Thursday, December 08, 2016

Trump's Choices in the MidEast

George W. Bush and Barack Obama both botched the Middle East


Trump's Choices in the Middle East - Daniel Pipes, PhD

All 177 foreign embassies located in Washington, D.C. are no doubt attempting to read the tea leaves and figure out what President-elect Donald Trump's foreign policy will look like.

[R]ather than speculate, I'll focus on what U.S. policy in one region, the Middle East, should be...

[T]he goal is modest: to minimize problems and avoid disasters. The prior two presidents failed to achieve even this, and did so in opposite ways. George W. Bush tried to do too much in the Middle East: recall his goals of nation-building in Afghanistan, bringing freedom and prosperity to Iraq, establishing democracy in Egypt, and resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict – every one of which spectacularly flamed out. Reacting against Bush's "imperial overstretch," Barack Obama did the reverse, withdrawing prematurely from conflicts, drawing red lines he later abandoned, declaring a fantasy "pivot to Asia," and granting nearly free reign to Kremlin ambitions.

America's future policy should find a median between these twin excesses: protect Americans, advance American interests, and stand by American allies. Don't aspire to fix the region but also don't retreat into isolationism. Make promises carefully and fulfill them reliably. Think before you leap.

Applied to the Middle East, how does this common-sense approach translate regarding major problems such as those involving Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, and the Arab-Israeli conflict?

Iran is overwhelmingly the greatest concern. The new administration should immediately and completely abrogate the weird non-treaty known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a.k.a. the Iran deal. The president can unilaterally take this step and it should be followed by an ultimatum: unless the Iranians shut down their entire nuclear weapons project by a date certain, the U.S. government will accomplish this task on their behalf. Only in this way can the Islamic Republic of Iran certainly be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons, something imperative not just for Israel and other Middle East countries, but also for Americans, as Tehran must be assumed to be building an electromagnetic pulse capability that could destroy the U.S. power grid and lead to the deaths of 90 percent of the population.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long been a hostile ally of the United States, serving both as a crucial supplier of energy even as it sponsored an obscene form of Islam. Lately, Riyadh has taken on a new role, as the regional leading power standing up to Iran, making the monarchy's security more important than ever to Washington. Fortunately, the younger generation of Saudi leadership appears willing to moderate the traditional Islamist aggressiveness were the U.S. government to push hard enough.

While the Obama administration's once-active romance with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has slumped to its demise, Washington nonetheless pretends that Ankara remains a stalwart ally, publicly ignoring that the government has turned into a hostile dictatorship with growing ties to Russia and China. The make-nice school of diplomacy having clearly failed to arrest Erdoğan's ambitions, the time has come to make clear to the Turks how much they will lose in terms of trade, military assistance, and diplomatic support unless they quickly change course.

[I]n Syria, Washington should assist its only ally while encouraging the other three actors to battle themselves into oblivion.

Insisting on the principle of favoring democratic leaders, even if dubiously elected and hostile, the Obama administration has, by withholding armaments and aid, sought to punish Egypt's Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for coming to power through a coup d'état. This gratuitous estrangement needs quickly to be changed so that Americans can help [the] Egyptian leader stave off famine and defeat the Islamists, thus helping him to stay in power and keeping the Muslim Brotherhood out.

The new administration must immediately signal that it considers Israel to be America's closest and most important Middle East ally; it should also abort the endless pressure on Jerusalem to make concessions to the Palestinian Authority. Better yet, it should discard the nearly-25-year-old pretense that Palestinians are Israel's "partner for peace" and instead encourage Israelis to impress on the Palestinians the need for them unequivocally and permanently to recognize Israel as the Jewish state.

A simple policy of protecting Americans and their allies offers great opportunities to fix a legacy of ruinous bipartisan mistakes.
[Boston Globe]
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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Mind of a Jihad Mastermind



A Look into the Mind of 9/11's Mastermind - Marc A. Thiessen

In his new memoir, Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America, James E. Mitchell describes the day he was questioning Khalid Sheik Mohammed, when the 9/11 mastermind "launched into a gory and detailed description of how he beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl." He said, "I had very sharp knives. Just like slaughtering sheep."


KSM said that al-Qaeda expected the U.S. to respond to 9/11 as we had the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut - when, as KSM said, the U.S. "turned tail and ran." "How was I supposed to know that cowboy George Bush would announce he wanted us 'dead or alive' and then invade Afghanistan to hunt us down?" "KSM explained that if the United States had treated 9/11 like a law enforcement matter, he would have had time to launch a second wave of attacks."
 

He said large-scale attacks were "nice, but not necessary," and that "jihadi-minded brothers would immigrate into the United States" and "wrap themselves in America's rights and laws" until they were strong enough to rise up and attack us. "America may not be in a religious war with him, but he and other True Muslims are in a religious war with America" and "he and his brothers will not stop until the entire world lives under Sharia law." 
The writer is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
(Washington Post)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

King's Vision



(Jordan Times)
    
Jordan's King Abdullah II told Australian TV on Wednesday: "The destruction of ISIS should be everybody's priority."
    
"We look at it as a civil war inside of Islam, but we can't do it without the help of Christians and Jews, and other religions and other nations, because this thing is not just located in Syria or Iraq, it's in Libya - we're dealing with Boko Haram and Shabab, you have the Taliban....So unless we look at this in a global, holistic approach, we're never going to win." 

Fire Intifada



- Raphael Ahren

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that there were signs that some of the wildfires sweeping across Israel were deliberate acts of arson. Israel's firefighting planes are being supplemented by planes from Greece, Croatia, Russia and Turkey. 
(Times of Israel)


- Roi Kais

The hashtag "Israel is burning" has become one of the top trends on Arab social media, with countless people gloating over the recent rash of fires plaguing Israel. 
(Ynet News)

Friday, November 18, 2016

Thinking MidEast: Out of the Box



Expanding the Range of Solutions to Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
- Maj.-General Giora Eiland


The "two-state" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is based on four assumptions. One, the solution to the conflict should be geographically restricted to the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Two, the solution requires the establishment of a Palestinian state with full sovereignty. Three, the border between Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines. Four, the West Bank and Gaza must constitute a single diplomatic entity. These four assumptions create very limited room for negotiations.


But if we free ourselves from them and try to look into the entire range of possible solutions, we will find that some other solutions have an outstanding advantage. Among the other solutions, we can talk about a "regional solution" with land swaps between Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the PA; or about a federation between Jordan and the West Bank; or about a functional and not necessarily territorial division between Israel and the Palestinians; or even the plan to annex Area C and establish Palestinian autonomy in the rest of the area.
The writer is the former head of Israel's National Security Council.
(Ynet News)
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Arabs Are From Arabia; Jews Are From Judea



Were the Arabs Indigenous to Mandatory Palestine?
- Sheree Roth


  • PA President Mahmoud Abbas said earlier this year, "Our narrative says that we were in this land since before Abraham." To be sure, some Arabs in Mandatory Palestine are descendants of the indigenous occupants. But most of today's Arabic-speakers do not trace their roots back for centuries.
  • In 1938, William B. Ziff, cofounder of Ziff-Davis Publishing Co., wrote The Rape of Palestine, focusing on British policy in Palestine during the mandate period. But what is especially interesting today are his comments on the migration of Arabs.
  • "The Mamelukes imported legions of Georgians and Circassians....Saladin, hard-pressed by the Crusaders, received 150,000 Persians who were given lands in Galilee and the Sidon district....In the 14th century, drought caused the immigration into Palestine of 18,000 'tents' of Yurate Tartars from the Euphrates."
  • "In 1830 the Albanian conqueror Mehemet [Muhammad] Ali colonized Jaffa, Nablus, and Beisan with Egyptian soldiers and their Sudanese allies." In 1844, there were an estimated 13,000 inhabitants of Jaffa, composed of 8,000 Turco-Egyptians, 4,000 Greeks and Armenians, 1,000 Jews and Maronites, and no Arabs. In 1938, Jaffa had a population of "70,000, overwhelmingly Arab, who are largely descendants of the Egyptians and Ethiopians brought in by the conqueror Ibrahim Pasha [Muhammad Ali's son]."
  • "Not until the Zionists had arrived in numbers did the Arab population begin to augment itself. The introduction of European standards of wage and life acted like a magnet on the entire Near East. Abruptly, Palestine became an Arab center of attraction....It is precisely in the vicinity of these Jewish villages that Arab development is most marked."
  • "Whole villages in the Hauran [area of southwestern Syria] have been emptied of their people, who are drifting into Palestine. Count De Martel, French high commissioner for Syria, asserted in the summer of 1934 that
    Young Robert Kennedy
    even Arab merchants were moving from Damascus to Palestine because of the prosperity there....Such calculations as are available show an Arab immigration for the single year 1933 of at least 64,000 souls."
  • Robert Kennedy, reporting from Palestine for the Boston Post in 1948, also noted the influx of Arab immigration into Palestine: "The Jews point with pride to the fact that over 500,000 Arabs in the 12 years between 1932 and 1944 came into Palestine to take advantage of living conditions existing in no other Arab state."
(Middle East Quarterly)


Egyptian Emigres in the Levant of the 19th and 20th Centuries
- Gideon Kressel and Reuven Aharoni


On March 23, 2012, the Hamas minister of the interior and of national security, Fathi Hammad,
stated that "half of the Palestinians are Egyptian and the other half are Saudis."  

(Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
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Monday, November 14, 2016

The Fate of The Iran Deal



  • Congress Preparing to Work with Trump to Squeeze Iran - Josh Rogin
    Republicans in Congress are preparing to work with the incoming Trump administration on a number of foreign policy and national security issues. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told me, "There are several issues that I can work with the new president on, the Iran deal being number one. Trump has been right about the Iran deal, it needs to be renegotiated. I'm going to create leverage for him."
        Graham said he and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) will reintroduce the Iran Ballistic Missile Sanctions Act, which would expand the non-nuclear-related sanctions on Iran to include entire sectors of the Iranian economy that aid in Iran's ballistic missile program.
        Even if the Trump administration keeps the Iran deal in place, the Obama administration's effort to encourage Iran toward better behavior through positive engagement is now over and the U.S. is going back to a policy of pressure, said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (Washington Post)

  • Trump Can't Walk Away from Iran Deal, But Could Still Get Tough - Michael Rubin
    Far from creating the most robust monitoring regime, the Iran nuclear deal set a new precedent for lax inspection standards. Inspections remain spotty and the snapback sanctions mechanism practically non-existent. Nor does the agreement address the problem of off-shore nuclear work, for example, conducted by Iranian scientists in North Korea.
        But it would not be wise to walk away from the deal. The deal was crafted to give Iran its rewards upfront. It was the diplomatic equivalent of giving a toddler dessert first and then demanding he eat his spinach. If Trump were to walk away from the deal, it wouldn't hurt the Iranians one bit.
        So what might Trump do instead? As flawed as the deal is, Trump should simply implement it as if his concern were putting American interests first rather than deferring to Iranian interests. Let Iran walk away from the deal if it objects. Trump can be ready with sanctions and, if necessary, other elements of coercion to punish Iran for its noncompliance.
        Iran is upset that its economy isn't meeting its own expectations? Well, perhaps they should tackle their own corruption and lack of commercial law rather than expect a Western bailout. The writer, a former Pentagon official who dealt with Middle East issues, is a resident scholar at AEI.(American Enterprise Institute)

UPDATES: 

Eleven Arab countries have written to the UN accusing Iran of being "a state sponsor of terrorism" throughout the entire Middle East, and of increasing "aggression in the region and the continuation of support for terrorist groups" since the signing of the nuclear deal. The letter was signed by the UN ambassadors of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
    "We stress that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism in our region, from Hizbullah in Lebanon and Syria, to Houthis in Yemen and terrorist groups and cells in the Kingdom of Bahrain, Iraq, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and elsewhere."  
(UN Watch)


The uncertainty around the fate of the Iran nuclear deal underscores the agreement's implicit vulnerabilities, particularly its reliance on executive authority in the absence of broad domestic buy-in or a wholesale resolution of the underlying antagonisms. The American commitment to the JCPOA hangs from the narrow thread of executive authority: the president's power to temporarily waive or suspend economic sanctions on Iran.
    

Trump wouldn't have to touch the deal to imperil it. He'll have his pick of coercive economic measures to wield against Iran, with nearly three dozen bills circulating in Congress penalizing Tehran for its missile program, regional power projection, and human rights abuses. New sanctions could stymie Iran's efforts to attract foreign investment and rebuild trade ties with Europe and Asia.
The writer is deputy director of the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. 
(Brookings Institution)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

President Trump & The MidEast



Trump and Israel, Now What? - Herb Keinon

Hillary Clinton was a known commodity because she has been involved for so long at a policy level on Israel-related issues. There was a degree of predictability regarding how she would act. No such predictability exists with regard to Donald Trump, who has no real track record on Israel beyond being the grand marshal of the Israel Day Parade in Manhattan.


At the same time, Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, is a former Indiana governor and congressman, an Evangelical Christian, and has a long record of political support for Israel.
 

Moreover, as of January 20 there will be sitting in the White House a man who has been scathing in his criticism of the Iranian nuclear deal. He does not have any emotional investment in it that could possibly blind him to Iranian violations. 
(Jerusalem Post)


Middle East Looks to America for Leadership - Dore Gold

The countries of the Middle East are looking for America to be an ally. They are looking for America to lead the peoples of the Middle East. Unfortunately, there has been a tendency in certain parts of Washington in recent years to try and see how to fix America's relations with its adversaries - with Syria's Assad, with the Iranians and with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and with other radical groups across the Middle East. This leaves America's allies, like the famous situation with President Mubarak of Egypt, in the lurch.
 

There is a hope that is common to Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with Egypt under President Sisi, with Saudi Arabia under King Salman, and with the United Arab Emirates under Mohammed bin Zayed. All of these leaders are hoping for a United States that will lead them against the twin radical threats of ISIS and Iranian imperialism.
The writer is former director-general of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and former Israeli ambassador to the UN.
(Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)


Egypt's Sisi Invites Trump to Cairo

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi invited U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to visit Cairo, in a telephone call in which El-Sisi congratulated Trump personally on his election triumph.
 

El-Sisi expressed his hope for more cooperation between Egypt and the U.S. in all fields.
(Al-Ahram-Egypt)
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UPDATES:



Israel in the Trump era - Caroline Glick

President Barack Obama’s legacy will die the moment he leaves the White House on January 20. Republicans may not agree on much. But Trump and his party do agree that Obama’s policies must be abandoned and replaced. And they will work together to roll back all of Obama’s actions as president.

To be sure, much is still unclear about Trump’s foreign policy. But here, too, certain things are already known. Trump will vacate the US’s signature from the nuclear deal with Iran. [F]rom his first day in office, Trump will change the trajectory of US policy toward Iran. He will oppose Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. He will oppose Iran’s rise to regional hegemony.

[P]ersonnel will be policy in the Trump administration. Whereas Obama’s cabinet members and advisers have been more or less interchangeable since Obama himself determined everything from the details of his policies to the ways that the policies would be sold to the public (or hidden from the public), and implemented, Trump’s pick of advisers will be strategically significant.

Clearly it is too early to know who Trump’s advisers and cabinet members will be. But there is good reason for Israel to be encouraged by the advisers who have worked with Trump during the campaign. Vice President-elect Mike Pence is one of the most pro-Israel policy-makers in America. Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is an outspoken ally of Israel and of the US-Israel alliance. Likewise, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, former senator Rick Santorum, retired general Mike Flynn, and former UN ambassador John Bolton are all extraordinary champions of the US alliance with Israel. Trump’s Israel affairs advisers during the campaign, David Friedman and Jason Greenblatt, are also among the strongest advocates of the US-Israel alliance who have arisen in decades.

Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have antisemites in their ranks. The Jewish establishment ignored and pretended away the Democratic antisemites, even when they were burning Israeli flags at the Democratic convention. They said nothing when anti-Israel ravings that were at best borderline antisemitic of senior Clinton advisers like Thomas Pickering and Anne Marie Slaughter were published by Judicial Watch.

On the other hand, the Jewish establishment castigated Trump as antisemitic for the presence of antisemites like David Duke on the fringes of the Republican Party. Legitimate criticisms of anti-Israel financier George Soros were condemned as antisemitic while truly antisemitic assaults on Trump donor Sheldon Adelson by Clinton backers went unaddressed.

Unlike the American-Jewish community, for Israel, the defeat of the American establishment is a positive development. The American foreign policy elite’s default bipartisan position on Israel was bad for both Israel and for the health and reliability of its alliance with the US. [T]he received wisdom of the American foreign policy elite has been that the US must seek to swiftly cause Israel to sign a deal with the PLO. The contours of the deal are similarly clear to all concerned. Israel must surrender control over all or most of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and transfer the areas, more or less Jew-free, to the PLO.

The anti-Israel hostility inherent in the two-state paradigm has brought on a situation where even pro-Israel US officials end up joining their anti-Israel colleagues in bearing down on Israel to act in ways that are inimical to both its national security and to the very concept of a US-Israel alliance.

Trump’s election provides Israel with the first opportunity in 50 years to reshape its alliance with the US. This new alliance must be based on a common understanding and respect for what Israel has to offer the US as well as on the limits of what the US can offer Israel. The limits of US assistance are in large part the consequences of the many genies that Obama unleashed during the past eight years. And the opportunities will come more in areas related to Israel’s relations with the Palestinians and the political war being waged against it by the Europeans and the international Left than to the challenges posed by the ascendance of Islamism in the Middle East.

To be sure, Trump is inconsistent. But from what we do know we must recognize that his rise marks a deflection point in US history.

It is a rare moment where things that were unimaginable a month ago are possible. And if we play our cards right, like the American people, Israel stands to gain in ways we never dreamed of.
[Jerusalem Post]
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Trump's Warm Welcome in the Middle East - Robin Wright  

There have been personal calls, public statements, and even tweets from leaders across the Middle East and North Africa calling to "strengthen relations" with the U.S. The first world leader to telephone Trump after his victory was Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir tweeted, "Congratulations to President-Elect Donald Trump, looking forward to strengthening KSA-US historic ties to serve their mutual interests."
(New Yorker)

Muslim Brotherhood: Trump Victory a "Disaster"  

Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. elections is a "disaster" for the Arab and Muslim world, Mamdouh Al-Muneer, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson, said Wednesday.  
(Middle East Monitor-UK)
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Trump and Israel - Zalman Shoval

A new poll shows again that Americans, including those who voted for Trump, want their country to keep playing an active role in the international arena. It is also safe to assume that Washington's rapprochement with Tehran, spearheaded by Obama, will cease in its tracks. In this context, it is worth mentioning that it was exceedingly prudent of Israel to sign the long-term defense pact with the current administration.
 

Regarding Israel, it is of immense importance to preserve our interests with the Americans. Trump's first meaningful test pertains to the agreement between George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon on the large settlement blocs - an agreement that Obama ignored. 
The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S.
(Israel Hayom)
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Tuesday, November 08, 2016

MidEast Advice for President Elect




Advice for the Next President - Michael J. Totten

  • Dear President-Elect, the world is beset by a constellation of problems - international terrorism, rogue states, and a renascent expansionist Russia. You will not be able to democratize the Middle East or diplomatically "engage" your way with the Vladimir Putins and Ali Khameneis of the world. These are problems to be managed rather than solved. At least the Israelis, who have become masters of this art, can commiserate with your unenviable role.
  • The only indigenous forces willing and able to take on ISIS and win are the Kurds. The Kurds are religiously moderate, politically centrist, and allergic to the kinds of paranoid conspiracy theories so tragically common in the Arab world. They're more pro-American than even Americans, and they're the best fighters in the region by far after the Israelis. They've wanted their own state for more than 100 years now, and they were promised one, too, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
  • Under what theory do the Palestinians deserve their own state while the Kurds don't? The Kurds are our best friends in the Muslim Middle East. They stand with us on every question that matters. It's time to back the Kurds to the hilt and give them the green light to declare independence, partly because it's the right thing to do, partly because we need their help and partly because it's the smart move strategically. Free Kurdish states in Syria and Iraq will permanently deny territory to the likes of both Assad and ISIS.
  • You could spend your entire presidency litigating every detail of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or we could skip all that and boil it down to its essence: The majority of Israelis have repeatedly elected prime ministers who are willing to sign on to a two-state solution, but the Palestinians haven't. When a clear majority of Palestinians catch up to the Israelis, the conflict will end. You can try to force the Israelis to give up more than they already have, but it won't do an iota of good if the Palestinian side remains rejectionist.
  • There can be no peace between Israelis and Palestinians while Hamas still rules Gaza anyway, and one of the reasons Hamas still rules Gaza is because it's still receiving money and guns from Iran, just as the Assad regime and Hizbullah do. Iran is a brutally repressive sectarian theocracy that is the biggest state sponsor of international terrorism in the world. It has been our chief adversary in the Middle East since followers of Ayatollah Khomeini took 52 American diplomats hostage at our embassy in Tehran in 1979.
  • In essence: Get real about Russia, finish off ISIS in Syria, back the Kurds to the hilt, downgrade relations with Turkey, repair our relations with Israel and crack down hard again on Iran. The first rule of foreign policy is that you reward your friends and punish your enemies. Presidents who behave as though this rule doesn't apply to them are doomed to fail in foreign policy.
  •  
    (The Tower)*

    Monday, November 07, 2016

    The US-Iran Alliance: How Obama & Hillary Mis-Shaped The MidEast



    Obama's Great Deception - Tony Badran

    America’s settled policy of standing by while half a million Syrians have been killed, millions have become refugees, and large swaths of their country have been reduced to rubble is not a simple “mistake,” as critics like Nicholas D. Kristof and Roger Cohen have lately claimed. Nor is it the product of any deeper-seated American impotence or of Vladimir Putin’s more recent aggressions. Rather, it is a byproduct of America’s overriding desire to clinch a nuclear deal with Iran, which was meant to allow America to permanently remove itself from a war footing with that country and to shed its old allies and entanglements in the Middle East, which might also draw us into war. By allowing Iran and its allies to kill Syrians with impunity, America could demonstrate the corresponding firmness of its resolve to let Iran protect what President Barack Obama called its “equities” in Syria, which are every bit as important to Iran as pallets of cash.

    And just like it sold its Iran policy through a public “echo chamber” of paid “experts,” the White House deliberately constructed an “echo chamber” to forward its Syria policy.

    America’s Syria policy can, therefore, be best understood not in the terms most familiar to Mideast analysts, such as “getting Assad to step aside” or “supporting the moderate opposition” or “paving the way to a peaceful transition and elections.” Rather, it is a strategic-communications campaign tightly run from the White House, whose purpose was and is to serve as a smokescreen for an entirely coherent and purposeful policy that comes directly from the president himself, but which he and his aides did not wish to publicly own. The goal of the president and his closest aides is to convince the Iranians that we would meet our commitments to them while confusing and obscuring the real reasons behind the president’s set decision of nonintervention in Syria.

    In a recent interview, Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon revealed that in 2013, Iran told President Obama that if he were to strike the regime of Bashar Assad following the latter’s chemical-weapons attack, the Iranians would collapse the talks over their nuclear program. Obama canceled the strike, of course, and later reassured Iran that the United States would not touch Assad. Solomon’s reporting confirms a critical fact about Obama’s Iran and Syria policies: They are one and the same. Or, stated differently, Syria is part of the price for the president’s deal with Iran.

    The White House reaction to Solomon’s assertion was a predictably swift denial. After all, the Obama administration would not want to associate the president’s signature foreign-policy initiative with the indiscriminate slaughter of half a million people and the worst refugee crisis of the new century.
     
    In doing so, it followed a well-worn playbook: At key junctures over the previous five years, the administration put out various talking points in the press, often sourced to anonymous officials, whose lines were then validated by allies and surrogates, including officials who had left government and resumed their positions in the think-tank world. As previously, the president’s objective was to manage domestic and allied pressure to intervene when his unmovable position was to avoid such an engagement at all costs, and always with an eye on the prize he sought in Tehran.

    To be fair, Obama showed his cards on Syria literally from day one of the uprising against Assad. Unlike his nonnegotiable demand that longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s former president, step down immediately—not today, but “yesterday”—Obama very visibly and deliberately refused to call for Assad’s removal from power. In the White House, this call was contemptuously dubbed the “magic words,” and the belief was that saying those words would raise expectations of an active U.S. policy to see it through.
     
    If Obama purposefully took the Iranian regime’s side during the 2009 protests so as not to upset the prospect of rapprochement, he similarly wasn’t about to commit the United States against Iran’s longest-standing strategic ally, Assad. However, by 2012, criticism of the administration’s policy had grown more vocal, and calls rose to give military support to the Syrian opposition, a proposition the president was always opposed to. As this was a fixed position for Obama, the task before the White House was, therefore, one of public relations—to quiet the calls for supporting the opposition, outside and also within the administration, without doing anything that would actually upset Assad and his patrons in Iran.
     
    To that end, the administration started putting out targeted talking points. The administration laid down its now-infamous mantra: There is no military solution in Syria. One of the initial go-to lines was that the administration wanted to avoid further “militarization” of the situation.
     
    Assad’s fall was inevitable, the administration contended.
     
    “There are people around Assad who are beginning to hedge their bets,” asserted then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. There might be a coup in Syria, she predicted. “We saw this happen in other settings last year; I think it is going to happen in Syria.”
     
    To shore up the noninterventionist position it had already guaranteed the Iranians, the White House introduced the enduring fixture of its Syria policy: bringing in Russia as a principal partner.
     
    The Washington Post’s David Ignatius seconded the administration’s move “to make Moscow part of the solution,” and give “Russian leader Vladimir Putin a role in brokering the transition.” If people wanted a solution to the Syrian problem, the White House argued, they should go and talk to the Russians.
     
    Having established the principle of nonintervention and set the role of Russia as principal interlocutor for the region, the White House set the contours of America’s actual Syria policy, which endure unchanged to this day.
     
    The preferred genre for the White House’s Syria echo chamber [was] the striptease. Hand-picked experts offer fresh policy advice to the president. The authors demonstrate their independence by criticizing the supposed current policy and propose a new course of action. Within weeks, the new course of action is acknowledged as policy, thus flattering the importance of the experts. Only, what the experts suggested was already the policy—and what they were “criticizing”—was the fan that the messaging campaign had manufactured to obscure, for a time, what the White House was actually doing in Syria.
     
    It was all very useful, and chummy, and everyone scratched everyone else’s back, until the ISIS crisis blew up and disrupted the Syria messaging campaign by making the administration, which decided it could dismiss the latest jihadi faction as “the JV squad,” look feckless. As it happened, ISIS would turn out to have its benefits as a messaging device. It, too, could be used as part of the fan-dance.
     
    The emergence of ISIS presented an opportunity for the White House to advance the president’s vision of a regional realignment. Under the rubric of a new war on Sunni jihadism, the president elevated Russia and Iran to senior partners, and privileged their position, while shelving all discussion about Assad. What had been secret and a cause for strenuous denials was now palatable state policy, which the White House could therefore publicly own.
     
    Formalizing Tehran’s place at the table in Syria, as Obama had promised the regime, would have to wait for the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015. Once that was achieved, Russia understood the door was open to intervene directly in Syria. A couple of months after the deal was concluded, the Russians set up their military base in Syria. Obama’s Syria policy once again came under criticism following the Kremlin’s move. The president looked weak in the face of Russian assertiveness on behalf of its ally.
     
    [T]he preferred White House talking point was that Russia was only getting itself trapped in a quagmire. “An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire, and it won’t work,” Obama said in early October.

    [T]he White House laid out where it wanted to go, and where it is today: a bilateral process with the Russians, cutting out all those annoying U.S. allies pushing us to escalate and insisting on Assad’s departure.

    By early 2016, [The Brookings Institution’s Jeremy] Shapiro, who had parroted the White House’s misguiding spin on the incredible stupidity of the Russians’ intervention, was now saying the Russians actually held all the cards in Syria, and the only option for the U.S. is to work with them, on their terms.

    For five-and-a-half years, Obama has maintained an unwavering position against intervention on the side of Assad’s enemies in order to set the stage for a U.S. realignment in the Middle East. To shield this ambition from view, and therefore from criticism, the White House launched an elaborate spin campaign whose purpose was to deflect and manage domestic and allied criticism while the president pursued his objective. In partnership with Russia, Obama has directly shaped the course of the Syrian war while single-mindedly working to actualize his vision of a new American alliance with Russia and Iran that will allow America to take a permanent vacation from the Middle East.

    While the end result of this effort may not be what Obama and his closest advisers hope, his actions are clear, and their consequences now appear to be locked in, no matter who comes after him in the White House.
    [Tablet Magazine]
    Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies
    *

    Tuesday, October 11, 2016

    Spitting Sunnis From Syria: The New Alignment & Shia Aggression



    Why Russia and Iran Are Abetting Syrian Government - Harold Rhode 

    The Syrian government, Russia, and Iran are trying the change the demographic makeup of Syria, aiming to depopulate Syria of Sunni Arabs.

    All three see themselves in an existential battle against radical Sunnis and are now moving to repopulate formerly Sunni areas of Syria with Shiites - mostly from Iraq.
     

    In Russia, where 98% of the Muslims are Sunni, the Russian government has undertaken a program - with some success - to entice Russian Sunnis to convert to Shiism. 
    Dr. Harold Rhode served for 28 years as an advisor on the Islamic world in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense. 
     (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
    *

    Israel Develops Important Medical Test

    MeMed cofounders Eran Eden, left, and Kfir Oved.
    Photo by Jonathan Bloom

    New Diagnostic Test Distinguishes Bacterial from Viral Infections
    - Abigail Klein Leichman 

    ImmunoXpert, developed by Israeli startup MeMed, is now used by hospitals in the EU, Switzerland and Israel to determine rapidly whether an infection is bacterial or viral.
     

    Because they are usually unable to determine the cause of an infection, many physicians prescribe antibiotics to be on the safe side.
     

    Experts believe that up to 50% of antibiotic drug regimens are unnecessary or inappropriate. And antibiotic overuse is a major trigger for drug-resistant strains estimated to kill 50,000 people each year in Europe and the U.S.
      

    ImmunoXpert interprets chemical signals from the body's own immune system to distinguish with over 90% accuracy between bacterial and viral infections.
      

    Instead of trying to access and isolate the pathogen, ImmunoXpert's sophisticated biosensors and algorithms decode the immune system's distinct responses to bacterial and viral infections.
    (Israel21c)
    *

    Monday, October 10, 2016

    VideoBite: Empowering Muslim Moderates


     
    A short poignant video about the controversial issue of the nature of Islam and how to empower moderates

    Friday, September 30, 2016

    Obama Lights MidEast on Fire



    Obama's New Middle East - Caroline Glick

    The new Syria is being born in the rubble of Aleppo.

    The eastern side of the city, which has been under the control of US-supported rebel groups since 2012, is being bombed into the Stone Age by Russian and Syrian aircraft.

    All avenues of escape have been blocked. A UN aid convoy was bombed in violation of a fantasy cease-fire. Medical facilities and personnel are being targeted by Russia and Syrian missiles and barrel bombs to make survival impossible.

    It is hard to assess how long the siege of eastern Aleppo by Russia, its Iranian and Hezbollah partners and its Syrian regime puppet will last. But what is an all but foregone conclusion now is that eastern Aleppo will fall. And with its fall, the Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah-Assad axis will consolidate its control over all of western Syria.

    Fighting a guerrilla war with the help of the Sunni population, the anti-regime militias were able to fight from and hide from within the civilian population. Consequently, they were all but impossible to defeat.

    When Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to join the fight, he and his generals soon recognized that this manner of fighting ensured perpetual war. So they changed tactics. The new strategy involves speeding up the depopulation and ethnic cleansing of rebel-held areas. The massive refugee flows from Syria over the past year are a testament to the success of the barbaric war plan. The idea is to defeat the rebel forces by destroying the sheltering civilian populations.


    By adopting a strategy of total war, Putin has ensured that far from becoming the quagmire that President Barack Obama warned him Syria would become, the war in Syria has instead become a means to transform Russia into the dominant superpower in the Mediterranean, at the US’s expense.

    In exchange for saving Assad’s neck and enabling Iran and Hezbollah to control Syria, Russia has received the capacity to successfully challenge US power.
    Israel’s ability to permit the US access to its air bases is no longer assured. Russia has deployed air assets to Syria that have canceled Israel’s regional air superiority. Under these circumstances, in a hypothetical Russian-US confrontation, Israel may be unwilling to risk Russian retaliation for a decision to permit the US to use its air bases against Russia.

    America’s loss of control over the eastern Mediterranean is a self-induced disaster.


    For four years, as Putin stood on the sidelines and hedged his bets, Obama did nothing. As Iran and Hezbollah devoted massive financial and military assets to maintaining their puppet Assad in power, the Obama administration squandered chance after chance to bring down the regime and stem Iran’s regional imperial advance.

    For his refusal to take action when such action could have easily been taken, Obama shares the responsibility for what Syria has become. This state of affairs is all the more infuriating because the hard truth is that it wouldn’t have been hard for the US to defeat the Iranian- Hezbollah axis. The fact that even without US help the anti-regime forces managed to hold on for four years shows how weak the challenge posed by Iran and Hezbollah actually was.

    Russia only went into Syria when Putin was absolutely convinced that Obama would do nothing to stop him from dislodging America as the premier global power in the region.

    Obama chose to stand on the sidelines in Syria because he wanted to make friends with Iran. Obama began his secret courtship of the mullahs even before he officially took office eight years ago.
    So Obama let Syria burn. He let Iran and Hezbollah transform the country into their colony. And he let Putin transform the Mediterranean into a Russian lake. Obama enabled the ethnic cleansing of Syria’s Sunni majority, and in turn facilitated the refugee crisis that is changing the face not only of the Middle East but of Europe as well.

    It is ironic that the new Middle East is coming into focus as Shimon Peres, the failed visionary of a fantasy- based new Middle East, is being laid to rest. But to survive in the real new Middle East, Israel must bury Peres’s belief that peace is built by appeasing enemies along with him. The world in which we live has a place for dreamers.

    But dreams, unhinged from reality, lead to Aleppo, not to peace.

    [Jerusalem Post via Jewish World Review]
    *

    Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    Arab States Turn Against Palestinian Leadership


    - Khaled Abu Toameh 

        
    PA President Mahmoud Abbas is facing a new challenge from several Arab countries that have come together to demand that he reform his ruling Fatah faction and pave the way for the emergence of a new Palestinian leadership.
        
    According to reports in Arab media, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE are seeking to end the state of political anarchy in the territories controlled by the PA and Hamas.
        
    Abbas and Fatah leaders in Ramallah are convinced that the "Arab Quartet" is planning to pave the way for promoting "normalization" between the Arab world and Israel.
        
    These countries have concluded that as long as Abbas and the current PA leadership are around, it would be very difficult to initiate any "normalization" with Israel.
        
    Veteran Palestinian official Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), a former PA prime minister and one of the architects of the Oslo Accord, come out in favor of the "Arab Quartet" plan, which basically envisions ousting Abbas from power. 
    (Gatestone Institute)


    Saudi paper calls for Abbas to accept invitation to address Knesset

    Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas should accept Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's invitation and address Israel's Knesset, a Saudi newspaper argued in it's editorial.

    The English-language Saudi Gazette said that Netanyahu's invitation, issued during his speech to the UN General Assembly last week, was reminiscent of former prime minister Menachem Begin's invitation to former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, which eventually led to the 1978 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

    "For all its shortcomings, Camp David demonstrated that negotiations with Israel were possible and that progress could be made through sustained efforts at communication and cooperation," the Gazette argued.

    The editorial came amid signs that the Saudi media is softening its reporting on Israel, a development that has been linked to under the table contacts between the two countries.
    [Jerusalem Post]