Tag: Shia

FALL OF I.S. IN IRAQ & SYRIA, AMIDST ONGOING SECTARIAN CONFLICT, STRENGTHENS SHIITE AXIS

ISIS: Some Things Cannot Be Killed Off: Dr. Mordechai Kedar, BESA, Oct. 26, 2017 — As the city of Raqqa, the capital of the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” falls to the Free Syrian Army, made up primarily of Kurdish and Syrian militias, the question is what the aftermath of ISIS will look like.

Real Threat to the West: Why Can’t Britain See It?: Melanie Phillips, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 26, 2017 — Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia has been making some remarkable comments.

Israel Takes On the Shia Crescent: Joseph Klein, Frontpage, Oct. 2, 2017 — Despite Israel's repeated warnings, Barack Obama's reckless appeasement of the Iranian regime has enabled its rise as a hegemonic threat in the Middle East region as well as a threat to international peace and security.

Why There Is No Peace in the Middle East: Philip Carl Salzman, Gatestone Institute, Oct. 14, 2017— Living as an anthropologist in a herding camp of the Yarahmadzai tribe of nomadic pastoralists in the deserts of Iranian Baluchistan clarified some of the inhibitions to peace in the Middle East.

 

On Topic Links

 

The Fall of Kirkuk: An IRGC Production: Jonathan Spyer, Breaking Israel News, Oct. 22, 2017

What Iraq’s Recent Moves Against Kurds Mean for Israel and Region: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 26, 2017

The U.S. is on a Collision Course with Iran in the Middle East: Liz Sly, Washington Post, Oct. 26, 2017

Between the Iranian Threat and the Palestinian State Threat: Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen, Arutz Sheva, Oct. 22, 2017

 

 

 

ISIS: SOME THINGS CANNOT BE KILLED OFF

Dr. Mordechai Kedar

BESA, Oct. 26, 2017

 

As the city of Raqqa, the capital of the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” falls to the Free Syrian Army, made up primarily of Kurdish and Syrian militias, the question is what the aftermath of ISIS will look like. The answer is threefold and involves the organization, its members, and its ideology.

 

The organization may well be routed and eradicated. The large swathe of territory it controlled will be divided among Syria, Iran, Turkey, and the Kurds, and its government institutions will become relics of the past. The attempt to reestablish the Islamic caliphate failed because the Muslim world – not only the “infidels” – despised its gruesome, seventh-century execution methods.

 

Most of the organization’s members are already elsewhere, however, and they carry a sense of righteousness in their hearts. They feel betrayed and will seek revenge against all those who attacked them. Those include the Kurds and the coalition countries; Muslims who stood by and did not help them, such as former Soviet bloc countries; and countries that helped but then abandoned them along the way, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

 

These jihadists have dispersed in many countries. They are establishing proxies in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, Mali, the Philippines, and elsewhere, with each branch adjusting its structure and activities to the environment in which it operates. Variables include the degree to which local governments effectively wield power, the degree to which the local Muslim population is supportive, and the degree to which a terrorist organizational infrastructure already exists and can be utilized. We saw a similar phenomenon after the defeat of al-Qaida in Afghanistan in late 2001, when one of its offshoots settled in Iraq and joined with the local Sunni population and the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s army to form ISIS. Beginning in April 2003, it began exploiting the weak central government in Baghdad, and in March 2011, the government in Damascus.

 

Every local proxy, however, will suffer from the same fundamental problems prevalent in any radical Islamic group. There will be disagreements within the group over Sharia law and its implementation; over ruling a territory or remaining a non-sovereign jihadist entity; the severity of punishment for offenders; the title of leader (whether he will be named caliph or not) and his authority; the group’s relations with similarly minded organizations; the status structure within the organization (Arabs versus non-Arabs, Muslims by birth versus Muslims by conversion), and more. There will also be the problem of hostility between the Islamic organization and the local population, Muslim or otherwise, over which it wants to rule. In addition, the international community’s traditionally negative view of Islamic terrorist organizations could lead to all-out war.

 

Another question is how the Islamic world will be affected by the dashed dream of a caliphate. The fall of ISIS will assuredly bolster those who oppose political Islam. On the other hand, the fall of the Sunni organization strengthens the Shiite axis. The slow crawl of Sunni leaders (Turkey and Saudi Arabia) towards Iran is one sign of the Shiite axis’s growing power at the expense of the Sunnis. (US President Donald Trump’s recent speech might slow this trend down, depending on the action the US takes.)

 

The idea of an Islamic caliphate is not dead. It is alive and well in religious scriptures, textbooks, Friday sermons, internet forums, and the hearts of many millions. In the near or distant future it will be resurrected, shake off the memory of recent events, and begin anew. There will always be people who dream of ancient glory, of the resurrection of ancestral Salafism and its forefathers – the prophet Muhammad and his cohort, who “lived an ideal and proper lifestyle and showed us the right path for any place, time and environment.”

 

What is clear is that the fight against the “heretic, permissive, hedonistic, materialistic, drugged and inebriated West” will persist through lone-wolf or small-cell terrorist attacks. Countries around the world will continue to suffer from ramming attacks, stabbings, shootings, rapes, violence against women and children, public vandalism, and other variances of jihad against all those who do not belong to the religion of Muhammad. ISIS may well disappear as an organization, but the world is likely to continue feeling the evil ideology this organization has instilled in the hearts and minds of too many Muslims.     

 

Contents

REAL THREAT TO THE WEST: WHY CAN’T BRITAIN SEE IT?

                                       Melanie Phillips

Jerusalem Post, Oct. 26, 2017

 

Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia has been making some remarkable comments. In an interview with The Guardian, the recently designated heir to the Saudi throne said the desert kingdom had been “not normal” for the past 30 years. He blamed the extremist Wahhabi form of Islam, which successive leaders “didn’t know how to deal with” and which had created a problem around the world.

 

“Now is the time to get rid of it,” he said. Saudi Arabia would now revert to “what we followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions. Seventy percent of the Saudis are younger than 30. Honestly, we won’t waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts. We will destroy them now and immediately.”

 

Open to all religions? Churches and synagogues in Saudi Arabia? An end to the Wahhabi extremism which has spawned jihadism across the globe? Can he be serious? We know the prince is a reformer. Aware that the oil weapon is fast disappearing as the price of crude falls, he wants to open up the economy. That means modernization. Recently, Saudi women were given the right to drive. Religious police have been reined in and deprived of their powers of arrest. Small moves maybe, but anathema to the hard-line clerics.

 

Is it possible, though, to close Pandora’s jihadi box? Was Saudi Arabia ever religiously moderate? The prince says it became extreme only in response to the 1979 Iranian revolution. That is not quite true. The creed of Wahhabi Islam, which seeks to proselytize via the sword both non-Muslims and not-extreme-enough Muslims to its ferocious dogma, was imposed under the chieftain Muhammad al-Saud in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

 

After the Iranian revolution, an attempt was made to overthrow the House of Saud on the grounds that it had deviated from the true Wahhabi path. In a deal made with the clerics, the Saudi rulers not only hardened religious rules at home but poured money into spreading the jihad through mosques, madrasas and universities across the world.

 

The prince’s reformist agenda goes hand in hand with the kingdom’s tactical alliance with America in the common fight against Saudi Arabia’s arch enemy, Iran – in which it is cooperating below-the-radar with Israel, too. To the British government, with its close economic ties with Saudi Arabia, these reformist noises come as a relief, since Saudi human rights abuses continue to cause it severe embarrassment. Nevertheless, Britain is not on the same page as Saudi Arabia in trying to constrain Iran. Perversely, Britain remains intent upon a course of action that is instead empowering Iran by continuing to support the cynical and dangerous nuclear deal the UK helped US president Barack Obama broker in 2015.

 

President Donald Trump has now refused to certify Iran’s compliance with that deal, saying Iran has breached it several times by exceeding the limits it set on heavy water and centrifuge testing. More remarkably, the deal’s own terms allow Iran to make a mockery of its fundamental purpose in constraining Iran’s nuclear weapons program, for the inspection procedure takes place only at sites where Iran has agreed to allow inspection. These exclude its military sites. The deal’s proponents can claim that a robust inspection is being applied, while Iran is able to evade inspection of the sites that really matter.

 

Recently the International Atomic Energy Authority stated it could not verify that Iran is “fully implementing the agreement” by not engaging in activities that would allow it to make a nuclear explosive device. When it came to inspections, said the IAEA, “our tools are limited.” According to the Institute for Science and International Security, as of the last quarterly report released in August, the IAEA had not visited any military site in Iran since implementation of the deal.

 

In any event, the deal does not prevent Iran from making nuclear weapons, because its “sunset clause” allows it to do so in 10 or 15 years’ time – and reports suggest it has the capacity to develop them extremely quickly. Worse still, the deal allows Iran to develop ballistic missiles. Sanctions relief has enabled it to pour money into its proxy army Hezbollah, promote Hamas terrorism and spread its influence and terrorism into Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

 

Yet the British government not only helped create but still implacably supports this terrible capitulation to Iranian power. Parting company with Trump, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the nuclear deal is “a crucial agreement that neutralized Iran’s nuclear threat” which has “undoubtedly made the world a safer place.” What planet is he living on? Iran is marching toward regional hegemony. In Iraq, there are reports that its Quds Force has been coordinating with Iraqi government officials to recruit the most effective ISIS fighters and release them from Iraqi prisons. These fighters are being organized, trained, and equipped to attack US and other regional forces.

 

Despite all this, however, the threat that worries Britain most is not Iran, but the prospect of war against Iran. The fact that Iran has been waging war against the West since 1979, in the course of which it has repeatedly attacked Western targets, murdered countless civilians and been responsible for the deaths of many British and American soldiers in Iraq, is brushed aside. Unless it really does reform itself, Saudi Arabia will continue to pose a threat from its religious extremism. Nevertheless, it is an ally against the greater enemy at this time: Iran. The Iranian regime must be defeated. It is shocking that, unlike President Trump, Britain is intent on appeasing it.                                                                    

 

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ISRAEL TAKES ON THE SHIA CRESCENT                                                   

Joseph Klein

Frontpage, Oct. 2, 2017

 

Despite Israel's repeated warnings, Barack Obama's reckless appeasement of the Iranian regime has enabled its rise as a hegemonic threat in the Middle East region as well as a threat to international peace and security. In 2009, Obama turned his back on millions of dissidents in the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities, who were peacefully protesting the rigged election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. In 2011, Obama precipitously removed the remaining U.S. combat troops from Iraq, giving rise to ISIS’s re-emergence in Iraq from its bases in Syria. The radical Shiite Iranian regime purported to come to the “rescue” of both countries from the Sunni terrorists, turning Iraq into a virtual vassal state of the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the process. Obama's disastrous nuclear deal with Iran legitimized Iran's path to eventually becoming a nuclear-armed state, while immediately filling its coffers with billions of dollars to fund its aggression.

 

Meanwhile, Syria has become ground zero for Iran's execution of its regional ambitions, which is to establish its Shiite Crescent connecting with its allies, including Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This plan has included the establishment of a land route that Iranian-backed militias secured in June, beginning on Iran’s border with Iraq and running across Iraq and Syria all the way to Syria’s Mediterranean coast. This road makes Iran’s job easier in supplying arms by land, as well as by air and sea, to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and to equip Iran’s own forces fighting inside of Syria in support of Assad. This helps explain why Iran has placed so much importance on helping the Syrian regime establish control over the Deir ez-Zor area in eastern Syria, near the Iraqi border.

 

“Everything depends now on the Americans’ willingness to stop this,” said an Iraqi Kurdish official who was quoted in a New Yorker article. However, U.S.-led coalition forces apparently have done next to nothing to stop this major advance in Iran’s Shiite Crescent expansion. “Obama ran down our options in Syria so thoroughly, by the time this administration took over,” said Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The Iranian influence is spreading because they are so heavily involved in regime activities,” Tabler added. “It’s a new monster.”

 

Furthermore, Iran has funded and armed its terrorist proxy Hezbollah, which has sent its militia from its home base of Lebanon to fight alongside Assad's forces.  And Iran has used Syria as a transit point for shipment of sophisticated rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon for future use against Israeli population centers. Despite the fact that Hezbollah has American blood on its hands, the U.S.-led coalition has chosen not to do anything about Hezbollah’s presence in Syria, bought and paid for by Iran.

 

While Israel chose not to take sides in Syria's civil war with military intervention of its own, it has bombed weapons storage facilities and convoys inside Syria for its own protection. Just recently, on September 7th, Israeli jets struck a Syrian weapons facility near Masyaf, which was reported to have been used for the production of chemical weapons and the storage of missiles. Israel will also do what is necessary to repel Iranian-backed forces if they edge too close to areas near the Golan Heights, shrinking the buffer between Israel and Iranian controlled territories.

 

However, such tactical measures may not be enough to thwart Iran’s larger ambitions. In light of intelligence reports that Assad may be ready to invite Iran to set up military bases in Syria, Israeli leaders have concluded that they cannot wait until the Trump administration decides to deal more forcefully with Iran's growing use of Syria as a staging area for carrying out its expansionist Shiite Crescent strategy.  “Their overriding concern in Syria is the free reign that all the major players there seem willing to afford Iran and its various proxies in the country,” wrote Jonathan Spyer in an article for Foreign Policy. As long as nobody else is addressing the concern Iran’s growing control raises in a satisfactory manner, “Israel is determined to continue addressing it on its own.”

 

At least, Israel has a more sympathetic ear in the Trump administration than it did in the Obama administration for raising its concerns about Iran’s growing threat, not only to Israel but to U.S. interests in the region and beyond. President Trump’s sharp denunciation of the Iranian regime during his address to the UN General Assembly represented a welcome departure from the Obama administration’s milquetoast approach to Iran.

 

As the U.S.-led coalition continues to drive ISIS from its bases of operation in Syria, the Trump administration has proclaimed its intention not to allow Iran to turn Syria into its own satellite, as Iran has essentially done in Iraq. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said that the “so called liberation of areas by Assad’s forces and Iranian proxies could actually accelerate the cycle of violence and perpetuate conflict rather than get us to a sustainable outcome.” He claimed that the Trump administration’s “objectives are to weaken Iranian influence across the region broadly,” without discussing the means to accomplish those objectives. Whether the Trump administration follows through remains to be seen. In the meantime, Israel will have to deal with the fallout of Iran’s ambitions in Syria itself.

                                                                       

 

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WHY THERE IS NO PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Philip Carl Salzman

Gatestone Institute, Oct. 14, 2017

 

Living as an anthropologist in a herding camp of the Yarahmadzai tribe of nomadic pastoralists in the deserts of Iranian Baluchistan clarified some of the inhibitions to peace in the Middle East. What one sees is strong, kin-based, group loyalty defense and solidarity, and the political opposition of lineages, whether large or small. This raised the question how unity and peace could arrive in a system based on opposition.

 

Peace is not possible in the Middle East because values and goals other than peace are more important to Middle Easterners. Most important to Middle Easterners are loyalty to kin, clan, and cult, and the honour which is won by such loyalty. These are the cultural imperatives, the primary values, held and celebrated. When conflict arises and conflict-parties form based on loyal allegiance, the conflict is regarded as appropriate and proper.

 

The results of absolute commitment to kin and cult groups, and the structural opposition to all others, can be seen throughout Middle Eastern history, including contemporary events, where conflict has been rife. Turks, Arabs and Iranians have launched military campaigns to suppress Kurds. Meanwhile, Christians, Yazidis, Baha'is and Jews, among others, have been, and continue to be ethnically cleansed. Arabs and Persians, and Sunnis and Shiites, each try to gain power over the other in a competition that has been one of the main underlying factors of the Iraq-Iran war, the Saddam Hussein regime, and the current catastrophe in Syria. Turks invaded Greek Orthodox Cyprus in 1974 and have occupied it since. Multiple Muslim states have invaded the minuscule Jewish state of Israel three times, and Palestinians daily celebrate the murder of Jews.

 

Some Middle Easterners, and some in the West, prefer to attribute the problems of the Middle East to outsiders, such as Western imperialists, but it seems odd to suggest that the local inhabitants have no agency and no responsibility for their activities in this disastrous region, high not only in conflict and brutality, but low by all world standards in human development.

 

If one looks to local conditions to understand local conflicts, the first thing to understand is that Arab culture, through the ages and at the present time, has been built on the foundation of Bedouin tribal culture. Most of the population of northern Arabia at the time of the emergence of Islam was Bedouin, and during the period of rapid expansion following the adoption of Islam, the Arab Muslim army consisted of Bedouin tribal units. The Bedouin, nomadic and pastoral for the most part, were formed into tribes, which are regional defense and security groups.

 

Bedouin tribes were organized by basing groups on descent through the male line. Close relatives in conflict activated only small groups, while distant relatives in conflict activated large groups. If, for example, members of cousin groups were in conflict, no one else was involved. But if members of tribal sections were in conflict, all cousins and larger groups in a tribal section would unite in opposition to the other tribal section. So, what group a tribesmen thought himself a member of was circumstantial, depending on who was involved in a conflict.

 

Relations between descent groups were always oppositional in principle, with tribes as a whole seeing themselves in opposition to other tribes. The main structural relation between groups at the same genealogical and demographic level could be said to be balanced opposition. The strongest political norm among tribesmen was loyalty to, and active support of, one's kin group, small or large. One must always support closer kin against more distant kin. Loyalty was rewarded with honour. Not supporting your kin was dishonourable. The systemic result was often a stand-off, the threat of full scale conflict with another group of the same size and determination acting as deterrence against frivolous adventures. That there were not more conflicts than the many making up tribal history, is due to that deterrence…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]    

 

 

Contents

 

On Topic Links

 

The Fall of Kirkuk: An IRGC Production: Jonathan Spyer, Breaking Israel News, Oct. 22, 2017—Iraqi forces took Kirkuk city from the Kurds this week with hardly a shot fired. Twenty-two Kurdish fighters were killed in the sporadic and disorganized resistance, while seven Iraqi soldiers also lost their lives.

What Iraq’s Recent Moves Against Kurds Mean for Israel and Region: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 26, 2017—On Sunday, Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi began a historic visit to Saudi Arabia, where he is meeting the king of Saudi Arabia and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The U.S. is on a Collision Course with Iran in the Middle East: Liz Sly, Washington Post, Oct. 26, 2017—President Trump’s assertive new strategy toward Iran is already colliding with the reality of Tehran’s vastly expanded influence in the Middle East as a result of the Islamic State war.

Between the Iranian Threat and the Palestinian State Threat: Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen, Arutz Sheva, Oct. 22, 2017—The greatest threat to Israel’s existence is neither Shiite militias on the Golan border nor the Iranian nuclear threat, which are of physical and military nature.

 

 

 

SAUDI-IRAN PROXY WAR, AND OBAMA’S FECKLESSNESS, DESTABILIZES YEMEN, SYRIA, & BEYOND

Saudi-Egyptian Tensions: Rifts Within the “Camp of Stability” Serve Iran’s Interests: Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, BESA, Dec. 4, 2016 On July 31, 2015, the dominant player in Saudi Arabia today, Defense Minister (and the King's son) Muhammad Bin Salman, met Egyptian president Abd al-Fattah Sisi…

Iran and the Houthis of Yemen: Joseph Puder, Frontpage, Nov. 29, 2016 — Arab News has reported on November 23, 2016 that Yemen’s Houthi rebels and supporters of the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh are responsible for the killing of 9,646 civilians. 

How the Iranian-Saudi Proxy Struggle Tore Apart the Middle East: Max Fisher, New York Times, Nov. 19, 2016— Behind much of the Middle East’s chaos — the wars in Syria and Yemen, the political upheaval in Iraq and Lebanon and Bahrain — there is another conflict.

Western Leaders: Pressure Saudis to Give Christians Religious Rights: Hilal Khashan, The Hill, Nov. 1, 2016Bloomberg recently listed Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 42nd on its list of 50 Most Influential movers and shakers in finance.

 

On Topic Links

 

Saudi Arabia's Flawed "Vision 2030": Hilal Khashan, Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2017

Yemen is a Horror Show That Obama Used to Call a Success: Benny Avni, New York Post, Oct. 11, 2016

How Iranian Weapons are Ending Up in Yemen: Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Washington Post, Nov. 30, 2016

Iranian Missiles in Houthi Hands Threaten Freedom of Navigation in Red Sea: Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall, JCPA, Oct. 13, 2016

 

SAUDI-EGYPTIAN TENSIONS: RIFTS WITHIN

THE “CAMP OF STABILITY” SERVE IRAN’S INTERESTS

Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman                                                             

BESA, Dec. 4, 2016

 

On July 31, 2015, the dominant player in Saudi Arabia today, Defense Minister (and the King's son) Muhammad Bin Salman, met Egyptian president Abd al-Fattah Sisi and signed the Cairo Declaration, which pledged closer ties. On April 9, 2016, the Egyptian government declared – against strong opposition at home – that the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir would be restored to Saudi sovereignty.

 

This burgeoning relationship appears to have soured. On November 7, 2016, the Saudi authorities let it be known that they are indefinitely halting oil shipments that were to have been provided under a US$23 billion aid package agreed to during King Salman's visit to Cairo in April. This signaled in no uncertain terms that a dangerous rift has emerged between the two pillars of the "Camp of Stability" in the region.

 

Though the two countries have common enemies, important strategic differences have come to the fore, mainly on two points of regional policy. On Yemen, the Saudis – who, together with the Emiratis, have been fighting a long and bloody war to dislodge Iranian-backed Houthi forces – are bitter about the underwhelming Egyptian response to their calls for help. From their perspective, a Shiite stronghold in Yemen, heavily armed and actively supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), is a dagger pointed directly at the Hijaz and the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina. It is, in other words, an existential threat.

 

For the first time, the Saudis have engaged in active fighting in a neighboring state, with significant losses, rather than letting the US do their fighting for them. (The Obama administration, while willing to respond locally to a Houthi attack on US naval assets, has been careful to steer clear of the Yemeni conflict.) It is thus not surprising that Riyadh expects, and resents its failure to obtain, more effective support from the largest standing army in the region, beyond a limited involvement by the Egyptian Navy.

 

The Egyptians, in turn, raise an eyebrow at Saudi policy in Syria. They see Assad not as an Iranian agent busy murdering his own people, which is how he is viewed by Riyadh and most other Gulf states (including Qatar, whose policies are a source of serious concern in Cairo), but as an element of stability. He is a "devil we know," and his survival is preferable to the rise of an Islamic State or Muslim Brotherhood regime (which, for Sisi, would be as bad or worse). In the Egyptian view, the alternative to Assad’s rump state will not be a peaceful Syria but an even worse slaughterhouse than it is already. Saudi policies are thus causing growing concern in Cairo: not least because they coincide with the course set by Erdoğan, who remains a virulent opponent of Sisi's.

 

Quick to fish in these murky waters were the Russians, who endorse the Egyptian point of view. They are highly suspicious of the Saudis, primarily because the Saudi-produced glut in the oil markets is threatening Russia's economic future. This position explains Russia’s strategic embrace of Egypt, as well as of Sisi's surrogate in Libya, General Hiftar, who recently paid his second visit to Moscow in recent months. Military links between Egypt and Russia are tightening. While Cairo cannot afford to shed its dependence on American military aid, its developing relationship with Moscow is part of a general drift away from the firm US alliance that has marked Egyptian relations with the Obama administration since 2013.

 

The danger, not only for Israel, is that the Saudi-Egyptian rift will play into Iranian hands in Yemen, in Syria, and on other frontiers. The IRGC is vocal about Tehran’s revolutionary ambitions and the growing spread of its influence across the region. They now see one of their enemy camps cleaved in half. Moreover, the decline in Saudi aid to Egypt comes at a delicate moment. Sisi has devalued the Egyptian pound as part of the measures required for its IMF loan. Tensions are growing over shortages from baby formula to sugar. The potential consequences cannot be overstated. If Egypt were to sink into social and political chaos, the implications for the Mediterranean and beyond are unthinkable.

 

It should thus be a top priority for the incoming Trump administration (as neither side, unfortunately, has much trust in the outgoing administration) to work hard to patch up this rift. Each side must respond to the legitimate concerns of the other and restore coherence to the forces of stability as they face a mounting Iranian challenge.                                          

 

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IRAN AND THE HOUTHIS OF YEMEN                                                                                               

Joseph Puder                                                                                                       

Frontpage, Nov. 29, 2016

 

Arab News has reported on November 23, 2016 that Yemen’s Houthi rebels and supporters of the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh are responsible for the killing of 9,646 civilians. 8,146 of them men, 597 women, and 903 children, from January 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016 in 16 Yemeni provinces.  According to Shami Al-Daheri, a military analyst and strategic expert, the Houthis are being led by Iran and follow Tehran’s orders.  “They are moving in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria following Tehran’s orders.  If the country sees there is pressure on its supporters in Iraq, it issues orders to the Houthis in Yemen to carry out more criminal acts in order to divert attention and ease pressure on its proxies in these countries.”

 

The brutality of the Iran led campaign in Syria, and U.S. voices calling for some form of intervention, might have prompted Tehran to give the Houthis a green light to attack American naval ships. The Houthis fired three missiles at the U.S. Navy ship USS Mason last month, in all probability following Tehran’s orders. In retaliation, U.S. Navy destroyer USS Nitze launched Tomahawk cruise missiles, destroying three coastal radar sites in areas of Yemen controlled by the Houthis.  These radar installations were active during previous attacks, and attempted attacks on ships navigating the Red Sea. The USS Mason did not sustain any damage.  U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the top American commander in the Middle East, said that he suspected Iran’s Shiite Islamic Republic to be behind the twice launched missiles by the Houthi rebels against U.S. ships in the Red Sea.

 

Al-Arabiya TV (August 16, 2016) claimed that Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said that missiles made in Tehran were also recently used in Yemen by Houthi militias in cross border attacks against Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis it seems, were able to intercept the Iranian manufactured Zelzal-3 rockets, also delivered to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Assad regime forces in Syria.  The rockets were fired into the Saudi border city of Najran, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.  The Saudi-led coalition has been targeting the Houthis in an effort to restore the internationally-recognized Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

 

The conflict in Yemen has its recent roots in the failure of the political transition that was supposed to bring a measure of stability to Yemen following an uprising in November, 2011 (The Year of the Arab Spring) that forced its longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his deputy, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.  President Hadi had to deal with a variety of problems, including attacks by al-Qaeda, a separatist movement in the South, the loyalty of many of the army officers to the former President Saleh, as well as, unemployment, corruption, and food insecurity.

 

The Zaidi-Shiite Houthi minority captured Yemen’s capital Sanaa on September 21, 2014. They were helped by the Islamic Republic of Iran, who have provided the rebel Houthis with arms, training, and money.  As fellow Shiite-Muslims, the Houthis became another Iranian proxy harnessed to destabilize the Sunni-led Arab Gulf states, and Saudi Arabia.  Since 2004, the Houthis have fought the central government of Yemen from their stronghold of Saadah in northern Yemen.  The Houthis are named after Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who headed the insurgency in 2004 and was subsequently killed by Yemeni army forces.  The Houthis, who are allied with Ali Abdullah Saleh, against Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, the legitimate President of Yemen, have the support of many army units and control most of the north, including the capital, Sanaa.

 

The Houthis launched a series of military rebellions against Ali Abdullah Saleh in the previous decade. Recently, sensing the new president’s (Hadi) weakness, they took control of their Northern heartland of Saadah province and neighboring areas.  Disillusioned by the transition of power and Hadi’s weakness, many Yemenis, including Sunnis, supported the Houthi onslaught.  In January, 2015, the Houthis surrounded the Presidential palace in Sanaa, placing President Hadi and his cabinet under virtual house arrest. The following month, President Hadi managed to escape to the Southern port city of Aden…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link

 

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HOW THE IRANIAN-SAUDI PROXY STRUGGLE

TORE APART THE MIDDLE EAST                        

Max Fisher

New York Times, Nov. 19, 2016

 

Behind much of the Middle East’s chaos — the wars in Syria and Yemen, the political upheaval in Iraq and Lebanon and Bahrain — there is another conflict. Saudi Arabia and Iran are waging a struggle for dominance that has turned much of the Middle East into their battlefield. Rather than fighting directly, they wield and in that way worsen the region’s direst problems: dictatorship, militia violence and religious extremism.

 

The history of their rivalry tracks — and helps to explain — the Middle East’s disintegration, particularly the Sunni-Shiite sectarianism both powers have found useful to cultivate. It is a story in which the United States has been a supporting but constant player, most recently by backing the Saudi war in Yemen, which kills hundreds of civilians. These dynamics, scholars warn, point toward a future of civil wars, divided societies and unstable governments.

 

1979: A threatening revolution: Saudi Arabia, a young country pieced together only in the 1930s, has built its legitimacy on religion. By promoting its stewardship of the holy sites at Mecca and Medina, it could justify its royal family’s grip on power. Iran’s revolution, in 1979, threatened that legitimacy. Iranians toppled their authoritarian government, installing Islamists who claimed to represent “a revolution for the entire Islamic world,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

 

The revolutionaries encouraged all Muslims, especially Saudis, to overthrow their rulers as well. But because Iran is mostly Shiite, they “had the greatest influence with, and tended to reach out to, Shia groups,” Dr. Pollack said. Some Saudi Shiites, who make up about 10 percent of the population, protested in solidarity or even set up offices in Tehran — stoking Saudi fears of internal unrest and separatism. This was the opening shot in the sectarianization of their rivalry, which would encompass the whole region. “The Saudis have looked at Iran as a domestic threat from the get-go, from 1979,” Dr. Gause said. Seeing the threat as intolerable, they began looking for a way to strike back.

 

1980-88: The first proxy war: They found that way the next year, when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Iran, hoping to seize oil-rich territory. Saudi Arabia, Dr. Pollack said, “backed the Iraqis to the hilt because they want the Iranian revolution stopped.” The war, over eight years of trench warfare and chemical weapons attacks, killed perhaps a million people. It set a pattern of Iranian-Saudi struggle through proxies, and of sucking in the United States, whose policy is to maintain access to the vast oil and gas reserves that lie between the rivals.

 

The conflict’s toll exhausted Iran’s zeal for sowing revolution abroad, but gave it a new mission: to overturn the Saudi-led, American-backed regional order that Tehran saw as an existential threat. That sense of insecurity would later drive Iran’s meddling abroad, said Marc Lynch, a political scientist at George Washington University, and perhaps its missile and nuclear programs.

 

1989-2002: Setting up a powder keg: The 1990s provided a pause in the regional rivalry, but also set up the conditions that would allow it to later explode in such force. Saudi Arabia, wishing to contain Iran’s reach to the region’s minority Shiite populations, sought to harden Sunni-Shiite rifts. Government programs promoted “anti-Shia incitement in schools, Islamic universities, and the media,” Toby Matthiesen, an Oxford University scholar, wrote in a brief for the Carnegie Endowment. These policies, Dr. Matthiesen warned, cultivated sectarian fears and sometimes violence that would later feed into the ideology of the Islamic State.

 

In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, a Saudi ally. The United States, after expelling the Iraqis, established military bases in the region to defend its allies from Iraq. This further tilted the regional power balance against Iran, which saw the American forces as a threat. Iraq’s humiliating defeat also spurred many of its citizens to rise up, particularly in poorer communities that happened to be Shiite Arab. In response, Dr. Gause said, “Saddam’s regime became explicitly sectarian,” widening Sunni-Shiite divides to deter future uprisings. That allowed Iran, still worried about Iraq, to cultivate allies among Iraq’s increasingly disenfranchised Shiites, including militias that had risen up. Though it was not obvious at the time, Iraq had become a powder keg, one that would ignite when its government was toppled a decade later.

 

2003-04: The Iraqi vacuum opens: The 2003 American-led invasion, by toppling an Iraqi government that had been hostile to both Saudi Arabia and Iran, upended the region’s power balance. Iran, convinced that the United States and Saudi Arabia would install a pliant Iraqi government — and remembering the horrors they had inflicted on Iran in the 1980s — raced to fill the postwar vacuum. Its leverage with Shiite groups, which are Iraq’s largest demographic group, allowed it to influence Baghdad politics. Iran also wielded Shiite militias to control Iraqi streets and undermine the American-led occupation. But sectarian violence took on its own inevitable momentum, hastening the country’s slide into civil war.

 

Saudi Arabia sought to match Iran’s reach but, after years of oppressing its own Shiite population, struggled to make inroads with those in Iraq. “The problem for the Saudis is that their natural allies in Iraq,” Dr. Gause said, referring to Sunni groups that were increasingly turning to jihadism, “wanted to kill them.” This was the first sign that Saudi Arabia’s strategy for containing Iran, by fostering sectarianism and aligning itself with the region’s Sunni majority, had backfired. As Sunni governments collapsed and Sunni militias turned to jihadism, Riyadh would be left with few reliable proxies. As their competition in Iraq heated up, Saudi Arabia and Iran sought to counterbalance each other through another weak state: Lebanon.

 

2005-10: A new kind of proxy war: Lebanon provided the perfect opening: a frail democracy recovering from civil war, with parties and lingering militias primarily organized by religion. Iran and Saudi Arabia exploited those dynamics, waging a new kind of proxy struggle “not on conventional military battlefields,” Dr. Gause said, but “within the domestic politics of weakened institutional structures.” Iran, for instance, supported Hezbollah, the Shiite militia and political movement, which it had earlier cultivated to use against Israel. Riyadh, in turn, funneled money to political allies such as the Sunni prime minister, Rafik Hariri. By competing along Lebanon’s religious lines, they helped drive the Lebanese government’s frequent breakdowns, as parties relied on foreign backers who wanted to oppose one another more than build a functioning state…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]                                                    

 

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WESTERN LEADERS:

PRESSURE SAUDIS TO GIVE CHRISTIANS RELIGIOUS RIGHTS

                                           Hilal Khashan

                                           The Hill, Nov. 1, 2016

 

Bloomberg recently listed Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 42nd on its list of 50 Most Influential movers and shakers in finance. An Oct. 15 New York Times profile called him the "most dynamic royal" in Saudi Arabia, "a man who is trying to overturn tradition." Unfortunately, he's not trying hard enough.

 

Prince Mohammed, 31, is the public face behind Saudi Vision 2030, a 15-year plan of regulatory, budget, and policy reforms unveiled in April. It is designed to build a "prosperous and sustainable economic future" for the kingdom by reducing dependence on oil exports and implementing a privatization program that will supposedly create a sovereign wealth fund of more than $2 trillion, the world's largest.

 

Acutely aware of its growing need for Western capital investment and technology, the kingdom has shown small signs of reducing its horrendous violations of political and civil liberties, such as granting women limited suffrage, and improving government transparency. The Saudis are today even willing acknowledge the role their kingdom played in creating Al-Qaeda and other Islamist currents. "We did not own up to it after 9/11 because we feared you would abandon or treat us as the enemy," one senior Saudi official told Politico. "And we were in denial."

 

But there is one area where no reform appears to be in the offing. As the kingdom embarks on a revolutionary project to reduce its dependence on oil and increase direct foreign investment, it does not seem to appreciate the importance of religious tolerance in a society trying to open its economy to the world. In recent weeks, the Saudi authorities deported 27 Lebanese Christians for the crime of conducting non-Islamic prayers, the kingdom's religious police ordered a clothing outlet to cover the U.K. flag on the logo of British International School uniforms because it displays the Christian cross, and a video surfaced of a leading Saudi cleric calling on God to grant mujahideen (jihadists) in Syria and Iraq "victory over the godless Rafidah (Shia Muslims) … the treacherous Jews, and over the spiteful Christians" in a sermon at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

 

As William McCants of the Brookings Institution recently told Politifact, "official Saudi textbooks teach that Christians are seeking to destroy the religion and must be hated as a consequence." Despite the fact that 1.5 to 2 million Christians, mostly Filipino and other southeast Asian expatriates, live and work in the kingdom, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that does not allow the building of churches or even the open practice of Christian religious rites. Most expatriates live in loneliness away from their families and loved ones. Restrictions on their freedom to worship compounds this isolation.

 

The Saudis can take advantage of poor Christian workers (and those of other faiths) because their remittance dependent governments lack negotiating leverage. While there is little that labor-intensive Asian societies can do to pressure Riyadh to extend full religious rights to Christian workers, there is a lot that the West can do. So long as the Saudis depend on Western capital investment and advanced technology, the United States is uniquely positioned to press for greater religious freedoms for Christians and other non-Muslims.

 

While it may be unrealistic to expect this from the White House, the U.S. Congress has shown greater willingness to challenge Saudi Arabia as of late. The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which would strip away the "sovereign immunity" of foreign governments against terrorism lawsuits, has passed both houses of Congress, with the Senate overriding President Obama's veto last month. Another bipartisan bill was introduced earlier this month to block the recently-proposed sale of Abrams tanks and other military equipment to the kingdom until its human rights record improves.

 

It's time for the United States and other Western governments to tell the Saudis that business-as-usual relations cannot continue unless their kingdom puts in place the building blocks of religious tolerance and pluralism. Saudi officials may bitterly object, but those who are fighting for real reform inside the kingdom need this ultimatum to win out over hardliners.

 

Contents         

  

On Topic Links

 

Saudi Arabia's Flawed "Vision 2030": Hilal Khashan, Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2017—The dramatic drop in oil prices has depleted Saudi Arabia's cash reserves by a whopping US$150 billion and driven the ruling family to contrive hastily a financial rescue plan. On April 25, 2016, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman announced the "Vision 2030" plan to revolutionize the Saudi economy by ending its dependency on oil.

Yemen is a Horror Show That Obama Used to Call a Success: Benny Avni, New York Post, Oct. 11, 2016—Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries, has become a battlefield for the Mideast’s most vicious rivalries. That’s bad for Yemenis, bad for the region and bad for us.

How Iranian Weapons are Ending Up in Yemen: Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Washington Post, Nov. 30, 2016—Weapon shipments intercepted in the Arabian sea by Australian, French and U.S. warships this year contained large quantities of Russian and Iranian weapons, some of which had markings similar to munitions recovered from Houthi fighters in Yemen, according to a new report released by an independent research group Wednesday.

Iranian Missiles in Houthi Hands Threaten Freedom of Navigation in Red Sea: Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall, JCPA, Oct. 13, 2016—Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have been waging war against the Yemeni army and the Saudi-led Arab coalition in Yemen for several years. Since the beginning of October 2016, the conflict has assumed a new naval and international dimension that could endanger civilian freedom of navigation in the Red Sea’s Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which serves as a gateway for oil tankers headed to Europe through the Suez Canal.

 

 

 

MIDDLE EAST ISSUES: SYRIAN WAR, & SUNNI-SHIA CONFLICT, REFLECT A REGION PLAGUED BY GEOPOLITICAL TURMOIL AND SECTARIANISM

The Syrian Cauldron Boils Over: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 19, 2016— Over the ruined landscape of northern Syria, a number of core factors that today define the strategic reality of the Middle East are colliding.

Shiites vs. Sunnis: A Region at War: Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, BESA, Jan. 24, 2016— Three very important events took place recently in the Sunni-Shiite battle of titans being waged across the eastern part of the Arab world, the region between Turkey to the north, Saudi Arabia to the south, and Iran in the east.

Sunni vs Shiite: A Cold War Simmers in an Ancient Hatred: Amb. Zvi Mazel, JCPA, Ja

n. 10, 2016— The roots of the crisis are to be found in the long-standing feud between Sunni and Shiite, which dates from the very beginning of Islam.

Israel Looks Beyond America: Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 15, 2016 — Talk to Israelis about the United States these days and you will provoke a physical reaction.  Barack Obama is an eye roll.

 

On Topic Links

 

Crime, Punishment and Foreign Policy: Prager U, Feb. 1, 2016

The Saudi/Iranian Tug-of-War: Joshua Teitelbaum, Middle East Forum, Feb. 16, 2016

Saudi Arabia, Russia to Freeze Oil Output Near Record Levels: Mohammed Sergie, Bloomberg, Feb. 16, 2016

New Permutations in the Mideast “Game of Camps”: Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, BESA, Jan. 17, 2016

         

                             

                                 THE SYRIAN CAULDRON BOILS OVER

           Jonathan Spyer            

   Jerusalem Post, Feb. 19, 2016

 

Over the ruined landscape of northern Syria, a number of core factors that today define the strategic reality of the Middle East are colliding. Close observation of that blighted area therefore offers clues as to the current state of play more broadly in the region – who is on the way up, who on the way down, and what might this imply for Israel in the short to medium term. Let's identify the factors interacting discernibly in the north Syrian maelstrom:

 

Firstly and most importantly, the Russian intervention which began on September 30, 2015 and which is now rolling across northwestern Syria announces the arrival of a growing de facto alliance between Moscow and the Islamic Republic of Iran. This alliance currently works to the benefit of both parties, in spite of the clear difference of interests and sometime tension between them.

 

In Syria, the abilities and needs of the Russian and Iranians are complementary. Russia brings an air capacity to the Syrian battlefield against which the Sunni Arab rebels are effectively helpless. The tightening grip around Aleppo and the crossing of the Azaz corridor are the main results of this so far. But air power is of limited use without a committed ground partner. The Russians for domestic reasons have no  desire to become bogged down in a large-scale commitment of Russian ground troops. Russia's air power and Iran's ability to mobilize sectarian paramilitaries complement each other perfectly.

 

The Iranians lack anything close to the Russian ability in the air. But what they possess, via the skills of the Qods Force of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, is a currently matchless ability to create and mobilize sectarian paramilitary proxies, and then to move them to where needed across the regional chessboard. Hence, the ground partner for Russian air power in northern Syria is today not only or mainly the Syrian Arab Army of Bashar Assad. Rather, Lebanese Hizballah, the Iraqi Shia Badr Brigade, the Afghan Shia Fatemiyun and IRGC personnel themselves are all playing a vital role.

 

It is not at all clear that this alliance will be able or even willing to complete the reconquest of the entirety of Syria – which remains the goal of the regime as stated by Bashar Assad last week. However, it will certainly be able to preserve the Assad regime from destruction, and may yet deliver a deathblow to the non-IS rebels in the northwest, center and south west of the country.

 

The potency of this emergent Russian-Iranian alliance is made possible only by the willed absence of the United States from the arena. Russia felt confident enough to launch its attempt to destroy the rebellion because it calculated that the prospect of the United States extending its own air cover westwards to protect the rebels (whose goal it ostensibly supports) was sufficiently close to zero. The Obama administration appears strategically committed to staying out. The US and its allies are making slow progress against the Islamic State. But west of the Euphrates, the United States is an irrelevance. Russian-Iranian gains are made possible by the willed absence of the United States from the Syrian arena.

 

This brings us to the third salient factor apparent in the situation in northern Syria: namely, the relative impotence of the Sunni powers when faced with the superior force of Russia. The Russian advance eastwards in Aleppo province and the disinclination of the United States to prevent it presents the Sunni state backers of the rebellion in Syria with two equally unpalatable alternatives. These are: to acquiesce in the face of superior force and thus face the prospect of the final eclipse of the Sunni Arab rebellion in Syria, or to seek to confront the Russian/Iranian/regime side head on, and thus face the prospect of head on collision with a major world power, without any guarantee of western support. These are the stark alternatives. It isn't possible of course to predict with certainty which one the Saudis and Turks will choose. But the likelihood is that they will opt for the former, while engaging in face saving exercises to prevent this from being too obvious.

 

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jbeir told a press conference in Riyadh this week that "The Kingdom's readiness to provide special forces to any ground operations in Syria is linked to a decision to have a ground component to this coalition against Daesh (Islamic State) in Syria – this U.S.-led coalition – so the timing is not up to us." The Turks, meanwhile, evidently canvassed their allies over the possibility of a joint ground incursion into northern Syria. But finding no enthusiasm, they appear currently content with shelling the positions of the Kurdish YPG south of the key border town of Azaz. Turkish officials speaking in Istanbul this week appeared to rule out a unilateral incursion.

 

The fourth regional factor apparent in northern Syria is the contraction of the state and collapse and fragmentation of the 'nation' in Syria, and the salience of ethnic and sectarian organizations in the war over their ruins. The remaining rebel forces in northern Syria are entirely dominated by Sunni Islamist groups. The remaining 'rebel forces' in northern Syria today are entirely dominated by Sunni Islamist and jihadi groups. The collapse of the state, and the apparent inability of Arab politics at the popular level to generate anything other than forces aligned with political Islam is a profoundly important component of the current reality both of Syria and of the wider region.

 

This fragmentation is also giving birth to more potent forces. In this regard, the Syrian Kurdish performance both militarily and politically is worthy of note. Militarily, the YPG remains one of the most powerful forces engaged. Politically, the Kurds appear currently to be performing a balancing act whereby east of the Euphrates they partner with US air power against the Islamic State, while west of the river, they seek to unite the Afrin and Kobani cantons in partnership with Russian air power against the Turkish backed rebels – with the acquiescence of both powers.

 

So put all this together and you have a fair approximation of the current state of the Middle East, as reflected in miniature in the cauldron that is northern Syria: emergent Iranian-Russian strategic alliance, US non-involvement, hapless US-aligned Sunni powers flailing as a result of this absence, state fragmentation, the emergence of powerful 'successor' entities, the domination of Arab politics at a popular level by Sunni political Islam and the emergence of the Kurds as a militarily able and politically savvy local power.

 

As for Israel – it is mainly watching and waiting. But the fact that the historic maelstrom sweeping the region has not yet managed to make a major impact on the daily lives of those – Jew and Arab – living west of the Jordan River offers a certain testimony to the cautious and prudent policies pursued by Jerusalem. In the Syrian, and the broader regional cauldron, you're either one of the cooks – or you're on the menu. As of now, Israel appears to be managing to stay in the former category.

                                                           

 

Contents

SHIITES VS. SUNNIS: A REGION AT WAR

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror                                     

       BESA, Jan. 24, 2016

 

Three very important events took place recently in the Sunni-Shiite battle of titans being waged across the eastern part of the Arab world, the region between Turkey to the north, Saudi Arabia to the south, and Iran in the east.

 

The most important event is the removal of sanctions from Iran. As part of a process that began when the agreement on its nuclear program was signed, Iran is returning to the world with an American stamp of approval as a regional power. Iranian intellectuals understood this as soon as the interim deal was signed between Iran and the world powers in November 2013 and explained at conferences throughout the world that that recognition was a clear right of the Iranians given their country's importance, strength, history, and achievements in the region in general and in the nuclear negotiations in particular.

 

Doubtless, this sense of power and international legitimacy in Iran jumped following the final nuclear deal and the removal of sanctions this week. This means that from now on, Iran will keep growing economically and militarily while living up to the agreement, as least until its economy improves significantly. During this upcoming period, Iran will behave like a regional power, and anyone who does not accept its status will have to deal with its increasing power and the strength of its emissaries in the region.

 

The American move in making the deal, and its ramifications for Iran's stature, serve as a kind of proof for the Sunnis of an American decision to align with the Shiite side of the struggle. Moreover, Sunni heads of state see it an American license, if not an overt one, for Iran to take more aggressive action that will pose a risk to the Sunni world, led by Saudi Arabia.

 

The second-most important event was the response of the Saudis. The Kingdom executed a Shiite preacher who was imprisoned after a trial (the sentence was handed down a year and a half ago) to send a clear message to the Iranians, as well as to Saudi Arabia's own allies in the Sunni world, that Riyadh would not give up on its fight against the Iranian Shiites – certainly not when it comes to Iran's attempts to attack Saudi Arabia's intactness by stirring up its Shiite minority. This decision was similar in principle to an earlier Saudi decision to employ force in Yemen and battle against the Houthis, whom the Saudis perceived as agents of Iran.

 

Saudi Arabia has undoubtedly changed its behavior under its new king, Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, and steered by his son Mohammed‎ bin Salman, the country's 30-year-old defense minister. This means that Saudi Arabia is prepared to take risks and pay prices that it was not prepared to pay in the past. In this case, the price of severing relations with Iran, a step the Saudis decided to take after Iranian demonstrators set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran in protest over the execution of the Shiite preacher…

 

The third event slipped under the radar of most of the Israeli media. This was an announcement by Pakistan made during a visit to that country by the Saudi defense minister and heir to the throne. The host declared that Pakistan would respond severely to any attack on Saudi Arabia. This declaration is of utmost importance, since this is the only Muslim country that has nuclear weapons. It is generally accepted that Pakistan has a special obligation to Saudi Arabia in the field of nuclear weapons, because Saudi Arabia funded part of Pakistan's investment in and development of a nuclear bomb.

 

Whether or not that is true, the Pakistani threat comprises an interesting development. Thus far, Pakistan's nuclear weapons have been portrayed as an element of the conflict between Pakistan and India, and now all of a sudden they're being used in a Middle Eastern context, in a conflict between the Shiite superpower and the entity who wants to be perceived as its Sunni counterpart. This is a real change in the balance of power throughout the entire Middle East. If Pakistan moves from a one-time declaration to actual intervention in these tussles, the regional balance of power will change, but past experience indicates that they will be very careful about committing themselves.

 

What will be the ramifications of the intensifying conflict? First, it is quite clear that it will be much harder to deal with the war in Syria properly. That war is not just a civil war between different factions of Syrian society. It is a war between Shiites and Sunnis, with Iran standing behind one side and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and Turkey, to a certain extent, backing the other. Even if there were some agreement in Syria about peace talks, which is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future, Iran and Saudi Arabia will not take any steps toward each other, so the Syria war will continue. The Iranians will also seek out Saudi Arabia's soft underbelly, probably via the many Shiites in Saudi Arabia and in some Gulf states, and the Saudis will respond with all their strength, mainly through economic and other forms of aid to anyone in the Middle East who opposes the Shiites…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

 

                                                           

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SUNNI VS SHIITE: A COLD WAR SIMMERS IN AN ANCIENT HATRED

Amb. Zvi Mazel            

                                                JCPA, Jan. 10, 2016

 

The roots of the crisis are to be found in the long-standing feud between Sunni and Shiite, which dates from the very beginning of Islam. The execution of Nimr al-Nimr, a Shiite cleric and bitter opponent of the Saudi regime who regularly and publicly insulted the royal family, has triggered an unprecedented crisis between Tehran and Riyadh. Though it was not totally unexpected given the present geopolitical turmoil in the Middle East, the roots of the crisis are to be found in the long-standing feud between Sunni and Shiite, which dates from the very beginning of Islam.

 

The Prophet Mohammad wanted all Arab tribes to remain united, but the battle for his successor left Islam torn between Sunni and Shiite, though both believe in the prophet and in the Koran and aspire to impose the rule of Islam on the entire world. Each developed their own narrative and their own ethos, which leaves no room for compromise or reconciliation.

 

Following historical ups and downs, Sunni Islam, with Saudi Arabia as its leader, today accounts for 85 percent of all Muslims while Shiite Islam, spearheaded by Iran, musters the remaining 15 percent. The Sunni block, however, is no longer monolithic. There are a number of radical organizations – from al-Qaida to Islamic State and some 40 smaller groups – aiming to use force to restore the caliphate through jihad. They are generally lumped under the name of Islamist or jihadist radical Islamic organizations. Like main stream Sunnis, their teachings are based on the Shari’a, perhaps professing stricter observation.

 

Meanwhile, in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who came to power in 1979, launched a new drive to impose Shiite Islam on the whole Middle East as a first step to be followed by a world takeover. He called on Shiite minorities in Sunni states to act against these states to destabilize them from within and eventually topple them and set up a Shiite regime in their stead, thereby securing Iran’s position as regional power.

 

Syria, ruled by the Alawites and hitherto shunned by mainstream Sunni, was given legitimacy by the Ayatollahs and became Teheran’s willing ally. Building on the frustrations of the Shiite in Lebanon, which complained of discrimination, Iran set up the Hizbullah with a three-pronged objective: taking over the country, threatening Israel and developing subversive activities in Jordan and Egypt. In 2008, Egyptian authorities exposed a Hizbullah cell that planned an attack on the Suez Canal; today Hizbullah fighters are helping Assad in Syria at Tehran’s bidding.

 

In the Gulf, Saudi Arabia is the main bulwark of Sunni Islam against Iran’s subversive activities and, as such, is considered that country’s arch-enemy. The kingdom has a number of unassailable assets. Both of Islam’s holiest sites – Mecca and Medina – are situated in its territory; it has the largest oil reserves in the world, and it is – or was – both friend and ally of the United States.

 

Once again, Tehran resorted to subversion, inciting Shiite minorities in the area. Iran did not hesitate to proclaim that Bahrain, where there is a Shiite majority though the country, as Iran’s 14th province despite the fact that Bahrain is ruled by the Sunni Al Khalifa family. Egypt’s then-president Hosni Mubarak rushed to Bahrain’s capital Manama to demonstrate to the Iranians that security in the Gulf was an essential component of Egyptian national security. In 2011, soon after Mubarak was ousted during the so-called Arab Spring, violent manifestations threatened to topple the regime in Bahrain, as well. Saudi Arabia and other Emirate countries sent troops to help quell the revolt…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

                                                                              

 

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ISRAEL LOOKS BEYOND AMERICA

Bret Stephens                                                                                      

Wall Street Journal, Feb. 15, 2016

 

Talk to Israelis about the United States these days and you will provoke a physical reaction.  Barack Obama is an eye roll.  John Kerry is a grimace. The administration’s conduct of regional policy is a slow, sad shake of the head. The current state of the presidential race makes for a full-blown shudder. The Israeli rundown of the candidates goes roughly as follows: “Hillary—she doesn’t like us.” “Cruz—I don’t like him.” “Rubio—is he done for?” “Sanders—oy vey.” “Trump—omigod.”

As for Israel’s own troubles—a continuing Palestinian campaign of stabbings; evidence that Hamas is rebuilding its network of terror tunnels under the Gaza border and wants to restart the 2014 war; more than 100,000 rockets and guided missiles in the hands of Hezbollah—that’s just the Middle East being itself. It’s the U.S. not being itself that is the real novelty, and is forcing Israel to adjust.

 

I’ve spent the better part of a week talking to senior officials, journalists, intellectuals and politicians from across Israel’s political spectrum. None of it was on the record, but the consistent theme is that, while the Jewish state still needs the U.S., especially in the form of military aid, it also needs to diversify its strategic partnerships. This may yet turn out to be the historic achievement of Benjamin Netanyahu’s long reign as prime minister.

 

On Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon publicly shook hands with former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal at the Munich Security Conference. In January, Israeli cabinet member Yuval Steinitz made a trip to Abu Dhabi, where Israel is opening an office at a renewable-energy association. Turkey is patching up ties with Israel. In June, Jerusalem and Riyadh went public with the strategic talks between them. In March, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi told the Washington Post that he speaks to Mr. Netanyahu “a lot.”

 

This de facto Sunni-Jewish alliance amounts to what might be called the coalition of the disenchanted; states that have lost faith in America’s promises. Israel is also reinventing its ties to the aspiring Startup Nations, countries that want to develop their own innovation cultures.  In October, Israel hosted Indian President  Pranab Mukherjee for a three-day state visit; New Delhi, once a paragon of the nonaligned movement that didn’t have diplomatic ties to Israel for four decades, is about to spend $3 billion on Israeli arms. Japanese Prime Minister  Shinzo Abe, who is personally close to Mr. Netanyahu, sees Israel as a model for economic reinvention. Chinese investment in Israel hit $2.7 billion last year, up from $70 million in 2010. In 2014, Israel’s exports to the Far East for the first time exceeded those to the U.S.

 

Then there is Europe—at least the part of it that is starting to grasp that it can’t purchase its security in the coin of Israeli insecurity. Greece’s left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras used to lead anti-Israel protests. But Greece needs Israeli gas, so he urges cooperation on terrorism and calls Jerusalem Israel’s “historic capital.” In the U.K., Prime Minister David Cameron’s government is moving to prevent local councils from passing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) measures against Israel.

 

All this amounts to another Obama administration prediction proved wrong. “You see for Israel there’s an increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up,” Mr. Kerry warned grimly in 2014. “There are talks of boycotts and other kinds of things. Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100%, cannot be maintained.” Except when the likely alternatives to the lousy status quo are worse. Over the weekend, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power came to Jerusalem to preach the virtues of a two-state solution. Her case would be unarguable if the Palestinian state to be created alongside Israel were modeled on Costa Rica—democratic, demilitarized, developing, friendly to outsiders.

 

But the likelier model is Gaza, or Syria. Why should Israelis be expected to live next to that? How would that help actual living Palestinians, as opposed to the perpetual martyrs of left-wing imagination? And why doesn’t the U.S. insist that Palestinian leaders prove they are capable of decently governing a state before being granted one?

 

Those are questions Mr. Obama has been incapable of asking himself, lest a recognition of facts intrude on the narrative of a redemptive presidency. But a great power that cannot recognize the dilemmas of its allies soon becomes useless as an ally, and it becomes intolerable if it then turns its strategic ignorance into a moral sermon. more than one Israeli official I spoke with recalled that the country managed to survive the years before 1967 without America’s strategic backing, and if necessary it could do so again. Nations that must survive typically do. The more important question is how much credibility the U.S. can afford to squander before the loss becomes irrecoverable.

 

 

On Topic

 

Crime, Punishment and Foreign Policy: Prager U, Feb. 1, 2016 —Is there a middle ground between the aggressive foreign policy of the Bush Administration and the passive and hesitant foreign policy of the Obama Administration? Yes, and New York City is a model. How so? Bret Stephens, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Wall Street Journal, explains how the NYPD's "broken windows" policy–swiftly and forcefully punishing even petty crimes–can be applied by the United States on a global scale.

The Saudi/Iranian Tug-of-War: Joshua Teitelbaum, Middle East Forum, Feb. 16, 2016 —Saudi Arabia's recent execution of the prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr sparked a sharp crisis between the desert kingdom and its Iranian neighbor that can be best understood in the context of the historic Sunni-Shiite rivalry.

Saudi Arabia, Russia to Freeze Oil Output Near Record Levels: Mohammed Sergie, Bloomberg, Feb. 16, 2016—Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed to freeze oil output at near-record levels, the first coordinated move by the world’s two largest producers to counter a slump that has pummeled economies, markets and companies.

New Permutations in the Mideast “Game of Camps”: Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, BESA, Jan. 17, 2016—The first few days of 2016 have already provided fresh evidence of the changing dynamics of the regional balance of power. The escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are the most salient aspect of a larger drama now unfolding across a broad landscape – from Yemen to Syria and from the Gulf to Libya.

 

                        

 

 

 

                  

 

 

 

ISRAEL OIL & GAZ FINDS PORTEND MAJOR GEO-POLITICAL SHIFT AS ARABISM DECLINES & ISLAMISTS TAKE THE MIDDLE EAST

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Looking Beyond Jan. 22: Gerald M. Steinberg, Jerusalem Report, Dec. 26, 2012—Israel is always seemingly on the verge or in the middle of a crisis and, usually, more than one. In 2012, we focused on the life-and-death questions related to a possible military attack to halt Iran’s illegal efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

 

Israel Has No Other Alternative But the Alternative it Has is a Good One: Barry Rubin, Rubin Report, Dec. 10, 2012—The Palestinian leadership, abetted by many Western governments, has now torn up every agreement it made with Israel. Once the efforts of two decades of negotiations were destroyed, the world has decided to focus the blame on Israel approving the construction of 3000 apartments.

 

Israel’s Emergence As Energy Superpower Making Waves: Walter Russell Mead, American Interest, July 2, 2012—The ability of the Arab governments to influence political opinion in Europe and the rest of the world is likely to decline as more oil and gas resources appear — and as Israel emerges as an important supplier. We could be heading toward a time when the world just doesn’t care all that much what happens around the Persian Gulf. The emerging new energy picture in Israel has the potential to be one of the biggest news developments of the next ten years. Potentially, the energy revolution and the change in Israel’s outlook has more geopolitical implications than the Arab Spring.

 

On Topic Links

 

 

Arabism Is Dead! Long Live…?: Barry Rubin, Rubin Report, Jan. 20, 2012

Why Sunni Islamism is The World’s Greatest Threat: Barry Rubin, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 26, 2012

The Promise of the Arab Spring: Sheri Berman, Foreign Affairs, January, 2013

The Israeli Public on Security and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Dec. 2012

Israel Should Annex the Jordan Valley: Michael Harris, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 2, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

LOOKING BEYOND JAN. 22

Gerald M. Steinberg

Jerusalem Report, Dec. 26, 2012

 

Israel is always seemingly on the verge or in the middle of a crisis and, usually, more than one. In 2012 (and much of 2011), we focused on the life-and-death questions related to a possible military attack to halt Iran’s illegal efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

 

The debate brought out visible (and probably exaggerated) differences between Jerusalem and Washington, as highlighted in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s UN speech in September and in the US election campaign. Of late, the dispute has been narrowed and the heat on this issue has been lowered, at least temporarily, but it will return very soon.

As Iran receded temporarily, the perpetual Gaza/Hamas crisis resumed, with escalating rocket attacks on southern Israel, triggering another IDF operation. In this case, there was total harmony between Netanyahu, US President Barack Obama and even most of Europe’s fickle political leadership.

 

But this harmony was very short-lived, and the diplomatic isolation resumed as the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the unilateral Palestinian statehood strategy. The Netanyahu government, in the midst of an election campaign, responded with its own unilateralism, through noisy announcements of plans to increase building around Jerusalem – most notably an area known as E1. This brought the predictable condemnations, including blunt attacks from the Obama Administration and its surrogates in the editorial pages of The New York Times. Even Canada, whose government takes a consistent moral and principled position on Israeli issues, felt obliged to criticize this move.

 

These events reinforced the political isolation of Israel, particularly in Europe, where much of the media, academic community, charities, church groups and others promote the delegitimization of Israel and Jewish national sovereignty….Although European governments officially oppose delegitimization, the campaigns are led by NGOs…and charities receiving taxpayer funds (estimated at 100 million euros annually) via top-secret processes.

 

The funding frameworks were established to promote human rights, peace, democracy, and humanitarian aid, but have been widely abused, and lack parliamentary and other oversight. All of this activity took place against a backdrop of renewed political turmoil in Egypt, a vicious civil war in Syria, instability in Jordan, and other changes that have altered the regional context in an unrecognizable and unprecedented manner.

 

The era of hostile but predictable behaviour from the closed and corrupt totalitarian regimes was abruptly ended by what was euphemistically called “the Arab Spring.” Instead, Israel is now faced with an entirely unpredictable and chaotic regional environment, including along its immediate borders. Taken together, the potential foreign policy challenges might appear to be overwhelming. At the same time, there are also some new opportunities that might allow the post-election government to navigate through the earthquake zone, and come out on the other side with some distinct improvements in the political and diplomatic environment.…

 

The management of relations between Israel and the United States remains the key to almost everything else, and here, the pundits who have predicted continued and unprecedented friction due to the personal differences between Obama and Netanyahu should be taken with many grains of salt. With so much at stake for both nations, personalities are largely irrelevant. There is good evidence that close cooperation in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons will increase, despite legitimate differences over details….

 

Maintaining this coordination is very important, but may be complicated by internal instability in Egypt. As developments unfold, Israel will need to emphasize flexibility and be prepared for many scenarios. As long as Morsi, or subsequent Egyptian leaders, recognize the country’s dependence on massive American economic aid, and on stability and tacit cooperation with Israel, Israel should be able to manage this relationship successfully….

 

Turning to Syria, the end of the Assad regime will be a crushing defeat for Iran, and will also greatly weaken Hezbollah’s position in Lebanon. However,…the aftermath is likely to pose numerous threats to vital interests. Syria might disintegrate into fortified cantons, with the largest led by radical Sunni jihadists. This could lead to increased instability along the Golan Heights, including terror attacks….

 

Amidst this demanding agenda, immediately after the election and coalition formation, massive pressure will be exerted for resuming the “peace process” (in which the emphasis is often more on process than on peace) with what remains of President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority (or pseudo-state). At least in theory, a more pro-active approach would diminish friction with Europe, the US, and much of the world.

 

Critics will argue that the sources of the conflict have not changed since November 29, 1947, and any Israeli concessions and “risks for peace” will be the springboard for the next effort to “wipe Israel off the map.” Instead of Gamal Nasser and Yasser Arafat, these objectives are being pursued by Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, backed by Iran. Israelis remember the high costs of failure in the Oslo process and the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.

 

Nevertheless, the pressure from the US, echoed by Europe, is very likely to lead to negotiations focusing on a partial construction freeze, and, if the process continues, transfer of some land and removal of settlements. This will require a government with sufficient support necessary to overcome fierce internal opposition.

 

To justify such moves, Israel will demand that Palestinians really end incitement, and not only pay lip service; halt the political war, including BDS and lawfare campaigns; acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel as the Jewish nation-state and Jerusalem as its capital; and agree that resolution of refugee claims will take place in the negotiated boundaries of any Palestinian state. From the US and Europe, Israel will seek official recognition of the Sharon-Bush parameters, with the “consensus blocs,” including those in and near Jerusalem, and secure borders….

 

With so many dimensions, Israel’s foreign policy agenda will be taxed to the limit and beyond. Coping with developments on Iran, the complexities of relations with the United States, regional revolutions and counter-revolutions, preventing the rearmament of Hamas, political warfare from Europe, and Palestinian negotiations will result in inevitable crises, each with its own magnitude and complexities. At least, in this sense, some things never change.

 

 

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ISRAEL HAS NO OTHER ALTERNATIVE BUT
THE ALTERNATIVE IT HAS IS A GOOD ONE

Barry Rubin

Rubin Reports, December 10, 2012

 

The Palestinian leadership, abetted by many Western governments, has now torn up every agreement it made with Israel. Once the efforts of two decades of negotiations—including irrevocable Israeli compromises in giving the Palestinian Authority control over territory, its own armed forces, dismantling settlements, and permitting billions of dollars of foreign aid to the Palestinians—were destroyed, the world has decided to focus the blame on Israel approving the construction of 3000 apartments….

 

What is shocking is not just that this has happened but there has been no discussion much less hesitation by dozens of countries to destroy an agreement that they hitherto supported. Indeed, a study of the history of this agreement shows clearly that the Palestinian side prevented the accord from succeeding, most obviously by permitting and carrying out continuing terrorism and rejecting Israeli offers for a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem both in the 2000 Camp David summit and in the ensuing offer conveyed by President Bill Clinton at the end of that year….

 

They have rewarded the party that refused to make peace. They have rewarded the side that rejected the offer of a state and pursued violence instead, cheering the murder of Israeli civilians. They have removed the framework on the basis of which Israel made numerous risky concessions including letting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians enter the West Bank and Gaza Strip; establish a government; obtain billions of dollars of money; created military organizations that have been used to attack Israel; establish schools and other institutions which call and teach for Israel’s destruction; and a long list of other things.

 

As a result of these concessions, terrorists were able to strike into Israel. Today, Hamas and its allies can fire thousands of rockets into Israel. Israel has paid for the 1993 deal; the Palestinian Authority has only taken what it has wanted. Abbas Zaki, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, was one of many who stated that the Oslo Accords have now ceased to exist. What then governs the situation and Israel-Palestinian (Palestine?) relations? Nothing.  There is, for example, no standing for any claim that the Palestinian side has recognized—much less accepted—Israel’s existence. Indeed, a “one-state solution” is daily advocated by Palestinian leaders.

 

Yet the world’s outrage is reserved for Israel’s announcement that 3000 apartments will be constructed on land claimed by Israel on the West Bank, all built on settlements whose existence until a bilateral agreement was reached was accepted by the PLO and the Palestinian Authority.…

 

Again, what’s important here is not to complain about the unfairness of international life, the hypocrisy of those involved, and the double standards applied against Israel. This is the reality of the situation and must be the starting point for considering what to do….[W]hat’s important is to do that which is necessary to preserve Israel’s national security and to ignore to the greatest possible extent anything that subverts it.

 

What has experience taught us? Very simply this: The Palestinian leadership's priority is not on getting a state of their own–they have missed many opportunities to do so–but to gain total victory. No matter how much you might think it is rational for them to seek to have a country living peacefully alongside Israel forever as it develops its economy and culture and resettles refugees out of the camps they do not think so. And that's all that's important….

 

What has the world's behavior taught us? Very simply this: Nothing we can do will suffice. If Israel were to accept unconditionally a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with its capital in east Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority would then demand that all Palestinians who so wished and had an ancestor living there before 1948 must be admitted to Israel with full voting and all other rights. And then what would the UN do?

 

What has diplomacy taught us? That the other side will not keep commitments and those guaranteeing those commitments will not keep their word to do so. And then they will complain that Israel doesn't take more risks, give more concessions, and defend itself too vigorously. Well, that's the way things are and in some ways they've been like that for decades; from a Jewish standpoint, for centuries. So what else is new?

 

Of course, all the proper statements will be made and the diplomatic options pursued by Israel. They will not make any difference on the rhetorical dynamics but their point is to limit the material effects. That is not a pessimistic assessment at all. Basically, this process has now been going on for about 40 years. It will continue to go on, partly because the West has been and will continue to be content with purely symbolic anti-Israel measures so it can reap some public relations’ benefits without any costs. The quality of existence is more important than the quality of the ability to justify one's existence….

 

In the World Happiness Report, Israel rated 14th and in health it was in the 6th position, ahead of the United States, Germany, Britain, and France. Living well, as the saying goes, is the best revenge. Meanwhile, Israel’s neighbours don’t get criticized by the UN—many of them get elected to the Human Rights Council despite their records—but are sinking into violence, disaster, and new dictatorships.

 

So which fate is preferable? To win the wars forced on you, to develop high living standards, to enjoy real democratic life, or to writhe under the torture of dictators, terrorists, and totalitarian ideologies? Israel's fate includes to be slandered, its actions and society so often distorted by those responsible for conveying accurate information to their own societies. And that also means to be attacked violently by its neighbours, though it can minimize the effectiveness of that violence.  Like our ancestors we have to deal with this bizarre situation, this mistreatment that others don't even understand still exists….

 

Truly, as the Israeli saying puts it and as the story of the Oslo agreement so vividly proves, ein breira, there’s no choice. Fortunately, the real-life alternative available is a good one. Go ahead; do what's necessary; reconcile everyone possible; but don't let that stand in the way of survival.  And, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, Time will tell just who fell and who's been left behind. When you go your way and I go mine.

 

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ISRAEL’S EMERGENCE AS ENERGY SUPERPOWER MAKING WAVES

Walter Russell Mead

American Interest, July 2, 2012

 

Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir famously lamented that Moses led the children of Israel for forty years of wandering in the desert until he found the only place in the Middle East where there wasn’t any oil. But could Moses have been smarter than believed?

 

Apparently the Canadians and the Russians think so, as both countries are moving to step up energy relations with a tiny nation whose total energy reserves some experts now think could rival or even surpass the fabled oil wealth of Saudi Arabia.  Actual production is still minuscule, but evidence is accumulating that the Promised Land, from a natural resource point of view, could be an El Dorado: inch for inch the most valuable and energy rich country anywhere in the world. If this turns out to be true, a lot of things are going to change, and some of those changes are already underway. Israel and Canada have just signed an agreement to cooperate on the exploration and development of what, apparently, could be vast shale oil reserves beneath the Jewish state.

 

The prospect of huge oil reserves in Israel comes on top of the recent news about large natural gas discoveries off the coast that have been increasingly attracting attention and investor interest. The apparent gas riches have also been attracting international trouble. Lebanon disputes the undersea boundary with Israel (an act somewhat complicated by the fact that Lebanon has never actually recognized Israel’s existence), and overlapping claims from Turkey and Greece themselves plus both Greek and Turkish authorities on Cyprus further complicate matters. Yet despite these tensions, following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s surprisingly cordial visit…, Gazprom and Israel have announced plans to cooperate on gas extraction….

 

The stakes are not small: the offshore Levantine Basin (which Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Israel and even Gaza will all have some claim to) is believed to have 120 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and “considerable” oil.  Drillers working in Israeli waters have already identified what look to be 5 billion barrels of recoverable oil in addition to over a trillion cubic feet of gas. Israel’s undersea gas reserves are currently estimated at about 16 trillion cubic feet and new fields continue to be rapidly found.

 

The new Israeli-Russian agreement is part of a conscious strategy by the Israeli government to use its nascent energy wealth to improve its embattled political position. With Italy reeling under the impact of big wrong-way bets on Iran, Rome may also begin to appreciate the value of good ties with a closer and more dependable neighbour. Another sensible target for Israeli energy diplomacy would be India: the two countries are already close in a number of ways, including trade and military technology, and India is eager to diversify its energy sources.

 

Gas is one thing, but potential for huge shale oil reserves under Israel itself, however, is a new twist. According to the World Energy Council, a leading global energy forum with organizations and affiliates in some 93 countries, Israel may have the third largest shale oil reserves in the world: something like 250 billion barrels….If the estimates of Israeli shale oil are correct, Israel’s gas and shale reserves put its total energy reserves in the Saudi class, though Israel’s energy costs more to extract.

 

Many obstacles exist and in a best case scenario some time must pass before the full consequences of the world’s new energy geography make themselves felt, but if production from the new sources in Israel and elsewhere develops, world politics will change….OPEC’s power to dictate world prices is likely to decline as Canadian, US, Israeli and Chinese resources come on line. In fact, the Gulf’s most powerful oil weapon going forward may be the ability of those countries to under-price rivals; expensive shale oil isn’t going to be very profitable if OPEC steps up production of its cheap stuff.

 

Nonetheless, the ability of the Arab governments to influence political opinion in Europe and the rest of the world is likely to decline as more oil and gas resources appear — and as Israel emerges as an important supplier. We could be heading toward a time when the world just doesn’t care all that much what happens around the Persian Gulf — as long as nobody gets frisky with the nukes.

 

Another big loser could be Turkey. For years the Kemalist, secular rulers of Turkey worked closely with Israel, and the relationship benefited both sides. Under the Islamist AK party, that relationship gradually deteriorated. Both sides were at fault: Turkish politicians were all too ready to demagogue the issue to score domestic political points, and Israelis did not respond with all possible tact. But if Israel really does emerge as a great energy power, and a Russia-Greece-Cyprus-Israel energy consortium does in fact emerge, Turkey will feel like someone who jilted a faithful longtime girlfriend the week before she won a huge lottery jackpot. More, Turkey’s ambitions to play a larger role in the old Ottoman stomping ground of the eastern Mediterranean basin will have suffered a significant check.

 

If the possibility of huge Israeli energy discoveries really pans out, and if the technical and resource problems connected with them can actually be solved, the US-Israeli relationship will also change. Some of this may already be happening. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s evident lack of worry when it comes to crossing President Obama may reflect his belief that Israel has some new cards to play. An energy-rich Israel with a lot of friends and suitors is going to be less dependent on the US than it has been — and it is also going to be a more valuable ally.

 

The emerging new energy picture in Israel has the potential to be one of the biggest news developments of the next ten years. Potentially, the energy revolution and the change in Israel’s outlook has more geopolitical implications than the Arab Spring….Even at this very early stage, the impact of Israel’s energy wealth is dramatic. On President Putin’s visit to Jerusalem, he donned a kippah and went to pray at the Western Wall of the ancient Temple….

 

Putin had more honeyed words for his Israeli hosts. Touring the Wall, he said “Here, we see how the Jewish past is etched into the stones of Jerusalem.” This is not quite a formal recognition of Israeli claims to the Old City, but it is much more than Israelis usually hear….If the oil and the gas start to flow in anything like the quantities experts think now may be possible, expect many more visitors to Jerusalem to say similar things to Israelis…. An Israel with vast energy endowments may be less coolly received in certain circles than it is today.

 

In the meantime, we wonder if there was an 11th, hitherto undiscovered commandment on those tablets at Sinai: Thou shalt drill, baby, thou shalt drill.

 

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Arabism Is Dead! Long Live…?: Barry Rubin, Rubin Report, January 20, 2012—The biggest change has been the collapse of Arab nationalism, the ideology and system that governed many countries, controlled the regional debate, and intimidated everyone else into line for six decades.

 

Why Sunni Islamism is The World’s Greatest Threat: Barry Rubin, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 26, 2012 —No, it sure isn’t the Age of Aquarius or of multicultural, politically correct love-ins. It’s the age of revolutionary Islamism, especially Sunni Islamism. And you better learn to understand what this is all about, real fast.

 

The Promise of the Arab Spring: Sheri Berman, Foreign Affairs, Jan. 2013—It’s easy to be pessimistic about the Arab Spring, given the post-revolutionary turmoil the Middle East is now experiencing. But critics forget that it takes time for new democracies to transcend their authoritarian pasts. As the history of political development elsewhere shows, things gets better. In Political Development, No Gain Without Pain

 

Views of the Israeli Public on Israeli Security and Resolution of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Dec. 2012— 76% of Israelis (83% of Jews) believe that a withdrawal to the 1967 lines and a division of Jerusalem would not bring about an end of the conflict. 61% of the Jewish population believes that defensible borders are more important than peace for assuring Israel’s security (up from 49% in 2005). 78% of Jews indicated they would change their vote if the party they intended to support indicated that it was prepared to relinquish sovereignty in east Jerusalem. 59% of Jews said the same about the Jordan Valley.

 

Israel should annex the Jordan Valley: Michael Harris, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 2, 2013—There is nothing that should prevent Israel from annexing the Jordan Valley, a territory that encompasses 25 percent of the West Bank.  Israel has not annexed the West Bank because it is undesirable to give citizenship to 2.5 million Palestinians, but the demography of the Jordan Valley is different. 

 

 

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