Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Analysis: Saudi-Egypt deals part of Gulf effort to unite Sunnis against Iran

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
April 13, 2016

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry . (photo credit:REUTERS)
Recently signed agreements between Saudi Arabia and Egypt appear to be part of a broader Saudi effort to build a regional Sunni alliance against Iran, yet the results of such an alliance are still lacking.

The Saudi-led coalition battling the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, moves by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to crack down on Hezbollah, and Gulf funding to Syrian rebels, are the strongest actions taken to date against the Iranian led Shi’ite alliance.

However, in terms of a broad military alliance that could prove effective against Iran and its allies, Saudi success is debatable.

In what appears to be part of this alliance building, Saudi King Salman continued on from his visit to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman visited Jordan’s King Abdullah on Monday, jointly rejecting Iranian interference in the region’s affairs and igniting sectarian strife, the Saudi Gazette reported.

Israel is not opposed to the return of two Red Sea islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia or the plan to build a bridge connecting the two Arab countries, because it sees the Arabs trying to unite against the Iranian threat.

“It relates to us and it does not bother us,” MK Tzachi Hanegbi, who heads parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, told Israel’s Army Radio in an interview.

“The Saudis, who are committed to freedom of shipping under international law, will not harm the essence of the agreement between Egypt and us in this regard and freedom of shipping in Aqaba and Eilat will remain as is.”

“We have an interest in expanding the cooperation in the Sunni axis, which is struggling against the radical axis headed by Iran,” said Hanegbi.

“The more the Saudis, and the Gulf states in general, connect to the countries with which we are at peace and create with them a strategic front against ISIS, Iran, Hezbollah, against all the players that are our actual enemies, ultimately the effect will be unifying and not weakening.”

However some analysts remain skeptical about the effectiveness of Saudi led efforts of unifying status-quo Sunni powers against Iran.

“The Saudis set up a headquarters for their Islamic counterterrorism alliance earlier this year, but their announcements of ad hoc coalition building still seem to be more talk than action,” David Andrew Weinberg, a specialist on Gulf affairs and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“The Saudi-Egyptian initiative for a joint army against terrorism under the Arab League still lacks specificity or broader support, so it seems unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon,” he said.

“Besides, Sisi’s Egypt is too close to Russia to do anything of consequence against Iran in Syria, anyway.”
To read the entire article click here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

‘Saudi-Egypt agreement threatens long-term Israeli interests’

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
April 12, 2016

Suez Canal
A view of Israel, including the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea and Suez canal. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Recently signed agreements between Saudi Arabia and Egypt that transfer sovereignty over two small islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia could create longterm problems for Israel, an Israeli expert and former IDF officer told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

The agreement, which was signed during a visit by Saudi King Salman in Cairo, would also allow for a bridge connection between the two countries.

There are two main issues in the agreements that affect Israel, said Col. (res.) Dr. Shaul Shay, director of research at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

The first, he said, is related to the relatively successful Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen against the Iranian-backed Houthis and what has turned out to be practical control over the Mandeb Strait, which separates Djibouti and Yemen between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

The Saudis have been relatively successful in blockading Yemen’s ports from Iranian shipments.

In addition, the Saudis were able to pry the Red Sea coastal countries of Sudan, Eritrea, and Djibouti from Iran’s orbit, noted Shay.

Therefore, today, “the Saudi-led coalition, that includes Egypt, has almost full control of the Red Sea, from its entrance at the Mandeb Strait to the Suez Canal.

“I don’t think Saudi Arabia is going to close the Red Sea to Israel,” asserted Shay, but in the long term, with new unpredictable geopolitical conditions, Israel needs to “reassess its security and political strategy in this region.”

Both Israel and the Arab coalition led by the Saudis are working to counter Iran’s ambitions in the region.

“As long as the Saudis are OK with Israel and the Arabs are focused on efforts against Iran, Saudi-Egypt control of the Red Sea is not a problem,” he said.

Also included in the Saudi-Egyptian agreements was the transfer of sovereignty to Saudi Arabia of two small Red Sea islands, Sanafir and Tiran.

These islands, which had previously been under Saudi control, and then passed to Egypt during wars with Israel, and briefly under Israeli control in 1967, were returned to Egypt as part of the 1979 peace agreement.

Prior to 1967, Shay notes, Egypt used the islands to blockade the southern Israeli port of Eilat.

Another issue the transfer of the islands raises, he points out, is that Israeli airplanes using the airspace over them in transit would technically be flying in Saudi airspace.

As long as the Saudi permit this, there would not be a problem.

To read the entire article click here.

New Arab Israeli party could be ploy by banned Islamic Movement

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
April 11, 2016

Leader of the northern Islamic Movement Sheikh Raed Salah
Leader of the northern Islamic Movement Sheikh Raed Salah gestures after leaving the district court in Jerusalem October 27, 2015.. (photo credit:AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Personalities involved with the recently banned Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel announced the establishment of a new political party in Nazareth on Monday.

The new party could be an attempt by the radical branch of the Islamic Movement to circumvent the ban and continue political and charitable activities.

The government decision in November to ban the group led to the freezing of many bank accounts affiliated with the group and the closing down of charities.

The new entity – the Trust and Reform Party – is not registered with the state and does not intend to run for the Knesset, Israel Radio reported.

The head of the party is Husam Abu Leil, who was the second deputy head of the Islamic Movement’s Northern Branch.

Muhammad Barakei, the leader of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, was present at the event in Nazareth and welcomed the new party. Barakei, from Shfaram, is a former head of the Hadash party, which he represented in the Knesset from 1999 to 2015.

Ghada Zoabi, the founder and CEO of the Israeli Arab news portal Bokra.net, told The Jerusalem Post that the move seems to be a way for the Islamic Movement to bypass sanctions after being outlawed.

Arik Rudnitzky, the project manager of the Konrad Adenauer Program at the Moshe Dayan Center of Tel Aviv University, told the Post, “The composition of the new party is based on affiliated factors with the northern faction of the Islamic Movement.

“They come from the academic ‘hard core’ of the movement at the Center for Contemporary Studies in Umm el-Fahm,” he said.

What is new, said Rudnitzky, is that one of the party’s founders is a woman.

“It seems that a group of people involved are affiliated with the Islamic Movement from Kafr Kana, which is [Northern Branch] deputy head Sheikh Kamal Khatib’s hometown, and Umm el-Fahm, which is [Northern branch head] Sheikh Raed Salah’s hometown,” said Rudnitzky.
To read the entire article click here.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Syria-Russia-Iran axis likely to liberate ISIS heartland, not Western backed forces

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
April 7, 2016

 Iraq
Militant Islamist fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of Raqqa after capturing territory in neighbouring Iraq. (photo credit:REUTERS/KNESSET)
If Islamic State and al-Qaida’s Nusra Front lose control of their strongholds in Syria, Bashar Assad’s army will likely supply the boots on the ground to supplant them, with help from Russian air strikes and Iranian and Hezbollah forces. 

The US-led air strikes and occasional special forces missions to take out high quality targets are not enough to break these terrorist groups’ hold on territory.

And the failure of US-trained rebel forces means that besides the Kurds, no other party has the forces to take on Islamic State and Nusra Front on the ground.

“Today, only two militaries are in a position to take the eastern province of Deir al-Zor that borders Iraq or Raqqa. They are the US-backed Kurdish forces and the Syrian Army,” 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 Wednesday.

The Democratic Unity Party (PYD), the main political organization in Syria’s Kurdish-administrated areas, is demanding recognition for their autonomous enclave in exchange for expending the blood necessary to take either Arab city, Raqqa or Deir al-Zor, explained Landis.

The PYD is backed by the US in fighting Islamic State. The fragile cease-fire between the Syrian regime and the rebels does not include Islamic State or the Nusra Front.

“Assad spoke about taking both cities recently, but his ability to do so will depend on Russian support and the threat posed by rebel militias in the western region of Idlib and eastern Aleppo. They are supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey and have been resuming their attacks on Assad forces,” continued Landis.

Therefore, he said, if these rebel forces abandon the cease-fire completely, Assad will be forced to concentrate his forces instead back in the west of the country, the Syrian heartland.

“So long as the Kurds do not take further Islamic State held cities, Assad need be in no rush to retake them. The US is holding down Islamic State and degrading its forces and economy,” said Landis.

“Thus, the longer the Syrian Army holds off retaking the region, the fewer of their soldiers will be killed in retaking it,” he said, adding, “Military logic suggests going slow and allowing the coalition to further destroy Islamic State.”

The Syria expert points out that despite US abhorrence of the Assad regime, it finds itself in what is in practical terms an alliance with it.

“The refusal of the US to embrace Assad over Islamic State leads to odd battlefield alliances,” he said, noting that when Islamic State was attacking Palmyra last year, the US refrained from attacking the group’s convoys and fighters that remained massed on the outskirts of the ancient city.

And when Syrian forces recently retook Palmyra, US forces did not attack either side in the battle.

In effect, President Barack Obama “is allowing both sides to kill each other without overtly taking sides.”
To read the entire article click here.

Libya could replace Syria and Iraq as main Islamic State hub

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
April 4, 2016

ISIS
An armed motorcade belonging to members of Derna’s Islamic Youth Council drives along a road in the town of Derna in eastern Libya on October 3, 2014, a day after the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.. (photo credit:REUTERS)
If attacks on Islamic State continue to weaken the group in Syria and Iraq, it could relocate its headquarters to Libya’s northern coastal town of Sirte, its Libyan headquarters since early spring 2015, an Israeli expert on Africa said on Sunday.

Prof. Yehudit Ronen, a leading expert on Libya and the African Sahel region at Bar- Ilan University, said the Syrian regime and Russia’s military victory in retaking the ancient city of Palmyra from Islamic State was a watershed defeat for the group.

“As Islamic State losses continue, the attractiveness of Libya as a rear and alternative base could gather momentum and become reality,” said Ronen, a political scientist and author of the acclaimed Qaddafi’s Libya in World Politics.

“Libya’s Mediterranean coast is a highly important strategic location for Islamic State, which it penetrated in 2014,” noted Ronen. “The organization is well aware that the coastal strip’s oil and gas-rich infrastructure and ports are turning Libya into an effective jump-off point to expand jihadist terror to the European continent.”

The unrest in Libya’s can be seen in the broader context of the jihadist plagued Maghreb and Sahel regions where terrorism is transversing borders, affecting governments from Algeria to Tunisia to Egypt, she continued.

Moreover, she said, “Libya’s governmental void and violent chaos, lacking any effective military and security systems, further aggrandize the attractiveness of Libya to the Islamic State.”

To read the entire article click here.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Analysis: Israeli Arabs’ hostility to state leaves no room for compromise

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
April 3, 2016

A Beduin boy holds Palestinian flags as he takes part in a rally marking Land Day in Umm el-Hiran
A Beduin boy holds Palestinian flags as he takes part in a rally marking Land Day in Umm el-Hiran. (photo credit:REUTERS)
The hostility and harsh rhetoric by Arab Israeli leaders toward the government demonstrates that on many issues a compromise is unlikely to be found.

A few hundred apparently mostly Arab protesters from the North and other areas arrived at the unrecognized illegal Beduin settlement of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev on Wednesday to protest on Land Day, wave Palestinian flags, and hear vigorous speeches by Arab politicians and leaders against the state and its leaders.

“Destroying Umm al-Hiran would be a declaration of war against Arabs of the Negev,” Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi told The Jerusalem Post at the rally.

Joint List MK and Balad head Jamal Zahalka told the Post that “if Israeli authorities try to expel the residents from the village there will be a confrontation and people will come from all over the country to defend it.”

Zahalka emphasized that a stand has to be made in Umm al-Hiran since if it falls quietly, the government would move on to destroy other villages.

Joint List MK Taleb Abu Arar was quoted by Channel 2 as saying in Umm al-Hiran that Israel was founded on “exploitation, racism and terrorism.”

Other Land Day protests were held in the Galilee, in Sakhnin and Arrabe, where the events in 1976 that led to the annual Land Day commemorations took place, and where the main demonstrations are traditionally held.

The Arab nationalist Balad Party, according to a knowledgeable source from the Arab sector, was one of the principal supporters of holding the main protest in the Negev. The Hadash party wanted it in the North.

Balad has sought to emphasize the Beduin conflict with the government and turn it from a land dispute into a national conflict. Most of the protesters at the Land Day protest in Umm al-Hiran were non-Beduin Arabs from the North, and Palestinian flags, which are generally used by Beduin at demonstrations, were everywhere. This is a result of the infiltration of Balad’s nationalist ideology.

Another party that has had success at infiltrating the Beduin sector is the banned Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement. The group’s leader, Raed Salah, was also present at the protest.

Hillel Frisch, of Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, explains in his book – Israel’s Security and its Arab Citizens – that when the Islamic Movement began its Beduin outreach in 1983 there were barely any mosques around. In 1998 there were already 46, all controlled by the movement.

Since then, Arab nationalists and Islamists have been working for years to lure the Beduin into their respective camps, leaving the more reasonable common folk at the radicals’ mercy.

A former government official who had worked on the Beduin issue in the past, and who wished not to be named, told the Post that any chance of an agreement is being destroyed by Balad and the Islamic Movement, who reject any negotiation.

The Beduin are generally more “passive” and Balad and the Islamic Movement “control the political discussion,” said the source, adding that he does not know if an agreement to regulate Beduin settlements is possible.

The Beduin, Arab MKs, and NGOs have stated repeatedly that the only solution for the illegal or unrecognized settlements in the Negev is to legalize them. They rejected completely the Prawer-Begin bill, which was an initiative seeking to regulate Beduin settlements and land-ownerships.

The plan aimed for a compromise solution for tens of thousands of Beduin scattered in unrecognized villages throughout the Negev, legalizing 63 percent of claimed land.

Beduin supporters opposed the bill, saying the legislation would result in up to 40,000 Beduin losing their land.

Opponents on the Right criticized it as too generous, saying the state would be giving away land for free, land which the Beduin could not prove to be theirs.

Amichai Yogev, southern director of the NGO Regavim – describing itself as seeking to ensure a responsible, legal and accountable use of the country’s land – told the Post that “Most Beduin are not concerned with this struggle against the state and the political leaders push them into it.”
To read the entire article click here.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Israeli Arabs warn gov't: Razing Beduin settlement is 'declaration of war'

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
March 30, 2016

A Beduin boy holds Palestinian flags as he takes part in a rally marking Land Day in Umm el-Hiran
A Beduin boy holds Palestinian flags as he takes part in a rally marking Land Day in Umm el-Hiran. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Thousands of Arabs protested across the country on Wednesday to mark the 40th annual Land Day with a major event held in the Negev where community leaders threatened resistance to government plans to destroy an unrecognized Beduin village.

The two main events were held in the unrecognized illegal Beduin settlement of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev and in the northern town of Arrabe. Smaller demonstrations took place in the northern localities of Sakhnin, Deir Hanna, and Kafr Kana. 

The first test could come if the government moves to implement the Supreme Court approval of the demolition of Umm al-Hiran and the eviction of its residents in order to build a Jewish town called Hiran.

“Destroying Umm al-Hiran would be a declaration of war against Arabs of the Negev,” Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi told The Jerusalem Post at the event in the Beduin village.

“Umm al-Hiran is the prototype of apartheid,” said the deputy speaker of the Knesset and Ta’al party chairman, adding that Arabs could take the matter of the village to the UN.

Joint List MK and Balad head Jamal Zahalka told the Post that “if Israeli authorities try to expel the residents from the village there will be a confrontation and people will come from all over the country to defend it.”

Zahalka emphasized that a stand had to be made in Umm al-Hiran since if it falls quietly, the government would move on to destroy other villages.

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh told the Post that it is unconscionable that the government would destroy an Arab village and replace it with a Jewish one. “It would be a terrible crime,” he asserted.

“Arab villages have no roads, no water and electricity, no education system. Opposite the villages are sparkling lights of Jewish settlements and isolated farms. I have no other name for this thing except apartheid," said Odeh.

Land Day is held March 30 every year to commemorate the deaths, in the 1976 riots, of six Galilee Arabs over a government decision to confiscate land. 

The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee had decided that Israeli Arabs would protest and hold a general strike because of government house demolitions and the threat of the threat of the evacuation of unrecognized illegal Beduin settlements in the Negev.

Salim Abu Al-Kian, the head of the committee of the unrecognized villages of Umm al-Hiran and Atir, told the Post that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “needs to recognize our settlement” to demonstrate “we are equal citizens.”

“Don’t destroy our homes to bring Jews. We will fight until the end,” he warned.

Asked if the residents of Umm al-Hiran would accept a compromise solution, he responded that it could be possible if the government first recognized the village and then negotiated over its size. 

Local Sheikh Halil Abu El-Kian said that destroying the village shows there is “no democracy and no law.” Asked what would happen if the government starts destroying structures, he responded, “They destroy, we build.”
To read the entire article click here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Israeli Arabs set for general strike, protests on 40th annual Land Day

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
March 30, 2016

Boys, residents of Umm Al-Hiran, a Beduin village not recognized by the Israeli government
Boys, residents of Umm Al-Hiran, a Beduin village not recognized by the Israeli government, protest against the building of a Jewish community on the land of Umm Al-Hiran. (photo credit:REUTERS)
The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee said Israeli Arabs will protest and hold a general strike on the 40th annual Land Day on Wednesday.

The protests, to take place in various Arab localities across the country, would be against government house demolitions and the threat of the evacuation of unrecognized illegal Beduin settlements in the Negev.

The main event will be held in the northern town of Arrabe at 4 p.m., with events also taking place earlier in neighboring Sakhnin, Deir Hanna, and Kafr Kana. A separate protest is scheduled to take place at the unrecognized Beduin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev at 4 p.m.

Land Day is held March 30 every year to commemorate the deaths, in the 1976 riots, of six Galilee Arabs over a government decision to confiscate land.

“Land Day comes as incitement and racism against the Arab public is in full force,” Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi told The Jerusalem Post. “There is a new wave of demolitions and worst of all is the decision to demolish the village of Umm al-Hiran and the expulsion of its residents to establish a Jewish settlement in its place."

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushes an agenda of hatred and division when I believe that we need to respect differences of opinion and strive for coexistence,” said Tibi, who is expected to attend the protest in the Negev on Wednesday.

He also referred to the Joint List’s move to push its agenda to international bodies, which is meant “to show the world the whole picture and not just the biased view coming from the Israeli government.”

Joint List MK Haneen Zoabi told the Post, “Since the establishment of the state it has continued to take over our land.”

“By using colonial type laws, it has expropriated about 86 percent of our land,” she said, adding that in recent years the struggle has focused on “the attempt to expel tens of thousands of Palestinians from the Negev.”

She said the government considers Arabs strangers in their own land.

“We don’t have any other way but to struggle,” she declared, adding that the residents in Umm al-Hiran stress that “they will live on the land or die on it.”

A knowledgeable source from the Arab sector told the Post that there was a fierce internal battle over where to hold the main event and that the Higher Monitoring Committee pushed for the events to be held in Sakhnin and Arrabe.

The committee, which coordinates Arab political action, is made up of Arab MKs, municipal leaders and other community figures and is headed by former Hadash chairman Mohammad Barakeh.

However, the source continued, “the younger generation prefers the main protest to be held in the Negev where the biggest fight is going on over the land of the unrecognized Beduin village of Umm al-Hiran, which is threatened with destruction.”

The younger generation is more prone to activism and people who have their homes threatened are more emotional, said the source, adding that the battle has pitted communist Hadash against nationalist Balad, with the latter focusing on protests in the Negev.
To read the entire article click here.