Waking Up to the Iranian Threat: David M. Weinberg, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 15, 2018— Perusing global media coverage of the sharp skirmish on our northern border last weekend, I was struck by the fact that few outlets focused on the Iranian aggression.
Russia and the Israeli-Syrian-Iranian Confrontation: Emil Avdaliani, BESA, Feb. 15, 2018— Russian politicians have been surprisingly mute on the Israeli airstrikes in Syria that took place on February 11.
‘Outside-In’ is ‘Inside Out’: Jonathan S. Tobin, JNS, Feb. 9, 2018— Sinai strikes are a reminder that Israel should never count on Arab states to guarantee its safety. It’s the other way around.
Quest for Arab Democracy: David Pryce-Jones, National Review, Dec. 31, 2017— One day in December 2010, a policewoman in a small and rather humdrum town in Tunisia slapped the face of Mohamed Bouazizi.
Why Sunni Middle East ‘Powers’ Cannot Win Their Own Battles: Charles Bybelezer, The Media Line, Feb. 5, 2018
How to Restore US Credibility in the Middle East: Michael Oren, CNN, Jan. 31, 2018
Surviving Donald Trump: Israel’s Strategic Options: Prof. Louis René Beres, BESA, Feb. 2, 2018
Trump Echoes Talleyrand in Middle East Diplomacy: EJ Kimball, The Daily Caller, Feb. 2, 2018
David M. Weinberg
Jerusalem Post, Feb. 15, 2018
Perusing global media coverage of the sharp skirmish on our northern border last weekend, I was struck by the fact that few outlets focused on the Iranian aggression. Instead, the story was played out as a clash between Israel and Syria. This is a serious mistake. It is an error in analysis that belies a deeper and more dangerous trend, which is the tendency of Western observers to ignore the root of so much evil in the region: Iran.
It continually surprises me that public figures I meet here, visiting from North America and Europe, are truly not aware of the scope of Iranian muckraking and troublemaking in the region. Generally, they know that there are bad actors at play here, from al-Qaida and ISIS to Hezbollah, but they don’t have a comprehensive picture of Iranian belligerence and ambition, or the transformative, tectonic threat of Iran to Middle East stability. If anything, they often think that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (former US president Barack Obama’s nuclear deal) has shunted concerns about Iran to the back-burner, and that the ayatollahs are now placidly focusing on rebuilding their society and economy.
But, of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The Islamic Republic is on an aggressive march across the Middle East, presenting significant security challenges to Israel, to moderate Sunni Arab countries, and to Western interests. Iran does not hide its overarching revolutionary ambitions: to export its brand of radical Islamism globally, to dominate the region, and to destroy Israel.
So, for the purposes of briefing those who haven’t been paying sufficient attention, here is a summary of the treacherous Iranian record: Iran is carving out a corridor of control – a Shi’ite land bridge – stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea, including major parts of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, under the control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and its Quds Force, various Shi’ite militias, and the Hezbollah organization. This corridor gives Iran a broad strategic base for aggression across the region.
Iran is establishing air and naval bases on the Mediterranean and Red seas, and especially in Syria, in order to project regional power. It has also stepped-up its harassment of international shipping and Western naval operations in the Persian Gulf. Iran is inserting militia forces into many regional conflicts, including support for the Houthi rebels in the Yemeni civil war. It seeks control of the Horn of Africa and the entrance to the Red Sea – a critical strategic choke point on international shipping. Iran is fomenting subversion in Middle East countries that are Western allies, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. It is particularly focused on destabilizing the Hashemite regime in Jordan in order to gain access to Israel’s longest border (its border with Jordan) and from there to penetrate Israel’s heartland.
Iran is arming guerrilla armies on Israel’s northern border (Hezbollah), southern border (Hamas and Islamic Jihad), and terrorist undergrounds in the West Bank. It has equipped Hezbollah with an arsenal of more than 150,000 missiles and rockets aimed at Israel, and supplied Hamas with the arms and rockets that fueled three military confrontations with Israel over the past decade. Iran is sponsoring terrorism against Western, Israeli and Jewish targets around the world, including unambiguous funding, logistical support, planning and personnel for terrorist attacks that span the globe – from Buenos Aires to Burgas. Iran maintains an active terrorist network of proxies, agents and sleeper cells worldwide.
Iran is building a long-term nuclear military option, under the cover of the 2015 nuclear deal; an agreement that expires within a decade and which legitimizes Iranian uranium enrichment and advanced nuclear research as it sunsets. Iran is developing a formidable long-range missile arsenal of great technological variability, including solid and liquid propellant ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. The latest Iranian missile, called the Khorramshahr, seems to be based on the North Korean BM-25 missile with a range of 3,500 km. The Iranian ballistic missile program is in violation of United Nations Security Council prohibitions.
Iran is threatening Israel with war and destruction. The supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, regularly refers to Israel as a cancerous tumor in the Middle East that must be removed, and speaks of the complete liberation of Palestine (meaning, the destruction of Israel) through jihad. Israel and Iran have essentially been in a war of stealth since the early 1980s (when Hezbollah was formed), but now Iranian generals and military forces have decamped on Israel’s border with Syria and have moved to direct and open military confrontation with Israel. Last weekend, the Iranian military launched an attack drone from Syria on a spy mission into Israel, and commanded the antiaircraft batteries that subsequently fired on Israeli jets (and hit a $50 million F-16I – the first Israeli jet felled by enemy fire in 30 years).
With the weakening of ISIS, the growing strength of Russia in Syria, and the continuing retraction of American involvement in the region, Iran apparently feels emboldened enough to escalate its confrontation with Israel. Iran is also confident enough to continue to oppress its own people, with no regard for human rights or free speech. It had no problem putting down large anti-corruption protests that erupted this winter, and the ayatollahs continue to hunt down and assassinate critics of the regime abroad, too. It is time to pay attention to the grave Iranian threat to us all.
BESA, Feb. 15, 2018
Russian politicians have been surprisingly mute on the Israeli airstrikes in Syria that took place on February 11. Nothing notable has been said beyond an official statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry urging all sides to show restraint and avoid actions that could lead to further complications.
The quiet reflects the Kremlin’s tough position. Moscow has been cooperating closely with both Israel and Iran of late, hence is in no position to unequivocally take sides. As Irina Zvyagelskaya, member of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, put it, “The situation for Russia is difficult as our country has good relations with Iran and Israel, which share deep differences.” Other political commentators say that nothing new has in fact occurred, as Israel has always vowed to destroy military buildups near its borders. The action was entirely foreseeable, they argue, in view of Israeli PM Netanyahu’s comments during his visit to Moscow in late January.
At the same time, many Russians are wondering to what extent the Kremlin will allow Israel to continue to carry out preventive strikes on Syrian soil. The incident suggested that an Israeli-Syrian military engagement could evolve into a serious situation that could spin out of Russian control. This is worrisome to the Russians, as they are keen to keep the balance in Syria.
On a broader level, the latest incident shows how ineffective Russian efforts have become to maintain a dominant position on the Syrian battlefield. The Turkish operation in Afrin, in the north of the country, made clear that Moscow is unable to forestall the growth of Ankara’s influence. Iranian proxy forces are now close to the Israeli border, and Russia failed to accomplish anything significant in this respect at the Sochi Conference in late January. Comments in the Russian media hint that, strategically speaking, Russia does not want Israel – a powerful player – to enter the already overcrowded Syrian battlefield. This is particularly true as Moscow is working right now on solidifying its positions following important military victories. Deep Israeli involvement could unravel Russia’s dominant role in Syria.
At the same time, suggestions in the Russian media over the past few days point to an interesting scenario in which the Israeli involvement in Syria forces Russia to more openly declare a pro-Iranian strategy. Up to this point, Moscow has consistently tried – at least officially – to cooperate with both countries. Alternatively, some Russian pundits surmise that because Moscow has been concerned that its major ally, Iran, might try to seize the strategic opportunity through its proxies and increase its clout in Syria, the Kremlin might welcome – if not Israel’s total engagement in Syria – at least some actions that limit Tehran’s power.
At a January 30 meeting with Russian President Putin in Moscow, just days before the incident, Netanyahu said, “[t]he most important thing I think is to make sure that we understand each other and that we don’t shoot down each other’s planes.” Indeed, over the past two days, some Russian analysts have raised the idea that the Israeli involvement in the Syrian conflict will be confined solely to maintaining its own security along the borders. Overall, the tone of the Russian media towards Israel’s actions has been neutral, while remaining studiously noncommittal about those of Iran.
Considering Israel’s security imperatives, it is arguable that the Israeli intervention was expected. Tehran is gaining the most from the Syrian chaos. It is likely that Israel will have to respond again, even if the Golan Heights are not directly threatened. As there are no other official statements from Russian officials, nor direct government leaks in leading Russian dailies such as Kommersant, Izvestia and others, Moscow’s position will be important to watch. Like most players in Syria, the Russians would not welcome additional actors in the country. However, the Kremlin will not be able to forestall further possible Israeli involvement in Syria.
Jonathan S. Tobin
JNS, Feb. 9, 2018
Sinai strikes are a reminder that Israel should never count on Arab states to guarantee its safety. It’s the other way around. We’re not hearing much anymore about President Donald Trump’s desire to broker the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians. But though the peace process is currently in the deep freeze, the concept that animated Trump’s approach lives on. The idea was called “outside-in,” and the conceit of it was that moderate Arab nations like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia would persuade the Palestinians to make peace, and then supply the money and muscle to make it stick. It had the virtue of being rooted in the hard truths of realpolitik, rather than utopian peace fantasies, and seemed to promise the kind of paradigm change that might actually make a difference.
But the notion that Arab states can be relied upon to safeguard Israel’s security in a theoretical peace deal is as much a pipe dream as Shimon Peres’ “New Middle East” vision of Israel and the Palestinians acting like Belgium and the Netherlands in the aftermath of Oslo. Far from the Arabs protecting Israel, the reality is that Israel protects them. That’s the upshot of a report from this past weekend’s New York Times about Israel conducting a bombing campaign in the Sinai. The Egyptians are apparently not only cooperating with Israel in a battle against al Qaeda terrorists there, but have given their assent to Israeli air strikes against them on Egyptian territory. This would have been unimaginable a few years ago. The peninsula was the crucible of four Arab-Israeli wars as Israeli forces repeatedly bested the Egyptians. After the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty that followed Anwar Sadat’s dramatic visit to Jerusalem in 1977, the Sinai was a source of concern to those who thought the “cold peace” might disappear altogether.
But the aftermath of the Arab Spring protests that brought down Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, led to a change. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood brought the most populous Arab nation to the brink; however, when a coup backed by a mass uprising brought the military back into power, they knew who they could count on. The current Egyptian government understood that the Obama administration, which had helped pushed Mubarak out, was not a reliable friend. Israel was its main ally in the struggle against Islamist terror and the Muslim Brotherhood. That led to a joint effort to isolate Gaza, which is governed by Hamas, an offshoot of the Brotherhood. And when the Egyptians lost effective control of the Sinai where al Qaeda terrorists operate, cooperation with Israel became even more important.
Despite the size of Egypt’s military and the fact that it has, as part of the deal that led to the peace treaty with Israel, been given $1.5 billion in U.S. aid every year, it needs Israel if it’s to maintain control of the Sinai. As the Times reports, for more than two years, Israel has conducted weekly strikes on the area via drones, helicopters and jets. All of them were apparently carried out with the direct approval of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
The same is true of the much vaunted under-the-table alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis couldn’t persuade P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas to engage in peace talks with the Israel and the United States. But they look to the Israelis as a strategic ally in their struggle with Iran, which is just as, if not more of, a threat to the desert kingdom and other Gulf emirates than it is to the Jewish state.
Given its pose as the guardian of Islam, the Saudis are unlikely to convert their closeted relationship with Israel into an open one. Nor will Egypt or Jordan, whose government is even more dependent on Israel for its survival, stop supporting anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations as they try to appease the anti-Semitic sentiments of their populations. But that won’t stop them from looking to Israel to save them from their enemies. With Iran now firmly established in Syria and Lebanon under the effective control of Tehran’s Hezbollah auxiliaries, the region is a tinderbox. Yet the ability of Israel and the Arab states to cooperate acts as a deterrent against a bad situation that’s growing worse, even though expectations that these alliances can positively impact the peace process with the Palestinians remain unfounded.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry proposed that Egypt and Jordan would guarantee Israel’s security as part of a peace deal in which it would be expected to give up the West Bank and part of Jerusalem. Others have mooted the same role for the Saudis. But if neither Egypt nor Jordan can guarantee their own security, how can they be expected to protect Israel against terrorism and the implicit threat that a terrorist state in the West Bank, like the one that currently exists in Gaza, would pose to its future?
Seen in that light, the “outside-in” strategy touted by the Trump foreign-policy team is, at least as far as the peace process is concerned, just as much of an intellectual snare as anything produced by the Obama administration. The cold hard reality is that as long as the Palestinians refuse to concede defeat in their century-old war against Zionism, all such clever strategies are a waste of time.
That makes Israel’s role as the defender of moderate Arabs—and America’s sole reliable and democratic ally in the region—even more important. What’s going on in the Sinai proves this surprising but irrefutable principle: While Israel can trust no one but itself to safeguard its security, its former Arab enemies can now trust no one but Israel to ensure their survival.
National Review, Dec. 31, 2017
One day in December 2010, a policewoman in a small and rather humdrum town in Tunisia slapped the face of Mohamed Bouazizi. The dispute was over his permit to be selling fruit and vegetables off a barrow. The injustice that he encountered, and the humiliation, drove the poor man to take his life. Just as a butterfly fluttering its wings is supposed to cause a cascade of faraway atmospheric effects, this suicide set off a movement of protest and solidarity in one Arab country after another. The monarchies and republics in which Arabs live are, in reality, dictatorships, and the time had apparently arrived for them to reform and take their place in what was supposed to be an emerging worldwide democratic order.
What became known as the Arab Spring did not live up to these expectations; far from it. Since 2010, Arab countries have suffered civil war, coups, terrorism, invasion by foreign powers, genocide, the sale of women in slave markets, the ruin of historic cities and monuments, the death of civilians by the hundreds of thousands, and the flight of refugees in their millions. The rise of the Islamic State, self-described as a caliphate, redesigned the boundaries of Syria and Iraq, countries that may not be reconstituted for a very long time, if ever. Islamist volunteers in this misappropriated territory murdered, beheaded, crucified, or tortured to death, often in public, whomever they pleased. Libya, Yemen, and Lebanon are also states in varying stages of collapse. A whole civilization seems to be coming apart.
The proper human response to such calamity is that something ought to be done about it. Elliott Abrams takes it for granted in Realism and Democracy that the United States can and should come to the rescue. His career has given him authority to comment on matters of power politics. In the Reagan administration, he was assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs (1981–85) and assistant secretary for inter-American affairs (1985–89); he later served as President George W. Bush’s adviser for global democracy strategy (2005–09). His sympathies are very wide, his quotations from the academic literature are numerous and apt, and his prose is almost miraculously jargon-free.
His introductory chapter, almost a hundred pages long, is a kind of handbook to the mindsets of American policymakers concerning the Middle East in recent decades. The U.S. approach during the Cold War was perhaps an unfair great-power exercise but at least it kept the peace after its fashion. The most frequent cause of a clash during that era was some independent but rash manipulation on the part of one of the superpowers’ clients. The superpowers’ balancing of laissez-faire and a tight fist was usually enough to keep major clients such as Turkey and Iran, and even Arab-nationalist dictators, on the straight and narrow path of cooperation with them. Those times are over. In the absence of the external pressures of the Cold War, former clients are now in a position to pursue their own ambitions, forming alliances and enmities without regard for Western interests. Military intervention in Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere so far has only sustained or increased the level of instability. The sole alternative is to make a moralizing speech, but if the decision not to intervene militarily has already been taken, this is pointlessly sanctimonious.
Put simply, what Realism and Democracy is asking is whether the United States should deal with the present free-for-all in the role of policeman or of paramedic. Abrams takes his lead from President Reagan, once his boss, who was convinced that whatever Arabs might do or say, basically they want the same freedom as Americans, and they are able to acquire it, too. In this view, freedom is the function of democracy, and democracy in turn is the function of human rights. In the course of his career, Abrams also met and admired the like-minded senators Scoop Jackson and Daniel Moynihan and, last but not least, George W. Bush, the president who did his best to give freedom to Iraqis. Proud to be an unreconstructed Reaganite, Abrams further awards himself the title of neo-con.
In contrast, he has not much good to say of President Nixon or his secretary of state Henry Kissinger, the leading proponents of the different doctrine that goes by the name of “realism.” If they judged military intervention to be in the national interest, they ordered it, but the main geostrategic goal of their day was détente with the Soviet Union. The pursuit of democracy and human rights was bound to be understood in Moscow as anti-Communist incitement, in particular encouraging dissidents who then were likely to be deported to the Gulag…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link…Ed]
Why Sunni Middle East ‘Powers’ Cannot Win Their Own Battles: Charles Bybelezer, The Media Line, Feb. 5, 2018— The New York Times this weekend reported on Israel’s secret air campaign against Islamic State terrorists in the Egypt-controlled Sinai Peninsula, bringing into stark focus the close military cooperation that has developed between Jerusalem and Cairo.
How to Restore US Credibility in the Middle East: Michael Oren, CNN, Jan. 31, 2018— As Israel's ambassador to Washington and, later, as a member of its government, I held many conversations with Arab diplomats, ministers, journalists and businessmen from Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States. All candidly offered their views on the Middle East and, without exception, all believed that America was secretly allied with Iran.
Surviving Donald Trump: Israel’s Strategic Options: Prof. Louis René Beres, BESA, Feb. 2, 2018— While Israel has always been determinedly self-reliant on core matters of national security, this posture needs to become even more explicit in the disjointed “Trump Era.”
Trump Echoes Talleyrand in Middle East Diplomacy: EJ Kimball, The Daily Caller, Feb. 2, 2018— President Trump's public diplomacy, from his first days in office to his State of the Union speech earlier this week, often appears inspired by the immortal words of Charles Maurice de Talleyrand at the Congress of Vienna in 1814: "If it goes without saying, it would go better by saying it."