Friday, May 3, 2013

Mordechai Kedar: The Collapsing Crescent

by Mordechai Kedar

Read the article in the original עברית
Read the article in Italiano (translated by Yehudit Weisz, edited by Angelo Pezzana)
In contrast to the desert that covers most of the Middle East, the Fertile Crescent has been an area that kingdoms thrived in since the dawn of history. The reason is simple: it was possible to maintain a reasonable and stable community life in this area because communities could establish an economy based on agriculture and raising herds of animals. The children of Israel in the Land of Israel, the Phoenicians in Lebanon, the Assyrians in Syria, the Sumerians, the Babylonians, and the Chaldeans in Iraq, all established kingdoms with a strong and effective central government, based on an agricultural society dwelling in permanent communities from which it was possible to collect taxes and enlist its sons into the ruler's army. The desert, on the other hand, was not a place of kingdoms and regimes because its nomadic residents do not represent a civil and economic basis upon which it is possible to establish a permanent, central framework.

The modern era is a continuation, to a large extent, of the classic picture of the Fertile Crescent: Lebanon, Syria and Iraq were established as states that should have been frameworks for legitimate states with governmental systems based on a egalitarian and shared civil society, that would include the tribes and the many ethnic, religious, and sectarian groups that populate the area. The objective data of the area -plentiful precipitation, comfortable weather, flowing rivers and fertile ground - could have provided a comfortable life for the people of these states, if only they could have lived with each other in peace. The borders of the states were drawn by the colonial forces that ruled in the area, and these borders define their territories, the area of their sovereignty and the identity of their citizens. Protection of the borders is a prerequisite for the existence of every state in the world.

But in the past decade - and especially in the past two years - the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq are continually being penetrated, undermined, dissolved, eroded and annulled. Those who are undermining the states are its neighboring states, organizations and individuals, who relate to borders of states as if there is no need to respect them. It is important to note that great sections of borders exist only on maps, while in reality, there is no fence, wall or any real barrier that would enable the state to protect its borders from invasion of evildoers and prevent their entry.

The efficacy of border protection is an effective indicator of a state's overall condition: a state that protects its borders and prevents the entry of hostile elements is a state with the power to live and survive even if it is situated in an unfriendly environment. On the other hand, a state that does not succeed to protect its borders from foreign and hostile elements  penetrating into its territory is a state in the process of deterioration that might end in its demise. The recent events in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon fully confirm this assumption.


For the whole duration of the twentieth century there were factors that undermined its borders, mainly Iran of the Shah: He supported the Kurds in the North of Iraq until 1975 and channeled weapons, equipment, fighters and money to them via the border. This undermined the integrity of Iraq, and ever since the Kurdish area was declared as a no-fly zone for the Iraqi air force in 1991, the Kurds of Iraq have lived almost totally independently. They have a parliament, government, political parties, an army, police, communications media, mass media and independent economic viability. From a practical point of view, the borders of Iraq do not include today the Kurdish area that was once the northern part of the state.

The border between Iraq and Iran has been wide open ever since the beginning of 2004, less than a year from the day when Iraq was occupied by the Western coalition led by President Bush. After the Iranians understood that the Americans did not want an additional front in Iran, they began to transfer weapons, ammunition, explosives, money and fighters into Iraq by way of the border in order to strengthen the Shi'ite militias to the detriment of the badly defeated Sunni militias, and so that the Shi'ites could successfully resist with the occupation armies and act against the influence of al-Qaida, which had established an organization called "The Islamic State of Iraq". Thousands of fighters from the United States and its allies were killed in Iraq with weapons and explosives that Iran smuggled into the Land of the Two Rivers. The border between Iraq and Saudi Arabia as well, served as a conduit for weapons, ammunition, money and jihadists for the Sunni organizations, chiefly al-Qaida. Only in recent years did Saudi Arabia set up  a fence on the length of its border with Iraq in order to prevent the Iraqi chaos from seeping into its territory, but the fence did not prevent Saudi Arabia from transferring anything that the Sunni Jihadists could think of, into Iraq.

Turkey never respected its border with Iraq, and its forces would often cross the border into Iraqi Kurdistan to attack the bases of the "Kurdish Workers Party" (PKK), which would send its fighters into Turkey.


The border of Iraq with Syria has served for more than ten years as a two-way membrane. Between the years 2004 and 2011 the porous border served as a passage for Hizb'Allah fighters who crossed from Lebanon into Iraq by way of Syrian territory in order to support the Shi'ites. Since March of 2011 the border has served as a passage for Shi'ites from Iraq to support the regime in Syria, but Iraqi Sunnis also cross it freely with their weapons and explosive material in order to help their Syrian brothers in their struggle against the Assad regime and indirectly against Iran, which controls Iraq. 

Since 2011, fighters, weapons and equipment have also been freely transferred by the tribes of northern Jordan to their brothers in the area of Hauran in southern Syria.  And until today almost a half million Syrian refugees have fled the Syrian inferno to Jordan. The border between Syria and Lebanon has never been taken seriously on either side: smuggling of goods from Lebanon to Syria has provided livelihood for many thousands of Lebanese ever since the two states were established in the forties, and many Syrians have crossed the border illegally into Lebanon, fleeing the oppression of the regime, mainly since Hafez al Asad rose to power towards the end of 1970. Many Syrian workers have moved to Lebanon illegally via the porous borders, and in peak years the number has been estimated at a million.

Syria's border with Turkey is not sealed either and many have crossed it unofficially over the years: Syrian and Turkish Kurds have always crossed it almost without restriction, just as the border between Iraq and Turkey has served as a passage for the Kurds on both sides. In the past two years Turkey has been sending to the Syrian rebels support and jihadists  who come from Saudi Arabia, from Qatar, from North Africa and from other areas, even from Europe.  Not in vain have the rebels against Asad captured the border crossings in the early phase of the rebellion, because having control of the border crossings makes it possible for them to bring into Syria people who support them in the fighting against the regime.


Hizb'Allah has turned smuggling into an art form: in broad daylight as well as in darkness, in the paved streets as well as the dirt roads, at official as well as unofficial  border crossings from Syria to Lebanon, large amounts of missiles, light and heavy weapons and ammunition have been transferred from Iran, China and Russia, through Syria into Lebanon, and fighters from Hizb'Allah have crossed by way of the Lebanese-Syrian border into Syria and Iran in order to train for their jihad against their Lebanese brothers as well as against Israel. In the past two years Hizb'Allah fighters have crossed with their weapons  and equipment into Syria via the breached border, in order to help Asad. In the beginning, Hizb'Allah snipers shot demonstrators in the streets of Dara'a from the roofs, and afterwards the Hizb'Allah people joined in the street fighting, primarily in the streets of Homs, Hama and Damascus. The "shaheeds" of Hizb'Allah who were killed in Syria were usually smuggled into Lebanon via the open border and were buried temporarily and secretly in the Buqa'a valley, near the border, primarily to avoid media exposure. Lately, since Hizb'Allah's involvement in Syria has become common knowledge, the shaheeds are brought to their families for burial.

The only border of Lebanon that looks like one is the coastline, but by any effective test this border does not exist: On the breached shores of Lebanon are tens of unofficial mooring places that have served for many years in the smuggling of goods - primarily automobiles - that are stolen in Europe to Lebanon, and are transferred by agents to the Lebanese market and other Arab states. Since 2011 these moorings, along with the port of Triploli, have served the Sunnis, as a transfer point for the smuggling of weapons and ammunition to the rebels in Syria. These weapons come mainly from Libya, from two sources: Qadhaffi's military storehouses and surplus European and American weapons that Qatar sent to the anti-Qadhaffi rebels in 2011. On the other hand, Alawites who live in Lebanon - chiefly in the  Jabal Mohsen quarter of Tripoli - cross the border between Lebanon and Syria illegally in order to support Asad.

The conclusions that can be drawn from all of the above is that the borders of the Arab states in the Fertile Crescent - Iraq, Syria and Lebanon - are increasingly losing their effectiveness, and that this phenomenon has been increasing in the past two years, since some of the Arab regimes have been under attack, but this time from within. When the borders of a state are breached, its existence as a state is undermined, and the more violated its borders become, the more its existence and its meaning are threatened.

The architecture of the fertile crescent that was bequeathed by colonialism is changing before our eyes: Iraq is breaking up, Syria is crumbling and Lebanon for some time has lost the pluralistic character that its constitution was supposed to ensure. On the ruins of these countries new bodies arise with many and varied agendas. Some have an Islamist slant, and see the modern states as illegitimate creations that were born in the basements of colonialism, and therefore must be totally done away with. Some have a local slant - ethnic or tribal - and they are interested in establishing new frameworks based on the demographic data that colonialism tended to ignore completely.

In recent months, the battles in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon have taken on an old-new hue that these states - as long as they were effective states - had relegated or marginalized, which is the religious hue, and the historical conflict between the Sunni and the Shi'a floats on the surface and becomes the name of the game, or - preferably - the name of the conflict. In Iraq, the Shi'ite government bombs the Sunni citizens using fighter jets. In Syria  the regime of Alawites, a sect that broke off from the Shi'ites and are supported by Shi'ites, bombs its Sunni citizens with jets and even uses chemical weapons against them. In Lebanon the Shi'ite group threatens to take over the whole state, and because of this threat, the state conducts itself in such a way that no one is willing to gamble on its democratic future.

The struggles along the fertile crescent have become dirty, filthy and bloody, while all of the traditional limitations increasingly collapse and man becomes an unbridled predator. The forces of the governments are not righteous, and the forces of the rebels are not pious. Both of them murder, maim, rape and cruelly violate the rights of many victims, most of whom are not involved in active fighting.

In comparison: Israel's borders serve as an almost absolute seal against foreign invaders, with various and sundry intentions. The border with Egypt has been closed off and the number of infiltrators has become negligible. The border with Jordan is well protected by right of the joint interest of the two states. The border with Syria in the Golan Heights survives, despite the chaos in Syria, the border with Lebanon holds firm by right of Israel's deterrence versus Hizb'Allah, and if it weren't for the drug smugglers, this border would be hermetically sealed. The coastal border also is protected effectively by the Israeli Navy, and only the border with the Gaza Strip serves as a point of tension because of the jihadists that have taken over the Strip.

In comparison with her neighbors, the state of Israel is an island of stability and normal life, and the borders of the state testify to this clearly and accurately. The situation in our days gives an interesting meaning to the passage from the poem in the weekly Torah portion "ha'azinu" ("listen"): "When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel." (Deuteronomy 32:8).


Dr. Kedar is available for lectures

Dr. Mordechai Kedar
( is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with permission from the author.

Additional articles by Dr. Kedar

Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the author.

Why the “Arab Peace Initiative” is Both a Good Thing and a Scam

by Barry Rubin

There’s something very strange about this alleged new Arab League peace initiative and I find no serious addressing of these issues in the media coverage. A step toward efforts by Arab states to move toward proposing a possible peace with Israel is a good thing. Especially touted is an idea, mentioned by Qatar’s representative at the Washington meeting, to accept an agreement that small border modifications could be made to the pre-1967 lines.

Yet there are a lot of unaddressed points that make me strongly suspect that this is a public relations’ stunt to convince America and Western opinion that the Arab states want peace with Israel when not all of them do so.

And that’s one of the key questions. At the meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry there were representatives of the Arab League, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian Authority.

But Arab League bureaucrats can’t agree on anything. Only a vote of the Arab League’s almost two dozen members can establish an official position. So this was not an Arab League plan at all. To represent it as an official Arab position is, then, untrue.

Indeed, we already know that the Palestinian Authority (PA) opposes this formula. At any rate, the United States cannot even get the PA to negotiate with Israel and yet fantasies of comprehensive peace are spread around by it. The mass media is cooperating in this theme, seeking to make Kerry look good at least.

Then there is the list of countries involved. I have no difficulty in believing that the governments of Bahrain, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are ready for a deal. Jordan has already made peace; Saudi Arabia proposed a reasonable offer a decade ago a decade ago (before it was sharply revised by hardliners before becoming an official Arab League position), and Bahrain’s regime is desperately afraid of Iran and has become a semi-satellite of the Saudis.

But what about the other three countries? Are we to believe that the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt, the Hizballah-dominated regime in Lebanon, and the quirky but pro-Hamas and pro-Muslim Brotherhood regime in Qatar have suddenly reversed everything that they have been saying in order to seek a compromise peace with Israel? Highly doubtful to say the least.

In other words, the reportage ignored the interesting detail about the three most radical regimes (Qatar’s regional policy is radical; not its domestic policies) suddenly making a concession to Israel that had been previously unthinkable?  It’s sort of like taking for granted, say, Joseph Stalin’s supposed embrace of capitalism or France’s rulers proclaiming that American culture is far superior to their own.

And let’s also remember the radical forces not present. The Syrian rebels will be holding the Arab League seat are dominated by Islamists. Hamas itself, which governs the Gaza Strip, will refuse to abide by any such agreement. Remember that this group represents at least one-third of Palestinians and perhaps a plurality over Fatah, which governs the PA. Tunisia’s Muslim Brotherhood-dominated leadership have even written into the country’s new constitution that it can never make peace with Israel!\.

Finally, there is a curious lack of mention over the demand, enshrined in the previous “Arab Peace Initiative” about what is called the “right of return.” Namely, to satisfy PA demands Israel would have to accept the immigration of hundreds of thousands of passionately anti-Israel Palestinians who had lived in the country 60 years ago (or their descendants) and who have been fighting all that time to wipe Israel off the map.

Then there are the citizens of these Arab countries—stirred up by Islamists and radical nationalists–who would seek to overthrow them if they believed their rulers were going to make peace with Israel. And there has been no hint from these regimes before and no statements now back home in Arabic to indicate any dramatic change of heart.

This supposed new plan, then, is a bluff. None of the above points have been explained in the Western media. Suddenly, we are to believe, for example, that the Muslim Brotherhood has turned dovish! Well, of course, because the U.S. establishment has been arguing they were already dovish.

That doesn’t mean it is a bad thing as a sign of the times. I believe that the Arab states of the Persian Gulf would like to see the Arab-Israeli conflict decline and even end. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates no longer profit from this battle. They are frightened of Iran and revolutionary Islamists, and the Shia Muslim challenge in general. Such governments view Israel as a positive strategic factor given these real and big threats. You might add Algeria, Morocco, and Jordan to the list of moderates.  Iraq doesn’t care anymore, while the Kurds in Iraq and Syria are almost pro-Israel.

And if these countries feel that saying or pretending to agree that peace with Israel is a good thing for their image in the West that is positive also. (Unfortunately, though, they know how easily they can get away with double talk.)

But if you factor in the Islamist-ruled places—Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Tunisia, and soon Syria—into the equation the picture looks different. And if you add public opinion and the efforts of revolutionary Islamists who would denounce any such deal as treason things look totally different.

If even Saudi Arabia were to make peace with Israel what would happen internally? There would be riots, revolts, new manifestations of the currents represented by Usama bin Ladin, an escalated subversion from Iran. Of course, the monarchy knows this very well.

On top of that, remember that these governments know that they cannot depend on the United States to get them out of a jam in the face of their rivals and enemies. Indeed, many of them believe—with real reasons–that the Obama Administration is helping their enemies.

In other words, to speak in English in Washington to make the Americans happy is one thing; to do things in practice is something else entirely. This supposed initiative, then, will not go anywhere.

It is, however, interesting to compare this development with the total refusal of Arab states to make such a gesture when Obama asked them to do so back in 2009. Is the change due to the relative moderates’ greater fear of Islamist overthrow? Of Iran getting nuclear weapons? A response to Obama’s reelection?  Of the radical, pro-Islamist forces trying to lull America and the West into an even deeper sleep so that they think more Sharia states will not make for more radical regimes?

One can almost hear the radicals’ reasoning: We have to keep the Americans at bay until we consolidate power at home and we have to keep the Americans handing over billions of dollars to finance the fundamental transformations we intend to make.

What it does show once again, however, is that the strategic picture in the region has changed dramatically. The Arab-Israeli conflict is a minor issue compared to the Islamist threat at home and from neighbors, the Iranian threat abroad, and the Shia challenge to these predominantly Sunni Muslim, conservative or nationalist, monarchical or dictatorial regimes.

Here is the paradox of the situation. The very threats that make some governments wish the conflict would go away are the same threats that stop them from actually doing something about it.

Barry Rubin


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

The Human Cost of Jihad Denial

by Robert Spencer


Wednesday brought new confirmation of the increasingly obvious fact that the U.S. intelligence apparatus in the age of Barack Obama is woefully unprepared to deal with the foremost threat to the safety of Americans today: Islamic jihad terrorism.

Nor is this lack of preparedness due to a lack of funding (Lord knows there is plenty of that for anything Obama wants to do) or other resources. There are many people who are deeply knowledgeable in the ideology and belief system that inspires Islamic jihad terror, and they are ready and willing to share their knowledge with intelligence officials – indeed, many of them did so during the Bush Administration and the early years of the Obama Administration, before his 2011 purge the counter-terror training materials of the truth about Islam and jihad.

That purge came after hard-Left journalistic propagandist Spencer Ackerman wrote a series of “exposes” that supposedly exposed “Islamophobia” in government counterterror training — that is, truthful information about Islam and jihad. See here and here for details. Then Farhana Khera, Executive Director of an Islamic organization called Muslim Advocates, wrote a letter on October 19, 2011 to Barack Obama’s then-Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and current CIA director John Brennan. The letter was signed by 57 organizations, including many with ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR); the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA); Islamic Relief USA; the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA); the Muslim American Society (MAS); and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).

The letter demanded that Obama officials “purge all federal government training materials of biased materials” – that is, materials that they claimed were biased against Islam – and “implement a mandatory re-training program for FBI agents, U.S. Army officers, and all federal, state and local law enforcement who have been subjected to biased training.”

The Obama Administration immediately complied. Dwight C. Holton, former U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, emphasized that same day that training materials for the FBI would be purged of everything that Islamic supremacists deemed offensive: “I want to be perfectly clear about this: training materials that portray Islam as a religion of violence or with a tendency towards violence are wrong, they are offensive, and they are contrary to everything that this president, this attorney general and Department of Justice stands for. They will not be tolerated.”

And so a year and a half after this purge, on Tuesday night we learned that not only the Russians, but also the Saudis warned U.S. officials about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s jihadist leanings. The UK’s Daily Mail reported that “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sent a written warning about accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2012, long before pressure-cooker blasts killed three and injured hundreds, according to a senior Saudi government official with direct knowledge of the document. The Saudi warning, the official told MailOnline, was separate from the multiple red flags raised by Russian intelligence in 2011, and was based on human intelligence developed independently in Yemen.” Moreover, “a Homeland Security official confirmed Tuesday evening on the condition of anonymity that the 2012 letter exists, saying he had heard of the Saudi communication before MailOnline inquired about it.”

However, on Wednesday the Saudi Embassy in Washington denied all this. Embassy officials did not explain, however, how the DHS official who had confirmed the story the previous day got this false information. And so the question of whether or not the Saudis warned the FBI about Tamerlan Tsarnaev joins the strange story of the Saudi national who was questioned shortly after the Boston bombing – both remain full of unexplained anomalies. And Obama officials don’t appear to be in any hurry to clear up those anomalies, because it is likely that the Saudis are backtracking so as to cover up yet more evidence that the see-no-jihad, hear-no-jihad FBI ignored warnings that their politically correct training did not equip them to understand.

Also on Wednesday, three friends of jihad bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were arrested for helping him dispose of material connected to the jihad bombings. These arrests followed assurances from numerous officials that the Tsarnaev brothers acted alone.

That made two intelligence failures in one day: the thorough discrediting of the widely circulated claim that the bombers acted alone, and news of a second country warning the U.S. about a jihadist at a time when U.S. officials are not allowed to know what a jihadist is.

On Tuesday, Spencer Ackerman complained that the examination of counterterror procedures that Obama promised during his press conference that day was unlikely to bear fruit. He noted that James “Clueless” Clapper, the director of national intelligence, was overseeing that review, and “yet before the inquiry has concluded, Clapper is satisfied — as he first said last week, before any review even got started — that the intelligence agencies didn’t drop the ball on Boston.”

He should be grateful for that. If the Obama Administration’s review of the massive intelligence failures related to the Boston jihad bombing were thorough, it would lead directly to him.

In any case, Wednesday’s revelations show the human cost of the denial of the reality and magnitude of the jihad threat. Three people are dead and well over 200 wounded because bumbling, ill-instructed (and in many cases reeducated) FBI agents didn’t know how to understand or act upon intelligence they received from Russia and (probably) Saudi Arabia. How many more have to die before the bloody legacy of Farhana Khera, John Brennan, Spencer Ackerman and Barack Obama is decisively rejected?

Robert Spencer


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Israeli Checkpoints Stop Terrorists, not Elections

by Khaled Abu Toameh

It is the Fatah and Hamas leaders, and not Israel, who do not want to see reforms and democracy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But the anti-Israel spokesmen in the U.S., Canada and Europe are not going to let facts get in their way.
Is it true that Palestinians cannot hold new elections because of Israeli security measures?

This is a claim, often made in the U.S., Canada and parts of Europe, is that the Palestinians have not been able to hold new presidential and parliamentary elections for the past five years because of Israeli army checkpoints in the West Bank, and that it will be impossible for the Palestinians to hold new elections in the future so long as Israel maintains checkpoints in various parts of the West Bank.

Another claim is that Israel is responsible for the fact that Palestinians enjoy no democracy in their two separate entities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

First, it is worth noting that such claims are often made by people living in the West, and not by Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

These people in the West like to think they are pro-Palestinian, but by their consistent distortion of facts, they seem in reality to be more anti-Israeli than pro-Palestinian. They never advocate against the repression and corruption that are actually stifling the Palestinians. Instead, they prefer to ignore the reality on the ground and often blame Israel for all that goes wrong in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Not surprisingly, many Palestinians seem to be much more pragmatic and realistic than the anti-Israel spokesmen sitting in Washington, New York and London.

The Palestinians know, for example, that were it not for the continued power struggle between Hamas and Fatah, they would have had free elections several years ago.

The Palestinians, moreover, know that Israeli checkpoints have nothing to do with restricting freedom of expression and voting. They are fully aware that the checkpoints are there to stop terror attacks and not democracy or reforms.

In the past, despite Israeli security measures and checkpoints, Palestinians did have free and democratic elections for the presidency and parliament.

Israeli "occupation" did not prevent Hamas from winning the January 2006 parliamentary election.

Not only did Israel freely allow Arab residents of Jerusalem to run and vote in that election, but for the first time ever, Israel opened its post offices in Jerusalem so that Arab voters could cast their ballots in the 2006 election, and permitted a number of Hamas candidates from Jerusalem to contest the vote.

Since then, Palestinians have held different elections for various bodies in the West Bank, including municipalities, university campuses and professional unions.

Needless to say, these elections were all held despite the presence of Israeli checkpoints.

Israel has never stopped Palestinians from holding free elections or implementing administrative and financial reforms, and there have never been any complaints from Palestinians about Israeli attempts to obstruct these elections or prevent them.

The Fatah and Hamas leaders are the only ones to blame for ongoing divisions and rivalry in the Palestinian arena. It is these leaders, and not Israel, who do not want to see reforms and democracy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The checkpoints are there to stop suicide bombers and other terrorists, and not to prevent anyone from running in an election or forming a new political party.

Hamas and Fatah do not tolerate competition. When a Palestinian religious figure, Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi, recently announced his intention to run in the next presidential election, Palestinian thugs in the city of Hebron torched his car. Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank have also been harassing Tamimi supporters in a bid to deter him from participating in the election.

Similarly, Hamas has been cracking down on Palestinian activists who have openly been challenging the radical Islamic movement's rule in the Gaza Strip.

It is worth reminding those people who profess love the Palestinians that there are no Israeli checkpoints inside the Gaza Strip to foil either Palestinian elections or democracy, and that those in the West Bank do not foil elections or democracy, either.

But the anti-Israel spokesmen in the U.S., Canada and Europe are not going to let facts get in their way. They seem determined to continue spreading lies that are harmful not only to Israel, but also to Palestinians, who want see an end to tyranny and corruption in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Khaled Abu Toameh


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

The Turkish Role in the Syrian Civil War

by Gregory Gounev

When the top U.S. policymakers decided that the Syrian crisis required some international partner to deal with its challenges, the choice of the Obama-Clinton tandem fell on Turkey. Was this choice correct? The answer to this question is a complex one. The complexity stems from the different dimensions of the Turkish society and politics. In short, the U.S. treatment of Turkey as a traditional ally is right, while at the same time American reliance on the present Turkish government's policy with regard to Syria is wrong. 

What neither Obama, nor Hillary Clinton grasped, or most probably deliberately ignored, was the fact that since 2003 Turkey has been ruled by the Justice and Development Party, which is an Islamic political organization. The long-term political goal and dream of its leader and the current Prime Minister of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan, is to Islamize his country. In order to achieve such an ambitious goal though, he needed to solve three main problems. 

The first one was to eliminate the political role of the army which since the times of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Kemal Ataturk had played the role of the guarantor of the secular system. This nontraditional function of the armed forces was an important component of the secular political model that gradually transformed Turkey into the only Muslim country that fit many of the requirements of a Western-style democracy. The pro-Erdogan press helped him to eliminate this role of the army by accusing, rightly or wrongly, many of the commanding officers of creating highly controversial anti-government conspiracies.

The second challenge the Turkish Prime Minister was facing involved the improvement of the economy which for many years was lagging behind. The AKP government (the Turkish acronym for the ruling party), achieved its most stunning success by transforming Turkey into one of the very few countries which remained not only unaffected by the worldwide economic slowdown, but managed to achieve a remarkable growth.

The biggest achievement of Mr. Erdogan however, lies in the area of image building. His political mastery manifested itself in the ability to present himself like a leader who simultaneously is a deeply believing Muslim and a dedicated Democrat.

The clue to understanding such a brilliant achievement is Mr. Erdogan's successful strategy in making use of the sharp contradiction between the old-fashioned defenders of the political role of the army and the majority of the large pool of educated Turks who support the seemingly democratic trend of Erdogan's politics. At the same time, however, the same social group doesn't want to see the transformation of their country into an Islamic state. 

As far as the Turkish policy with regard to Syria is concerned, in 2011 it performed an abrupt about face. At the time when the first anti-government demonstrations broke out in Syria, the Turkish-Syrian relations were at their best since the aftermath of WWI. Tayyip Erdogan and Bashir Assad seemed to be enjoying a friendship at the personal level as well. In early February of 2011 both statesmen appeared together in order to lay the foundations of the so-called "Dam of Friendship." 

During the fall of 2011 the dam was still there, but friendship between the two statesmen had gone. What prompted the sudden change of heart of the Turkish leader? According to the official explanation due to the repressive nature of the Syrian regime, thousands of Syrians crossed the Turkish border in search of shelter and asylum. This circumstance forced Turkey to get interested in the search for options involving positive changes in the already badly bleeding Syria. There were, of course, far more important and deliberately obscured reasons for the change of the Turkish strategy in the area. 

Starting with the psychological factors, similarly to President Obama, Prime Minister Erdogan was also firmly convinced that the downfall of the Assad regime was imminent. 

Erdogan's pursuit of a strategy to obtain a leading role for Turkey in the emerging Saudi-Qatari led Arab anti-Assad, anti-Shia and anti-Iranian axis, was helped by the already existing Turkish connection with the Muslim Brotherhood. As a country sharing a long border with Syria, all supplies to the opponents of Assad must go through Turkey. Given that the adherence of radical Islam represents most of the resistance to the Assad forces, most probably the food, materials, and weaponry would end up in the hands of the Jihadists. The Turkish Prime Minister though wasn't disturbed by this fact because the replacement of the Assad regime by an Islamic government friendly to Turkey and dependent in many ways on it looked attractive to Erdogan. 

The trend of events in Syria however developed on their own and in a completely unexpected way. In the long run it turned out that the actions of the Turkish government with regard to Syria gradually took the shape of a disastrous blunder which Erdogan is currently trying to repair.

To start with, the Syrian strategy of the Turkish Prime Minister brought about a lot of tension in the relationship of his country with Iran and Russia which he considered very important.

Another devastating development took place in the aftermath of the smart order Assad issued to his troops to evacuate the Kurdish-populated areas in Northern Syria. As a result those areas are currently patrolled by Kurdish paramilitary formations which are receiving a lot of weaponry smuggled from Iraqi Kurdistan. Within the framework of the increasingly probable scenario of the breakup of Syria, most certainly the Kurds will try to reach if not a formal statehood, then at least the creation of an autonomous area similar to the status of the Iraqi Kurdistan. 

Last but not least, Erdogan's policy toward Syria is extremely unpopular in Turkey. According to the recent polls, 82% of the respondents expressed a negative attitude toward the government's policy on Syria. Those results reflect the belief that Erdogan's intent is to help establish an Islamic regime in Syria. 

As far as the American attitude toward the civil war devastating Syria it is not based on an effective strategy, but rather on two constantly repeated mantras. The verbalization of the first one sounds like "Assad must go!" The second one goes "Russia is responsible for the continuation of the Syrian bloodshed!" 

Without idealizing the policies of Russia, one thing about it is certain: Moscow does not want the creation on Syrian soil of a Jihadist state inspired by the ideology of radical Islam. Can any member of the Obama-Clinton-Kerry trio honestly say that he or she shares the same goal?

Georgy Gounev teaches the ideology and strategy of radical Islam in Southern California within the framework of the Emeritus program. He is also the author of The Dark Side of the Crescent Moon Foreign Policy Challenges, Laguna Woods, CA, 2011. The book explores the international impact of the Islamization of Europe. His website is


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Israel is Doing Remarkably Well, Economically and Strategically

by Barry Rubin


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.

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.

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.

“But this is not the case. It is the Palestinians who refuse even to come to the negotiating table — and that is unlikely to change quickly or easily. Arab states won’t lift a finger to help the U.S. on Iran, Iraq, or Arab-Israeli issues. So why bother?”

I think this analysis really fits the events that came to fruition in March 2013 with Obama’s coming to Israel, signaling a change in U.S. policy.

Face it. The obsession with the “peace process” is misplaced and misleading. The big issue in the region is the struggle for power in the Arabic-speaking world, Turkey, and Iran between Islamists and non-Islamists. And, no, the Arab-Israeli conflict has very little to do with these issues. Those who don’t understand those points cannot possible comprehend the region. Secretary of State John Kerry may run around the region and talk about big plans for summit conferences. But nobody really expects anything to happen.

This is not, of course, to say that there aren’t problems. Yet what often seems to be the world’s most slandered and reviled country is doing quite well. Perhaps if Western states studied its policies rather than endlessly criticized them they might gain from the experience.

Barry Rubin


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The Arab League’s ‘Peace Process’ Deception

by Arlene Kushner


The Times of Israel has the following headline this morning: “In sea change, Arab League backs land swaps in peace talks.”

A sea change is defined as a marked change or a transformation.  But what we’re looking at here is nothing of the sort.

Members of the Arab League, representing seven Arab nations, met with top US officials yesterday in Washington.  The topic of discussion was the “peace process” and ways in which the Arab nations might advance it.

After the League delegation huddled for consultations at Blair House, Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani announced “the possibility of ’comparable,’ mutually agreed and ‘minor‘ land swaps between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”  (Emphasis added)

Note that ”land swaps” are not agreed to firmly in principle.  There is a “possibility” of support for this, which means at the end of the day they might say, “Sorry, we won’t do this after all.”  After all, only seven of 22 nations of the League were represented here.

And even if they were to agree, in any case it would be “minor,” mutually agreed upon, swaps only.  Piddling. Only piddling.

Most importantly, this entire notion is predicated upon an erroneous and unacceptable concept.

Secretary of State Kerry, who seems to have staked his entire professional (sic) reputation on succeeding with the “peace process,” gushed:

“We’ve had a very positive, very constructive discussion over the course of the afternoon, with positive results…”

He praised the League for the “important role it is playing, and is determined to play, in bringing about a peace in the Middle East.”

A bit of background is in order here:

The Arab League “Peace Plan” had originally been advanced by Saudi Arabia in 2002, then was adopted by the League, and subsequently “re-endorsed” by the League in 2007.  It was, and is, a horror:

If Israel will surrender all lands acquired in 1967, and provide for a “just” settlement of the Palestinian Arab refugee problem, based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194— which the Arab world interprets as giving the “refugees” “right of return,” when in fact there is no such thing—then the Arab world will “normalize” relations with Israel.  No specification of what normalization means re: diplomatic, security, or economic ties.

Translation: If you will surrender the Temple Mount, and the Kotel, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hevron, and Shilo, and much more, including the Golan Heights.  And if you will return to the 1967 line [the Green Line], which, admittedly, was recognized by Security Council Resolution 242, passed after the Six Day War, as not providing a secure border.  And in addition, if you will take within your borders millions of so-called refugees, rendered radical and hostile by decades of UNRWA influence.  Then all 22 of the Arab states—and not just “Palestine”—will have some sort of ties with you.

This was touted as a great opportunity for Israel, which would secure “normalization” with the whole Arab world in one fell blow.

There were to be no negotiations with this plan.  It was a take-it-or-leave-it deal.
Israel rejected it out of hand:

Israel has legitimate rights to Judea and Samaria, based on a heritage that is more than 3,000 years old, as well as legally binding resolutions in the twentieth century, notably the Mandate for Palestine.

Israel will never return to the ’67 line—which, in addition to everything else, provides insufficient strategic depth for adequate security.

Resolution 242 says the final border of Israel must be determined by negotiations.  Agreeing to pull back without negotiations is not the way to go.

For years now, the Palestinian Authority and its supporters have promoted the idea that the ’67 line is Israel’s “real” border, and that everything on the other side “belongs” to the Palestinian Arabs.  It is a crock. A myth.  But unfortunately—because successive Israeli governments have not been vigorous enough in countering this—it has become accepted thinking in many places.

It is this myth, this crock, upon which the Arab League fashioned its “peace proposal.”

More recently, President Barack Obama has advanced proposals based on the same myth.  Has he swallowed it whole, so that he really believes it?  There is no way to be certain, although there is ample reason to suspect so.  We only know what he says.

Obama’s only deviation from the stipulation of return to the ’67 line is the concept of “agreed-upon swaps” of land.  This means the principle of the ’67 line as Israel’s legitimate border is retained but if Israel wants to hold on to a community that, say, spreads over two square kilometers east of the line, then ”Palestine” will be given two square kilometers of land west of the line, inside of Israel.  In the end, Israel will be defined by an area no greater than what rests within the ’67 line.

For the record: the ’67 line, or Green Line, was, with very minor adjustments, the 1949 armistice line.  It is the line that was drawn when Israel and Jordan stopped fighting, at the end of the War of Independence: Israel fought that war defensively, having been attacked by the Arab nations on the day she declared independence.  It is referred to as the “’67 line” because Israel was behind that line until June 1967, when the Six Day war was fought.

The armistice agreement signed between Jordan and Israel stipulated that the line was temporary and that the permanent line would be determined by negotiations.  Actually, this stipulation was put in at Jordan’s insistence.  And, please, note that it WAS Jordan on the other side of the line—the nation with which, it was presumed, Israel would ultimately negotiate. There was no talk of “Palestine” or a “Palestinian people” with whom Israel had to negotiate.  Whatever existed on the other side of the armistice line, it certainly wasn’t a Palestinian state, or land defined as belonging to a Palestinian people.

How Israel could be required to “return” Judea and Samaria to the Palestinian Arabs is a genuine mystery.  The historical situation has been distorted:  It has morphed from the reality into what people of a certain political bent wish it to be.

What I see is that Kerry went to these Arab League members and asked them for some flexibility so that he might move ahead with the infernal process. And, to his delight, they delivered.  Not only delivered, but stated themselves willing to go along with certain parameters outlined by the president.

At a press conference, Kerry declared:
“The US and Arab League delegation here this afternoon agreed that peace between Israelis and Palestinians would advance security, prosperity, and stability in the Middle East. And that is a common interest for the region and the whole world…”
Well, then, it’s the Arab world that sees eye-to-eye with President Obama, yes? And Israel?
We can anticipate that the secretary will now turn to Israel with a request/a veiled demand for more “flexibility,” for the sake of stability in the Middle East.  But what has been tentatively proposed is no more acceptable to Israel than the previous formulation of the Arab League plan, or only very minutely so. (Now, presumably, there would be some negotiations to determine the “minor swaps.”)

The essential premises of the plan remain as unsatisfactory, and as faulty as a basis for peace, as ever.

I do not, for a moment, anticipate that Israel will agree to the terms tentatively outlined by the Arab League.  But I do anticipate a huge amount of pressure coming down the road.

Arlene Kushner


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Britain's Arabists

by Samuel Westrop

Why is the British government keen to whitewash its funding of the Palestinian Authority's support for terrorists, but even keener to demonstrate its opposition to any funding of Israeli scientific projects? Douglas Carswell MP has accused Foreign Secretary William Hague of "being under the thumb of pro-Arabist" diplomats in the Foreign Office, but what if it is actually the other way around?
In March 2012, British MP Douglas Carswell accused William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, of being "under the thumb of pro-Arabist" diplomats in the Foreign Office. In response, a furious Hague denounced Carswell as a "fantasist".

Britain has certainly worked hard over the last few years to strengthen its relationship with the autocratic Gulf States. Prime Minister Cameron has visited the Gulf States on a number of occasions, taking representatives from arms trade along with him. His most recent trip followed an outburst by the Saudi ambassador to London, who said the Saudi kingdom was "insulted" by British parliamentary proposals for an inquiry into relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates [UAE] Government condemned a British newspaper's decision to publish an editorial written by an anti-regime activist from the UAE.

Cameron and his entourage met with Saudi and UAE officials to smooth things over and set up a number of lucrative arms deals. Cameron stated that ensuring security for Saudi Arabia and the UAE was also "important for our security." Further, the Conservative government recently signed a declaration reaffirming the 1979 UK-UAE Treaty of Friendship.

Last month, the Prince of Wales toured the Gulf States. The Guardian has reported that William Hague, the foreign secretary, and Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, are planning their own Gulf tours.

But is it actually all about trade? Certainly, the £15bn of goods and services exported to the Gulf each year, as well as the £1.4bn investment the Gulf States poured into Britain in 2009, is a position upon which the government is keen to build. Britain's support and excuses made for other actors within the Middle East, however, clearly go beyond economic interests.

Since Carswell accused Hague of 'Arabism,' the behavior of Britain's ruling Conservative Party suggests that Carswell was on the right track. Earlier this month, the British Parliament held a rare debate on "hate incitement against Israel and the West by the Palestinian Authority." The discussion was initiated by Gordon Henderson MP, who cited evidence compiled by Palestinian Media Watch, which documented the Palestinian Authority's long history of glorifying terror and promoting hatred against Jews.

In response to the examples of Palestinian incitement that were presented, Alistair Burt, the Under Secretary for the Foreign Office, stated that this hate education "is not simply a cause of separation between peoples and hatred; I am afraid that it is a symptom of it … We deplore incitement on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Blaming Israel for the Palestinian government's glorification of suicide bombers was not quite enough; Burt added that it is important the Parliament sees Palestinian incitement "in context."

Here is the deal that exists so far: The British government provides £86 million every year to the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority pays the salaries of terrorists in Israeli jails, names football competitions after suicide bombers, and its government-controlled media promotes martyrdom and demonizes Jews.

While the British government is keen to whitewash its funding for the terror-supporting Palestinian Authority, it is even keener to demonstrate its opposition to any funding of Israeli scientific projects.

In response to a campaign by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, a radical anti-Jewish movement which has long supported the terror group Hamas, Burt sought to reassure the extremist group's members: "We understand that Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories received an EU contribution totalling 1.13 million Euros ... for Research, Development and Technological Development. We are following up with the European Commission to outline our concerns."

In the battle between providing funds to support and glorify terrorists, or to a scientific research project, evidently scientific research is considered the bigger villain.

In the 1930s, after returning from a posting to the Middle East, a few British Foreign Office officials famously took to wearing Arab dress as they walked around Whitehall. Today, such imitation may not be so vividly apparent, but plenty of Conservative MPs echo the sentiment. William Hague, for example, while in opposition in 2006, claimed that Israel had "over-reacted" to the cross-border attacks by the Lebanese terror group, Hezbollah. Now as the Foreign Secretary, he recently described Israel's stance towards the Palestinian Authority as "belligerent."

In early 2012, Conservative politician Julian Brazier blamed Israel's policies for attacks by Taliban terrorists against British soldiers in Afghanistan. Also, Nicholas Soames, Chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council, condemned Britain's decision to abstain rather than vote in favor of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations General Assembly.

The Conservative Government, moreover, seems eager eager to avoid discussing the issue of Palestinian terrorism at all. In May 2012, the Glasgow Herald published details of a secret document, which incriminated the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) in the Lockerbie bombing, and cast doubt on the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the Libyan who was convicted for the deadly attack. Although the document was originally obtained from Jordan by the Crown Office, it was never shown to Megrahi's defense team.

For months, the British government, apparently desperate to prevent publication, threatened legal action against the newspaper. Government lawyers had arranged for the document to be covered by Public Interest Immunity on national security grounds. Why is it so important to protect the Palestinian reputation?

In calling the British Foreign Minister an "Arabist," Carswell was perhaps being a bit too generous. Support for Arab interests actually goes all the way to the top.

Not long after Prime Minister David Cameron first entered 10 Downing Street, he decided to resign, very publicly, as a patron of the UK's Jewish National Fund – a position that involves no work but is designed to illustrate Britain's high-level support for the state of Israel. Until Cameron's refusal, every single British leader since 1901 has held this honorary position. Although Cameron's office claimed that he had stepped down from a number of charities, only the Jewish National Fund was publicly named.

Meanwhile, charities accused of links to terror receive government support. Although Islamic Relief Worldwide, for example, is designated as a "terrorist front" by the Israeli authorities, it enjoys strong support from the Conservative Government. The Israeli Foreign Ministry has stated that the charity "provides support and assistance to Hamas' infrastructure." In spite of these alleged connections to terror, in 2011, during its annual conference, the Conservative Party screened an Islamic Relief fundraising video. In 2012, the Department for International Development matched public donations, up to £5 million, to Islamic Relief Worldwide's Ramadan appeal.

Douglas Carswell MP accused Foreign Secretary William Hague of subservience to "pro-Arabist" diplomats in the Foreign office, but what if it is actually the other way around?

Samuel Westrop


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