Tag: Sunni

NEW WHITE HOUSE MIDDLE EAST POLICY REJECTS OBAMA’S MISGUIDED APPROACH

Trump Isn’t Repeating Obama’s Middle East Mistakes: Jonathan S. Tobin, National Review, Feb. 3, 2017— By the end of his second week in office, President Donald Trump has discovered it is actually possible for him to do something that garners applause from the mainstream media.

Russia's Mideast Dominance Growing: Dr. Netanel Avneri, Israel Hayom, Jan. 31, 2017— The Middle East has experienced firsthand Russia's significantly growing influence on the global state of affairs, as a result of the rise of the Islamic State group and general instability in the region.

Sunni States' Military Spending Sprees Could Fall to Radical Islamists: Yaakov Lappin, IPT, Feb. 7, 2017— Faced with an array of developing threats to their stability and survival, Sunni Arab states have gone on an unprecedented military spending spree…

The Six-Day War Was a Watershed in Middle Eastern History: Asher Susser, Fathom, Spring, 2017 — The 1967 War was a watershed in Middle Eastern history.

 

On Topic Links

 

U.S., Middle East Allies Explore Arab Military Coalition: Maria Abi-Habib, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 15, 2017

Trump, China, and the Middle East: Roie Yellinek, BESA, Feb. 7, 2017

China and the Middle East – a Rapidly Changing Picture: Tim Collard, China.org, Feb. 8, 2017

How the World Turned Against Israel: an Interview with Joshua Muravchik: Fathom, Autumn, 2014

 

 

TRUMP ISN’T REPEATING OBAMA’S MIDDLE EAST MISTAKES                                               

Jonathan S. Tobin

           National Review, Feb. 3, 2017

                       

By the end of his second week in office, President Donald Trump has discovered it is actually possible for him to do something that garners applause from the mainstream media. Though Democrats seem more interested in futile gestures of “resistance” to his government than in normal opposition, all Trump had to do to gain a modicum of respect from the New York Times and other denizens of the liberal echo chamber was to preserve rather than reject the policies of his predecessor. Or at least that was how the Times and the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC perceived the new administration’s statements about Israel, Iran, and Russia this week. In reality, the claim that, as the front-page headline in Friday’s Times put it, “Trump Reverts to Pillars of Obama Foreign Policy,” is actually dead wrong when applied to the Middle East.

 

The Times story treated administration statements about Israeli settlements, sanctions against Iran, and Russian aggression against Ukraine as proof that Trump was backing away from efforts to reverse President Obama’s policies. The jury is still out on what direction the administration will take toward Russia, though this week’s statements from U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley signaled the administration’s continued opposition to Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine, which should give hope to those who believe the president’s crush on Vladimir Putin needs to be nipped in the bud.

 

With respect to the Middle East, however, the effort to interpret administration statements as an embrace of Obama’s policies — namely his unprecedented pressure on Israel and his desire for détente with Iran — are simply false. The argument that Trump is embracing Obama’s approach centers on one statement from White House press secretary Sean Spicer: While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful. That can be reasonably interpreted as opposing the creation of new Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But its first clause is a complete and total rejection of the repeated assertions of both Obama and former secretary of state John Kerry that settlements are the primary obstacle in the way of a peace deal.

 

Spicer’s words are actually a declaration that Trump is embracing the terms of President George W. Bush’s 2004 letter to the Israeli government, in which Bush said that changes on the ground since 1967 would have to be taken into account in any peace agreement. In practice, Bush made it clear that meant Israel would keep parts of Eastern Jerusalem as well as the major settlement blocs erected near the 1967 lines, where more than 80 percent of West Bank settlers live. Just as important, he signaled that new construction in those areas would not be considered an issue by the United States. Bush’s position was explicitly rejected by Obama, who consistently blamed Israel for the failure of his efforts to broker peace no matter what the Palestinians did, and advanced the belief that 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and the blocs were just as “illegal” as the most remote hilltop settlement in the middle of the West Bank.

 

As to the question of “new settlements,” according to the Obama administration, Israel never stopped building them in vast numbers. Indeed, in December Obama’s deputy National Security Council adviser actually defended the administration’s decision to allow a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel to pass by claiming that the Israelis had been constructing “tens of thousands” of new settlements. The claim was, of course, rubbish.

 

In fact, there are only approximately 230 settlements in the West Bank including those unauthorized by Israeli law. When Israel’s critics speak of its government’s building “new settlements,” they are referring to the erection of new houses or apartments in existing communities. So the announcement this week that Israel is building several-hundred new homes in Jerusalem and West Bank settlements does not actually fall under Spicer’s definition of construction that “may not be helpful” to the efforts toward a peace deal. The new administration appears to understand, as Obama never did, that the biggest obstacle to peace is the Palestinians…

 

On Iran, those arguing that Trump has come around to Obama’s point of view are on even shakier ground. According to the Times, Trump’s decision to impose new sanctions on Iran for its violations of U.N. resolutions forbidding them to test ballistic missiles is proof that he is reverting to one of the “pillars” of Obama’s strategy. Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, however, was contingent on America’s agreeing to dismantle international sanctions. And while Trump has not torn up the deal — a move that would involve its other signatories — he has pledged to try to enforce it more strictly than Obama, and he appears determined to hold the Iranians accountable for non-nuclear misbehavior such as their support for international terrorism.

 

While Trump has not yet moved the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as he promised during the campaign, he has already made it clear that Obama’s quest for more “daylight” between the two allies is over. Only someone who expects Trump to take positions to the right of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on settlements and the two-state solution — Netanyahu has restrained the growth of the former and publicly backs the latter — could characterize the new administration’s policies as being reminiscent of Obama’s.

 

Predicting what Donald Trump will ultimately do in the Middle East or anywhere else is a fool’s errand. But if there is any one overarching theme to his foreign policy it is a rejection of his predecessor’s approach. Trump has already shown an understanding that Obama’s misguided Middle East preoccupations weakened the U.S. position and made the region a more dangerous place. He may make mistakes of his own in the next four years, but it is highly unlikely that he will repeat those of his predecessor.

 

 

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RUSSIA'S MIDEAST DOMINANCE GROWING

Dr. Netanel Avneri

Israel Hayom, Jan. 31, 2017

 

The Middle East has experienced firsthand Russia's significantly growing influence on the global state of affairs, as a result of the rise of the Islamic State group and general instability in the region. The moral and symbolic victory in Syria's "Stalingrad" — the battle over Aleppo — has elevated the image of an aggressive Russia in the region and around the world. Conversely, the steps the Russians are taking toward mediating peace make it clear they are the ones who call the shots in the country.

 

First, Russia worked with Turkey, which supports the Sunni opposition forces, to advance a cease-fire deal across Syria (with the exception of the war on Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly the Nusra Front) that included a humanitarian passageway in eastern Aleppo to allow the exit of civilians and rebels. As of today, Russian military police are the ones preventing sectarian violence by the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Iranian and Shiite adjuncts toward Sunni citizens. Moreover, Russia was the first to endorse the Astana peace conference between the Assad regime and representatives from the opposition in Kazakhstan earlier this month. If it were up to Assad and the Iranians, there would not be peace talks but a settling of scores, but the Russian interest in Syria is the deciding factor, and it is based on economic and strategic, not ethnic, interests.

 

As it works to implement peace initiatives, Moscow has increased the number of attack aircraft in the country. There is evidence of work to expand its aircraft and naval bases on the Syrian coast despite Russia's promise to decrease its military presence there. In Baghdad, there is a permanent Russian presence in the joint intelligence center it shares with Iraq, Syria and Iran, which was established in 2015 on the Islamic State front. In addition, Russia has provided Iraq with fighter jets and military helicopters. For its part, Iraq has allowed Russia to use its airspace for attacks in Syria.

 

Egypt and Pakistan signed significant weapons deals with Russia and last year, the three countries held joint military exercises. According to Russian sources, Egypt is expected to authorize Russian use of its naval and air bases, including a base on the Mediterranean Sea that was used to monitor U.S. naval ships during the Cold War. Russia also signed a large weapons deal with Libya, Egypt's neighbor to the west, despite the U.N. embargo in place since 2011. In another move indicative of the strengthening of ties, Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov was the host of an impressive ceremony off the Libyan coast. Even Jordan signed a deal with Russia in 2015, set to take effect in 2017, to establish and operate two nuclear energy plants in Zarqa. Russia's standing has also improved in the Philippines. In October, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced an alliance with Russia and a "separation" from the United States.

 

What does the near future hold? Moscow's aspirations could further increase in light of increasing revenue from its export of oil and gas. Since the beginning of January, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil exporting countries like Russia began to coordinate a reduction in exports. This led to a 15% increase in the price of oil, and there are those who predict prices will continue to skyrocket in the future. Likewise, Russia will benefit from an increase in both demand for and price of natural gas. This increase in revenue could make it easier for Russia to cope with the painful effects of economic sanctions, the result of its invasion of Ukraine. Incidentally, the coordination on the reduction of oil exports, the war on Islamic State and Russian efforts to reduce ethnic violence in Syria could bring it closer to Saudi Arabia, a country that has always been concerned by Russia's influence in the region.

 

Another cause for Russian optimism comes from the direction of Washington. U.S. President Donald Trump has on several occasions alluded to his willingness to improve relations between the countries and promote cooperation with Russia as a means of solving world problems. At the same time, Trump has announced a re-evaluation of trade deals with China and of the relationship with China's anticommunist rival, Taiwan.

 

In light of all this, Israel would be wise to strengthen economic and strategic ties with Russia, so as not to place all its eggs in one Western basket. This will prevent a recurrence of the relationship status that survived the Cold War, in which the USSR clearly supported the Arab states. Such a situation would lead to competition between the superpowers and a return to the "Cold War theater" in the region, from which neither the superpowers nor the regional players will benefit.

 

 

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SUNNI STATES' MILITARY SPENDING SPREES

COULD FALL TO RADICAL ISLAMISTS

Yaakov Lappin

IPT, Feb. 7, 2017

 

Faced with an array of developing threats to their stability and survival, Sunni Arab states have gone on an unprecedented military spending spree, buying up some of the very best capabilities the West has to offer. This development holds the potential for danger should these states be overrun by radical Islamists. As long as the Sunni governments, guided by concerns over Iran, ISIS and other extremist actors, remain firmly in power, possessing high quality Western weapons in such large quantities will serve their goals of defending themselves.

 

But should the Sunni countries disintegrate into failed states, or undergo an Islamist revolution – an unfortunate yet distinct possibility in the 21st century, chaotic Middle East – Israel and the West could face an explosively dangerous development. An organized Islamist rise to power would see the military forces of such states come under the command of belligerent decision makers. Alternatively, a failed state scenario would mean that military bases in these countries could be looted, and deadly platforms taken over. Either way, the scenario of jihadists seizing game-changing military capabilities is real enough for Israel to acknowledge that it is planning ahead for it as a necessary precaution.

 

Outgoing Israel Air Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel spoke explicitly of this danger on Jan. 24 at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. His air force must know how to act as a precise surgeon, Eshel said, able to conduct pinpoint strikes based on fine intelligence. But it also must be able to operate like a "big hammer" able to deal with large-scale threats. In the tumultuous Middle East, he said, it seems unreasonable to believe that the current situation will remain as it is. "In five, 10, or 15 years, states can fall," he warned.

 

Eshel was referring to pragmatic Sunni states that, like Israel, are deeply threatened by Iran's expanding radical Shi'ite axis, and by Salafi jihadist Sunni groups that are bent on destroying all countries that do not fit their vision of an extremist caliphate. "Even if we have shared regional interests [with these Sunni countries now], we do not know what will happen in the future. Western military sales to these countries have reached $200 billion. This is state of the art weaponry. It is not just about the quantity," Eshel said. It is the Air Force's responsibility to assume that "something will collapse."

 

Most of the Arab countries' spending spree has gone into their air forces and surface-to-air missiles. The Israel Air Force must ensure it can deal with these capabilities, he added, in the event of future jihadist revolutions.  In the same week that Eshel spoke, the U.S. State Department announced the first weapons sales to Gulf states under the Trump administration, pending approval by Congress. The sales reportedly include $400 million worth of helicopter gunship parts and air-to-air missiles to Kuwait, and $525 million for intelligence balloons to Saudi Arabia. ISIS has already built and deployed its own armed drones, according to reports, and if its goal of seizing control of state assets were realized, it could try to use some of the means on the battlefield.

 

Gulf Arab countries continue to break records in their rush to purchase military hardware. As part of its bid to deter Iran and boost its ability to hit the Islamic Republic's capital, Tehran, Saudi Arabia modernized its missile arsenal in recent years, purchasing Chinese medium-range surface-to-surface missiles from China, in a deal reportedly facilitated by the CIA.

 

More recently, the Saudis, who are leading a coalition against Iran-backed Houthi Shi'ite rebels in Yemen, spent $179.1 billion on weapons in 2016, and intend to spend $190 billion in 2017. Saudi Arabia in recent years has replaced Russia as the third largest defense spender in the world. Salafi jihadists would like nothing more than to topple the Saudi royal court, which they see as a Western puppet, and take control of Islam's holiest sites, Mecca and Medina. Last September, the U.S. approved $7 billion worth of fighter jets (F-15s and F-18s) to Kuwait and Qatar, and more than $1 billion in F-16 sales to Bahrain.

 

Egypt, too, has joined the shopping rush, becoming the world's fourth largest defense importer in 2016, buying up arms from the U.S. and France, as well as submarines from Germany. Egypt, which is in a state of deep civil conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood, is also fighting a stubborn ISIS jihadist insurgency in its Sinai province. ISIS' terror campaign has claimed many lives among Egyptian security forces, and threatens to spread to other areas of the country.

 

After the fall and disintegration of Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, the idea that the Middle Eastern map will remain unaltered in the coming years is far from certain. Had Israel, according to international media reports, not bombed Syria's nuclear weapons production facility in Deir Al-Zor in 2007, the area, now filled with ISIS, could have seen nuclear weapons fall into the hands of genocidal jihadists.

 

Should Sunni states begin their own nuclear programs in response to Iran's own future nuclear efforts, the danger of atomic bombs falling into Islamist hands would increase. There is no alternative but to plan for such contingencies in the current unpredictable regional environment, where today's rational states could be replaced by sinister forces tomorrow.

                                                                           

 

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THE SIX-DAY WAR WAS A

WATERSHED IN MIDDLE EASTERN HISTORY                                      

Asher Susser                                             

Fathom, Spring, 2017

 

The 1967 War was a watershed in Middle Eastern history. Israelis call it the Six-Day War, which is symbolic of the euphoric sense of victory that Israeli Jews felt in the aftermath of the war. The Arabs don’t call it the Six-Day War; for them it’s the ‘June War’, or the ‘67 War’. It was the most humiliating of defeats for the Arabs in modern times, maybe of all time.

 

First of all, the war wasn’t just a defeat in the battlefield. The war was also a horrendous defeat for the idea of Arab nationalism or pan-Arabism or Nasserism – whatever you want to call it. It showed that it was an empty vessel. A whole generation of Arabs had hung on every word of Abdel Nasser. The Palestinians were great believers in Nasser as the man who would deliver Palestine. Almost overnight, it all came to naught. Nasser had, in theory, the formula for Arab modernisation and success: Arab unity, Arab socialism, and alliance with the Soviet Union in the Cold War. This was to be the panacea for Arab ills and for the modernisation of the Arab world. I think many Israelis don’t realise the extent to which the war of 1967 was an utter shock and humiliation for the Arabs and for the Egyptians in particular.

 

There was a void in the aftermath of 1967 which was filled by two simultaneous but contradictory developments. One was the reassertion of raison d’etat – state interest. Once pan-Arabism was seen as ‘pie in the sky’ it became every more legitimate to pursue state interest unabashedly: Egypt first, Jordan first, Palestine first. So Egypt made war with Israel again, and then peace with Israel, each time serving purely Egyptian territorial state interests. For the Arab states involved in the 1967 war with Israel, the defeat was the beginning of thinking seriously about withdrawing from the conflict with Israel. After the Yom Kippur War of 1973 we saw the gradual withdrawal of the Arab states from the conflict with Israel. Essentially, the Arab world post-67 has left the Palestinians to fend for themselves. The Palestinians spoke with ever greater emphasis after 1967 of what in Arabic is called ‘the independence of decision’. They said: ‘the Arabs have disappointed us, we Palestinians must fend for ourselves, we must be our own independent decision makers.’ By taking this position the Palestinians took ever more responsibility for their own fate. But that also paved the way for the Arab states to actually let them go, in the spirit of ‘You want to be more independent, be our guests’. The Arab states walked away from the conflict, leaving the Palestinians to fend for their own raison d’etat.

 

The second trend that filled the void after 1967 was Islamic politics. The Islamists could now say with a lot of credibility: ‘We told you so. All this secular Arab nationalism is not going to get us anywhere. Islam is the solution, not secular nationalism.’ Arab nationalism was never favoured by the Islamists for the very good reason that Arab nationalism was actually an aircraft carrier for secularisation. Arab nationalism, at least in theory, is a secular ideology, uniting people based on the language they speak, not their religion. Arabism is about Muslims and Christians being Arabs. Islamism has the opposite effect, reasserting the sectarian differences which Arabism actually papered over. Now you’re talking about Sunni and Shi’a, Muslims and non-Muslims. This reassertion of Islamism has eroded and in some cases even partly dissolved the Arab state: Iraq and Syria are two examples.

 

What impact did the Six-Day War have on the Arab-Israeli conflict? First, Israel appeared in the Arab mind – in the aftermath of 1967 even more than before – as a monument to Arab inadequacy, Arab failure. Second, we saw the return of the Palestinians to the front of the stage. It is no longer the ‘Arab-Israeli conflict’; it’s the ‘Palestinian-Israeli conflict’. After 1967 the Palestinians were very much in control of their destiny, a dramatic turn of events. Third, the Arab states fought their last war with Israel in 1973. There has been no inter-state war between Arab states and Israel for 44 years. Once Egypt made its peace with Israel, there was no longer an Arab war option. Arab states could not make war with Israel without Egypt…

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

 

 

Contents           

 

On Topic Links

 

U.S., Middle East Allies Explore Arab Military Coalition: Maria Abi-Habib, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 15, 2017—The Trump administration is in talks with Arab allies about having them form a military alliance that would share intelligence with Israel to help counter their mutual foe, Iran, several Middle Eastern officials said.

Trump, China, and the Middle East: Roie Yellinek, BESA, Feb. 7, 2017—Ever since Donald Trump won the US presidential race, the issue of US-China relations has been high on the agenda of both parties. The subject preoccupies the president more than Islamic terror, Vladimir Putin, and other more pressing issues facing the world. This should not be surprising. Throughout the campaign, Trump pointed his finger time and again at China. His attacks often occurred during speeches in declining, heavy-industrial cities in the "Rust Belt" states, where he subsequently achieved unexpected victories.

China and the Middle East – a Rapidly Changing Picture: Tim Collard, China.org, Feb. 8, 2017—China has for many years now preferred to refrain from involvement in the quagmire which is the Middle East. Until now the region has been considered too distant, and not sufficiently economically rewarding (apart from, of course, the need to ensure oil supplies) to justify closer engagement. What policy there has been has been entirely pragmatic, building on the establishment of sound economic and technological partnerships with Israel without disrupting relations with the diplomatically powerful Arab world.

How the World Turned Against Israel: an Interview with Joshua Muravchik: Fathom, Autumn, 2014—Israel was once the plucky underdog supported by Western public opinion, Left and Right. Today, it is the object of a global campaign to demonise the state and question its very right to exist. A new book by Joshua Muravchik, Making David Into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel (Encounter Books, 2014), seeks to explain this fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

                        

 

 

 

                  

 

 

 

IRAQ DRIFTS TOWARD SECTARIAN CIVIL WAR, AS U.S MULLS ‘ZERO OPTION’ IN AFGHANISTAN

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

 

 

 Download an abbreviated version of today's Daily Briefing.

 

Why Is Obama Ignoring Iraq?: Anthony Cordesman, Real Clear World, June 5, 2013—It is hard to determine why Iraq receives so little U.S. attention as it drifts towards sectarian conflict, civil war, and alignment with Iran. Tensions in Iraq have been rising for well over a year, and the UN warned on June 1, 2013 that "1,045 Iraqis were killed and another 2,397 were wounded in acts of terrorism and acts of violence in May.

 

Why the Massive Jailbreak in Iraq Is Worse than You Think: Hayes Brown,  Think Progress, July 22, 2013—Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has engineered a massive jailbreak from the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, according to reports from the country. Reuters quotes a senior member of the Iraqi Parliament as saying that at least 500 convicts have escaped, possibly as many as 1,000.

 

U.S. Troops Should Not Abandon Afghanistan: Michael O’Hanlon, Washington Post, July 11, 2013—The Obama administration is reportedly considering an accelerated pullout of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, followed by a “zero option” — the complete elimination of an American and, presumably, international military presence in Afghanistan after 2014.

 

Churchill on Afghanistan: Robert Kaplan, Real Clear World, July 4, 2013—In March 1898, a 23-year-old Winston Churchill published his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force. In it, he advanced the best advice yet given on how an outside imperial power should deal with a country like Afghanistan.

 

On Topic Links

 

The ‘Zero Option’ Will Finally End the Afghan War: David Francis, The Fiscal Times, July 10, 2013

The Iraq War Is not Over: Kimberly Kagan, The Weekly Standard, July 1, 2013—3

How to Save the War in Afghanistan: Anthony Cordesman, Real Clear World, July 24, 2013

 

WHY IS OBAMA IGNORING IRAQ?

Anthony Cordesman

Real Clear World, June 5, 2013

 

It is hard to determine why Iraq receives so little U.S. attention as it drifts towards sectarian conflict, civil war, and alignment with Iran. Tensions in Iraq have been rising for well over a year, and the UN warned on June 1, 2013 that "1,045 Iraqis were killed and another 2,397 were wounded in acts of terrorism and acts of violence in May. The number of civilians killed was 963 (including 181 civilian police), and the number of civilians injured was 2,191 (including 359 civilian police). A further 82 members of the Iraqi Security Forces were killed and 206 were injured."

 

This neglect may be a matter of war fatigue; the result of a conflict the United States "won" at a tactical level but seems to have lost at a strategic level. It may be the result of the fact the civil war in Syria is more intensive, produces more human suffering, and is more open to the media. The end result, however, is that that the United States is just beginning to see how much of a strategic pivot Iraq has become.

 

The strategic map of the region is changing and Iraq's role in that change is critical. It used to be possible to largely separate the Gulf and the Levant. One set of tensions focused on the Arab-Israel conflict versus tensions focused on the Gulf. Iraq stood between them. It sometimes became a crisis on its own but always acted as a strategic buffer between two major subregions in the Middle East.

 

However, it has become clear over the last year that the upheavals in the Islamic and Arab world have become a clash within a civilization rather than a clash between civilizations. The Sunni vs. Alewite civil war in Syria is increasingly interacting with the Sunni versus Shi'ite tensions in the Gulf that are edging Iraq back towards civil war. They also interact with the Sunni-Shi'ite, Maronite, and other confessional struggles in Lebanon.

 

The "Kurdish problem" now spreads from Syria to Iraq to Turkey to Iran. The question of Arab identity versus Sunni or Shi'ite sectarian identity divides Iraq from the Arab Gulf states and pushes it towards Iran. Instead of terrorism we have counterinsurgency, instability, and religious and ethnic conflict.

 

For all the current attention to Syria, Iraq is the larger and more important state…This does not mean the conflict in Syria is not tragic or that it is not important. But from a practical strategic viewpoint, Iraq divided Iran from the Arab Gulf states. Iraqi-Iranian tensions acted as a strategic buffer between Iran and the rest of the Middle East for half a century between the 1950s and 2003. Today, Iraq has s Shi'ite government with close links to Iran and is a military vacuum. Iraq's Shi'ite leaders treat its Sunnis and Kurds more as a threat than as countrymen. Its Arab neighbours treat Iraq's regime more as a threat than an ally, and the growing Sunni-Shi'ite tension in the rest of the region make things steadily worse in Iraq and drive it towards Iran.

 

If Iraq moves towards active civil war, its Shi'ites will be driven further towards Iran and Syria. If Assad survives and the Arab Gulf states continue to isolate Iraq, the largely token U.S. presence in Iraq is likely to become irrelevant and Iraq is likely to become part of a "Shi'ite" axis going from Lebanon to Iran. If Assad falls, and U.S. and Gulf Arab tensions with Iran continue to rise, Iran seems likely to do everything it can to replace its ties to Syria with influence in Iraq.

 

Arab and Turkish pressure on Iraq seems more likely to push Iraq towards Iran than away from it. If Iraq becomes caught up in sectarian and ethnic civil war, this will push its Shi'ite majority towards Iran, push its Kurds toward separatism, and push the Arab states around Iraq to do even more to support Sunni factions in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq while suppressing their own Shi'ites.

 

The United States has limited cards to play. The U.S.-Iraqi Strategic Framework Agreement exists on paper, but it did not survive the Iraqi political power struggles that came as the United States left. The U.S. military presence has been reduced to a small U.S. office of military cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and it is steadily shrinking. The cumbersome U.S. arms transfer process has already pushed Iraq to buy arms from Russia and other suppliers. The U.S. State Department's efforts to replace the military police training program collapsed before they really began. The United States is a marginal player in the Iraqi economy and economic development, and its only aid efforts are funded through money from past years. The State Department did not make an aid request for Iraq for FY2014.

 

However, it is far from clear that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or most of the Shi'ite ruling elite really want alignment with Iran or that anyone in Iraq wants civil war. A revitalized U.S. office of military cooperation and timely U.S. arms transfer might give the United States more leverage, and U.S. efforts to persuade Arab Gulf states that it is far better to try to work with Iraq than isolate it might have a major impact. Limited and well-focused U.S. economic and governance aid might improve leverage in a country that may have major oil export earnings but whose economy needs aid in reform more than money and today has the per capita income of a poverty state, ranking only 162 in the world.

 

Making Iraq a major strategic focus in dealing with Turkey and our Arab friends and allies might avoid creating a strategic bridge between Iran and the Gulf states. It might limit the growing linkages between the tensions and conflicts in the Gulf and those in the Levant, and help secure Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt. It would not be a major expense to give the State Department's country team in Baghdad all of the aid resources it needs to move Iraq towards economic reform and a stable military.

 

Even limited success in damping down internal conflict in Iraq and helping Iraq keep a distance from Iran might save the United States far more, even in the short run, than substituting strategic neglect for strategic patience. It also might help prevent Iraq from becoming a far worse civil conflict than now exists in Syria, fueling the religious war between Sunnis and Shi'ites, which can turn a clash within a civilization into a serious war and spill over into terrorism in the West.

 

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the

Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

 

Contents

 

 

WHY THE MASSIVE JAILBREAK IN IRAQ IS WORSE THAN YOU THINK

Hayes Brown

Think Progress, July 22, 2013

 

Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has engineered a massive jailbreak from the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, according to reports from the country. Reuters quotes a senior member of the Iraqi Parliament as saying that at least 500 convicts have escaped, possibly as many as 1,000. “Most of them were convicted senior members of al Qaeda and had received death sentences,” Hakim Al-Zamili said. This would be troubling under any circumstances, but the present situation in the Middle East lends to Monday’s escape being a situation with possible repercussions for the entire region. Here are a few reasons why:

 

The attack was well-planned and well-executed.

 

According to the reports coming out of Iraq, this was no piecemeal attempt from AQI to free a few of their compatriots. Instead, it was a full-fledged assault on Abu Ghraib. “Suicide bombers drove cars with explosives into the gates of the prison on the outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday night, while gunmen attacked guards with mortar fire as well as rocket propelled grenades,” Russia Today reports, adding that additional assailants wearing suicide vests entered the prison to help convicts make their escape. At least 14 Iraqi security forces died in the attack, which only ended when military helicopters arrived to provide back-up. A simultaneous attack, a hallmark of Al Qaeda strategy, took place at a prison 12 miles north of Baghdad; reports are conflicting as to whether any of those inmates were able to escape.

 

Violence in Iraq was already high.

 

2013 has not been a good year for Iraq, as sectarian violence has grown over the past few months. Just two days ago, six car bombs detonated in Baghdad, killing at least 46 people and wounding 152 more. AQI has been implicated in the bombings, due to the coordinated nature of the explosions. More than 2,700 people have been killed so far in Iraq so far this year, according to AFP figures, mostly in similar car bombs across the country. The freeing of a large number of mostly Sunni fighters — the minority sect in Iraq, which is mostly Shiite — into the streets of Baghdad only increases the chances of greater sectarian strife.

 

Syria’s civil war is just over the border.

 

The sudden influx of a large number of trained fighters and convicted terrorists into Iraq would be a problem even if there wasn’t a civil war next door. Given the ongoing conflict in Syria, however, this could mark a radical shift in how the war proceeds. While talks of a merger between the two have gone back and forth, AQI and Syrian rebel group Jahbat al-Nusra have been cooperating for months, to the point that the State Department has listed Nusra as a subsidiary of the terrorist group. Aaron Zelin, Richard Borow Fellow at the Washington Institute for Middle East Policy, told ThinkProgress that it will be interesting to see if those who escaped do go to Syria, whether they will bring with them some of their more radical tactics. At present, according to Zelin, there are jihadi groups who provide social services to civilians and perform other acts that could see themselves undermined by an influx of “hardened fighters” captured during the U.S. “surge” in Iraq.

 

Contents

 

 

CHURCHILL ON AFGHANISTAN

Robert Kaplan

Real Clear World, July 4, 2013

 

In March 1898, a 23-year-old Winston Churchill published his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force. In it, he advanced the best advice yet given on how an outside imperial power should deal with a country like Afghanistan. The young subaltern was, of course, referring to how Britain should approach the population of the Pashtun frontier beyond the Indian subcontinent, but he might just as well have been referring to how the early 21st century United States should do so. For much as its people and elites abjure the term, America is in an imperial-like position in much of the world.

 

Churchill intimated three courses of action. The first course, that of "bad and nervous sailors," essentially meant to withdraw entirely and henceforth have nothing whatsoever to do with the region. The second course, that of "'Full steam ahead,'" was to initiate a large military operation until the people of the frontier "are as safe and civilized as Hyde Park." Whereas the first course is irresponsible, the second is unfeasible, given the expenditure of resources required. Then there is the third course: "a system of gradual advance, of political intrigue among the tribes, of subsidies and small expeditions." Churchill admitted that this third course is "undignified," nevertheless, he saw no alternative for a great power, recognizing that any grand strategy must marry goals with available resources. Thus, was a 23-year-old far wiser than many an elderly policymaker.

 

Churchill's third course does not fit exactly the proper direction of the United States in Afghanistan (geographical shorthand for Churchill's tribes of the frontier). But it is a starting point. The United States cannot withdraw utterly and thus have nothing whatsoever to do with the region — an approach the United States adopted following the 1989 Soviet withdrawal with disastrous results. Indeed, the United States will have a continuing interest in preventing transnational terrorists from planning 9/11-style attacks from Afghan soil. And it has interests in the political direction of adjacent regions like Pakistan, Central Asia and Iran. Nor can the United States simply keep large numbers of forces in Afghanistan indefinitely until the political situation there is set to rights. There is simply no public support for such a policy, not to mention the financial cost. For that reason, the current attempt at negotiations with the Taliban is arguably less negotiations over the future of Afghanistan than merely an attempt to arrange a decent interval: so that the government of Hamid Karzai does not begin to crumble the moment the last American ground troops depart….

 

Just as there are three courses of action for a country like Afghanistan, as expounded by Churchill, there are three directions in which a post-American Afghanistan might go. The first course is that Karzai — or rather an elected, moderate successor — will remain in power just as in the past, with an Afghan government supported by the international community even gradually gaining in legitimacy. This is possible but unlikely. The Afghan government, despite more than a decade in power, is thoroughly corrupt, suffers questionable legitimacy in large swaths of the countryside and is weakly institutionalized. Without American troops to properly support it, its prospects must be dimmer than beforehand. The second course is that the Taliban will relatively quickly overrun much of the country, as they did in the mid-1990s, following the mujahideen-inflicted anarchy: anarchy that, in turn, followed the Soviet withdrawal. This, too, is quite possible. With the Americans more or less gone, and the Kabul government's legitimacy highly problematic, the Taliban, though a different, weaker force than they were in the 1990s, might simply be the last man standing.

 

But such a scenario might, in turn, be simplistic. Afghanistan is an urbanized state to a much greater extent than it was in the 1990s. There is a feisty civil society that was altogether absent back then and that is often under-appreciated by those in the West; nor is there the vacuum in authority to quite the same extent as existed the last time the Taliban overran much of the country. History has rough equivalents, but rarely do situations repeat themselves entirely. Do not expect a precise replica of the mid-1990s.

 

Therefore, the third scenario presents itself: one that fits nicely with the third of Churchill's courses for dealing with the frontier tribes in the first place. This scenario can be described as semi-chaos. As the Taliban establish some control in parts of the Pashtun south and southeast of the country, a grouping of the Tajiks and Uzbeks re-establish some variant of the old Northern Alliance beyond the Hindu Kush, adjacent to former Soviet Central Asia. This will be complex and half-hearted, as the Pashtuns have forged alliances with parts of the Tajik and Uzbek north over the past decade. The Kabul government may not collapse so much as shrink or weaken a bit, becoming, once again, the enlarged city-state of Greater Kabul, with modest influence elsewhere in the country. As for the Talibanistan in parts of the south and southeast, that might be less a solid frame mini-state than an assemblage of loosely allied emirates of a sort, riven by different clans and criminal networks. Over time, that itself might encourage the ability of the ethnic Pashtun slice of western Pakistan to further distance itself from the central government in Islamabad, creating what a geographer might label Pashtunistan, even as the term itself went out of some fashion decades ago and thus will be vehemently denied by experts who concentrate on all the undeniable cleavages within the Pashtun tribal region….

 

In such a scenario, Pakistan, while not arming the Taliban, will be the most significant outside power in southern and eastern Afghanistan, even as the Iranians already are in western and parts of central Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Russians will do what they can to insure that transnational jihadists do not infiltrate back into northern Central Asia, following the American withdrawal from southern Central Asia. Thus, from the Iranian Plateau eastward to the Indus River Valley there will be vague political authority at best, matching the vagueness of such authority in the other direction, from the Iranian Plateau westward to the Mediterranean.

 

So we are back to the young Churchill's dictum, about manoeuvring, at times in an undignified fashion, with the tribes and other forces in order to achieve, in this case, very limited objectives. Churchill had in mind an advance toward Afghanistan to buffer British India. America is trying to do just enough to ensure it will not have to return to the subcontinent out of military necessity. The goals are vastly different, but Churchill's conception bears repeating.

 

 

U.S. TROOPS SHOULD NOT ABANDON AFGHANISTAN

Michael O’Hanlon

Washington Post, July 11, 2013

 

The Obama administration is reportedly considering an accelerated pullout of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, followed by a “zero option” — the complete elimination of an American and, presumably, international military presence in Afghanistan after 2014. This is an understandable but unwise idea. Even raising it as a bargaining device is a mistake in our ongoing mission in Afghanistan — a place that President Obama clearly considers crucial to U.S. security, given that more than 60,000 U.S. troops are still there.

 

In fairness, the zero-option idea has appeal not only because the war has been long and frustrating but also because Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been so difficult to work with. Beyond all the past brouhahas over corruption, tainted elections and other matters, there is the burst of invective Karzai recently leveled against the United States over what he described as a duplicitous approach to negotiating with the Taliban. Karzai has criticized Washington and broken off negotiations about the long-term U.S. presence because, when the Taliban opened an office for exploratory peace talks in Doha, Qatar, last month, it again called itself the Government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and otherwise sought to portray the new facility as a quasi-embassy for a government in waiting. Karzai decided that Washington was complicit because the Obama administration failed to prevent that outcome.

 

Karzai worries that U.S. officials will secretly cut a deal with the Taliban at his expense to hasten the U.S. troop departure from Afghanistan. Karzai has also accused the United States of instigating radical extremism on his territory, and he suspects that our real desire in having bases in Afghanistan after next year is quasi-imperialist, with an eye toward broader regional purposes beyond the immediate needs of Afghanistan and counterterrorism.

These actions and this attitude toward Washington are indeed regrettable. But they are no reason for the United States to threaten to pull the plug on all it has invested in Afghanistan.

 

Karzai’s recent outbursts, although excessive, are partly understandable. He had warned the Obama administration in private and public that the Taliban would seek to use its new political office in Doha as a virtual embassy. Washington not only failed to prevent that development but also seemed caught off-guard when it happened.

 

The bigger point, however, is this: Karzai is not Afghanistan, nor does he represent all Afghans. He won two presidential elections — and the United States should do a better job of acknowledging that he earned a mandate from his own people, despite election irregularities. But Karzai’s frustrations with the war and the international community, and his frequent lashing-out, should not be conflated with any desire by most Afghans for U.S. troops to leave. Virtually all other Afghan political leaders I know very much want the international community to stay and remember all too well what happened a quarter-century ago, when the United States abruptly terminated its role in their country.

 

Leaving too soon, and withdrawing all U.S. and international forces, would greatly increase the risk of mission failure for the international community. An accelerated departure and a zero option are inconsistent with the fact that Afghan security forces, although much improved, still need support and guidance and will continue to need them even after the NATO mission ends next year. This aid includes air support, technical aspects of intelligence, bomb-clearing technology and embedded mentors for commanders in the field.

 

Afghan security forces are holding their own on the battlefield and are in the lead nationwide. U.S. force numbers are down by one-third from their peak in 2011, and our rate of casualties has declined by an even higher percentage since then. Afghan army and police casualties are way up, indicating a commitment to the fight that we should admire and want to support. Yet the Afghan forces aren’t strong enough to win or even guarantee continued containment of the Taliban on their own.

 

Beyond the military effects, if the international community totally withdrew, Afghan reformers and all those interested in building a new Afghanistan would suffer a huge psychological blow. Echoes of 1989 would be unmistakable. The ensuing crisis of confidence could be fatal. Indeed, it could affect next year’s presidential elections, as many politicians and citizens could respond by seeking protection within their own ethnic communities, when what is needed is national unity….

 

The United States would be much better served by declaring its desire to help Afghanistan, provided that Afghans do their part and have a serious election next year and that Karzai then step down as required by his country’s constitution (and as he has pledged to do). We need to help the Afghans with that process and avoid being bogged down in public squabbles that serve no constructive purpose.

 

Michael O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He has observed Afghan elections and made several trips there sponsored by the International Security Assistance Force.

 

Contents

 

On Topic

The ‘Zero Option’ Will Finally End the Afghan War: David Francis, The Fiscal Times, July 10, 2013—President Obama is reportedly considering abandoning his plan of leaving a small residual force in Afghanistan after the majority of U.S. troops leave next summer. The so-called “zero option” is said to be under consideration following another disastrous encounter between the president and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai.

 

The Iraq War Is not Over: Kimberly Kagan, The Weekly Standard, July 1, 2013—Sectarian war has reignited in Iraq. Iranian-backed Shia militias have remobilized, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is conducting an intensive and escalating campaign of spectacular attacks against Shia targets, and some of the former Baathist insurgents are staging an effective campaign against the Iraqi Security Forces in the vicinity of Mosul.

 

How to Save the War in Afghanistan: Anthony Cordesman, Real Clear World, July 24, 2013—The U.S. is slowly and steadily losing the war in Afghanistan. It is not losing the war at the military level – although such defeat is possible in coming years if the U.S. does not provide the necessary funds, advisors, and partners. The U.S. is losing the war at the political level by failing to win (and merit) the support of the Congress, the American people, its allies, and the Afghans.

 

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HEZBOLLAH IN SYRIA, AL-NUSRA (AL-QAEDA) IN LEBANON —TWO COUNTRIES, ONE WAR?

 

Contents:                          

 

Download an abbreviated pdf version of today's Daily Briefing.

 

Iran’s Arms Supply to Hizbullah, International Dimensions: Dore Gold, JCPA, May 17, 2013—In an exceptional political signal, a senior Israeli official contacted Mark Landler of the New York Times and explained that the Israeli government was determined to continue to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hizbullah.

 

Nasrallah's Harangue: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, May 29, 2013—Hassan Nasrallah’s stirring and impassioned defense of Damascus despot Bashar Assad went far beyond the Hezbollah chief’s by-now expected bravado. This was something intrinsically different. Nasrallah is a proven master at toying with the emotions of both supporters and foes in Lebanon.

 

Syrian Devastation Is a Tale of Two Countries: Sam Dagher, Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2013 —By any measure Syria’s economy has been devastated by the uprising turned civil war, which entered its third year in March. But the fallout has been a tale of two Syrias. The regime has adapted to a shrinking economy as well as U.S. and European sanctions, while average Syrians bear the brunt of the pain.

 

Lebanon: Fault Line for Hezbollah's War on 'Takfiris' In Syria: Nasser Chararah, Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, May 29, 2013 — With the fall of two rockets (a third failed to launch due to a malfunction) last week on the shiite-majority Chiyyah neighborhood in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Lebanon has entered a new phase of rising tension that threatens to import the conflict in Syria between Jabhat al-Nusra and the Syria  opposition on the one hand and Hezbollah on the other.
 

Iran's Strategy in Syria: Will Fulton, Joseph Holliday & Sam Wyer, Real Clear World, May 3, 2013—The Islamic Republic of Iran has conducted an extensive, expensive, and integrated effort to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power as long as possible while setting conditions to retain its ability to use Syrian territory and assets to pursue its regional interests should Assad fall.

 

On Topic Links

 

Kerry Getting Out-Foxed By Russia Over Syria: James P. Rubin, New Republic, May 29, 2013

The Folly of Waiting for a More Perfect Syrian Opposition: Shadi Hamid, The Atlantic, May 28 2013

Syrian Fault Lines in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley: Martin Armstrong, Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse,  May 29, 2013
In Jordan, Militias Form to Guard Against Potential Syrian Attacks: Taylor Luck, Washington Post, May 30, 2013

 

 

IRAN’S ARMS SUPPLY TO HIZBULLAH: INTERNATIONAL DIMENSIONS

Dore Gold

JCPA, May 17, 2013

 

In an exceptional political signal, a senior Israeli official contacted Mark Landler of the New York Times and explained that the Israeli government was determined to continue to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hizbullah. The official, who remained anonymous throughout the report, added that if Syria  President Bashar al-Assad reacts to this policy by attacking Israel – either directly or indirectly through a proxy force – he will “risk forfeiting his regime, for Israel will retaliate.”

 

Israel’s policy of preventing the supply of advanced weapons to Hizbullah has been in place for some time, but in the past was primarily the responsibility of the Israeli Navy which intercepted Iranian weapons ships in the Mediterranean. According to U.S. sources, Israel has more recently concentrated this effort in Syria  territory. The Syrians may have had an interest in assuring that some of their more advanced weaponry not fall into the hands of the Sunni extremist groups they have been fighting that are linked to al-Qaeda, like Jabhat al-Nusra. Should the Assad regime retreat to Alawite areas near the coast, it would not want to see those advanced weapons in the hands of the Sunni forces, with whom it may be fighting for years to come.

 

But a new motive appears to have become far more predominant in recent weeks. Iran appears to have decided that it must prevent a situation arising in which it loses its grip on Syria, which has been characterized by an Iranian institute tied to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the “35th district of Iran.” As a result, Iran appears to be providing itself with an option to take over Syria, if Assad falls. It has not only directly intervened by itself and deployed its own Revolutionary Guard forces on Syria  soil, but it has also sought to build up an expeditionary army made up of Lebanese Hizbullah and other Shiite militias from Iraq as well. Iran is training and equipping these forces. It is also providing Hizbullah with state-of-the-art weapons, partly as a reward for the services the organization is providing.

 

In the past, Israeli defense officials have said the supply of “game-changing weaponry” will not be tolerated and they have focused in their briefings on several specific types of arms transfers to Hizbullah:

 

a. Chemical weapons.

 

b. Iranian surface-to-surface missiles equipped with heavy warheads, like the Fateh 110, which has a highly destructive 600 kg. warhead as compared to the 30 kg. warhead on Hizbullah’s Katyusha rockets that it launched against Israel in the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

 

c. Long-range anti-aircraft missiles, like the Russian-manufactured SA-17, which can limit the freedom of action of the Israeli Air Force if deployed by Hizbullah in southern Lebanon. The SA-17 uses a mobile launcher. Israeli diplomacy has been especially concerned with the Russian sale of even more robust S-300 anti-aircraft missiles by Russia to Syria, though there are no indications that Hizbullah is a potential recipient of this system.

 

d. Long-range anti-ship missiles, like the Russian supersonic Yakhont cruise missile, that has a range of 300 km. and can strike at Israeli offshore gas rigs in the Eastern Mediterranean. Russia recently sent a shipment of the missiles which will be added to an initial inventory of 72 missiles received first in 2011.

 

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2012, Lt.-Gen. Ronald L. Burgess, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, pointed to the Yakhont as a threat to the U.S. Navy as well: “DIA remains concerned with the proliferation of advanced cruise missiles, such as Russia’s supersonic Yakhont anti-ship cruise missile which Moscow sold to Syria and Vietnam. The 300-km.-range Yakhont poses a major threat to naval operations particularly in the eastern Mediterranean.”

 

There is another international context to Israel’s position on Iran’s weapons shipments to Hizbullah. At the end of the Second Lebanon War, the U.S. and France drafted the text of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which was adopted unanimously on August 11, 2006, with Russian and Chinese support. Article 15 states that the resolution prohibits all UN member states from allowing their nationals to engage in “the sale or supply to any entity or individual in Lebanon of arms and related material of all types.”…

 

Those who recall the UN Security Council resolutions that were adopted against Iran’s nuclear program might not recall that they entailed an arms embargo on Iranian weapons exports as well. Thus, UN Security Council Resolution 1747, adopted on March 24, 2007, specifically stated in paragraph 5: “Iran shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related materiel, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran.” …

 

Israel, in taking measures against this activity, is not only acting in accordance with its own security interests, but in a manner consistent with the repeated decisions of the international community. Unfortunately, since the UN never effectively implemented its own resolutions, Israel was left with no choice but to act in its own self-defense.

 

Iran continues to ignore these UN resolutions and flagrantly violates them. Israel is receiving strong international support from the U.S. and Britain for the stance it is taking against Iranian weapons supplies to Hizbullah. But clearly, should Israel come under criticism in the future, it can point to the fact of the failure of the international community to halt Iran’s airlift to its proxy forces like Hizbullah.

 

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NASRALLAH'S HARANGUE

Editorial

Jerusalem Post, May 29, 2013

 

Hassan Nasrallah’s stirring and impassioned defense of Damascus despot Bashar Assad went far beyond the Hezbollah chief’s by-now expected bravado. This was something intrinsically different. Nasrallah is a proven master at toying with the emotions of both supporters and foes in Lebanon. This time, though, and perhaps for the first time, he displayed genuine emotion.

 

It may have been Nasrallah’s usual braggadocio when he vowed to stay in the Syria  conflict “to the end of the road” and to bring victory to his beleaguered ally Damascus despot Bashar Assad. But the significant portions of his harangue were those in which he listed the consequences to Lebanon if Assad should fall.

Nasrallah predicted a catastrophic outcome, from his point of view, in such an eventuality. He said Lebanon would be the next to cave under. The subtext is that Hezbollah would collapse in the Lebanese content. His Shi’ite organization would, in other words, lose its stranglehold over Lebanon.

 

It was always apparent that Assad was Hezbollah’s patron and benefactor. But now Nasrallah had admitted in no uncertain terms that Assad is not merely an ally but an indispensable mainstay. Hence Nasrallah must do absolutely everything to keep Assad in power, because Nasrallah’s own power hinges on that. The fates of Assad and Hezbollah are one and the same. If Assad loses his struggle to maintain its sway over Syria, Hezbollah would lose its ability to maintain its sway over Lebanon. Hezbollah is not merely repaying a trusted confederate; Hezbollah is waging the ultimate fight for its power base in Lebanon….

 

Nasrallah keeps pouring more and more manpower into Syria and anti-Assad forces have now aimed their rockets at Hezbollah’s stronghold in Beirut. Just as Syria is considered a legitimate battleground for Hezbollah, so its Syria  enemies are likely to consider Lebanon a legitimate target for retaliation. Nasrallah has compelling reasons to fear that Assad’s defeat would send his enemies into Lebanon to root out the last vestiges of Assad’s prime accomplice, i.e. Hezbollah. This is not a conflict of choice for Hezbollah but a desperate fight to the finish.

 

Hezbollah’s investment in Assad’s preservation has now superseded all its other agendas – including its enmity for Israel. The attacks – attributed to Israel – on convoys transferring weapons of mass destruction from Syria to Lebanon appear to bother Nasrallah remarkably less than the fear for the future of the Assad regime. Hezbollah is not, of course, the only player in Syria’s immediate vicinity that has a vested interest in safeguarding Assad. The biggest stake in Assad’s well-being is held by the godfather of the pro-Assad axis – Iran. To a great extent Hezbollah is fighting as Tehran’s surrogate….

 

Nasrallah’s fiery oratory notwithstanding, his organization faces odds it never encountered in the past. It is not only pitted against Israel and domestic Lebanese opponents. The entire coterie of fanatic Sunni baddies from all around the Muslim world both castigates and actively opposes it. Hezbollah is more vulnerable and far weaker than at any previous juncture. This is a heartening development for Israel and a welcome byproduct from its policy of non-intervention.

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SYRIA  DEVASTATION IS A TALE OF TWO COUNTRIES

Sam Dagher

Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2013

 

By any measure Syria’s economy has been devastated by the uprising turned civil war, which entered its third year in March. But the fallout has been a tale of two Syrias. The regime has adapted to a shrinking economy as well as U.S. and European sanctions, while average Syria s bear the brunt of the pain.

 

Economists and some Syria  government officials estimate the country’s gross domestic product, which stood at almost $60 billion in 2010 according to the World Bank, has shrunk by nearly 45 percent over the past two years. Since March 2011, the Syria  pound has lost 70 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar. The World Bank estimates inflation exceeded 50 percent last year.

 

So far the government remains able to pay salaries, provide basic services and subsidize essentials like bread in areas under its control, mostly in the central and western parts of the country. Syria is estimated to have had about $18 billion in foreign currency reserves on March 2011 and one Syria  economist believes the government can sustain itself for two more years if there are no dramatic changes in the current situation.

 

Iran and Iraq are now supplying the regime with almost all of its oil and gas needs, according to a senior official at Syria’s Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources and a Syria  businessman in charge of organizing fuel truck convoys from neighboring countries and within Syria. Iran has extended to the regime this year credit lines of up to $4 billion to finance imports and oil and gas purchases, Syria  Central Bank Governor Adeeb Mayaleh told the official Tishreen newspaper Monday.

 

He also said Iran is finalizing a $4 billion loan to the regime. Syria has also set up barter deals with Baghdad. For example exports of Syria  cement to Iraq have skyrocketed in recent months according to figures compiled by a Damascus-based economist. The outside help is often coordinated by businessmen with close ties to the regime.

 

The streets of Damascus and other towns and cities under regime control appear normal. Markets and retail stores are well-stocked and businesses are functioning, albeit at a fraction of their capacity. But among average Syria s, the erratic exchange rate over the past few weeks, the dramatic rise in prices of many goods and talk that the government may lift subsidies estimated at half a trillion Syria  pounds ($3.3 billion) a year is setting off alarm bells.

 

“Intentions to Lift Subsidies…Last Mercy Bullet,” screamed a headline in the Syria  daily newspaper Baladna Monday. The paper estimated that prices of most goods have gone up on average by 240 percent since March 2011. Minimum monthly wages, meanwhile, have largely stayed the same, ranging from the equivalent of $200 to $300 depending on the exchange rate.

 

Much of the talk about ending subsidies has been fuelled by a government mandated increase this month in the price of gasoline (petrol) and cooking gas, which is distributed in metal jars. Another privately-held newspaper Al-Watan said Monday that there were sharp disagreements inside the current government over whether to increase salaries or lift subsidies.

 

The paper quoting a “source” present at a cabinet meeting earlier this month said that Qadri Jamil, deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs, was in favour of lifting subsidies and raising salaries of government employees by 200 percent.

 

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LEBANON: FAULT LINE FOR HEZBOLLAH'S
WAR ON 'TAKFIRIS' IN SYRIA

Nasser Chararah

Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, May 29, 2013

 

With the fall of two rockets (a third failed to launch due to a malfunction) last week on the shiite-majority Chiyyah neighborhood in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Lebanon has entered a new phase of rising tension that threatens to import the conflict in Syria between Jabhat al-Nusra and the Syria  opposition on the one hand and Hezbollah on the other. The rockets were fired from Bsaba in mount Lebanon toward Chiyyah, an Amal and Hezbollah stronghold.

 

The rockets were fired only hours after Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah announced in a speech the party’s decision to fight in Syria alongside the Syria  regime. This means that military cells that support the Syria  regime are present in Lebanon and can carry out attacks at any time they are ordered.

 

According to Lebanese security forces, the attack had been expected for several days. It was considered likely that Jabhat al-Nusra might retaliate for Hezbollah’s participation in the fighting in Syria. During the middle of last week, Hezbollah was concerned that Jabhat al-Nusra might target the liberation day celebrations held in Mashghara, Bekaa (liberation day is about the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the security zone it had established in Lebanon’s south). In the celebration, Nasrallah gave a speech on a giant screen and announced that his party is fighting in Syria….

 

Lebanese security sources expect the war between Hezbollah and Jabhat al-Nusra to escalate in the next few days. According to available information, Jabhat al-Nusra controls Lebanese and Palestinian Salafist groups in northern Lebanon, in the Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp near the southern city of Sidon, and in Beirut and its suburbs, especially in the Burj al-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp.

 

For weeks, pro-Jabhat al-Nusra salafist groups in Lebanon have been training dozens of displaced Palestinians from Syria in at least two locations in the Ein al-Hilweh camp. Lebanese intelligence said that Osama al-Shehab, an al-Qaeda operative, supervises those two locations in Ein al-Hilweh camp.

 

According to a Lebanese security assessment, Jabhat al-Nusra can fight a war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. There are hundreds of thousands of displaced Syria s who wish to see Syria  president Bashar al-Assad toppled and who live among the Lebanese Sunni community in Lebanon. Jabhat al-Nusra can use those displaced Syrians in its fight against Hezbollah.

 

Recently, there have been political and on-the-ground signs that the war between Jabhat al-Nusra and Hezbollah is heading toward becoming an open war in both Syria and Lebanon. Among those signs was when Nasrallah described the Islamist opposition in Syria as “takfiris.”…

 

Can there really be a war between the two sides in Lebanon?

 

In his speech last Saturday [May 25], Nasrallah said that they would fight only in Syria and asked his Lebanese opponents who wish to fight Hezbollah to do so in Syria and keep Lebanon outside the fight. But some of Nasrallah’s supporters were critical of his speech. One of them told al-monitor, “Nasrallah may have made a mistake in revealing his weak spot. So [his opponents] may choose to fight Hezbollah in Lebanon, which Nasrallah is trying to keep out of the fight.” The same source told Al-Monitor that Hezbollah can fight on two fronts at the same time.

 

On the same day when the two rockets fell on Chiyyah, another rocket was fired toward Israel. This raised questions on whether the two incidents are connected. Some said that the party that launched the rockets in the morning is the same one that fired the rocket on Israel in the evening as a message to the Lebanese government that if you don’t pressure Hezbollah to pull out of Syria, the Syria  opposition will blow up the security situation in Lebanon, whether internally or by means of re-activating the Israeli front.

 

Since the beginning of this week, many Lebanese have started feeling afraid because of all these developments. Economic activity has markedly slowed since the developments started.

 

Nasser Chararah is a contributing writer for al-monitor's Lebanon pulse and for multiple arab newspapers and magazines.

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IRAN'S STRATEGY IN SYRIA

Will Fulton, Joseph Holliday & Sam Wyer

Real Clear World, May 3, 2013

 

The Islamic Republic of Iran has conducted an extensive, expensive, and integrated effort to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power as long as possible while setting conditions to retain its ability to use Syrian territory and assets to pursue its regional interests should Assad fall.

 

The Iranian security and intelligence services are advising and assisting the Syrian military in order to preserve Bashar al-Assad's hold on power. These efforts have evolved into an expeditionary training mission using Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Ground Forces, Quds Force, intelligence services, and law enforcement forces. The deployment of IRGC Ground Forces to conflict abroad is a notable expansion of Iran's willingness and ability to project military force beyond its borders.

 

Iran has been providing essential military supplies to Assad, primarily by air. Opposition gains in Syria have interdicted many ground resupply routes between Baghdad and Damascus, and the relative paucity of Iranian port-visits in Syria suggests that Iran's sea-lanes to Syria are more symbolic than practical. The air line of communication between Iran and Syria is thus a key vulnerability for Iranian strategy in Syria. Iran would not be able to maintain its current level of support to Assad if this air route were interdicted through a no-fly zone or rebel capture of Syrian airfields.

 

Iran is also assisting pro-government Shabiha militias, partly to hedge against Assad's fall or the contraction of the regime into Damascus and a coastal Alawite enclave. These militias will become even more dependent on Tehran in such a scenario, allowing Iran to maintain some ability to operate in and project force from Syria….

 

Iraqi Shi‘a militants are also fighting in Syria in support of Assad. Their presence became overt in 2012 with the formation of the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigade, a pro-government militia that is a conglomerate of Syrian and foreign Shi‘a fighters, including members of Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraq-based Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata'ib Hezbollah. Like other paramilitary forces operating in Syria, these militants escalated their involvement as the conflict descended into civil war. The open participation of Iraqi Shi‘a militants in Syria is an alarming indicator of the expansion of sectarian conflict throughout the region.

 

The Syrian conflict has already constrained Iran's influence in the Levant, and the fall of the Assad regime would further reduce Tehran's ability to project power. Iran's hedging strategy aims to ensure, however, that it can continue to pursue its vital interests if and when the regime collapses, using parts of Syria as a base as long as the Syrian opposition fails to establish full control over all of Syrian territory.

 

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Kerry Getting Out-Foxed By Russia Over Syria: James P. Rubin, New Republic, May 29, 2013—Secretary of State John Kerry has gotten off to a fast start as America’s chief diplomat, already racking up a half a dozen sessions with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

 

The Folly of Waiting for a More Perfect Syrian Opposition: Shadi Hamid, The Atlantic, May 28 2013—Today, the debate over Syria focuses once again on the composition of the Syrian National Coalition. And while the United States, Europe, and Saudi Arabia push the opposition to expand its ranks to include more liberals, the Assad regime continues to make significant gains against rebel forces, who report a loss of morale and lack even the most basic equipment.

 

Syrian Fault Lines In Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley: Martin Armstrong, Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse,  May 29, 2013—In a former classroom in Arsal, Sekra al-Ahmad, 60, gently grips the forearm of her grandson. With her other hand she gently applies a lotion to a shallow wound near the child’s elbow, the result of government shelling that claimed the life one of Ahmad’s other grandchildren in Qusair.

 

Jordan, Informal Militias Form To Guard Against Syrian Attacks: Taylor Luck, Washington Post, May 30, 2013—Mohammed Hamad and his cousins, many handling a firearm for the first time, awkwardly balanced Kalashnikov rifles on their shoulders and shot practice rounds into watermelon targets here at the edge of the Yarmouk Valley separating Jordan and Syria.

 

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LEBANESE RELIGIO-POLITICAL CRISIS RADICALIZED BY SYRIAN CIVIL WAR, HEZBOLLAH—AL-NUSRAH CONFLICT

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Contents:                          

 

 

Uncertainty over Electoral Law Prolongs Lebanon Political Crisis: Nasser Chararah,Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, May 20, 2013—There have been mounting concerns about the situation in Lebanon during the coming period. Indeed, political factions have failed to reach a consensus on producing an electoral law that would remedy the [issue of] Christian representation, and develop the [former] electoral law that included glaring errors regarding fair representation.

 

The Imminent Hezbollah-Nusra War: Hanin Ghaddar, NOW Lebanon, May 15, 2013—Hezbollah will not save the Shiites. They have already determined that Lebanon and all the Lebanese will have to sacrifice their lives for their mission to serve Iran and its interests in the region. The Lebanese need to save themselves.

 

How Hezbollah Slowly Infiltrated Europe: Alexandre Levy, LE TEMPS/Worldcrunch, Apr. 9, 2013—While Cyprus was in the middle of a financial crisis, the court of Limassol, the island’s second largest city, made a ruling that largely went unnoticed. Yet it was a judicial first. On March 28, the Cyprus court condemned a 24-year-old Swedish-Lebanese man, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, to four years in prison for helping plan attacks against Israelis on the Mediterranean island.

 

Hezbollah Campaigns for Preemptive War in Syria: Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, May 22, 2013—Several Hezbollah fighters were killed or wounded by a booby-trapped tanker truck during a recent incursion into Syria. There had been several similar incidents in preceding days. In another episode, a Syrian opposition gunman appeared to surrender to Hezbollah forces, but as he approached them, he detonated the explosive belt he was wearing.

 

On Topic Links

 

Three in Europe Now Oppose Hezbollah: Nicholas Kulish, New York Times,  May 22, 2013

The Jihadist Threat to Lebanon: Jaafar al-Attar, from As-Safir (Lebanon). Al-Monitor, May 15, 2013

Hizbollah cannot Afford to Stay Long in Syria's Quagmire: Michael Young, The National (UAE), May 23, 2013

 

 

UNCERTAINTY OVER ELECTORAL LAW
PROLONGS LEBANON POLITICAL CRISIS

Nasser Chararah

Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, May 20, 2013

 

There have been mounting concerns about the situation in Lebanon during the coming period. Indeed, political factions have failed to reach a consensus on producing an electoral law that would remedy the [issue of] Christian representation, and develop the [former] electoral law that included glaring errors regarding fair representation.

 

For instance, the provisions of the current electoral law, dubbed the “1960 law,” are in direct conflict with the Lebanese constitution, according to which Lebanese people have equal representation quotas. Pursuant to the current electoral law, certain MPs could secure a place in parliament with thousands of votes in some constituencies, while others may need tens of thousands of votes to win a seat. This is not to mention that according to the current law, a significant part of Christian MPs are elected by Muslim votes.

 

During the past months, there has been a need to formulate a new, fairer electoral law. However, intense political disputes in the country — which are connected to regional differences — have prevented the drafting of a new electoral law.

 

With the expiration of the constitutional deadline to amend the electoral law, and given that the term of the current parliament will come to an end in the second half of June, not to mention that political factions have yet to reach a consensus on a new electoral law, Lebanon stands today at a crossroads. It can either opt to extend the term of parliament to try to formulate a new electoral law and therefore hold elections on this basis; or it can hold elections based on the 1960 law, given that is the only legitimate solution in the absence of consensus on any other law.

 

In any case, both solutions reflect the depth of the political and constitutional crisis that Lebanon has been going through. The most dangerous implication of the current crisis is that it could lead the political system to a structural crisis that would be difficult to overcome with cosmetic solutions. This is not to mention that, in light of domestic and regional considerations, it is impossible to make any substantial changes to the system.

 

There have been several key signs emerging from the current crisis indicating the nature of challenges threatening Lebanon’s political stability and coexistence, according to its current rules that are not likely to be remedied in light of the internal and external situation.

 

First, a significant part of Lebanese Christians believe that balanced sectarian representation can be mended with their Sunni partners in peace. This representation was disturbed when Maronites were forced to relinquish some of their major political and constitutional power — which they had during the first Republic (1983-1989) — as the result of drafting the constitution of Taif.

 

Thus, the Orthodox electoral law has been put forth, according to which each sectarian group would elect its own candidates on a proportional basis. The major Christian political bloc (including the Free Patriotic Movement, the Marada movement, the Kataeb Party, and even Bikirki [the seat of the Maronite Patriarchy] indirectly) was expecting that the Sunni partners would accept the Orthodox proposal as an acknowledgement that the Taif Agreement needed to be amended in terms of fixing the Christian representation and not in terms of restoring the powers of the Maronite President of the Republic.

 

Nevertheless, the Orthodox proposal was rejected as the quorum was not reached during the parliament session due to the opposition of the Sunni bloc that is mainly allied with the Druze and some Christian parties. This indicated that Sunni partners (the biggest community in the country) have refused to establish a new settlement with Christians. Sunnis continue to insist that Christians relinquish powers under the Taif Agreement so as to reflect the new balances of power in the country and that they have to be realistic about this fact.

 

This also demonstrates that the Taif Agreement, which has served as a constitutional chart for the Second Republic in Lebanon, is no longer unanimously agreed upon by all Lebanese. It has become in the eyes of a large part of Christians an agreement that reflects their existence under a political system that reproduces their defeat in the civil war, which broke out during the 1970s and 1980s and resulted in the Taif Agreement under Arab and International auspices.

 

Moreover, [rejecting the Orthodox proposal] indicates that the country is going through a crisis that has been gripping the political system at all levels. This is especially true, since the crisis of a new electoral law that can produce a just sectarian representation, coincided with the crisis of the resigned government of Najib Mikati, about two month ago, which is now limited to managing day-to-day state affairs.

 

These overlapping crises suggest that Lebanon’s various institutions are no longer able to uphold the state’s affairs. The legitimacy of the Constitutional Council, which is in charge of monitoring constitutional legitimacy, has become disreputable. Meanwhile, parliament is paralyzed as a result of sharp divisions, preventing it from producing legislation.

 

Moreover, the military council (which is similar to the Government of the Lebanese Army) has been also become paralyzed. Thus, the military institution is likely to embark on the path of vacuum, as most of its members are retired, while no constitutional provision has been set yet to [choose] any alternatives.

 

What’s more, the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces is set to retire in September. Thus, all leaders of the military institutions will soon become leaders by proxy. Hence, current events clearly indicate that the Lebanese crisis has gone beyond the political situation and has gripped the entire political system, undermining the state and sectarian coexistence.

 

Nasser Chararah is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Lebanon Pulse and for multiple Arab newspapers and magazines, as well as the author of several books on the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict.

 

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THE IMMINENT HEZBOLLAH-NUSRA WAR

Hanin Ghaddar

NOW Lebanon, May 15, 2013

 

The Syrian Salafist group Jabhat Al-Nusra declared in Jordan that it has set the confrontation with Hezbollah militants in Syria as a top priority. Jordan-based al-Qaeda-affiliate Mohammad Al Shalabi, alias Abi Sayyaf, said that Jabhat al-Nusra has taken a decision to fight Hezbollah militants, who have become "our Jihadists’ main target" across Syria. This came after Hezbollah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah declared last week that Hezbollah will stand by Syria and help it become a state of resistance. He announced that Hezbollah is ready to receive any sort of qualitative weapons even if it is going to disrupt the regional balance. 

 

For the Syrian rebels, al-Nusra and others, this is a declaration of war against them, knowing that what Nasrallah really means is that Hezbollah is now in charge of Syria, upon Iran’s decision. Hezbollah and Iran are running the show and if the Syrian rebels want to prevail, they need to target Hezbollah, not Assad or the Syrian regime. Assad has been pushed to the background to make way for Hezbollah. Therefore, it is not strange that Al-Nusra has decided to shift its priority to fighting Hezbollah as its main enemy.

 

Al-Nusra’s main mission is not to free Syria of its dictatorship and move to build a modern democratic state. Their goal is the umma and they will fight the enemies of the umma wherever they are. Therefore, their fight against Hezbollah will not stay in Syria and will eventually move to Lebanon. They do not differentiate between Hezbollah and the Shiite community just as they do not differentiate between Assad and Alawites.  This will lead to two dangerous consequences for Lebanon.

 

One, Shiites will be targeted by al-Nusra and other Sunni jihadist groups, especially that the sectarian tension among Lebanese Sunnis and Shiites has already reached unprecedented levels. In fact, while Hezbollah sends its fighters to Syria, many Lebanese Sunni groups are also moving to Syria to fight alongside the rebels.

 

What’s happening is that the Lebanese Sunni-Shiite civil war is already taking place, but in Syria. It is only a matter of time before it moves to Lebanon. These fighters will return to Lebanon with increased hatred toward each other; hatred rigged with blood and a desire for revenge. Al-Nusra are not organized enough to fight against Hezbollah in a conventional war, but they could cause great damage by organizing bomb attacks and suicide bombers against Hezbollah’s bases and public squares in the southern suburbs of Beirut or the South.

 

Their fighting tactics are usually based on bomb attacks, not bombing cities with rockets. They are an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, and they don’t usually dissociate between a militant and a civilian. They just target a place aiming at the maximum damage. Therefore, Hezbollah’s supporters and the Shiite community in general will be in danger.

 

Also, there are plenty of Lebanese jihadist and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups that had a presence in Lebanon before the Syrian conflict and can now be mobilized to target Hezbollah. Organizations like Fatah al-Islam, Jund al-Sham or Osbat al-Ansar have had bases in Lebanon for years, but they never engaged Hezbollah in direct confrontations. However, after the beginning of the Syrian conflict, jihadists reportedly regrouped in a new radical organization inspired by the emergence and successful military operations of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.

 

Two, Lebanon will become al-Nusra’s alternative battlefield. There are no state institutions to control their growing presence in Lebanon or the spread of arms. The current void in government is not helping and Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam seems to be incapable of forming a government that does not meet Hezbollah’s conditions, one that facilitates its involvement in Syria. So how can we protect Lebanon and the Shiites from the looming disaster?

 

Let’s start with the reality that the Shiite community in Lebanon is not one single bloc that supports Hezbollah. The diversity among the Shiites is wider than it is among other sectarian communities, for religious reasons related to the diversity of religious references (Marja’) and different interpretations of the Qur’an. On the political level, this community has never been as divided over Hezbollah as it is today. The feeling that Hezbollah is dragging them to hell is translating into serious discussion and refutation inside the community.

 

There is an urgent need to repeat this over and over. Every Lebanese official and media outlet should aim to highlight this diversity. Hezbollah will not save the Shiites. They have already determined that Lebanon and all the Lebanese will have to sacrifice their lives for their mission to serve Iran and its interests in the region. The Lebanese need to save themselves.

 

That’s why it is also important to safeguard Lebanon today by fighting Hezbollah’s hegemony over state institutions. A government that empowers Hezbollah and maintains Iran’s control over state institutions should not be an option. PM-designate Tammam Salam and President Michel Suleiman should not succumb to any threats. A government to save Lebanon is urgently needed now, more than ever. If this is not achieved, Lebanon will be naturally linked to Hezbollah and the Hezbollah-Nusra war will not spare anyone. If we lose this chance, we lose everything.

 

 Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW.

 

 

HOW HEZBOLLAH SLOWLY INFILTRATED EUROPE

Alexandre Levy

LE TEMPS/Worldcrunch, Apr. 9, 2013

 

While Cyprus was in the middle of a financial crisis, the court of Limassol, the island’s second largest city, made a ruling that largely went unnoticed. Yet it was a judicial first. On March 28, the Cyprus court condemned a 24-year-old Swedish-Lebanese man, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, to four years in prison for helping plan attacks against Israelis on the Mediterranean island. The man – a self-confessed member of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group – was a scout for the organization, tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of Israeli tourists on the island, in view of organizing a terrorist attack.

 

In front of the judges, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub denied being a terrorist, saying he had only “gathered information about Jews.” “That's what my organization does around the world,” he added. According to reports from the Cyprus police, the Hezbollah agent was particularly meticulous. He took notes on everything: flight schedules, bus license plates, the numbers of security guards, hotels, kosher restaurants etc. Hossam Taleb Yaacoub was arrested on July 7, 2012 by the Cyprus police. But it is only two weeks later that his activities started making sense, says Matthew Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

 

On the other side of the Bosporus, in Burgas, on the Bulgarian coast, a bus transporting Israeli tourists was blown up, killing seven people, including the bomber. “It is clear that Hossam Taleb Yaacoub was preparing another attack that was supposed to take place around the same time,” says Levitt. In Feb. 2013, Bulgarian authorities announced their investigations led them to believe that the Hezbollah was behind the bus bombing. Bulgaria had suddenly become a pawn on the dangerous chessboard that is the Middle-Eastern conflict.

 

Bulgaria’s announcement also had important consequences from a European point of view. Some major countries of the EU, including France and Germany, have not designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, so as to preserve the fragile political equilibrium in Lebanon. In light of the events in Cyprus and Burgas, some are “reviewing” their stance, while others “are not sufficiently convinced,” according to Bulgarian Prime Minister Marin Raikov.

 

But in the U.S., there is no doubt. Early 2013, the U.S. Congress invited the EU to blacklist Hezbollah. An invitation reiterated by some of Washington’s top officials, to Israel's utmost satisfaction. For Matthew Levitt, Hezbollah is a key ally of Iran – maybe even its military proxy – playing “a central role in Iran’s shadow war with the West.” Taking advantage of the leniency of some European capitals, Hezbollah has strengthened its network in Europe, recruiting and positioning agents all across the continent. Bi-nationals with ties with Lebanon have the ideal profile. Recruited at age 19, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub had a Swedish passport and did not arouse the suspicion of European police. This allowed him to travel frequently from Turkey to the Netherlands, through Lyon, in east-central France, carrying mysterious packages for Hezbollah.

 

It was the same for the men who operated in Bulgaria: one of them was Canadian, the other Australian; they had entered the country legally. Nothing in their attitude betrayed the true objective of their stay. Bulgarian investigators describe them as smart-looking youths, dressed head to toe with big-brand clothes. They rented cars and booked hotel rooms with fake U.S. drivers’ licenses. That was their only mistake. “The documents were made by a forger in Lebanon, known by our colleagues from Western intelligence services,” explains Bulgaria’s organized crime czar, Stanimir Florov. Money transfers from Lebanon, as well as a photo on which relatives of one of the terrorists posed with high-ranking Hezbollah militants, convinced Bulgarian officials: All the tracks lead back to Beirut.

 

Counter-terrorism experts also noted a “professionalization” of Hezbollah agents abroad. “Using fake IDs, speaking foreign languages, conspiracy techniques and coded communications… as well as a secrecy between members, which is the best way to protect other members, ” explains a European police official.

 

Hossam Taleb Yaacoub has always claimed he had never been face-to-face with his Lebanese handler and that he did not know the real purpose of his mission. This could also be the case for the young man who died in the explosion of the bomb he carried in his backpack, in front of the Israeli tourists’ bus at the Burgas airport. First described as a “suicide bomber,” he was “probably fooled by the other two team members, who managed to escape the bombing,” says a Bulgarian investigator. Nothing, not even his DNA was able to establish his true identity.

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HEZBOLLAH CAMPAIGNS FOR PREEMPTIVE WAR IN SYRIA

Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, May 22, 2013

 

Several Hezbollah fighters were killed or wounded by a booby-trapped tanker truck during a recent incursion into Syria. There had been several similar incidents in preceding days. In another episode, a Syrian opposition gunman appeared to surrender to Hezbollah forces, but as he approached them, he detonated the explosive belt he was wearing.

 

Hezbollah admits to thus far losing 32 fighters in the battle for Qusair, but some believe the actual figure to be much higher. On May 20, the party buried two brothers who had fought in Qusair, and a rumor circulated that their father died from sorrow during the funeral. The fact that such a story was making the rounds among Hezbollah’s base reflects the prevailing anxiety.

 

Most of the party’s militia members come from the same societal group, so when one of them is killed, it affects an entire community. Hezbollah’s participation in the Qusair fighting thus stands to affect the party’s relationship with its base.

 

The organization's propaganda machine is busy in its strongholds — the Bekaa Valley, south Lebanon, and Beirut’s southern suburbs — trying to preempt feelings of frustration. The campaign is focused on convincing Hezbollah supporters that Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has wisely decided to fight Sunni takfiris in Syria because if they succeed in bringing down the Syrian regime, they will then target Lebanon and subjugate the Shiites.

 

In short, the propaganda campaign is about making the argument for a preemptive war. Hezbollah must fight the Sunni takfirists now, on Syrian ground beside the Syrian army, because if Hezbollah waits until the takfiris bring down the Bashar al-Assad government, it would be forced to fight them alone in Lebanon.

 

Another argument Hezbollah is making is that the party has a duty to defend sacred Shiite shrines in Syria, such as Sayyeda Zeinab in Damascus, which Syrian opposition militants have tried to destroy on more than one occasion.

 

Another part of the propaganda campaign involves promoting stories of heroic acts by party members in Qusair and portraying Hezbollah fighters as militarily superior, even to those in the Syrian army. Such boasting about Hezbollah’s strength and military competence is intended to raise the morale of the base and shift attention away from news reports of Hezbollah losses.

 

So goes the effort to convince Hezbollah supporters that the price of losing their sons is worth it.

 

 

Three in Europe Now Oppose Hezbollah: Nicholas Kulish, New York Times,  May 22, 2013—Three of Europe’s most powerful countries — Britain, Germany and France — have thrown their weight behind a push for the European Union to designate the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, a move that could have far-reaching consequences for the group’s fund-raising activities on the Continent.

 

The Jihadist Threat to Lebanon: Jaafar al-Attar, from As-Safir (Lebanon). Al-Monitor, May 15, 2013—Many officers do not deny that the Lebanese security services do not possess documented information on the numbers and locations of the “organized takfiri networks” in Lebanon. The head of one of those security services told As-Safir that “monitoring and information-gathering on terrorist networks cannot be precise, since they are located within the Palestinian refugee camps, especially in Ain al-Hilweh.”

 

Hizbollah Cannot Afford to Stay Long in Syria's Quagmire: Michael Young, The National (UAE), May 23, 2013 —Hizbollah is being drawn into the Syrian quagmire. as revealed by this week's reports of party members being killed fighting in the strategic Syrian town of Qusair. Victory in Qusair is vital for the Syrian regime, as it would clear a corridor between Damascus and the coast, the stronghold of the Alawite community.

 

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

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LEBANON LANGUISHING UNDER WEIGHT OF SYRIAN REFUGEE INFLUX, SHIFTING SECTARIAN DIVISIONS, HEZBOLLAH’S MISSILE MISCHIEF

Download Today's Isranet Daily Briefing.pdf 

 

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

 

Lebanon and the Spillover from Syria: David Schenker, Real Clear World, Feb. 5, 2013—Last week's Israeli attack on a Hizballah convoy in Syria — reportedly en route to Lebanon carrying advanced Russian antiaircraft systems — highlights the ongoing impact of the war on Syria's western neighbor. As with the other states on Syria's border, Lebanon has been deluged with refugees and suffered significant economic consequences from the crisis, both positive and negative.

 

 

No Love Lost in the South: Raphael Thelen, Now Lebanon, Feb. 18, 2013—Fadi Chamieh is sitting in his office in the heart of Saida. A gray winter storm splashes big raindrops against the window. A neon tube in the ceiling throws harsh light across his desk. “The majority of Syrian refugees are pro-revolution, so they go to areas where they are welcome. But now these areas are full and they started to go to other places,” says Chamieh.

Iran and Israel Fight, Lebanon Loses: Tony Badran, Now Lebanon, Feb. 15, 2013—It’s been more than two weeks since the Israeli airstrike in Syria against the arms convoy headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Bits of information, coupled with ominous warnings, are coming out from Jerusalem regarding the purpose of the strike. Since 2006, Israel has waged a major campaign against Iran’s supply network, transferring strategic weapons to its assets in the Levant. 

 

On Topic Links

 

 

Hezbollah, Part 1: Origins and Challenges: Mohammad Harfoush, Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, Feb. 18, 2013
Lebanese Opposition Bashes Hezbollah Over Burgas Attack: Elhanan Miller, Times of Israel, Feb.7, 2013
Deputy Speaker Makari: 'We Do Not See Stability in Lebanon': Elie Hajj, Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, Feb. 10, 2013
If Iran and Israel Fight, Lebanon Will Be the First Battlefield: Jonathan Schanzer, The Globe and Mail,  Feb. 1, 2013
European Union Must Respond to Hezbollah’s Bulgaria Attack: Editorial, Washington Post, Published: Feb. 5, 2013
Death of a Master Terrorist: How the ‘Iranian Jackal’ Was Killed: Erol Araf, National Post, Feb 12, 2013

 

 

 

 

LEBANON AND THE SPILLOVER FROM SYRIA

David Schenker

Real Clear World, Feb. 5, 2013

 

Last week's Israeli attack on a Hezbollah convoy in Syria — reportedly en route to Lebanon carrying advanced Russian antiaircraft systems — highlights the ongoing impact of the war on Syria's western neighbour. As with the other states on Syria's border, Lebanon has been deluged with refugees and suffered significant economic consequences from the crisis, both positive and negative. But Lebanon has also suffered sectarian reverberations of the violence next door, as tensions spike between the state's Sunni Muslims — who back the rebellion in Syria — and the Shiite militia, Hezbollah, which backs and militarily supports the Assad regime. Notwithstanding exogenous pressures, however, Lebanon is consumed with domestic issues, in particular, debates over the state's next electoral law and civil marriage.

 

According to the United Nations High Committee on Refugees (UNHCR), among neighbouring states, Lebanon currently hosts the highest number of registered refugees from Syria. With a population of just 4.25 million and facing economic difficulties in large part due to the crisis in Syria, the refugees have proven an untimely and expensive burden for Lebanon….

 

While Lebanon is providing public education to more than 30,000 Syrian children, Lebanon, unlike Jordan and Turkey, has not constructed camps to accommodate the exiles. Indeed, because Lebanon is already home to nearly 400,000 Palestinian refugees, the state is sensitive about the prospect of more long-term expatriate residents, so much so that it is illegal to even set up tents. As a result of this policy, refugees have had to scramble to find housing. To date, most have established residence in Lebanese towns and cities in the north and the Bekaa, but the most destitute have reportedly moved into some of Lebanon's twelve Palestinian refugee camps….

 

While the refugees have been a burden, the impact of the war in Syria has not been entirely detrimental to the Lebanese economy. To be sure, high-end tourism from the Gulf has fallen dramatically. After a kidnapping threat was issued against Saudis in Lebanon last year, tourists from oil-rich Gulf States stopped coming, and as a result, tourism plummeted by 17.5 percent to 1.36 million visitors in 2012, the lowest number since 2008. This figure is significant because during the high season, which runs from May until October, 40 percent of consumption in Lebanon is driven by Arab tourism, which has all but disappeared.

 

At the same time, official Lebanese exports to Syria — if not the more-significant amount of smuggling — have dropped, reportedly from 4 percent to 1 percent. And with overland exports through Syria curtailed, Lebanon's foreign trade has increasingly had to rely on more-expensive sea transit. Worse, violence in Syria has spooked investors, drying up foreign direct investment. Consider that in 2012, there was a 20 percent decline in building permits issued in Lebanon. Meanwhile Lebanese banks, one of the most profitable endeavours in the state, took significant losses on their holdings in Syria….

 

Notwithstanding these costs and the harsh regional environment, Lebanon still managed to create more than 2 percent growth in GDP in 2012. It turns out that the flood of refugees generated additional demand for services such as for doctors and private schools, as well as for consumer products like food. Likewise, even though high-end Beirut hotels were empty, the demand for lower-cost hostels and furnished rental apartments was high. Indeed, the arrival of over 200,000 homeless Syrians has proved a boon to Lebanon's stagnant real estate market. According to the Lebanese daily Al Akhbar, the price-of-housing index rose by 44 percent in December 2012 compared to the same month in 2011….

 

The war in Syria has undercut economic growth, sharpened sectarian fault lines, and increased the population of Lebanon, at least temporarily, by 5 percent. While these developments continue to have a great impact, they are not currently dominating Lebanese headlines. Indeed, the biggest topics of discussion right now in Lebanon are the electoral law under which the state will hold the 2013 parliamentary vote and the debate over whether civil marriage should be legalized. In recent weeks, no less than the Grand Mufti, the president, the prime minister, and the leader of Lebanon's Sunni Muslim community have all weighed in on the merits of civil marriage. It is a divisive issue in Lebanon — last month the Mufti issued a fatwa essentially excommunicating Muslims who marry outside the mosque — but it is one that resonates with Beirut's strong and militantly secular constituency….

 

Even more controversial is the electoral law, another dispute that conjures the very heart of Lebanon's dysfunctional sectarian political system. At issue is whether the electoral law — which has produced pro-West anti-Hezbollah parliamentary majorities in Lebanon in the last two elections — will persevere, or whether this majority will be put in jeopardy in favour of an unprecedented system that allows Christians, Sunnis, Shiites, and Druze to vote only for their co-religionists. The proposed change, proffered by the so-called Orthodox Gathering, counts not only Hezbollah and its Christian coalition partners as supporters but also several Christian leaders affiliated with the pro-West "March 14" bloc.

 

It is not clear how these debates, which overlap sectarianism and ideology, will be resolved. For the time being, it is these domestic issues, rather than the war raging next door, that are dominating Lebanese politics. Still, if the past is any precedent, Syria will soon once again become a priority issue in Beirut. Perhaps Israel will target the next Syrian weapons shipment to Hezbollah in Lebanon, triggering a crisis. Or maybe the Shiite militia — sensing itself isolated and increasingly cornered after Assad falls — will again take pre-emptive military action against domestic rivals. Regrettably, the continued deterioration in Syria — leading to a mass influx of refugees and/or jihadis — could by itself undermine the relatively stable status quo that has prevailed in Lebanon.

 

David Schenker is director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute.

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NO LOVE LOST IN THE SOUTH

Raphael Thelen

Now Lebanon, Feb. 18, 2013

 

Fadi Chamieh is sitting in his office in the heart of Saida. A gray winter storm splashes big raindrops against the window. A neon tube in the ceiling throws harsh light across his desk. “The majority of Syrian refugees are pro-revolution, so they go to areas where they are welcome. But now these areas are full and they started to go to other places,” says Chamieh.

 

On the TV behind him flickers muted grainy footage from opposition protests across Syria. Raised fists, silent opened mouths, the green-white-black flags of the revolution. A browser open on his computer shows the website of Mustaqbal News, a pro-March 14 news outlet.

 

Chamieh is part the Humanitarian Association Collaboration, an umbrella organization that coordinates humanitarian aid to Syrians arriving in southern Lebanon, a region that has seen few refugees until recently. “We are worried,” says Chamieh. “We cannot cope with the refugees we have here already and if fighting increases in Damascus, we won’t be able to manage.”

 

International aid organizations are also ringing the alarm. Already, 2,000 to 3,000 refugees cross into Lebanon every day. With more than 250,000 already here, Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees of every countries that shares a border with Syria. In recent weeks, Syria’s opposition has pushed the front line closer and closer to Damascus. This city of 2.5 million lies less than 50 kilometers from the Lebanese border. With ever fiercer fighting, more and more Syrians are expected to become refugees.

 

Lebanon’s border areas in the eastern Beqaa Valley and north of Tripoli – as well as neighborhoods in Beirut – are hosting Syrians in private homes, empty schools, and abandoned construction sites. But these capacities are increasingly exhausted. Towns like Arsal saw its population swell by 30 percent since the onset of the war.

 

 With refugees now increasingly streaming into predominantly Shiite south, tensions are on the rise. “There are complaints from the people of Tyre,” says Ayman Alghazal, head of the Tyre municipality, “every day we have new arrivals.” Syrian families are sleeping in the street, until they are able to register with the municipality as refugees and receive help. “The economic situation in Tyre is especially bad. The big numbers of refugees came as a shock.”

 

The city is famous for its long white beaches and picturesque ancient ruins. But international tourists that used to be a major source of income in the city are nowhere to be seen these days. Instead, pick pocketing is on the rise. “Crime has increased as refugees come here with nothing,” says Alghazal.

 

The Shia-aligned Amal movement is providing counseling for traumatized children, French classes, and help to shoulder hospital bills. The United Nations refugee agency is providing help as well. “The Syrians hosted us in 2006, so we have to do it now. It doesn’t matter to us if they are pro- or anti-revolution,” says Alghazal, who works as a facilitator between all aid organizations and refugees.

 

In Nabatieh, deep into the Shiite heartland and the unofficial Hezbollah capital, the situation is drastically different. The question of pro- or anti-revolution constantly hovers over the heads of the refugees. Too often it is less a question of politics than of religion. As Hezbollah is generally known to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad, one of the first questions arriving refugees are asked is about their sect, says a local activist who wished to be known as Dana. “Shiites and Alawis are welcomed, while Sunnis are facing daily pressure.”

 

Nabatieh is hosting approximately 8,000 – 10,000 refugees. Those supporting the revolution are wise to keep their opinions to themselves. According to one account, a woman who lost her brother, who was a fighter with the Free Syrian Army, had to hide her grief. Otherwise she feared that she would face repercussions. Sunni migrant workers that lived in the south prior to the war have faced repercussions already. As the fighting grew ever more violent, they increasingly faced physical and psychological pressure. Many of them moved elsewhere….

 

Back in Saida, Chamieh flicks through the website of Sunni-aligned Mustaqbal News. “The damage in Syria is so great, it will take years until the refugees can go back,” he says. “Even though most of them are from my sect, I want them to go. They are creating problems.”

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IRAN AND ISRAEL FIGHT, LEBANON LOSES

Tony Badran

Now Lebanon, Feb. 15, 2013

 

It’s been more than two weeks since the Israeli airstrike in Syria against the arms convoy headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Bits of information, coupled with ominous warnings, are coming out from Jerusalem regarding the purpose of the strike. Since 2006, Israel has waged a major campaign against Iran’s supply network, transferring strategic weapons to its assets in the Levant. Looking at the operation in historical context, the strike in Syria can be seen as the latest instalment in an integrated campaign against Iran’s forward positions on Israel’s northern and southern borders.

 

At a conference in Jerusalem on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear that Israel would not allow “chemical and strategic” weapons from Syria to reach Hezbollah. Netanyahu’s concern over strategic weapons in the hands of Israel's enemies is well-founded. Since the 2006 war, Iran has aggressively moved to bolster the capabilities of Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as those of its allies in Gaza. This effort has centered primarily, though by no means exclusively, around supplying Tehran’s assets with long-range rockets and ballistic missiles. The deployment of these weapons in Lebanon and Gaza would enable Iran, through Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, to strike at any city in Israel, not to mention its infrastructure and sensitive facilities, including offshore gas platforms.

 

“The chemical weapons issue is important,” notes former Mossad operations officer Michael Ross. However, he adds, “it is tangential to the overall issue of Israel's enemies possessing long range missile capability and other advanced technological weapons systems. Stemming the flow and technological upgrade of these rockets and missiles is a top priority for Israel’s military and intelligence community.” This is what Israel has been doing for the last six and a half years.

 

According to Hezbollah lore, senior Iranian, Syrian, and Hezbollah leaders made a decision following the 2006 war to focus on developing their missile and long-range rocket capabilities. They also decided to implement these measures in Gaza. As Qassem Qassir chronicled in a story last year, Hezbollah’s military commander, Imad Mughniyeh was at the heart of this effort, in partnership with Syrian and Palestinian military officials. Behind it all, of course, stood Iran.

 

Once this strategy became apparent to Israeli intelligence, it began targeting this Iranian network of strategic weapons transfers, assembly and distribution centers, and the top people running the operation. The spate of assassinated Iranian, Syrian, Hezbollah, and Hamas commanders since 2008 were directly involved in the Iranian network supplying strategic weapons to Tehran's assets in the Levant.

 

The first target was Mughniyeh himself. He was assassinated five years ago this past Tuesday, in a car bomb in the heart of Damascus. A few months later, in August of 2008, it was Syrian General Muhammad Suleiman’s turn. Suleiman was President Bashar Assad’s Special Advisor for Arms Procurement and Strategic Weapons. Suleiman was also involved in the Syrian covert nuclear plant at al-Kibar, but was also reportedly in charge of arms transfers from Syria to Hezbollah. Indeed, Suleiman’s name pops up in several accounts of Iran’s strategic weapons supply network. For instance, according to Qassir’s account, Suleiman was responsible, along with Mughniyeh, for overseeing the development of this new system of ballistic missiles and long-range rockets.

 

In January 2010, a year after the end of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, a senior Hamas military commander in the group’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was assassinated in Dubai. Mabhouh’s role was in developing ties with the Revolutionary Guards’ (IRGC) Quds Force. Mabhouh was also in charge of logistics and was responsible for procuring rockets from Iran to Gaza through Sudan and Egypt.

 

When Israel struck a Gaza-bound convoy in Sudan during the 2009 war with Hamas, one report claimed that Mabhouh was behind the convoy, which was believed to be carrying Iranian rockets that could reach Tel Aviv. According to Ross, when Mabhouh was assassinated, his seized briefcase proved a “treasure trove of information detailing what items Hamas procured from the Iranians and the logistics of getting them to Gaza.”

 

Then in November 2011, a mysterious explosion at a military base outside Tehran killed General Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, a top IRGC commander. At the time, the general’s brother revealed that Moghaddam had “visited Lebanon and created Hezbollah’s missile unit there.” Similarly, a senior Guards officer, Mostafa Izadi, wrote in a eulogy how Moghaddam’s ideas “undoubtedly… assisted in the victories of Hezbollah in the 33-day war and Hamas in the 22-day war.” Others noted that Moghaddam had also worked closely with both General Suleiman and Hamas’s Mabhouh.

 

One year after Moghaddam’s death, Israel assassinated Mabhouh’s replacement, Ahmad Jabari. The Jabari hit came after yet another Israeli airstrike in the Sudan, this time against the Yarmouk military complex, from where Hamas was transferring Iranian Fajr-5 rockets to Gaza. Jabari had built on his predecessor’s close relationship with the IRGC, and, in keeping with the Iran-inspired doctrine, had worked on developing “military technology focusing on long-range missiles.”…

 

In March 2011, Israel intercepted a vessel, which had sailed from the Syrian port of Latakia, carrying, among other things, Iranian anti-ship missiles intended for Hamas. In addition, as I wrote over two years ago, the Assad regime had indicated it would supply Hezbollah with the Russian-made Yakhont (P-800) anti-ship cruise missile. However, much of these systems were kept safely on the Syrian side of the border. With the situation in Syria deteriorating, the Shiite group is forced to move these assets to Lebanon, despite the risk. The assassination on the Beirut-Damascus highway of IRGC commander Hassan Shateri – whose importance one mourner compared to Mughniyeh’s – underscores the risks Hezbollah and the IRGC now face in Syria.

 

Months before the airstrike, there were reports in the Israeli media about Hezbollah seeking to move Scud-D’s and similar type rockets, as well as advanced anti-aircraft systems, from Syria to Lebanon. At the time, Defense Minister Ehud Barak explained that the IDF was “following… the possible transfer of advanced munitions systems, mainly anti-aircraft missiles or heavy ground-to-ground missiles.” He added that he “instructed the military to increase its intelligence preparations so that… we will be able to consider carrying out an operation.”

 

The strike two weeks ago was precisely such an operation. As sensitive as it is, given the situation in Syria, it is but the latest in a campaign that dates back to 2008, targeting Iran’s supply network of strategic weapons. As some Lebanese officials are starting to realize, the next operation may very well be in Lebanon – and not just south Lebanon, for Hezbollah has placed these strategic weapons in population centers throughout the country. As Israel is warning, this could be a high-casualty war.

 

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

Top of Page

 

 

 

 

Hezbollah, Part 1: Origins and Challenges: Mohammad Harfoush, Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, Feb. 18, 2013—Hezbollah is considered the most influential and widespread among Islamic parties and movements in Lebanon and the broader Middle East. It is a party that cannot be compared to any other contemporary political Islamist movement, be it fundamentalist or revivalist. Hezbollah's beginnings, discourse, programs, agendas and goals are unlike any others.

Lebanese Opposition Bashes Hezbollah Over Burgas Attack: Elhanan Miller, Times of Israel, Feb.7, 2013—A day after Hezbollah was named as responsible for a bus bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian in July, the Shi’ite terror group was scolded by its domestic opposition for “holding Lebanon hostage” to its own narrow interests.

Deputy Speaker Makari: 'We Do Not See Stability in Lebanon': Elie Hajj, Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse, Feb. 10, 2013—Al-Monitor asked Lebanese Deputy Speaker Farid Makari his opinion regarding the impact of the accusations made by the Bulgarian authorities that Hezbollah is responsible for the bus bombing in Burgas. He responded, "In my personal opinion, at least based on policies we have observed up until now, European states will not classify [Hezbollah] as a terrorist organization."

 

If Iran and Israel Fight, Lebanon Will Be the First Battlefield: Jonathan Schanzer, The Globe and Mail,  Feb. 1, 2013—“Do you remember South Lebanon? All of Lebanon is now South Lebanon.” These were the words of a senior Israeli official in a closed-door meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday, just hours before Israel warplanes attacked a truck convoy suspected of carrying advanced weapons systems from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

]

European Union Must Respond to Hezbollah’s Attack in Bulgaria: Editorial Board, Washington Post, Published: February 5, 2013—On Tuesday the Bulgarian government confirmed what most of the world has known for months: The bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists in the Black Sea resort of Burgas last July 18 was carried out by members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah organization.

 

Death of a Master Terrorist: How the ‘Iranian Jackal’ Was Killed: Erol Araf, National Post, Feb 12, 2013
On the fifth anniversary of the assassination of Imad Mughniyah, a.k.a. “The Iranian Jackal,” much new information about the hunt for the terrorist most wanted by Mossad and the FBI has emerged. It’s a story of high-tech surveillance and old-fashioned espionage, and it’s just starting to be truly told now.

 

 

Visit CIJR’s Bi-Weekly Webzine: Israzine.

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

THE SYRIAN COCK-PIT: RISING ISLAMIST INFLUENCE, RUSSIAN AND IRANIAN INTRIGUE, NO U.S. “RED-LINE”

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Contents:                          

 

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

 

Syria’s Fate Hinges on Whom It Hates Most, U.S. or Iran?: Karim Sadjadpour & Firas Maksad, Bloomberg, Feb 5, 2013—As Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad clings mercilessly to power, hopes that his regime will be replaced by a stable, tolerant democracy are being dwarfed by fears of prolonged sectarian strife and Islamist radicalism. The outcome will hinge in part on a simple question: Whom do Syria’s diverse rebels hate more, the U.S. or Iran?

 

The Nonexistent Red Line: Lee Smith, Weekly Standard, Jan 28, 2013—The State Department cable, signed by the U.S. consul in Istanbul and based on interviews with doctors, defectors from the Syrian Army, and activists, made what one unnamed administration official called a “compelling case” that the Syrian military had used Agent 15, or BZ gas, in Homs last month against the Sunni-majority opposition.

The “Day After” Scenario in Syria: Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Dec. 21, 2012—The moment of truth is approaching in Syria. In an interview with the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar, published on December 17, Syria’s vice president, Farouq al-Shara, admitted for the first time that the war against the Syrian rebels could not be won: “I do not believe that what the security forces and the army units are doing will achieve a decisive victory.”

 

On Topic Links
 

Bombing the Syrian Reactor: The Untold Story: Elliott Abrams, Commentary, February 2013

Jordan Bracing for More Syria Spillover: David Schenker, Real Clear World, February 1, 2013

Damascus Clashes Rage as Troops Take Central Town: Now Lebanon,  Feb. 7, 2013
After Assad, Chaos?: Ramzy Mardini, New York Times, February 3, 2013

 

 

SYRIA’S FATE HINGES ON WHOM IT HATES MOST, U.S. OR IRAN?

Karim Sadjadpour & Firas Maksad

Bloomberg, Feb 5, 2013

As Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad clings mercilessly to power, hopes that his regime will be replaced by a stable, tolerant democracy are being dwarfed by fears of prolonged sectarian strife and Islamist radicalism. The outcome will hinge in part on a simple question: Whom do Syria’s diverse rebels hate more, the U.S. or Iran?

 

The anomaly of power in modern Syria — where an Alawite minority rules over a Sunni Arab majority — was never sustainable, and few countries stand to lose more from the regime’s collapse than the Islamic Republic of Iran. Syria has been Iran’s only consistent ally since the 1979 revolution, providing the leadership in Tehran with a crucial thoroughfare to Iran’s most important regional asset, the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

 

As a result, Iran has done its utmost to keep Assad afloat, providing billions of dollars of support as well as strategic aid to crush dissent. To relieve pressure on the Syrian military, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is reportedly training two paramilitary organizations, Jaysh al Sha’abi and the Shabiha, which boast 50,000 fighters and are modeled on the Bassij militia that violently quashed Iran’s 2009 popular uprisings.

 

This support can only delay, not prevent, Assad’s demise. Thereafter Iran will face a strategic decision: whether to continue supporting a predominantly Alawite militia that represents only a small fraction of Syrian society, or to engage the Sunni Islamists who are poised to wield power in Damascus once Assad falls. Iran’s leaders will try to embrace the Sunni radicals, and if that fails they will work with the Shabiha to prevent the formation of a stable, anti-Iranian order in Syria.

 

What’s most important for Iran is not the sectarian makeup of Syria’s future rulers, but a like-minded ideological worldview premised on resistance to the U.S. and Israel. As Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei once said, “We will support and help any nations, any groups fighting against the Zionist regime across the world.” Iran’s Sunni allies Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are cases in point.

 

Despite sharing common enemies with some Syrian rebels, there is no guarantee that Iran will be able to befriend the same forces it has helped to massacre over the past two years. Anti-Shiite, anti-Persian sentiment is rife among Syria’s rebels, and the attraction of Iranian petro-largesse is eclipsed by the deeper pockets of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

 

The question for the U.S. and allies such as Turkey is what can they do to ensure that moderate factions in the Syrian opposition come to dominate in a post-Assad Syria, and that they will prefer to work with the U.S. and its friends in the region, rather than with Iran.

 

That outcome isn’t guaranteed, either. Iranian influence tends to thrive in countries suffering power vacuums and tumult, which they can attribute to U.S. or Israeli policies. They helped create Hezbollah after the 1982 Israeli invasion of civil-war era Lebanon. And in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, they helped entrench an Iraqi political class that is closer to Iran than the U.S. As Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, Moshe Ya’alon, put it last year: “The Iranians know how to exploit every area and country that isn’t properly governed.”

 

This sordid history has made the Barack Obama administration reluctant to decisively enter the Syria fray, fearful of being sucked into an Islamist brier patch or another costly but fruitless exercise in nation-building. Benign neglect, however, hasn’t been so benign. Syria’s humanitarian crisis has reached epic proportions, with more than 60,000 people killed and 2.5 million people displaced. The sense of abandonment and desperation felt by many Syrians has served to strengthen the most radical elements of the rebel forces….

 

Syria’s hemorrhaging will continue to fuel radicalism until there is a change of political leadership in Damascus. In order to expedite this process, the U.S. administration must inhibit Iran’s ability to arm and finance Assad. This requires coercing the Iraqi government — the beneficiary of $2 billion in annual U.S. military aid — to halt the steady transit of Iranian military hardware and personnel to Syria. It also means making clear to Lebanon that it must curtail Hezbollah’s cross-border operations into Syria, and ensure that Iran can’t use Lebanese banks to evade international sanctions. The U.S. and its allies should expose the governments of both countries as abettors to Assad’s criminal regime, should they continue to be complicit in Iran’s operations….

 

A greater U.S. role won’t render Syria an American-allied democracy. That possibility, if it ever existed, has long been lost. But continued U.S. inaction risks leaving Syria at the mercy of Iran and Sunni extremists whose intolerance, and hatred of the U.S., dwarfs any concerns they may have for the well- being of Syria and its people. Such an outcome would haunt Syria, the Middle East and the U.S. for years to come.

 

Karim Sadjadpour is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Firas Maksad is director of New Policy Advisors, a Washington advisory group.

 

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THE NONEXISTENT RED LINE

Lee Smith

Weekly Standard, Jan 28, 2013

 

Last week, we learned of a secret State Department assessment that forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad had recently used chemical weapons. The State Department cable, signed by the U.S. consul in Istanbul and based on interviews with doctors, defectors from the Syrian Army, and activists, made what one unnamed administration official called a “compelling case” that the Syrian military had used Agent 15, or BZ gas, in Homs last month against the Sunni-majority opposition. Nonetheless, within 24 hours, the State Department challenged the news report and the cable’s conclusion, stating that it “found no credible evidence to corroborate or to confirm that chemical weapons were used.”

 

It’s hardly surprising the administration was eager to paper over a story that showed the cracks in its jerry-built Syria policy. After all, just last August Obama pledged that “seeing movement on the chemical weapons front, or the use of chemical weapons” by Assad would mean the Syrian dictator had crossed a “red line” and would trigger a U.S. response. If Assad had already used those weapons, that would mean Obama blinked.

 

The leak itself showed that even inside the administration there is a gnawing suspicion that the president’s Syria policy has come up short. The president has let a humanitarian crisis grow to enormous proportions during the last 24 months. Further, Obama has squandered an opportunity to advance American interests by toppling Iran’s only Arab ally, and has imperilled U.S. allies on Syria’s borders by failing to contain a crisis that is spilling over into Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon and may cause trouble for Israel as well.

 

The White House had previously bragged that in December, via private messages from Obama through the Russians and other interlocutors, it stopped the regime in Damascus from using chemical weapons. One senior defence official told the New York Times, “I think the Russians understood this is the one thing that could get us to intervene in the war.”

 

But in congratulating itself, the administration unwittingly underscored the fact that it could have intervened at any point over the last two years, during which time Assad has slaughtered more than 60,000 victims. Last week alone, Assad’s forces killed more than 100 people in Homs, who were shot, stabbed, and incinerated. Should we congratulate the Obama administration that they weren’t gassed?

 

Also last week, 80 were killed and more than 150 wounded in a regime airstrike on the University of Aleppo. At one time it seemed that the use of fixed-wing aircraft against civilians, like the students and displaced persons camped out on the university grounds, constituted an American red line. After all, the difference between Qaddafi and Assad, said Secretary of State Clinton in explaining why the United States had joined the NATO action against the former and was content to sit back and watch the latter, was that the Libyan dictator was using airstrikes against his own people.

 

One problem with Obama’s statement on chemical weapons last summer was that he was sending a message to Assad that carnage up to that supposed red line was acceptable. But the red line itself was problematic. Given the limited flow of information coming out of Syria, it was always going to be difficult to confirm the use of chemical weapons. The conflicting signals from the State Department last week made the issue plain. “When this particular message came in from consulate Istanbul,” said a State Department spokesperson, we “concluded at the time that we couldn’t corroborate it; we haven’t been able to corroborate it since either.”

 

Sure, the opposition might submit evidence that they’d been gassed, but how would anyone know if they were telling the truth? How would you verify their stories, or authenticate YouTube videos of people vomiting, choking, and dying? The Syrian rebels have an interest, after all, in bringing the United States into the conflict.

 

In any case, as outgoing defence secretary Leon Panetta explained earlier this month, it turns out the United States would only send in troops to secure Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile after Assad fell. The concern, said Panetta “is what steps does the international community take to make sure that when Assad comes down, that there is a process and procedure to make sure we get our hands on securing those sites?” In other words, as long as Assad is still in power, the White House is not going to do anything about his arsenal.

 

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THE “DAY AFTER” SCENARIO IN SYRIA
Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, December 21, 2012

The moment of truth is approaching in Syria. In an interview with the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar, published on December 17, Syria’s vice president, Farouq al-Shara, admitted for the first time that the war against the Syrian rebels could not be won: “I do not believe that what the security forces and the army units are doing will achieve a decisive victory.”

The rebel forces, led by allied jihadist groups, have the upper hand on the battlefield, and scored significant achievements when they took over a large military base in Aleppo well stocked with weapons and ammunition, and later in fierce fighting in communities surrounding the capital city of Damascus including the Yarmouk Palstinian refugee camp. The Free Syrian Army is now claiming to have gained control of most of the air defense bases in the Damascus Governate.2

Bashar Assad’s regime is fighting a rearguard battle and has already lost control over large parts of the country, which are still being subjected to aerial and artillery attacks by Syrian army forces still loyal to the regime. Assad continues to draw his strength from the Alawite community, which forms the backbone of the army, and from the political, military, and economic assistance he receives from Russia, Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah. The latter two have also sent forces to help with the fighting both in advisory and operational capacities….

 

With the Syrian crisis entering its final stage, what follows are the main implications. To begin with, Assad’s regime has long since lost its legitimacy to rule, and at most can survive for a further period through the growing use of firepower that is meant to inflict large-scale casualties among the rebels and the civilian population that supports them.

The rebels’ takeover of large parts of Aleppo will likely precipitate a final collapse of the army’s rule in the area. This will add momentum to similar processes in northern Syria, further enabling the mobilization and organization of forces for the decisive battle in Damascus – if the campaign being waged at present does not achieve a breakthrough. In attacking rebel forces and the Syrian population, the Syrian army has seen fit to use all the weapons in its arsenal except for chemical weapons. Strong messages on this issue from the United States and other Western countries, indicating that the use of such weapons will prompt Western military intervention expressly aimed at toppling the regime, have acted as a deterrent.

It is unlikely under the prevailing circumstances that Assad’s regime believes the use of chemical weapons can restore the previous situation in Syria, even if very heavy losses are inflicted on the civilian population. It appears probable that, should Damascus soon fall into rebel hands, the regime will instead seek to transfer most of the surviving loyal forces and strategic (including chemical) weaponry to the area of the Alawite enclave in the west of the country. These weapons would then serve as a deterrent to acts of revenge and a political card for ensuring the Alawite community’s status in a future Syrian order.

The Syrian National Coalition has indeed won international recognition and projects a moderate image for the Syrian opposition. The reality, however, is much more complex. The rebel forces regard the new leadership of the opposition as having been imposed on them, and are prepared at most to accept it as a temporary actor that can mobilize the international support needed to complete the endeavour of toppling the regime. In actuality, the dominant forces in Syria are the military frameworks that have waged the campaign against the regime since the revolution erupted in March 2011. These military frameworks, which enjoy great popular support, will likely demand their part in the new government and make their imprint on the shaping of the new Syria.

An analysis of the fighting forces’ ideological underpinnings shows that the overwhelming majority, if not all, espouse an Islamist, jihadist, Salafist outlook at different degrees of fervour. Their common denominator is a desire to establish a new Syria that is ruled by the Sunni Muslim majority and defines itself first and foremost as an Islamic state.

The Jahbat al-Nusra organization, which is identified with the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda, is considered one of the most powerful forces among the rebels and enjoys extensive popular sympathy both because of its battlefield achievements and the aid it provides to the population. A few days after the United States decided to add it to the list of terrorist organizations, there were mass demonstrations of support for the organization in Syria in the name of all the fighting forces, under the banner: “There Is No Terror in Syria But Assad’s Terror.” Despite its international connections, even the Syrian National Coalition rejected the U.S. decision to classify Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization. This full backing for a branch of al-Qaeda against the U.S. and the West likely indicates the future direction of the Syrian revolution, which appears ready to adopt Islamism as the main basis of the government that will replace the Assad regime.

Under the surface in Syria, two major Islamic forces are active: the Muslim Brotherhood via Turkey, and Hizb ut-Tahrir, which calls for the immediate creation of an Islamic caliphate. Officially, the Muslim Brotherhood has no fighting forces acting under its name. According to testimonies, however, some of the semi-military frameworks set up over the past two years are identified with the movement, and it controls numerous sources of financial aid from the Gulf states and thereby wields influence among the rebel forces. The Brotherhood is likely to take a higher profile after the revolution achieves its ends, and to strive, with the help of Turkey and Egypt, to unite all the Islamic factions under its leadership.

The overriding goal of the new regime, with Turkey’s support, will be to maintain Syria’s geographic coherence and prevent its division on an ethnic/religious (Sunni, Alawite, Kurdish, and Druze) basis. So far the rebel forces, except for specific acts of vengeance, have avoided massacres of the Alawite population. They want to leave an escape hatch for Alawite officers and soldiers who will encourage others to desert, thereby hastening the army’s collapse. Such restraint will not necessarily remain after the regime collapses, with not a few voices among the rebels already calling for retribution. One possible solution for the new situation is an eventual Syrian federation that would extend limited autonomous rights to the minority groups….

The fall of Assad, Tehran’s close ally, will be a harsh blow to Iran’s interests in the Middle East and could cause further shockwaves that weaken Iran’s influence even more. That pertains particularly to the Lebanese arena, where the Sunni Islamist forces are already organizing for the day after Assad’s fall in a push to alter Lebanon’s political and military balance of power, in which Hizbullah is now dominant. The collapse of the Syrian hinterland will likely spark violent clashes that could escalate to a civil war in Lebanon between the radical Sunni forces and Hizbullah. In Iraq, which has been under increasing Iranian domination after the U.S. withdrawal, Iraqi Sunnis will likely look to their Sunni allies in a post-Assad Syria in order to renew the insurgency campaign against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

At present the rebel forces view Iran, Russia, and China as partners in crime for fully backing the Assad regime. It is, however, undoubtedly possible that ties with them will be rehabilitated in the longer term. Russia has a major interest in maintaining its influence in Syria, and will likely play the card of banishment of Assad and his comrades in trying to pave a path to the rebels’ hearts. Although the animosity toward Iran has an ideological basis, the Muslim Brotherhood has shown that it ascribed supreme strategic importance to relations with Iran even while massacres were being perpetrated in Syria; the common interest is to counter Western influence in the Middle East and build a front against Israel. These considerations are likely to guide the new regime in Damascus.

 

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Bombing the Syrian Reactor: The Untold Story: Elliott Abrams, Commentary, Feb. 2013—As the civil war in Syria enters its third year, there is much discussion of the regime’s chemical weapons and whether Syria’s Bashar al-Assad will unleash them against Syrian rebels, or whether a power vacuum after Assad’s fall might make those horrific tools available to the highest bidder. The conversation centers on Syria’s chemical weaponry, not on something vastly more serious: its nuclear weaponry. It well might have. This is the inside story of why it does not.
 

Jordan Bracing for More Syria Spillover: David Schenker, Real Clear World, Feb. 1, 2013—So far, the war in Syria has proved expensive but not destabilizing for Jordan, in large part because Amman has extensive experience dealing with both refugees and foreign-borne subversion. If the situation in the north deteriorates further, however, the kingdom's security and humanitarian infrastructure may struggle to keep up.

 

Damascus clashes rage as troops take central town: Now Lebanon,  Feb. 7, 2013—Syrian regime troops took control of the central town of Karnaz on Thursday after 16 days of clashes with rebels, a watchdog said, also reporting three children among six killed in bombing of Damascus. Government troops seized nearby Mughir two days ago. This village is the gateway to Alawite villages in the west of Hama province.

 

After Assad, Chaos?: Ramzy Mardini, New York Times, Feb. 3, 2013—As the Syrian revolution approaches another anniversary, Syria’s political opposition is showing signs of failure. Without a new approach, especially from America, the lack of a credible opposition will render a political settlement unreachable, making it harder to set Syria on the course toward a stable future.

 

 

 

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

Download Today's Isranet Daily Briefing.pdf 

 

Contents:                          

 

 

 

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

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Contents:                          

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

On Topic Links

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

ENGULFED BY FEAR 
Mordechai Kedar

Mordechai Kedar, May 26, 2012

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

Persian Gulf States

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

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

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

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

Middle East Map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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MORE TROUBLE IN JORDAN

Mudar Zahran

Gatestone Institute, November 23, 2012

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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