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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

Israel Shouldn’t Be The Main Course

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Israel has always suffered from an inability to form an all-inclusive strategy. In the words of former secretary of state Henry Kissinger: “Israel doesn’t have a foreign policy; it has only internal politics.”

This failure to form a strategy is not due to some Jewish intelligence deficiency; it is because we have been evading the fundamental truth of our national existence. We justify the existence of the state of Israel with pragmatic – not destiny-based – reasons. The Holocaust memorial museum, Yad Vashem, has become our holy temple. The Temple Mount, on the other hand, is a source of primal fear for Israel’s leadership, which will do everything possible to rid itself of it – and the sooner the better.

So despite the fact that we are the most (actually the only) advanced state in the region, we are the only state in the region that has no regional interests. Our only interest is to survive. That is why we are capable of nothing more than reacting. We will never initiate. If the Syrians attack, we will attack them even harder. Until then, though, we will simply wait.

Strategy means formulating general policy to foster a goal that is beyond mere existence. Tactic is a policy of actions and reactions.

In the Middle East, you either sit down for the dinner – or you are the main course. Western democratic countries can maintain static relations between them; in other words, “I do not desire what is yours, and vice versa.” Israel would love to conduct its foreign policy in such a reality. But the Muslim culture in our region rules that out. Here the rule is: if you do not trample me, I will trample you.

Strategically, Israel must strive to be a regional power in the Middle East. Due to the fact that we see ourselves as strangers and foreigners in our own land, we show no interest in strategic objectives – nothing beyond basic survival.

The Middle East is crumbling, taking on the shape of the original, pre-World War I Sykes-Picot Agreement. It will fall into the greedy hands of Iran or Turkey. Everybody wants to be the new Salah al-Din of the greater Arab nation, which is shedding the national masks forced upon it by the West. Iran bids for hegemony by threatening Israel with nuclear annihilation. Turkey does the same by repeatedly humiliating Israel.

Meanwhile, the vacuum that has been created is sucking in the world’s superpowers. First Russia, and now, reluctantly, the U.S., which is taking advantage of the chemical weapons massacre in Syria in an attempt to rehabilitate its image.

Having a strategy means that if there is a massacre in Syria, Israel must intervene and prevent it from happening again. What? Are we crazy? We should intervene on behalf of the Syrian nation and be the target of missiles in Tel Aviv?

Tragically, we are heading straight for a repeat of the U.S. attack on Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 1991. If the U.S. attacks Syria (for its own interests) it will be Israel that will pay a heavy price. In 1991, Israel passively sat out the Iraq war, relegating its security to the U.S. As a reward for our “good behavior” we got Iraq’s Scud missiles exploding in Ramat Gan and diplomatic pressure that led to the Madrid Conference, Oslo, the Expulsion in Gaza, and the serious deterioration in Israel’s existential legitimacy that we witness today. If there is an American attack on Syria, we will pay the same price for our passivity.

If we take the initiative, our first step should be the neutralization of Syria’s missile capabilities. This would diminish potential harm to Israel and in the future, whoever would want to exert influence in the Middle East would understand that they must include Israel in the equation – not to exact a price, but to pay Israel its strategic due. In other words, in the Middle East, either you sit down for dinner or you are the main course.

I know that currently, this idea does not have many supporters in Israel. Israelis feel like guests in their own land. They cannot yet absorb this line of thinking. For now, this is food for thought. Until I am elected to lead Israel, we can all relax in our sealed rooms, contemplating life on the Saudi dinner plate.

9/11 Spreads in the Middle East

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Al Qaeda was alive and well in the Middle East Wednesday, the 12th  anniversary of the terrorist web’s attacks on the United States.

Two of Al Qaeda-linked terrorists are not so alive and well, but they had the joy of knowing they will be welcomed by 72 virgins for having killed at least 11 Egyptian soldiers and civilians in a double suicide bombing attack at Rafiah, the divided city that straddles the border between Egypt and Gaza.

Bin Laden is long and gone, but he left behind thousands of monsters who are united by a hatred of the West and a burning desire to inflict radical Islam rule on the world.

Al Qaeda is not a monolithic group, but its ideology inspired what are commonly known as “Al Qaeda-linked groups.”

Marc Sagemen, a former CIA officer and now a psychiatrist and counter terrorism consultant, has pointed out, “We like to create a mythical entity called [al-Qaeda] in our minds, but that is not the reality we are dealing with.” He described the terrorist organization as a “loose label for a movement that seems to target the West.”

Al Qaeda and copy-cat groups operate in dozens of countries and in the past three years have helped turn the Middle East into fertile ground to establish a base of power to spread hate and death in the West.

Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt and Syria are in danger of extinction as countries. President Shimon Peres noted Wednesday that if Syrian President Bassar al-Assad does not play ball and come clean with its stockpile of chemical weapons, it will continue to dissolve into “ a number of countries.”

The Russian RT news agency reported on Wednesday a disgusting example of what goes though the demented minds of Al Qaeda terrorists.

Raouchan Gazakov brought his family to Syria, taught his 5-year-old son to make bombs and bade farewell to his relative, a suicide bomber,” he told RT’s Maria Finoshina in a Damascus prison, where he explained why he came to fight for Al-Qaeda.

“A group called Murad approached me a year ago and convinced me that Muslims in Syria are being oppressed and killed, and that I should go and take up arms against Assad for world jihad.” Raouchan sneaked into Syria last January through Turkey, from where he was accompanied by two men saying they were from Al Qaeda. Once in Syria, he joined an Egyptian-run jihadist group.

Another terrorist in a Syrian prison, Amer El Khadoud, related that he left a normal family life in France to join the Syrian jihad with an Al-Qaeda affiliated group.

The Washington think tank Bipartisan Policy Center recently concluded, “The civil war in Syria may provide Al-Qaeda with an opportunity to regroup, train and plan operations. Foreign fighters hardened in that conflict could eventually destabilize the region or band together to plot attacks against the West.”

Congress heard the same message Tuesday.

“Al Qaeda and its allies dominate a large portion of northern Syria and play a key role in fighting throughout the rest of the country,” Thomas Joscelyn, an analyst with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the House Homeland Security Committee.

His scary appraisal contradicted that of  John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State and Wishful Thinking. He said Al Qaeda does not play a major role in Syria.

Thomas Joscelyn, an analyst with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, dumped that idea into the Foggy Bottom sea of illusions. He told the House committee on Tuesday, “These same al Qaeda-affiliated forces have fought alongside Free Syrian Army brigades. Al Qaeda has made the fight for Syria a strategic priority.”

Al Qaeda and similar groups have not forgotten 9/11.

“The Islamic Emirate of Libya,” a terrorist organization that may be an Al Qaeda affiliate first reported in 2011, warned on Tuesday that it will “celebrate” 9/11 with terrorist attacks on certain targets, such as the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

In Somalia, terrorists who work with Al Qaeda have staked out headquarters, according to the country’s Mareeg news website.

One of the terrorists is Taliban spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who gave bin Laden and Al Qaeda leaders’ shelter prior to 9/11.

And there is  Sirajuddin Haqqani, a warlord and leader of the Haqqani network that fights American forces in Afghanistan from his base in Pakistan and which hosts Al Qaeda terrorists. He is the leader of the Haqqani network and is a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

The Truth About Syria

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

If you are interested in reading more about Syria, you’re welcome to read my book The Truth About Syria online or download it for free.

WHY SYRIA MATTERS

“It is my pleasure to meet with you in the new Middle East,” said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a speech to the Syrian Journalists’ Union on August 15, 2006.1 But Bashar’s new Middle East was neither the one hoped for by many since Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s 1991 defeat in Kuwait nor expected when Bashar himself ascended the throne in 2000. Actually, it was not even new at all but rather a reversion, often in remarkable detail, to the Middle East of the 1950s through the 1980s. The Arab world, now accompanied by Iran, was re-embracing an era that was an unmitigated disaster for itself and extolling ideas and strategies which had repeatedly led it to catastrophe.

No Arab state had more to do with this important and tragic turnabout than does Syria, this development’s main architect and beneficiary. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Arab states wanted quiet; Iraq needed peace to rebuild itself. Even Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi, pressed by sanctions and scared by his Iraqi counterpart Saddam’s fate, was on his good behavior. Only Syria remained as a source of instability and radicalism.

Thus, a small state with a modest economy became the fulcrum on which the Middle East shifted and which, in turn, shook the globe. Indeed, Bashar’s version of the new Middle East may well persist for an entire generation. Does this make Bashar a fool or a genius? That cannot be determined directly. What can be said is that his policy is good for the regime, simultaneously brilliant and disastrous for Syria, and just plain disastrous for many others.

To understand Syria’s special feature, it is best to heed the all-important insight of a Lebanese-American scholar, Fouad Ajami: “Syria’s main asset, in contrast to Egypt’s preeminence and Saudi wealth, is its capacity for mischief.”

In the final analysis, the aforementioned mischief was in the service of regime maintenance, the all-encompassing cause and goal of the Syrian government’s behavior. Demagoguery, not the delivery of material benefits, is the basis of its power.

Why have those who govern Syria followed such a pattern for more than six decades under almost a dozen different regimes? The answer: Precisely because the country is a weak one in many respects. Aside from lacking Egypt’s power and Saudi Arabia’s money, it also falls short on internal coherence due to its diverse population and minority-dominated regime. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein used repression, ideology, and foreign adventures to hold together a system dominated by Sunni Arab Muslims who were only one-fifth of the population. In Syria, even more intense measures were needed to sustain an Alawite regime that rules based on a community only half as large proportionately.

To survive, then, the regime needs transcendent slogans and passionate external conflicts that help make its problems disappear. Arabism and, in more recent years, Islamism, are its solution. In this light, Syria’s rulers can claim to be not a rather inept, corrupt dictatorship but the rightful leaders of all Arabs and the champions of all Muslims. Their battle cries are very effectively used to justify oppression at home and aggression abroad. No other country in the world throws around the word “imperialism” more in describing foreign adversaries, and yet no other state on the globe follows a more classical imperialist policy.

In broad terms, this approach is followed by most, if not all, Arab governments, but Syria offers the purest example of the system. As for the consequences, two basic principles are useful to keep in mind:

1. It often seemed as if the worse Syria behaved, the better its regime does. Syrian leaders do not accept the Western view that moderation, compromise, an open economy, and peace are always better. When Syria acts radical, up to a point of course, it maximizes its main asset—causing trouble—which cancels out all its other weaknesses. As a dictatorship, militancy provided an excuse for tight controls and domestic popularity through its demagoguery.

2. Success for the regime and state means disaster for the people, society, and economy. The regime prospers by keeping Syrians believing that the battle against America and Israel, not freedom and prosperity, should be their top priority. External threats are used to justify internal repression. The state’s control over the economy means lower living standards for most while simultaneously preserving a rich ruling elite with lots of money to give to its supporters.

A Future of Only More Radicalization and Escalation – Get Used to It

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

The crisis in Egypt is deepening, and both sides of the conflict are becoming increasingly entrenched in their positions. The fatalities that have occurred among Mursi supporters as well as among the military people causes both sides to act on the basis of their hearts and emotions, and not from logic. Both sides think “We’ll show them” and “we will break them”, the Egyptian public scene is crashing, representatives of foreign companies are leaving in droves, and everyone blames everyone else for the miserable situation.

The vice president, Mohamed al-Baradei, resigned and fled the country, because he saw that Egypt is sliding into a swamp of blood, fire and tears, where dozens of people are killed in the streets every day, the economy is collapsing, and the solution to Egypt’s problems seems farther away than ever. Al-Baradei may be put on trial for treason because he fled from Egypt and evaded his responsibilities.

The army detained Mohammed Badie, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, for two weeks, suspected of inciting the masses to violence and bloodshed. If he actually is put on trial, the Brotherhood and their supporters will most likely not stand by passively and watch, but will envelop the country in another wave of violence.

Another very disturbing phenomenon has been happening recently – the destruction of museums and the theft of antiquities. Some thieves steal exhibits in order to sell them for a small fortune on the black market to collectors; mainly gold coins, statuary and sarcophagi, which were recovered from ancient tombs from the days of the pharaohs. But along with the theft is another phenomenon: the destruction of exhibits, vandalism for its own sake, stemming from the deep hatred that radical Muslims feel toward the cultures that preceded Islam, and especially the Pharaonic culture which Islam considers to be heretical. We saw something similar in March of 2001 in Afghanistan, when the Taliban destroyed the two enormous statues of Buddha in Bamiyan Valley.

The international sphere is also undergoing a major shake-up: the United States’ plan to put the Brotherhood in power has failed, but the White House and the State Department continue to issue pronouncements of support for the Muslim Brotherhood and objects to the army’s actions, including the arrest of Badie. It may be that Mubarak will be freed from the defendant’s box and the heads of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Mursi and Mohammed Badie, will take his place. It seems like Washington fell asleep on the 30th of June and still has not awakened to the new situation.

General al-Sisi and his comrades are not giving in to American pressure, and despite the good relations between the Egyptian military and the United States, al-Sisi refuses to accept Obama’s calls, and when the Americans issue declarations opposing the army’s acts, al-Sisi becomes angry. He places his definition of Egyptian interests over Obama’s definition of Egyptian interests. Al-Sisi sees the dismal failures of the United States Middle East policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Iran, and he understands that he should not allow the Americans to influence events in Egypt, otherwise it may become another link in the chain of failures.

However, even al-Sisi will not be able to forestall the waves of terror, which might bring Egypt to a state similar to that in Syria or Iraq. The neighboring countries – Libya and Sudan – as well as the Sinai Peninsula, are full of weapons of all sizes and types, and the border with these states is long and porous. Egypt could become a magnet for jihadists from the entire Muslim world, who will want to enforce Islam on the country exactly as they did in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Syria and in Libya. Egypt may also become a victim of “international terrorism”, with car bombs, suicide attacks, assassinations of senior figures, attacks on military bases, trains, bridges (and there are many in Egypt), electrical lines and dams. Egypt could become a hell for its residents, especially for the Christian Copts, who are already trying to figure out how they can continue living in a country where about sixty churches were burned down in the space of one week .

The world had better get used to the scenario of radicalization and escalation of the internal situation in Egypt, so that they will not be surprised when it happens, and I hope that I may be proven wrong.

Rare Photos of Israeli Nuclear Research Center Released

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

The architectural firm responsible for the construction of the Dimona nuclear plant in the 1960s has released rare photos of the project for the first time.

The architect, Dan Eitan, sent President Shimon Peres the black and white photos to recognize the president’s role in the construction of what originally was called “a Negev civic center” and now officially is known as the Nuclear Research Center in the Israeli Negev.

The Israel Defense website published the photos that were taken during the construction of the reactor, which it noted that “according to foreign reports, manufactures hundreds of nuclear and hydrogen bombs for Israel.”

Pictures that were posted include the library, the water tower and residences as well as satellite photography of the reactor taken from space and a sketch of the plant.

The photos were taken by architect Dan Eitan, and were sent by him to Shimon Peres (current president of Israel) in recognition of the latter’s contribution to the construction of the complex.

Israel maintains a policy of “nuclear ambiguity,” meaning that it does not admit nor deny that it possesses nuclear warheads, although most defense analysts estimate the country has at least 200.

Israel has promised it would not be the first country in the Middle East to “introduce” nuclear weapons in the region.

The Arab world has been pushing for the declaration of a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East as a way to force Israel to divulge its nuclear capability.

Israel questions the usefulness of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty particularly in light of Iran’s constant denial of circumstantial evidence that leaves no doubt that it is trying to manufacture a nuclear weapon.

Blueprint of the Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev

Blueprint of the Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev

Residence units for Dimona nuclea rplant staff

Residence units for Dimona nuclear plant staff

 

dimona courtyard.jpg

Obama’s Foreign Fiasco

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Originally published at Daniel Pipes.

It’s a privilege to be an American who works on foreign policy, as I have done since the late 1970s, participating in a small way in the grand project of finding my country’s place in the world. But now, under Barack Obama, decisions made in Washington have dramatically shrunk in importance. It’s unsettling and dismaying. And no longer a privilege.

Whether during the structured Cold War or the chaotic two decades that followed, America’s economic size, technological edge, military prowess, and basic decency meant that even in its inactivity, the U.S. government counted as much or more in world developments than any other state. Sniffles in Washington translated into influenza elsewhere.

Weak and largely indifferent presidents like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton mattered despite themselves, for example in the Iranian revolution of 1978-79 or the Arab-Israeli conflict in the 1990s. Strong and active presidents like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush had greater impact yet, speeding up the Soviet collapse or invading Afghanistan and Iraq.

But now, with Barack Obama, the United States has slid into shocking irrelevance in the Middle East, the world’s most turbulent region. Inconstancy, incompetence, and inaction have rendered the Obama administration impotent. In the foreign policy arena, Obama acts as though he would rather be the prime minister of Belgium, a small country that usually copies the decisions of its larger neighbors when casting votes at the United Nations or preening morally about distant troubles. Belgians naturally “lead from behind,” to use the famed phrase emanating from Obama’s White House.

Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo was a very long time ago.

Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo was a very long time ago.

Qatar (with a national population of 225,000) has an arguably greater impact on current events than the 1,400-times-larger United States (population: 314 million). Note how Obama these days takes a back seat to the emirs of Doha: They take the lead supplying arms to the Libyan rebels, he follows. They actively help the rebels in Syria, he dithers. They provide billions to the new leadership in Egypt, he stumbles over himself. They unreservedly back Hamas in Gaza, he pursues delusions of an Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” Toward this end, the U.S. secretary of state made six trips in four months to Israel and the Palestinian territories in pursuit of a diplomatic initiative that almost no one believes will end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Doha, now more influential than Washington in the Middle East.

Doha, now more influential than Washington in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the U.S. secretary of defense called Egyptian leader Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi 17 times in conversations lasting 60-90 minutes, yet failed in his pleas that Sisi desist from using force against the Muslim Brotherhood. More striking yet, Sisi apparently refused to take a phone call from Obama. The $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt suddenly looks paltry in comparison to the $12 billion from three Persian Gulf countries, with promises to make up for any Western cuts in aid. Both sides in Egypt’s deep political divide accuse Obama of favoring the other and execrate his name. As dozens of Coptic churches burned, he played six rounds of golf. Ironically, Egypt is where, four long years ago, Obama delivered a major speech repudiating George W. Bush policies with seeming triumph.

Obama’s ambitions lie elsewhere – in augmenting the role of government within the United States, as epitomized by Obamacare. Accordingly, he treats foreign policy as an afterthought, an unwelcome burden, and something to dispatch before returning to juicier matters. He oversees withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan with little concern for what follows. His unique foreign policy accomplishment, trumpeted ad nauseam, was the execution of Osama bin Laden.

So far, the price to American interests for Obama’s ineptitude has not been high. But that could change quickly. Most worrisome, Iran could soon achieve nuclear breakout and start to throw its newfound weight around, if not to deploy its brand-new weapons. The new regime in Egypt could revert to its earlier anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism; already, important elements in Egypt are calling for rejection of U.S. aid and termination of the peace treaty with Israel.

As an American who sees his country as a force for good, these developments are painful and scary. The world needs an active, thoughtful, and assertive United States. The historian Walter A. McDougall rightly states that “The creation of the United States of America is the central event of the past four hundred years” and its civilization “perturbs the trajectories of all other civilizations just by existing.” Well not so much perturbation these days; may the dismal present be brief in duration.

Why US Policy Betrayed the Moderates

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

In 1848, the new Communist movement issued a manifesto. It began with the opening line:

“A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of Communism.”

For our purposes today, this threat might be reworded as:

“A specter is haunting the Middle East—the specter of America.”

For example, about a year ago Dubai’s police chief addressed a major international Gulf Arab security conference. He said that there were about three dozen security threats to the Gulf Arab countries. But this well-respected security expert said the number-one threat was the United States.

Since that time, this American specter has become vivid. For instance, The New York Times had a recent editorial which stated that the only protection for Egypt’s democracy–meaning Muslim Brotherhood participation in the next Egyptian government–was the United States and Europe. The Egyptian regime, Israel, and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states were bad for wanting to protect their societies from Islamic ideology, revolution, and anti-Western Sharia states!

Might the United States and its allies rather be expected to battle Turkey, Iran, Hamas, Hizballah, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Hamas or otherwise might it support Islamists while Saudi Arabia fought Europe’s and America’s response as too soft on Hizballah?

But what if a crazy notion seizes policymakers, blessed with the mush of ignorance about the Middle East, that they can take control of the troublemakers? Perhaps Germany (World War One and Two jihads), or the Soviet control of radical nationalist regimes in the 1950s and 1960, or the French rescue of the Palestinian leadership in the late 1940s, or Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran during the 1970s, or America in the 1950s (Arab nationalism), or the 2010 Muslim Brotherhood would turn nominal extremists into friends?

Imagine, dunderheads in Washington, London, Paris, and so on thinking they are masterfully preserving stability, making peace, and harnessing Sharia in the cause of boosting democracy!

How smug would be the smiles when those who perpetrated September 11, 2001, were supposedly defeated by those mentored into power a decade later by the West in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, or in the Arab Spring or the Syrian revolution!

Look at it through the eyes of the Arabs, Iranians, Turks, Kurds, and Israelis who think they will try to impose a new order the region?

Consider a famous speech by Winston Churchill at Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946. In contrast to the Communist Manifesto,100 years later, Churchill began, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain is descended across the continent.” It might be strange that these two statements are compared to the current situation in the Middle East. But actually, they make a lot of sense.

The intention of great powers seemed to impose one (European) system on the region. In the first case, it was Communism. In Churchill’s case, it was anti-Communism he advocated, which in parallel would be Anti-Islamism.

But today, what is the system that Arabs, Iranians, Turks, and Israelis think they will try to impose on the region? The answer for those who have been watching in recent years is revolutionary Islamism.

It might seem strange that this is the thinking, but it isn’t. The question is whether there is a system that Western Europeans want to impose. And the answer is that to the Arabs and others in the region–although this does not mean it has to be true–since the 1979 Iranian revolution, they have supported radical Islamism. In fact, it should be understood that after the Arab Spring, Arabs did not generally identify Western interests with support for moderate democracy, but with support for Islamism.

Incidentally, Churchill’s title was the Sinews of Strength, and he favored policy leading a coalition of the Free world which would be welcome today.

To summarize, in the 1930s, Churchill favored anti-fascism and advocated a united front against Nazi Germany. After World War Two, he supported an alliance of the Free World against the Iron Curtain.

Where is the Churchill of today?

Well, directly his bust was quickly chucked from the White House because he was the symbol for Obama of Western colonialism.

Who was the genuine symbol of anti-colonialism for Obama? The left wing anti-Western revolutionary ideological movement represented by the Muslim Brotherhood or Chavez, and other demagogues.

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.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/qatars-risky-overreach/2013/08/20/

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