Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tehran seeks to overcome Western influence by supplying weapons to Kurds

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 26, 2014

Iranians have been present in Kurdistan and pushing for their interests for a long time, says expert.


Kuridsh Peshmerga fighters walk at Mosul Dam in northern Iraq.Photo: REUTERS

Iran has supplied weapons and ammunition to Iraqi Kurdish forces, Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani said Tuesday at a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Arbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region.

The direct arming of Kurdish forces is a contentious issue because some Iraqi politicians have said they suspect Kurdish leaders have aspirations to break away from the central government completely.

The move could also be seen by some as a prelude to Iran taking a more direct role in broader Iraqi conflict.

“We asked for weapons and Iran was the first country to provide us with weapons and ammunition,” Barzani said.

Insurgents from the Islamic State have clashed with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in recent weeks and taken control of some areas on the periphery of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Mordechai Zaken, an Israeli expert of minorities in the Middle East and a former Arab affairs adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the Iranians have been present in Kurdistan and pushing for their interests for a long time.

Zaken pointed out that there are many Kurdish Iranian refugees and fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan due to longterm tensions and fighting with the Iranian government.

However, the Kurdish rebellion against the Iranian government has stopped for now.

Iran does not want to use its soldiers to fight the Islamic State so it prefers to send weapons to the Kurds to help do the job, he added.

Zarif met on Sunday with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, the highest ranking Kurdish minister, who is also the uncle of Kurdistan president Barzani, Zaken said. This meeting probably facilitated the current deal, he added.

To read the entire article click here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Analysis: Hezbollah not looking to join Hamas in battle

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 25, 2014

For the Shi'ite movement, the sectarian conflict and payback for abandoning its alliance with Syrian President Bashar Assad trumps any other considerations now.


Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. Photo: REUTERS

No one has yet taken responsibility for rockets fired at Israel from Lebanon and Syria, though it appears at this point that Hezbollah is not looking to join Hamas in the battle against the Jewish state.

If Hamas were a fellow Shi’ite movement like Hezbollah, and also closely connected ideologically with Iran, we would have expected that Hezbollah would have gone all out to defend Hamas in Gaza by now.

However, this is not the case, and the sectarian conflict and payback for abandoning its alliance with Syrian President Bashar Assad trumps any other considerations now.

Moreover, the group’s deep involvement in defending Iranian interests in the region, especially in Syria, leaves it with little desire to open up another front at the moment.

“Hezbollah enjoys looking at what is happening to Hamas, the traitors who betrayed Assad, their host and protector for more than 20 years, by not supporting him in his struggle against the Sunni jihadists,” Mordechai Kedar, director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation) and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post.

“This is the reason for not taking any step to support Hamas – not even one missile,” said Kedar.

However, he added that the situation could change “only by an Iranian directive, which would come after Hamas repents.”

To read the entire article click here.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Powerless to stop Islamic State, West may have to join forces with Iran, Hezbollah

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 22, 2014

Israel, Sunni world wary of any Western rapprochement with Iran; Israeli expert says West is helpless, doesn't know what to do against Islamic State.


ISIS fighter on a street in the city of Mosul, June 23, 2104. Photo: REUTERS

US attacks on the Sunni Islamic State in Iraq and its cooperation and arming of the ruling Shi’ite government there is the latest signal that the West is moving toward an arrangement with the Shi’ite Iranian axis, which includes Hezbollah, Iraq and Syria.

Such an alignment has been feared by the Sunni world and Israel for some time.

For example, the Obama administration has allowed Iran to drag out negotiations over the country’s nuclear program and reportedly indirectly shared intelligence with Hezbollah to counter Sunni jihadists in Lebanon.

Seeing the wind blowing its way in the region, Iran has jumped at the chance to use the crisis with the Islamic State in order to gain Western concessions on nuclear talks.

“If we agree to do something in Iraq, the other side in the negotiations will need to do something in return,” Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif said in remarks late on Wednesday carried by state news agency IRNA.

“All the sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear activities should be lifted in return for its help in Iraq,” he said.

Eyal Zisser, a Middle East expert from the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that “the West is helpless and does not know what to do against the Islamic State.”

“I am afraid that at the end of the day, the West will come to the conclusion that it has no choice but to collaborate with Iran and Syria on this issue,” he said.

To read the entire article click here.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Israel not taking Jordan, Egypt, and the Saudi’s belated criticism too seriously

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 13, 2014

Former senior US official to ‘Post’: This bloc has given Israel extraordinary latitude to fight Hamas.


Abdullah, Abdullah and Sisi Photo: REUTERS

The Egyptian-Saudi-Jordanian bloc has given extraordinary latitude to Israel during Operation Protective Shield, according to a US Middle East expert.

Michael Doran – a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, who previously served as US deputy assistant secretary of defense and a senior director at the National Security Council – told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that “we are witnessing the solidification of an Egypt-Saudi-Jordanian bloc to counter not only the Muslim Brotherhood, but also Iran.”

These governments “are threading a line between their strategic interest and popular Arab opinion, which supports the Palestinians,” he said.

“After more than a month of conflict, it is difficult for them to remain silent.”

Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have come out belatedly against Israel’s attacks on Hamas in Gaza in response to rocket fire, as their antipathy toward Hamas has been overshadowed of late by anti-Israel rhetoric meant for the masses.

When the war against Hamas began, these three Arab countries and the UAE were uncharacteristically silent. The New York Times ran an article highlighting this point on July 30, titled, “Arab Leaders, Viewing Hamas as Worse Than Israel, Stay Silent.”

But as the war dragged on and casualties mounted, with pictures of dead children plastered across the Arab media, it became difficult for the leaders of this bloc to continue that silence while the masses seethed in anger.

These status-quo powers are fighting to maintain their regimes’ stability against revolutionary Islamic regimes and terrorist groups.

Whether it is the Muslim Brotherhood movement; its Palestinian version, Hamas; the Islamic State; or the Shi’ite axis of Iran and Hezbollah, and its ally Syria, the states in this bloc are coordinating and aiding each other against such players.

As of late, however, the bloc has become jittery and begun to lash out at Israel.

Jordan’s King Abdullah, in an interview with the country’s Al-Ghad newspaper on Sunday, criticized Israel harshly. And in what seems like a move to placate international public opinion, his remarks were published in English on the website of the Jordanian Embassy in the US.

“The pain and suffering that we have been witnessing and living through during this aggression, which has indiscriminately taken the lives of innocent people, refutes Israel’s claims that the war is justified,” said Abdullah.

To read the entire article click here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Yazidi writer: ‘Defend us from the massacres’

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 13, 2014

“Thousands of men were killed in front of their families and many old men have died from thirst and illness,” says Khalida Khalil.


Displaced people from the minority Yazidis rest Monday near Iraq’s border with Syria while fleeing Sunni militants. Photo: REUTERS

As the Islamic State closes in on the Yazidis, trapped in northern Iraq, bringing death and creating refugees, a member of the community told The Jerusalem Post that her compatriots’ situation is dire.

Khalida Khalil, an independent Yazidi writer, academic and consultant in the Kurdistan Parliament, who is living in Arbil, but born in Sheikhan, Iraq, said to the Post on Sunday that she called on “the international community to save us” and “defend us from massacres occurring in Sinjar now.”

Khalil said that there were around 200,000 stranded people trying to survive in the mountains – hanging between life and death – hoping that they can be saved from slaughter.

Khalil said that no precise statistics were available, but she claimed that thousands of Yazidis have gone missing and that 200 children starved to death or have been murdered by the Islamic State.

According to UNICEF, 25,000 children are under threat of death from hunger and thirst in the mountains.

“Thousands of men were killed in front of their families and many old men have died from thirst and illness,” she said, highlighting that the Islamic State kidnapped more than 1,000 women and girls.

“Yazidis and Kurds share a common nationality, but are separated by religion,” Khalil explained.

Asked about prospects for an independent Kurdistan, Khalil noted that it depended “on political developments, particularly in the bordering states, since we don’t have a port.”

Mordechai Zaken, an Israeli expert of minorities in the Middle East and a former Arab affairs adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office, told the Post that the idea of an independent Kurdish state failed to gain widespread support in the West, and particularly from the US, because of Turkish opposition and the wish to prevent the breakdown of the Iraqi state.

To read the entire article click here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Another predictable Mideast election

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 11, 2014

Erdogan’s vision is one that fits alongside that of the Arab Muslim Brotherhood movement throughout the region.


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the press.Photo: REUTERS

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan presidential election win on Sunday, a foregone conclusion, a phrase that could be used to describe most votes in the region. Now the Islamist leader sets his eyes on the next stage of transforming Turkey to fit his ideological vision.

And what is Erdogan’s vision? It is one that fits alongside that of the Arab Muslim Brotherhood movement throughout the region.

He is supporting the supporters of ousted Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist dominated Syrian opposition against Syrian President Bashar Assad, Hamas, and so on.

In fact, Muslim Brotherhood supporter Yousuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most important Sunni clerics in the world, voiced his support for Erdogan’s presidential bid.

"I support the honest, sincere and powerful leadership of Erdogan and invite the Turkish people to support him as well," Qaradawi posted online on Saturday, according to a report by the Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak.

The election has been anything but fair, as Erdogan has used his powers and resources as prime minister, including his domination of the media.

For example, State-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) have given Erdogan much more airtime, reported Turkey’s Today’s Zaman, adding that over 90 percent of TRT’s election coverage, focused on Erdogan.

Burak Bekdil, a columnist for the Turkish daily Hurriyet, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that Erdogan's post-election strategy seems like it will be based on “building a de-facto executive presidential system by winning a constitutional majority in parliamentary elections in 2015 that would enable his AK Party to amend the constitution to formally implement an executive presidential system.”

“Erdogan’s desire is to introduce a one-man rule,” and the amount of influence he has will be affected by the percentage of the vote he carries, says Bekdil.

“There may be cracks within the AKP in the future, depending on how he chooses to reshape the party after he has been elected president.”

Bekdil assumes that Erdogan “prefers to powerfully rule an increasingly polarized and divided country than a less powerfully ruled peaceful country.” 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Egyptian lawyer calls for arrest of Hamas leaders in Cairo

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 7, 2014

Delegation arrived Tuesday for truce talks.


Israeli embassy in Cairo. Photo: REUTERS

An Egyptian lawyer called on Tuesday for the attorney- general to enforce a court ruling banning Hamas activities and arrest its leaders who are part of a Palestinian delegation negotiating cease-fire talks in Cairo.

The lawyer, Samir Sabri, called on Attorney-General Hesham Barakat to include the names of those in the Hamas delegation on a watch list of those to be handed over to investigators for criminal prosecution, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.

Members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad entered Egypt on Tuesday evening via the Rafah crossing in order to join a Palestinian faction discussing a long-term cease-fire deal in Cairo.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Army continued its military campaign against the Islamist insurgency in Sinai, killing and wounding suspected jihadists and arresting four in raids that destroyed 32 structures, the Egyptian state news agency MENA reported on Wednesday.

To read the entire article click here.

Arabs see Gaza war stoppage as Hamas victory despite destruction

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 7, 2014

Key Hamas backer, Qatar, uses popular Al Jazeera channel to support Hamas’s narrative since beginning of Operation Protective Edge, as website continually leads with images of Palestinian victims, alleged Israeli atrocities.


AN AL JAZEERA screenshot August 7th, highlighting its coverage of the conflict in Gaza between Hamas and Israel Photo: screenshot

Arab reactions to what seems to be the end of the Gaza war, for now, has been schizophrenic in that there has been widespread condemnation of Israel’s attacks and the resulting destruction in response to Hamas rocket fire, but pride and claims of victory for the Islamist movement.

Key Hamas backer, Qatar, through the popular Al Jazeera media channel supported Hamas’s narrative since the latest conflict in Gaza began, with its website continually leading with pictures of Palestinian victims and alleged Israeli atrocities.

The Al Jazeera website carried the tag, “Gaza triumphs” for articles dealing with the war.

According to an advanced copy of a report provided to The Jerusalem Post by MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute), the channel’s pro- Hamas stance was demonstrated by its reporters, hosts and anchors on social media.

Ahmed Mansour, host of Al Jazeera’s Without Borders program, wrote a statement on Facebook on July 9 that still appears to adequately demonstrate the pride that many Arabs have for the group in its ability to stand up to Israel.

“Israel is stupefied and confounded by the rockets of the Palestinian resistance that struck deep in Israel and reached Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa, despite the siege of Gaza by [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi and his government...” Mansour wrote.

“If the resistance is provided with arms and allowed to deal with the cowardly, petrified and stunned Israel, then Israelis will either live in shelters or flee the country,” he boasted.

The Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, which tends to support Hezbollah and the Iran axis, ran a headline including a similar phrase to Al Jazeera’s: “Gaza Triumphant.”

Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, told the Post on Wednesday that “a sharp divide has opened up between the so-called ‘moderate’ Arab governments - which want to see Hamas destroyed more than Israel does - and Arab publics which see Israel as the primary aggressor and sympathize, to one degree or another, with Hamas.”

Hamid, the author of the book Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East, believes that the Middle East has reverted back to the time, before the Arab uprisings, “when Arab public opinion could be ignored at will with insulated Arab strongmen at the helm.”

To read the entire article click here.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Weakened, but not down for the count: Hamas may resurface stronger than before

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 1, 2014

After many killed and wounded, Hamas has still not surrendered nor have the people of Gaza rebelled.


Hamas Photo: REUTERS

Hamas is in no rush for a cease-fire despite being continually pummeled by Israeli attacks.That is because it knows that Israel and the West are seeking a cease-fire, which would, once again, allow them to rebuild and rearm.

And as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt saw many deaths since the overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi, the Palestinian branch of Hamas is also willing to sacrifice lives. After all, their motto is, “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”

Mordechai Kedar, director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University recalled the time before Operation Protective Edge when Israeli media experts said how weak Hamas was, that Egypt was closing its tunnels – its lifeline to the outside world – and how it struggled to pay salaries, and so forth.

However, after many killed and wounded, Hamas has still not surrendered nor have the people of Gaza rebelled, Kedar pointed out.

This misconception can be attributed to looking at Hamas from one's own cultural vantage point and not from Hamas’s cultural prospective, he said, adding that for Hamas, they do not see their dead as dead, but as martyrs that are alive in the afterworld.

As the Koran (3:169) states: “Count not those who were slain in God’s way as dead, but rather living with their Lord, by Him provided.”

To read the entire article click here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How Gaza takes center stage in the Muslim world

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
July 29, 2014

The Arab world has its hands full in states such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, and so it seems that the concern for Gaza is an effort to distract from the divisions and struggles at home.


Protesters shout anti-Israel slogans during a protest in Amman Photo: REUTERS

At the drop of a hat, the Muslim world has dropped its focus on the uprisings, wars, killings and violence in the Middle East, and instead, drew its attention to the war in Gaza.

Why? The short answer is that Muslim-on-Muslim violence draws less outrage than non-Muslim-on-Muslim violence.

The Arab world has its hands full in states such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, and so it seems that the concern for the Palestinians is not a priority but an effort to distract from the divisions and struggles at home.

“Our wars against Israel have been brief. We wage them enthusiastically at the media and rhetorical levels without enough military planning, preparation or readiness for the patience and perseverance they require,” wrote Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in an article on the Al-Arabiya website, which was originally published in the London based Al-Hayat newspaper on Saturday.

“Palestinians have always relied on Arabs but the latter have their own calculations and rulers who also have their own calculations and priorities. Then they lose a war against Israel, leave Palestine and its people to their fate and return to their homelands to restore what was damaged and protect what was left,” he added.

Nationalism, modern armies, urbanization, and other forms of modernization adopted from the West have not erased the underlying values and culture of Arab society.

In fact, the recent Arab uprisings help demonstrate the continuity of Arab political culture.

“Syria deaths mount as world looks on,” read a headline from the BBC last week, noting that more than 700 people were killed in fighting between Islamic State fighters and government forces on July 17 and 18.

When these people were killed in Syria, there “was not a peep” from the Muslim world about it, while the corresponding death toll in the Gaza war was negligible, it received most of the attention, Harold Rhode, a senior fellow at the New York based Gatestone Institute and a former adviser on Islamic affairs in the office of the American secretary of defense, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

To read the entire article click here.

Mashaal: Hamas is ready to coexist with Jews, but not the occupation

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
July 28, 2014

TAU expert: Only point is that Islamist speaks about "1948 occupation."


Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal told CBS’s Charlie Rose that “we are not fanatics” and are not fighting “the Jews because they are Jews,” in a Face the Nation show aired on Sunday.

“We are not fanatics. We are not fundamentalists. We do not actually fight the Jews because they are Jews, per se. We do not fight any other races. We fight the occupiers,” said Mashaal.

“We ask for tolerance, for coexistence.”

However, Mashaal then clarified himself, stating, “I do not coexist with the occupiers, with the settlers.”

Asked by Rose if he wanted to coexist with the state of Israel or recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Mashaal responded, “No. I said I do not want to live with a state of occupiers.”

Pressed by Rose, Mashaal dodged answering, stating: “When we have a Palestinian state, then the Palestinian state will decide on its policies. But you cannot actually ask me about the future.”

Prof. Meir Litvak, the director for the Alliance Center of Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University and an expert on Hamas, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that Mashaal was only speaking half the truth.

Referring to Hamas statements that they are willing to live with Jews, Litvak points out that “what they have said in the past is that Jews could live as a protected minority under a benevolent Muslim state, and this is the only possible peace.”

“Living with Jews does not mean coexisting with an Israeli state.”

“When he says that he is unwilling to live with occupiers, he is correct. The only point is that he speaks about the 1948 occupation,” said Litvak.

To read the entire article click here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Qatar seeks to pull Hamas away from Iran

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
July 23, 2014

Shi’ite Iran is perhaps Qatar’s greatest adversary in the Middle East and Qatar wants to prevent Iran from intruding on its turf.


Qatar's Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah. Photo: Reuters

The Gulf Arab state of Qatar, with just over two million people, is playing an outsized role on the world stage these days, dipping its fingers into various conflicts in the region.

The Sunni country backs a number of Islamist groups in the region, including some of the ones fighting in Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and its Palestinian branch, Hamas.

Qatar uses its Al Jazeera media company to project influence on the “Arab street”; at present, it is using it to support Hamas’s narrative and to counter fellow Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, that oppose the Muslim Brotherhood.

Shi’ite Iran is perhaps Qatar’s greatest adversary in the Middle East, and amid sectarian strife raging in the region, Qatar wants to prevent Iran from intruding on its turf.

Hamas is a case in point, as the Gulf country is seeking to woo it solidly into the Sunni camp and away from Iran.

Since Hamas leaders voiced their support for the Sunni- dominated Syrian uprising against President Bashar Assad, they were forced to move their headquarters from Damascus – and as a result, Iran lowered its support for the organization.

Now that Hamas finds itself isolated – under Israeli attack on one side and boxed in by a hostile Egypt on the other – it is looking for help from its two significant Sunni allies, Qatar and Turkey. Media reports also indicate that a rapprochement may be under way between Iran and Hamas because of the group’s dire circumstances.

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former terrorism finance analyst at the US Department of the Treasury, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that a statement by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday about Qatar supporting Hamas was striking and matter-of-fact.

“This is how Hamas was able to afford the purchase of these advanced tunnel facilities,” said Schanzer.

To read the entire article click here.