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.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Al Jazeera supporting Hamas’s narrative in Gaza

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
July 21, 2014

Other Arab news websites such as Egypt and Jordan, had been more low-key on coverage of the conflict until the ground invasion began last week.

THE AL JAZEERA English news site covers the Gaza conflict yesterdayPhoto: screenshot

The Qatar-owned Al Jazeera media company has been supporting Hamas’s narrative since the latest conflict in Gaza began, with its website continually leading with pictures of Palestinian victims and alleged Israeli atrocities.

Al Jazeera, the popular pan-Arab news site, tops its website with gruesome pictures and videos of dead bodies and bombed areas in Gaza on a daily basis.

The station’s importance is greater during the holiday of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during the daytime and many are on vacation, spending more time watching television.

Eyal Zisser, a Middle East expert from the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that Al Jazeera is fully supporting Hamas, and not the Palestinian people.

Zisser said that the Qatar-owned station has been supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and was against the overthrow of former Egyptian Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi. Qatar also funds Hamas.

On Sunday, the top story on the website was accompanied by a picture of what seems to be a dead body on the ground.

When you click the picture, it opens up the story with a video showing dead bodies.

“The number of martyrs rose to about 100 in Gaza today, who fell mostly due to a massacre in the Shejaia neighborhood, which faced indiscriminate Israeli bombing” the text next to the picture stated.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Did Egypt's Sisi really want a cease-fire in Gaza?

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
July 17, 2014

Sisi is likely content that Israel is hurting a group that Egypt blames for involvement in the Muslim insurgency in Egypt.

Egypt's Army Chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meeting with Russian delegation in Cairo, Nov 14. Photo: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Egypt’s proposed cease-fire for Israel and Hamas was rejected by the Gazabased terrorist group – but was it meant to be? Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is likely content that Israel is hurting a group Egypt blames for involvement in the Islamist insurgency on its own soil, and some experts question how genuine his wish for a cease-fire was.

“Sisi does not want to negotiate a cease-fire. He wants to look as if he is negotiating a cease-fire,” tweeted Nervana Mahmoud, a blogger and commentator.

Demonstrating Egypt’s hostility to Hamas, Dina Ezzat, writing in Ahram Online on Tuesday, quoted an Egyptian official stating: “Let us be clear about one thing: Hamas might deny it all it wants, but the fact of the matter is that 1) Hamas had been involved in destabilizing security in Sinai in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, who were ousted by the will of the Egyptian people and 2) Hamas leaders have declined to heed our advice to avert the onset of hostilities a few weeks ago and decided to take the risk at the expense of unshielded Palestinian civilians in Gaza.”

“I could say that there is more willingness on the side of Israel to pursue a cease-fire than on the side of Hamas,” the official said.

Another Egyptian source pointed out that “the vast majority [of Egyptians] has been blaming Hamas,” but that such sentiment would not last.

Reports indicate that Sisi did not consult with Hamas prior to making the proposal, which fails to meet the conditions its leaders say must be included in any deal.

Jihadist groups using Facebook, Twitter to spread their message

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
July 16, 2014

MEMRI criticizes US social media platforms for allowing terrorist groups to freely use their services.

An image from the Hamas military wing's Twitter feed. Photo: MEMRI

The Islamic State, an al-Qaida offshoot that has declared a caliphate in Syria and Iraq, and other radical Islamic groups are widely using social media websites to promote their message, raise funds, and recruit members.

MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) has been leading a campaign exposing how jihadi groups designated in the West as terrorist organizations continue to be active on social media websites such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

This effort led to Twitter’s closure of multiple Izzadin Kassam accounts, but the group continues to be active on the social network, tweeting in four accounts and in several languages, as well as in other Hamas accounts.

“All the major US social media companies have been irresponsible when it comes to allowing terrorist groups to freely and openly use their platforms,” Steven Stalinsky, MEMRI’s executive director, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. “It has gotten to the point where it is a national security issue for the US and the West – putting lives at risk.”

Stalinsky pointed to an op-ed in The Washington Post this week by MSNBC host Ronan Farrow, which stated that social media companies “have a moral obligation to do more. And US law should not create a legal barrier for them to act when lives are on the line.”

As early as December 2010, Stalinsky met with representatives from Google, including their First Amendment attorney, head of public relations and policy, senior policy manager, and senior policy counsel, to discuss this issue and to make recommendations for them to deal with the infestation of YouTube with jihadist material.

“They were not interested in really tackling this issue,” said Stalinsky.

Though, he said, following the meeting, “YouTube added the flagging mechanism to enable its users to mark those videos that could be viewed as inciting terror.”

Monday, July 14, 2014

In the Arab world, does World Cup soccer trump the Gaza war?

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
July 13, 2014

The situation in Iraq, the Islamic State (IS), the war in Syria, and the World Cup in Brazil are grabbing the attention, expert says.

Brazilian soccer star Neymar. Photo: REUTERS

While violent clashes between Israel and the Palestinians tend to attract a disproportionate amount of the Arab world’s attention, the current war between Hamas in Gaza and Israel seems to be getting less responsiveness.

Arab newspapers are still giving top coverage to the conflict, but it is not appearing to be dominating the news, as other ongoing conflicts in the Arab world are still getting lots of coverage.

Mordechai Kedar, the 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 that the Arab world is “definitely” more indifferent than it was in the past regarding Israeli wars with the Palestinians.

The situation in Iraq, the growing power of the Islamic State (IS), the war in Syria, and the World Cup in Brazil are grabbing the attention, said Kedar.

“Hamas wants to get over the World Cup and grab the world’s attention,” he said.

In addition, as if that were not enough, there is the ongoing turmoil in Libya, Lebanon and Yemen, which is drawing attention away from Gaza. There is also the intra-Islamist conflict, particularly that between the jihadist groups IS and al-Qaida, and speculation over a Kurdish declaration of independence.

Then, there are the talks between world powers and Iran over the country’s nuclear program – and this – within the context of the regional Shi’ite-Sunni conflict.

Elijah J Magnier, the chief international correspondent for the Kuwaiti-based Al-Rai newspaper told the Post that Hamas has been isolated during the current war because of its political choices over the last few years.

Hamas, which had its leadership based in Syria prior to 2011, enjoyed the protection, military support, training and shelter from Iran, the Syrian regime and from Hezbollah.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Egypt condemns Israel's attacks on Hamas - with a wink

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
July 10, 2014

Cairo is probably relieved that Israel is carrying out the operation so that it does not have to do so itself.

Egypt's President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi looks on as he delivers a speech in Cairo. Photo: REUTERS

Egypt has condemned the IDF’s attacks on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, though in truth it is most likely content that Israel is hurting a group it blames for involvement in the Islamist insurgency on its own soil.

In fact, Cairo is probably relieved that Israel is carrying out the operation so that it does not have to do so itself. A sign of Egypt’s hostility to Hamas, which in its charter states that it is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, is that it continues to keep the Sinai-Gaza border closed despite Israel’s increasingly intense air campaign against the enclave.

The decision to keep the Rafah crossing closed is a political decision, not a military one, an unnamed official in the army’s spokesman’s office told Mada Masr on Wednesday.

“There is no danger on the border between Egypt and Gaza,” he said, adding that the army is aware of “what is happening to people in Gaza.”

In other words, Egypt is aware of the suffering of the Palestinian people in a war zone and the pummeling of Hamas by Israeli forces, yet chooses to do the Islamist movement no favors – boxing it in even as Israel intensifies its operations.

Since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took control of the country after ousting Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi last summer, he has embarked on intensive anti-terror operations along with a harsh crackdown on revolutionary Islamist movements at home.

Egypt has destroyed many of the tunnels that connected Egypt to Gaza and has allied itself with the conservative status quo powers in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan, against radical revolutionary forces that wish to topple the established order.

Zvi Mazel, who served as Israel’s sixth ambassador to Egypt and today is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a contributor to this newspaper, told The Jerusalem Post that he thinks a channel of communication between Egypt and Hamas is open despite the hostility between them.

Although Egypt banned the Muslim Brotherhood movement, “geography forces them to communicate on common issues such as the Rafah passage which opens rarely.”

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Israeli Arab unrest could intensify as military operations in Gaza expand

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
July 9, 2014

Arrests of Arab demonstrators continue; Negev District commander says police will not allow acts of violence.

Israeli arabs take part in a protest in Acre earlier this week. Photo: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS

“Spontaneous” protests by Israeli Arabs are likely to continue – particularly in the Galilee and Arab areas of the Triangle in the center of the country, east of Kfar Saba – Khaled an-Naftawi, an Israeli Arab political activist associated with the Balad party, told The Jerusalem Post.

Naftawi pointed out three factors that would determine if the demonstrations would continue beyond the next few days.

First is the regional factor, depending on Israel’s current activity in Gaza and the West Bank. Heavy activity in these areas could ignite more unrest, he said.

Second is how the police deal with the protesters. The use of force or more arrests could be a factor.

Third, is the Arab leadership.

If it decides to support the protests, “they are sure to continue,” he said.

Naftawi says that the beginning of the protests last weekend were planned, but as of late more unrest is breaking out spontaneously, and so it is difficult to predict where and when protests will occur.

To read the entire article click here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Beduin attack in Negev town shocks residents

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
July 8, 2014

“We sought coexistence with the Beduin and now it blew up in our face,” Omer mayor Pini Badash told "The Jerusalem Post" on Monday.

A car with its windows smashed, provides grim evidence of the Beduin violence that rocked the Negev town of Omer on Sunday night. Photo: NISSIM NIR / OMER MUNICIPALITY

Negev residents expressed shock and dismay following a stormy Sunday night when Beduin Arabs threw Molotov cocktails and stones at cars in the town of Omer, near Beersheba, blowing up the car of a district judge.

“We sought coexistence with the Beduin and now it blew up in our face,” Omer mayor Pini Badash told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

Badash said that around 150-200 Beduin youths came and threw rocks and fire bombs at cars. “People here are in shock,” he said.

The mayor explained that Beduin enter the town freely to use local services such as the post office, social welfare, and clinics, yet they attacked.

Badash warned that if such a skirmish occurs again, he will close off the town to Beduin in surrounding villages that seek to use services within it.

Asked who was responsible for the attack, he responded that “the Islamic Movement and Hamas are behind it.”

While it was not always this way, Badash said that most of the Beduin identify with Palestinian nationalism.

“The situation is getting worse because of the Islamic Movement. What happened yesterday was scary and dangerous,” he added.

An Omer security official, who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity, said the influence of the Islamic Movement and Hamas has grown in the area in the last few years.

To read the entire article click here.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Analysis: What was behind the pent-up Israeli Arab rage?

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
July 7, 2014

Government plan to ban Islamic Movement appears to be a trigger behind protests; IDF action in West Bank following kidnappings also factor.

Riots in Tamra Photo: REUTERS

It is no coincidence that Israeli- Arab riots began over the weekend in Muslim localities in the center of the country dominated by the northern branch of the Islamic Movement.

Over the past few weeks, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government has said it is considering banning the Islamic Movement, a move that is unlikely to be carried out in any significant way, but this nonetheless was likely one of the triggers for the latest unrest.

The protests were largely seen as an immediate reaction to the murder of Shuafat teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir, but underlying tensions were also at play.

Interestingly, Arab Christian and Beduin sectors did not play a major role in the demonstrations.

Thabet Abu Rass, co-executive director of The Abraham Fund Initiatives, told The Jerusalem Post that the move to outlaw the Islamic Movement and ongoing “price-tag” attacks were also important motivating factors for the protests.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s constant efforts to push his plan to swap Israeli Arab areas of the Triangle in the center of the country, east of Kfar Saba, and turn them into citizens of the Palestinian Authority, also raised tensions.

“I am from Kalansuwa,” noted Abu Rass, adding that “land swaps and efforts to ban the Islamic Movement, which is very strong in the Triangle, are why the protests started there and not in the Galilee.”

They started in Tira, Kalansuwa and Taiba, where the movement is very strong, he added.

To read the entire article click here.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Expecting the unexpected in the region

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
July 6, 2014

The Islamic State’s advance in Iraq has left Middle Eastern leaders jittery.

A fighter of the ISIS stands guard with his weapon in Mosul Photo: REUTERS

As the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), continued its meteoric sweep across Iraq, including setting up a presence along the border with Jordan in recent weeks, reports have surfaced that Israel might intervene on Jordanian King Abdullah’s behalf, fearing the stability of his regime.

The Arab uprisings, which first erupted in Tunisia in 2010, and the resulting regional wars and chaos, came as a surprise to everyone, including intelligence agencies.

While no one can be faulted for failing to predict the future, these dramatic developments are having a profound influence on how governments and leaders interpret events – often anticipating the worst no matter how unlikely.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said last week that Jordan “knows how to defend itself,” but in the next sentence cast doubt on the veracity of the claim, saying “Precisely for this reason, it deserves international support.”

Jordan’s stability is one of Israel’s vital national security interests, and Jerusalem will do everything to preserve that stability, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said in Berlin on Monday.

“If Jordan asks for assistance in the struggle against the ISIS, we must help,” former National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror told Army Radio last week.

The Islamic State terrorist group will not limit its attacks to within Syria and Iraq, senior Obama administration officials told senators in a classified briefing, The Daily Beast reported a week ago.

“The concern was that Jordan could not repel a full assault from ISIS on its own at this point,” one senator said.

The Obama administration said that it believed that if the Jordanian regime’s existence were in the balance, it would request US and Israeli intervention.

“Israeli diplomats have told their American counterparts that Israel would be prepared to take military action to save the Hashemite Kingdom,” the report said.

However, some experts that are closely following events in Jordan, believe that the threat is being exaggerated.

“Anyone who thinks ISIS – now just IS, the Islamic State – is going to overrun the Jordanian military doesn’t know what is going on,” Kirk Sowell, principal of Uticensis Risk Services, a Middle East-focused political risk firm, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.