Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A direct line from 'Arab Spring' to Islamic State

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
June 30, 2015

Expert: Only regional powers such as Turkey or Iran or the West could restore order within a shorter period.

Cairo University students shout slogans against the government after the verdict of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's trial. (photo credit:REUTERS)

In the future, when some historians analyze this period of Middle Eastern turmoil, the timeline will show that the ‘Arab Spring’ led to civil wars, followed by the rise of Islamic State.

In other words, uprisings that supposedly broke out for what many deemed at the time to be cravings for freedom and democracy resulted in their opposite – more chaos, the disintegration of nation states, and the emergence of the most radical Islamic group in modern times.

In some cases, there is now a wish for a return to the status quo ante – state regimes led by strongmen that can restore order.

Millions of Egyptians swarmed public squares to bring down military man Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and then voted in an open election for Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Morsi in 2012.

The public tide then reversed itself again, leading to the ouster of Morsi and the restoration of the military regime in 2013, this time led by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

However, it is hard to put the genie back into the bottle.

Asked if there is a way back to the situation before the Arab uprisings began, Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar- Ilan University, replied “Not really.”

“It will take decades to develop a new order. Only conquest from outside by regional powers such as Turkey or Iran or the West could restore order within a shorter period,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

To read the entire article click here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Druse steeped in conspiracy theories

by Ariel Ben Solomon and Ben Hartman
Jerusalem Post
June 24, 2015

Although the IDF has adamantly denied rumors, some say Israel is purposefully aiding jihadists, while others say they are taking advantage of Israel’s generous humanitarian policy.

Members of the Druse community watch the fighting in the Druse village of Khadr in Syria as they stand on the Israeli side of the border fence between Syria and the Golan Heights. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Israeli Druse are spreading various reports and conspiracy theories regarding the attacks on IDF ambulances carrying wounded from Syria.

In conversations with The Jerusalem Post, not only Druse leaders but also ordinary residents expressed belief in these rumors or at least some aspects of them.

Some say Israel is purposefully aiding the jihadists, while others say they are taking advantage of Israel’s generous humanitarian policy. However, the IDF is adamant that these rumors are false.

“The IDF has not aided the organization Jabhat al-Nusra since the fighting began in Syria four years ago,” said Spokesman Brig.–Gen. Moti Almoz, Channel 2 reported.

Speaking on Army Radio, Almoz said the men in the ambulance that was attacked Monday night were Syrian citizens injured in their country’s civil war.

In conversations with Druse from the Golan Heights and Galilee this past week, Israel was repeatedly accused of either directly supporting the Nusra Front or helping them indirectly by treating their fighters and returning them to battle.

Israel was painted as playing a direct role in the crisis facing the Syrian Druse, and of being culpable and the only party that could stop a catastrophe, either by direct military action such as air strikes on jihadis, or by opening the border and allowing in droves of Syrian Druse refugees.

Several Druse called on Israel to stop treating all Syrians who arrive at the border seeking treatment – except for Druse – and said they expect people to take the law into their own hands and stop and search IDF ambulances, such as happened this week.

Mendi Safadi – an Israeli Druse who has served as Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara’s chief of staff, and who has traveled in the region and met with Syrian opposition activists – told the Post this week that “Israel knows what it is doing. People coming to Israel are not jihadists.”

Asked about the rumors, Safadi responded that many Druse listen to Syrian regime media and follow related Facebook pages of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

These sources push the narrative that Israel is aiding Nusra, and numerous Druse believe this. The Druse are following the media in order to follow what is going on with their families in Syria, he added.

The main claim by Druse leaders is that since Israel’s humanitarian aid policy is generous and does not discriminate based on political views, it is giving medical treatment to Nusra Front fighters, though perhaps not purposefully.

Dolan Abu Saleh, the mayor of Majdal Shams, when asked about the rumors and conspiracy theory spread by some Druse, which led to the attacks, responded that Israel has a policy to give humanitarian aid to all who are wounded, no matter their political position.

To read the entire article click here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Report: Syrian Islamists led by Nusra Front unite near Israel’s border

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
June 23, 2015

New Islamist alliance excludes all groups that have not been crystal clear about their opposition to ISIS, expert says.

Israeli soldiers stand near the border with Syria in the Golan Heights. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Eight Islamist groups active near Israel’s border in southern Syria have united into one bloc as the country’s Druse come under increasing pressure.

According to a report on the website Alsouria.net over the weekend, eight Islamist factions announced the formation of Jaish al-Fatah, or the Army of Conquest, in southern Syria in order to face the Syrian regime.

This decision follows the formation of a similarly named alliance in the north, which was announced in March and includes al-Qaida’s Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham. The name is a reference to conquests that spread Islam across the Middle East starting in the seventh century.

A separate, Western-backed alliance known as the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is still strong in southwestern Syria. Although it controls comparatively little territory, its fighters maintain an important foothold near the borders with Jordan and Israel.

Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a fellow at the Middle East Forum who closely follows Islamist opposition groups in Syria and Iraq, told The Jerusalem Post that the number of fighters is difficult to measure, although Jaish al-Fatah “definitely seems like a competitor for influence versus the Southern Front.”

Joel Parker, a researcher on Syria at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told the Post: “The umbrella formation of an Islamist army similar to the one in Idlib, and connected no doubt, is a tactical alliance meant to strengthen the Islamist unity in the south.”

Parker continued by saying that the Islamists “probably know that the Free Syrian Army elements in the south are tied more closely to the West than in other parts of the country, and are thus not going to ally with Islamists, no matter how moderate they seem.”

However, he said, it is important to note that “the Islamist alliance clearly tried to avoid sectarian language in their announcement, and secondly, that they excluded all the groups that have not been crystal clear about their opposition to the Islamic State.”

Mendi Safadi, an Israeli Druse who has served as chief of staff for Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara and has traveled in the region to meet with Syrian opposition activists, told the Post that sources affiliated with the FSA had confirmed the union of Islamist forces.

The union, he said, was geared more toward improving logistics, and it has been estimated that the FSA forces outnumber the Islamist faction.

To read the entire article click here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

As external danger threatens the Druse, unity trumps national identity

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
June 17, 2015

Many Druse are supporters of the Syrian president because they see him as a protector from the more numerous Sunni masses and jihadist groups

Members of the Druze community stand near a Druze flag during a rally in the Druze village of Majdal Shams.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The current crisis between the Druse in Syria and rebel terrorist groups is showing that Druse across the region are more united than previously thought.

Spread among Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, the Druse are considered heretics by al-Qaida and Islamic State because of their religion, an offshoot of Islam incorporating elements of other faiths.

Druse are known to support and be loyal to the countries in which they live, but are flexible in whom they support when they sense power may be shifting.

Many Druse, like other minorities in Syria – such as Christians and President Bashar Assad’s Alawite sect – are supporters of the Syrian president because they see him as a protector from the more numerous Sunni masses and jihadist groups.

“Indeed, the Druse are loyal to the country they are living in – whether in Israel, Lebanon or Syria,” Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria from the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“A Syrian Druse soldier can serve in the Syrian army and fight an Israeli Druse soldier – they are not fighting against each other, but are serving their respective countries,” he continued.

However, since the threat to the Druse in Syria from Islamic State and the Nusra Front became real, Israeli Druse citizens, as well as Syrian Druse who are not citizens of Israel but reside in the Golan Heights, have united in their call for aid and intervention to save their brethren over the border.

Those in Lebanon have also voiced their support, demonstrating that ethnic cohesion has become more pressing than national ideology.

British sociologist Anthony Smith, in his book The Ethnic Revival, states that “ethnic movements make their claims in virtue of an alleged ‘community of culture,’ in which the members are both united with each other by a shared culture and differentiated from others by the possession of that culture.”

To read the entire article click here.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Joint List Hebrew Jewish outreach campaign unraveling as it calls for boycotts of Israel

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
June 11, 2015

The Arab-Jewish Hadash Party, which is the most moderate of the parties in the Joint List, declared this week that it supports boycotting Israeli companies in the settlements.

Members of the Joint Arab List gesture during a news conference in Nazareth, January 23. (photo credit:REUTERS)

There was a feeling that something was new in the way the Joint List invested in Hebrew outreach during and after its election campaign; however, its recent spate of boycott calls have worked to severely undermine the little progress it had made.

The Joint List put a great deal of time and resources into its Hebrew-language election campaign and its leader, Ayman Odeh (Hadash) has consistently voiced his wish for democracy, equality and integration, while speaking on Hebrew TV stations, yet such efforts are viewed skeptically by the Jewish public, especially in light of its recent boycott campaign.

The Arab-Jewish Hadash Party, which is the most moderate of the parties in the Joint List, declared this week that it supports boycotting Israeli companies in the settlements.

“Hadash welcomes all expressions of solidarity with the Palestinian people in its just struggle, including boycotting commercial enterprises that are involved in the occupation and in violation of the Palestinian people’s rights,” the party said. “This is a legitimate manner of civil resistance.”

Representatives from the three other parties of the Joint List – the southern Islamic Movement’s United Arab List, Ta’al and Balad – confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that they also back this position. For them, boycotting the settlements is nothing new.

Ta’al chairman Ahmad Tibi has been calling for a boycott for some time. In a speech in the European Parliament last year, he called for a boycott of the settlements and their produce as part of a legitimate struggle against what he called occupation.

A Hadash source told the Post that this is the first time that Hadash as a party has come out officially to support a settlement products boycott, adding that there were voices in the party that had supported it previously.

The Hadash declaration only relates to goods from the settlements, and the party does not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement or a general boycott of Israel, the source clarified.

Not to be outdone, the next day right-wing nationalist Balad MK Basel Ghattas announced his support for BDS.

“The boycott is only the beginning of a process that cannot be reversed. As long as Israel continues the occupation, the boycott will continue and justly so,” said Ghattas.

To read the entire article click here.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

US should act in Mideast now to avoid messier cleanup later, says expert

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
June 11, 2015

Ariel Cohen: Iran going nuclear would lead to Saudis following suit.

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) and the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG) 60 sail in the Arabian Sea, in this US Navy photo taken April 16, 2015. (photo credit:REUTERS)

By decreasing its footprint in the Middle East at a time of growing threats, the US is putting off what inevitably will turn out to be much costlier interventions down the road, a prominent US-based expert tells The Jerusalem Post.

By putting off action against threats such as nuclear proliferation, the spread of jihadists, and failing states, “the US is losing stature” and creating a more dangerous situation where there is “more chaos, interstate competition, and as a result costs of doing international business will be rising,” Ariel Cohen, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and the director of the Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security in Washington, told the Post in an interview on Tuesday.

Cohen, an expert on Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East and energy, draws a parallel to the threat from Islamic State and the failure of the Clinton administration to nip al-Qaida in the bud when the organization was smaller and weaker.

Often, the Obama administration does not appreciate the value that force or the threat of the use of force has for an effective foreign policy, explained Cohen, who has testified before committees in the US Congress and lectures for the US military and other government agencies.

Regarding the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, Cohen argues, much like the Israeli government, that the deal being talked about now would be dangerous and would make Iran a threshold nuclear state.

It would not just be dangerous for Israel, but would likely lead to nuclear proliferation by Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, he said.

Sunni states and Israel perceive “a shrinking US role as a guardian of the existing security framework,” he said, pointing out that the lack of action to provide Ukraine with defensive weapons to protect itself from Russia and to impose order in Libya after Muammar Gaddafi further promotes this kind of thinking.

In Libya, for example, Islamists killed the US ambassador in 2012 and it did not spur a quick reaction to restore order.

And as a result of this perception, Middle Eastern states are looking for alternative ways to defend themselves, whether by acquiring nuclear weapons or looking for military partnerships with other countries such as Russia.

The Egyptian government, which has had strained relations with the US since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took over in June 2014, has increased cooperation with Moscow, including reports of unprecedented naval exercises and military arms deals, noted Cohen.

Within this context, the Egypt-Russia naval maneuvers this week can be understood as a first step to greater cooperation, he continued.

To read the entire article click here.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Do the Turkish elections offer a modicum of hope in preserving its democracy?

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
June 8, 2015

The oft-repeated Erdogan quote bears repeating – “democracy is a train that you get off once you reach your destination.”

The sun sets over the Ottoman-era Suleymaniye mosque in Istanbul. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Regardless of the results of the parliamentary election on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is probably going to push ahead in consolidating power for himself and his party and continue to Islamize the state.

The question is how fast he will be able to move. If the election results force his AK Party to form a coalition government, it could slow the pace a bit, but many of the state institutions have already been brought under his authority.

The oft-repeated Erdogan quote bears repeating – “democracy is a train that you get off once you reach your destination.”

Rachel Sharon-Krespin, director of the Turkish Media Project at MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday evening that the preliminary results so far, showing that Erdogan’s AKP might be forced to form a coalition government, could provide some hope for Turkish democracy.

“It would be an irony if the Kurds would save Turkish democracy,” she said, referring to the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which was projected at press time to make the 10 percent threshold and get into parliament.

Sharon-Krespin wrote in a recently released report published by MEMRI that these elections are crucial as they will determine if Erdogan can become an absolute ruler or whether “his era has come to an end.”

However, she said that in Turkey it is “highly expected that these elections would be rigged,” adding that a Twitter account, known as a whistle- blower and established to reveal truthful leaks, said a team has been set up by the AKP to rig the elections and have a presence at every ballot box.

Asked what would happen if the final results will suggest tampering and rule out other parties making it into parliament, Sharon-Krespin replied that there would “definitely be protests,” particularly in the eastern and southeastern parts of the country.

However, if the Kurdish party is able to make it in, it could be good for minority rights, and that means it would be positive for Turkish Jews.

Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, told the Post, “Let’s be clear, Erdogan got off the train of democracy several years ago.

“The AKP has always been over represented in parliament, sometimes getting twice as many seats as they would have if other parties passed the 10% threshold,” he said.

If the Kurdish HDP and the previous main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) pass the 10% threshold, then the AKP supermajority is over, added Rubin.

“But Erdogan has tasted dictatorship and he likes it.

He does not care much for elections unless people vote for him,” continued Rubin, adding that just as “we saw in local elections in places like Ankara, he won’t hesitate to fudge the numbers when the votes are counted off site to ensure the right results.

“Most Turkish politicians tell me he gets at least a 5% bonus from fraud.”

Not only can he manipulate the results, said Rubin, but “Turkey’s democracy may be too far gone” since “Erdogan has staffed the bureaucracy with his cronies so elections may not change much.”

“Erdogan looks in the mirror and sees a sultan,” he asserted, going on to say that this may be the last chance for voters “to let him and the world know that the emperor has no clothes.”

Daniel Pipes, scholar and president of the Middle East Forum think tank, told the Post that the significance of the elections are being overrated.

“Now, it hardly matters how the elections come out, just as it hardly does in Iran,” he said.

To read the entire article click here.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Nasrallah tries once more to mobilize base to support Assad

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
June 4, 2015

The joint struggle to maintain Assad in power is Hezbollah’s primary mission at the moment and the group’s leader is trying to rally his forces in the face of high casualties and the need for new recruits.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. (photo credit:ALMANAR)

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave yet another speech on Wednesday in an effort to motivate Shi’ite supporters in Lebanon to help keep Syrian President Bashar Assad in power.

“The party that has fought and experienced wars can lead to victory,” Nasrallah said, according to the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International website.

In a speech honoring the memory of a Shi’ite cleric, Nasrallah said “new milestones were opened” for Muslims following the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Nasrallah sees Shi’ite Iran and its leading cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as the spiritual authority, and perceives the struggle against Sunni powers in the sectarian regional war as a continuation and spreading of the revolutionary ideology of the Iranian regime.

The joint struggle to maintain Assad in power is Hezbollah’s primary mission at the moment and, through a string of recent speeches, the group’s leader is trying to rally his forces in the face of high casualties and the need for new recruits.

“It is true that I said the day may come when we will have to declare general mobilization.

But I did not declare it,” Nasrallah said in last speech in May, according to MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute) “To all those people, I say: Even if I do not call for general mobilization, if the Hezbollah leadership decides to take to the streets, you will find tens of thousands of men there,” he said.

Tony Badran, a columnist for the Beirut- based website NOW Lebanon and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that Nasrallah’s last speech was more significant in terms of his calling Shi’ites to fall into line and the broader context of the Iranian effort to mobilize Shi’ite fighters to protect Assad.

The Hezbollah leader has successfully “framed the Syrian war as existential for the Shia of Lebanon,” Badran said.

This has included drawing in Christians by insinuating that if Hezbollah fails and Assad falls, they, too, would be slaughtered by jihadists.

The current battle in the Syrian-Lebanese border region of Qalamoun is key for ensuring Assad’s survival and for securing an Iranian protectorate in western Syria contiguous with Lebanon, he added.

Consolidating this enclave has been Iran’s strategy since late 2012.

To read the entire article click here.