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October 27, 2016 / 25 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘east’

Newcomer Rabbinic Organization Launches Lower East Side Eruv Against Establishment View

Friday, September 30th, 2016

The Downtown Va’ad, an Orthodox rabbinic network established in 2013 as a “unifying platform for Orthodox rabbis to advance the welfare and flourishing of our now surging downtown Jewish community,” on Thursday announced the establishment of an eruv, a legal fiction allowing Jews to carry objects on Shabbat.

“As of today, all of Lower Manhattan has been joined to the larger Manhattan Eruv,” declared the group’s announcement, defying a generation of Orthodox scholars, most notably the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who was the halakhic authority for North America’s Orthodox community until his death in 1986. In the 1950s, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher proposed the establishment of an eruv in Manhattan, but the Lithuanian yeshiva deans, including Rabbis Aharon Kotler and Moshe Feinstein, objected to the idea. The major controversy that ensued was resolved by a statement from Agudas Horabonim (Rabbis’ Association) which quashed the Manhattan eruv for the next fifty years.

The Downtown Va’ad’s press release recalls the process that brought the new Manhattan eruv to life: “In 1999, a new eruv was constructed on the Upper West Side under the advisement and supervision of the Machon L’Hora’ah of Monsey. In 2003, this Eruv was extended to include the Upper East Side community, and then in 2007 — with the assistance of Yeshiva University (Stern College), local congregations, and several individuals and families — the eruv was expanded to include a portion of the downtown community. … Recently, the Manhattan eruv was further extended to include the entire southern portion of Manhattan, specifically the region below 14th Street. This project was initiated by the Downtown Va’ad in conjunction with the Manhattan Eruv leadership. … The extension was facilitated and supervised by the Machon L’Hora’ah and continues to be checked and maintained by them. All halakhic (legal) matters are deferred to the Machon.”

According to the press release, “this eruv development is simply the expansion of the pre-existing eruv; one that most Manhattan rabbis have publicly supported. We understand that the halakhic institution of eruv is complex and we honor and respect all rabbinic and communal perspectives on the matter. We encourage our constituencies to pursue guidance from its own rabbinic authorities and to continue the spirit of mutual respect and dignity that Jewish practice demands and engenders.”

The new initiative is likely to raise an objection from the traditional Orthodox leadership of the Lower East Side community, led by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s sons, Rabbis Dovid and Reuven Feinstein. These legal scholars follow their father’s view that in densely populated Manhattan it is impossible to ever erect a legitimate eruv. Hopefully, the Lower East Side community, which is one of the most benign Jewish communities in America, will weather this storm, especially in light of the fact that we’re entering the Days of Awe.

The simplest possible explanation regarding the halakhic dispute over the eruv goes as follows:

Jewish law recognizes three domains: private domain, where one may carry on Shabbat; public domain, where one may never carry on Shabbat; and an in-between domain nicknamed K’Armelit, meaning “like a widow,” who is not married and not a virgin. A Karmelit domain can be converted into private domain using a symbolic wall and doorway, usually represented by a fishing line attached to poles all around the converted area.

No one disputes that part. What is being contested is the definition of a public domain which cannot be considered a karmelit and therefore cannot ever be converted into a private domain, no matter how much fishing line you’ll tie around it.

The late Rabbi Feinstein followed the view cited in the Shlchan Arukh (OH 345:7), based on a Babylonian scholar cited by Rashi, that since the laws of Shabbat domains are delineated from the configuration of the Israelite’s camp in the wilderness, which was considered an irredeemable public domain, and since there were 600,000 males over the age of 20 in that camp, we should view any area populated by 600,000 people or more as public domain.

Many disagree with this view, because it isn’t mentioned explicitly in the Babylonian or Jerusalem Talmud, nor by Maimonides and other key medieval scholars. Also, does the rule mean there should be 600,000 people moving through the place or living there for it to qualify as public domain, and should they all be males older than 20?

The opposing view, which the new rabbinic group seems to uphold, is based on an explicit Talmudic citation (Shabbat 6a), defining public domain as a main road, 20 feet wide, going through a city from one end to the other, connecting to other cities in either direction. Imagine the cities of antiquity as an aspirin pill, with the line going through the middle. That’s the road, and the fact that it is connected to the wilderness on either end makes it a Mavo Mefulash, a passageway that’s open on both ends. Since Manhattan does not have such a road leading to the wilderness, goes this view, it can be turned into one big private domain via the eruv. Alternatively, if one were to consider the bridges and tunnels leading into Manhattan a problem in that context, then each local community, such as the Lower East Side, can erect its own eruv — meaning one cannot carry into neighboring communities on Shabbat, but one is permitted to carry in one’s own neighborhood – see the accompanying image above.

One is reminded of the story of two study partners who have been poring over the Talmud together for years, and one of them invites the other to his son’s wedding and wants to honor him with one of the blessings to the couple under the canopy. His partner says he is, indeed, honored, but, alas, he isn’t Jewish.

– What do you mean you’re not Jewish? We’ve been learning together all these years…

– I’m interested in it intellectually, but it doesn’t make me a Jew.

– Wait a minute, I see you on the street on Shabbat in your suit and tie — you know a goy gets the death penalty for observing Shabbat! (It’s actually the law, look it up)

– I take care of that by always carrying something in my pocket.

– Yes, but we have an eruv!

– Huh! You call this an eruv?


Newsweek Middle East Editor Goes on Anti-Semitic Twitter Rant

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

{Originally posted to the Tower Magazine website}

An editor of Newsweek Middle East launched into a Twitter tirade invoking several anti-Semitic tropes late last week, including that Jews are greedy and are not descended from biblical Hebrews, and therefore have no historical connection to Israel.

After the magazine was criticized by pro-Israel bloggers last week for creating an inaccurate documentary video about the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the magazine’s senior deputy editor, Leila Hatoum, responded harshly, calling her critics “Zionist trolls,” accusing them of worshiping money, and falsely claiming that Jews are not Semites and therefore not native to the Middle East. (The term anti-Semitism was coined by the 19th century German journalist Wilhelm Marr, who opposed Jewish emancipation and sought to popularize a term that would make Jew-hatred sound more scientific.)

The video that Hatoum shared claimed that references to “Palestine” prior to 1948 meant that an Arab Palestinian state used to exist. In fact, the artifacts that the video claimed to have proven its case actually showed that Palestine was under British control, not independent; one document even contained the Hebrew initials for “Land of Israel.”

Hatoum’s Twitter rant was first exposed by Israeli blogger “Aussie Dave,” who had been one of the chief critics of the video Hatoum posted. The blogger subsequently discovered earlier offensive tweets that Hatoum wrote, including an (inaccurate) claim that Adolf Hitler’s mother, girlfriend, and doctor were Jewish.

Hartoum also cited the discredited “Khazar” theory of the origins of today’s Jews to try to prove that modern Jews or Jews who lived in Eastern Europe are not descended from biblical Jews.

In reality, the shared Middle Eastern ancestry of Jewish communities, including those who resided in Europe, has been established by multiple genetic studies. “Historical evidence suggests common origins in the Middle East, followed by migrations leading to the establishment of communities of Jews in Europe, Africa and Asia, in what is termed the Jewish Diaspora,” researchers explained in a 2010 study published by Nature that traced “the origins of most Jewish Diaspora communities to the Levant.” (Notably, the study also revealed “a close relationship between most contemporary Jews and non-Jewish populations from the Levant,” including Palestinians.)

Media watchdog Honest Reporting noted that Newsweek Middle East is editorially independent of Newsweek and is owned by the Dubai-based ARY Digital Network. The watchdog organization wondered if Newsweek would be pleased to have “their brand name being dragged through the mud by the likes of Leila Hatoum and the anti-Israel propaganda being produced on the Newsweek Middle East site.”

The Newsweek video highlighted what Shany Mor referred to in the January 2015 Issue of The Tower Magazine as “the mendacious maps of Palestinian ‘loss,’” which uses historically inaccurate information to argue that an independent Palestine disappeared due to the establishment of the State of Israel.

The series of maps referred to by Newsweek conflate different aspects of land control. One shows inhabited areas, another shows a proposed partition plan, and two more show political control. Mor argued that if one looked at a series of maps showing the history of Palestinian political control, a more accurate picture would emerge:

The categories of political control and international partition plans are quite easy to map out over time. Since the concern of those publicizing the maps above is Palestinian control of land, we can illustrate this with a more honest series of maps showing areas of political control, using the same years as the original—adding one for clarity.


As seen above, 1946 has exactly zero land under Palestinian Arab control—not autonomous, not sovereign, not anything—as it was all under British authority. We could go further back in time, to the Ottoman era, for example, and the map wouldn’t change in the slightest. 1947 sees no changes to the map, as Palestine was still under British control. Before the war in June 1967, control is divided between three states, and none of them is Palestinian. The 2005 map would be exactly as it is presented in the original series, showing the very first lands ever be ruled by Palestinian Arabs qua Palestinian Arabs. To clarify this a bit more, I have added a map from 1995, showing the withdrawals undertaken during the first two years of the Oslo process, just up to but not including the 1997 Hebron Protocol.

In fact, if we zoomed in a bit more, we would see how the peace process of the 1990s resulted in the first time a Palestinian Arab regime ruled over any piece of land. This occurred in 1994 with the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and Jericho. That control steadily expanded over more and more land during the years leading up to the failed final status talks. Much of it was then lost during the second intifada, but eventually regained as violence died down, and the Gaza disengagement even expanded it slightly. All of these Palestinian land gains have taken place in the last 20 years and every square meter of it came not from Turkey or Britain or Jordan or Egypt, but from Israel alone; and nearly all of it through peace negotiations.

After being presented with evidence of the inaccuracy of similar maps that they had posted, both MSNBC and the textbook company McGraw-Hill acknowledged their error. But months after the maps were thoroughly discredited, Newsweek Middle East risked its credibility by publishing them again.


Tower Magazine

Far East Meets Middle East in Summit for Religious Leaders

Monday, September 12th, 2016

By Michael Zeff/TPS

Jerusalem (TPS) – Over 20 religious leaders from east Asia arrived in Israel Monday for a four-day summit in Jerusalem. Participants came from countries such as China, South Korea, India, and Japan, representing spiritual traditions of Taoism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Jainism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism. Throughout the upcoming week, they will come face to face with Arab and Israeli religious leaders of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

“It is time to expand the Israel-Asia dialogue from only diplomatic and economic spheres to religion, spirituality and faith,” summit coordinator Simona Halperin told Tazpit Press Service (TPS). “This is a first meeting in history between the religious leaders of Judaism and those of the eastern faiths.”

The summit was a joint project between the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the American Jewish Committee and the World Council of Religious Leaders (WCRL). Notable guests included the president of the Buddhist Association of China, Xuecheng, Swami Avdeshanand Giri, spiritual leader of millions of Indian Hindus, and Bawa Jain, Secretary-General of the WCRL.

President Reuven Rivlin greeted summit participants.

“Welcome to Jerusalem, the holy city to the religions of the sons of Abraham,” Rivlin told the guests. “Your arrival is a very special event, for many years the interaction between our religions hardly even existed.

“This is no longer the situation, as your visit today shows,” Rivlin said.

Xuecheng and Swami Giri also addressed the summit, saying religious leaders should take a leading role towards solving worldwide social and environmental challenges.

“I’m very happy to be here,” said the Swami. “We have a saying in our colloquial tongue: ‘When you have dialogues, then the wisdom dawns and knowledge comes.’ Dialogue imparts clarity.”

Xuecheng expressed his hope to make lasting friendships among religious leaders in Israel. “Only if we make true friends we can really set the goal of mutual respect and understanding. the Chinese religions are working very hard to call out other religions to help in the construction of a peaceful world,” he said.

According to Halperin, during the four days of the summit the religious leaders will meet with rabbis from all Jewish streams, as well as with Muslim, Druze and Christian leaders. The group will tour holy sites and discuss current events including global warming, the environment, the status of religion in contemporary society, the role of religion in peacemaking and more.

“Our spiritual worlds are very close to each other in that they are not missionary religions which makes them very open and tolerant,” Rabbi Daniel Sperber, a professor of Talmud at Bar-Ilan University and Orthodox rabbi. “I feel a unity and comradery between our peoples, more so than with the western world and Christianity.”

TPS / Tazpit News Agency

Does the Times Want Middle East Peace?

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

{Originally posted to the Commentary Magazine website}

Something very odd has been happening in the Middle East and, as Sunday’s editorial in the New York Times illustrates, it has a lot of liberals seriously depressed. What’s bothering them? It turns out their collective noses are out of joint about progress toward Middle East peace and the fact that the Palestinian campaign that seeks to avoid direct talks and isolate Israel is failing. If that wasn’t bad enough, a series of diplomatic breakthroughs are happening on the watch of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the man that the Times and the so-called “peace camp” has been busy slandering as an opponent of peace.

After several decades of unremitting hostility, some of the fiercest opponents of Israel are starting to view the Jewish state very differently. Covert ties with Saudi Arabia are now becoming more open. Egypt, whose cold peace with Israel remained frozen in open hostility since Anwar Sadat’s assassination, has a government that is no longer shy about treating Israel as an ally if not a friend. Jerusalem’s relations with much of the Third World, especially African nations, are also warming up.

Those who care about thawing tensions between Jews and Arabs should be applauding all of this. That’s especially true of those voices that spend so much time deploring Israel’s isolation and the idea that it is an armed camp that is locked in perpetual combat with the entire Muslim and Arab world. But the Times and others on the left are lukewarm about these positive developments for their own reasons.

The first is that Israel and its Arab neighbors have been drawn together in large part through their mutual antipathy for Obama administration policies, and most specifically about the Iran nuclear deal. The Times has been one of the principal cheerleaders of the pact, which its advocates incorrectly claim has ended the nuclear threat to Israel and the Arab states. But those nations that are targeted most directly by Iran—Israel and Saudi Arabia—understand that U.S. appeasement of Iran advances the latter’s drive for regional hegemony as well as merely postponing the moment when it will achieve nuclear capability. The coming together of other Middle East nations in reaction to this travesty is evidence that those most at risk consider Obama’s false promises and his desire for a general U.S. retreat from the region a clear and present danger to the region.

Just as important is the Palestinian dismay about the willingness of many in the Arab world to embrace Israel as an ally. The irony is that both the Saudis and Egyptians hope to use their new ties with Israel to jump-start peace talks and Israel has signaled its willingness to try again. But that is exactly the opposite of what the Palestinian Authority wants. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is appalled about the idea of being pushed into negotiations with Israel again because it will force him to either refuse peace offers (as he did in 2008) or to blow up the talks (as he did in 2014) to avoid being cornered again. The PA prefers to stick to its strategy of refusing negotiations while asking the United Nations to recognize their independence without first requiring them to make peace with Israel. New talks with Israel mean that strategy, which allows the PA to keep refusing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, would be thwarted.

Ever since 1967, any hope of Arab reconciliation with Israel has been frustrated by Palestinian rejectionism. But that is a luxury that Cairo and Riyadh can no longer afford because of the nuclear deal and the rise of Islamist terror groups such as Hamas in Gaza, Iran’s Hezbollah auxiliaries in Lebanon as well as ISIS. Egypt rightly sees Hamas and ISIS as direct threats that must be faced. Moreover, Israel’s fears that a withdrawal from the West Bank would lead to a Hamas takeover there are viewed with more understanding in Cairo than they are at the Times.

Contrary to the Times assertion that neither Israel nor the Palestinians want peace, the Arab states understand that it is the latter that is unwilling to negotiate, let alone end the conflict for all time. As the Times notes, better relations between Israel and the Arab nations do not preclude a peace deal with the Palestinians. But those nations can’t wait for a sea change in Palestinian political culture that might permit them to finally say “yes” to peace to occur before they can cooperate with the Israelis to provide for their mutual security.

The outrage here is that when faced with a development that represents genuine progress toward ending the conflict, the Obama administration, its media cheerleaders and the rest of the left are nonplussed. They’re not only still stuck in an outdated concept about the centrality of the Palestinian problem but would prefer to see Netanyahu’s outreach fail rather than concede that they were wrong.

Jonathan S. Tobin

Jerusalem Spreads Slowly To The East

Friday, August 19th, 2016

Fresh off three weeks of mourning over that which is still missing in “rebuilt Jerusalem,” let us now take an optimistic look at the ongoing expansion of the Holy City. We would like specifically to look toward the sun: the east of eastern Jerusalem.

Jerusalem has traditionally expanded toward the west. This is true not only of the modern era but even during the times of King Hezekiah of Judea nearly 3,000 years ago. Visitors to the Old City are likely familiar with the “Broad Wall,” much of which (over 200 feet) is preserved “as was” amid today’s modern Jewish homes.

King Hezekiah built it to the west of what was then Jerusalem, for the purpose of protecting the most recent olim chadashim (new immigrants) to the city – refugees from the exiled Ten Tribes who made their way to the Holy City. Upon their arrival, the king expanded the small city to the west – marking the direction for generations to come.

We have seen the westward expansion in recent decades and centuries most clearly. Ever since the city was walled in the early 16th century by the Turkish Sultan Suleiman, the Jews and other residents basically clung to the safety of the enclosure and did not move outside the walls. Even when leaving the city for business, they would return at night, locking the gates behind them.

Only in the 19th century did several brave Jewish pioneers seek to “break out” – to the west. In 1860, the first residential neighborhood outside the Old City was dedicated: Mishkenot Shaananim, just west of Mt. Zion. The site had been purchased by Sir Moses Montefiore from funds left for him in Judah Touro’s estate. The original plan was for 20 new apartments, with an accompanying modern bathhouse and a mikveh, to be used by families of the kollelim of the Old City for three years at a time. The objective was to enable as many families as possible to enjoy the modern homes and non-crowded living conditions.

It turned out, however, that the demand did not quite meet the supply, because the residents were afraid to leave the safety of the walls. In the end, families had to be offered not only permanent residence there but also a monthly stipend in order to move in.

Despite its rocky start, it led to the founding of other new neighborhoods outside the walls, including the Russian Compound to the north of Mishkenot Shaananim, Meah She’arim still further north, and many others.

In 1967, when the Old City and environs were liberated, the same trend continued: new neighborhoods to the west, north, and south. What of the east? All the growth, expansion, and dynamism passed it by, and it was left to the foreigners, most of whose ancestors had arrived only in recent decades from Syria, North Africa, and other Muslim areas.

Rabbi Yisrael Rosenne, author of a column in one of Israel’s longest-running weekly synagogue Torah sheets, Shabbat B’Shabbato, dedicated his thoughts last week to the “rays of light” coming from the east. He noted the small but blossoming sites of new Jewish settlement in what is truly, and not merely in political jargon, eastern Jerusalem. They deserve to be mentioned here as well: Beit Orot, Beit HaShiv’ah, Maaleh HaZeitim, Nof Tzion, the City of David, Kidmat Tzion, and others.

One new Jewish site in eastern Jerusalem is Beit HaHoshen, two adjacent buildings atop the Mt. of Olives purchased by a Jewish group in April 2006. A giant Israeli flag unfurled above it can be seen from any high point in Jerusalem – a symbol of the Jews’ return to their homeland after nearly 2,000 years of wandering.

The Yemenite Village in eastern Jerusalem is another site that deserves our attention. Founded in 1885 by Yisrael Dov Frumkin, he built a synagogue there and paved the way for some 65 Yemenite Jewish families to live on the slopes of the Mt. of Olives. The settlement thrived, but the Arab riots that engulfed the Land of Israel in the 1930s defeated it. The British rulers told the Jews they couldn’t protect them and that they must leave, but promised they could return. Little did anyone realize the promise would be fulfilled not by the British, but by the state of Israel, and only many decades later. Over the years, many Jewish families have returned to the various “new” homes in the area: Beit Yehonatan, Beit HaDvash, Beit Ovadiah, Beit Frumkin, and more.

E-1: #1 in the East

Yet the largest of all projects east of Jerusalem is essentially frozen without even having gotten off the ground. Two decades ago the government of Israel decided on a large-scale housing project east of the capital. It was called E1 – E stands for “east” – and was planned to be built on a large tract of land to create a contiguity of Jewish presence toward Maaleh Adumim.

The E-1 site covers an area of largely uninhabited, state-owned land, and is of critical importance. Without control of the E-1 area, wrote the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs back in 2009, Israel must worry “about a Palestinian belt of construction that will threaten Jerusalem from the east, block the city’s development eastward, and undermine Israel’s control of the Jerusalem-Jericho road. This major artery is of paramount strategic importance for Israel in order to transport troops and equipment eastward and northward via the Jordan Rift Valley in time of war.”

Despite this, alas, E-1 remains a reality only on paper, due to international fears fueled by Arab pressures. The claim that a Jewish E-1 would cut in half the PA-controlled areas of northern Judea and undermine PA contiguity is false. Israel has actually planned a new highway, with no security roadblocks, that would allow northbound Arab traffic to pass east of Maaleh Adumim.

Most unfortunately, the frozen E-1 program is barely even mentioned these days in public discourse. The only encouraging news on E-1 in recent months has been the confiscation or destruction by the IDF Civil Administration of EU-funded structures for Arabs, in various stages of construction.

KeepJerusalem has long emphasized the importance of more and more construction in all parts of Jerusalem, as well as the need to stand up for Israeli interests even in the face of strong Arab and international pressure. Construction and increased housing will solve many of Jerusalem’s long and short-term problematic issues, and must become a top priority of the city and national government. For more information, to help out, and/or to participate in bus tours of news-making areas in Jerusalem, contact tours@keepjerusalem.org.

Hillel Fendel and Chaim Silberstein / KeepJerusalem.org

Turkey, Syria, And The Mess In The Middle East

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

The systematic and pervasive purge being conducted by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is fueling analyses in many quarters that Mr. Erdogan is using the recent abortive coup as a vehicle for realizing his long-held desire to assume near dictatorial powers.

Indeed, many now fear that the biggest casualty of the recent events in Turkey will likely be Turkey’s heretofore growing democracy. Given Turkey’s key role in NATO, this will force Turkey’s NATO allies, particularly the United States, to make a choice between working with a country liable to be led by a dictator for the foreseeable future or drumming Turkey out, thereby undermine the alliance.

It is also likely to lead to a revisiting of events surrounding the Arab Spring when the U.S. and other nations threw in their lot with domestic challengers of several dictatorial governments. The U.S. of course had by then already deposed Saddam Hussein.

Although many of the dictators in question were savage despots, they kept their countries together. Indeed, it was because Saddam Hussein was no longer on the scene that ISIS was able to come into existence, establish its pseudo-caliphate, and wreak the murderous havoc it has.

This is a singular moment for the United States. President Obama has vowed that Syrian president Bashar Assad will not survive in office, but that vow affects American efforts in the region to eliminate ISIS because it means Syrian rebels seeking to oust Mr. Assad will not be challenged by any firepower the U.S. directs at ISIS, which has seized much of Syria.

Yet the rebels’ success in diminishing Mr. Assad’s power works against the goal of defeating ISIS. Further, the Russians, who are also trying to defeat ISIS, are supportive of the Assad regime and opposed to the rebels.

So any possibility of joint and effective action to destroy ISIS is undermined by the U.S. refusal to accept the survival of Mr. Assad.

Editorial Board

Middle East Strategic Outlook – July 2016

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

{Originally posted to the Gatestone Institute Website}

Saudi Arabia

Approval of the National Transformation Plan

The Saudi Cabinet approved (June 6) the National Transformation Program (NTP), part of Saudi Vision 2030, led by Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. The NTP is supposed to be the basis for laying out targets to be met by government ministries and departments. The NTP was well received not only be the Saudi mainstream media (to be expected) but by the Saudi social media that represents to a great degree the public opinion of the younger Saudi generation. It may be expected that Prince Mohammad bin Salman will continue to take steps in the framework of his initiative that will, at least, preserve the sense of momentum and the public support he is enjoying.

Saudi-US Relations

In this framework, Mohammad bin Salman visited Washington DC in a bid to sell his project and himself as the future Saudi leader. During the visit, and especially in the meetings with officials from Congress and the security and intelligence Community, he also sought to build his own stature as future king and as the leader who must be at the helm throughout the period of implementation of his “Vision 2030” plan and beyond. His goal therefore was also to usurp Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef’s status as the favorite of the Washington officialdom as the successor to King Salman. This status derived not only from Washington’s respect of the Saudi rules of succession, but also from his years-long and tight cooperation with US agencies on security and counter-terrorism issues. Therefore, Mohammad bin Salman made an effort to project himself as a preferred effective interlocutor on those issues. The fact that Mohammad bin Salman was accorded meetings with President Obama, an honor usually reserved for heads of state, and the red-carpet reception he received, indicates that the administration now considers him as a likely future king and therefore seeks to establish a dialog with him and influence him.


The War against the Islamic State

The liberation of Fallujah from the “Islamic State” after a month-long campaign (23 May-26 June) may be an important milestone is not the “beginning of the end” and it will certainly not lead to a stronger and more unified Iraqi state. The campaign and its anticipated aftermath will only exacerbate the sectarian divide in the country and encourage further conflict, whether in the name of the “Islamic State” or its successor under another name

The overt American support for the Iranian involvement[1] will also serve to rally Sunnis to an anti-American position. By backing a military campaign against Sunnis in which Shiite militias and Iran played a direct role, the US-led international coalition was fighting against the symptom — the Islamic State — while actually exacerbating the main problem: the sectarian divide in Iraq. Therefore, the American involvement in the Fallujah campaign will not buy it Sunni gratitude. The view of the US as pro-Shiite and pro-Iranian must have been enhanced by Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement (28 June) that Iran’s presence in Iraq is helpful to American attempts to beat back the threat of the Islamic State, and the praise heaped on the Shiite militias by the US special envoy tasked with defeating the Islamic State, Brent McGurk[2].
Many Sunnis — in Fallujah and elsewhere in Anbar Province — view the Fallujah campaign as part of a strategic Iranian plan to take control, through its Iraqi proxies, of central and western Iraq, from the Diala Governorate on the Iraq-Iran border to the Iraqi-Syrian border, in order to create a safe land-bridge from Iran through Syria to Lebanon. To achieve this objective, the Sunnis of western Iraq have to be weakened and denied the ability to stage a meaningful resistance[3].

No End to the Political Stalemate Expected

The paralysis of the Iraqi Parliament further complicates the situation. The parliament cannot reach agreement on the composition of a new cabinet, and cannot pass the 2016 budget. While Iraq can continue to muddle along with a caretaker government under al-‘Abadi (just as Lebanon “survives” without electing a president), passing a reduced 2016 budget is a sine qua non for execution of the agreement that that the government reached in May with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a low-interest loan of $5.4 billion and for loans from other international institutions.

Iran’s interest is to maintain its control over the government in Baghdad, On one hand, this calls for a relatively stable and cohesive Shiite establishment. On the other hand, Iran enhances its position in Baghdad by playing one party against the other and positioning itself as the only acceptable broker between the different Shiite factions. In the eyes of Tehran, Muqtada al-Sadr is a loose cannon, and al-‘Abadi is too close to the West and therefore must be held in check. By maintaining the innate instability of the Shiite political system, Iran attempts to preserve the Iraqi Shiites’ dependency on it to bridge the differences between the different factions.

Therefore, the Shiite infighting will continue as long as al-Sadr is around. This is clear to Iran and to al-Sadr’s rivals and increases the possibility that an attempt will be made to assassinate him. In such a case, the reaction of those elements in the Shiite community who currently support him will be violent and extreme, possibly ultimately leading to the total breakdown of the Shiite political establishment that Iran is trying to prevent.
Iran and Hezbollah in Syria and Iraq

In contrast to its singular status as power-broker in Iraq, the situation in Syria and Lebanon does not bode well for the Iranian strategy. Since these two theaters are critical for Iran’s regional designs, it has no options for an exit strategy, disengagement or even reduction of its footprint. Its primary agent, Hezbollah is suffering setbacks on all the fronts. Without massive Russian military support in Syria, Hezbollah has had to resort to repeated tactical withdrawals and it and the Iranian forces are suffering increasingly heavy fatalities, wounded and fighters taken as prisoners by the Syrian Sunni rebels. In addition to that, the rebels know their own turf better, limiting Hezbollah’s ability to deploy more troops in the more sensitive areas of the theater. Nevertheless, Hezbollah is committed to increase its footprint in the Syrian theater and cannot back down — even as its growing casualties cause increasing discontent within its Shiite Lebanese constituency[4].

Iran is entering a new stage of war in Syria which evokes the situation that the Soviet Union found itself in in Afghanistan in 1985. Until that year, the Soviet Union achieved no decisive victory over the mujahedeen, but also did not lose any battle on the ground. Like the Soviet Union in that stage of the Afghan war, Iran has achieved no decisive victory, but has incurred significant domestic opposition to the war and has no additional resources that could tip the scales. In light of this, our forecast is that the current situation in Syria will become a stalemate for all the parties at least in the months to come.

In these circumstances, a conflict with Israel does not serve the interests of either Iran, Hezbollah or Syria. Therefore, all four parties (and Russia) have adapted themselves to a routine of tolerance towards Israeli attacks on Syrian and Hezbollah targets that endanger Israel directly or threaten Israel’s “strategic edge” in the Syrian-Lebanese theater. In a series of actions directed towards enhancing Israel’s deterrence, the IDF held an extensive war game (12-14 June) based on a scenario of confrontation with Hezbollah. Subsequently, Israeli aircraft hit a Syrian military target near the Israeli border and uncharacteristically released a communiqué that the target had indeed belonged to the Syrian regime and had been hit in response to shelling by the Syrians near the border fence.

Hezbollah seems to be losing its predominance even within the Lebanese theater itself, where it had been almost unchallenged for decades. The attrition of Hezbollah in Lebanon is weakening it within the Shiite community. At the same time, the large (1.4 million) Syrian Sunni refugee population has effectively changed the demographic status quo in Lebanon and created a large restive population for whom Iran, Shiites and particularly Hezbollah are the prime enemy.

Bashar Assad is defiant, but not delusional

On June 7, Bashar Assad delivered a speech to the newly “elected” Syrian Parliament. This was his first major speech since the collapse of the peace talks sponsored by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) in Geneva in April. Assad vowed to retake every inch of the country from his enemies, and effectively dismissed the concept of a peaceful transition of power, which is at the heart of the ISSG’s approach to the resolution of the crisis.

Assad is not — as the US State Department implied — “delusional”. He clearly perceives no military or political threat to his rule. He may rationally asses that Secretary Kerry’s reported “Plan B” that called for escalated military action if Assad continued his defiance will not receive support of President Obama, who will be reluctant to increase the American military involvement in Syria and to risk damaging Iranian-American relations and the nuclear agreement, which is the centerpiece of Obama’s foreign policy legacy.

Assad also most probably assesses that neither Hillary Clinton, whose Libyan experience will discourage her from intervention, nor Donald Trump, who has laid out a non-interventionist foreign policy approach, would undertake a more active involvement in Syria than that of President Obama. Assad therefore felt free to obstruct the international efforts to transport emergency aid to civilians trapped in rebel-held areas, and to reject in his speech the August 1 deadline set by the US for developing a transition plan leading to his stepping down.

Assad’s attitude, the limits of the American, Iranian and Russian interventions and the absence of any additional forces that could appear in the theater and tip the scales means that the war will grind on. It may be expected, therefore, that in the coming months, the Syrian efforts to implement “ethnic cleansing” of Sunnis in the north will continue and even escalate, resulting in a growing stream of refugees into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. This will continue to destabilize these countries and to pose a challenge to a weakened Europe.

New Political Appointments

It may be assumed that the Iranian leadership understands that restoring full control by the Assad regime over all of Syria is unrealistic and it has an undeclared “Plan B”. This would entail defining “useful Syria” as the stretch of land from Damascus along Lebanon’s border through Homs to Aleppo and along the Syrian coast that would be essential for the above objectives. This “useful Syria,” however, does not correspond territorially with the “useful Syria” that Russia envisions. Russia’s “useful Syria” focuses on maintaining a viable “Alawistan” that would enable Russia to maintain a beachhead on the Mediterranean and a presence on the Turkish border.

There has been disagreement inside the Iranian power elite since the Syrian uprising began to deteriorate into a full-fledged civil war. The disagreement focused on the extent of the Iranian investment of resources to support Assad’s objective of restoring the regime’s control over the entire country.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which dominated the policy on Syria and was the key executor of the policy through the Qods Force and Hezbollah, has supported these objectives. Other Iranian power-brokers — notably those associated with the Rouhani camp — have warned against a Syrian quagmire and have opposed tying Iran to Assad’s fate. They argue that while it is of strategic importance to prevent Syria from falling into the hands of radical Sunni groups, it is not prudent to insist on Assad remaining in office, particularly in view of his use of chemical weapons against his own population. (The use of chemical weapons is a sensitive issue in Iran since their use by Saddam Hussain against the Iranians in the Iran-Iraq war.)

The recent appointment of Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani as military and security coordinator of the Iran-Syria-Russia joint cooperation group, and the reshuffle in the Foreign Ministry, may indicate a move towards willingness to project more flexibility vis-à-vis the Syrian peace process even before the anti-Assad forces have been crushed militarily, and a formal willingness to consider the possibility of a post-war Syria without Assad personally.

This was implied in the statement by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif after his meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, that “there will be no solution if we focus on any individual [i.e. Bashar Assad],” and that the process must “focus on institutional dispersion of power and the future form of governance, through which it will be possible to reduce or even eliminate the centrality of the role of any individual or ethnicity.”

If Iran no longer insists on Bashar Assad staying in power, it could open the road to some procedural progress in the peace talks, which have been blocked by the dispute regarding his future, with Western powers and the Sunni Arab states insisting on his departure. However, the damage done by the civil war is irreversible. Even if some formula is found that would facilitate negotiations, the crux of the crisis is whether Syria will return to be dominated or even co-ruled by an Alawite minority. The Assad regime and Iran (and even Russia) cannot accept a Sunni-dominated Syria that would inevitably take revenge on the Alawites and destroy all the assets that Iran has built up over the last thirty years.

The Financial Sanctions Issue

The US administration is continuing in its determined efforts to convince the Western business community to invest in Iran. In May, John Kerry and US Treasury Department officials met with European bankers in London to tell them “legitimate business” is available to them in Iran and to “dispel any rumors” regarding future American sanctions on Iran. The administration’s message was that as long as the banks do their normal due diligence, “they are not going to be held to some undefined and inappropriate standard.”

Nevertheless, the international banking system continues to view Iran as high-risk and is likely to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Regardless of the credibility of the guarantees of the current American administration, which will not be in office after January 2017, the reluctance of the international financial community to approach Iran derives from real risk assessment. Iran ranks 130th (out of 168) on Transparency International’s “Corruption Perception Index” and 118th on the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” list.

Given the current state of affairs, these goals are far from achievable. The approval of the Iran Petroleum Contract (IPC) model does not guarantee its implementation, given the opaque and informal character of the Iranian economy. The goals of the regime’s Five Year Plan are also not clearly detailed and it is difficult to see how they can be achieved. Furthermore, Iran cannot comply with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) rules without a fundamental transformation of its economic structure and the very essence and worldview of the regime. Taking into consideration the leadership structure, the predominance of the Supreme Leader and the position of the IRGC in economy, such a move is impossible.
The Kurdish Factor

The alliance between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Movement for Change (Gorran) is openly challenging the Barzani clan’s dominance of Kurdish politics and raises the pressure on Massoud Barzani. To consolidate his popularity among the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s population, Massoud Barzani might therefore resort to “patriotic” acts, like holding his promised referendum on Kurdish independence soon, which PUK-Gorran will not be able to oppose. This could lead to “Kurexit” (Kurdish exit from Iraq), which would be the result not of well-thought-out strategic planning but of Kurdish political infighting.
Israeli-Turkish “Reconciliation”

The Israeli-Turkish reconciliation is a formal step that will certainly not revive the golden age of Israeli-Turkish relations. Turkey will continue to support Hamas and to incite against Israel in international fora, though it will stick to the letter of the agreement and will take advantage of the economic opportunities afforded by the reconciliation.
The French Peace Initiative

The chances that the French peace initiative will succeed in relaunching the Israeli-Palestinian peace process are very slim. The Israeli position remains that negotiations must take place directly between Israel and the Palestinians, and not through international fora. The French initiative, however, will encourage the Palestinian Authority to reject alternative proposals for direct negotiations, pending the international conference.

The spate of terrorist attacks by the Islamic State during the period of this report highlights the disconnect between the situation on the ground in Syria and Iraq and the threat of Islamic State or al-Qaeda inspired jihadi terrorism in susceptible countries. Most the latest attacks took place in Muslim countries (Istanbul, Turkey in June; Dhaka, Bangladesh in June; Baghdad, Iraq in June, and Mecca, Qatif and Medina in Saudi Arabia on July 4) in which the ability to “profile” potential attackers is limited and security measures are weak.

The explanation put forward by the American administration that the attacks reflect the Islamic State’s “despair” in the face of its defeats in Syria and Iraq over the last months is specious. International terrorism “to strike fear in the hearts of Allah’s enemies” has been a hallmark of the Islamic State since its beginning and it does not need the excuse of military defeat in Syria and Iraq to continue to carry out such attacks. Furthermore, these attacks were obviously planned many weeks or even months in advance. The Islamic State will continue to attempt to carry out such attacks according to its strategy to project its jihad into the heartland of its enemies — into Europe and in the territory of its enemies in the Middle East.
Spotlight on the Saudi Economic Transformation Plan

Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s economic plan represents far more than economic change: it calls for no less than a transformation of the nature of the Saudi state and political order through creation of an economically independent citizenry. The developments in the level of education of the Saudi population and particularly the potential of Saudi women entering the upper levels of the workforce, coupled with the high level of unemployment among those parts of the society, are among the unspoken drivers of the Vision 2030 plan. The goal of this process is to gradually replace the waning traditional tribal and clerical power base of the regime with a young professional economic power base out of concern that the high percentage of (unemployed) youth in the country would be a recipe for social unrest that, along with the loss of the influence of the traditional Wahhabi power base to more radical anti-establishment Salafi clerics, may destabilize the country.

Mohammad bin Salman seeks therefore to mobilize their support by making Saudi society advanced technologically and by creating a large number of jobs in technology. Monitoring of social media shows significant support for Mohammad bin Salman and his plans among the younger Saudi population, including high expectations that the economic initiatives will be followed by social change — loosening religious controls and social restrictions, expanding women’s rights and increasing social mobility. The Saudi leadership, however, is on the horns of a dilemma; accelerated change will raise the ire of the conservative elements in the elite, whereas a sense among the younger population that change is too slow will give rise to a crisis of expectations and subsequent instability.

Dr. Shmuel Bar is a senior research fellow at the Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Studies at the Technion in Haifa, Israel, and a veteran of Israel’s intelligence community.

[1] Secretary of State, John Kerry, declared that Iran has been very “helpful” in Iraq.

[2] McGurk said that Iran-backed Shiite militias are mostly helpful in Iraq, though some go rogue: Most of them do operate under the control of the Iraqi state, but about 15-20% of them actually do not, “and those groups are a fundamental problem”.

[3] This Sunni suspicion finds support in statements of senior Shiite Iraqi leaders like former PM Nouri al-Maliki, whose hard-handed policies towards the Sunnis in Anbar Province fed the rise of the “Islamic State”, and who now praises the role of Iran and the Shiite militias, and accuses Iraq’s Sunni political leaders of supporting terrorism.

[4] Hassan Nasrallah (26 June): “The defense of Aleppo is the defense of the rest of Syria, it is the defense of Damascus, it is also the defense of Lebanon, and of Iraq. … It was necessary for us to be in Aleppo and we will stay in Aleppo. We will increase our presence in Aleppo…”

Gatestone Institute

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/middle-east-strategic-outlook-july-2016/2016/07/19/

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