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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Foreign Policy’

Qatar’s Risky Overreach

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Originally pubished at The Investigative Project on Terrorism.

With seemingly limitless wealth and a penchant for often supporting both sides of the argument, the State of Qatar has become a highly significant player in Middle East power-politics. Recent events in Egypt and Syria, however, have put the brakes on Qatar’s ambitions. In this second part of his analysis of its attempt to influence regional politics, Paul Alster considers how much its flamboyant foreign policy, centered on furthering the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood, might be coming back to haunt Qatar.

July 3 was not a good day for Mohammed Morsi. The Muslim Brotherhood’s man was ousted from power after just a year as Egypt’s president, having lost the essential confidence of the country’s powerful military leaders. July 3 was also a black day for the State of Qatar, the country which had nailed its colors and its money firmly to the Muslim Brotherhood mast, and which suddenly found itself the target of outrage on the Egyptian street and beyond.

Morsi came to power in a democratic election, but misinterpreted the meaning of democracy. He and his Muslim Brotherhood backers – primarily Qatar – appeared to believe that having won the election, they could run the country according to their decree, not according to democratic principles as the majority had expected. A series of draconian laws, a spiralling economic crisis, and a feeling on the Egyptian street that the Muslim Brotherhood was paid handsomely by foreign forces, spurred street protests of historic proportions, prompting the military to intervene.

With Morsi gone, Qatar suddenly became “persona non grata” in Egypt.

Qatar sought to extend its influence and Muslim Brotherhood-inspired view of how countries like Egypt, Syria, Libya, and others should be. Qatar was also playing a power-game against Saudi Arabia, another hugely wealthy regional power whose vision of an even more strictly Islamist way of life for Muslims drove a wedge between the two parties.

Another seismic change hit the region just nine days before Morsi’s fall. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani – in power since overthrowing his own father back in 1995 – voluntarily abdicated in favor of his 33-year-old son, Sheikh Tamim.

Tamim, educated in England and a graduate of the prestigious Sandhurst Military Academy, became the region’s youngest leader, with the eyes of the world watching to see if he would maintain his father’s aggressive policy of extending Qatar’s regional influence. Few could have imagined that he would very quickly find himself at the center of a major political crisis as Egypt – a country in which Qatar had so much credibility and money invested – imploded before his eyes.

Within hours of Morsi’s departure, the streets of Cairo were awash with anti-Qatari banners accompanied by the obligatory anti-US and anti-Israel slogans. Al Jazeera – a staunch promoter of the Muslim Brotherhood view in Egypt – was vilified, its reporters attacked on the streets, its offices ransacked. Al Jazeera also had been hit seven months earlier after supporting Mohammed Morsi’s crackdown on young Egyptian demonstrators opposed to the rapid Islamisation of Egypt under the new government.

In the first part of my analysis of Qatar’s policy in the region, I focused on Al Jazeera’s huge influence on opinion in the Arab world and the West, portraying the Qatari-Muslim Brotherhood version of events in a way that the uninformed viewer might believe to be objective reporting. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Al Jazeera’s carefully crafted smokescreen as the moderate voice of the Arab world has taken a significant battering with the events in Egypt. That should serve as a wake-up call to those trumpeting the imminent launch of Al Jazeera America scheduled for August 20.

“There is a lingering perception in the U.S. –right or wrong – that the network [Al Jazeera] is somehow associated with terrorism, which could slow its progress in gaining carriage,” Variety Magazine‘s Brian Steinberg suggested last month.

Dubai-based writer Sultan Al Qassemi observed in Al-Monitor: “Qatar has dedicated Al Jazeera, the country’s most prized non-financial asset, to the service of the Muslim Brotherhood and turned it into what prominent Middle East scholar Alain Gresh [editor of Le Monde diplomatique and a specialist on the Middle East] calls a ‘mouthpiece for the Brotherhood.’” The channel has in turn been repeatedly praised by the Brotherhood for its ‘neutrality.’”

The Economist, reporting in January, reflected the growing dissatisfaction amongst many in the Arab world. “Al Jazeera’s breathless boosting of Qatari-backed rebel fighters in Libya and Syria, and of the Qatar-aligned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, have made many Arab viewers question its veracity. So has its tendency to ignore human-rights abuses by those same rebels, and its failure to accord the uprising by the Shia majority in Qatar’s neighbor, Bahrain, the same heroic acclaim it bestows on Sunni revolutionaries.”

In June, a vocal and agitated group of nearly 500 protesters took to the streets in Benghazi, Libya – the city where U.S Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three colleagues were killed last fall – demanding that Qatar stop meddling in Libyan internal affairs.

“Much of the opposition was directed at Qatar which protesters claimed was supporting Libyan Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood,” Middle East Online reported at the time. “Analysts believe that Qatar is trying to take advantage from a scenario repeated in both Tunisia and Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood, which was an active participant in revolutions, seized power,” the story said.

To the casual observer, it might appear strange that the country that was perhaps as instrumental as any in helping bring about the downfall of the hated Colonel Muammar Gadaffi in Libya back in 2011 should be the target of such vitriol. Qatar, a close U. S. ally, was the main conduit through which weapons transfers were made to Libyan rebels who eventually overpowered forces loyal to the long-time dictator.

As Libyans attempt to create a new order in their fractured country, many now believe that the Qatari regime’s Salafist sympathies contribute to a growing influence of radical Islamist groups in Libya with similar ideological beliefs to the Qatari royals. Concerns had surfaced as early as January 2012.

“But with [Muammar] Gaddafi dead and his regime a distant memory, many Libyans are now complaining that Qatari aid has come at a price,” reported Time magazine’s Steven Sotloff. “They say Qatar provided a narrow clique of Islamists with arms and money, giving them great leverage over the political process.”

Sotloff quoted former National Transitional Council (NTC) Deputy Prime Minister Ali Tarhouni as saying, “I think what they [Qatar] have done is basically support the Muslim Brotherhood. They have brought armaments and they have given them to people that we don’t know.”

And then there’s the question of Qatar’s meddling in Syria’s civil war.

“I think there are two [Qatari] sources of mostly ‘soft’ power – their money and Al Jazeera,” Amos Yadlin, former head of Israeli military intelligence, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism. “They are using their soft power to advance their regional goals. In Libya it was not necessarily a negative. In Syria they are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood [allied to the Free Syrian Army].”

“Now, what you have to assess,” Yadlin continued, “is whether the Muslim Brotherhood is better than Bashar [al-Assad], and whether the Muslim Brotherhood is better than the Jihadists and the Al Nusra Front [supported by Saudi Arabia].”

Yadlin’s pragmatic view reflects the dilemma of many considering intervention on behalf of the rebel forces in Syria. Is it better to try to arm the moderate elements of the FSA and have them replace the Assad regime? Would risking weapons supplied by the West and countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia falling into the wrong hands, possibly usher in an even more dangerous Jihadist regime that could destabilise the region even further?

Qatar played on these fears by presenting the Muslim Brotherhood as a relatively moderate force, but many now fear it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and no less dangerous than the Al Nusra Front terror group, which was added to the UN sanctions blacklist May 31.

Writing for the Russian website Oriental Review.org on May 23, Alexander Orlov reminded readers that Qatar was on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism during the 1990s, and sheltered Saudi nationals who were later revealed to have contributed to the 9/11 atrocities. He suggests that the U.S. turned a blind eye to Qatar’s previous record in return for using the massive Al Udeid facility as a forward command post in 2003 for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Orlov reminds us that Qatar was a major financier of the Islamist rebellion in Chechnya in the 1990s, and that after the Islamists had been routed by the Russian army, the [now former] Qatari emir gave sanctuary to one of the most wanted leaders of the Islamist rebellion, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, a figure who has inspired Chechen Islamists ever since. Yandarbiyev was subsequently assassinated by a car bomb in the Qatari capital Doha in 2004.

Qatar long ago signed up to the Muslim Brotherhood cause. It believed that this alliance would promote Qatar to being the foremost player in Sunni Muslim affairs at the expense of its main rival, Saudi Arabia. Recent events suggest that gamble may have blown up in its face.

Sheikh Tamim’s rise to power appears to have created an opportunity to mend bridges with Saudi Arabia after his father Sheikh Hamad’s antagonistic relationship with Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia was a key Brotherhood supporter from the 1950s until the 9/11 attacks. Then, in a bid to distance itself from the damning fact that 15 of the 19 bombers were Saudis, Riyadh insisted that Muslim Brotherhood radicalization of the bombers was a significant factor. Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad quickly stepped into the breach and became the Muslim Brotherhood’s biggest supporter, offering Doha as a base for spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

It is significant, then, that the new Qatari leader’s first foreign visit was to Saudi Arabia. He arrived there last Friday, reported the Gulf Times. “Talks during the meeting dealt with existing fraternal relations between the two countries and ways to develop them in various fields,” the official Qatar News Agency said.

Tamim’s outreach to Saudi Arabia suggests that the two countries may be on the verge of rapprochement. Where that development leaves the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar’s huge investment in underwriting the Egyptian economy, the funding of rebel forces in Syria, and Qatar’s previous foreign policy in the region, remains to be seen.

The choices Qatar’s newly appointed young leader, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, makes over the next few weeks and months may have a significant impact on regional politics and on Qatar’s future role on that stage for years to come.

“I suspect the Qataris will draw back somewhat,” former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan told Reuters. “Their infatuation with the Muslim Brotherhood has probably been dampened. They’re likely to come around to a position closer to the Saudis.”

Russia-US Brinkmanship Clashes with Israel’s Security

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.

Russia is aggressively squaring off with an indecisive and rather meek West about Syria, and in the process, is also threatening to undermine Israeli efforts to ensure that Iran and Syria do not ship strategic weapons to Hizballah.

The Syrian civil war has become a dangerous and complex battle of multiple actors and their proxies: Sunni versus Shi’ite, Iran versus the Gulf states, al Qaeda versus Hizballah, and on a global scale, the United States versus Russia.

Moscow is trying to deter a potential U.S. or NATO-led initiative to set up a no-fly zone over areas of Syria, and is seeking to stop Western-led air strikes against chemical weapons sites.

Russia also seems concerned that recent air strikes in Damascus targeting Hizballah-bound guided Iranian missiles — strikes attributed by the foreign media to Israel — will pave the way to such an intervention.

Israel has no interest in getting involved in the Syrian civil war. Rather, it is looking out for the safety of millions of citizens, who already live in the shadow of some 80,000 Hizballah rockets, and would be threatened further by the transfer of precise, powerful missiles to Hizballah in Lebanon.

In recent days, Russia unleashed a flurry of moves to establish its support of Syria.

The Russian moves include: Declaring that it will proceed with deliveries of the advanced S-300 air defense system to Assad, mobilizing war ships to the eastern Mediterranean, and selling sophisticated surface-to-sea Yakhont missiles to Assad.

Moscow’s recent maneuvers might be more bluster than real — the S-300 has yet to be delivered, and Russia was in 2010 talked out of selling the formidable air defense system to Iran.

The threat, however, was serious enough for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make an unscheduled trip last week to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin. The two later held a press conference, repeating their public positions, but it is doubtful that those statements were a complete reflection of their private exchange.

Israel is opposed to Assad receiving the S-300 missile for several reasons: With its sophisticated radars and range of 200 kilometers, the S-300 can hamper Israel Air Force aircraft seeking to monitor Hezbollah in Lebanon. The system can also disrupt future Israeli efforts to intercept the transit of Iranian weapons to Hizbollah through Syria. Finally, Assad can choose to smuggle S-300 batteries to Hizbollah or Iran.

Should the S-300 fall into Iranian hands, the future potential mission of launching a military strike on Iran’s developing nuclear program would be more even more complex than it already is. Knowing that the S-300 was in Hizballah’s hands, and could target Israeli aircraft sent to stop it, would only boost the Shi’ite terror organization’s confidence to launch cross-border attacks on Israel. For these reasons, Jerusalem will find Russia’s delivery of such a system to Syria to be an intolerable development; it is safe to assume that Israel will act to prevent this from happening.

Similarly, the Russian Yakhont missiles already delivered to Syria threaten Israel Navy ships carrying out vital missions in the Mediterranean.

Behind closed-doors, intense diplomacy — including the sudden visit by CIA Director John Brennan to Israel — is underway to try and contain these developments, and prevent them from triggering further regional security deterioration.

Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.

Israel’s Surprising Economic and Strategic Position

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Israel’s economic and strategic situation is surprisingly bright right now. That’s partly due to the government’s own economic restraint and strategic balancing act, partly due to a shift in Obama Administration policy and partly due to the conflicts among Israel’s adversaries.

Let’s start with the economy. During 2012, Israel’s economy grew by 3.1 percent. While some years ago this would not be all that impressive it is amazing given the international economic recession. The debt burden actually fell from 79.4 percent of Gross Domestic Product to only 73.8 percent. As the debt of the United States and other countries zooms upwards, that’s impressive, too.

Israel’s credit rating also rose at a time when America’s was declining. Standard and Poor lifted the rating from A to A+. Two other rating systems, Moody’s and Fitch, also increased Israel’s rating.Now not only is gas from Israel’s offshore fields starting to flow but a new estimate is that the fields are bigger than expected previously.

And that’s not all. Unemployment fell from 8.5 percent in 2009 to either 6.8 to 6.9 percent (according to Israel’s bureau of statistics) or 6.3 percent (according to the CIA).

In terms of U.S.-Israel relations, the visit of President Barack Obama and Israel’s cooperation on Iran and on an attempted conciliation with Turkey brought quick rewards. For the first time, Israel will be allowed to purchase KC-135 aerial refueling planes, a type of equipment that could be most useful for attacking Iranian nuclear facilities among other things.

The same deal—which includes sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to make U.S. allies feel more secure vis-à-vis Iran—includes V-22 Osprey planes that can switch between helicopter and plane mode. Israel is the first foreign country to be allowed to purchase this system. It could be used for border patrols—a bigger problem given the decline in the stability along the Egyptian and Syrian borders—and troop transport.

Finally, there would be more advanced radars for Israeli planes and a new type of missile useful for knocking out enemy anti-aircraft sites, potentially useful against Iran among other targets. In addition, an Israeli company is now going to be making the wings for the advanced U.S. F-35 fighter planes.

The completion of the border fence with Egypt increases security in places where Palestinian and Egyptian Islamist groups are trying to attack. It also has reduced illegal civilian crossings to zero. Ironically, Israel has gotten control of its border while the U.S. government proclaims that task to be impossible for itself.

And of course there is the usual and widely varied progress on medical, agricultural, and hi-tech innovations. Here is a summary of those inventions.That doesn’t mean problems don’t exist, including a budget deficit caused by some boosts in social spending (responding to protests in 2012) and unexpected defense spending to protect the border with Egypt or to handle the Iranian threat. But that deficit will be addressed, unlike in other countries. (Here is a discussion of the problems and likely policies of the new government).

The picture is even bright regarding U.S.-Israel relations, certainly compared to the previous four years. This point is highlighted by Wikileaks publication of a U.S. embassy dispatch of January 4, 2010, describing my article that day in the Jerusalem Post:

“[As far as Israel is concerned] what is important is that Obama and his entourage has learned two things. One of them is that bashing Israel is politically costly. American public opinion is very strongly pro-Israel. Congress is as friendly to Israel as ever. For an administration that is more conscious of its future reelection campaign than any previous one, holding onto Jewish voters and ensuring Jewish donations is very important….

“The other point is that the administration has seen that bashing Israel doesn’t get it anywhere. For one thing, the current Israeli government won’t give in easily and is very adept at protecting its country’s interests. This administration has a great deal of trouble being tough with anyone. If in fact the Palestinians and Arabs were eager to make a deal and energetic about supporting other U.S. policies, the administration might well be tempted to press for an arrangement that largely ignored Israeli interests.

Self-Respect: the Antidote to Foreign Pressure

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Sovereign peoples act accordingly, but, “When you have no self-respect, you cannot expect anybody else will respect you,” as Rabbi David Bar-Hayim of Machon Shilo noted last year concerning Operation Pillar of Defense.

Why did Israel agree to a cease-fire with Hamas in November? Why did it surrender Joseph’s Tomb in 2000 and destroy Gush Katif in 2005? In present day, why has Israel granted terrorist Samer Issawi early release following a hunger strike?

A common response from supporters of Israel is that these decisions result from pressure by the American government. In response to the Palestinian Authority’s current demand for 120 terrorists to be freed, MK Orit Struck (HaBayit HaYehudi) has made a similar claim.

The assertion of American pressure in these contexts is simultaneously valid, irrelevant, and pernicious. Of course different American governments have pressured Israel—all too successfully—to make decisions that endanger citizens’ lives and betray Judaic duties.

But why has American pressure succeeded? To borrow from the national anthem, it is because Israel does not conduct itself as an am chofshi b’artzenu (free people in our Land). Rabbi Bar-Hayim has described the preoccupation with American pressure as “a remnant of the galut [exile]” and elaborates as follows:

The extent to which the Americans can really influence our actions is in my view almost entirely dependent on ourselves. If we give them the reason to believe…that we can be pressured into doing something, they’ll of course do as they wish to do. If we, however, conduct ourselves in such a way by which we make clear to all and sundry that we’re not about to listen to what anyone has to say about what we should do—but rather we’re going to do what we think we should do—I believe in a very short space of time most of these pressures would cease to exist. (See 1:18:10 here.)

Focus on American pressure is pernicious because it evades from holding Israeli leadership accountable for its failure to protect citizens. This often turns into rationalization by way of “explanation”—the “Bibi’s hands were tied by Obama” sort of mentality. The evasive focus on America then perpetuates a state of affairs where Israelis suffer anxiety about mundane activities like children walking to school and driving in fear of lethal rock attacks.

When Israel decides to be a sovereign country in substance and not just name, these disgusting realities will change. Blaming foreigners, however hostile they may be, yields only further self-delusion and suffering.

Elliott Abrams on Sharon’s English, Saudi Suspicions, and Mideast Peace

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

The world of politics is divided between insiders and outsiders – those who know and those who don’t, those who make policy and those who react to it, those who observe directly and those who peer from beyond a curtain.

From December 2002 to January 2009, Elliott Abrams was an insider. As deputy assistant to the president and later deputy national security adviser – with the Middle East as his focus – Abrams interacted daily with such figures as President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Israeli Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.

In his new book, Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Cambridge University Press), Abrams shares his insider vantage point. Educated at Harvard University and the London School of Economics, Abrams also served as assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration and today is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Jewish Press: You begin Tested by Zion with Bill Clinton warning Bush about Yasir Arafat. Can you elaborate?

Abrams: Every new presidential administration starts off with the old president and new president meeting in the Oval Office for a kind of handshake before everybody goes up to Capitol Hill for the inauguration. It’s just a formality. But on January 20, 2001, when Clinton handed over to Bush, it was not a formality. Clinton had a message he wanted to deliver, which was basically, “Don’t trust Arafat” – and he said it repeatedly. “He lied to me, he’ll lie to you. Don’t trust him.”

The Bush administration, as you write, eventually adopted this position, but then decided to invest its efforts in Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) – a man who spent 40 years in Arafat’s PLO and argued in his Ph.D. thesis that the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was inflated by Zionists for their own ends. Why would the Bush administration trust someone like him?

In June 2003, Abbas did exactly what we hoped he would do. He met with Ariel Sharon in Aqaba, Jordan and said the armed intifada is over. He said there’s no justification for using violence against Israelis anywhere. That made a big impression on Bush. We saw no evidence – ever – in eight years that Abbas was involved in terrorism.

But even today you read occasional media reports of Abbas attending ceremonies at which Palestinian schools or streets are named after notorious terrorists.

This is a terrible problem. There is a culture of violence there, and one of Abbas’s weaknesses is that he’s not a violent person. He’s never held a gun, and he’s never been to an Israeli prison. The guys who are viewed as heroes by the Palestinians are people who have committed acts of violence.

Now, what do you do about that? What you ought to do is try to change the culture. Instead, what Fatah and Abbas have done is feed it – by glorifying the mothers of terrorists, glorifying terrorists themselves, and naming schools, streets, or squares after them.

We in the U.S. have never taken this seriously enough, and frankly, neither have the Israelis. We all say, “Oh, you should stop doing this,” but we never insist on it. No one has ever said, for example, “U.S. support for the PA is going to stop on the first of the month unless that kind of stuff is eliminated.”

And yet, the Bush administration – particularly Condoleezza Rice, as your book makes clear – pushed Israel to sign some sort of peace deal with Abbas. Why?

Condi thought a comprehensive peace agreement was possible. She, and Olmert, thought that if offered a sufficiently generous package by Israel, Abbas would sign.

I thought it was impossible – first, because the problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians are very deep – just think of Jerusalem, for example – and second, because I never thought Abbas had the courage to sign an agreement since he would be immediately accused of treason [by many of his own people].

Did Condoleezza Rice and President Bush know your views on the matter?

They both knew. In fact, whenever I would go to Israel – which was very frequently – I would come back and the president would say, “What’s up? Olmert is very optimistic,” and I would say to the president, “Well, I know Olmert tells you he’s optimistic, but I’m telling you there’s never going to be a deal here.”

So the president knew, and he would say to people, “Condi’s optimistic, Olmert’s optimistic, but Elliott’s not optimistic.”

How often would you speak with the president about the Middle East?

If we were both in Washington, probably on average twice a week.

Were these five-minute conversations? Half-hour conversations?

It would vary. I mean sometimes it was because a foreign leader was visiting the president, so if you count the time I spent briefing the president, the actual meeting, and then the discussion afterwards – that would be a couple of hours.

Sometimes it would be for a phone call. Let’s say he was calling Sharon or Mubarak. So that would be more like 45 minutes. And sometimes it would just be a question. That would be 15 minutes.

Why would you be present during a phone call between Bush and a foreign leader?

The way business was done was… let’s say we scheduled a call at 7:00 in the morning with the president of Egypt. I would go in about 10 minutes before and we would talk about why we were doing the call. I would also tell the president anything new that had happened in the last, let’s say, 12 hours that might be important for the call.

For instance, if it was Mubarak’s birthday, I would say, “You should wish him a happy birthday.” It was a kind of an update briefing. Then we would do the call – I would be in the room listening – and then at the end of the call we would chat about it and discuss the follow-up. [The president might say something like], “That was interesting, but I need to talk to the Saudis now” or “I need to talk to Sharon now.”

Many of Bush’s critics portray him as something of a bumbling Texas idiot. You make it clear in the book that you disagree.

He was very smart. I mean, all you had to do was be in a meeting with him to see how smart he was – both about the issues and about the people.

He paid very close attention to his personal relations with foreign leaders. In this he was very much like Clinton, and not at all like Obama who seems to dislike spending time with foreign leaders. Bush liked it and thought it was important. He thought that if a relationship of confidence was established you could get more from these guys.

You write that Bush’s Texas English threw foreign leaders off sometimes.

Bush talked in one way to everybody – to his wife, to you and me, to the American people, and to foreign leaders. He had one way of speaking, which I would call “Texan.” And it was funny because very often there were foreigners who didn’t really follow completely. Ariel Sharon was one of them. Sometimes he would get lost in a meeting, and he would turn to his chief of staff, Dubi Weissglass, and say, “Mah?”

The president would use lots of colloquial expressions. For example, if he was asking someone whether he was going to join the United States in some action, he might say, “You know, the question is whether you’re going to saddle up with us.” Now, if you haven’t watched a lot of Westerns and you’re not an American, you don’t know what that means.

Talking about Sharon, you quote Condoleezza Rice as saying: “[H]e’s one of the very few people I know who spoke English better than he understood it.”

She was right. Sharon seemed to have better English than he did because on most subjects you might want to talk to him about – Egypt, Syria, settlements, the IDF, Iran – he kind of had talking points in his head. He had the words ready. He used them a thousand times. But that didn’t mean his comprehension was great. So often he would lose track of what was being said to him.

Of all the major figures in the White House during your tenure, who would you say was the most sympathetic to Israel?

I would say the president, first of all, and Cheney. They had a really deep appreciation for Israel, which I think was a great surprise for a lot of Israelis, particularly about Cheney because he had worked in the Arab world for so long. I would say Rumsfeld was also a very strong supporter of Israel. Bob Gates, his successor, was not.

I think Condi was very sympathetic in the first term. After the Lebanon War in the summer of 2006, though, she was less sympathetic. I think she felt the Israelis had lost their way – that they had made a mistake in that war and had prosecuted it poorly – and that she was now going to have to take a much stronger hand in pushing them into an agreement with the Palestinians. She lost faith in Olmert, but also in the IDF.

How about Powell?

I think Powell was not sympathetic right from the start. Powell adopted, what I would call, the State Department view of Israel, which is basically that Israel is making trouble for us in the Middle East with our Arab friends and that it ought to be pressured harder. This is the traditional State Department view, and I think Powell had that view right from the beginning.

In the book you refer to “the apparent American obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Why is the U.S. government generally so obsessed? Why doesn’t it take a more hands-off policy (as it arguably is doing now)?

I think it’s partly because there is a mistaken view – and this has been held at the State Department for a very long time – that the central issue in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and if you were able to solve that conflict, all of our other problems would go away or be much easier to resolve. If you believe that, you’re going to spend a lot of time on this issue.

I think it’s ridiculous, though. Do you think that if you resolved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran would stop trying to get a nuclear weapon? Do you think the Syrians would stop killing each other? Do you think Egypt or Libya would become stable all of a sudden?

Did you ever get a sense while working in the White House that you were suspected as taking a more pro-Israel stance because you’re a Jew?

Not from the president or the vice president or anybody else in the administration. Not from most of the Arabs either. I would say the exception was the Saudis, where I did have the feeling that they believed I was a kind of Israeli agent – that I was not working for the interests of the United States but for the interests of Israel.

Understanding Israel’s National-Security Policy

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Most of my Jewish Press columns deal with Israel’s most urgent national security problems, especially those that have, or have had, a real or prospective nuclear component. What I have never dealt with on these pages, however, are the important and corollary issues of how Israel actually makes its national security policy.

Now, auspiciously, Charles D. Freilich, a senior fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard and a professor at Tel Aviv University, has written Zion’s Dilemmas: How Israel Makes National Security Policy (Cornell University Press), an authoritative and authentically magisterial answer to this vital question. There is much here for the reader to learn.

Let me start with the author’s conclusion, because, paradoxically, it represents an ideal place for me to begin. “The Lord is my shepherd,” quotes Freilich from the Book of Psalms, “and fortunate this is, for the decision-making process in Israel is deeply flawed.” Following 256 pages of meticulous and systematic investigation – an investigation that proceeds with all of the best architecture of modern social science, including appropriately careful delineations of “‘independent” and “dependent” variables – Freilich is intent to call all things by their correct names.

This is no narrowly partisan exegesis. This is no attempt to present a uniformly positive or contrived picture of Israel’s national security establishment. To the contrary, the author offers an entirely honest and open consideration that is often conspicuously less than visceral praise. To be sure, there is also a good deal of praise in Freilich’s book for the Israeli DMP, or decision-making process, but it is correctly based on a dispassionate and detached assessment.

What we learn is that needed changes in the DMP have simply not kept up with the growing complexities and synergies of Israel’s always-hostile external environment:

“Nearly sixty-five years after independence, the same basic political processes, which so successfully gave rise to the nation in its formative years, are still largely intact.”

Especially troubling to the author, the reader will discover, is that Israel’s DMP is more “chaotic” and “politicized” than in other countries, not by any means an intrinsically fatal disadvantage, but one, nonetheless, that has still managed to generate injurious “pathologies.”

Worth noting, at this point, is that Freilich has served as a senior analyst in the Israeli Ministry of Defense, and also as Israel’s deputy national security adviser. His assessments, therefore, are not simply an expression of outstanding academic scholarship, but the well-reasoned product of a distinguished and astute observer, one who has already had an important seat at the government table.

As a political scientist, I can admire the graceful way the author moves effortlessly between fashioning general theory and tendering elucidations of pertinent history. Combining the perceptual strengths of Isaiah Berlin’s “hedgehog” and “fox,” Freilich helps us see both one big decisional canvas and also many smaller, constituent elements.

Shaping a consciously nuanced model of national security decision-making in Israel, he applies it to assorted and carefully selected events of the past thirty years, ranging from Camp David I to the “disengagement” from Gaza in 2005 to the Second Lebanon War one year later.

The result is plainly disconcerting, as these seven cases reveal many critically lost opportunities, flagrantly unpardonable decisional errors, and an always highly politicized decisional context. While Freilich underscores the liabilities of Israel’s too-informal planning process, he also notes that this flawed process has allowed a relatively high degree of latitude or flexible response, as well as a gainfully self-serving sensitivity to pragmatic solutions.

Particularly helpful to the serious reader is the author’s continuous emphasis on “existential decision-making” as a critical component of Israel’s national security environment. Undoubtedly, this particular component is indispensable to understanding what drives the country’s DMP at its very core. In this connection, however, I would have liked to see greater attention paid to important details of Menachem Begin’s decision to attack Iraq’s nuclear reactor on June 7, 1981.

Of course, each reader will choose to assess the author’s selection of case studies differently according to his or her own personal hierarchy of concerns. But the connections between Operation Opera and the current threat of a nuclear Iran are unambiguously of the very highest urgency. Jurisprudentially, the attack on the Iraqi reactor was treated by Israel as a permissible expression of “anticipatory self-defense.” One may surmise that any future Israeli preemption against Iranian nuclear assets and infrastructures would have to be cast in very similar legal terms.

140,000 US-Made Teargas Canisters to Morsi’s Egypt

Monday, April 15th, 2013

The Egyptian publication Al-Masry Al-Youm reports that the U.S. government has supplied five containers carrying 140,000 teargas canisters to Egypt’s Interior Ministry. It further reports that this shipment left Wilmington, Delaware, on Mar. 14 aboard the SS Jamestown and that it has just arrived the port of Suez. They cost the Egyptian government just under US$2.5 million. According to ministry spokesperson Hani Abdel Latif, the ministry imported the grenades in order to protect state facilities.

Although shocking, this should not come as a surprise: On Feb. 25, 2013, the State Department spokesman confirmed that “we have approved an export license for the shipment of U.S.-manufactured nonlethal riot control agents to the Egyptian Government.” He added that “No U.S. security assistance funds have been used for the purchase of these products” and “we condemn any misuse of these products, of teargas that can result in injury or unlawful death, and any such misuse would jeopardize future exports.”

Comments: (1) I have waited six days to see if either government would deny that 140,000 canisters were delivered but neither has, suggesting this is an accurate number. (2) The transfer of this arsenal of crowd-control weapons reveals the depth of the Obama administration’s collusion with the wretched Morsi regime. (3) This idiocy alone justifies the title of my lecture in Washington on Apr. 16, “Amateur Hour: The Obama Administration’s Middle East Policy.”

Originally published at DanielPipes.org and The National Review Online, The Corner, April 14, 2013.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/the-lions-den-daniel-pipes/140000-canisters-of-u-s-teargas-to-egypts-morsi/2013/04/15/

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