Friday, December 6, 2013
I'm surprised that the following coincidence was not connected to Purim. Once again an Iranian tyrant is threatening countries in the region, and it isn't just Jews that are worried. In an absolutely remarkable historical event, President Shimon Peres delivered a speech to 29 representatives from Arab and Islamic states via satellite. Do not kid yourself; this would not have happened if the Egyptians, Saudis, and others hadn't thought that the U.S. had sold out the Sunni Arabs.
"Everybody understood that this was something historic: the president of the Jewish state sitting in his office in Jerusalem with an Israeli flag and the foreign ministers sitting in the Persian Gulf discussing security, the war on terror and peace," said one of the Arab organizing officials.
There are three themes to Peres' speech. The threat of Iranian nuclear weapons on all the region's nations, the dangers of radical Islamism, and the usefulness of making peace with Israel (of course he would talk about peace with Israel, but notice that this is not within the context of the Iranian threat). Another easy thing to miss is that simultaneously, the Israeli government said it would provide further details of how close Iran is to obtaining nuclear weapons. Another point that might be missed is the implication that Israel will share nuclear intelligence with other Arab-Muslim nations.
At a meeting between an Israeli ambassador and a very high-ranking Saudi official, the latter said, "Jerusalem must be liberated and Palestine must be an independent country. Okay, that's out of the way, now let's talk about everything else."
The Arab-Turkish cooperation forum is still stalled. When Erdogan became prime minister, Turkey had good relations with Israel against the Arab states. Yet Erdogan is a Sunni Islamist supporting revolutionary Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists. Because of this, he switched from relative support for Israel to support for revolutionary Islamists. But note the cost: This month a parliamentary candidate is openly running in a Marxist-Kurdish party. And in fact, the Kurdish Worker's Party has been strengthened, especially in Syria.
There is, however, something more here, and believe it that the Saudis will listen and hear that the bill has been presented and Turkey expects to pay. At the same time, the Turkish ambassador has been expelled from Egypt, and Gulf Arabs are increasingly worried about continued Turkish support for the Syrian insurgency. In other words, Israel may claim the new Middle East politics better than Iran and even better than the United States. Obviously, Israel and Saudi Arabia are not going to carry out a joint attack on Iran or take any other drastic measures. Yet this may lead to other positive developments. Just don't forget the old pattern. In a television broadcast, a senior Kuwaiti mullah said:
“Oh servants of Allah, how saddening and very painful it is to see many Muslim youths glued to TV screens at cafes or at home, passionately watching entertainment shows, like the football World Cup, in despicable subjugation to the abominations of the other nations–as if we were not a nation with a brilliant history and a lofty civilization…The Jews were successful in preoccupying the Muslim youth–except those protected by Allah–with the most inane matters, distracting them from important things…” –Shaykh Abd al-Muhsin al-Mutairi
None of this has changed the politics. It is for Arab public consumption. It would be too hazardous for an Arab government to accept Israel's nationhood.
Finally, note that since Egypt is angry with Hamas–and Egypt and Israel are keeping peace in the Sinai–Hamas has more limited wartime capabilities. And Hizballah–because of its participation in the Syrian civil war–wants to avoid armed conflict with Israel. This situation seems to be the best that can be achieved in the region.
Posted by Barry Rubin at 2:47 PM
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Articles in the Israeli media based on analysis of security in 2014 present a surprisingly optimistic assessment, though not from a U.S. perspective and still with some warnings.
Most of the work is by Ron Ben Yishai, and it poses a very different, and, I think, more accurate view than in the rest of the world.
Direct conventional threats to Israel decreased dramatically due to internal conflicts and conflict among hostile states.
Second, while there are a greater number of terror groups, they are more diffuse and divided (especially along Sunni-Shi'a lines). As Ben Yishai points out, "Sinai and Syria have at the moment–and will likely have next year too–good, existential reasons to try not to get entangled in a wide-scale conflict with Israel."
As for Syria, it isn't going to make big problems for Israel, as it has enough problems of its own already.
And that's also true of Lebanon: "Experts estimate [that Hizballah will] think twice before entering a conflict with the IDF. Hassan Nasrallah is maintaining his powers so that he can attack Israel if Iran’s nuclear facilities are attacked and in order to continue aiding the Assad regime in Syria. This aid– at Khamenei’s explicit order– put Nasrallah in a complicated situation against the other factions in Lebanon and weakened him."
Hizballah "hardly strengthened its military capabilities in the past year… at the cost of hundreds of casualties" and it "has not received a lot of strategic weapons from Syria or Iran." If Hizballah pushes Israel, it is estimated that it will suffer a very serious defeat.
Gaza and Hamas might pose a more serious problem. There is an effort by Hamas to build tunnels to launch rockets. But remember that here, out of self-interest, Egypt is cooperating to stop this, which takes us to our third point.
Third is Egypt. Israel and Egypt need each other to coordinate fighting Islamist terrorism in Sinai. And as for trust in the U.S. policy, Egypt is like a U.S. client that just got an Obamacare insurance cancellation in the mail. Egypt needs Russia, too.
"Not all of these positive opportunities and others will be realized in the coming year, but even if some of them yield a positive result–it’s good enough." Remember that, again, this is in no way due to U.S. policy.
Fourth, the Sunni bloc has been split by Egyptian anger toward Turkey (Turkey's support for the overthrown Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt recently kicking out the Turkish ambassador) and Saudis who suspect Turkey may be playing up to Iran (as well as distrust because they are Turks).
Fifth is the set of interests shared between Israel and Saudi Arabia, given Iran’s regional status and the threat hanging over them of Iranian hegemony as well as of radical political Islamism.
Sixth, it will weaken focus on the Palestinian issue and increase the divide between Hamas and Fatah, with Iran becoming Hamas's main patron.
"In general, Hamas is in a lousy situation and is trying to draw closer to Iran again in order to renew the financial aid." But this also infuriates Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Hamas has "been boosting [its] activity in Gaza and creating something we haven’t seen so far: Cells in the West Bank too. Yet intelligence experts note that the immediate level of danger is not high" and this is making Hamas and Fatah competitors. Remember the first and second intifada was based on Hamas-Fatah unity.
As for the Palestinian Authority, it too has a problem. It likes thinking about concessions–prisoner releases–but won't make any concessions. Thus, they may be drawn out, but talks will ultimately fail.
Seventh, of course, the fact that the Iranian bomb also threatens Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states is consistent, although it should not be overestimated.
And yet, here, too, there are several potential short-term advantages (no thanks to Obama and Kerry) for Israel–not that there would be any direct cooperation between Israel and the Gulf States.
First, by ending sanctions and making billions of dollars for Iran and Western companies, this at least delays Iranian nuclear weapons in the short-term.
"This is where the good news ends. The bad news is led by the estimate that Iran will likely not be willing, as part of the permanent agreement in six months, to completely abandon the abilities allowing the future production of a nuclear weapon. Simply put, Ali Khamenei’s Iran aspires to remain a threshold country even if it pays a heavy price for it."
Iran is going to get nuclear arms any way, as the West will not oppose Tehran and will not support an Israeli attack on Iran. Of course, despite any deal and short-term delay in Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, this will embolden Iran in the long-run. This is very serious.
But I would also suggest that this deal will fall apart sooner. Iran will never implement it, and once this becomes clear, it will only be a question of what the U.S. administration decides to do as a result.
Also, I would suggest that Iran never intended to use nuclear weapons but rather wished to have them as defensive weapons against Israel, so it could use them to pursue regional aggression by conventional means.
Iran's desire to obtain nuclear weapons is a move to guarantee the regime’s survival, a sort of insurance policy. Iranians may still agree to a settlement, pulling them several years away from the bomb.
Thus, ultimately, the plans are doing more harm to the United States than to Israel. The United States has empowered Russia and rebuilt the Russia-Egypt alliance after 50 years. It has also smashed the U.S.-Egypt and U.S.-Saudi alliance, deepened suspicion between Arabs and Turks, and empowered an Iran that will betray them. In addition, Syria may eventually be turned over to Iran.
"This agenda terrifies Arab rulers from Saudi Arabia to Egypt ….especially in light of Washington’s helplessness and unreliable policy. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are giving Egypt $100 million a month to buy food and so that it will not have to depend on Washington."
The goal of U.S. voters and politicians is to think there is a brilliant success in the Middle East, while, in fact, it is a disastrous failure. And this is much like the pattern prevailing elsewhere with the Obama administration policies.
Posted by Barry Rubin at 4:52 PM
"This book is a model of original research and the ultimate scholarly study of German Arab and German Muslim cooperation during the first half of the twentieth century, covering both World Wars. It is a major contribution in the field, a magnum opus."-Jacob M. Landau, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
"This book presents an abundance of previously un or under examined material. It is most impressive and greatly advances our knowledge."-Jeffrey Herf, University of Maryland
"In this hugely important book Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz show that not only did Nazism enjoy widespread popularity in the contemporary Middle East, but its profound effects on pan Arabist and Islamist thinking, as well as the evolution of Palestinian Arab nationalism, continue to reverberate throughout the region to date. A must read."-Efraim Karsh, King's College London
"Rubin and Schwanitz have done a major, double service by tracing the historical links between Islamist jihadism and German policy from the Wilhelmine to the Nazi eras; and by highlighting the common (anti democratic, anti liberal and anti Semitic) ideological basis of Nazism and Islamism during the Second World War. The center piece of their study is the description of the mid 20th century alliance between the Nazis and militant Arab nationalists, which still affects current Middle Eastern politics and policies."-Benny Morris, author of One State, Two States
"Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East is a welcome addition to the short list of indispensable books on the Arab Israeli conflict. We owe a great debt to Barry Rubin and to Wolfgang G. Schwanitz for revealing an urgent story the international community should have known but somehow missed a story that is a key to understanding how we got to this current moment in the Middle East."-Yossi Klein Halevi, Shalom Hartman Institute
Posted by Barry Rubin at 2:27 PM
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
"He who tells the truth is driven from nine villages." – Turkish Proverb
A couple of decades ago, I was invited to a conference on the anniversary of the birth of Isaiah Berlin. One of the speakers was the George Orwell professor of a British university.
But his ideas were the opposite of Orwell. Orwell was a great patriot. On the contrary, this guy's definition of a nation was any random lines drawn on a map–no preconditions. He was no patriot. I guess a nation having values is invalid now.
Also, Orwell was an anti-radical socialist, author of the amazing anti-radical Animal-Farm, and a milder, anti-totalitarian socialist who admired the United States. In contrast, the endowed professor had the opposite ideas and real politics of Orwell. After I challenged him on these modern "Progressive" (leftist) points, nobody spoke to me for the rest of the conference, because they just assumed what he said was true.
If you want to know a contemporary story about this, I can refer to an experience at a conference where a professor (George Orwell professor in fact, was a great patriot, though a socialist) made jokes.
But then I thought about Berlin himself. He championed values of pluralism and individual liberty, against political correctness and enforced orthodoxy.
There are two issues at stake. First, the moderate liberal-conservative democratic consensus–Orwell and Berlin–staked out these margins. This was the mainstream of democracy and democratic opinion: The "vital center." Today, this has been rejected in place of bitter, triumphalist partisanship, a transformation of the system.
Second, scholarship and honest journalism: Go where truth ordains, even if it is not your preference. This is in place of the indoctrination and partisanship, which have turned large tracts of entertainment, journalism, and scholarship into lies.
In other words, people want teaching, journalism, and charity to be credible. But these are caught-up in the partisan culture war- which is in control of the left. The coinage of these matters is debased.
Posted by Barry Rubin at 10:56 AM
The culture war is so extreme that nothing can escape, but also interesting is the predictability of plots. One thing is that absolutely minimal pretense can be wrapped around supposed balance. Because it is so extreme and these people are so brazen, balance does not matter anymore. For example, in my son's former 6th grade class in Maryland, teaching was conducted with Obama playing cards, by a math teacher who was a strong advocate for Obama's election. In other words, they have gone much further than you would ever expect.
For example, Lisa Simpson is depressed because she doesn’t have friends, but then Lisa meets another girl who shares similar intellectual interests. Lisa and this girl, Isabella, both decide to run for class president. There are some interesting features in this. Lisa is horrified to discover that Isabella is a Republican. While Lisa is able to make reasonable and normal points, Isabella is presented as a stereotype. The Republican committee consists of the following people:
- A scary corrupt, dishonest clown
- A crazy Texan who shoots off guns
- An Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alike
- A vampire
- The dishonest owner of a nuclear power plant (isn't this over the top, even for an animated comedy?)
In contrast, the Democrats are presented as follows: Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and Michael Dukakis. These characters are just teased. Bill Clinton is not criticized, even though he did some "bad things." Dukakis is lightly jibbed, and Kerry is not dealt with at all. In contrast to the Republicans, a waste dispenser would look like an upright figure.
The Republicans give lots of money to Isabella, whereas the Democrats don't really help Lisa. But actually, a thing that many people miss is Isabella. First of all, there is no possible way that a self-identified Jew would be named Isabella. Since Queen Isabella exiled the Jews in in 1492, this would be quite unlikely. Second, no Argentinian would identify as Hispanic. People who identify as such are usually from Central American nations. Isabella is given lessons to be Hispanic so she won't be "racist," whereas any other republican would naturally be racist outright. This is very subtle. Note that the writers of the program show that "Hispanic" does not only mean Guatemalan or Mexican. At the end of the program, Lisa loses the election, but–this is an absolutely remarkable situation–she is told that she won the exit poll 53% to 47%. Yet a classmate remarks to her, "Your ideas are more popular, but they just don't like you. Haha."
In other words, the implication is that Obamacare and economic management under Obama are supported, but sometimes there is a lack of belief in his judgment. This is of course the propaganda line of the Obama administration. It's so predictable.
Last night my wife suggested we watch a drama about a Danish Prime Minister. Somehow I knew exactly what the plot would be, and sure enough it turned out to be true. The leader of a Danish party was going to go up in coalition with another centrist politician, but then she saw a ridiculous stereotype about how refugees would be sent back to their home lands, and she changed her view. This means that if any country is not likely to allow in a large number of economic refugees with no devotion to the country, and the citizens have to pay for their living well, then this is a ridiculous racist issue.
This explains why at a dinner in Copenhagen some years ago I was asked if I had seen a new book about the history of Denmark, which was in Danish. I had seen it, but obviously could not read it. The Danish military officer who was speaking at the dinner said, "You know that the book ends a certain year, but that's not just coincidence, because he doesn't think that Denmark will survive much longer because of this situation. Will the United States?"
Posted by Barry Rubin at 10:55 AM