Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Analysis: Nakba memory not what it used to be amid regional chaos

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
May 19, 2015

Perhaps a number of Palestinians in the territories or within Israel still are motivated to mark the day, but it appears that the Arab world is failing to be aroused as in the past.

A woman holds a symbolic key as she takes part in a rally ahead of "Nakba Day" in Ramallah on May 13, 2015. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Israeli Arabs and Palestinians throughout the world mark Nakba Day, or “day of catastrophe,” on May 15, the day after Israel’s founding in 1948, but with the regional chaos in recent years, it appears that the day may be losing its luster.

Perhaps a number of Palestinians in the territories or within Israel still are motivated to mark the day, but it appears that the Arab world is failing to be aroused as in the past, because more pressing and worse “nakbas” are going on all around.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as well as Israeli Arabs staged protests on Friday to commemorate Nakba Day, which also marks when some 650,000 Arabs fled or were forced to leave their homes as a result of the war Arab nations launched to destroy the Jewish state.

Arabs throughout the Middle East, apart from Palestinians or Israeli Arabs, are primarily concerned with vicious civil wars, economic needs, and Islamist terrorism raging within their countries.

Whether in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, or the Gulf states, the main issue being talked about is the regional sectarian struggle between the Shi’ite axis led by Iran and the Sunni Arab forces, including jihadist groups.

When leaders and top officials from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states were in Washington last week, it is doubtful that the Palestinian issue, much less the nakba came up at all.

And Iran-ally Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah seemed to say as much, according to its Al-Manar satellite television station, giving lip service to the Palestinian Nakba Day and then going on to say that the new jihadist threat is the new nakba for the Islamic nation. The US is plotting to fragment and destroy the Islamic nation through the use of jihadist groups, he claimed.

In other words, Nasrallah is saying that, while they sympathize with the Palestinian nakba, the real nakba that needs to be of concern is the fighting going on in the region right now.

Zvi Mazel, who served as Israel’s sixth ambassador to Egypt and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs today and a contributor to this newspaper, told The Jerusalem Post that even if hostility toward Israel is still rife in Egyptian media, the Palestinian issue has lost its shine in recent years as the country has been busy with its own survival.

To read the entire article click here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Egypt: For Sisi, executing Morsi has its benefits and drawbacks

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
May 18, 2015

Former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi's death sentence could add fuel to an already raging Islamist insurgency.

Ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi gestures after his trial behind bars at a court in the outskirts of Cairo. (photo credit:REUTERS)
If carried out, the death penalty requested by an Egyptian court on Saturday for former president Mohamed Morsi could boost President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi by putting an end to calls to return the Muslim Brotherhood leader to power, but would be countered by international and domestic censure.

In February, death penalty verdicts against 36 Islamists were overturned in what could have set a precedent for this case.

Moreover, Egyptian authorities could be worried about the repercussions of killing Morsi, and that it could add fuel to an already raging Islamist insurgency. It could lead many Muslim Brotherhood supporters to radicalize even further and join jihadist groups such as Islamic State, which is active in Sinai.

US and European criticism is also certainly going to weigh on Sisi and become a thorn in his side when seeking economic and military aid from them, if Morsi is executed.

However, for Sisi’s regime, killing the former president could be seen as a nail in the coffin of the Muslim Brotherhood movement which has seen its leadership decimated by arrests, while some leaders have fled the country.

Zvi Mazel, who served as Israel’s sixth ambassador to Egypt and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs today and a contributor to this newspaper, told The Jerusalem Post that while many in the West were expressing their outrage over the death sentence, Standard & Poor’s upgraded Egypt’s outlook to positive from stable.

It was undoubtedly a vote of confidence to Sisi’s efforts to create sustainable economic growth, said Mazel.

“This will give confidence to potential investors from the West and lessen the burden of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries which have been making a remarkable effort to support Egypt’s economy,” he said.

To read the entire article click here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Gulf states’ behavior against Obama administration unlikely to pay off

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
May 12, 2015

Gulf leaders have a tendency of showing their displeasure passive-aggressively towards the US.

US President Barack Obama (L) shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's King Salman at the start of a bilateral meeting at Erga Palace in Riyadh. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Saudi King Salman and most of the other Gulf state leaders are not going to show up for the Camp David summit on Thursday in what is being described as a snub because of the Obama administration’s outreach to Shi’ite rival Iran.

Gulf leaders have a tendency of showing their displeasure passive-aggressively towards the US – indirectly through their state owned media or by other individuals close to their regimes that are quoted in the Western press.

This comes in contrast to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other members of his government that have come out vocally, directly criticizing US President Barack Obama administration’s policy on Iran and the recently signed nuclear framework agreement.

Yet, in other ways, Netanyahu has gone out of his way to be diplomatic with the Obama administration, never rejecting an invitation and making a point to commend the US for its ongoing support.

Still, manifestations of Saudi and Israeli unhappiness with US policy toward Iran have not brought about any major changes in its strategy, but mainly rhetorical support and pledges for more military aid.

Riyadh announced the monarch’s no-show on Sunday, only two days after the White House had said he would attend the summit of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.

Some diplomats in the region believe the absence from Camp David of King Salman and close ally King Hamad of Bahrain, host of the US Fifth Fleet, may backfire.

A Saudi decision in 2013 to vacate a seat on the United Nations Security Council that it had spent years seeking, followed by a leak of angry comments about Washington by then spy chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, failed to change US policy.

“Of course it [Salman’s non-appearance] is a snub. But I don’t think Obama is going to put up with this. He wants the nuclear deal. It is the number one priority,” said a Western diplomat based in the region.

The no-show by so many leaders is “certainly a slight and may affect what they get,” David Andrew Weinberg, a specialist on Gulf affairs and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

To read the entire article click here.

Is the regional water crisis a bigger problem than Islamic State?

by Ariel Ben Solomon and Sharon Udasin
Jerusalem Post
April 11, 2015

Daniel Pipes to ‘Post’: Only Israel, with its cutting-edge scientific prowess, can offer assistance to the region.

Palestinian children in Gaza fetch water from a container. (photo credit:REUTERS)

War, chaos and terrorism may be rampant in the Middle East, but the situation could become much worse as a catastrophe looms out of the regional water crisis.

“The Middle East suffers from so many obvious problems – despotism and anarchy, civil wars and refugees, misogyny and jihad – that the looming desertification of the region tends to slip into the background,” Daniel Pipes, scholar and president of the Middle East Forum think tank, toldThe Jerusalem Post.

“Yet, the prospect of agricultural collapse and massive dislocation of peoples looms over this as an ultimate catastrophe,” he said.

“Historically, living in an arid region inspired peoples of the Middle East carefully to husband their water sources over the long term,” said Pipes, adding, “Only in the past half century or so has this caution been discarded in favor of a mentality of reckless short-term exploitation.”

Asked if it is more likely that the EU would come to the region’s aid since Israel’s involvement would be unwelcome, he replied: “With the exception of Spain, the countries of the European Union have too much water to be of much help to the Middle East; only Israel, with its similar circumstances and its cutting- edge scientific prowess, is in a position immediately to offer assistance to the region.”

According to research by Pipes and published in an article in the Washington Times on Friday, Israel is the only exception to the regional water shortages because of its desalination, conservation, recycling and innovative agricultural techniques.

“I find particularly striking that Israel can desalinate about 17 liters of water for one US penny; and that it recycles about five times more water than does second-ranked Spain,” wrote Pipes.

However, Israel aiding most countries in the region, like Iran or Iraq, is not a politically viable option at this time.

“Desperate neighbors might think about ending their futile state of war with the world’s hydraulic superpower and instead learn from it,” he commented.

To read the entire article click here.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Does reported strike on Khartoum reveal Sudan's secret Iran dealings?

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
May 7, 2015

Sudanese source to ‘Post’: I don’t buy regime’s story.

Israeli Drone (illustrative). (photo credit:REUTERS)

The reported Israeli drone strike on Sudan Tuesday may have revealed the extent of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s double gaming – playing nice with the Gulf states by joining the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen while at the same time quietly cooperating with Tehran and serving as a weapons smuggling hub.

It appeared that Bashir and many of his countrymen hoped that supporting the campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen would encourage Gulf powers to pour aid and investment into Sudan’s struggling economy. Maybe now those plans will be scratched.

A knowledgeable Sudanese source told The Jerusalem Post, “I don’t really buy the Sudan statement” that it detected and shot down a drone, as “how could that shake houses? “Homes in a very wide diameter felt the impact,” as “it was powerful,” said the source, adding that this led him to believe it was some sort of explosion.

“If this was Israel, the episode conjured memories of the 2012 strike on the Yarmuk facility in Khartoum. This was an Iranian Republican Guard facility housing Iranian Fajr-5 rockets destined for Hamas,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and a former terrorism finance analyst at the US Department of the Treasury, told the Post on Wednesday.

“Shortly thereafter, war [Operation Pillar of Defense] erupted in Gaza, and Israel struck dozens of additional sites believed to be housing Fajr- 5s,” he said.

The idea that “Sudan could be storing Iranian weapons now is not surprising, given its history of strong military ties to Tehran and Hamas,” Schanzer said.

The timing, however, raises questions as to Sudan’s recent decision to join the Saudi-led military coalition to battle Iran’s proxies in Yemen, he said, noting that the coalition includes Egypt, which is engaged in a campaign against Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

To read the entire article click here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Despite Iranian-Hezbollah support, 'in the long run it is hard to see how Assad can survive'

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
May 4, 2015

The momentum is definitely going against Assad and in the long run it is hard to see how he can survive, Tel Aviv University expert says.

Bashar Assad. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The balance of power between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and the rebels seems to be leaning in the rebels’ favor in the long-run, but the regime is not at risk of collapsing in the coming weeks, experts told The Jerusalem Post.

Prof. Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria from the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, told the Post on Monday that there has been no dramatic change in the balance of power as of late, but “the momentum is definitely going against Assad and in the long run it is hard to see how he can survive.”

“The main issue is the lack of manpower,” said Zisser adding that even with the additional Hezbollah and Shi’ite forces, it is not enough to really change the dynamics of the war.

Tony Badran, a columnist for the Beirut-based website NOW Lebanon and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Post in an interview that despite Shi’ite support from across the word, and mainly coming from Iran and Hezbollah – “It hasn’t prevented continued territorial losses.”

Assad’s regime is not about to fall tomorrow, but it has not been able to overcome a key structural problem, which is his limited mobilization capacity. “There simply is not enough manpower to support offensives and they can barely hold lines.”

The ability of Shi’ites to fill the manpower problem appears to have reached its limit of usefulness, argues Badran.

If all else fails, Iran’s plan B, argues Badran, has always been “to maintain a continuous hold on territory linking Syrian regime territory with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

To read the entire article click here.

Analysis: Ideologically divided Joint List to shy away from controversial issues

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
May 4, 2015

Dr. Mordechai Kedar to ‘Post’: Arab bloc is full of contradictions that will prevent it from becoming a formidable force in Israeli politics.

A WOMAN walks past a campaign billboard for the Joint (Arab) List in Umm el-Fahm yesterday. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The Joint (Arab) List, which is divided ideologically between Islamists, nationalists, and communists, is likely to focus on narrow local issues in the upcoming Knesset, where common ground can be found so as not to fall into unbridgeable disagreements.

The United Arab List, Ta’al, Hadash, and Balad parties struck a historic deal before the election to run as a united bloc – the decision to raise the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent of the vote and pressure from the Arab public forced the parties to band together – but internal divisions could lead to dysfunction or break up.

In the latest outreach to the Jewish population, Joint List and Hadash head Ayman Odeh and his colleague, Jewish Hadash MK Dov Henin, took part in the Ethiopian protest against racism in Tel Aviv on Sunday. The Hadash party was quick to tweet a picture of the two walking in the protest.

This follows the pattern, present since the election campaign and spearheaded by the Jewish-Arab Hadash, of reaching out to the Jewish public.

However, largely absent from most of this activity has been the Islamist UAL party headed by Masud Gnaim, the head of the southern Islamic Movement. In another case, prior to the election, Balad was reportedly behind the move to block a vote-sharing agreement with Meretz that Odeh supported.

Mordechai Kedar, director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam, which is under formation, and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post that despite becoming the third-largest faction in the Knesset, the Joint List is full of contradictions that will prevent it from becoming a formidable force in Israeli politics.

For example, he noted, the more secular and nationalist Balad, which includes Christian MK Basel Ghattas and a woman, Haneen Zoabi, is fundamentally anathema to the UAL party, as the Islamic Movement’s ideology does not conform to a Christian or a woman holding a high political position.

To illustrate his point, Kedar pointed to the recent debacle when the Joint List rejected an invitation to the Arab League after internal disagreements scuttled any chance of attending the meeting in either Qatar or Egypt.

To read the entire article click here.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Assad hanging on, suspicion surrounds report he told Alawites to flee capital

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
May 3, 2015

According to the Jeddah-based 'Okaz' daily newspaper, Syria's Intelligence services have alerted various Alawite families to arrive in Latakia within 48 hours.

Ahrar al-Sham Islamic rebel fighters stand beside tanks left behind by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, in Idlib.. (photo credit:KHALIL ASHAWI / REUTERS)

Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime appears to be holding on amid contradictory Saudi reports over whether it told elite Alawite families to abandon Damascus.

A report in the Saudi newspaper Okaz on Sunday quoted Lebanese Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas denying an article in the same paper a day earlier quoting unnamed sources claiming that Syrian intelligence told the elite Alawite families to leave the capital within 48 hours for its coastal stronghold of Latakia.

"Reports of President Assad giving his top Alawites orders to flee Damascus are undoubtedly wishful thinking and activist fancy," Joshua Landis, a Syria expert and the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

"The regime lost an important provincial capital that was surrounded by opposition militias," said Landis adding. "Morale has been damaged, but the regime is neither giving up the ghost nor preparing to abandon Damascus for some coastal Alawite enclave."

To read the entire article click here.