Monday, May 15, 2017

Increasing nervousness: Trump's approaching visit to the Middle East - Dr. Mordechai Kedar

by Dr. Mordechai Kedar

Will the US president be able to solve the paradoxes faced by the US in Mideast alliances and will he see through the false presentations he is going to be shown?

If there are  no last minute changes, President Trump will be embarking on a trip to the Middle East that includes Israel, the PA and Saudi Arabia. The trip has a very tight schedule because those planning it at each stop are trying to cram as many events, places and people as they possibly can into the time alloted for the President's visit.
In the nature of things, there will be long lines of people who want to shake hands with the important visitor, the most powerful man in the world. Each one of them is confident that Trump will remember the one sentence he manages to slip in between the shoves of those who are next in line and the elbows of the security detail protecting Trump from all angles. Trump's speechwriters are putting in long  hours to prepare suitable texts for each stop and its audience, hoping the listeners will take his words to heart. 

One thing is certain, a week affter Trump's visit, he won't remember a word of the texts he read out loud. A week? That long? I must be an incurable optimist.

Everyone knows that Trump himself knows very little about the MIddle East's problems and hasn't the sliightest idea where to find a solution for them and how to go about doing so, especially when compared to the presidents who preceded him, who spent a good deal of time learning the problems involved and put much wasted effort into attempting to find solutions for them. The 100 days of Trump's presidency presented the world with a leader imbued with a feeling of power, who acts according to his own instincts and whose reactions are not predictable. As I wrote these lines, Trump fired the head of the FBI and my heart tells me that this was not the result of a long, carefully considered analysis of the situation.

Israel plans an itinerary including Yad Vashem, the Western Wall, the President's House, Massada and a dinner with the Prime Minister for the honored guest. The itinerary is filled with symbolism, focused on Jerusalem, on ancient and recent Jewish history, and is intended to strengthen Trump's consciouusness of the connection between the Jewish nation and its capital city and homeland - and the need for the world and the USA in particular to protect this connection and strengthen it. Naturally, it is impossible to  include lengthy, deep discussions in a trip of this brief duration, and anyway, it is doubtful Trump has spent a significant amount of time discussing the problems of the Middle East with real seriousness. Not one of his advisors has professional expertise or experience regarding the Middle East, so the results are liable to be superficial at best.

The one thing all Trump's Middle Eastern hosts are afraid of is a combination of three factors: One is Trump's businessman's way of  thinking that leads him to want to close a deal at any price, even at the expense of things that are of utmost importance to his partners. The second is his characteristic use of power when dealing with friends and enemies, and the third is the impulsivity his actions reflect, a trait that raises doubts about the effectivity of the solutions he might suggest. In this  kind of  situation, especially taking into account his lack of knowledge and experience of the Middle East, his advisors become increasingly important, especially their relations with one another and the demarcation of each one's areas of responsibililty.

I think that in each of Trump's stops, his hosts are preparing themselves for a guest who may present ideas with which they disagree, but whose ideas they will listen to without making their opinions obvious so as not to lose his and his advisors' good will.  They are preparing presentations that he will  enjoy, speeches he will be pleased to hear, anything to prevent his getting angry if his plans are not carried out the  way he wants them to be - and the probability of that is rather high.

The most extreme example of this will probably occur in Saudi Arabia. Trump is supposed to be the guest of honor at a conference of leaders of Islamic nations, called to discuss the extremism that has enveloped Arab and Islamic society and suggest ways of coping with this phenomenon. Trump's motivation for getting involved in the problem of Islamic radicalization stems from his gut - and on the mark - feeling that the radical hostility towards current regimes in Islamic countries may turn against the USA, which is a friend and ally of these regimes.That happened in the early years of this century - notably the 9/11 attack by Bin Laden and al Qaeda - and that is how it has continued up to the present. The problem facing Trump and the conference is that in the background there is the growing tension between the Saudis, representing the Sunnis, and Iran, which represents the Shiites, and the horrific wars being waged by these two antagonists in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

The only way the Saudis and other Sunni countries can deal with Iran without a direct and terrible war against that country is through the Sunni Salafist groups, such as those operating in Syria and Iraq, who are fighting Iran and its allies - Hezbollah, Assad and Russia. How can the American president deal with an Iran which is constantly increasing its armaments and power without recourse to the "extremist" organizations funded by Saudi Arabia?

This is where the possiblity of "boots on the ground" arises, meaning that American troops will be sent to the Jihadi fields of the Middle East in order to advance America's security interests, while at the present time there are already American soldiers in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and for all we know, in other regions at war.

Trump needs  the cooperation of the Islamic countries for US operations against two Islamist powers, ISIS and Iran.  The problem is that this contains an internal paradox: Shiite Iran has the most to gain from the elimination of ISIS, a Sunni force, and its destruction will allow Iran to return the areas in Syria conquered by ISIS in 2014 to its ally, Assad, In addition, the Saudis have been and still are the main supporters of ISIS - behind the scenes, of course. This is why, in Riyadh, Trump will listen gravely, by way of earphones, to the speeches of leaders who are all united against "extremism and terror" while simultaneously, some of them are funding (and not only funding) those very same organizations against which they speak in that so very important conference taking place in  Riyadh.

Egypt is not on Trump's itinerary for security reasons, but Trump may meet with the Egyptian president, Al Sisi, while at the Riyadh conference. Perhaps a meeting has already been planned.

It is clear that this tour is intended to advance the establishment of a pro-American coallition in the  Middle East, one that the Americans believe will succeed in creating a force against the Russia-Iran axis of which Turkey is a not insignificant member. The pro-American coalition Trump is trying to create will include the Saudis, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Kurdish orgabizations trying to gain liberty and independence in the Turkish regions of Syria despite the fierce opposition of Turkish president. Erdogan. 

To enable the formation of this coalition, the sides must find solutions to some "incidental" problems that exist between them, such as the establishment of a Palestinian State and peace with Israel. This is what lies behind the sudden "smiles and peace talk attack" act displayed by Mahmoud Abbas and the other act put on by Jordanian King Abdullah's claiming that his country is ISIS' next target. In both these mendacious presentations the facts are not of any importance, because Trump doesn't check the truth of what he is told anyway, a telling example of that being Abbas' totally false presentation of PA "education for peace."

It can be concluded that Trump's Middle East visit will be judged by its results and not by the honeyed words he is going to hear during the days he is in the region. It is here, in the small and infuriating things, that evil lurks. We can only wish Trump,his advisors, the USA and the entire world, the ability to reach a deep understanding of the Middle East's problems and of the correct solutions that actually can be carried out, not just written glowingly on paper, in this war-torn area.

Written for Arutz Sheva, translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel.


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