Friday, May 03, 2019

Transforming The Saudis Can Reshape MidEast

Saudi Arabia Undergoing Fundamental Transformation 
- Dennis Ross

Saudi Arabia is in the midst of a fundamental transformation of its society. True, the monarchy retains all political power, but nationalism and modernization are replacing Wahhabism, a rigid, intolerant interpretation of Islam that fueled al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is conducting a revolution from above that is discrediting radical Islamist ideology, including the removal of several thousand clerics and dozens of judges deemed to be sympathetic to al-Qaeda.

The social changes emerging in Saudi Arabia are visible to any visitor. Go into any restaurant and see men and women mixing; visit businesses or governmental offices and women are prominent; cinemas are opening; music, forbidden in the strict Wahhabi code, is now played in concerts drawing thousands. None of this was thinkable in the past.

Having just returned from Saudi Arabia, I am struck by the enthusiasm for the crown prince, especially among young people who now can talk openly about their ability to shape their destinies and the destiny of the country. Like it or not, the policies of the Saudis will have a huge effect on what takes shape in the Middle East. America can't write them off. 
The writer, counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, served in senior national security positions during the Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Obama administrations. 


On the Way to Open Normalization - Yoni Ben Menachem

Despite resolutions of the Arab Summit and the Arab League that ban open normalization with Israel, as well as Palestinian opposition, the United Arab Emirates has agreed to host Israel at the Expo 2020 exhibition in October. At the exhibition, Israel will present its achievements in the fields of water, medicine, technology, and information, highlighting the spirit of Israeli innovation.

Over the past two months, the covert normalization process between Israel and the Gulf states has begun to emerge in tandem with the process of crafting President Trump's "Deal of the Century." Open normalization is supposed to be an integral part of that deal.

Arab rulers respect power. They see how Israel has been attacking the Iranian military entrenchment in Syria with full U.S. backing and even a certain coordination with Russia. They also see Mahmoud Abbas' rejectionist policy toward any compromise with Israel, while Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been turning Gaza into an Iranian stronghold.

Open normalization with Israel is an important process that can help the Palestinians understand that Israel is a fact of life and that even the Arab states have come to terms with Israel's presence in the Middle East.
The writer, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center.
(Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Deal of the Century: Impact Analysis

The Impact of the Deal of the Century - Prof. Eyal Zisser

This June the U.S. will supposedly unveil details of its "deal of the century" to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many of the relevant parties have openly declared they will refuse to accept it. The Palestinians are looking on forlornly as their dream of having all their demands of Israel delivered on a silver platter by the international community rises in smoke. While it might seek to meet the Palestinians' desires, the deal of the century is light years from the concessions that previous administrations, from Clinton to Obama, were willing to grant.

Arab countries will follow in the wake of the Palestinian rejection. Arab rulers would be happy to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end, but from there to a willingness to lie on the fence for Israel and Trump, the distance is great. But it would be a mistake to think the deal of the century will be completely inconsequential.

First, the details of the plan will become the starting point for any future discussions about the conflict, instead of or in conjunction with the Clinton outline or former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's offer to Abbas. The plan will also be evoked and used to significantly improve Israel's bargaining position opposite future American administrations and the international community.

Second, the proposal could essentially remove several central issues from the agenda, chief among them the issue of Palestinian refugees. The American plan calls for refusing these refugees the right of return and settling them in their current countries.

Finally, the plan could give the Israeli government an opportunity to apply Israeli law over the large settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria that are supported by a wall-to-wall consensus in Israel
The writer is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.
(Israel Hayom)

The West Bank: Israel's Eastern Line of Defense
- Maj.-Gen. Gershon Hacohen

This study explores the strategic-military implications of the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-June 1967 lines. Its central thesis is that the creation of such a state, on the heels of the IDF's total withdrawal from the West Bank, will not only deprive Israel of defensible borders but will almost certainly lead to the advent of a terrorist entity like the one created in Gaza.

Since 1996, 90% of the Palestinians in the territories have not lived under Israeli occupation but rather under the Palestinian Authority's rule (in Gaza, since 2007, under Hamas rule). In other words, the current dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is not about ending the "occupation."

The demilitarization of a future Palestinian state is a pipedream, as evidenced by the resounding failure to demilitarize Gaza despite the PLO's commitment to this step in a number of signed agreements.
The writer served in the IDF for 42 years, commanding troops in battle on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts.
(Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

New Map of Israel Features Golan!

U.S. Publishes Map Showing Golan as Part of Israel

The U.S. has published a map showing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, three weeks after President Donald Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the strategic plateau. U.S. Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt tweeted a picture of the map. 
(Times of Israel)

Thursday, April 04, 2019

The Incalcitrant Palestinian Movement

Definition: 1. Stubbornly resistant to or defiant of guidance. 2. Difficult to manage or deal with.  Synonym: obstinate.

Cultural Barriers to Israeli-Palestinian Peace - Lawrence J. Haas

Cultural obstacles prevent progress toward peace. When activists in Gaza protested rising prices, high unemployment, and new taxes imposed by Hamas in March, Hamas cracked down harshly. The Palestinian Authority rules the West Bank in similar dictatorial fashion, brooking no opposition. Palestinian leaders will need to respect the rights of their own people before we can hope that, at some point, they'll respect the rights of Israelis to live in peace.

As Hamas and Fatah fight one another, the weapon at their disposal to assure their popularity among Palestinians is their continuing efforts to kill Jews. Palestinian factions that compete over who's more committed to killing Israelis won't be making peace with Israel any time soon.

The Palestinian Authority continues to pay prisoners and the families of "martyrs" who tried to kill Israelis. A Palestinian leadership that turns killers into martyrs won't be making peace with the country of those they want to kill. 
The writer is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.
(The Hill)

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Foreign Policy For Sale?

Is US foreign policy for sale?  If so, who is buying?  And what are the consequences?
This intriguing 20 minute documentary is well worth the time.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Much Ado About Golan

The short video gives a straightforward look at why the Golan Heights are so important

- Zvi Bar'el

Arab countries are expected to condemn President Trump's recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights, but - unlike the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital - the Golan isn't a holy site. It isn't very high on the Arab or Muslim agenda.
At the end of the month, the leaders of the Arab countries will gather for their annual summit in Tunisia and will harshly condemn the American decision.
But as far as they're concerned, the American declaration is a bit of revenge against Assad for massacring his own people.

Trump's Golan Strategy - Elliot Kaufman

President Trump's decision to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights puts the Palestinians on notice. The fear is that if a U.S. president can tell Syria to forget returning to the pre-1967 borders, he can tell the Palestinians the same thing: Shape up and cease your intransigence, or America could let Israel annex parts of the West Bank, too.

The pre-1967 lines are no longer sacrosanct, and they never should have been. They merely reflect where armies stopped in 1949, when the Arab states failed to smother Israel in its infancy. The armistice established the borders "without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines."

The Trump strategy has been to back Israel and pressure the Palestinians into moderating their maximalist objectives. Palestinian leaders have long assumed time was on their side. The longer they held out and refused to make peace, the more the international community marginalized Israel and pressured it for further concessions. But if the Palestinians don't face reality, their own dreams of a state could be swept away. 
(Wall Street Journal)

Israel's Sovereignty over Heights: Legal & Justified - Vivian Bercovici

An Israeli declaration of sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and American recognition of it, is not contrary to international law. Since World War II, the accepted understanding of international law that involves territorial loss during conflict is quite straightforward: the attacking nation may not retain permanently land acquired as a result of armed conflict.

We have heard a lot about how the Russian occupation of Crimea is indistinct from Israel's hold over the Golan. But Russia invaded Crimea; Crimea did not invade Russia. Syria attacked Israel in 1967; Israel did not attack Syria. International law only addresses the situation where the attacker, not the defender, conquers. Syria violated international law in 1967 and 1973 by attacking Israel without provocation.
The writer served as Canada's ambassador to Israel from 2014 to 2016.

U.S. Announcement Frees Israel from "Land for Peace" Formula
- Shmuel Rosner

President Trump announced that "it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights." Across the Israeli political spectrum, politicians are supportive of America recognizing Israel's control of the Golan Heights. It is the final nail in the coffin of the 1967 line - the armistice line that separated Israel from its neighbors before the Six-Day War.

The "land for peace" formulation has been a basis of all peace processes between Israel and Egypt, Syria and the Palestinians for the past five decades. Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula. But Israel's adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace - not land. Israelis agree on much more than many outside observers imagine. And one of the things they largely agree on is that the 1967 line is no longer relevant.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute.
(New York Times)


Aggression Shouldn't Be Cost-Free - Evelyn Gordon

The principle that territory can't be acquired through force, far from deterring aggression, actually rewards it. For an aggressor, starting a war becomes almost cost-free. If he wins, he achieves whatever goal he sought to achieve. And if he loses, the international community will pressure his victim to return any captured lands, thereby ensuring that he pays no territorial price.

After World War II, the Allies had no qualms about forcing Germany, the aggressor, to cede territory to its victims.

Claiming that Trump has just legitimized acts of aggression like Russia's seizure of Crimea is possible only under the warped interpretation of international law that makes no distinction between offensive and defensive wars. The Golan and Crimea are completely different cases because the former was acquired in a defensive war and the latter in an offensive one.

The claim that the decision undermines prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace is also wrong. Until now, every time the Palestinians rejected an Israeli peace offer, the international community rewarded them by demanding additional Israeli concessions. But now, Trump has shown that rejectionism carries a price. Trump is restoring the distinction that used to exist between offensive and defensive wars, thereby restoring international law to sanity.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Poking Fun at Radical Jewish Group IfNotNow [VideoBite]

  Radical Jewish Group IfNotNow is criticized in this short, well edited video

As Caliphate Crumbles, Reflection on How ISIS Grew [VideoBite]

Tania Joya, featured in Clarion’s upcoming film, is a former extremist now working in deradicalization. Her ex-husband was radicalized as a teenager in Texas and was ISIS’ main propagandist in Syria. Tania explains why she married a jihadi and gives insights into her husband's life as a terrorist and ISIS spokesman.  

Friday, March 08, 2019

The Intersectional Embrace: Omar Wins

Rep. Ilhan Omar does not like Israel. That's a shame, not least because Israel is the only country in its region that embraces the sorts of values the Democratic Party claims to champion. When was the last time there was a gay-pride parade in Ramallah, a women's rights march in Gaza, or an opposition press in Tehran?
America is a free country, and Omar is within her rights to think what she will about Israel or any other state. There's rarely a social or reputational penalty for publicly criticizing Israeli policies today. It's ubiquitous on college campuses and commonplace in editorial pages. Omar, however, isn't just a critic of Israel.
For those who don't get it, claims that Israel "hypnotizes" the world, or that it uses money to bend others to its will, or that its American supporters "push for allegiance to a foreign country," repackage falsehoods commonly used against Jews for centuries. Those who support Israel should not have to face allegations that their sympathies have been purchased, or their brains hijacked, or their loyalties divided.
As the criticism of Omar mounts, it becomes that much easier for her to seem like the victim of a smear campaign, rather than the instigator of a smear. The secret of anti-Semitism has always rested, in part, on creating the perception that the anti-Semite is, in fact, the victim of the Jews and their allies.
(New York Times)

No one ever accuses supporters of the U.S.-Britain "special relationship" of owing allegiance to a foreign country. Nor do supporters of the U.S. alliances with Canada, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Poland or any other country face such accusations. Only supporters of Israel. This is an old and ugly anti-Semitic canard. It should be a no-brainer for Democrats to condemn what Omar said.
Omar's defenders suggest that to criticize her is to "stifle" debate and to equate any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Wrong. It's perfectly legitimate to criticize Israel. I do it myself: But Omar wasn't criticizing Israeli policies. She was criticizing Israel's supporters by suggesting that they are not loyal Americans. That's textbook anti-Semitism.
(Washington Post)
Making Jews Choose: Our Progressive Values or Ourselves -
Batya Ungar-Sargon

Are Jews supposed to stay in a progressive movement that resents us for standing up for ourselves? That has leaders who are "hurt" when they see Congress defend us? A movement that is lionizing a woman for the fact that she has offended us?
America - and its progressive wing - will surely be worse off if Jews can no longer find a political home there, and it's for the soul of this country that we are fighting as much as for ourselves.

Palestinians will not benefit from the controversy resulting from Rep. Ilhan Omar's repeated use of familiar anti-Semitic themes. If Ms. Omar wants to support Palestinians, there's no end to the urgent tasks she could champion as Palestinians are enduring a crisis in relations with the U.S.
Omar's rhetoric is a disaster that reinforces divisive stereotypes about supposed Muslim hostility to Jews. As someone who has spent more than 20 years in Washington working on Arab and Muslim-American problems and championing the Palestinian cause, I implore Omar to learn more about the issues at stake. In the meantime, I have one thing to say to her: Please, just stop it! 
The writer is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. 
- Eliot A. Cohen

In 2017, the FBI recorded more than three times as many anti-Jewish as anti-Muslim religious hate incidents, or almost 60% of the total. What is particularly scary now is that Jew-hatred seems to bring with it no real penalties.

The writer is Professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University.


What about "the Benjamins" from Gulf States? - Barbara Boland

Do foreign nations and their money influence U.S. policy? Pro-Israel groups spent roughly $5 million on lobbying in 2018. That might sound like a lot of money, until you realize that in 2013, Norway spent $5 million to push U.S. officials to double spending on foreign aid.

If Rep. Ilhan Omar wants to deal with the "problematic role" of "Benjamins" in our foreign policy, she should take a hard look at contributions from the Gulf states. The United Arab Emirates secretly contributed $20 million to the Middle East Institute, a leading Washington think tank, between 2016 and 2017. In 2014, the UAE's rival, Qatar, gave a $14.8 million four-year donation to the Brookings Institution. From 2015 to 2017, Saudi Arabia multiplied its number of foreign agents from 25 to 145, and poured $18 million into D.C.-based lobbying. 

The Democratic Party's New Math - Lee Smith

Palestinians are replacing Israelis in the hearts of the party’s base.

The inability of senior U.S. Democrats, including senior Jewish members of Congress, to muster a counteroffensive, or even much of a defense, shows that a pillar of the increasingly disoriented liberal political establishment is being pulled down by institutionalized identity politics. As it turned out, they couldn’t even get a pro forma denunciation of anti-Semitism.  Liberal Jews are being replaced...

Maybe the Democratic Party’s new math is why no one is making too much of the African-American kids beating up Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn. Because the former sit at the top of the hierarchy of grievance, it’s OK for them to work through their pain by punching down at the latter. Condemning them, or Omar, would only cause more pain.

It’s Obama’s agenda, and that’s why liberal Jews are effectively scapegoating Omar. It is too painful to identify the real source of the problem: An American president that the Jewish community not only overwhelmingly supported but also defended even as his language and his policies clearly spelled danger for them. They believed his validators because they wanted to—the Jewish journalists, diplomats, policymakers, Obama’s envoys to the Jewish community who all vouched for him, how he felt love for Israel and the Jews in his “kishkes.”

Where Obama and his surrogates always claimed that re-aligning the U.S. with Iran, or tilting towards the Palestinians, or condemning Israel at the U.N., were measures being taken for Israel’s own good, and therefore in fact proved how much they cared about Israel, progressives like Omar feel no compunction to engage in such rhetorical flimflam, to palliate “donors” or anyone else. Their pitch is simple: Israel is evil and should be eradicated. What Obama and his surrogates whispered and implied, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and their fellow progressives now feel confident enough to say openly.

[Obama] went after AIPAC not because he personally dislikes Jews or Israel, but because he promised to radically transform America. So he had to start with the one institution he had absolute control over: the Democratic Party. He hacked away at the Jewish community because American Jewry is the pillar of the liberal political establishment.

By targeting AIPAC, and rejecting the foundational nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship, Obama crippled the party’s then-dominant liberal wing and empowered the progressives, whose ranks the Jews are more than welcome to join—but on new terms. On Rep. Ilhan Omar’s terms.
[Tablet Magazine]

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Egyptian TV Anchor Nails Palestinians

The Palestinians' Automatic "No" to Peace - Shimrit Meir

It's hard to understand how the Palestinians, who are essentially living off hand-outs, summarily dismiss the opportunity to hear a proposal that might significantly improve their condition. One would at least expect some form of serious discussion about President Trump's peace plan, given their situation.
The Palestinian issue has been pushed to the margins. Mahmoud Abbas might still be able to extract a promise out of the elderly Saudi king not to go "behind the Palestinians' backs," but the entire world knows about the business his son conducts with Israel.
One Egyptian TV anchor wondered, "If you [Palestinians] want a state alongside Israel, why do you keep saying 'no' again and again when offered one?" An Iraqi journalist tweeted this week, "If the Palestinian leadership used the money donated by the Arabs since 1948 for Palestine, it would've already built 50 cities like Tel Aviv, 40 cities like Dubai and 30 cities like Riyadh."  
(Ynet News)

Friday, February 15, 2019

"New Era" Begins in MidEast: Warsaw Conference

In an unprecedented miracle, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Yemen and Kuwait participated in the Warsaw summit with Israel.  
In the above photo, Benjamin Netanyahu greets Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah.  Pinch me.

Warsaw Sees Growing Israeli-Arab Alignment - Laura Rozen

Veteran U.S. peace negotiator Dennis Ross moderated a panel of three Arab foreign ministers at a closed-door dinner in Warsaw on Wednesday. Ross wrote on Twitter, "The PA may not like it, but Arab states will pursue their interests even when the Palestinian leadership opposes. Case in point: the Warsaw Conference. Arab states had more of an interest in arguing for unity of effort against Iran than boycotting a conference the PA opposed."
"At the Warsaw Conference, I conducted back-to-back discussions first with three Arab ministers and then with Israeli PM Netanyahu. Same room, same views of Iran's aggressive, threatening posture in the Middle East, and unmistakable convergence of what should be done to counter it."
U.S. Middle East peace hand Aaron David Miller said: "Look, the prime minister of Israel had dinner in a private session with...a number of Arab foreign ministers....What is so stunning, so preternaturally amazing, is that at a time when there is no peace process and no prospect of one...Israel's stock in the region and in the international community is higher now than at any point since the state was created."  

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that statements by Arab leaders at the Warsaw conference on the Middle East have laid the groundwork for the Arab public to accept normalization of ties with Israel. Arab foreign ministers speaking together with Israel about a common enemy is a "process of legitimization" for Arab public opinion. Netanyahu said that Arab foreign ministers "spoke blatantly against Iran and about Israel's right to defend itself," which he called a "momentous event."
Netanyahu said he had never talked about reaching peace with Arab countries "before solving the Palestinian issue....But I did say we would continue with normalization and flights [over Arab countries], diplomatic steps or changes in public opinion, slowly and gradually."  

- Tovah Lazaroff

Iran's funding of violence in the region has prevented the resolution of conflicts in the Middle East, Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said at a closed-door session of the Warsaw summit on Wednesday. "When we come to Palestine-Israel, there was a Camp David agreement. There was Madrid. There were many other ways of solving it, and had we stayed on the same path, and if it wasn't for the toxic money, guns and foot soldiers of the Islamic Republic, I think we would have been much closer today in solving this issue with Israel. But this is a serious challenge that is preventing us from moving forward anywhere, be it Syria, be it Yemen, be it Iraq, be it anywhere. My country is under threat."  
(Jerusalem Post)

- Jessica Donati and Sune Engel Rasmussen

President Trump's senior adviser Jared Kushner, in a closed-door presentation in Warsaw on Thursday, focused his appeal for support of his peace efforts on Israel and the Gulf Arab countries. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the "normalization" of relations with the Arab world would help, adding, "I am happy to say there is progress on that." 

Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, said, "We strongly believe it's time to find a solution to this long-running conflict."  
(Wall Street Journal)


Regional Realignment - Editorial

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's participation in the American-hosted Middle East summit in Poland was nothing short of historic. Israeli and Arab leaders have previously participated in similar international forums, but when the Israeli leader would enter the room or take to the podium to speak, traditionally the Arabs would walk out. Not this time.

Netanyahu sat next to Yemen Foreign Minister Abdulmalik al-Mekhlafi. When it was Netanyahu's turn to speak and his microphone didn't work, Mekhlafi offered his. It might not be peace, but considering that Israel and Yemen do not have formal diplomatic relations, it was a moment to remember. 
(Jerusalem Post)

Friday, February 01, 2019

Arab Reflects on Israel

A video, unrelated to the article, but obviously relevant

  • We Arabs have so far fought Israel for over 70 years with two openly stated objectives: Either destroy Israel by force, or destroy Israel by transforming it into an Arab state through a "solution" that would see Palestinian so-called refugees join the Jewish state.
  • If we had destroyed Israel, we would have entered history as responsible for another genocide of the Jewish people, not long after the Holocaust. By resisting and defeating the coalitions of Arab armies that attempted to destroy it, Israel prevented us from becoming the second Nazis of history.
  • And if we had succeeded in changing Israel into an Arab state, we would have found ourselves with one more failed Arab state, where democracy is fictional and where torture, muzzling of the press, and political assassinations are not.
  • Instead of this, Israeli Arabs live in a world-class country, with extensive economic opportunities and democratic freedoms. Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria and Gaza could have achieved those benefits too, if they had chosen peace over war.
  • Israel gives its Arab citizens equal rights even though the Arab world violently expelled practically all its Jews. Israel welcomes Arab visitors even though Israelis are banned from most of the Arab world.

    The writer is a Canadian of Arab origin.
(Times of Israel)

Sunday, January 27, 2019

VideoBite: Antisemitism & Anti-Zionism


This 3 minute gem from Yossi Klein Halevi is profound and contains some unique observations

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

VideoBite: Christian Persecution

2 minute video highlighting Christian persecution in the MidEast
[Source: Christians United for Israel]

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Zoom Out!

There Is No 'Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:'
To Understand Why, Zoom Out

- Matti Friedman 

Th[e] phrase “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”contains a few important assumptions. That the conflict is between two actors, Israelis and Palestinians. That it could be resolved by those two actors, and particularly by the stronger side, Israel. That it’s taking place in the corner of the Middle East under Israeli rule.

To someone here in Israel, [t]here isn’t an Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the way that many outsiders seem to think, and this perception gap is worth spelling out. It has nothing to do with being right-wing or left-wing in the American sense. To borrow a term from the world of photography, the problem is one of zoom. Simply put, outsiders are zoomed in, and people here in Israel are zoomed out. Understanding this will make events here easier to grasp. In the Israeli view, no peacemaker can bring the two sides together because there aren’t just two sides. There are many, many sides.

Most of Israel’s wars haven’t been fought against Palestinians. Since the invasion of five Arab armies at the declaration of the State of Israel in May 1948, the Palestinians have made up a small number of the combatants facing the country. To someone here, zooming in to frame our problem as an Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes as much sense as describing the “America-Italy conflict” of 1944. American G.I.s were indeed dying in Italy that year, but an American instinctively knows that this can be understood only by seeing it as one small part of World War II. The actions of Americans in Italy can’t be explained without Japan, or without Germany, Russia, Britain and the numerous actors and sub-conflicts making up the larger war.

Over the decades when Arab nationalism was the region’s dominant ideology, Israeli soldiers faced Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Iraqis. Today Israel’s most potent enemy is the Shiite theocracy in Iran, which is more than 1,000 miles away and isn’t Palestinian (or Arab). The gravest threat to Israel at close range is Hezbollah on our northern border, an army of Lebanese Shiites founded and funded by the Iranians.

A threat of a lesser order is posed by Hamas, which is Palestinian — but was founded as the local incarnation of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, affiliated with the regional wave of Sunni radicalism, kept afloat with Qatari cash and backed by Iran.

If you see only an “Israeli-Palestinian” conflict, then nothing that Israelis do makes sense. (That’s why Israel’s enemies prefer this framing.) In this tightly cropped frame, Israelis are stronger, more prosperous and more numerous. The fears affecting big decisions, like what to do about the military occupation in the West Bank, seem unwarranted if Israel is indeed the far more powerful party.

That’s not the way Israelis see it. Many here believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened around us in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. 

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea — “like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation — if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunni and Shiite; between majority populations and minorities. If our small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

Abandoning the pleasures of the simple story for the confusing realities of the bigger picture is emotionally unsatisfying. An observer is denied a clear villain or an ideal solution. But it does make events here comprehensible, and it will encourage Western policymakers to abandon fantastic visions in favor of a more reasonable grasp of what’s possible. And that, in turn, might lead to some tangible improvements in a world that could use fewer illusions and wiser leaders.
[New York Times]

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Bibi in Saudi Arabia?

Will Netanyahu Go to Riyadh?  - Karen Elliot House 

The Trump administration has worked for nearly two years to get Riyadh and Jerusalem openly working together. Crown Prince Mohammed loves risk and is eager to turn the page from the Jamal Khashoggi murder.

Israel and Saudi Arabia share a fear of Iranian expansionism and are the closest U.S. allies in the region. They have maintained informal but not-so-secret contacts, sharing intelligence on their common nemesis. Why not make it official?

A Netanyahu-Mohammed meeting would be a capstone of the Trump administration’s effort to isolate and contain Iran. The so-called Arab Street’s indifference to the U.S. Embassy’s move to Jerusalem is said to have given the crown prince the confidence to take his relationship with Israel public at the right time. On a more political level, it surely would divert public and media attention from problems currently besetting each of the three leaders involved.

For Mr. Netanyahu, facing domestic political problems and a new election, it would be a dramatic breakthrough on the order of Anwar Sadat’s 1977 visit to Jerusalem. And for Crown Prince Mohammed, it could restore some of his international luster, tarnished by the Khashoggi murder. 

Such a meeting would offer only upsides for Messrs. Trump and Netanyahu. For Crown Prince Mohammed it would entail some risk. Openly cooperating with Israel without resolving the future of Jerusalem and its Islamic holy sites surely would provoke opposition from religious Saudis, though only sotto voce given the crown prince’s severe repression of domestic opponents. 

For two years Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has worked to unite Israel and Saudi Arabia in a Mideast peace deal, ideally including full diplomatic relations. It isn’t clear the two countries are ready to go that far, but it does seem likely they are ready to leapfrog the intractable Palestinian issue and publicly cooperate with the U.S. to bring Iran to heel. Tehran’s growing influence in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and its intention to possess missiles that could reach the U.S., raises new alarms that militate in favor of a public Saudi-Israeli embrace.

Crown Prince Mohammed has been dropping hints that a formal rapprochement may be in the offing. On his April visit to the U.S., he publicly said when asked that the Jewish people, like “each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation.” 

Until recently a public meeting between Israel’s prime minister and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler would have seemed impossible. Then again, so did the Sadat visit, President Nixon’s 1972 trip to China, and Mr. Trump’s summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un last year. 

New reality often sweeps away the logic of impossibility. And Mr. Trump loves spectacles. Imagine him watching the historic drama on television—or flying to Riyadh to join it.
Ms. House, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, is author of “On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines—and Future”
[Wall Street Journal]

Friday, January 04, 2019

Podcast: David Luria, Director, Ateret Cohanim

Daniel Luria, Executive Director of Ateret Cohanim, discusses various topics related to Jerusalem and Zionism.  Fascinating podcast above.  At 48 minutes, it's no soundbite.  But I couldn't resist posting this excellent conversation. 

[Source: Jewish Journal]

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

"Tectonic Shifts" in MidEast

Tectonic Shifts in Attitudes Toward Israel - Daniel Pipes, PhD 

As Arabs and Muslims warm to Israel, the Left grows colder. 

It is striking to note that full-scale Arab state warfare versus Israel lasted a mere 25 years (1948-73) and ended 45 long years ago; and that Turkey and Iran have since picked up the anti-Zionist torch.

That Arab and Muslim enmity has fractured, probably never to be reconstituted, amounts to one tectonic shift in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The second, no less important, involves the global Left's growing hostility to Israel.

Attitudes toward the Jewish state follow an almost linear progression of growing negativity as one goes from right to left. 

It was not always thus. Joseph Stalin was so instrumental to Israel's birth in 1947-49 by providing diplomatic support and armaments that Abba Eban, Israel's first UN ambassador, observed that "we couldn't have made it, either diplomatically or militarily," if not for Soviet help. Democrats Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy rank among the most pro-Israel of American presidents, but Republican Dwight Eisenhower was unquestionably the most antagonistic.

MbS versus Jeremy Corbyn symbolizes these two tectonic shifts, as does Israel now enjoying better relations with Egypt than with Sweden. The president of Chad turns up in Israel but a singer from New Zealand does not. Israel's athletes compete in the United Arab Emirates but get banned in Spain. Muslims show increasing indifference to the breakdown in Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy, but Leftists express growing anger over it.

Only an Israel victory and a Palestinian defeat will achieve [a resolution of this issue]. In other words, getting the Palestinians to cry uncle is an urgent priority for Israel and its supporters.
[Washington Times] 

Friday, December 14, 2018

‘Game Changing’ Arab Israeli Reconciliation?

Report claims Saudi Crown Prince planning ‘game-changing’ meeting with Israeli Prime Minister
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and President Donald Trump
The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, is planning a “game-changing” meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the Middle East Eye reported Thursday.

According to the London-based, Qatari-funded outlet, the sources in the Saudi kingdom claimed that the Crown Prince is “seriously considering” a “game-changing” meeting with Netanyahu, which would be hosted by President Donald Trump.

The plan for a meeting with the Israeli leader, including a public handshake modeled on the Begin-Sadat handshake at Camp David in 1978, is reportedly being developed by a special team put together by the Crown Prince to deflect criticism following the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey in October.

The move is reportedly being promoted in part in the hopes of curbing plans by Western powers, including a pending motion in the US Senate, against the Saudi leadership over Khashoggi’s murder.

“MBS asked his task force to study this proposal and he hinted that he liked the idea,” a Saudi official told the Middle East Eye.

“The task force agreed that without a major stunt, there is a real danger of a series of decisions from Congress that would fundamentally set back the Saudi-US relationship, which is key for the crown prince.”

Bruce's notes
Pinch me.  While most likely a Saudi 'trial balloon' or a nefarious leak, if this report turns out to be accurate, we could be looking at a major development that would change the course of MidEast politics.  It could eclipse the failed Oslo agreement and be the most significant handshake in ages.  Could the [murderous, and now vulnerable/more flexible] Saudis provide the juice needed to move the Arab-Israeli conflict toward resolution? Will the exchange include a plan to hit Iran's underground nuclear facilities with bunker bombs?