Analysis: Iran seeks Dividends from the Regional Chaos

Jerusalem Post- 17/03/2011

The dimensions and strategic implications of the unrest sweeping the Arab world are becoming clearer. It is now apparent that the key states of the “resistance bloc” – Iran and Syria – face no immediate threat from internal protests. Their capacity and willingness for extreme repression look sufficient to ensure the safety of these regimes, at least for now.

Having ensured quiet at home, the Iran-led regional bloc is moving forward to exploit the chaos in areas formerly under the clear control of its pro-western enemies. Pro-western regional states, meanwhile, are mobilizing with varying degrees of effectiveness to challenge the Iranian push.

Events this week in the Mediterranean and the Gulf offer examples of this.

The use by the Iranian bloc of the poorly policed Sinai region to bring weaponry to its Gaza enclave on the Mediterranean is not new.

In the past, Iran utilized a route leading from Yemen through the Red Sea to Sudan, then overground across the desert, and into Gaza from the south. The apprehending of the arms ship Victoria indicates that the Revolutionary Guards have identified increased opportunities deriving from the increasing laxity of Egyptian monitoring in Sinai and further south.

From the earliest days following the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, Israeli officials noted an uptick in illegal activity in Sinai, and a decline in Egyptian efforts to police the area. This came not from a policy decision by the Egyptians, but rather precisely from the absence of firm directives from the center. This allowed local commanders to define their own policy. Those of them susceptible to bribery, or sympathetic to the Islamist bloc, are finding an increased space in which to maneuver.

Iran, apparently, also noted this.

The sending of two ships through the Suez Canal and up to the Syrian port of Latakia in February unveiled the new situation. It is now clear that much more than symbolism was at stake.

The implications of the chaos extend beyond Sinai. The Victoria was due to dock in the port of Alexandria. This means that whoever sent it was confident that the weapons could be brought off the ship, and made ready for their further journey, without undue interference from the authorities, in the heart of Egypt’s main port.

The consignment of weaponry included six C- 704 anti-ship missiles.

The lighter hand of the authorities in Egypt is a gift to the Iranian-led bloc in its strategic drive to turn Gaza into a sibling of Hezbollah-controlled south Lebanon.

The successful apprehending of the Victoria, meanwhile, offers an early indication that Israel is responding energetically and effectively to this new situation.

As the events surrounding the Victoria unfolded on the Mediterranean coast, Iran was extending another exploratory arm – this time in the Gulf.

Some 1,000 Saudi troops this week intervened to help put down a Shia uprising in the strategically vital kingdom of Bahrain.

Ominous messages emerged in subsequent days from Iran and its regional proxies. The Iranian Foreign Ministry described the Saudi intervention as “unacceptable.” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi advised the Bahraini authorities not to harm Shia demonstrators.

Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani warned the Saudis against imagining that such an intervention would have “no costs.”

Hezbollah also issued a statement on Tuesday denouncing the Saudi “invasion” of Bahrain.

Displaying a hitherto little noted sense of irony, the movement expressed “concern and strong condemnation” of the Saudis and the Bahraini authorities for “targeting peaceful civilians.”

Hezbollah described the US stance on events in Bahrain as “suspicious.” Iran’s response is likely to take the form of subversion and mobilization of proxies in Bahrain, rather than a more direct move.

Around 30% of Bahrain’s Shia are estimated to follow clerics who look to Iran for guidance, according to a leaked WikiLeaks cable on the kingdom. Such a basis offers wide scope for the Iranian political-military model which has served Tehran well in Lebanon, among the Palestinians and in Iraq.

What do these events in the Mediterranean and in the Gulf have in common? In both cases, Iran is seeking to utilize the chaos engendered by popular unrest in Arab countries to advance its strategic agenda. In both cases, states aligned with the West are using the tools available to them to prevent this.

Israel’s “toolbox,” of course, is far more powerful than anything the Arab Gulf states can muster. Israel’s military and intelligence services just delivered a very impressive achievement.

The Gulf states are more fragile, and their ability to resist the Iranian advance into the center of world crude oil supplies much less certain. But the mobilization by Riyadh and the GCC countries shows that they too are aware of just how high the stakes currently are.

There is an additional similarity.

In both the Gulf and the Mediterranean, the West is flailing helplessly behind the curve.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, according to a statement this week, is mainly concerned by the Bahraini decision to declare a state of emergency. The US administration seems to prefer a pattern of pressure on friends (the Egyptian military) and respectful forbearance toward enemies (Libya).

The Iranians have apparently internalized well the old Mongol dictum to “strike best when the giant sleeps.” The giant’s local allies, however, appear to be wide awake.

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Suddenly, the Arab World wakes up to Yemen’s Rebellion

Global Politician- 20/12/2009

The 30th summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, meeting in Kuwait this week, expressed its solidarity with Saudi Arabia in its fight with the Shi’ite Houthi rebels in northern Yemen. The Kuwaiti emir noted that Saudi Arabia is facing “flagrant aggression that targets its sovereignty and security by those who have infiltrated its territory.”

The formerly little-noticed conflict between the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government is now taking on the coloration of an additional hot front in an ongoing region-wide cold war. The conflict in northern Yemen reveals the ongoing Iranian regional effort to convert Shi’ite populations into assets enabling it to apply pressure on neighbors and rivals.

The Arab response, meanwhile, shows the very great trepidation felt by the Gulf Arabs in the face of Iranian regional ambitions and expansion.

The term “Houthi rebels” refers to members of the Houthi clan, who have been engaged in an insurrection against the government of Yemen in the Saada district in the north of the country since 2004. The Houthis are members of the Zaidi Shi’ite sect of Islam. (Zaidi Shi’ites venerate the first four Imams of Islam, in contrast to the Twelver Shi’ites dominant in Iran). Led by Abd al-Malik el-Houthi, the rebels are fighting to bring down the government of President Ali Abdallah Saleh, which they regard as too pro-Western.

Thousands on both sides have died in the rebellion. The fighting includes the use by both sides of tanks and armored personnel carriers. It has resulted in the displacement of around 150,000 people.

The situation escalated in November, when Houthi rebels clashed with Saudi forces in the Jabal Dukhan territory straddling the border. In the ensuing firefight two Saudi border guards were killed and another 10 were wounded. The Saudis responded in force. Saudi aircraft and helicopter gunships carried out a series of attacks on rebel held areas of northern Yemen in the following days, killing around 40 rebels. Saudi forces remain on high alert.

Riyadh identifies the hand of Iran behind the Houthi Shi’ite rebels. Saudi media outlets in the last month – including the Al-Watan and Asharq Al-Awsat newspapers and the Al-Arabiya television network – have repeatedly made the connection. They assert that Iran is seeking to develop the Houthis along the lines of Hizbullah – turning north Yemen into a pro-Iranian enclave on the Saudi border, with the intention of placing pressure on the Saudis. Saudi media outlets now regularly place the Houthis alongside Hizbullah, Hamas and Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq when listing Iran’s clients in subversion across the region. The Iranians deny these claims. But considerable evidence exists to support them.

Regarding the ideological and propaganda level – the Bint Jbeil Web site, maintained by Hizbullah, maintains a forum for what it refers to as the “supporters of truth from Yemen.” The forum includes details and pictures of successful operations carried out by the Houthis, pictures of Houthi leaders and policy statements reflecting the movement’s Shi’ite Islamist outlook.

Regarding direct Iranian military links to the Houthis: the generally reliable Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the last days quoted unnamed intelligence sources who described a meeting by a Revolutionary Guards official, Hizbullah officers and representatives of the Houthis on the Saudi-Yemeni border last month. The story was carried also by Al-Arabiya. The intention of the meeting was to coordinate the escalation of the insurgency.

Yemen, meanwhile, claims in the last months to have thwarted several attempts by Iranian-commissioned ships to transport weaponry and other equipment to the rebels. The Texas-based private intelligence company Stratfor, which last year revealed the existence of an Iranian network to supply arms to Hamas via Sudan three months before the network became public knowledge, has produced details of what it claims is a similar Iranian supply line to the Houthis.

According to the group, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps have been running a network purchasing arms in Eritrea and Somalia. The arms are then transported from the Asab harbor in Eritrea, across the Red Sea to Salif on the Yemeni coast. From there, they are taken to Hajjah and Huth in northern Yemen, before finally reaching the Saada province, where the Houthi insurgency is taking place.

Because of the Saudi dispatch of three warships to the Red Sea Coast last month, this route has now been augmented by an additional route from Asab to Shaqra on the southern Yemen coast, and then across land to Saada.

Iran’s efforts in Yemen indicate the unfortunate fate of weak states in times of regional cold war. Yemen has poorly-developed institutions and a divided populace. This has made it particularly vulnerable to penetration by its neighbors and by global jihadi forces.

In the 1960s, under very different circumstances, Yemen became an arena for the “Arab Cold War” of that time, as Saudi Arabia and Egypt backed rival sides in the Yemeni civil war. Today, in the context of a new cold war, the Iranians are using the country to build up the latest recruit to the region-wide Revolutionary Guards franchise of armed clients.

As in Lebanon, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt and among the Palestinians, local grievances are to be utilized to intimidate neighbors and increase the sum total of Iranian influence. In the mountainous, inhospitable terrain of the Saada province, proxy war has returned to Yemen.

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Self-Radicalization

Global Politician- 03/08/2008

Over the last two months, Israeli security forces have arrested six young Arab men suspected of seeking to form an extreme Islamist cell for the purpose of carrying out high-profile terror attacks in the capital. Two of the six held Israeli citizenship, while the other four were residents of east Jerusalem. It appears that they were radicalized through involvement in an Islamic study circle and via the Internet. Two Arab Israeli citizens from the town of Rahat were arrested in recent weeks on similar suspicions.

In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, these events reflect strange, unfamiliar patterns. Place them on a broader canvas, however, and the novelty sharply decreases. The latest events appear to reflect the arrival of global jihad methods and codes of practice to our shores.

They are the most visible part of a broader and little-remarked-upon process taking place in Jerusalem, the West Bank and (particularly) in Gaza. This is the growing presence of preachers, organizations and individuals committed to the extreme Sunni Islamist current known as “Salafiyya.” This is the ideology associated with al-Qaida. However, it is important to stress that what is happening is the penetration of ideas and models of activity, rather than the establishment of a new, centralized movement.

The process whereby young men become radicalized through contact with Islamist ideas via preachers or the Internet and then go on to form ad hoc terror cells has been observed in Muslim communities in Europe and further afield. So how is Salafism gaining its foothold west of the Jordan River? Through the relatively simple formula of preaching, education, the creation of groups of devotees, and the subsequent self-organization of those devotees.

In the West Bank, the removal of Hamas-affiliated imams in over 1,000 mosques has paradoxically opened the door for the rising prominence of Salafi-oriented preachers.

Some of the radical preachers are associated with the Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT) party. This veteran Islamist group was long regarded as a curiosity because of its failure to maintain an armed wing and its refusal to engage in active politics. However, HT has enjoyed an unprecedented rise in popularity in the West Bank over the last 18 months. Many of its imams are known to be in contact with the broader, amorphous Salafi subculture. HT itself is not a Salafi grouping. But its role as a radicalizing force and then a conduit for young men to violent activity is a key concern.

Salafi Imams with significant regional links are also active. The presence of a certain Saudi-Palestinian sheikh in the city of Nablus, for example, is attracting the attention of the authorities. This individual, whose brother is in a Saudi jail accused of al-Qaida ties, has been in Nablus since early 2008. He has a lot of money (presumably from supporters in Saudi Arabia), and has been engaging in ‘Dawa’ (outreach) activities, gathering around himself a circle of young activists committed to the Salafi-Jihadi path.

Despite the significance of their activities in the West Bank, it is Hamas-controlled Gaza that remains the key area of activity for the Salafis. In Gaza, the Salafis have been particularly engaged in activities associated with the enforcement of Islamic “morality,” as they define it. These have included a rash of “honor killings” of both women and men. For example, members of the Salafi al-Saif al-Haq al-Islam vigilante group are considered responsible for the murder of the owner of the Teachers Bookshop – the only Christian bookshop in Gaza – on October 7 of last year. In the same month, Lina Suboh, daughter of a prominent Gaza university professor, was also murdered. These are two of hundreds of such killings that have taken place in Gaza over the last 18 months. They have been accompanied by bombings of various dens of iniquity in the Strip – including restaurants and cafes that allowed mixed dining.

But the Salafis are not concerned only with Palestinian internal moral health. Prominent individuals within existing political organizations are known to sympathize with this trend. This is particularly noticeable in Hamas’s armed wing in Gaza, Izzadin Kassam. Sheikh Nizar Rayyan, a leading tactician in the group, is considered close to the Saudi-Palestinian imam mentioned above. Rayyan is the most prominent of a large number of individuals in Izzadin Kassam in Gaza who are known to adhere to the uncompromising ideas of Salafism.

With Fatah and Palestinian secular politics in decay, and Hamas facing the failures associated with governance in the real world, the stage is set for the further growth of the Salafi trend. Its growth should be placed within the context of a broader Islamization of Palestinian politics and society, in line with regional trends.

It is not possible to draw any causal link between the growth of Salafism and the “self-radicalization” associated with it, and the three acts of terror by apparently “self-radicalized” individuals in Jerusalem over the last months. Undoubtedly, however, behind the scenes, this is an angle of investigation energetically being pursued.

On Wednesday, the Israeli security cabinet held its first discussion ever on the issue of the global jihad. One may assume that this discussion was not held purely for the general education of cabinet members. Salafi-Jihadism, with its hard-to-trace links between idea and deed, its loose frameworks of organization, and its utterly uncompromising ambitions, has arrived among us.

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UNRWA: Barrier to Peace

Global Politician- 02/06/2008

The United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) was created under the jurisdiction of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with the unique responsibility of solely aiding the Palestinians. Due to this special status, the UNRWA perpetuates, rather than resolves, the Palestinian refugee issue, and therefore serves as a major obstacle toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Like no other UN body, UNRWA’s definition of refugees includes not only the refugees themselves, but also their descendents. Moreover, refugees keep their status even if they have gained citizenship. UNRWA employs teachers affiliated with Hamas and allows the dissemination of Hamas messages in its schools. The Hamas coup in Gaza of July 2007 has resulted in a Hamas takeover of UNRWA facilities there. Therefore, UNRWA’s activities require urgent action. The Agency should be dissolved and its services transferred to more appropriate administering organizations.

Millions of refugees worldwide – over 130 million since the end of World War II – have come under the responsibility of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which aims to resettle and rehabilitate refugees. On December 8, 1949, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 302, establishing an agency dedicated solely to “direct relief and works programs” for the Palestinian Arab refugees – UNRWA (United Nations Relief Works Agency) – making it a unique body.

UNRWA exists in order to perpetuate, rather than to resolve, the Palestinian refugee issue. No Palestinian has ever lost his or her refugee status. There are hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants who are citizens of Jordan, for example – yet as far as UNRWA is concerned they are still refugees, eligible for aid. UNRWA, over the past 60 years, has transformed itself into a central vehicle for the perpetuation of the refugee problem, and into a major obstacle for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Problem of Definition

When UNRWA first began counting refugees in 1948, it did so in a way without precedent – seeking to maximize the number of those defined as refugees. UNRWA counts every descendant of the original refugees as a refugee themselves – leading to an increase of 400 percent in the number since 1948.

This was a politically motivated definition to imply that either Palestinians would remain refugees forever or until the day that they returned in a triumph to a Palestinian Arab state that included the territory where Israel existed. If they built lives elsewhere, even after many generations – decades or centuries – they still remained officially refugees. In contrast to other situations around the world, other refugees only retained that status until they found permanent homes elsewhere, presumably as citizens of other countries.

Moreover, refugee status was based solely on the applicant’s word. Even UNRWA admitted its figures were inflated in a 1998 Report of the Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (July 1997-30 June 1998): “UNRWA registration figures are based on information voluntarily supplied by refugees primarily for the purpose of obtaining access to Agency services and hence cannot be considered statistically valid demographic data.”

Fostering Conflict

In October 2004, then UNRWA Commissioner General Peter Hansen publicly admitted for the first time that Hamas members were on the UNWRA payroll, adding, “I don’t see that as a crime. Hamas as a political organization does not mean that every member is a militant and we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another.” Consequently, taxpayers’ money in countries where Hamas was legally defined as a terrorist organization, like the United States and Canada, was being illegally used to fund Hamas-controlled activities.

Hanson’s view that Hamas was a normal political organization whose doctrines did not interfere with the governance and education of Palestinians remains the position of UNRWA. This has been so even when Hamas has committed violence against other Palestinians. After the organization seized Gaza by force in July 2007, UNRWA immediately indicated to Hamas that it was eager to get back to providing its services. Nothing was changed in its procedure or performance after the takeover.

A graphic demonstration of this issue was the death of Awad al-Qiq in May 2008. Qiq had a long career as a science teacher in an UNRWA school and had been promoted to run its Rafah Prep Boys School. He was also the leading bombmaker for Islamic Jihad. He was killed while supervising a factory to make rockets and other weapons for use against Israel, located a short distance from the school. Qiq was thus simultaneously building weapons for attacking Israeli civilians while indoctrinating his students to do the same. Islamic Jihad did not need to pay him a salary for his terrorist activities. The UN and the American taxpayer were already doing so.

The increasing numbers of UNRWA teachers who openly identify with radical groups have created a teachers’ bloc that ensures the election of members of Hamas and individuals committed to Islamist ideologies. Using classrooms as a place to spread their radical messages, these teachers have also gravitated to local Palestinian elections. Thus, UNRWA’s education system has become a springboard for the political activities of Hamas. For example, Minister of Interior and Civil Affairs Minister Saeed Siyam of Hamas, was a teacher in UNRWA schools in Gaza from 1980 to 2003. He then became a member of UNRWA’s Arab Employees Union, and has headed the Teachers Sector Committee. Other notable Hamas graduates of the UNRWA education system include Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, the former Hamas chief.

Fostering Dependency

UNRWA’s budget has been supported by many countries of which the United States and Western countries have been the largest contributors. In 1990, UNRWA’s annual budget was over $292 million, and by 2000 it had increased to $365 million. Despite this seemingly significant rise, however, actual allocations among the various refugee camps has decreased – compounded by a very high birth rate and burgeoning camp populations. Refugees were discouraged from moving out and had the incentive of being on welfare if they remained.

Per capita spending among refugees in camps thus declined from $200 in services per year per refugee in the 1970s to about $70 currently. This situation has been most evident in Lebanon, where the government provides little if any additional assistance to the Palestinians.

UNRWA provides jobs to a large number of Palestinians (it has a full time staff of 23,000). While the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) avoid employing locals who are also recipients of agency services, UNRWA does not make this distinction. UNRWA thus keeps a large population of refugees and their descendants in a permanent state of welfare dependency, financed by the western taxpayer. In so doing, it acts as a barrier to attempts to make the refugees into productive citizens. Bureaucracies have a tendency to become self-perpetuating. In the case of UNRWA, this tendency is exacerbated by the fact that the organization’s raison d’etre is the preserving of a refugee problem, rather than finding a solution for it.

Conclusion

The UN erred when it created a UN body devoted exclusively to one refugee population and with a modus operandi contradicting that of all other relief institutions. Four steps are required to bring the international approach to the Palestinian refugee issue in line with standard practice on similar situations.

First, UNRWA itself should be dissolved. Second, the services UNRWA currently provides should be transferred to other UN agencies, notably the UNHCR, which have a long experience with such programs. Third, responsibility for normal social services should be turned over to the Palestinian Authority. A large portion of the UNRWA staff should be transferred to that governmental authority. Fourth, donors should use the maximum amount of oversight to ensure transparency and accountability.

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Trip by Saudi Royal Unlikely to Herald Radical Change

Global Politician- 19/10/2009

The Syrian Al-Watan newspaper reported on Wednesday that a two-day visit by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz was due to begin that day. The talks, Al-Watan noted, would conclude with the signing of a joint agreement on the issue of taxes. This is what is known as setting a low bar for success. The editors of Al-Watan have good reason for their caution. Despite the great importance being attached by some regional analysts to the Saudi-Syria talks, they are unlikely to herald a fundamental shift in regional diplomacy.

In seeking to repair relations with Syria, Riyadh is adjusting to an existing reality. That reality is the decision by the US administration to end the policy of isolation of Damascus.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Syria went below the freezing point after the murder of Saudi citizen and former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. Syria was (and is) suspected of being behind the murder.

At that time, Saudi anger at the Syrians fit with broader Western policy. In the last weeks, however, senior Syrian officials have visited Washington. Saudi Arabia sees no benefit in pursuing a regional policy in opposition to that of its protector.

Iran is the key to Western and Saudi overtures toward Syria. It is believed that Syria is the “weakest link” in the Iran-led regional axis. The Saudis are extremely worried at the onward march of Iranian power in the region, and the prospect that this may be taking place soon under a nuclear umbrella.

The West, and Saudi Arabia, evidently hope to initiate a process of coaxing Damascus away from Teheran. Saudi power is financial power. Riyadh could offer the economically ailing regime in Damascus a host of economic incentives in return for distancing itself from Iran.

In addition to the key issue of Iran, the Saudis will be hoping to settle the long-overdue matter of Lebanese government formation. Syrian interference and exertion of influence on elements within the March 8 opposition coalition has been a key element in preventing the resolution of the crisis.

The issue of Hamas-Fatah rapprochement is likely to be discussed also. The Saudis do not enjoy the sensation of appearing on the same side as Israel in a regional bloc, with the opposite bloc bidding for ownership of the Palestinian cause. They therefore have a clear interest in the success of current moves toward some form or other of rapprochement or at least blurring between the pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian Hamas enclave in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority.

From the Syrian point of view, Damascus has recently been involved in a heated dispute with the Maliki government in Iraq. This dispute has not been resolved. Damascus wants the Saudis to line up alongside it and against the government in Iraq in the approach to US withdrawal.

The Syrians hope to gain from Saudi economic aid and investment. In addition, Damascus wants to continue the ongoing rebuilding of hegemony in Lebanon.

So the wish lists of the two countries are extensive, and fairly clear. Why shouldn’t the efforts bear fruit?

The larger Western effort to coax Damascus away from Iran has so far produced very little. Syrian President Bashar Assad demonstratively visited Teheran after the apparently rigged presidential elections. Syrian interference in Lebanon, Iraq and among the Palestinians continues apace.

With all due respect to the kingly visit, the Saudis are unlikely to succeed where the US administration has so far failed.

This is because Syria, correctly, detects weakness behind the overtures from the US and its allies. Damascus sees that the American administration is flailing in its Iran policy. Its natural response in such a situation is not to compromise on fundamentals, but rather to conclude that its current approach is working, and to dig in.

Damascus would have much to gain from repairing relations with the Saudis. But the cost of ceding its key regional alliance – with Teheran – is likely to be beyond its price range. This leaves two possibilities. Either the Saudis will offer a lower price – which will represent capitulation. Or the stalemate will continue with perhaps cosmetic adjustments.

So while it is impossible to predict the outcome of the talks between King Abdullah and President Assad, the following assumptions may be asserted with some confidence: Whatever the precise complexion of the government which eventually emerges in Lebanon – whether or not Michel Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil gets the Telecommunications Ministry and so on – the campaign to restore Syrian hegemony will continue. This will take place alongside and in alliance with the Iranian state within a state which currently wields parallel power in Lebanon.

Whether or not the Egyptian brokered reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas takes place on schedule, the Syrian and Iranian influence on Palestinian politics will continue. This influence will ensure the absence of a meaningful negotiating process.

And finally and most fundamentally, the Syrian alliance with Iran will not be sacrificed in order to re-build relations with Saudi Arabia, or with the West. In case anyone had failed to notice, the Iranians are currently running rings around the US in the “negotiations” over the Iranian nuclear program. It may be assumed that the Ba’athis in Damascus have not failed to notice this. Good luck with the tax agreement.

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Israel, Gaza & Egypt: No Change

Global Politician- 07/02/2008

The response of Israeli officials to the latest events in Gaza may in essence be divided into two halves. The initial response was one of frustration at Egyptian unwillingness to restore order on the international border. The subsequent sense is that the latest Gaza events have served to clarify, rather than significantly alter, an already existing reality.

As the news began to come in of the destruction of the southern border wall separating Gaza from Egypt, Israeli and western officials demanded that Egypt take steps to re-assert its control. And as the exodus of Gazans began, there was widespread anger at Egypt for its failure to speedily impose its authority.

This failure was seen as of a piece with the generality of Egyptian behaviour since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in September, 2005. In November 2005, Israel, under US pressure, handed over control of the Philadelphi corridor to Egypt, which was to administer the area, in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, and observed by an EU monitoring force. Events since this point are well known. Hamas won PA elections in January, 2006, and completed its seizure of power with a coup in June, 2007. This led to the departure of EU monitors from the border, and its sealing by Egypt.

Throughout this period, it has been a constant complaint on Israel’s part that the Egyptians have reacted half-heartedly and unwillingly to the ongoing Hamas project of smuggling large quantities of weaponry into Gaza. The initial response to the chaotic scenes on the border reflected this.

The Israeli security forces were subsequently placed on increased alert along Israel’s southern border. Israeli tourists were advised to return home from Sinai. There was fear that in the absence of any control, terrorist organisations would find it easy to exit Gaza, and prepare attacks on Israeli border communities.

As the days progressed, however, a new type of Israeli response began to manifest itself. The growing sense was that the latest Hamas action changed little of substance, but confirmed an already existing – if ultimately untenable – situation: since June 2007, Hamas-run Gaza has constituted a de facto hostile entity, administered by an organisation committed to Israel’s destruction.

Ineffectual Egyptian administration of the southern border has led to a large scale influx of weaponry into the Strip. The Hamas-led entity has sought to engage Israel in a roiling, ongoing war of attrition through the use of rocket attacks and support for acts of terror launched from Gaza.

For the moment, at least, it appears that the border is now to be administered through a joint effort by Hamas and the Egyptian security forces. Hamas will thus be engaged in partial control of an international frontier. But whatever the final arrangement, Israel will continue to demand that Egypt adequately police the crossings, and Egypt will continue to fail to do so. Hamas efforts to bring in weaponry will also continue, and its support for Qassam rocket attacks on western Negev communities will remain.

This process makes a major Israeli operation into Gaza, at some point in the future, a near inevitability.

Of course, the curious situation remains whereby Hamas-controlled Gaza still receives the greater part of its fuel and electricity supplies from the state to whose destruction it is committed. And the Israeli High Court today ruled that even the partial restrictions imposed on fuel supplies must now be lifted. But should Qassam rocket attacks begin again in earnest, Israel has made clear that the borders between itself and Hamas-run Gaza will be re-sealed, with only those provisions necessary to prevent a humanitarian crisis allowed to enter.

The situation between the state of Israel and the Islamist statelet of Gaza is by definition one of conflict. In the event of a major Hamas terror attack within Israel, it is likely to turn into open war, on the model of Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. Gaza is ruled by an organisation committed to destroying Israel, and replacing it with a state based on Sharia Law. This was the case before Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008. It is the case after it. The events of the last days, from the Israeli point of view, have served largely to illustrate and reinforce this reality.

The final question is just how the continued existence of the Islamist statelet in Gaza can be reconciled with the hopes of the renewed peace process in which we were asked to believe following the Annapolis Conference. Peace processors of all nationalities – Israeli, Palestinian and western – have yet to offer a coherent answer. The anomalous situation in Gaza thus looks set to continue, until its contradictions play themselves out.

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Forward to The Past

Global Politician- 01/09/2008

In recent weeks, a number of prominent Fatah figures have suggested that their movement might abandon its commitment to a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and return to the pre-1988 demand for Israel’s replacement by a single state in the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

They claim that Israeli policy in the West Bank is forcing them to reconsider their commitment to partition. In fact, though, what used to be known as the “democratic, secular state,” and is now called the “one-state solution,” has been the end-goal of modern Palestinian nationalism for the greater part of its history. Its reemergence into prominence should come as no surprise. It is the natural product of Palestinian nationalism’s characterization of the conflict.

The one-state solution is depicted by its adherents as a non-ethnic, non-nationalist alternative to the ethnic nationalism represented by Israel. Israel, according to Virginia Tilly, a prominent Western supporter of the one-state idea, rests “on the discredited idea, on which political Zionism stakes all its moral authority, that any ethnic group can legitimately claim permanent formal dominion over a territorial state.”

This formulation is dishonest. Ahmed Qurei and Sari Nusseibeh, two of the prominent Palestinians with apparently growing sympathy for the one-state idea, are also members of an overtly nationalist movement emerging from a distinctive Arab and Muslim cultural context.

The Palestinian Authority in its constitution describes the Palestinian people in ethnic and religious terms, as “part of the Arab and Islamic nations.” This document declares Islam as the official religion of the Palestinian state, and cites Islamic sharia law as a “major source for legislation.” Thus, whatever argument the one-staters have with Israel, it isn’t based on a principled objection to ethnic nationalism. But then, why is this claim of the “non-national,” civil rights nature of the one-state demand being made?

The reasons for the conceptual lack of clarity at the root of the one-state idea are both pragmatic and conceptual. Pragmatically – an open, public commitment to the denial of the other side’s national rights would be counterproductive. It would upset the Europeans and Americans, who largely foot the bill for the Palestinian national project.

It is apparently hoped, however, that rebranding Fatah-style Palestinian nationalism using the language of the U.S. civil rights movement of 50 years ago might cause at least some observers not to notice that the one-state solution coincidentally involves the disappearance of a legally constituted Jewish state, and the consequent termination of the right of self-determination of Israeli Jews. In other words, despite its non-ethnic, non-nationalist basis, the one-state solution also includes the full realization of the program of Palestinian nationalism.

This attempt at obfuscation is fairly ludicrous. On the conceptual level, however, the current revival of this idea is of greater interest. It shows the extent to which mainstream Palestinian nationalism continues to see the conflict with Israel as one between a project of colonization and a liberation movement.

Despite the short period of ostensible commitment to partition in the 1990s, Palestinian nationalism did not undergo any revolution in thought, toward reformulating the conflict as one between rival national groupings that each possess a basic legitimacy. This, of course, was the formulation of its supposed partners on the Israeli left.

But this idea found and finds no echo among the Palestinians. Fatah remains convinced that the conflict is one between a usurping, colonial entity and an indigenous resistance movement. This explains the ease with which plans involving the disappearance of the Israeli Jewish collectivity can be dreamed up. The Rhodesians in southern Africa, the pieds noirs in Algeria – all of them disappeared. So why should their local equivalents imagine their fate to be any different? In this interpretation, the denial of the national rights of Israeli Jews by turning them into a minority in an Arab and Muslim state is no denial at all, because belonging to a historically illegitimate collectivity does not confer rights. The trouble is, of course, that Israeli Jews are neither Rhodesians nor pieds noirs. They therefore decline to play the role allotted them in the thinking of Fatah.

Should Fatah actually elect to return to its old militant stance of 40 years ago, it will be transformed into a less religious and less serious imitation of its Islamist rivals. The most likely prognosis, though, is that this will not happen. In real life, Fatah leaders fear Hamas more than they fear Israel, and in any case they are deeply embedded in a type of patron-client relationship with the West. Thus, the period ahead will witness a tide of verbiage, vague threats and accusation, readily recycled by Fatah’s friends in Western academia and the media.

Fatah turned down chances at partition, ultimately because its leadership never fully freed itself from the conceptual straitjacket of the one-state solution. The movement is now threatening to retreat further back down the road it traveled in the 1990s

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