Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Turkey chaos following coup attempt leaves Assad as big winner

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
July 20, 2016

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (photo credit:AFP PHOTO)

The Turkish government’s massive crackdown on opponents and those alleged to be involved inthe failed coup has left the country’s military and institutions weaker and less able to play a large role in toppling Syria’s regime.

Turkish authorities have suspended or detained around 50,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers since the coup attempt, according to the latest Reuters tally on Wednesday.

“This is probably the weakest the Turkish military has ever been in the history of the Turkish republic,” Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a member of the Turkish parliament from 2011 to 2015 and a senior fellow at the Washington- based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Business Insider website.

Turkey’s domestic situation and its 180-degree turn toward a more realistic and accommodating foreign policy, which includes efforts to repair relations with Israel, Russia and even Syria and Iraq, likely means a less aggressive Syria policy.

Therefore, at least in the near term, there is little chance that Turkey would launch a large-scale military operation or act too aggressively and upset the Russian and Syrian governments.

Yunus Akbaba, an adviser to Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the measures the government is taking now “are a matter of survival.”

Regarding Syria, he said, “Turkey had already softened its position and was ready for a political transition in which Assad would go at the end of the process.”

Turkey wants to see a new constitution and fair elections under UN auspices, said the Turkish official.

Asked about a possible major Turkish intervention, Akbaba played down any chance of that happening. “Turkey was never a fan of intervention by itself. That’s why we called on the international community to take coordinated actions, but it seems quite impossible in the current situation.”

Questioned about Western pressure on Turkey to ease the crackdown of those accused of supporting the coup attempt, he responded that “it is not really our first priority right now since it is a matter of survival.”
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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Did Erdogan stage a coup against himself?

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
July 19,2016

turkey coup
Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan shout slogans on the back of a truck during a pro-government demonstration on Taksim square in Istanbul, Turkey, July 16, 2016. (photo credit:REUTERS)
Despite a claim by US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen that the coup was a ruse by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to crack down on his domestic opponents, evidence so far points to a real coup attempt.

Pictures of the destroyed Ankara police headquarters bombed by helicopters, other damaged buildings, and Erdogan breaking down in tears at the funeral of an old friend killed during the chaos appear to demonstrate that the abortive coup was just that – and not an elaborate conspiracy.

A senior Turkish official from the presidency slammed rumors of an Erdogan conspired coup.

“It is really disrespectful to see people who haven’t been here, who haven’t seen what the putschists did, just from the comfort of their homes, pass judgment and spread rumors about what happened in Turkey,” the official told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

“There are people who believe 9/11 was an inside job, and there are people that believe that Barack Obama is really a secret Muslim from Kenya,” he continued.

Speaking from Ankara, the senior official pointed out that the parliament had been bombed by F-16s for the first time in history, and that he saw remains from bombs dropped next to the presidential palace. In addition, he said he saw video of tanks running over civilians.

The Turkish official also mentioned the security video from the hotel where Erdogan had been staying, showing special forces that were part of the coup attempt raiding his room soon after he fled. The clash with security forces resulted in the death of two members of the president’s security detail, he said.

Reacting to events in Turkey, Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara (Likud) told thePost, “For us, our official position is to respect all elected world governments that want relations with us, and of course Turkey.”

“What occurred there is an internal matter of the Turkish people,” he said adding, “I was in touch during the days of crisis with Turkish sources, and received messages that they are going to strengthen the relations with Israel and respect the agreement with Israel.”

Karel Valansi, a Turkish Middle East expert who writes for the Jewish Turkish weekly Salom and the T24 news outlet, told the Post, “I don’t think that the coup attempt was staged by the president, but it will surely give him more power and an excuse to consolidate power.”

Everyone was surprised by what happened, she said, adding that a small faction in the army that conspired the coup seemed to leave many of the rank and file soldiers in the dark, with those stationed in front of Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport not having any idea about the plan. “They thought that it was a drill to combat Islamic State.”

Every year in August there is a Supreme Military Council meeting where appointments and retirements are decided. “I think they moved their plans forward in desperation due to the upcoming meeting and were not prepared enough. It was very amateur from the very beginning,” said Valansi.
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Monday, July 11, 2016

Analysis: 10 years after latest Lebanon War, next one will be far more brutal

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
July 10, 2016

A Hezbollah member carries a mock rocket next to a poster of the group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah
A Hezbollah member carries a mock rocket next to a poster of the group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah. (photo credit:REUTERS)
As the 10th anniversary of the July 2006 Lebanon War approaches, tensions remain high in Lebanon in anticipation of a next round, which could much more severely disrupt the country as a functioning state this time around.

Due to regional and internal political conditions in Lebanon, that country would fare far worse after a devastating round of Israeli attacks targeting Hezbollah and state infrastructure.

Lebanon is already suffering a refugee crisis with 1.5 million Syrians among its population of 4.5 million, giving the country the highest per capita refugee count in the world, according to a New York Times report earlier this month.

In addition, Hezbollah’s war to prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad has led to a spillover of the sectarian conflict into the country.

Moreover, Hezbollah is more powerful inside the country now than it was in 2006 – so much so that Saudi Arabia has cut off military aid and the Gulf states have imposed sanctions on Hezbollah.

Tony Badran, a Lebanon expert and research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post in addition to the refugee situation resulting from the ongoing war in Syria, “the level of destruction during the next war with Hezbollah promises to be even greater than in 2006, as Hezbollah military infrastructure is dispersed in civilian areas, which will now be treated as military targets.”

“What’s more, Syria is no longer a safe haven for Shi’ite refugees,” he said.

It took Hezbollah several years to complete reconstruction in Shi’ite areas destroyed in the second Lebanon war. “Now, unlike in 2006,” Badran said, “it is not necessarily a given that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states will rush to donate money for reconstruction.”

Saudi abruptly cut $3 billion in military aid and $1b. to the security services in February. The Saudi action was triggered by Lebanon’s failure to join other Arab governments in condemning attacks earlier this year on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

Saudi Arabia spearheaded efforts to get Gulf Arab states and the Arab League to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization, which led to reports of Lebanese nationals being forced to leave Gulf countries because of alleged Hezbollah links.

Various statements by senior IDF officials in recent years have threatened to deliver a blow in the next war against Hezbollah more devastating than the destruction wrought on the Lebanese state the last time around.

For example, Israeli Air Force chief Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel warned in 2014 that “thousands” of Hezbollah bases in residential buildings would be destroyed in a future conflict, even at the cost of civilian lives.

“We will have to deal aggressively with thousands of Hezbollah bases that threaten the State of Israel and mainly our interior,” Eshel said in a speech, citing Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and southern Lebanon among the locations of the bases.

“And that is where the war will be. That is where we will have to fight in order to stop it and win. Whoever stays in these bases will simply be hit and will risk their lives. Whoever goes out will live.”

The Post contacted numerous Lebanese citizens for this article; all but one refused to comment because of the risk involved and the ban on contacts with Israel.

One anonymous source from Beirut told the Post, “First, I hope there will be no future war – not least as it will be destructive for both sides. Secondly, I think the repercussions of the 2006 war are more dramatic than the mere casualties that occurred.”

This, continued the source, is because Lebanese see the Israeli government as preparing in a more deliberate and calculated manner to wage another war, “in contrast to previous decades when the decision to go to war was more whimsical and hardly ever planned for in an educated manner.”

“I am not even sure why the Israeli government would want to go to war with Lebanon at this stage. There is no clear conflict at this point in time after the withdrawal and prisoners’ release. Would the Israeli government want to attack us just because Hezbollah is arming up more heavily?” 

Asked if the feeling is another war is coming, the Beirut resident responded that it does not seem likely since both sides prefer not to wage war now.

“No one is thirsty for war [here],” said the source.
To read the entire article click here.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Was the Istanbul attack an act of retaliation for Turkey-Israel accord?

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
June 30, 2016

istanbul ataturk airport attack
A man looks at a broken glass at Istanbul Ataturk airport, Turkey, following yesterday's blast June 29, 2016.. (photo credit:REUTERS)
Tuesday’s suspected ISIS attack on the Atatürk Airport was likely preplanned and unrelated to the rapprochement between Turkey and Israel and Russia, a senior Turkish official and other terrorism experts told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday.

However, there is evidence Islamic State was angry about the repairing of relations between Turkey, Israel and Russia, publishing a statement in the latest edition of its official newsletter.

A senior Turkish official told the Post “the main reason behind the Islamic State attacks is Turkey’s role in the international coalition [against the group].”

Asked if the attack could be meant as a response to Turkey’s diplomatic moves to repair relations with Israel and Russia, he responded, “An attack of this scale takes planning. But we are not ruling out the fact that the terrorists may have picked this date to challenge Turkey’s diplomatic efforts.”

Rafael Green, director of the Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor of MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute), told the Post, “It is very unlikely the deal with Israel had anything to do with it.”

“As in the past, Islamic State does not claim responsibility for attacks in Turkey,” he added.

Islamic State criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which is similar criticism that came from al-Qaida and others, may point to a motive being Turkey’s support for Free Syrian Army and other Islamist factions in Syria.

The Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor found a statement in Islamic State’s official newsletter Al-Naba published on Tuesday saying that “The tyrant Erdogan renews ties with the Jews’ state and begs for Putin’s favor...”

Ege Seckin, senior analyst at IHS Jane’s Country Risk, said that the attack most likely sought “to undermine the Turkish economy by attacking the airport ahead of the summer months, when tourism peaks.”

“The capability of the Islamic State and similar Sunni militant groups in Turkey is likely to continue to expand so long as Turkey permits domestic political Islamism to grow unchecked.

“Turkey’s reconciliation with Israel, announced on 27 June, will help reinforce the Islamic State’s narrative that ‘apostate’ governments of Muslim majority countries are aligned with ‘Jews, Crusaders and unbelievers’ against the true Islam it claims to represent,” said Seckin.

Dina Lisnyansky, an Islamic terrorism expert and consultant from Bar-Ilan University, said that Islamic State has been using Turkey airports as one of the main ways of ferrying fighters and personnel to and from Syria and Iraq.

“Turkey is unable to control” the flow of Islamic State personnel through the country, she asserted.

Lisnyansky does not see the motive of the attack as specifically targeting Turkey, but against the third busiest airport in Europe as a kind of “showoff” attention seeking attack.

She ruled out Kurdish responsibility since they favor targeting government facilities or members of the security forces.

“The attack could have occurred anywhere, but it happened in the Turkish airport because it was possible. Islamic State doesn’t see anyone as ideological allies and views anyone who is not an Islamic State member as a target.”

“It is part of the group’s radical division of the world into “righteous and Islamic” and to “the others” who are heretics and infidels, and therefore can be targeted during terror attacks, which Islamic State regards as rightful jihadi actions.”
To read the entire article click here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Analysis: Turkey takes pragmatic approach, seeks to undo isolation, gain influence

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
June 28, 2016

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (photo credit:AFP PHOTO)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to be on the cusp of reaping the benefits of an abrupt change of course, moving toward a formal peace with Israel and Russia in exchange for a number of benefits, some of them not yet tangible.

Turkey’s aggressive Islamist- oriented foreign policy has led to a loss of influence in the region, as its opponents keep it in check.

After opposing Israel so strongly in the past, Erdogan is in an uncomfortable situation.

But because of the wars raging in Syria, Iraq, and the domestic Kurdish insurgency, as well as its terrible relations with Russia and many of its Middle Eastern neighbors, he felt something had to give.

In the rapprochement deal with Israel, Erdogan slickly inserted Turkey more deeply into the Palestinian issue, using aid and the rebuilding of Gaza for propaganda and ideological purposes, which will strengthen Hamas’s hold on the Strip at the expense of the PA.

The Turkish president also was able to get something for his conservative supporters: a multi-million-dollar cash payment from Israel for families of Turks killed or injured on the Mavi Marmara flotilla, despite the fact that they attacked Israeli soldiers.

Ali Sahin, the Turkish deputy minister for EU Affairs, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that “the Middle East region needs peace and stability more than ever and I am sure that the deal between Israel and Turkey will contribute to regional peace.”

While the deal is being questioned in both Turkey and Israel, “from a humanitarian point of view I am happy with the deal,” he said, referring to the part in the agreement allowing Ankara to send aid and other products to Gaza.

While the Turkish leader did have to settle for less than he sought with Israel maintaining the Gaza blockade, Turkey could use its increased influence there to compete with Iran for influence with Hamas.

Ege Seckin, senior analyst at IHS Jane’s Country Risk, told the Post that “by allowing Turkey to invest in Gaza, Israel probably intends to increase Turkey’s influence over Hamas – and over the Gaza Strip in general – at the expense of Iran, which Israel sees as a bigger threat to its national security.”

“Turkey, which already enjoys a close relationship with Hamas, is likely to use its infrastructural investments in Gaza to consolidate its influence over the group,” added Seckin.

Turkey would likely use its political weight over Hamas “to discourage activities that would risk an escalation,” argued Seckin, adding that this is because of “the pragmatic imperatives underlying the reconciliation deal.”

Turkey and Israel do not wish for another Gaza war now and so the reconciliation deal “raises the stakes of another Gaza war,” he asserted.

Turkey had been largely dependent on Russian gas before it shot down a Russian fighter jet in November and now if its effort to fix relations succeeds, it will also receive an economic boost.

With Israel, the gas situation is not a done deal. Questioned about a prospective gas deal between Israel and Turkey, an industry source told the Post that such a transaction is much more complicated than much of the media let on.

“To send gas to Turkey you have to go through Cyprus waters and the country could torpedo a deal as along as Turkey occupies Northern Cyprus,” said the source, adding that some kind of agreement such as a fee could be worked out, but that is yet to be agreed upon.

However, “having all our ‘export eggs’ from Leviathan in one Turkish basket is risky to say the least,” added the source.

Meanwhile, the Turkish government and its supporters trumpet the Israel deal as a victory.

Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a member of the Turkish parliament from 2011 to 2015 and a senior fellow at the Washington- based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Post that Turkey’s pro-government media have covered the Israeli deal widely, presenting it as a victory for Turkey.

“The deal with Israel is only the first step of the reset in Turkish foreign policy.

Pro-government commentators have been highlighting the deal’s positive spillover effects into relations with Egpyt, Russia, and the US,” he said.

“The few remaining opposition outlets, meanwhile, portrayed the deal as Erdogan caving in and backing from his full list of demands,” he noted.

“Erdogan, however, is confident that his overwhelming control of the Turkish media will allow him to spin this deal as an unequivocal win for Turkey,” he added.

Ironically, argued Erdemir, the relative absence of independent media in Turkey allowed Ankara to finalize the deal unhindered.
To read the entire article click here.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Analysis: The winner from the Israel-Turkey détente - Hamas

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
June 27, 2016

hamas turkey
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh seen in Ankara on January 3, 2012 . (photo credit:REUTERS)

Hamas and Turkey come out as the winners in the upcoming deal if reports in the Israeli media are correct.

Israel apparently has agreed to the presence of Hamas in Turkey as long as it does not involve itself directly in terrorist attacks against Israel, but limits itself to political and other supposedly nonviolent activity.

However, the sanction of the presence and “political” activity of Hamas in a country with diplomatic ties with Israel undermines years of Israeli public relations against the terrorist group, which sought to identify Hamas with other Sunni groups such as al-Qaida and Islamic State.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu equated Islamic State to Hamas in a speech to the UN in September 2014, saying some countries “evidently don’t understand that ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree.”

“ISIS and Hamas share a fanatical creed, which they both seek to impose well beyond the territory under their control,” he said, going on to note that both groups call for the creation of a caliphate with global ambitions.

But, if Hamas is Islamic State, why is Israel sanctioning its activity, even though not directly terrorism related, in a country with which it wants to normalize relations? Turkish media reported that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Istanbul on Friday to discuss the negotiations with Israel.

Would Israel or any other Western country allow the leader of a friendly state with which it has diplomatic relations meet with Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and allow the organization to operate within its territory? Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, told The Jerusalem Post the upcoming deal is “a win for the status quo as nothing really changes.”

Besides Hamas not being able to carry out military activity from Turkish soil, everything else stays the same: Hamas maintains its Turkish headquarters; Turkey continues assisting Hamas-ruled Gaza; and Israel facilitates this.

Israel does gain the removal and blockage of lawsuits against its soldiers in return for a multi-million dollar settlement for families of Turks killed or injured on the Mavi Marmara flotilla, but other than that “it is a victory for Erdogan.”

Furthermore, Israel and some analysts have taken great pains to point out that terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah cannot be separated into political and military entities since they feed off and support one another as part of the same organization.

When the EU decided to ban Hezbollah’s military wing but not its political one in 2013, Israeli supporters criticized it for not going far enough.

Netanyahu said at the time that he hoped the decision would lead to real steps in Europe against the group, and stated that, in Israel’s view, Hezbollah was one indivisible organization.

Hence, allowing Hamas to continue to function anywhere undermines Israel’s security.

Meanwhile, the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), the same organization that was behind the Mavi Marmara flotilla that sought to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in May 2010, objects to any rapprochement with Israel, the Hurriyet Daily News reported.

Selin Nasi, a columnist for the Hurriyet Daily News and the Turkish- Jewish weekly Salom, told the Post that if the report of the upcoming deal is true and Turkey agreed to the easing of the blockade but not lifting it, then “it could have a political cost with his conservative political constituency here in Turkey.”

After opposing Israel so strongly in the past, Erdogan is in an uncomfortable situation. But because of the wars raging in Syria, Iraq, and the domestic Kurdish insurgency, as well as its terrible relations with Russia and many of its Middle Eastern neighbors, he felt something had to give.

To read the entire article click here.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Israel and Turkey: Walking on eggshells

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
June 25, 2016

A deal on rapprochement with Ankara, expected to be announced next week, would be one based solely on perceived interests, lacking in affinity and ideological likeness and subject to both external and Turkish domestic pressures.

Turkey is coming into the deal, which according to reports in the Turkish press will be announced on Sunday, in the wake of its disastrous foreign policy, which insists on supporting Islamist forces, and a growing destabilization at home due to the war with the Kurds and the influx of refugees from Syria.

Turkey has terrible relations with many of its Middle Eastern neighbors and is part of the ongoing sectarian wars, with particular attentiveness to and involvement in Syria and Iraq in support of rebel groups.

Because of its backing for Sunni rebels and the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, it has strained ties with the Shi’ite axis of Iran, Hezbollah, Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, relations with the status quo Sunni powers of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, with the exception of Islamist-supporting Qatar, are cool.

Ankara’s ties with Europe are also strained because of the massive migration of Middle Easterners and Asians to the European Union via Turkey and the fact that the country is unlikely to gain EU membership any time soon. In addition, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism and crackdown on the domestic media and critics are further eroding support for his government in the West.

Turkey has been supporting extremist rebel factions in Syria, including some reports of helping Islamic State. Its fierce opposition to Kurdish forces there, fearing growing Kurdish independence that could affect its own Kurdish problem in the southeast, is another headache for Ankara.

And to top it off, relations with Moscow have plummeted after the Turkish military shot down a Russian fighter jet in November. More than half of Turkey’s gas and 10 percent of its oil come from Russia.

Daniel Pipes, a historian and the president of the Middle East Forum think tank, told The Jerusalem Post that Erdogan’s aggressive policies “have led to bad relations with nearly every important government in the neighborhood and beyond.

“In the effort to dig himself out of this hole, Erdogan has sought selectively to improve ties, including with Israel,” he said. “But this is a purely tactical step that in no way undoes his regime’s anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism; it merely tones these down temporarily – until circumstances change again and they can be amped up.

“In my view, governments favored by this cynical smile treatment, including Israel’s, should no less cynically take advantage of it without the slightest illusion that it indicates a deep or long-term shift,” continued Pipes.

“For Jerusalem, this emphatically means not investing in a gas pipeline to Turkey that would hold it hostage into the distant future,” he argued.

Pipes stressed that as long as Israel does not give up something too big, such as the proposed gas pipeline, if Ankara makes some key, one-time concessions to Israel, such as allowing Israel better representation at NATO, “then I can see it worthwhile for Jerusalem to smile back.”

But Erdogan’s Islamist ideology and coziness with radical groups such as Hamas are likely to get in the way of the relationship with Israel, sooner or later.

In fact, it is still possible that the deal with Israel will fall through because of Turkey’s reluctance to break off relations with Hamas. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that Turkey will continue to meet with the Palestinian terrorist group. All it would take is another Israeli war in Gaza against Hamas or any other incident to blow the hood off the agreement and for the anger-prone Erdogan to start making inflammatory statements or rash decisions.

Muhammed Ammash, a researcher and project officer at the Istanbul-based Global Political Trends Center, told the Post that even after a deal, “relations would remain fragile mainly because of the Palestinian question, and there will be a need for some time to rebuild mutual confidence and trust.

“One of the issues Turkey wants to resolve is the blockade of Gaza,” he said, adding that the Palestinians understand that a rapprochement would be beneficial for them as well, since Turkey can act in their arena only after normalizing relations with Israel.

“Turkey could contribute to solving the conflict and help with domestic issues in Palestine,” said Ammash.

Asked if relations would be too fragile to immediately push for building a gas pipeline to Turkey from Israel to export natural gas to Europe, he responded that a pipeline is a possibility since Turkey has a strong interest.

Some in Turkey doubt that a deal is going to be reached.

Karel Valansi, a Turkish Middle East expert who writes for the Jewish Turkish weekly Salom and the T24 news outlet, told the Post that the sense from Turks on a prospective deal is not to jump ahead of themselves, since there have been many false alarms before, but this time it does appear to be for real.

It remains to be seen how Israel and Turkey will come to an agreement on the main obstacle of Hamas and Gaza, she said, adding that if Turkey should drop its previous condition of lifting trade restrictions on Gaza, it would raise the question of what Turkey gained by waiting since 2010 until today to move forward.

To read the entire article click here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Saudis, Gulf states could all become nuclear threshold states, former PMO official says

by Ariel Ben Solomon
Jerusalem Post
June 21, 2016

The BESA Center Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum speaking at international conference at Bar-Ilan University
The BESA Center Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum speaking at international conference at Bar-Ilan University. (photo credit:YONI REIF)
“Gulf states are gradually going nuclear” and Saudi Arabia is likely to develop its nuclear program to Iran’s level, said on Tuesday Yoel Guzansky, a former Israeli official at the National Security Council in the Prime Minister’s Office and research fellow at the INSS.

Guzansky was one of many international top experts on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf who spoke during the first day of a two-day conference on at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (the BESA Center).

He argued that the Iranian nuclear deal sets a precedent where the US would deal with each country on a case by case basis. Guzansky also said that, mainly because of the Iranian threat, Saudi Arabia is probably going to accelerate its program as part of a hedging strategy.

The nuclear deal between Iran and world powers “buys the Saudis a decade to rearm without breaking non-proliferation commitments,” he said, noting that there are plans in the works for 16 plants as part of a civilian program. However, the drop in oil prices probably affects the pace of these plans, he added.

Nuclear energy is attractive for the Saudis since it would provide cheaper energy in the long term, but in reality it is being used “as an excuse for a nuclear program,” said Guzansky.

There has been an erosion of trust with some regional players as the “Gulf fears a US pivot to Asia,” but “the greatest fear is a pivot towards Iran,” he said.

There are Saudi ideological and strategic motives to go nuclear, continued Guzansky.

“The nuclear deal may set a worrisome standard in the region and a cascade of threshold nuclear states,” he warned, adding that it is difficult to discourage countries to pursue what Iran received in its nuclear deal.

“The Saudis are panicking” and as Iran strengthens itself, it is “preparing contingency plans,” he asserted, calling it a “slow motion nuclear arms race.”

Asked if the Saudis have the technical ability for a nuclear program, he responded that the Saudis have a small group of scientists, some of whom study in the US, but they also have agreements with Egypt, which has a number of good scientists. The Pakistanis are another option for acquiring know-how. He noted that the UAE also do not have scientists but the South Koreans are building a nuclear plant there.

Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum, an expert on Saudi Arabia and the modern Middle East at the BESA Center, described how the minority Shi’ite community in Saudi Arabia “went all out” in persistent protests following the breakout of the “Arab Spring” uprisings.

These protests were largely in solidarity with their Shi’ite brethren in neighboring Bahrain, where Saudi Arabia and UAE sent forces in 2011 to help deal with protests.

“The Saudis look at Bahrain like the US Puerto Rico,” Teitelbaum noted, saying that Bahrain’s annexation by the Saudis could be fathomed in the future if a security crisis developed.

“The Saudis feel threatened by Iran and the local Shi’ites are feeling the brunt of that,” he said, noting that the country’s execution of Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr in January “is a signal to Iran.”

As long as the Saudis feel threatened internally and externally, continued Teitelbaum, “Shi’ites continue to pay the price of being the ultimate other.”

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 project of Islamic State building a state structure is a failure, which could lead to members going back to al-Qaida.
To read the entire article click here.