Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Israel ‘very interested’ in strengthening relations with Kurds

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 25, 2015

TAU expert: Oil purchases act as quiet way of providing Israeli aid to Iraqi Kurdistan.

A KURDISH Peshmerga soldier holds a Kurdistan flag during an intensive security deployment after clashes with Islamic State militants.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

News published in the Financial Times on Sunday that Israel imports most of its oil from Iraq’s Kurdish areas came as no shock to those following the secretive Israel-Kurd relationship.

“The news is not so surprising, as it has been going on for some time,” Prof. Ofra Bengio, editor of the book Kurdish Awakening: Nation-Building in a Fragmented Homeland, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

“The Kurds do not want problems with Baghdad or Tehran, so they prefer to stay quiet about it and not upset anybody,” said Bengio, a senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.

It is a “wise idea to do it this way for now,” she added, saying the Kurds preferred to get aid from Israel through a third party.

“Israel is very much interested in strengthening relations, but they [the Kurds] are hesitant, especially not wanting to make it public,” she said, going on to assert that at some point they would need to go public, perhaps after gaining stronger US support.

Bengio wrote about the issue last summer in The American Interest magazine, saying the sale of Kurdish oil to Israel via Turkey opened up new opportunities “for triangular economic relations” between them.

“It may also pave the way to improved political relations between Israel and Turkey,” she said at the time.

Semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan is landlocked and depends on Turkey to expert its oil, she noted, and Turkish-Israeli economic relations continue apace despite political differences.

Asked if it was possible that Turkey or the Kurds might not know that Israel was the final destination of the oil since it could pass through a number of intermediaries first, Bengio responded: “Turkey for sure knows about this and welcomes it, since it wants the oil to continue to flow.”

Likewise for the Kurds, she continued, acknowledging that at least publicly, Kurdish officials reject this.

US oil refineries have also been receiving oil from Iraqi Kurdistan, which is locked in a bitter struggle with the central government in Baghdad, which says the sales are illegal.

An oil tanker from Kurdistan that was blocked for months from unloading in Texas due to a legal challenge by Baghdad sailed back to the Mediterranean and delivered its cargo to Israel earlier this year, according to trading sources and ship-tracking data. Several tankers that have carried Iraqi-Kurdish crude from Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan have unloaded at Israeli ports, according to ship-tracking data and industry sources.

Bengio pointed out that the Kurdish religious affairs ministry recently made an unusual move by including a Jewish representative in its work, adding that the timing was interesting.

Asked about the Kurds’ views on the Obama administration, Bengio said they favored Republicans, believing the party would help them. She added that they also considered the recent nuclear agreement with Iran to be dangerous.

Ari Aram, editor of the Ekurd.net website, told the Post on Monday that the Kurds were happy to sell their oil because Baghdad had placed restrictions on their oil sales, and few wanted to buy the product.

Baghdad is also cutting the funding it sends to the Kurdish region, Aram said, even as its militia is battling Islamic State.

To read the entire article click here.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Will West and Arab states accept border changes that redivide region?

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 24, 2015

Almost 100 years ago, the Sykes-Picot Agreement carved out the modern Middle East; Is stage two in the works?

Turkish army tanks manoeuver as Turkish Kurds watch over the Syrian town of Kobani. (photo credit:REUTERS)

As a result of regional conflict and weakened and broken Arab states, it may only be a matter of time before world powers and the Middle East’s Arab leaders conform to reality and propose to divide the region anew.

Perhaps a kind of Sykes-Picot II will be in the offing, but on a smaller scale, or maybe the de facto boundaries will continue to be accepted for the time being – unofficially.

It was the Sykes-Picot Agreement reached during World War I that first charted out how to partition the Ottoman Empire. The British and French carved up the region according to their interests, not paying adequate attention to ethnic groups.

But it was local parties that shaped how the modern map of the Middle East turned out.

Divided sectarian societies with a traditional tribal culture and non-state actors such as Islamists groups, Kurdish forces and various other kinds of militias are testing the durability of the Middle East order.

In Syria, for example, the government controls only one-sixth the size of its original territory, and it is set to lose even more as Islamic State expands operations in western Syria, according to a report by the IHS research organization that was published on Saturday.

“The latest imagery and analysis from the IHS Conflict Monitor shows that the Syrian government lost 18 percent of its territory between January and August 2015,” the organization said.

How long will it take before the West and the Arab world relent and officially chop up the region into mini-states? It may take quite a while, as Arab rulers are loath to change a system that serves themselves. While they are adamant in demanding a Palestinian state in Israel, which has been a safe haven amid the regional storm, Arab leaders are not keen on creating more states that would divide their own.

And with the exception of the Palestinians, the West probably doesn’t want to confuse the region further by creating more states, perhaps fearing greater instability.

“It’s unlikely that either the Arab states or the outside powers would recognize any de facto partitions as permanent,” Martin Kramer, an expert on the Middle East and the president of Shalem College in Jerusalem, told The Jerusalem Post.

“Much more likely is the temporary acceptance of zones of control as part of cease-fires, followed by so-called ‘peace processes’ ultimately promising reunification,” said Kramer.

“The model would be the Taif process that ended the Lebanese civil war [1975- 1990]. The one faction left outside this regime would be the Islamic State, which doesn’t accept borders and doesn’t value recognition by anyone else,” he said.

To read the entire article click here.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Analysis: It’s the principle – not just the man

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 20, 2015

"The Arab community is overwhelmingly supportive of Allan because we are overwhelmingly supportive of the Palestinian cause," MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash) told The Jerusalem Post.

JOINT LIST MK Yousef Jabareen shouts during a protest on Wednesday alongside fellow MK Osama Saadi (left) in support of hunger-striking protester Mohammed Allan. (photo credit:COURTESY HADASH)

Mass Israeli-Arab support for hunger-striking Islamic Jihad activist Muhammad Allan is due to an overwhelming opposition to the policy of administrative detention, which has also produced a solidarity effect within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One could wonder how the communist, Arab-Jewish Hadash Party would throw its full support behind an Islamic Jihad activist whose ideology is far from its own. But the united Arab struggle over Allan is less about the man than about standing up for a principle in what the Israeli-Arab public sees as part of discriminatory policies.

The Allan episode is just the latest event to become a symbol, a rallying cry for the Arab sector within Israel and uniting it with the Palestinians in the territories.

“The Arab community is overwhelmingly supportive of Allan because we are overwhelmingly supportive of the Palestinian cause for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel,” MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash) told The Jerusalem Post.

“We see Allan’s struggle as an integral part of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation and injustices, and we believe that it’s our duty as an integral part of the Palestinian people to support the fair and just cause of our people to fulfill their right for national self-determination,” he said.

“Allan, first of all, is a victim of the continuous Israeli occupation,” argued Jabareen, adding: “Administrative arrest is a violation of basic rights of Palestinian prisoners and the hunger strike is a heroic, nonviolent tool of protest against this draconian arrest.”

The MK holds a PhD in civil rights law from Georgetown University.

Raja Zaatry, a Hadash spokesman and activist who was responsible for the Joint List media campaign during the March election, told the Post : “Solidarity with administrative detainee Muhammad Allan crosses party lines and ideologies, as this is a democratic and human rights struggle of the first degree.”

Support also comes “as a protest against the government’s radical policy of deepening the occupation and the settlements, and the escalation of hate crimes,” Zaatry said, mentioning the recent fatal firebombing in the West Bank village of Duma and vandalism at a church near the Sea of Galilee by suspected Jewish extremists.

Arab-Israeli websites have been covering the hunger-striking Allan at the top of their websites. Kholod Massalaha, editor at the news portal Bokra.net, told the Post on Wednesday that the overwhelming majority of the Arab public is supporting the cause.

To read the entire article click here.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Analysis: Why Western Muslims leave a pleasurable life for jihad

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 17, 2015

The Islamic revival is being driven by a feeling of “revulsion against the West, frustration at the whole new apparatus of public and private life.”

An Islamic Jihad militant attends an anti-Israel rally in Rafah.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Western Muslims living in the most free and wealthy countries in the world are leaving, or returning, in the thousands to the Arab world in a search for meaning in their life – or an Islamic revival that fits within their traditional cultural religious values.

Samuel Huntington summarized in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, “As the pace of modernization increases, however, the rate of Westernization declines and the indigenous culture goes through a revival.”

How is this possible? This is because the rest of the Muslim world, for the most part, does not hold the same religious or cultural values as the Frenchman or American does, and is why they are having a difficult time integrating into European culture.

The Islamic revival is being driven by a feeling of “revulsion against the West, frustration at the whole new apparatus of public and private life,” wrote historian Bernard Lewis in Islam and the West.

It is this “vision of a restored and resurgent Islam, through which God’s law and those who uphold it would prevail over all their enemies.”

Roger Cohen argued in The New York Times last week, “The honest answer is that we don’t know why a 20-something Briton with a degree in computer engineering or a young Frenchman from a Norman village reaches a psychological tipping point.”

But we do. It is a radical Islamic ideology – Islamism – which is being ingrained into their heads from their imam, the Internet or their family members.

Daniel Pipes, scholar and president of the Middle East Forum think tank, said Cohen posits that “the Western jihadis are ‘yearning to be released from the burden of freedom. ’ I disagree.”

“The establishment’s analysis of Islamism suffers from an inattention to the power of ideas. Neo-Marxist efforts to blame economic deprivation ruled for a while but shattered on the rocks of inaccuracy,” Pipes told The Jerusalem Post.

“Self-critical notions about the legacy of colonialism likewise fell into disrepute,” he said.

“The simple explanation is that the Islamist vision – like the fascist and communist visions before it – has compelling attraction, especially for educated youths who seek to devote themselves to a great cause.”

The challenge for those fighting the Islamist movement, Pipes said, is to defeat and marginalize this vision so that Islamism – again, like fascism and communism before it – loses its appeal.

“Ideas matter; time has come to pay attention to them,” he said.

Philip Carl Salzman, a professor of anthropology at McGill University and an expert on Arab tribal culture, told the Post that Muslims coming in large numbers to Europe have not sought or been able to assimilate to European culture.

“Islam requires adherents to bring the true religion to the entire world. Many Muslims in Europe see their immigration as a slow demographic conquest, which is why in Denmark young Muslims have worn a T-shirt saying: ‘In 2048 we are in charge.’” “It is also why many Muslim men see ‘infidel’ Christian girls as war booty, to be captured and raped at will, thus the shocking upsurge in rapes and sexual abuse in European countries,” Salzman said.

The professor said Islamic culture is supremacist, so a fundamental theme in mosque sermons is avoiding assimilation to European culture.

To read the entire article click here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Analysis: Turkey-Israel rapprochement not in the cards despite reports

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 12, 2015

Despite bilateral meeting in June, ideological differences will prove insurmountable barrier to peace.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pays a visit to Lebanon. (photo credit:REUTERS)

There have been recent reports of talks between Israel and Turkey aimed at normalizing relations, but a significant improvement in the relationship is unlikely as long as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist AK Party remains in power.

In an interview with the Turkish daily Sabah, published on Sunday, Israel’s chargĂ© d’affaires in Turkey, Amira Oron, said that “with the current positive attitude, I think we will be able to normalize our relations.

“Both of our countries have to close the Mavi Marmara case in a proper way, which will suit the needs of both sides. Only then can we move on to the normalization process,” Oron said.

“It will take some time for rapprochement, and after this, we will be able to explore in what fields we can improve our relations – the energy sector, sharing information, cooperation regarding the region, and so on,” she added.

Asked about a possible decision by Israel to build a gas pipeline through Turkey, Oron responded that “both countries should first resolve their political issues and normalize relations. Only then it [the pipeline] could be actualized.”

Discussing where the reconciliation efforts currently stood, Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold told reporters last month: “I think there is an effort by both sides to see whether we can move forward... to turn over a new leaf and see whether we can improve our relations.”

Gold held an unannounced meeting in Rome in June with his Turkish counterpart, Feridun Sinirlioglu, to explore ways of improving ties, Israeli officials said.

Israel’s diplomats, however, are going to have a difficult time getting anything more than small gestures and a continuation of economic and tourist ties from the Turks.

The Turkish government’s active promotion of Islamist forces in the region – including Hamas – will likely prove an insurmountable ideological barrier to improving relations with Israel. The country continues to serve as a hub for Muslim Brotherhood members expelled from Egypt after president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster, as well as for the Hamas organization.

Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal met with Erdogan in Turkey late on Wednesday and was also due to hold a meeting with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu the same evening.

In January, Davutoglu compared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the Islamist terrorists who killed 17 people in Paris in January, saying that both had committed crimes against humanity.

Last October, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon pointed to what he said was a Hamas base of operations in Turkey, accusing Ankara of sponsoring terrorism and arguing that this was incompatible with its membership in NATO.

Experts solicited for comment gave differing opinions on the extent of any possible rapprochement.

Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post that he doubts any normalization with relations with Turkey can occur.

Prof. Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, head of the Center for International Strategy and Security Studies (USGAM), based in Ankara, was more optimistic, telling the Post that obstacles could be overcome and a new relationship built within the context of the Iran nuclear deal, the Syrian war, and terrorism in the region.

Turkey and Israel could help bring regional stability amid the chaos, he said.

Ankara’s attacks in Syria bad for Kurds and Assad, good for Islamists and Erdogan

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 12, 2015

BESA’s Inbar: It’s all domestic politics, with Turkish president rallying voters ‘around flag.’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Ankara’s escalating military campaign against Kurds in Syria and in southeastern Turkey serves four purposes of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

First, the attacks disrupt gains by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and its progress of consolidating power in an autonomous region in northern Syria.

Second, the attacks on the YPG fighters, who are battling Islamic State and other Islamist groups, will aid these radical rebel groups at the Kurds’ expense.

Erdogan’s Islamist ruling AK Party seeks to boost Islamist rebels and topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Third, any buffer zone controlled by Arab Islamists in northern Syria or attacks on Kurds in the country will aid Islamist rebels and weaken Assad’s regime.

And last, the intervention helps Erdogan domestically, as the attacks set the stage for snap elections that would seek to boost the AK Party and deliver a blow to the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Turkish warplanes hit 17 Kurdish militant targets in Hakkari province, in the extreme southeastern corner on Turkey, on Monday and Tuesday, the military said, as it ratchets up an offensive against the insurgents.

On Tuesday, the outlawed Kurdistan People’s Party (PKK) claimed responsibility for Monday’s bombing of an Istanbul police station in which four people died, three of them attackers.

“Erdogan, whose party lost the majority in parliament in the recent elections [on June 7], wants to discredit the Kurdish party [the HDP] that crossed the 10 percent threshold and create a ‘rally around the flag’ effect in order to gain a majority when new probable elections are called,” Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post.

“It is all domestic politics,” he said.

Kamal Sido, a Syrian Kurd who works at the Middle East desk for the German human rights NGO Society for Threatened Peoples, told the Post that Turkey is trying to occupy the Kurdish area in northern Syria and smash the PKK in Turkey and the YPG in Syria.

Sido argues that Turkey’s intervention is meant to stop the progress of the YPG and its consolidation of Kurdish-held territory in Syria, connecting the Afrin region near Aleppo to Kobani in the east.

To read the entire article click here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Iran moving to capitalize on diplomatic gains from nuclear accord

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 11, 2015

Tehran to use momentum from the nuclear deal for possible new Syrian agreement

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad . (photo credit:REUTERS)

Iran appears to be trying to leverage the momentum gained from the conclusion of the nuclear deal, and improved relations with the West, in order to achieve some kind of deal that safeguards its interests in Syria and Lebanon.

According to recent reports, behind-the- scenes talks aimed at finding a compromise solution to stop the fighting in Syria are ongoing. Despite these efforts, however, an agreement to resolve the conflict – and not just pause it – are unlikely to be immediately forthcoming.

Compromise is not a common solution in the Middle East – either victory or defeat are.

The Syrian Sunni-dominated opposition and its supporters in the Gulf see themselves as the rightful rulers of Syria.

Sunnis comprise a majority of the Syrian population. The Gulf states are also loath to see Iran win the proxy war in Syria and keep President Bashar Assad in power.

Likewise, the Iranian-Shi’ite axis – which includes Syria and Hezbollah – have vital strategic interests in the region and do not want to see their ally in Syria fall to their enemies.

The first visit of a top Syrian official to a Gulf Arab state in more than four years took place last week when Syria’s foreign minister met his Omani counterpart in Muscat.

Diplomats say it has been Assad’s allies Russia and Iran that are the prime movers behind the latest push for detente, in the wake of Tehran’s July 14 nuclear deal.

Iran has said that it will soon present the United Nations with its own peace plan for Syria. The Iranians, apparently, did not share their diplomatic initiative with the Saudis.

Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite military Quds Force (who is subject to a United Nations travel ban) has met senior Russian officials in Moscow, an Iranian official said on Friday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday that the United States should cooperate with Syrian President Bashar Assad to fight Islamic State and that this required an international coalition uniting all those for whom the jihadists are “a common enemy.”

The Obama administration sees the Iran deal as opening up new opportunities with Iran on Syria, potentially involving Iran in brokering a solution to the Syrian conflict. Such talk, however, is a non-starter for Sunnis.

Tony Badran, research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for the Beirut-based website NOW Lebanon, told The Jerusalem Post that all the media speculation about a possible deal is just noise.

“The Obama administration and the Iranians want to capitalize on the deal, but the Saudis are not pulling back on getting rid of Bashar,” Badran asserted.

Following the nuclear agreement, “Iran wants to cement the perception that it is now an inevitable, principal interlocutor on regional affairs,” he said adding, “In this, it is backed by the Obama administration.”

“But beyond this, there is actually nothing there in terms of substance or a change in the attitude of any of the players, which is why this is noise,” Badran explained. “We are in garbage time as the Saudis wait out Obama,” he said.

Yuri Teper, a Russian expert from Ariel University told the Post that if the meeting between Russian officials and Soleimani indeed took place, “I’m inclined to believe they discussed ways to fight Islamic State.”

The Saudi and Russian foreign ministers are due to meet in Moscow to discuss global energy prices. Their meeting is expected to be primarily concerned with the oil prices, said Teper, who is also a fellow at the Israeli Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.

“The proposition regarding some kind of a deal that includes Assad stepping down looks unlikely,” Teper asserted, adding that such rumors have been circulating for some time.

To read the entire article click here.

Likud’s Kara calls for broader ties with Jordan, other moderate Arab states

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
August 10, 2015

The acting minister of the Regional Cooperation Ministry, said that he is pushing to create an additional border crossing with the Hashemite Kingdom.

Children react as personnel from the Greater Amman Municipality spray them with a water sprinkler in order to cool them down as part of measures to ease the effect of a heatwave in Amman. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Israel should expand ties with moderate Arab states and take advantage of the united fight against Islamic State and other radical groups, Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

Kara (Likud), the acting minister of the Regional Cooperation Ministry, said that he is pushing to create an additional border crossing with Jordan, which would facilitate the back-and-forth of tourists traveling and that of Jordanian day workers.

In addition, he said, it would serve to strengthen relations with Amman and boost its economy, which is an Israeli and American interest.

After touring the Dead Sea region on Sunday with the head of the Tamar Regional Council, Dov Litvinoff, Kara said he envisions much smoother and quicker travel around the area and to other tourist sites such Petra in Jordan.

The deputy minister is helping organize a meeting next month with the Tamar Regional Council and relevant government officials in order to move towards a decision on opening a new crossing.

Asked if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on board with the plan, Kara responded that he agrees with his view that Jordan is an important strategic ally that should be supported.

To read the entire article click here.