. Americans tend to ascribe to other countries the best of our own values: tolerance, equal opportunity, rule of law, freedoms of speech and religion, and separation of church and state. But many countries do not share these values. Two of them are among our most problematic foreign relationships: Saudi Arabia and Iran. These states, one friend and the other foe, promote ideologies that compete with America’s vision of liberal institutions, secular democracy and world order. Yet instead of confronting their illiberal, repressive, and often reprehensible narratives, we attempt to reconcile their views with our own, giving them a free pass based on our own tolerance of religious differences. The problem is that in these states religion does not exist in a vacuum. On the contrary, their religion is their political ideology—and a critical element of their foreign policy. Despite its status as an important ally, Saudi Arabia poses a major challenge to the U.S. The ruling Saudi royal family depends upon support from the Wahhabi clergy, who represent an ultraconservative doctrine that is the cornerstone of the country’s identity and the source of the monarchy’s legitimacy. The kingdom has long exported the Wahhabi ideology with billions in funding for religious schools, or madrassas, world-wide. While Saudi rulers proscribe religious leaders from actively supporting violent revolution, terrorist groups like al Qaeda and Islamic State frequently cite or distort Wahhabi principles to justify the repression of women, autocratic rule and violence against non-Muslims. Moreover, as Princeton scholar Cole Bunzel recently detailed in a report published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Saudi religious establishment has been practically mute as ISIS has laid claim to Wahhabi principles. This irresponsible silence, a tacit endorsement of political violence, especially against Shia Muslims, allows terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS to use the Wahhabi faith as a steppingstone to their violent, apocalyptic political ideology. Although Saudi Arabia, sometimes with U.S. support, has launched effective counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda and ISIS, these efforts are shortchanged if the Saudi kingdom does not also address the underlying ideology that inspires ISIS attacks around the globe. And Riyadh, as custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, is uniquely positioned to act. Americans’ natural aversion to government involvement in religious matters should not become an excuse for U.S. failure to tackle this ideological challenge. According to a recent survey of thousands of Arab youth in 16 countries, the overwhelming majority of young Arabs reject ISIS, believe it will fail, and want their government leaders “to improve the personal freedoms and human rights of citizens, particularly women.” Clearly it is time for the U.S. to advance a more rigorous defense of liberal values and abandon our acquiescence to the Wahhabi political agenda wrapped in a religious doctrine. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s politics are even more entwined with religion. The primary concern of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who ultimately controls the country’s policy direction, is to preserve and advance Iran’s revolutionary ideals. Under the banner of religion, Iran engages directly in international terrorism, supports violent proxies such as Hezbollah, defies international law and norms, and calls for death to America and Israel. At the same time, Mr. Khamenei and his underlings frequently exploit America’s respect for religion by distorting any criticism of Iran’s policies as an attack on Islam. Tiptoeing around these issues puts the U.S. at a strategic disadvantage when in reality we have considerable leverage in both relationships. The recent transformation of oil markets—driven by softening global demand and the shale oil boom—has reduced U.S. dependence on Saudi oil. Although Saudi foreign policy has become more assertive in some areas, such as Yemen, Riyadh’s security continues to depend on advanced U.S. weaponry, trainers and advisers. Moreover, the country seems to be moving toward a more market-oriented economy, which bodes well for more U.S. commercial cooperation. The U.S. should redouble its efforts to counter Iranian terrorism—with deadly force if necessary. Meanwhile, U.S. economic power continues to be a valuable tool. Even after the removal of some major sanctions as part of the nuclear agreement, Tehran has sought additional access to U.S. dollars to conduct international transactions and has called for the remaining sanctions to be lifted. Yet that should only happen if Iran ceases its violent, destabilizing behavior, which is unlikely under the current regime. Religious tolerance is one of our country’s highest ideals. Americans are fortunate to live in a society that respects all religions. Yet we should never allow this inclination to skew our analyses of other nations’ behavior. It is important that we see these states not as an image in the mirror, but as actors willing to use religion-based ideology in ways that undermine our interests. Contents ISRAEL'S EMERGING MIDEAST FOREIGN POLICY C. Hart American Thinker, June 18, 2016 The 16th annual Herzliya Conference a prestigious gathering that attracts senior Israeli and international leaders in government, economics, and academia, has just wrapped up in Israel. Strategic assessments are given by politicians, diplomats, business and military leaders who analyze Israel’s national, regional, and global concerns. On June 15, 2016, the second day of the Tel Aviv gathering, Israeli ambassador Dr. Dore Gold, who serves as the Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), gave a speech on Israel’s foreign policy objectives. Claiming that rumors are unfounded about Israel having no foreign policy and being isolated among the nations, Gold stated that the real issue is the political crossroads both Israel and Middle East countries are forced to face in an unstable region. "We need to have a new strategy for the future. Despite the chaos, Israel is very much aware, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is very much aware, that new elements of order are emerging.” According to Gold, one of Israel’s key interests is retaining and building its relationship with the U.S., a strategic ally of the Jewish State. The disagreement over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, which Israel fought against in the U.S. Congress, was a low point in American-Israel relations. Finalized in July 2015 by the P5+1 nations (China, France, Russia, the UK, U.S., and Germany), the Iran deal became a sticking point between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama. At the Herzliya Conference, Gold wanted to move on from the Iran Nuclear Deal. “Beyond that, Israel is moving in several areas that are important and worth mentioning for those who are still uncertain whether we have a foreign policy.” Acknowledging that Netanyahu holds both the office of prime minister and foreign minister in this current Israeli government coalition, Gold wanted to make sure that the international community understood Israel is fulfilling its responsibilities in the diplomatic world. "We are trying and we are effectively building a new policy towards the global community,” Gold declared. The most significant part of Israel’s current foreign policy framework has been the public acknowledgement of behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Arab world. While at one time, negotiations with Arab states were secret, Gold professes that now it is different. “It is no secret that there is a strategic convergence between Israel and many of the Sunni Arab countries” On his foreign policy trips abroad, Gold sits in negotiations with other director generals of foreign ministries. On one occasion, he brought up 13 talking points that his staff at the MFA prepared for him on paper. In the middle of explaining these points, one leader shared that those talking points were the same ones he had received from his staff. Gold sees this as part of Israel’s new ties with Arab states. For those who have pressed Israel to consider solving the Israeli-Palestinian issue first, before reaching out to the Arab world, Gold had this to say: "In fact, on both papers, the Palestinian issue was not the number one issue. It was pretty close to the bottom. But, we have to realize that isn't, any more, the currency in which you build ties in much of the Arab World, the Sunni World." Gold did admit that the Palestinian issue is important to public opinion and would continue to be one that Israel looks to solve. But, the focus for Israel now is warming ties with moderate Arab leaders. Many of the countries to the east in this region have fears about the rise in Iranian power. The JCPOA was supposed to lead to a change in Iranian behavior, but so far, Iran has been more belligerent towards the Jewish State. Moreover, Iran is gaining ground in Sunni countries, often trying to manipulate and take advantage of Shia forces in those nations. But, in the case of the Yemen war, a number of countries, including Egypt, showed an interest in strengthening ties with Saudi Arabia. This resulted in a deal between Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the Red Sea area. While Gold would not give any details, reports indicate that Israel secretly met with Saudi Arabia for six years in backchannel negotiations that required a changing of Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt. Two small islands that were in the hands of Egypt but apparently were originally part of Saudi sovereignty, were transferred to Saudi Arabia this year. The fact that the Saudis accepted the international treaty between Israel and Egypt, and, that the Saudis became an integral part of that treaty because they acquired the islands was a positive, unexpected outcome for Israel. Upon Israel’s insistence, these islands will remain demilitarized, which the Saudi’s agreed to in the deal. This advancement in relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia has coincided with Israel establishing deeper relations with Gulf nations. Trust is building. It is another sign of a convergence between Israel and its Arab neighbors… [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.] Contents ISRAEL AMONG THE NATIONS Robert M. Danin Foreign Affairs, July 2016 In 1996, Ehud Barak, who was then Israel’s foreign minister and would later serve as prime minister, characterized Israel as “a modern and prosperous villa in the middle of the jungle.” Twenty years later, as political turmoil and violence engulf the Middle East, that harsh metaphor captures better than ever the way most Israelis see their country and its place in the region. Their standard of living has never been higher. Their country’s economy is robust, and Israel’s entrepreneurial spirit remains the envy of the world. In 2015, Israel ranked as the planet’s fifth-happiest country on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Better Life Index, topped only by Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Switzerland. In its first half century of existence, Israeli soldiers fought a war virtually every decade against well-armed conventional Arab armies. Today, the threat of such a war has vastly diminished, and the Israeli military has never been stronger, both in absolute terms and relative to its neighbors. Now, however, it is Israeli civilians, not soldiers, who are the primary targets of Israel’s enemies. They are vulnerable to rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza and by Hezbollah from Lebanon, which have killed over 100 Israelis since 2004. And in the past year, new forms of violence have emerged, as Palestinians have targeted Israelis in over 150 seemingly uncoordinated stabbings and more than 50 attacks in which drivers have intentionally rammed pedestrians with their cars. Israel’s citizens feel more vulnerable in a personal sense, walking their streets, than they have since perhaps the 1948 War of Independence. Even during the second intifada, the Palestinian revolt that lasted from 2000 until 2005 and claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Israeli civilians, Jews believed they knew where it was safe to go and where it wasn’t. That’s not true today: in a recent poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, nearly 70 percent of Israeli Jews surveyed said they greatly or moderately feared that they or people close to them would be harmed by the wave of violence that has swept the country since last October. Meanwhile, chaos appears to loom across almost every border. A bloody and devastating civil war rages in Syria, where the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the jihadists of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) seem intent on outdoing each other in brutality. Neighboring Jordan has long served as a buffer of sorts to Israel’s east, but it is now struggling under the burden of hosting more than a million Syrian refugees. And ISIS and other jihadist organizations roam the virtual no man’s land of the Sinai Peninsula, which the somewhat wobbly Egyptian government has struggled to secure. Confronted with threats at home and disorder all around, many Israelis have come to feel that the idealistic aspirations of earlier eras—all those dreams of peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians and with the greater Arab world—were naive at best and profoundly misplaced at worst. A sense of bitterness, resignation, and hopelessness now prevails. Many Israeli politicians seem to see greater advantage in stoking, rather than countering, such sentiments. For example, rather than point to the benefits that peace agreements and negotiated territorial concessions have produced, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasizes how other territorial withdrawals—ones that were unilateral and unaccompanied by peace agreements—have resulted in further attacks against Israel. Yet inside Israel’s defense establishment, headquartered at the Kirya military complex in Tel Aviv, the picture is more nuanced. Israel’s security chiefs share their compatriots’ sense that the Middle East has become chaotic and that today’s threats are more diffuse and inchoate than those Israel used to face. But these officials also recognize that their country is far from defenseless and that the threat of a conventional conflict has virtually disappeared. As the army’s recently leaked National Intelligence Estimate for 2016 concluded, Israel faces no current threat of war and only a low probability of war in the coming year. In fact, the analysts who prepared the document argue that the turmoil sweeping the Middle East may even have improved Israel’s strategic position. The disconnect between public attitudes, political rhetoric, and military risk assessments reflects a kind of sensory overload. Israeli strategic planners can agree on a long list of threats and challenges but not on how to prioritize them. Like Israel’s political leaders, they suffer from a deep sense of strategic confusion. So far, their response has been to hunker down and ride out the turbulence. That is a natural reaction. But it’s also a risky one, which could lead Israel to forgo the kind of subtle, clever approaches it has adopted in the past when faced with complex threats. For all the danger Israel faces today, the current turmoil has also created real opportunities for Israel to improve its strategic position. But these will come to naught unless the government can see them clearly—and find the strength to take advantage of them… [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.] Contents On Topic Links Sorry to Tell You, But….: Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Arutz Sheva, Apr. 22, 2016—My dear friends, Jews in Israel and the Diaspora. I am sorry to tell you that the terror attacks from which we suffer today and from which we suffered yesterday, a week ago, a month, a year and a decade and century ago, are all part of the same war, the same struggle, the same Jihad waged against us by our neighbors for over a century. Hope for the Arab World?: Robert Fulford, National Post, June 10, 2016 —The wave of protests that swept across the Middle East in 2011 was the first great international disappointment of this century. It began as the Arab Spring, a time of revolutionary hopes, but ended in a nightmare of chaos and violence. America: History's Exception: Victor Davis Hanson, Town Hall, June 9, 2016 —The history of nations is mostly characterized by ethnic and racial uniformity, not diversity. Most national boundaries reflected linguistic, religious and ethnic homogeneity. Until the late 20th century, diversity was considered a liability, not a strength. The End of the Sykes-Picot Era: Prof. Eyal Zisser, Israel Hayom, May 17, 2016—On May 16, 1916, 100 years ago Monday, Britain and France signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which shaped the Middle East for the century to come.