Monday, April 27, 2015

Netanyahu's blessing to Druse gets warm reception on holiday

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
April 26, 2015

PM’s message noted that not only do Druse cooperate in blood, but they are partners in building the holy land of Israel.

Israeli Druse attend an event. (photo credit:ALAMAMA)

Likud Druse MK Ayoub Kara passed on a blessing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to tens of thousands of Druse congregated at the grave of Nabi Shu’ayb for their annual holiday on Saturday.

“The Prime Minister asked me to read out a blessing to the Druse” congregated for their holiday at the shrine of the prophet Shu’ayb, whom Druse tradition recognizes as the biblical Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, Kara told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Sunday.

“Because it was held on Shabbat and he [Netanyahu] couldn’t come, he asked me to transmit his blessing, which was received with love and cheers,” said Kara.

Netanyahu’s message noted that not only do we cooperate in blood, but we are partners in building the holy land of Israel.

“As loyal citizens who love the country, I am familiar with and appreciate the contribution of the daughters and sons of the Druse community to Israeli society and to the state,” said Netanyahu in his letter to the Druse community.

“A very high proportion of the community’s young people are drafted into the best units in the IDF and the Israel Police and some of our best commanders come from among you. To my great sorrow, many of your sons have given their lives on behalf of the security of the state.

“Israeli society views you as brothers and sisters not just because of the bond of blood between our peoples but also due to the bond of life that has been built between us over the years,” he added.

“The traditions of your fathers and your faith and beliefs are bound with the history of our land. Like us, you, too, are part of the vistas of the Land of Israel. Our obligation as a state is to continue assisting each and every member of the community to integrate into Israeli society and to enable your young people to realize their potential,” Netanyahu wrote.

A knowledgeable political source in the Druse community told the Post that “there was anger” at the end of last year when the cabinet approved a bill to anchor in law Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people, legislation critics say could undermine its democratic foundation and the rights of minorities.

“This was one of the reasons that large numbers of Druse didn’t vote for Bibi [Netanyahu],” claimed the source, adding that now he has a chance to embrace the Druse anew and appoint a Druse minister in his government.

“It cannot be that minorities make up 20 percent of the population but do not even have one person in the government – only Jews,” argued the source.

The Druse holiday lasts from Saturday until Monday, and Sheikh Maufak Tarif, the head of the Druse community in Israel, told the Post that tens of thousands showed up on Saturday, and President Reuven Rivlin is scheduled to attend on Monday.

To read the entire article click here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Chaos in Middle East could last for ‘at least a decade,’ expert tells ‘Post’

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
April 22, 2015

Saudi rhetoric about Yemen ‘fits logic of sectarian hatred,’ says another • Clerics in kingdom are inciting against Houthis, calling them ‘rats.’

SHI’ITE FIGHTERS launch a rocket last month during clashes with Islamic State on the outskirts of al-Alam, Iraq.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The breakdown of states throughout the Middle East since the outbreak of the Arab Spring has led the people in the region to fall back on primordial attachments, enhancing the power of sectarianism, tribalism, and Islamism, experts told The Jerusalem Post.

Various forces are seeking to fill the vacuum amidst the chaos, including a rising Shi’ite Iran and its allies, Sunni jihadist groups and Arab states.

The Iranian-Shi’ite battle being played out in the region has often been characterized by each side accusing the other of extremism or terrorism, but much of the underlying feud appears to be sectarian.

Shmuel Bar, a senior research fellow at the Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Research at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, said we are witnessing the failure of the nation-state in the Middle East, and people are reverting back to families and tribes.

Asked if the Sunni-Shi’ite reference is the best way to describe what is occurring in the region, Bar responded that it is part of it, but it is also linked to two other frames of reference: the “retribalization” of the Middle East and the conflict between Iran and the Arabs.

“The former is expressed in the breakdown of the nation-state and the reversion of communities to a primordial frame of reference – the tribe and the sectarian community – to provide the security that the state can no longer provide.”

“The latter is a deeply rooted conflict in the region that was subdued as long as Iran – and its Arab Shi’ite proxies – did not seem to be predominant and victorious,” he said.

Bar added that the success of Iran in spreading its hegemony throughout the Arab world through Shi’ite proxies – Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon – is viewed by the Sunni Arabs as an existential threat to Sunni predominance.

“As long as the Shi’ites were a docile, quiet minority and accepted their status, they could be tolerated,” he said, “But once they are seen as tools in the hands of Iranian hegemony, the anti-Shi’ite ideology of the Wahhabi movement morphs into the even more extremist phenomenon of Islamic State.”

The fact that the United States is now seen as having “flipped” from support of the Sunni countries to support of Iranian hegemony exacerbates the sense of existential danger, said Bar, noting that the US toppled Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, and brought a pro-Iranian Shi’ite regime to power.

The US could have also worked to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, but it decided to reconcile with his continuing massacre of Sunni Syrians, he said, and is sending a message of willingness to change its position on Hezbollah. These are all seen as signs of that “flip,” continued Bar.

Bar sees the ideology of Islamic State’s caliphate as an important historical change of course.

“On this background, the ideology of Islamic State and the caliphate are a watershed event,” he said adding, “No previous Islamic regime – no matter how radical,” such as al-Qaida and the Taliban – “dared declare itself a caliphate.”

“The very paradigm of the caliphate implies that there is only one form of Islam and the caliphate must purge the ‘Abode of Islam’ from all others – Shi’ites, Alawites – and subjugate all other religious communities – Christians and Jews – or eliminate them.”

“This chaos is now irreversible; there is no military or economic energy available to bring the disorder back into order,” argued Bar.

“Therefore, Israel and the West must be prepared to live through the age of chaos in the Middle East for at least a decade.”

David Andrew Weinberg, a specialist on Gulf affairs and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said by going to war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has let the sectarian genie out of the bottle again.

The war has “undoubtedly had a significant sectarian dimension to it, one the Saudis have nurtured over the years and now are forced to confront,” he said.

To read the entire article click here.

Saudi-funded French weapons arrive in Lebanon

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
April 21, 2015

The moderate Sunni bloc is being threatened not only by the Sunni extremists, but also by Hezbollah.

Lebanese army soldiers stand next to displayed weapons that they received during a ceremony at Beirut airport airbase April 20. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The first shipment of French weapons and military equipment arrived in Lebanon on Monday under a Saudi-funded deal worth $3 billion. The arms and supplies will supposedly bolster the Lebanese army’s fight against Sunni terrorists encroaching from Syria, though thoughts of countering Hezbollah were likely also in mind.

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 Monday that the primary objective of these weapons is to improve the Lebanese army’s ability to secure the country from the spillover from Syria.

France and Saudi Arabia are developing defense ties and this deal reflects that growing relationship, said Badran.

The Saudi-funded arms are meant to shore up the moderate Sunni leadership in Lebanon, represented by the figure of former prime minister Saad Hariri, demonstrating that this leadership stands behind the state and its security, he asserted.

The moderate Sunni bloc is being threatened not only by the Sunni extremists, but also by Hezbollah.

It was Hariri who last year announced a $1 billion grant to the army.

Hezbollah had been attacking Lebanon’s Sunni leadership, and indeed the broader community, as sympathizers and supporters of jihadi groups.

Asked if the weapons could be meant to target Hezbollah, Badran responded, “Over the long term they want to make sure that the army is strong enough to be in control of its territory but in the immediate context it is about countering the spillover from Syria.”

Badran went on to point out that one downside of supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces was that it was indirectly helping Hezbollah, one of their enemies.

“The LAF has been playing a growing role in military operations in the northeast bekaa, to the benefit of a stretched Hezbollah,” he said.

Hariri does not own a militia, so the Saudis must think that by boosting the military, it is a way to give the moderate Sunnis some power and prevent the country from exploding.

However, Badran argues that the Saudis appear not to have got as much as they could in return from the LAF command.

To read the entire article click here.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Joint List will have difficulty integrating if continues with struggle

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
April 20, 2015

Expert to ‘Post’: Joint List seeking to take care of Israeli Arab concerns while not turning back on Palestinians.

A WOMAN walks past a campaign billboard for the Joint (Arab) List in Umm el-Fahm yesterday. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The Joint List put a great deal of time and resources into its Hebrew-language election campaign, but its recent efforts to coordinate moves with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas demonstrate that its rhetoric about integration may not have been sincere.

Abbas announced on Saturday that all of the Joint List’s MKs will soon visit Qatar, which has supported Hamas and other Islamist movements in the region.

Abbas made the announcement during a meeting in Ramallah with Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh and the founder of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Abdallah Nimer Darwish.

Odeh, who is also the new chairman of the Arab-Jewish Hadash party, has put forth a different Arab face to the Jewish public, one that speaks to all of society, not just the Arab sector.

Reut Mor, the Joint List and Hadash party spokeswoman in Hebrew, told The Jerusalem Post during the campaign that the mostly Arab candidates in the Joint List had decided from the beginning to reach out and speak in a new way, trying to appeal to all sectors of society.

However, such outreach is not going to go down well with most Jews if Israeli Arab politicians continue to visit Israel’s foes.

Such rhetoric therefore may be viewed as merely deception and renew many Jews’ suspicions, who view it as a means to play the democratic game in an effort to change the identity of the state from within.

Mordechai Kedar, director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation) and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told the Post in an interview on Sunday that Odeh deserves credit for correctly reading what his constituents want from him.

“On one hand, they want to see him taking care of Israeli Arab concerns that have been neglected by Arab Knesset members,” argued Kedar. This is something that has to be addressed, and Odeh realizes this, Kedar said.

“But on other hand, he can’t turn his back on the Palestinians and he wants to have a good relationship with Abbas,” as this could allow him to improve his connection to the Obama administration.

To read the entire article click here.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Analysis: Framework deal opens floodgates for investment in Iran

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
April 17, 2105

US lost leverage, think tank director tells ‘Post;’ Future president will have to choose to attack or surrender.

AN IRANIAN flag flutters in the breeze. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The framework nuclear agreement Iran and world powers signed this month has opened the floodgates toward an end of sanctions and to new business deals.

In the past week, Russia moved quickly to renew a contract to deliver the S-300 missile defense system to Tehran, and China agreed to build nuclear plants in the country.

And Austrian President Heinz Fischer may take a business delegation there later this year. “With the progress of the Iranian nuclear track – and that is obviously positive – we do not see any reason to continue to keep the ban [on the delivery of the S-300] unilaterally,” Putin said in his annual marathon call-in show with Russians on Thursday.

Speaking at a Moscow security conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the preliminary deal meant Iran’s “vicious” international isolation should come to an end.

Meanwhile, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy agency, announced on Tuesday that China would soon start building nuclear plants in the country, coming after a previous agreement with the Russians to construct two.

And the Austrian president told the Wiener Zeitung, in an interview published on Thursday, “Now that a framework agreement with Iran exists, a trip in the second half of 2015 has become likely.

“The first step is awaiting a final result of the negotiations. Then we will set a date, and only then will the composition of the delegation be an issue,” Fischer said.

No Western head of state visited Iran during the two terms of President Hassan Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This spurt of activity signals that several countries are trying to get a head start on what they expect to be a flood of transactions with the Shi’ite state once a final agreement is reached. But this also shows that a final nuclear deal may not be necessary for the sanctions regime to unravel.

“Once Iran begins to get significant sanctions relief, and billions of dollars and scores of European and other companies move back into Iran, the snap-back sanctions will run into a wall of Russian and Chinese intransigence at the UN and market-drive human greed,” Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Thursday.

“Iran has already benefited from significant direct and indirect sanctions relief which helped the supreme leader avoid economic collapse in 2013,” continued Dubowitz, adding that Iran’s fragile economic recovery would only improve after a final agreement.

To read the entire article click here.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Analysis: Can Egypt tackle its terrorism problem?

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
April 16, 2015

Perhaps simply too many sympathize with the insurgency.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.. (photo credit:AMR ABDALLAH DALSH / REUTERS)

The Egyptian government led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seems to be unable to deal with the growing, non-stop Islamist insurgency on its territory.

Almost every day there are reports of army operations against Sinai-based terrorists and/or terrorist attacks against security personnel, government structures or civilian targets.

On Tuesday, assailants shot and killed a policeman and wounded two others in Qalyubia Governorate, in the Nile Delta, on Monday, gunmen shot a soldier in Sinai, Aswat Masriya reported, citing Egypt’s state news agency MENA.

On Sunday, two bomb attacks targeting security forces in Sinai killed at least 13 people and wounded dozens. A Twitter feed that describes itself as the official account for Sinai Province, a terrorist group that changed its name from Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and pledged allegiance to Islamic State in November, claimed responsibility for the attack.

North Sinai is the center of an insurgency that has killed hundreds of members of the security services since mid-2013, when then-army chief Sisi ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. Sisi was overwhelmingly elected president last year.

The regional chaos, and particularly the civil war raging next door in Libya, add fuel to the flames of an insurgency that the Egyptian security forces are unqualified to deal with.

The army has carried out massive operations against terrorists in Sinai, started building a buffer with the Gaza Strip, and led a harsh crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters nationwide. But none of this has proven effective in ending the almost daily attacks.

Perhaps the security forces are simply incapable of dealing with a problem of this magnitude, in part because too many Egyptians sympathize with the insurgency.

In a nation of around 80 million, and with a significant proportion of them supporting either the Muslim Brotherhood or more radical Islamists, there are millions of potential supporters or financiers of terrorism, or even outright jihadists.

“The Sinai insurgency isn’t a new phenomenon – it precedes Morsi’s ouster, and of course precedes the 2011 uprising [that overthrew Hosni Mubarak] as well,” Eric Trager, an expert on Egypt and a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“It has escalated due to regional trends, such as the rise of Islamic State, as well as because insurgent groups within Sinai enjoyed more hospitable conditions under the Muslim Brotherhood, and are now battling the return of the security state,” he continued.

Shadi Hamid, author of Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East, and a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, told the Post that this is a government that is supposed to be good at one thing: stability and security.

However, he said, “the events of recent months demonstrate quite the opposite. The Sinai insurgency and the terrorist threat more generally are only getting worse.

To read the entire article click here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Missile deal between Russia and Iran challenges US influence in Mideast

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
April 15, 2015

The US has taken more of a background role in the conflicts spreading across the region and Russia seems willing to fill that vacuum.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (photo credit:REUTERS)
As the US seeks to minimize its involvement in the chaos and instability of the Middle East, Russia is seeking to fill any vacuum it can.

The US has taken more of a background role in the conflicts spreading across the region, providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, conducting air raids against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and staying out of the civil war in Libya. In all cases, the Obama administration is being careful not to get too involved or commit to troops on the ground.

The news on Monday that Russia was paving the way to resume missile system deliveries to Iran and starting an oil-for-goods swap signaled that Moscow may have a head start in the race to benefit from an eventual lifting of sanctions on Tehran. The sanctions relief is part of an interim deal world powers reached with Iran this month on curbing its nuclear program.

The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree ending a self-imposed ban on delivering the S-300 anti-missile rocket system to Iran, removing a major irritant between the two countries after Moscow canceled a corresponding contract in 2010 under pressure from the West and Israel.

The move by Russia to quickly insert itself after the nuclear framework agreement could also be a way for it to gain leverage in negotiations in other areas with the West - such as over the standoff in Ukraine. That could mean the announcement is an attempt at gamesmanship - not a real effort to deliver the air defense system to Tehran.

“I wouldn’t say Russians are trying to fill any void left by the US, on the contrary, they are drawn to competition with the US over influence in the region, and specifically over ‘special relations’ with Iran,” Yuri Teper, a Russian expert and postdoctoral fellow at The University of Manchester told The Jerusalem Post.

Teper, who is also a fellow at the Israeli Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, said that after the recent American effort at rapprochement with Iran, the Russian government sees no reason to restrain its relationship with the Shi’ite country since “their main adversary is running headlong into Iranian arms.”

To read the entire article click here.

Monday, April 13, 2015

‘Israel needs to find the right time to stop Iran’s nuclear program’

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
April 13, 2015

BESA Center’s Efraim Inbar tells ‘Post’: ‘US-Israel relations are on a collision course’ because US doesn’t have will to act against Iran.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (L) and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

"Israel is on its own on Iran and has to find the right time to stop its nuclear program kinetically,” Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Sunday.

“The issue is political will,” said Inbar, arguing that we got to this point “because the US administration does not have the will to act against Iranian nuclear aspirations.”

“US-Israel relations are on a collision course because of [President Barack] Obama’s policy on Iran and during this difficult period Israel needs to minimize the damage to the pillars of US-Israel relations,” he said.

However, he says, “We cannot accept the American policy on Iran and sometimes small states have to oppose even superpowers’ policies.”

Iran and world powers reached a framework nuclear agreement on April 2 that would require Iran to shut down parts of its nuclear program that could be used to build a bomb, and accept intrusive inspections, in exchange for the West lifting economic sanctions.

Israeli political leaders and Republican congressional representatives have strongly criticized the deal.

“There is no way to sweeten the deal; it is essentially flawed and it reminds us clearly of the North Korean agreement,” which failed to stop the reclusive Asian country from going nuclear, said Inbar.

And just like the agreement with North Korea in 1994, the Iranians also have no qualms about cheating their way to the bomb, he said.

To read the entire article click here.