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Post  Admin on Thu 10 Oct 2019, 11:13 am

Distorting Ben-Gurion
By Prof. Efraim KarshOctober 10, 2019

David Ben-Gurion with Chaim Herzog at the Western Wall, 1967, photo via Wikipedia

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,309, October 11, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: By ignoring millions of declassified documents from the period of the British Mandate (1920-48) and Israel’s early days that show the claim of premeditated dispossession of the Palestinian Arabs to be completely unfounded, “revisionist” journalist Tom Segev’s rewrites David Ben-Gurion’s personal story, and, by extension, the story of Israel’s creation, in an image of his own making in which aggressors are transformed into hapless victims and vice versa.

It is only recently that David Ben-Gurion ceased to be, for the sake of the official record books, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. That honor now belongs to Benjamin Netanyahu, even as his political future becomes ever more uncertain. Ben-Gurion’s stature as Israel’s founding father, however, would seem to be eminently secure, given his crucial, perhaps indispensable, role in salvaging the Jewish people from political oblivion and reinstating it in its ancestral homeland.

A host of biographies over the years—largely complimentary though by no means uncritical—have recorded the details of Ben-Gurion’s busy life without diminishing his almost ­mythological status. Still, a group of ­“revisionist” Israeli academics and journalists seem determined to tarnish his reputation as part of their ­decades-long project to reinterpret Israel’s founding ­period. Tom Segev’s A State at Any Cost is the latest such effort.

David Ben-Gurion was born in 1886 to a Zionist family in the small Polish town of Płońsk and in 1906 moved to the Ottoman district of Jerusalem (Palestine didn’t exist as a unified territory at the time), where he combined political activity with work as a farmer. Deported after the outbreak of World War I alongside many Zionist leaders, Ben-Gurion spent most of the war years in New York, where he met and married his wife, before returning to Palestine at the end of the war.

By then, Britain had defeated the Ottoman Empire and issued the Balfour Declaration pledging a Jewish national home in Palestine, and Ben-Gurion immersed himself in laying the groundwork to expedite this goal. In 1920, he played the key role in establishing the Histadrut—the foremost trade union in mandatory Palestine, which also oversaw the Hagana underground military organization. Ten years later, he played a similar role in the creation of Mapai, the Land of Israel Workers Party, which, in one form or another, was to dominate Zionist/Israeli politics until 1977.

In 1935 he became the head of the world Zionist movement, steering it through the tumultuous World War II years and the struggle for independence in their wake. On May 14, 1948, he proclaimed the establishment of the state of Israel, becoming its first prime minister and defense minister, posts he held until 1963 (with a brief retirement from office in 1953-55). Two years later, he established a new political party only to be defeated in the general elections. He retired from politics in 1970 and spent his last years in his modest home in a Negev kibbutz before dying on Dec. 1, 1973, at age 87.

Segev lays out some of this detail in a straightforward fashion, adding little to what has already been told by earlier biographers. But at the core of his chronicle is a desire to cast Israel’s founding father as the destroyer of Palestinian Arab society—that is, as a leader deeply implicated in what Segev and his fellow revisionists see as the “original sin” of Israel’s creation: the supposedly deliberate and aggressive dispossession of the Palestinian Arab population.

The lens through which Segev views his subject is generally polemical. For instance, he says that, as late as mid-1942, Ben-Gurion had yet “to internalize the unique nature of Nazi racial anti-Semitism”—though his evidence is a misleadingly brief quote from a Ben-Gurion speech in which, as any fair-minded reader would conclude, it is clear that he did fully grasp Hitler’s “campaign of extermination of the whole of the Jewish people” (as Ben-Gurion put it elsewhere in the speech). But the book’s main distortive effort is aimed at Ben-Gurion’s ideological outlook—and, more generally, at the outlook of the Zionist movement—toward the Palestinian Arabs.

Segev traces the alleged “hope of emptying Palestine of its Arab inhabitants” to the father of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, yet bases his indictment on a single truncated quote from Herzl’s June 12, 1895, diary entry, which supposedly implied this intention. But this quote, which has been a regular feature of Palestinian propaganda for decades, makes no mention of either Arabs or Palestine for the simple reason that at the time Herzl was not yet a Zionist. He didn’t seek to re-establish the Jews in their ancestral homeland but to salvage European Jewry from the ravages of anti-Semitism by relocating it as far as possible from the Continent. As he recorded in his diary on June 13, 1895: “I am assuming that we shall go to Argentina. . . . [It] would have a lot in its favor on account of its distance from militarized and seedy Europe.”

Nor did Herzl show the slightest interest in expelling the Palestinian Arabs once he dropped his Argentine ruminations and embraced the Zionist cause: not in his famous political treatise, The Jewish State (1896), and not in his 1902 Zionist novel Altneuland (Old-New Land), where he painted an idyllic picture of Arab-Jewish co-existence in a future Palestine. Nor for that matter is there any allusion to the expulsion of Arabs in Herzl’s public writings, his private correspondence, or his speeches.

The truth is that, far from seeking to dispossess the Palestinian Arabs as claimed by Segev, the Zionist movement had always been amenable to the existence of a substantial Arab minority in the prospective Jewish state. No less than Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founder of the faction that was the forebear of today’s Likud Party, voiced his readiness (in a famous 1923 essay) “to take an oath binding ourselves and our descendants that we shall never do anything contrary to the principle of equal rights, and that we shall never try to eject anyone.” And if this was the position of the more “militant” faction of the Jewish national movement, small wonder that mainstream Zionism took for granted the full equality of the Arab minority in the prospective Jewish state.

Ben-Gurion himself argued as early as 1918 that “had Zionism desired to evict the inhabitants of Palestine it would have been a dangerous utopia and a harmful, reactionary mirage.” And as late as December 1947, shortly after Palestinian Arabs had unleashed wholesale violence to subvert the newly passed United Nations partition resolution, he told his Labor Party that “in our state there will be non-Jews as well—and all of them will be equal citizens; equal in everything without any exception; that is: the state will be their state as well.” In line with this conception, committees laying the groundwork for the nascent Jewish state discussed the establishment of an Arabic-language press, the incorporation of Arab officials in the administration, and Arab-Jewish cultural interaction.

Ignoring these facts altogether, Segev accuses Ben-Gurion of using the partition resolution as a springboard for implementing the age-old “Zionist dream” of “maximum territory, minimum Arabs,” though he brings no evidence for this supposed behavior beyond a small number of statements that are either taken out of context or simply distorted or misrepresented. To take one representative example: “Ben-Gurion jotted down [in his diary] a long list of questions that awaited his decision, among which was ‘Should the Arabs be expelled?’” Segev writes. Dated May 8, 1948, just under a week before Ben-Gurion proclaimed the state of Israel, the citation seeks to show that he actively entertained the expulsion of the country’s Arab population.

The diary entry, however, doesn’t read “Should the Arabs be expelled?” but rather “Should Arabs be expelled?” And this question was posed in relation not to the Palestinian Arab community as a whole but to the small number of Arabs caught in the fighting. According to the Hagana’s operational plan—adopted in mid-March 1948, two months ahead of statehood, to reverse then-current Palestinian Arab aggression and rebuff the anticipated invasion by the Arab states—Arab villages that served as bases for attacks on Jewish targets could be destroyed and their residents expelled.

Yet this was an exclusively tactical measure dictated by ad hoc military considerations, notably the need to deny strategic sites to the enemy if there were no available Jewish forces to hold them. Not only did it not reflect any political intention to expel Arabs, but the plan’s overarching rationale was predicated, in the explicit instructions of the Hagana’s commander in chief, on the Hebrew state without any discrimination, and a desire for coexistence on the basis of mutual freedom and dignity.

There are many more such lost subtleties and distinctions in A State at Any Cost. But Segev, like his fellow revisionists, is not bothered with mere facts in his endeavor to rewrite Ben-Gurion and, by extension, Israel’s history in an image of his own making. The late Shabtai Teveth’s seminal four-volume biography of Ben-Gurion—published between 1976 and 2004—remains the work to consult for a full and fair treatment of Israel’s founding father.

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This is an edited version of an article that was published in the Wall Street Journal on October 5, 2019.

Prof. Efraim Karsh is Director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, emeritus professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s College London, and editor of the Middle East Quarterly.

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Post  Admin on Tue 08 Oct 2019, 4:46 pm
Russian-Chinese Cooperation Is Not As Temporary As You Think
By Emil AvdalianiOctober 8, 2019

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, photo via Office of the President of Russia

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,308, October 10, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Many believe the Russian-Chinese partnership, which functions across a variety of economic and political spheres, is only temporary. But Moscow’s disenchantment with the West, and the redirection of its foreign policy toward Beijing and beyond, is rooted in Russian historical thinking. The disagreement between Russia and the West is a full-scale geopolitical separation.

The most popular topic in modern geopolitics these days is probably the budding relationship between Russia and China. Articles on the subject are produced regularly, almost all of them concluding that Russia is only temporarily siding with China. It is just a matter of time, these articles claim, until disagreements between the two powers become inevitable.

These articles miss the fact that Moscow’s move away from Europe is rooted deeply in Russian history. It goes back much further than the Ukrainian crisis, which triggered Moscow’s recent troubles with the West.

The Russian-Chinese partnership is built around their common animosity toward the US. Both have been confronted by the US and have taken actions that go against Washington’s worldview, which favors a division of the Eurasian landmass among multiple powers and the maintenance of control over the world’s oceans.

These issues drove Moscow and Beijing to work together, but it should also be noted that each stealthily tries to use the other to gain political leverage in economic, military, and other spheres. Indeed, Russian tactics since the deterioration of relations with the West in 2014 have been to move closer to China and other Asian states, such as Iran and Turkey, to show how far Moscow is willing to distance itself from the West against the background of growing US-China competition.

Putin’s strategy seems to have worked to a degree, as various statements and policy moves over the past year or so indicate that the West is anxious not to lose Russia to Asia (especially to China). As troubles with China grow and the West is forced to contemplate the possibility of a China-led world, the loss of Russia would be tantamount to a geopolitical catastrophe.

That is because in that scenario, Chinese influence would spread to most of Eurasia and even to the Arctic, which is a rising geopolitical hotbed. Recall the first decades of the Cold War, when the Moscow-influenced communist movement controlled territory from Berlin to Vietnam.

But for the West, the loss of Russia to China would mean more than just a geopolitical catastrophe. Despite eternal discussions within Russia over who the country really belongs to, Asia or Europe, the West has always considered the Russian world to be a part of it. True, the West considered Russians to be barbarians during wartime, and tsarist ruthlessness, as well as Soviet methods of state-building and policy-making, were appalling. But from a grand strategic or even philosophical perspective, for the West to lose Russia would mean the reversal of almost a millennium of western European economic and cultural export eastward. In a sense, the Romanovs and the Soviets copied the West, which made them geographic and cultural extensions of European civilization.

This would represent a reversal in which the influence of China’s culture and worldview – for the first time in many centuries – would extend beyond its borders, right up to the edges of Eastern Europe.

There are worrying signs that many in the Russian political class no longer want the same level of psychological attachment to the West, but prefer to be more evenly directed (in terms of foreign policy and economic relations) toward both Europe and China. Moreover, Moscow is building closer relations with Turkey and Iran. The Middle East can thus be a third theater of active Russian diplomacy.

There is a great deal of logic to this strand of Russian thinking. In a way, Moscow wants to free itself from “singularity” in its geopolitical approach to the outside world. We like to believe this change in perception began under Putin, but it has been at work since the 1990s, when Russia was weak and disillusioned. The only way to uphold its position was to stress global multipolarity, meaning the US would no longer be the sole dominant power but one of the many.

In fact, one can go even further back to trace attempts to “de-Europeanize” Russian foreign policy. When Peter the Great reformed Russia and heavily Europeanized the ruling elite, he was widely praised, but there were some who were deeply disenchanted. They believed Peter broke the bridge between the common folk and the Russian political elite and distanced one from the other. Moreover, many in Russia believed the country’s Europe-centrism limited Russia’s ability to position itself as a true global power.

In retrospect, it can be argued that the Bolsheviks came to power to bridge the gap with the ordinary population. In foreign policy they wanted to be internationalist, not Europe-centered, and this worked for a time. But Western technological progress eventually attracted the Russian elites of both the Romanovs and the Soviets, leaving no room for Russia’s Asian roots.

Putin’s “de-Europeanization” of foreign policy should thus be seen as a recurrence of this grand historical cycle. His foreign policy might be viewed as reflecting the Eurasianism created in the 1920s, which held that Russia’s Asian roots should be respected at least to the same degree as its European heritage.

But Putin can also be seen as a shrewd follower of yet another radical strand of Russian political thought: Slavophilism, which was created well before Eurasianism. Putin and the rest of the Russian political elite often make semi-nationalistic statements the Soviet leaders would not have uttered – statements that reflect Slavophile reasoning.
All Russian philosophical ideas have been deeply Europeanized. Not even those who severely criticize Russia’s Europeanness can deny those roots.

And this is a fundamental problem for the Russians. The country spans almost the entire north Eurasian landmass. It is culturally close to the West, but ever since the loss of Ukraine and the Baltic states, it has grown increasingly Asian because of the rise of China and the fact that most of Russia borders Asia. (This is speculation, but it is possible that if the ruling elite goes all the way with the nascent alliance with China, Russia could split violently into at least two large segments: the western part, populated with a more or less Europeanized population, and the rest of the country bordering on the Chinese giant.)

Russia’s distancing from Europe is likely not a temporary affair. Even if Brussels suddenly decides to take part in a grand geopolitical bargain in which Moscow reclaims Ukraine and other former Soviet states, Russia’s “de-Europeanization” of foreign policy is likely to continue. The political class within Russia is doing what Russian leaders have been trying to do for centuries: make Russia more independent in its foreign policy focus and diversify it toward other regions.

Russia’s split with Europe is not about China’s rise. It reflects Russian history and marks a continuation from previous centuries. What it will bring to Russia in the end is difficult to say, but the trend is likely to continue at least for the next decade.

Much will depend on what western Europe and the US offer Moscow in exchange for a near alliance to contain China. While this might sound unrealistic, recent discussions among western political elites show a shift on Russia. Serious concessions to Moscow might forthcoming.

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Emil Avdaliani teaches history and international relations at Tbilisi State University and Ilia State University. He has worked for various international consulting companies and currently publishes articles on military and political developments across the former Soviet space.

Topics: China Russia
Publication: Perspectives Papers
Emil Avdaliani
Emil Avdaliani specializes on former Soviet space and wider Eurasia with particular focus on Russia's internal and foreign policy, relations with Iran, China, the EU and the US. He teaches history and international relations at Tbilisi State University and Ilia State University (Georgia). He has worked for various international consulting companies and regularly publishes various works with BESA on military and political developments across Eurasia. He can be reached at

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Post  Admin on Mon 07 Oct 2019, 4:19 pm

Repentance at Election Time
By Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon HacohenOctober 7, 2019

Slichot prayer service at Western Wall preceding Yom Kippur, photo by Mark Neyman for GPO via Flickr CC

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,307, October 7, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: After two highly charged election campaigns, Israeli society – in all its various sectors – is in need of soul-searching and repentance. From a Jewish standpoint, everyone, even the morally virtuous, needs to repent, and each in his/her own way. Regrettably, the notion of repentance has been trapped over the years in a narrow and incorrect interpretation, when it is in fact a miraculous opportunity for renewal.

In his new book Return without Repentance (Hebrew), Micah Goodman writes:

In the common Israeli dichotomy, anyone who seeks to renew contact with the tradition is considered a penitent. This is a person who has found “the answer” as opposed to a person who has cut off contact with the tradition and now pursues “the question.”

Thus the word repentance comes to refer to an answer to a question.[1] In the biblical source, however, the main semantic connotation of the phenomenon of “repentance” is that of “return”: “And…when all these things are come upon thee… And shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice…then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee” (Deuteronomy 30:1-3).

The association between repentance and return as a mysterious human phenomenon is the great enigma wherein lies the Jewish worldview’s contribution to humankind. When repentance entails a question and an answer, there is nothing wondrous at play: a person who is beset by a question encounters a person or path that offers answers. But when it comes to the phenomenon of return, and one realizes that there is no way back and what has been done cannot be repeated, the wondrous aspect of repentance arises.

This is not a mechanical event like a computer reboot, in which nothing new is created. In intimations of repentance, there is something redolent of the book of Genesis – something the sages expressed by saying that repentance preceded the creation of the world. It is something the kabbalistic terminology calls raz (enigma), and it is different from a secret. A secret is harbored by someone who keeps it to himself, but the enigma is known by no one; it is a mystery. The phenomenon of repentance as wondrous enigma stems from the fact that, according to nature, it is an impossibility, as so well expressed by the poet Khalil Gibran: “The river before its entry to the sea cannot turn back.”

Glad tidings for humanity 

The crisis of return is a recurrent motif in world literature: someone who has left his place seeks in vain to return to it. The message that repeats itself is the tragic discovery that the longing to return cannot possibly be fulfilled. The reality has changed, the place has changed, indeed everything has changed – not only from a physical standpoint but from a spiritual one as well. Return is not possible, and the yearning to return to what once was is disappointed.

Even Odysseus, who managed to return to his home after 20 years of war and wandering, required the intervention of the goddess Athena, who lengthened the first night of return for him and his wife Penelope. Likewise in the familiar story of The Lion King, Simba’s return to the land of his forefathers falls short of his expectations. Simba finds that his birthplace has been devastated, and it is only a wondrous turn of events that, like a revelation of redemption, restores it to its previous vitality. The wondrous aspect that transcends nature is accentuated by the biblical notion of repentance, and therein lie glad tidings for humanity.

Rabbi Elhanan Samet, in a lesson on the book of Ruth, gave an illustration of repentance as a process that transcends natural limitations. Naomi, who has returned from the country of Moab, is bereft of hope. Upon returning to the city, she voices her despair over the impossibility of return: “I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty.” What once was cannot be brought back, and she can no longer have children. But when a son is born to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, there is room for new hope. From a natural standpoint, the son was not born to Naomi. The author of the scroll, however, sees the possibilities for a kind of restoration: “And the women her neighbors gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi…for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath borne him.” The Bible intimates the possibility of repair that lies beyond nature.

Such intimations of repentance as a wondrous process offer a solution to the human syndrome that Amos Oz called “the reconstruction sickness” – the impossible longing to return and resurrect what once was. In his last lecture, he said:

A little more than twenty years ago, in Paris, I met a Palestinian intellectual who was then about thirty years old. No sooner did we shake hands than he said, “I am from Lifta,” and he went on to say, “It does not interest me who will rule Palestine, I do not want to expel the Jews, I do not want to take revenge on them, I want my house…. I want to go there in the summer, to sit under the grapevine and the fig tree, to hear the spring and the bells of the goats.’”

Oz answered him: “You have the reconstruction sickness! You will not get the house in Lifta because there is no way to get it. Because even if all the Lifta residents return, they will find a town, a few multistory buildings, and two or three supermarkets.”

A national movement of repentance

In diagnosing the “reconstruction sickness,” Oz also wanted to warn Israelis who yearn for parts of the ancestral homeland which, in his view, there was no way to repossess. Asked whether the entire Zionist endeavor from its beginning was nothing but one big manifestation of the illness he had described, he replied: “For Zionism the reconstruction sickness was an ingredient, it was a spice, but it was not the essence…. Without the suffering and the persecution, and the realization that there was no other solution, it would not have happened…. The truth is that there was nowhere to go.”

Here we find an unbridgeable gap between the Zionism of David Ben-Gurion and that of Amos Oz. The Zionism of Oz is a Zionism of persecuted Jews seeking a refuge; the Zionism of the founders, both on the right and the left, and of believing Jews throughout history, was a Zionism of yearning for a biblical return, a national movement of repentance without precedent in the history of humanity.

If everything is seen from a natural standpoint, Oz is right. Yet he ignores the miraculous underpinnings of the phenomenon of repentance. Ben-Gurion, for his part, spoke of the Zionist project as a “Genesis endeavor,” as in the maxim of the sages: “Great is the day of the ingathering of the exiles as the day on which the heaven and the earth were created.”

This is the yearning of the prayer: “Turn us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.” Not a morbid longing for reconstruction of an impossible past, but a longing to return to a renewed existential situation while full of hope for the future.

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This is an edited translation of an article that was published in Israel Hayom on September 29, 2019.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen is a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He served in the IDF for 42 years. He commanded troops in battles with Egypt and Syria. He was formerly a corps commander and commander of the IDF Military Colleges.

[1] In Hebrew the word tshuva can mean “repentance,” “answer,” or “return.”

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Post  Admin on Sun 06 Oct 2019, 11:37 am

Challenging the World Order: Erdoğan and Nukes
By Dr. James M. DorseyOctober 6, 2019

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, photo via Office of the President of Russia

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,306, October 6, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Brinksmanship may be his trademark, but Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is unlikely to provoke the ire of the international community by launching a nuclear weapons program. Still, his demand that Turkey has the right to do so highlights the fracturing of the rules-based international order as well as changing regional realities.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s questioning of the international order with regard to nuclear weapons may well reflect the unspoken thinking of other regional leaders in a world in which the US has withdrawn from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia and unilaterally walked away from the 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran, and in which countries like China and Russia are willing to sell nuclear technology as well as arms with few, if any, safeguards. In addition, the international community has failed to prevent Pakistan and North Korea from becoming nuclear powers.

The American withdrawals from the agreements with Russia and Iran are but two examples of a far broader breakdown in adherence to international law, norms, and procedures fueled by President Donald Trump’s disdain for key pillars of the US-led, post-WWII order.

Trump has walked away from the Paris accord on climate change as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and cast doubt on the US commitment to multiple other multilateral arrangements, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the EU, and the G7, which brings together the West’s largest economies.

America’s rivals, China and Russia, as well as Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, have countered US unilateralism with calls for a strengthening of multilateralism – albeit one in which they can use the arms trade to leverage their geopolitical weight and fight wars with absolute disregard for the human consequences, and brutally repress minorities of any ethnic, religious, or political stripe.

Trump’s “America First” approach has emboldened leaders backed by Russia and China, including Erdoğan, to more aggressively challenge the existing order and more blatantly violate its underpinnings.

At first glance, Erdoğan’s recent insistence on the 100th anniversary of the Sivas Congress, which laid the groundwork for an independent Turkish republic, that it was unacceptable for nuclear-armed countries to prevent his country from developing nuclear weapons makes perfect sense.

Turkey lives in a neighborhood pockmarked by violent conflict in which arms are the name of the game. If that were not enough, Turkey is surrounded by real and would-be nuclear powers.

The Gulf states, two of which – Saudi Arabia and the UAE – have no love for Turkey, are among the world’s biggest military spenders.

Israel, another Middle Eastern nation with which Turkey is at odds, sees military and technological supremacy as the core of its defense strategy and has long hinted but never publicly confirmed its nuclear capability.

Pakistan, a nuclear power locked in escalating tensions with India over Kashmir, bristles with weaponry.

Iran, despite strident denials, is suspected of wanting to be a nuclear power and having the capacity to become one, particularly if it ultimately ditches the 2015 international agreement.

An Iranian spokesman said recently that Iran had begun using an array of advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium in violation of the nuclear deal in a bid to force Europe to effectively challenge harsh US sanctions.

The Iranian move heightens the risk of a nuclear race in the Middle East with Saudi Arabia, believed to be putting preliminary building blocks in place, making no bones about its willingness to match any nuclear capability that Iran may acquire.

Erdoğan’s demand for the right to develop nuclear weapons is as much a response to regional and global developments as it is an opportunistic effort to bolster his troubled bid to position Turkey as a leader of the Muslim world.

That ambition is complicated by a minefield of differences with the US over Turkey’s acquisition of a Russian anti-aircraft missile system and with Russia over the Russian-Syrian military campaign in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in war-torn Syria.

Demanding the right to develop nuclear weapons serves Erdoğan’s purpose even if doing so may not. Domestically, it allows Erdoğan to project himself as a leader who fights for what Turkey thinks should be its rightful place in the international pecking order. Globally, it is a way to exploit challenges to an international order that Erdoğan sees as holding his country back.

Says Turkish author and journalist Kaya Genc: “It has taken [Erdoğan] 16 years to forge what he calls ‘the new Turkey,’ an economically self-reliant country with a marginalized opposition and a subservient press… Erdoğan’s great challenge over the next decade…will be to convince voters that his mixture of anger and patience is still a model to follow, that his formation story can continue to inspire, and that only his unassailable ability can steer Turkey to safety. Erdoğan will no doubt do everything in his power to succeed at this daunting task.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey, a non-resident Senior Associate at the BESA Center, is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture.

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Dr. James M. Dorsey, a non-resident Senior Associate at the BESA Center, is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture.

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Post  Admin on Thu 03 Oct 2019, 5:54 pm
Roadmap for a Chinese-Iranian Strategic Partnership
By Dr. Mordechai ChazizaOctober 2, 2019

Ali Khamenei receives Xi Jinping at his home, photo via Wikipedia

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,303, October 2, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Relations between Iran and China go as far back as the ancient Silk Road – but despite the recent establishment of a formal comprehensive strategic partnership between the two, Beijing’s economic, political, and strategic interests remain too complex and self-contradictory to permit a close alignment with Tehran. In the post–JCPOA era, China is likely to remain Iran’s top economic partner in the coming years, but it is a mistake to overestimate the Sino-Iranian partnership. The US’s anti-Iran policy and the sanctions that accompany it could prevent the emergence of a more solid partnership.

The People’s Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Iran recently established a comprehensive strategic partnership encompassing trade, energy, and production capacity cooperation. This partnership has historical ties that trace all the way back to the ancient Silk Road, and it reflects mutually complementary economic and political interests.

In January 2016, shortly after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was implemented, Chinese president Xi Jinping made a successful visit to Iran during which the heads of state agreed to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership. Xi stressed that both countries are natural partners as far as the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative is concerned. Seventeen cooperation documents centered around the new Silk Road were signed in the areas of science, technology, communications, transportation, energy, and other fields. The two sides agreed to develop a 25-year roadmap for the strategic partnership and to increase trade to $600 billion over the next 10 years. (The programs discussed in these documents are yet to be fully operational.)

In May 2018, President Trump announced the US’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, setting in motion the re-imposition of secondary sanctions on Iran. Sanctions resumed in full in November of that year. Washington’s decision to withdraw from the pact and to re-impose sanctions created barriers in the new Sino-Iranian trade dynamic.

Officially, China said it would maintain normal economic and trade exchanges with Tehran despite Trump’s decision. As Xi declared, “No matter how the international and regional situation changes, China’s resolve to develop a comprehensive strategic partnership with Iran will remain unchanged.” However, according to data from the General Customs Administration of the People’s Republic of China, trade between the two countries fell dramatically in the two months following the re-imposition of US secondary sanctions.

In February 2019, Xi welcomed a delegation that included Iran’s FM, oil minister, and parliament speaker, and conveyed to them his desire to boost ties with Tehran. He spoke of the enduring friendship between the two countries and said China’s determination to develop its comprehensive strategic partnership with Iran will remain unchanged despite global and regional shifts. Xi called on both sides to deepen trust, communication, and coordination; increase cooperation on security and anti-terrorism; and improve cultural exchanges.

In August 2019, Iranian FM Muhammad Zarif presented a road map to his Chinese counterpart on how to update the strategic partnership. The roadmap encompassed a 25-year deal that foresees $400 billion of Chinese investment in Iran. Though this road map represents a potentially material shift in the global balance of the oil and gas sector, many of its key specifics are not being released to the public.

According to the Petroleum Economist, the deal’s central pillar is a $280 billion Chinese investment in Iran’s oil, gas, and petrochemicals sectors. This amount could be front-loaded into the first five-year period of the deal, with the understanding that more money would be available in every subsequent five-year period subject to the parties’ agreement. There would be another $120 billion Chinese investment in upgrading Iran’s transport and manufacturing infrastructure, which similarly could be front-loaded into the first five-year period and added to each subsequent period.

The updated agreement also includes benefits for Chinese companies operating in Iran. Chinese firms would be given first refusal to bid on any new, stalled, or uncompleted oil and gas field developments. They would also have first refusal on opportunities to become involved with any petrochemicals projects in the country, including the provision of technology, systems, process ingredients, and personnel.

Significantly, the updated agreement includes the provision of up to 5,000 Chinese security personnel on the ground in Iran to protect Chinese assets. There would be additional personnel and material available to protect the eventual transit of oil, gas, and petrochemicals supply from Iran to China, where necessary, including through the Persian Gulf. China would also be able to buy any oil, gas, and petrochemicals products at a minimum guaranteed discount of 12% to the six-month rolling mean price of comparable benchmark products, plus another 6-8% of that metric for risk-adjusted compensation.

Under the terms of the new agreement, China would be granted the right to delay payment for Iranian production for up to two years. China would also be able to pay in soft currencies or in renminbi, meaning no US dollars will be involved in commodity transaction payments from China to Iran. China’s close involvement in the build-out of Iran’s manufacturing infrastructure would be within the context of its One Belt, One Road initiative.

The $400 billion deal comes in parallel with Iran’s rejection of an offer of a $15 billion loan from Europe in return for the country’s commitment to the nuclear deal – a signal that Iran is not dependent on the West as long as there is a Chinese option.

The $400 billion deal could mark a significant change in Chinese foreign policy and the principle of non-intervention. The updated agreement violates the American unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic. At a time when Washington is trying to squeeze Iran’s exports out of the oil market, the deal would amount to an act of defiance of the US.

It is important to note that the deal has only been approved by Iran and has been denied by Beijing. Chinese FM spokesperson Geng Shuang said, “I’m not aware of what you said and don’t know where you got such information. What I can tell you is that China and Iran enjoy friendly relations and our two countries conduct friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields within the framework of international law.”

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Dr. Mordechai Chaziza holds a Ph.D. from Bar-Ilan University and specializes in Chinese foreign and strategic relations.

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Post  Admin on Fri 27 Sep 2019, 8:58 pm
The Al-Hashd al-Sha’bi Militias at a Crossroads
By Dr. Doron ItzchakovSeptember 27, 2019

Logo of the Hashd Al-Sha'abi militias, image via Wikipedia

BESA Center Perspectives No. 1,301, September 27, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The recent assaults on the militia bases of al-Hashd al-Sha’bi raise questions about Iraq’s future. Despite the Iraqi PM’s ultimatum demanding that the militias, which operate under the Iranian umbrella, integrate into the Iraqi military apparatus, a number of them are not complying, which could have implications for Iraqi sovereignty.

The al-Hashd al-Sha’abi (Popular Mobilization Forces) militia bases in Iraq, which are largely supported by the Islamic Republic, operate separately from the Iraqi army. These militias were founded in response to the crisis in the Iraqi army that followed the conquest of Mosul by ISIS in June 2014. The catalyst for their formation was an advisory opinion (al-wajib al-kifai) issued by Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a senior Iraqi Shiite cleric. His fatwa called for the establishment of popular mobilization forces to protect Iraq, and the Shiite community in particular, from danger.

In February 2016, the Iraqi Parliament approved a decree ordering al-Hashd al-Sha’bi to integrate into Iraq’s armed forces, with its members instructed to disengage from any political party, but this order was not implemented. The war against ISIS led to a triangular collaboration between the Iraqi army, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, and the al-Hashd al-Sha’bi militias, which remained under independent Iranian command.

When the fighting came to an end, the al-Hashd al-Sha’bi militias were faced with two alternatives: integrate into Iraq’s security forces, or disarm and integrate into Iraq’s sociopolitical system. Both were anathema to Tehran, which is concentrating its efforts on strengthening its political and military power.  But things have changed: ISIS has been largely expelled, and Iraq is in the process of restoring its sovereignty.

Elections for the 329-member Iraqi parliament were held in May 2018. The election campaign was a golden opportunity for Iran to implement its plan to turn the militias operating under its umbrella into an influential political axis in Iraq. To this end, a new political mechanism was established called the Fatah Coalition. Led by Hadi Ameri, the coalition included representatives of the Iranian Shiite militias, including the Badr organization, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Kata’ib Hezbollah, and Kata’ib al-Imam Ali.

Once the votes were counted, the Fatah Coalition stood in second place with 48 seats in the new parliament. The Saairun Alliance, led by Muqtada al-Sadr, came in first with 54 seats. In third stood the Al-Nasr Coalition, led by Haider Abadi, with 42.

In July of this year, Iraqi PM Adel Abdul-Mahdi issued an ultimatum – against Iranian resistance – demanding that al-Hashd al-Sha’bi finally integrate into Iraq’s security forces. The Shiite militia commanders do not appear to intend to implement this directive. The Liwa al-Muntadhar militia (operating in the Kurdish region) made headlines with its refusal to be evacuated from that battle-stricken area, despite American pressure on President Barham Saleh and PM Abdul-Mahdi.

From Iran’s point of view, turning Iraq into a client state is a vital step in implementing the “axis of resistance” conceived by the leader of the revolution. This conceptual pattern rests on four dimensions:

Penetrating through soft power; i.e., establishing cultural centers, providing welfare and Islamic guidance with the aim of recruitment, and creating sympathy for Ayatollah Khomeini’s “Vilayat-e Faqih” concept.
Establishing combat militias functioning under the guidance of the Revolutionary Guards, with the object of setting up a hybrid mechanism operating simultaneously with the Iraqi army.
Investing large resources in post-war restoration, with an emphasis on telecommunications infrastructure, industrial, and urban reconstruction.
Turning the militias into a powerful political force that is actively involved in formulating foreign and domestic policy, in line with Iran’s interests.
This conceptual pattern is intended to combine the military, political, and economic dimensions and to serve – no less importantly – as a cultural agent.

Tehran’s inroads into Lebanon (through its Hezbollah proxy) have served as a springboard from which to implement the same model in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Yet despite Iraq’s economic dependence on its neighbor to the east, the presence of Shiite militias under Iranian rule has been met with both domestic and foreign opposition. The recent round of attacks on the organization’s bases and ammunitions warehouses has created a renewed debate about the presence of al-Hashd al-Sha’bi militias on Iraqi soil, with voices objecting to their activities and expressing concern about the possible outcome of Iran’s violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

The attacks on the bases are seen as an attempt to disrupt Iran’s grip on Iraqi (as well as Syrian and Lebanese) territory, which Tehran needs to establish its long-sought ground corridor from the Iranian border to the Mediterranean basin. In the wake of the assaults, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis has been instructed to establish an air unit that will work alongside the militias’ forces. Interestingly, this order came from Muhandis himself, who acts as deputy chairman of the organization, and not from Falih Fayyadh, the organization’s chairman. This could indicate an internal debate regarding the fulfillment of instructions coming from Tehran.

In a move widely interpreted as a signal that Muqtada al-Sadr is under Iran’s sphere of influence, Tehran recently distributed an image of that influential cleric sitting between the Supreme Leader and the Quds Force commander at a ceremony marking the day of Ashura. The spectacle of Sadr in Iran fanned the flames of the internal argument in Iraq between supporters of the Iranian presence and those in opposition to it.

Some argue that Sadr’s presence in Iran will strengthen its sphere of influence and jeopardize Iraq’s independence. But others praise it, stating that it is natural for a Shiite leader to be present at mourning ceremonies commemorating Imam Hussein. They stress that Sadr enjoys good relations with all neighboring countries and claim that leaders throughout the region value his views.

It is worth noting that Sadr recently announced that he would implement the integration of the Sarayat al-Salam militia into the Iraqi military apparatus, in accordance with the ultimatum issued by the Iraqi PM. This stood in sharp contradiction to the position of Shiite militia commanders operating under Iranian auspices who oppose the move.

Ever since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, the regime has worked tirelessly to promote its revolutionary ideology throughout the Muslim world. The disintegration of Iraq following the removal of Saddam Hussein, in combination with Iraq’s demographic structure, provides fertile ground on which to advance this worldview.

The Iraqi PM, who faces a great challenge in integrating the militias, stands between the hammer and the anvil. On one side is Iran, which strives to exploit Iraq’s structural weaknesses to boost its leverage. On the other are the US and, to some extent, Saudi Arabia and Israel, which hope to counter Tehran’s aspirations to transform Iraq into a client state.

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Dr. Doron Itzchakov is a Senior Research Associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and author of Iran-Israel 1948-1963: Bilateral Relations at a Crossroads in a Changing Geopolitical Environment.

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Post  Admin on Wed 25 Sep 2019, 11:21 pm
Diverging Gulf Responses to Kashmir and Xinjiang Reflect Deep Divisions
By Dr. James M. DorseySeptember 25, 2019

Narendra Modi, photo via Wikimedia Commons, and Xi Jinping, photo via Office of the President of Russia

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,299, September 25, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Recent diametrically opposed responses to the repression of Muslims by China, India, and other Asian countries highlight deep differences among the Gulf states that ripple across Asia.

Very different responses were recently on display in Gulf reactions to India’s unilateral withdrawal of Kashmir’s autonomy and Qatar’s reversal of its support of China’s brutal clampdown on Turkic Muslims in its troubled northwestern province of Xinjiang.

The divergence says much about the almost decade-long, fundamentally different approaches taken by Qatar and its main detractors, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, toward an emerging, more illiberal new world order in which minority rights are trampled upon.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are leading a more than two-year-long economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar in a so far failed attempt to force the Gulf state to alter its policies.

The feud reflects the Gulf states’ different efforts to maneuver an environment in which the US has sent mixed signals about its commitment to Gulf security and China and Russia are seeking to muscle into US dominance of the region.

In what was perhaps the most surprising indication of differences in the Gulf, Qatar appeared to reverse its tacit acquiescence in China’s clampdown, involving the incarceration in reeducation camps of an estimated 1 million predominantly Turkic Uyghur Muslims.

Qatar did so by withdrawing from a letter it initially signed together with dozens of others countries expressing support for China’s human-rights record despite its clampdown in Xinjiang.

In a letter to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Ali Al-Mansouri, Qatar’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, advised the council that “taking into account our focus on compromise and mediation, we believe that co-authorizing the aforementioned letter would compromise our foreign policy key priorities. In this regard, we wish to maintain a neutral stance and we offer our mediation and facilitation services.”

Signatories of the letter included Qatar’s detractors – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt – as well as Kuwait and Oman, which, together with the feuding Gulf states, are part of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The withdrawal coincided with a US warning that kowtowing to China’s “desire to erode US military advantages” in the Middle East by using its “economic leverage and coercion” and “intellectual property theft and acquisition” could undermine defense cooperation with the US.

“Many investments are beneficial, but we’re concerned countries’ economic interests may blind them to the negative implications of some Chinese investments, including impact on joint defense cooperation with the United States,” said Michael Mulroy, the US Defense Department’s top official responsible for the Gulf.

The Qatari move also came against the backdrop of the Gulf state, which is home to the largest US base in the region, being the only country in the greater Middle East to host an expansion rather than a reduction of US facilities and forces. Qatar is believed to have funded the expansion to the tune of $1.8 billion.

The US has withdrawn some of its forces from Syria and is negotiating a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan with the Taliban.

Nevertheless, Qatar, an enlightened autocracy that has yet to implement at home what it preaches abroad, is unlikely to reap the full soft power benefits in liberal Western democracies of its withdrawal from the pro-Chinese letter despite Uyghur and human rights activists welcoming the move.

It is unclear what prompted the Qatari change of heart, though it did follow an incident last month at Doha’s Hamad International Airport that drove home the limits of China’s ability to flex its financial, economic, and political muscles to control the fallout of its clampdown beyond its borders.

Those limits were evident when Ablikim Yusuf, a 53-year old Uyghur Muslim seeking protection from potential Chinese persecution, landed at the airport. After initially intending to deport Yusuf to Beijing at China’s request, Qatar reversed course.

But rather than grant Yusuf asylum under its newly adopted asylum law, the Gulf’s first, Qatar gave him time to seek refuge elsewhere. Even that was in sharp contrast to countries like Egypt and Turkey, which have either deported Uyghurs or entertained the possibility.

As a result, Qatar’s withdrawal drove one more wedge into the Muslim world’s almost wall-to-wall refusal to criticize China for what amounts to the most frontal assault on any faith in recent history.

Turkey, Qatar’s ally in its dispute with the Gulf states, as well as the Turkic republics of Central Asia, have been walking a tightrope as they attempt to balance relations with China and domestic public criticism of Chinese policy in Xinjiang.

Kazakhstan this month silenced a detained Kazakh rights activist of Uyghur descent by forcing him to plead guilty to a hate speech charge and abandon his activism and public criticism of China in exchange for securing his freedom.

The Qatari withdrawal complicates the Turkish and Central Asian balancing act and strengthens the position of the US, which is locked in multiple trade and other disputes with China.

The withdrawal and US criticism of Chinese policy in Xinjiang put Muslim states, increasingly selective about what Muslim causes they take up, in an awkward position.

The UAE, in sharp contrast to Qatar, has not only maintained its support of China but also, alongside Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, ignored requests for support on Kashmir by Pakistan, its longstanding regional Muslim ally.

Adding insult to injury, the three Gulf states are rewarding Indian PM Narendra Modi for his undermining of Kashmiri autonomy and imposition of unprecedented, repressive security measures.

Modi is scheduled to travel this week to the UAE to receive the country’s highest civilian honor and then go on to Bahrain for the first-ever visit to that country by a sitting Indian PM.

Meanwhile, Saudi national oil company Aramco announced a $15 billion investment in an Indian oil company as Modi was clamping down on Kashmir.

For its part, Qatar has remained largely silent about Kashmir, other than advising its nationals to leave the region.

If the policy divergences in the Gulf say anything, they suggest that differences among the region’s rivals as well as in in the greater Middle East are likely to deepen rather than subside.

A study last year by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concluded that conflict in the region was fueled by a “dearth of regional communication channels, dispute resolution mechanisms, and norms for warfare as well as a surplus of arms imports.”

There is little on the horizon to suggest that this state of affairs is going to change any time soon.

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Dr. James M. Dorsey, a non-resident Senior Associate at the BESA Center, is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture.

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Post  Admin on Wed 25 Sep 2019, 10:09 am
“Smokescreening” – Anti-Israel Sentiment Expressed Through False Friendship
By Dr. Manfred GerstenfeldSeptember 24, 2019

Heiko Maas and Reuven Rivlin, March 2018, photo by Mark Neyman - GPO via Wikipedia

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,298, September 24, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Smokescreening, the false pretense of friendship toward Israel, is a common practice. Practitioners include US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, former US president Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and German FM Heiko Maas. There is also a mirror phenomenon in which Israeli leaders identify smokescreeners as friends, as when Israeli president Reuven Rivlin called German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier a “true friend of Israel.”

Smokescreening – the false pretense of friendship as a fig leaf for criticism – is a widespread activity in both politics and society, yet it is mainly looked at as an individual hypocrisy rather than analyzed as a systematic phenomenon. Israel is regularly subjected to smokescreening.

One super-smokescreener is Jewish US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Sanders claims he is 100% pro-Israel and says Israel has every right in the world to exist in peace and security and not be subjected to terrorist attacks. He also says the US must be more “evenhanded” in how it approaches the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He implies, but does not state outright, that the US should avert its eyes from genocide-promoting Hamas, the largest Palestinian Islamist movement, and from Palestinian terror attacks supported by financial rewards from the Palestinian Authority.

Sanders has said, “It’s not antisemitic to criticize Israel for electing a right-winger like Netanyahu,” and has called Netanyahu’s government “racist.” Yet he does not address the racism in large parts of Palestinian society. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, is an extreme racist. He has pledged that there will be no Israelis in the prospective Palestinian state, saying: “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands.” Sanders is silent on this.

Sanders has said that the Palestinians deserve to be treated with “dignity and respect.” He does not explain how people who are 93% antisemitic, according to a 2014 global study conducted by the ADL, merit that dignity and respect. Sanders’s smokescreening of Israel warrants a full article of its own.

Another major smokescreener toward Israel is Barack Obama. While president of the US, he visited Israel in March 2013. He said at the Jerusalem Convention Center: “I bring with me the support of the American people, and the friendship that binds us together.” He added: “As the president of a country that you can count on as your greatest friend, I am confident that you can help us find the promise in the days that lie ahead.”

In that same Jerusalem speech, Obama openly bent the truth. He said: “But while I know you have had differences with the Palestinian Authority, I believe that you do have a true partner in President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. Over the last few years, they have built institutions and maintained security on the West Bank in ways that few would have imagined a decade ago. So many Palestinians – including young people – have rejected violence as a means of achieving their aspirations.” A few months later, Abbas would push Fayyad out as PM.

In 2008, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and Abbas discussed a peace agreement. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who was present at the negotiations, told PATV that Olmert accepted all the PA’s demands. He even offered Abbas a little more than the full area of the West Bank. Erekat said he told Abbas to accept the extremely generous proposal, but Abbas rejected it.

In December 2016, in one of his last acts as president, Obama had the US abstain from voting in a major anti-Israeli UN Security Council motion. The proposal demanded an immediate halt to all settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Through the abstention, Obama enabled the measure to pass. Donald Trump had already been elected president and would be installed a few weeks later. Trump had made it clear that he opposed the resolution and notified the White House, to no avail.

American law expert Alan Dershowitz said the former president told him he would always protect Israel, yet he believes Obama stabbed the Jewish state in the back with the abstention. He said: “President Obama’s decision on the way out to allow the United Nations to condemn Israel for occupying the Western Wall, the holiest place in Judaism, the Jewish Quarter, Hebrew University, the Hadassah Hospital bypass road, was abominable.”

In Europe, German politicians are among the foremost smokescreeners of friendship toward Israel. In view of the genocide of six million Jews in the grandfather generation, some leading Germans feel they cannot easily express negative opinions about Israel. A fully researched article about smokescreening by Germans, including leading individuals, is needed.

German politicians often appear to feel the need to pretend that their country is an almost unconditional friend of Israel. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat, has said Israel’s security is part of Germany’s national ethos.

The reality is far from that. As head of the German government, Merkel leads German policymaking. The German daily, Bild, pointed out that Berlin regularly sides with Israel’s enemies at the UN. In November 2018, of 21 UN General Assembly resolutions against Israel, 16 were supported by Germany; it abstained on four.

Merkel is also a smokescreener as far as the fight against antisemitism is concerned. Despite significant German right- and left-wing antisemitism, she has welcomed far more than a million refugees since 2015 – many from the Arab world. The percentage of antisemites among these immigrants is much higher than that of the indigenous population.

There are probably more prominent smokescreeners of friendship toward Israel in the other German government party, the socialists (SPD). A current example is FM Heiko Maas. He has often said Auschwitz inspired him to go into politics, yet many German votes against Israel in the UN General Assembly have taken place under his authority.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has attacked Maas’s behavior frontally: “Before he invokes Auschwitz again, he should go back and reread history. We expected much more from Foreign Minister Maas. Unfortunately, we find him on the wrong side of the tracks of the existential threats that Israel is facing every day. “

Cooper added: “With all due respect, it is time for the German foreign minister to drop his assertion that it was the lessons of Auschwitz that propelled him into public life. He clearly has not applied any of the lessons to the current situation. Instead of weakening the tyrannical, genocidal regime in Tehran, he is doing everything to strengthen Iran. His instructions to the German UN ambassador are not those of a friend of a Jewish state.”

The “mirror” or “reverse” phenomenon also exists. Some Israeli leaders make the huge mistake of calling people who are smokescreeners “friends.” President Reuven Rivlin called German socialist president Frank-Walter Steinmeier “a true friend of Israel” during his visit to Israel in 2017. While FM, Steinmeier was responsible for a flood of German condemnations of Israel at the UN.

More recently, Steinmeier “congratulated the Iranian government cordially on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the revolution, also in the name of my fellow country citizens.” The daily Tagesspiegel wondered whether one had to remind Steinmeier that “Iran is a sponsor of international terrorism, threatens Israel with destruction, denies the Holocaust, oppresses women, executes homosexuals and punishes religious conversions with death.”

The paper concluded: “The moral compass that should guide the words of a president of the German republic has in this case greatly failed.” To put the congratulation of the Iranian government in even more perspective: When Donald Trump was elected as US president in November 2016, Steinmeier, then FM, explicitly said he would not congratulate him.

Israeli leaders have found many ways to express gushing praise for people who are far from friendly toward Israel. When Shimon Peres, then Israel’s president, visited Norway in 2014, he stated nonsensically: “Norway is the pearl of humanity, built on human values, and seeks to keep people equal and free.”

A report, published in 2012 by the Norwegian Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities and paid for by the government, found that 38% of Norwegians believe Israel acts toward the Palestinians as the Nazis behaved toward the Jews. The tiny Norwegian Jewish community has suffered from substantial antisemitism in the country supposedly “built on human values.”

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Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ is a Senior Research Associate at the BESA Center and a former chairman of the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He specializes in Israeli–Western European relations, antisemitism, and anti-Zionism, and is the author of The War of a Million Cuts.

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Post  Admin on Mon 23 Sep 2019, 8:21 pm
Iran Escalates: The Attack on the Saudi Oilfields
By Dr. Doron ItzchakovSeptember 23, 2019
The Khurais oil processing facility, Saudi Arabia, photo by Planet Labs via Wikipedia

BESA Center Perspectives No. 1,297, September 23, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The attack on the Saudi oilfields took the security establishments of both the kingdom and the US completely by surprise. The strike led to a 50% drop in Saudi oil production, which in turn prompted a surge in oil prices in the global market. The attack was a daring and aggressive leap forward on Iran’s part, and it has serious regional and geopolitical implications.

The latest findings in the investigation of the September 14 attack on the Abqaiq and Khurais oilfields in eastern Saudi Arabia indicate that it was launched from Iranian territory and not by Tehran’s Houthi proxies from Yemen, as was initially alleged. The attack appears to have been conducted by the Revolutionary Guards via cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and was apparently launched from Ahvaz Air Base. According to CBS News, the attack was approved by the Iranian Supreme Leader on condition that Iran’s fingerprints be undetectable. After the strike, Tehran quickly labeled the Houthi rebels as responsible.

In the first week after the attack, Saudi oil production declined by approximately 50%, leading to a surge in oil prices in the global market. Though this effect was by no means insignificant, the event is not expected to lead to a crisis in the global energy market, as major oil producers should make up for the expected shortage. The rise in oil prices and slowdown in Saudi Arabia’s oil output are secondary to the regional and geopolitical implications of the incident.

The attack should concern decision-makers in countries that are in a state of conflict with Iran, as it represents a leap in Iranian daring. Tehran’s willingness to swiftly turn its aggressive statements into action could indicate a shift in strategy. Also worrying is the fact that the attack was not detected by either the US or Saudi Arabia, indicating an effective utilization of a low-altitude cruise route that is difficult to intercept. As a senior US official said, “The attack caught us off guard.”

Iran’s readiness for conflict is the culmination of the accumulated experience of its forces in the various fighting rounds in the wake of the so-called “Arab Spring.” For example, the years-long fighting in Syria has led to an improvement in infantry combat and asymmetrical warfare among the Revolutionary Guards. The fighting in Yemen and the assistance to the Ansar Allah (Houthi) militia helped Iran improve the armament, navigation, and striking capabilities of its cruise missiles and UAVs. The launching of a large number of Iranian missiles toward targets in Saudi Arabia (as well as some toward the UAE) has led to a significant improvement in Iran’s air units.

The decision to focus on developing ballistic capability resulted from Iran’s experience during the Iran-Iraq War, a conflict that inflicted many casualties and much loss of property. That war also led to the development of Iranian naval doctrine, which is based on assault by numerous high-speed boats that attack their targets simultaneously with missiles and firearms. This modus operandi was recently implemented during Iran’s attempts to disrupt the transit of oil tankers crossing the Hormuz Strait.

It is instructive to examine the pattern of Tehran’s actions from the moment the US tightened its sanctions on the Iranian oil sector. Its first step was to threaten to close the Hormuz Strait to tanker traffic, which was defined as a counter- reaction to the sanctions. This was accompanied by the unveiling of various types of missiles and military drills, with an emphasis on the naval arm of the Revolutionary Guards. As the pressure of sanctions increased, the Guards took operational measures that included sabotaging tankers docked along the shores of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. While these actions were conducted in a manner to obscure Iranian involvement, their goal was to signal the seriousness of Tehran’s intentions and provide information on how the countries involved would counter-react.

Iran then moved on to the next stage: it attempted to take over and divert oil tankers on the pretext that they had crossed the maritime border and penetrated Iranian territory while transiting the Hormuz Strait. It then set a milestone in the growing conflict in the Persian Gulf by shooting down a US drone (a Triton MQ-4C) in June 2019.

President Trump’s decision to cancel a US military response, mere hours after declaring that “Iran made a big mistake,” was greeted in Tehran with a sigh of relief, but was likely also interpreted as a signal that the US does not want a military confrontation with Iran. This meant its aggressive course of operations could continue.

In parallel with the above, Tehran has continued to promote offensive measures in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, with the aim of expanding its “axis of resistance.” Iraq has become an Iranian base for the storage of accurate missiles, and Shiite militias (incorporated under al-Hashd al-Sha’bi) continue to follow Tehran’s orders despite the decree instructing them to integrate into the Iraqi army. Syrian territory continues to be used by the Quds Force to threaten Israel’s border, despite the losses the Force has suffered. Hezbollah, which gained considerable fighting experience in Syria, remains a successful proxy model for Iran. And as stated, Ansar Allah’s attacks on Saudi targets are an experimental field on which Iran is improving its air and ballistic capabilities.

In view of all this, it is hardly to be wondered at that Iran has chosen to be more bold.

Tehran’s decision to significantly disrupt Saudi Arabia’s oil output was meant to send several messages. The first, of course, was to the kingdom, its biggest rival in the Arab sphere: that it should acknowledge Iran’s military supremacy and deterrence capability. Another was to the global oil market: that it should understand that Tehran will shock it as long as the Iranian oil sector is subject to sanctions. The final message was to the US: that Iran will test its willingness to use military force to protect its allies. As in the past, this message was accompanied by threats from senior officials, with Commander of the Revolutionary Guards Hussein Salami warning that any country that dares to attack Iran will turn into a battlefield.

Iran is a rational player. It plans and responds to events according to particular worldviews that are interwoven with its historical narrative. History has left deep marks on the thinking of Iran’s decision-makers, particularly the Supreme Leader and senior commanders of the Revolutionary Guards. Tehran has drawn conclusions from crises like the Iran-Iraq War and subsequent state reconstruction, the fight against opposition groups, the First Gulf War (1991), and the invasion of Afghanistan, all of which undermined its security somewhat.

Iran is able to seize opportunities, such as the collapse of Iraq after the invasion of coalition forces in March 2003 and the rise of ISIS. As global attention shifted to the fight against the Islamic State, Iran was left essentially free to promote its “axis of resistance” and establish a supranational militia army under the leadership of the Quds Force commander.

Iran’s modus operandi involves constantly testing its rivals’ professionalism and willingness to respond. What is perceived by the West as prudent restraint is perceived by Tehran as weakness. Commanders of the Revolutionary Guards are thus likely to recommend that the Supreme Leader continue the offensive line with even more daring and a higher level of accuracy.

Iran showed creativity in its attack on the Saudi oilfields. What will be the next escalation? And to what extent is Iranian escalation the consequence of a lack of a proper response?

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Dr. Doron Itzchakov is a Senior Research Associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and author of the book: Iran-Israel 1948-1963: Bilateral Relations at a Crossroads in a Changing Geopolitical Environment.

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Post  Admin on Sun 22 Sep 2019, 10:10 pm
The Shakir Case: Human Rights Watch vs. Israel
By Prof. Gerald M. SteinbergSeptember 22, 2019

Omar Shakir, photo via Human Rights Watch

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,296, September 22, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: On September 24, the Israeli High Court is scheduled to hear the appeal filed by Omar Shakir of Human Rights Watch (HRW) regarding the Ministry of the Interior’s rejection of his request to renew his work visa. HRW – which openly peddles in BDS – is in a win-win situation, as a victory will enable it and Shakir to continue peddling anti-Israel hate while a loss will allow them to brand Israel an oppressor of human rights. 

Both ostensibly and legally, the Omar Shakir case coming before the Israeli High Court on September 24 is not about Human Rights Watch (HRW) per se. The formal question is whether Shakir, the “Israel and Palestine Director” at HRW, violated both the terms of his visa and the law that mandates the exclusion from Israel of leaders of the BDS movement.

The government’s case, reinforced by amicus briefs filed by Israeli watchdog groups (including NGO Monitor), includes overwhelming evidence of Shakir’s BDS activity. HRW’s legal team argues that the case is political, asserting that Israel is targeting HRW for alleged human rights work that is critical of Israel. The organization claims that Shakir’s BDS work ended when he arrived in Israel in 2016.

The Jerusalem District Court was unimpressed by the HRW spin, and its ruling accepted the government’s position. Shakir was nevertheless allowed to stay in the country pending the High Court appeal.

Although its language is narrowly legal and technical, this case reflects major issues not only for Israel but in the wider realms of lawfare, soft power, and public diplomacy. The arguments on human rights and nebulous aspects of international law are proxies for a multi-front war that has been escalating for 20 years around soft power de-legitimacy. This 21st-century political, legal, and economic war seeks to demonize and thereby destroy Israel, much as the wars fought by armies and missiles attempted to defeat the Jewish state on the battlefield.

From its opening shots almost 20 years ago, HRW has been a leader in the attacks against Israel, and the Shakir case is an important milestone in this history. HRW brings an annual budget of $92 million ($641 million over the past decade) to the battlefront and provides a vast array of skilled social and mainstream media warriors. The image of a small group of volunteers sacrificing their spare time to promote universal human rights values is a façade. These are highly paid mercenaries waging propaganda wars with all the weapons money can buy.

HRW is a leader in antisemitic campaigns to demonize and single out Israel, with a particular emphasis on BDS. The organization’s leadership is obsessed with Israel, and their resources badly outmatch the budget-starved Israeli Foreign Ministry. Far from the claim that Shakir was not doing BDS during his almost three years in Israel, the evidence clearly shows that this agenda constitutes the vast majority of his and HRW’s activities on Israel – from the failed attempt to pressure Airbnb to join in the demonization to the international soccer federation campaign (another failure). Detailed analysis indicates that notwithstanding a few token reports criticizing Hamas that were designed to deflect criticism, HRW’s target is unequivocally Israel.

All these factors, and the wider demonization, are at the core of the Shakir case. Politically, this case is about HRW and BDS warfare, and whether, after numerous defeats, the Israeli government has a viable counter-strategy. (Had the various officials and ministries involved had a coherent strategy in place in 2016, Shakir and HRW would never have received a work visa in the first place, and the court sessions, media focus, and accompanying human rights theater would have been avoided.)

The importance of this case and the worldwide stage it provides for HRW’s anti-Israel campaign was highlighted in July, when Shakir’s hearing was initially scheduled. The top five officials of HRW, led by Executive Director Kenneth Roth, arrived in Israel for a full-scale diplomatic and media blitz  (though at the last minute, the court postponed the hearing, short-circuiting their plans.) For them, the case is a win-win: if the judges overrule the lower court, this will be presented as a great victory for HRW over the hated and anti-democratic Israeli government. And if Shakir loses and is deported, HRW will declare a great victory in showing the world how “Israel oppresses brave human rights defenders.”

Shakir and HRW’s leaders have already waged a very successful campaign in the international media. They project an invented image of a politically neutral organization promoting the moral principles of human rights, and overcoming intense opposition by the “far right” Israeli government. Shakir has published opinion pieces in the mainstream media, including the Washington Post (“Israel wants to deport me for my human rights work,” April 18, 2019), in addition to numerous interviews (see for example, The New York Times, “Israel Invokes Anti-Boycott Law to Order Human Rights Worker Deported”, April 16, 2019). Ken Roth and other HRW officials have added to the propaganda campaign.

The same façade of “human rights defenders” (a politicized term used very loosely) was reinforced through highly publicized meetings with European diplomats, such as with the German ambassador to Israel, who proclaimed on Twitter: “Today I met with @KenRoth from Human Rights Watch, an organisation I have known for many years from previous work on Int‘l Humanitarian Law. For Germany, @hrw remains an important partner in raising awareness & promoting Int‘l Law and #HumanRights around the globe.” She provided no rationale as to why Roth and HRW would remain “an important partner,” and ignored their history of anti-Israel campaigning and antisemitism.

In the US, HRW generated a letter from 17 Democratic members of Congress to PM Netanyahu, asking him to “reconsider” the rejection of Shakir’s request for a visa renewal and repeating the standard PR on the importance of “the reports of Human Rights Watch for balanced accounts of human rights violations wherever they may occur.” The letter warned that deporting Shakir would “reinforce the impression that Israel is increasingly hostile to human rights defenders.”

In responding, the PM accused HRW of exploiting “the banner of justice and human rights … to delegitimize the State of Israel and negate its very right to exist.” He accused HRW and Shakir of leading the BDS movement, with the goal of seeking to “isolate and ultimately destroy the State of Israel.” This is also the essence of the Israeli government’s claim in denying HRW’s “Israel/Palestinian director” his request to renew the work visa formally granted for promoting human rights.

Before Israeli audiences, Roth, Shakir, and their surrogates had a mixed impact during their July tour. Articles and interviews in Ha’aretz gave them celebrity status and repeated their claims. In sharp contrast, their radio interview with Israel’s public broadcaster (Kann, Reshet Bet), highlighted Shakir’s record of promoting hate and BDS, and Roth’s deep anti-Israel obsession. In the face of repeated questions, Roth refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of Jewish national self-determination, regardless of borders. In the process, he revealed the core of HRW’s campaign against Israel and its façade of human rights. Their efforts to use the fig-leaf reports on Hamas as a defense were ignored.

For anyone who has followed HRW and its critics over the years, none of this is new nor surprising. HRW is well established as among the leaders of the campaign falsely accusing Israel of repeated violations of human rights and international law. These accusations are amplified through the media and international institutions, such as the UN Human Rights Council, as well as in the halls of European parliaments, foreign ministries, and elsewhere. In these venues, HRW’s claims to focus on research and documentation of rights violations are repeated without question, long after their failed methodologies, repetitive false claims, and ideological agendas have been exposed.

The most potent case against HRW was made by its late founder, Robert Bernstein, who denounced Roth and the organization in an opinion column in The New York Times. He accused them of using their resources and influence to lead the campaign to “turn Israel into a pariah state.” In speeches at the University of Nebraska (2010) and Hebrew Union College in New York (2013), he detailed this criticism, accusing Roth and others of abusing their position.

There are also major questions regarding HRW’s donors and enablers. Following Bernstein’s denunciation, several original funders also pulled out. George Soros, a major critic of Israel, stepped in to save the NGO, along with other unknown benefactors. HRW stopped publishing the names of donors, raising numerous questions. At the time, HRW officials made overtures to Saudi Arabia and Libya, which was then ruled by Qaddafi. These actions and the lack of transparency regarding donors, which began at the same time, led to speculation about secret funding from Middle East dictatorships, which would reinforce an already strongly anti-Israel agenda.

Taken together, the issues of antisemitism, demonization, methodological failures, and funding secrecy should be sufficient grounds for branding HRW and its officials, including Roth and Shakir, as propagandists and worse, and to strip away the façade of “human rights defenders.” There is no need for Israel’s anti-BDS laws – indeed, this legislation and its application in the Shakir visa case are distractions from the core issues. The ability of HRW to use court cases and appeals to successfully promote its agenda is clear evidence that the government has failed.

No matter what the High Court’s ruling on the Shakir case may be, HRW’s war against Israel will continue. If the court upholds the government’s position and Shakir is required to depart, he and HRW will accelerate their condemnations of Israel and other forms of demonization around the world.

Therefore, in the confrontation between HRW, as an NGO superpower working under a façade of human rights, and Israel, which seeks to counter and defeat multiple campaigns of demonization and de-legitimization, this case should be recognized as a policy failure.

Instead, a broader and more strategic approach is necessary, though it may be beyond the government’s capability, particularly as a lead actor. HRW, despite its enormous war chest and capabilities in the realm of public relations and in waging soft-power warfare, is an NGO. Leadership in countering their attacks might be more effective if it came from other NGOs and not directly from the Israeli government, or from political officials who are poorly equipped to lead such a confrontation.

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Gerald M. Steinberg is a professor in the Political Science department at Bar-Ilan University.

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Post  Admin on Thu 19 Sep 2019, 10:48 pm
The Plight of the LGBT Community in the Palestinian Authority and Muslim Countries
By Dr. Edy CohenSeptember 19, 2019
Gay pride flag, image via Wikipedia
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,294, September 19, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Palestinian Authority’s violent treatment of the gay community under its rule offers a gloomy reminder of this community’s difficult situation in most Muslim countries.

On August 18, the Palestinian Authority barred the Al Qaws (Rainbow) organization, which combines several LGBT groups, from holding an event in the Nablus area. Palestinian policemen not only forcibly prevented the gathering but issued a harsh and threatening warning to members of the gay community. They asked citizens to provide the police with any information they might have about the organization’s activities, and made the following statement:

The Palestinian police will prevent the holding of the event and notes that it did not know about the similar previous events that were held in Nablus. The event in question is not suitable to the conservative nature of the city and will offend the values of the local population and the city of Nablus…The event, if held, will constitute an affront to the tradition and a blow to the values that Palestinian society has upheld throughout its history.

The police spokesman went on to warn that anyone connected to the event would be prosecuted, and promised full confidentiality to anyone providing the police with information that might lead to such prosecutions.

In the Palestinian Authority, gay activists and the LGBT community at large are subjected to continual and severe persecution. This persecution comes directly from the PA itself, which is supposed to prevent discrimination and protect all its citizens. As one gay organization wrote on its Facebook page: “We have received hundreds of hate messages and threats to our lives. The assault against us is without precedent. We are being called traitors and degenerates and there are even calls to eradicate us. We fear for our lives.”

Israel is considered a paradise for the LGBT community. It is the only place in the Middle East where gays are not persecuted by either the society or the authorities. There are dozens of cases of gay Palestinians from the PA, and even from the wider Arab and Muslim world, who have sought refuge in Israel from persecution they suffered in their own countries.

Gay rights in Arab and Muslim countries are not much different from those of women and prisoners in those lands, meaning they don’t have any. Not only is LGBT activity considered a crime, but members of the community are regarded as sick or perverted people who seek to destroy the society and corrupt its values.

In the view of Muslim clerics, the LGBT phenomenon is a “sickness of the West” or of imperialism. The Arab world is uniformly characterized by extreme homophobia. Not a single Arab country respects the rights of the gay community, though the level of intolerance and persecution differs from country to country. In all of them, without exception, marriage and sexual relations between members of the same sex are explicitly forbidden and against the law, reflecting the fact that Muslim countries are based indirectly or directly on Islamic law (sharia) in all areas of life. In Muslim society, gays do not publicly declare their sexual identity. The overwhelming majority live in fear and stay in the closet for their own safety.

In countries such as Iran, Mauritania, Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria, the penalty for homosexual activity is death. It is only in Iran, however, that homosexuals are actually executed. In 2005, two teenagers, aged sixteen and eighteen, were publicly hanged for being homosexual, and in 2012, seven men were executed on the same charge. Iran continues to execute homosexuals, but now does so in secret to avoid criticism from European countries.

In some cases Iranian homosexuals are arrested and murdered without trial, while the politicians and clerics deny or ignore the phenomenon. In one of the most ridiculous statements ever made on this subject, Iran’s then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, during a speech at Columbia University in September 2007, denied that homosexuals were executed in Iran with the claim that “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals.” On June 10, 2019, during a visit to Germany, Iranian FM Javad Zarif defended the execution of homosexuals as a moral measure intended to safeguard the principles and values of the Islamic Republic.

In Kuwait, Article 193 of the Penal Code stipulates up to six years’ imprisonment for homosexual contact, while Article 198 stipulates eight years’ imprisonment for anyone who imitates a member of the other sex (i.e., transgender people). In 2013, Kuwait barred entry to foreign workers who were suspected of being homosexual, and appointed a committee to vet each incoming worker.

Because of the World Cup soccer tournament scheduled to be held in Qatar in 2022, legislation against the gay community in that country was halted, as were arrests and punishments of its members. In recent years, with the advent of relative openness on this and other issues, Saudi Arabia has stopped executing homosexuals. In other Gulf states, while homosexuality remains prohibited by law, the policy is “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” In Lebanon, Tunisia, and Morocco, the treatment of homosexuals is less violent, possibly because of the influence of the West (particularly France) on those countries.

The Qur’an makes no reference to the punishment or execution of homosexuals, but many Muslim clerics nevertheless regard homosexuality as a crime. It unfortunately does not appear that the near future will see any change in the treatment of the gay community by Muslim countries, Iran, or the Palestinian Authority, which continues to treat its own gay citizens brutally.

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Dr. Edy Cohen is a researcher at the BESA Center and author of the book The Holocaust in the Eyes of Mahmoud Abbas (Hebrew).

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Post  Admin on Wed 18 Sep 2019, 11:35 pm
Is Erdoğan Solely Responsible for Turkish Foreign Policy?
By Dr. Spyridon N. LitsasSeptember 18, 2019
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, photo via Office of the President of Russia

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,293, September 18, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Many believe Turkey will return to “Western normality” as soon as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan finishes his political career. But Turkey’s behavior is influenced by the systemic restructuring of the international arena after the end of the Cold War more than it is by Erdoğan’s aura, as was apparent in the 1990s prior to his advent. It is unwise to anticipate a significant change in Turkish foreign policy once Erdoğan leaves the scene.

Turkey’s moves in the Mediterranean have been marked for some time by zigzagging. On the one hand, Ankara seems willing to sacrifice its credibility as a NATO member in order to obtain the Russian S-400 Triumph and safeguard RUSATOM’s help in constructing nuclear power plants. On the other hand, it has distanced itself from Moscow’s Syria policy and champions every armed Sunni group operating there. In Libya, too, Turkey supports the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Ankara’s rhetoric continually undermines the status of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq, which deeply irritates the US State Department, to put it mildly.

To all this must be added Turkey’s anti-Israel position, which reflects a trendy antisemitism among next-generation officials of AKP who seem to have neither the religious clarity nor the political acumen of their ideological forefathers. Nor can we ignore the harassment of Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, which is a fundamental destabilizing factor in the regional balance of power.

It is reasonable to wonder what Ankara is trying to accomplish. It is creating new points of friction at a time when the Turkish economy is showing the fiscal fragility of the 1980s – but this time without the security of American economic solidarity.

Some analysts believe this state of affairs reflects Erdoğan’s personal views regarding Turkey’s international power position. Because of this, they anticipate a spectacular U-turn from Ankara as soon as Erdoğan leaves the scene.

But if we are to understand Turkey’s moves in the 21st-century geostrategic arena, we must ask whether Erdoğan’s foreign policy is the direct result of the defeat of Kemalism in Turkey – or the product of systemic changes that occurred in the post-Cold War polarity structure of the international environment. If Erdoğan’s foreign policy is solely a product of his personality and belief system, the problem is soluble, because no politician lasts forever. But what constituted “normal” Turkish foreign policy in the pre-Erdoğan era?

Relations between Ankara and Washington deteriorated considerably for the first time in 1996-97, when Turkey refused to allow the Americans to use Incirlik Air Base as a point from which to strike targets in Iraq. This was the first time Washington was faced with the reality that Ankara’s relationship with it was not unconditional.

A serious military episode with Greece – the most ominous after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 – occurred during the Imia Crisis of 1996, which almost resulted in direct conflict in the Aegean Sea. Turkish-Israeli relations, which had been strong since the Ottoman era, slowly began to deteriorate during the mid 1990s due to Ankara’s decision to champion the Palestinians as a means of making diplomatic gains in the event of a resolution to the conflict. Furthermore, after the end of the Cold War, Ankara and Moscow returned to the harmonious cooperation they had enjoyed in the mid-war period. They established the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Zone, and Russia became the largest export partner for Turkish goods. Moscow did not object to Ankara’s attempts to establish close soft-power ties with the ex-Soviet republics of the Caucasus.

In view of these events, it is reasonable to conclude that it is not Erdoğan who steered Turkey away from the west but systemic changes that occurred in the international arena with the rise of a new multipolar system after the end of the Cold War – changes that predated his rise to power.

Turkey sees itself as a Great Power in the making, not just another part of the western world. This sense of greatness has led Ankara to abandon the European integration process, gravely undermine relations with Washington, and consider Russia and China as equals in terms of international power. But Turkey’s view of itself does not comport with the facts. The country is deeply divided domestically between political Islam and the secularists, and the Kurdish Question grows larger by the day. Turkish prestige has been deeply wounded among western governments and citizens, with the hashtag #WorstAllyEver going viral for weeks on Twitter. The Turkish economy seems trapped in a primitive economic spiral based on small agricultural units and a mediocre tourism market that is negatively affected by the volatility of the region. Turkey is far from technologically advanced, and its involvement in innovative international IT schemes and robotics is almost nil.

Analysts who believe a new dawn will break in Turkey when Erdoğan leaves the stage are mistaken. Nationalism and narcissism are deeply rooted in the collective subconscious of the Turkish state, and the multipolar system is helping those flaws come to the surface. They will continue to dictate domestic developments and the state’s international conduct, with or without Erdoğan.

Note that the two new stars in Turkish politics, Meral Aksener and Ekrem Imamoglu, appear unwilling to break away from the traditional Turkish egotism that moves the crowds. It does, after all, afford political victories in both local and national elections.

Turkish megalomania will produce more instability in the Eastern Mediterranean even as it pushes Ankara deeper into the arms of revisionist systemic actors.

To guard against this, strong political and defensive links between Jerusalem, Nicosia, and Athens should be supplemented by academic cooperation and technological synergies. This strong tripartite bond – which too is the product of new systemic developments in the post-Cold War Eastern Mediterranean and not just a result of the deterioration of Israeli-Turkish relations after Davos 2009 – together with continued productive US involvement in the region will be the best strategic components with which to face down Turkey’s narcissistic self-misperceptions in the decades to come.

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Dr. Spyridon N. Litsas is Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Macedonia and Visiting Professor of International Relations at the Institute of Political Science at the University of Grenoble, France.

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Post  Admin on Tue 17 Sep 2019, 4:28 pm

Why Israel Must Tolerate Hamas for the Time Being
By Prof. Hillel FrischSeptember 17, 2019

Gazan Palestinians rioting at border fence, photo via IDF Flickr CC

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,292, September 17, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Israel’s inability to thwart Hamas on the Gaza front, even as it persistently worsens the lives of the 20,000 Israeli citizens who live in the “Gaza envelope,” is a national shame. Yet PM Benjamin Netanyahu is correct that this pain must be borne as Israel focuses on the Iranian threat and Israel’s northern front.

It is shameful that Israel permits the Qatari envoy to distribute cash to Gaza – cash that certainly finds its way to Hamas coffers – only to be repaid by Hamas-incited violence along the border fence.

It is shameful to sit by and watch as Hamas continuously innovates new means of violence – first, weekly demonstrations; then daily harassments using noise, smoke, garbage, and excrement; then incendiary balloons; then balloons booby-trapped with explosives; and now explosives-laden drones – while the IDF seems frozen in its responses.

It is shameful to watch the enemy use cheap and plentiful means to undermine Israeli prophylactics whose costs, like those of the fence and the underground wall, run into the billions.

It is difficult to watch the Israeli army, once famous for its daring innovation and courage, become (or seem to become) helplessly defensive.

Yet PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach – as unpopular and emotionally unpalatable as it might be – is geostrategically correct. The southern front must remain as quiet as possible for the time being, even at the cost of the punishing toll Hamas extortion is taking on the inhabitants of Sderot and the neighboring communities and kibbutzim. It is the right approach even at the cost of the shame and indignation most Israelis feel at giving in to that extortion.

To understand this, one must reflect on the strategic objectives of the major actors regarding the southern front.

By far the most important objective, from Israel’s strategic perspective, is that of Iran.

Iran wants to spark war on Israel’s southern front to deflect attention away from its strategic buildup in Syria, Hezbollah’s Lebanon, and Iraq. The long-term objective of that buildup is to solidify the missile threat against Israel. To achieve this end, Iran is using Islamic Jihad as a tool to provoke Hamas and Israel into a large-scale provocation.

This also explains why Egypt is so energetically involved in keeping the southern front quiet. Like Jerusalem, Cairo (along with the other Sunni states) wants the heat to be on Iran and Israel’s northern front.

Without Iranian backing, both Hezbollah and Hamas will be reduced over time to the stature of the kinds of small local terrorist movements Israel has lived with almost since its establishment. Terrorist organizations are only powerful to the degree that they enjoy the power of a state behind them.

One has only to compare the fate of ISIS, which had no state sponsor, with that of Hezbollah, a state and army contained within a larger state whose own army is helpless. ISIS, a major social phenomenon and political actor that erased a major barrier between major Arab states, succumbed relatively quickly to Russian and allied air power and small ground forces that were brought to the field either by the allies or by the Kurds.

Hezbollah, by contrast, dominates Lebanon, thanks to Iranian support.

One of the reasons Israel wants the US and others to subject Iran to biting economic sanctions is to reduce its ability to finance Hezbollah and Hamas. A quiet southern front is required to ensure that focus.

The same quiet is required in order to concentrate attention on Iran’s strategic buildup in Syria, Hezbollah’s Lebanon, and Iraq. Naturally, Tehran wishes attention to be deflected from that buildup, which is designed to concretize Iran’s missile threat against Israel.

Preventing the Iranian buildup might require massive retaliation in Lebanon – an outcome that would bring about a campaign of massive de-legitimization against the Jewish State. At such a critical time, why waste Israel’s precious few reserves of legitimacy on the far less lethal southern front?

Hamas’s strategic objective is different from that of both Iran and Israel. The former wants a hot war on the southern front, and Israel and its tacit Sunni Arab allies want no war. Hamas wants to continue to use intermittent and limited violence to extort Qatari aid and Israeli concessions, which include indirect subsidies – like the creation of a new electricity line from Israel, which Hamas knows Israel will subsidize for a considerable period of time (as it has done in the past, in another shameful act).

Despite election rhetoric, no serious politician or political party disagrees with Netanyahu’s reading of Israel’s geostrategic predicament, his steadfast approach to handling it, or the need to bear the pain and shame of a quiet southern front.

Netanyahu’s detractors, Ganz and Lapid (and, to a much lesser degree, Yaalon), take him to task for failing to leverage the past three and a half years to explore international and regional schemes that supposedly would put Gaza on a trajectory of peace.

Netanyahu’s acumen and courage stand out against these detractors’ empty rhetoric. They should read Professor Benny Miller, an astute geostrategic Israeli scholar, on regional war and peace in the Middle East. He states that outside powers are helpful in ending wars and preserving cold wars, but it is local powers that decide on war and peace.

Israel’s enemies know what they want, and it is certainly not peace. So much for the importance of international and regional schemes.

Only another round of war, ending in Israeli victory, will do in the case of Hamas – but not right now. Iran and the northern front are far more important for the foreseeable future.

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This is an edited version of an article that appeared in the Jerusalem Post on September 14, 2019.

Prof. Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
Prof. Hillel Frisch
Prof. Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. Email:

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Post  Admin on Tue 17 Sep 2019, 10:00 am
Iran’s Radical Axis Is Intensifying Its Efforts to Build a War Machine Against Israel
By Yaakov LappinSeptember 16, 2019

Qasem Soleimani, commander of Quds Force of Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (IRGC), photo via Wikimedia Commons

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,290, September 16, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: A shadow war raging between the Iranian-led radical Shiite axis and Israel has become public in recent weeks. This conflict is driven by Israel’s determination to prevent Iran from building attack capabilities in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.

According to the IDF, Shiite militia operatives under the command of Iran’s Quds Force fired rockets toward Israel early on September 9 from the outskirts of Damascus. None of the projectiles crossed into Israel, with all of them falling inside Syria. (The Quds Force is the secret elite force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp [IRGC] operating around the globe.)

This attack appears to have been a response to a reported air strike on positions held by Iranian-backed Shiite militias at the Albukamal border crossing linking Syria and Iraq. The Albukamal crossing was the site of a May 2018 air strike, attributed by media reports to Israel. Iran has earmarked the crossing as a central link in its land corridor project, designed to enable Tehran to flood Syria and Lebanon with ground convoys carrying missiles, fighters, logistics, and military platforms.

In its haste to respond, the Quds Force appeared to launch an ineffective rocket attack, perhaps reflecting the fact that Israel’s preventative campaign in Syria has succeeded in denying the Iranians the opportunity to entrench themselves militarily in Syria.

Meanwhile, the missile upgrade program led by Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsor has intensified in recent years. This increased effort has seen Hezbollah build secret weapons sites across Lebanon for the purpose of converting inaccurate rockets of various ranges into precision guided missiles, according to new information released by the IDF.

This program, if continued without disruption, would constitute a new level of threat to Israel, in that it would give the Iranian-led Shiite radical axis the ability to send accurate missiles toward Israel’s sensitive strategic sites.

In effect, it would mean Hezbollah could target Israel’s power plants, airports, seaports, military bases, and other critical sites. Israel has made it clear, in both deed and action, that it will not tolerate the buildup of such a capability. The rising tensions surrounding this program carry with them the risk of deterioration into regional conflict.

According to international media reports, Israeli explosive drones in late August targeted an Iranian machine in southern Beirut that produced high-grade fuel for guided ballistic missiles. Hezbollah vowed to respond by bringing down an Israeli drone — a threat it claimed to have fulfilled on September 9. The IDF said the drone crashed and no sensitive information was at risk.

Hezbollah’s September 1 decision to fire a volley of anti-tank guided Kornet missiles at an IDF base near the Lebanese border, narrowly missing an IDF vehicle, came days after Israel struck an Iranian-led terrorist cell in Syria in the final stages of preparing an explosive drone attack on Israel.

Ultimately, these incidents reflect a deeper struggle in which Israel is determined to prevent Iran and its terror proxies from building up unacceptably dangerous levels of firepower that would place Israel’s civilian home front in grave danger.

Between 2013 and 2015, the IDF reported, Iran started smuggling ready-to-use precision missiles from Iran, via Syria, to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Most of these efforts were thwarted by “attacks attributed to Israel,” the IDF said, and the Iranian project failed. As a result, in 2016, Iran and Hezbollah shifted their tactics. Instead of transporting whole guided missiles, they decided they would convert existing imprecise rockets into guided missiles, and do this on Lebanese soil.

The Iranian plan involved producing unguided rockets at the Syrian Center for Scientific Research, known by its French acronym SERS, a government weapons research and production center in northwest Syria. The second half of the plan was based on smuggling precision components from Iran to Lebanon.

On Lebanese soil, crews were to convert the rockets into precise missiles. Hezbollah set out to establish conversion facilities across Lebanon, including in the capital of Beirut.

The IDF took the unusual step of exposing key personnel in the Iranian precision missile program, naming Brig. Gen. Muhammad Hejazi as the Quds Force commander of the Lebanese Corps, who works directly under the command of Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani.

Hejazi commanded two senior IRGC officers: Col. Majid Nuab, a technological manager at the IRGC’s precision project, who specializes in surface-to-surface missiles, and Brig. Gen. Ali Nuruzi, the IRGC’s chief logistics officer. He is responsible for transferring components from Iran through Syria to the Lebanese project sites.

Fuad Shukr, a senior Hezbollah commander, was named as the Shiite organization’s commander of the precision project. An adviser to Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and a member of the most senior forum, the Jihad Council, Shukr headed up the planning and execution of the 1983 bombing attack on the US Marines barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 Americans. He is on the Department of State’s most wanted list.

The Quds Force uses three main channels to smuggle precision missile components into Lebanon, according to the IDF. The first is ground, using official border crossings, like the Masnaa Syria-Lebanon crossing. The second is via civilian flights from Iran landing at Beirut’s Rafiq Hariri International Airport. The third is by sea, via the International Port of Beirut.

Yet despite the new tactics, between 2016 and 2018, the Shiite radical axis failed to meet its goals.

In the past few months, Israel noticed an uptick in Iranian and Hezbollah efforts to produce guided missiles in Lebanon. This effort involved a doubling down on construction of production and missile conversion sites in Lebanon.

These sites, according to the IDF, involve the assembly of missile stabilizers, engines, control and guidance components, and explosive warheads for turning inaccurate rockets of various ranges into precision missiles.

On September 3, the IDF exposed a Hezbollah facility in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon to convert and manufacture guided missiles. Set up by Iran and Hezbollah, the site recently increased its activities. It features a “dedicated assembly line for precision weapons and transfer of sensitive equipment,” the IDF said. The presence of a mass production center for guided missiles is the kind of threat Israel has warned it will not tolerate.

The Bekaa Valley missile production site contains machines to make missile warheads and motors, creating projectiles that have an accuracy rate of under 10 meters — considered highly precise in military terms.

“In order to manufacture the missiles, Iran supplies special machines and instructs the manufacturing crews, in addition to continuous supporting guidance,” the IDF said.

Hezbollah, fearing strikes, evacuated valuable equipment from the compound to “civilian locations in Beirut,” according to the Israeli military.

“What we’re dealing with in this specific scenario is Hezbollah’s guided munitions project in Lebanon, which we have exposed and have no intention of allowing to exist because of the severity of the threat,” IDF international media spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, said after Hezbollah’s September 1 anti-tank missile strike. “That is the context from our point of view.”

In response to the Israeli strike on the Quds Force drone squad a week earlier, Conricus said, “I know that Israel and the IDF are fighting from within Israel to defend our civilians and sovereignty. And I know that the Iranians are, on average, 600 to 1,000 kilometers away from their borders. They’re trying to attack Israel. We understand that the Iranians will try to continue to attack. We are ready, and preparing for such operations. … We are prepared for a large number of different scenarios and have the necessary offensive plans to retaliate.”

In addition to these developments, new information has surfaced about Quds Force activity in Syria, following Israel’s thwarting of a drone attack from Syrian territory.

Previously, the IDF identified the Quds Force as the entity that organized, trained, and commanded the drone squad, and the IDF identified two Lebanese Shiite members of the squad by name. The operatives, Hasan Zbibi from the Lebanese town of Nabatieh, and Yasir Dahir from the village of Blida, were killed in the IAF strike on their complex south of Damascus. They had previously traveled to Iran on many occasions, the IDF said, adding that they “underwent training” in operating unmanned aerial vehicles and explosive drones. They flew to Iran on board Mahan Air civilian flights for training, the IDF said, releasing images that appear to have been taken with one of the operatives’ cell phones on board the flight.

In the following days, new information revealed the identity of the Quds Force’s Syria Corps. The Corps is headed by Iranian Gen. Javad Ghaffari, who operates under the direct command of Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani.

Ghaffari not only oversaw the drone attack squad — he also commands tens of thousands of Shiite militia members from various countries active throughout Syria, including in Damascus, Aleppo, and eastern Syria. Ghaffari recruited the four Lebanese members of the drone squad, trained them, and supervised the execution of the attack, before the squad was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike.

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This is an edited version of an article that appeared in Algemeiner on September 12, 2019. A version of this article was originally commissioned by The Investigative Project on Terrorism.

Yaakov Lappin is a Research Associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks and is the Israel correspondent for IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. His book The Virtual Caliphate explores the online jihadist presence.

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Post  Admin on Mon 16 Sep 2019, 11:04 pm
The Jordan Valley Is Waiting for Zionist Action
By Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon HacohenSeptember 16, 2019

A view across the Jordan Valley, looking down on the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Cycling Man via Flickr CC

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,291, September 16, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Beyond its unquestionable vitality for Israel’s security, the Jordan Valley in its full geographical scope can accommodate millions of Israelis and national infrastructure that cannot be compressed into the coastal plain. If PM Netanyahu’s declaration of sovereignty is not immediately borne out by a surge of building and focused governmental support, it will sputter and die.

PM Netanyahu’s promise to apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley is worthy of praise. The reasons for doing so were already evident to PM Levi Eshkol in the immediate wake of the 1967 the Six-Day War, and were fully fleshed out in the Allon Plan. As the plan stated: “The eastern border of the state of Israel must be the Jordan River and a line that crosses the Dead Sea in the middle…. We must add to the country—as an inseparable part of its sovereignty—a strip approximately 10-15 kilometers wide, along the Jordan Valley.”

The plan was presented to the government headed by Eshkol, who, with his Mapai mindset, chose to introduce it without putting it to a vote. Typically for those days, the plan moved immediately to the implementation stage, and a settlement infrastructure was built that has existed ever since. In line with the plan, the Allon Road was paved and the Jordan Valley communities were built along Road 90 and the Allon Road.

In the Knesset debate on the Oslo Interim Agreement in October 1995, PM Rabin, about a month before his assassination, outlined his position and stated: “The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.” The notion of applying sovereignty to the Jordan Valley has always enjoyed a broad national consensus.

It was PM Ehud Barak (1999-2001) who breached that consensus for the first time. Since then, his relinquishment of the Jordan Valley has been incorporated into the Clinton Parameters (December 2000) and into the basic international conception of the peace process, which views it as a cornerstone of the two-state solution.

After the peace treaty with Jordan in 1994, and especially after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s army in the Iraq War (2003), it has been increasingly argued that the threat of an eastern front had passed and controlling the Jordan Valley was no longer crucial to Israel’s security. As former head of Central Command Maj. Gen. (res.) Amram Mitzna put it: “When long-range missiles can be fired, strategic depth is of no importance. Agreements will give us more security than strategic depth.”

Even then, this argument was divorced from a basic understanding of the phenomenon of war. Since that time, in light of the lessons of the Palestinian terror war (euphemized as the al-Aqsa Intifada), the upheaval known as the “Arab Spring,” Hezbollah’s enormous missile arsenal, and the strengthening of the rocket/missile threat and of Hamas itself, as well as Tehran’s growing expansionism, which could deploy Shiite militias in a new front along Israel’s main national artery (Highway 6), the Jordan Valley’s status as a vital Israeli security interest has only increased.

Most advocates of a Palestinian state say it will be demilitarized and unable to threaten Israel’s security. During the Oslo Process years, the PLO feigned acceptance of demilitarization, signing a number of agreements to this specific effect, only to flagrantly violate them as the West Bank and Gaza were transformed into hothouses of terror. The failure of the UN forces in Lebanon to carry out Resolution 1701 ending the 2006 Lebanon War, which was supposed to prevent Hezbollah from arming itself in the south of that country, shows why proposals to deploy international forces in a similar role in the Jordan Valley cannot guarantee a true demilitarization. Thus the Jordan Valley, as a buffer zone controlled by the IDF, is an existential necessity when it comes to Israel’s security.

In addition to the security issue, the Jordan Valley in its full geographical scope can house millions of Israelis and provide a location for national infrastructure that cannot be compressed into the coastal plain. Currently, Israel’s north and south, the Galilee and the Negev, are connected almost exclusively by congested traffic arteries located in the coastal plain. With its constantly increasing population density, Israel is in need of an additional route – namely, Highway 80, which is waiting to be paved from Arad in the south to Gilboa in the north. In an era of peace, a developed infrastructure of roads in the Jordan Valley could once again turn the Land of Israel into a vital land bridge between Asia and Africa.

This pioneering vision has awaited fulfillment for many years. If Netanyahu’s declaration of sovereignty is not immediately borne out by a surge of building and focused governmental support, it will sputter and die.

In an article entitled “Seedling of the Soul,” David Ben-Gurion declared: “This is a Zionist state, which is obligated to perform an act of creation. It is an act with two aspects: the ingathering of the exiles and the building up of the wilderness.” The Jordan Valley has been waiting too long for Zionist action.

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This article was published in Israel Hayom on September 12, 2019.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen is a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He served in the IDF for 42 years. He commanded troops in battles with Egypt and Syria. He was formerly a corps commander and commander of the IDF Military Colleges.

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Post  Admin on Sun 15 Sep 2019, 10:38 am
The Khazars: Judaism, Trade, and Strategic Vision on the Eurasian Steppes
By Emil AvdalianiSeptember 15, 2019

Khazar fortress at Sarkel (Belaya Vyezha, Russia). Aerial photo from excavations conducted by M. I. Artamanov in the 1930s. Public domain photo via Wikipedia

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,288, September 15, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Harnessing the Eurasian lands has always been difficult. The Khazars, an obscure people from the steppes that converted to Judaism many centuries ago, stand out as an exceptional example of how geography, economy, and religion can be used to advance geopolitical interests.

Halford Mackinder, father of geopolitics, who laid out the concept of a heartland encompassing central and northern Eurasia, maintained that Russia was the first power ever to manage to harness the power of geography and economy in northern Eurasia. The Khazars, an obscure people that existed well before the modern Russian state, might beg to differ.

The Khazars were neighbors to two world powers: Byzantium and the Islamic caliphate. At the time of the united and relatively strong Islamic empire (the seventh to the tenth centuries) that dominated the vast territory from Spain to Central Asia, the Khazars, a nomadic people from the Eurasian steppes in the North Caucasus and the territory north of the Caspian Sea, created a large, powerful state.

Reports from Islamic historians and geographers, as well as archaeological evidence, suggest that along with nomadism, agriculture was widespread among the Khazars and they were able to produce goods. These details suggest a rather inconspicuous people on a par with other nomadic peoples of the past.

However, a closer look at the Khazars (whose language and ethnic origin remain obscure) suggests that they were quite a bit more interesting as geopolitical actors. Their understanding of geographic space and their ability to harness the power of their lands allowed them to stay relevant for centuries. Furthermore, their religious policy – they chose Judaism as their state religion – was remarkable, as they lived in close vicinity to an Islamic world that was condescending toward other religions.

But let us start with their geographical knowledge and their drive to use geography for the advancement of state interests. The Khazars built their state at the crossroads of two strategically important trade routes. One ran from the Baltic Sea in northern Eurasia to the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea, and the Near East. The other ran from Central Asia (Khwarazm) to modern-day Ukraine and the territories of western Russia.

The Khazars thus placed themselves at a major transit point. Traders, both Muslim and Jewish, from the Near East, Central Asia, and lands that are now Russia and Ukraine visited Khazaria and its capital, Itil, on the river Volga.

It is astounding how well the Khazars understood and used geography to attain their economic and political goals. They managed to control the major rivers of the region: the Volga, the Don, and various estuaries running toward them. They built fortresses and collected taxes at the rivers’ major entrances and exits.

Moreover, the Khazars were in contact with the Baltic Sea and even with eastern and western Europe. Ninth-century geographer Ibn-Khordadbeh recorded that Jewish traders from Andalusia (Spain) visited Khazar lands. Trade was so active that millions of coins have been found in lands north of the Black and Caspian Seas.

The Khazars’ geopolitical thinking was also visible in their desire to control strategic passes and cities such as, for example, Daruband, between the Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian Sea, at the point where the pass narrows to only three kilometers.

These strategic moves by the Khazars led them to clash with the Islamic empire, which also aspired to control key crossings, roads, and transcontinental trade routes.

In the west, around the Black Sea, the Khazars found themselves facing the Byzantines, who also aspired to control trade and strategic fortresses around that sea. However, because the Muslims had been largely victorious against the Byzantines, the latter decided to ally with the Khazars, using the logic that a Byzantine-Khazar alliance would be too much for the Muslims from a strategic point of view.

The Islamic empire likely concurred with this assessment, which probably explains why it established a sudden peace with the Khazars in 750, when the Abbasids came to power and moved the imperial capital from Damascus to Baghdad.

The Byzantines and the Muslims were thus locked in a battle for a strategic alliance with the Khazars. Both sides made economic and religious tools in their attempts to sway the Khazars.

Remarkably, the Khazars responded to the dual courtship of the Christian and Islamic empires by making the strategic decision to adopt neither of their religions but convert to Judaism instead. This decision suggests that the Khazars’ strategic thinking extended well beyond geography and trade.

Muslim travelers to Khazaria, as well as Muslim historians and geographers, made note of the cleverness of this choice of state religion. The Judaist state was very tolerant of foreigners as well as of local and world religions. The Khazars’ judicial system consisted of Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and pagan “judges” who tried cases concerning major disagreements.

The Khazars’ understanding of geopolitics was manifested in their drive to dominate river, military, and land trade corridors and correlate geography with the economy. They achieved significant geopolitical power by establishing wise strategic alliances to counter Byzantine and Islamic military, economic, and religious influences.

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Emil Avdaliani teaches history and international relations at Tbilisi State University and Ilia State University. He has worked for various international consulting companies and currently publishes articles on military and political developments across the former Soviet space.

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Post  Admin on Fri 13 Sep 2019, 10:07 am
.Will There Be a New Russian-Chinese Security Architecture in the Gulf?
By Dr. James M. DorseySeptember 13, 2019

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, photo via Office of the President of Russia

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,287, September 13, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Russia, backed by China, is hoping to exploit mounting doubts in the Persian Gulf about the reliability of the US as the region’s sole security guarantor. It is proposing a radical overhaul of the security architecture in the area, which is home to massive oil and gas reserves and some of the world’s most strategic waterways.

Chinese backing for Russia’s proposed collective security concept, which would replace the Gulf’s US defense umbrella and position Russia as a power broker alongside the US, comes amid heightened tensions as a result of tit-for-tat tanker seizures and a beefed-up US and British military presence in Gulf waters.

In early August, Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized an alleged Iraqi tanker in the Gulf. Iran said the vessel was smuggling oil to an unidentified Arab country.

The taking of the Iraqi ship followed the Iranian seizure of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero. The seizure was in response to the impounding off Gibraltar of an Iranian tanker suspected of breaching EU sanctions against Syria.

The Russian proposal entails the creation of a “counter-terrorism coalition (of) all stakeholders” that would be the motor for the resolution of conflicts across the region and promote mutual security guarantees. It would involve the removal of the “permanent deployment of troops of extra-regional states in the territories of states of the Gulf” – a reference to US, British, and French forces.

The proposal calls for a “universal and comprehensive” security system that would take into account “the interests of all regional and other parties involved, in all spheres of security, including its military, economic and energy dimensions.”

The coalition, to include the Gulf states, Russia, China, the US, the EU, and India, as well as other stakeholders (a likely reference to Iran), would be launched at an international conference on security and cooperation in the Gulf.

It was not clear how feuding Gulf states like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran would be persuaded to sit at one table. The proposal suggested that Russia’s advantage was that it maintains good relations with all parties.

Chinese backing of the Russian proposal gives it significant added weight.

Some analysts suggest that the US, which is no longer dependent on Gulf oil imports, is gradually reducing its commitment despite a temporary spike in the number of US troops dispatched to the region as a result of tensions with Iran.

They suggest that the US response to Iran’s ratcheting up of tensions has been mostly theatrics, despite the Trump administration’s bellicose rhetoric. Warnings of “severe consequences” have proven little more than threats.

“The United States is leaving the Persian Gulf. Not this year or next, but there is no doubt that the United States is on its way out… Leaders in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Manama, and Muscat understand what is happening…and have been hedging against an American departure in a variety of ways, including by making overtures to China, Russia, Iran, and Turkey,” said Steven A. Cooke, a scholar at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.

Recent tanker statistics suggest that Saudi Arabia is sending an ever-larger portion of its crude to China. And on a visit to Beijing last month, UAE crown prince Muhammad bin Zayed and Chinese president Xi Jinping elevated their countries’ relationship to that of a strategic partnership.

Perceptions of a reduced US commitment may make the Russian proposal of a multilateral approach more attractive in the short term. However, longer term banking on a continued Russian-Chinese alliance could be tricky. The alliance could prove opportunistic rather than strategic.

That could force Gulf states to accelerate the process of taking charge of their own security. So far, greater Gulf assertiveness has been a mixed bag.

In addition to their uncertainty over US reliability and their anxiety about regional Iranian expansionism, the Gulf states are facing persistent popular discontent across the Middle East and North Africa produced by the debilitating Saudi-UAE intervention in Yemen, a failed Saudi effort to force Lebanon’s prime minister to accept the kingdom’s dictate, and Saudi and UAE projection of military force and commercial clout in the Horn of Africa.

A recent meeting between UAE and Emirati maritime security officials, the first in six years, as well as a partial UAE withdrawal from Yemen could, however, signal an emerging, more constructive approach.

If adopted, the Russian proposal could suck China and Russia into the Middle East’s multiple conflicts and force them to take sides, despite their having been able so far to maintain close ties to all parties of the regional divides – particularly Saudi Arabia and Iran. A multilateral approach could also bring latent Chinese-Russian differences to the fore.

Dubbing the Russian-Chinese alliance “Dragonbear,” geo-strategist Velina Tchakarova cautions that it is “neither an alliance nor a marriage of convenience, but rather a temporary asymmetric relationship, in which China is predominantly the agenda-maker, while Russia is mostly the agenda-taker.”

The Russian-Chinese rapprochement operates, in Ms. Tchakarova’s words, according to the maxim “‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ A status quo relationship would remain acceptable and be further developed so long as China’s rise is not a direct threat to Russia’s strategic interests of self-determination and security along its peripheries,” including the Middle East.

The question is not whether Russia will begin to perceive Chinese interests as a threat to its own interests, but when. One divergence could be energy, given that Russia is one of the world’s major oil suppliers while China is its top importer.

China may not, over the longer term, wish to be dependent on Russia for both its imports and the arrangements that would secure them.

Said Russia and Eurasia scholar Paul Stronski, referring to the sustainability of the Russian-Chinese alliance: “With China now recognizing it may need to strengthen its security posture…, it is unclear how long that stability will last.”

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Dr. James M. Dorsey, a non-resident Senior Associate at the BESA Center, is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture.

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Post  Admin on Thu 12 Sep 2019, 9:49 am
What Happens to Israel If the US and Iran Go to War?
By Prof. Louis René BeresSeptember 12, 2019

Donald Trump, DOD photo by US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley via Flickr CC, and Ali Khameini, photo via Wikipedia

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: On core matters of peace and security, two closely interrelated questions must be asked:

What precisely does Donald Trump have in mind regarding any potential armed conflict with Iran?
What might such a possibility portend for Israel, a US ally?
Answers to these questions must extend beyond narrowly partisan simplifications. They should be nuanced and can subtly overlap.

At a minimum, once a shooting war were underway, the Israeli armed forces (IDF) could become involved, possibly to a substantial degree. In a worst case scenario, clashes would involve unconventional weapons and directly affect Israel’s civilian population. The worst of the worst could involve nuclear ordnance.

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Topics: Iran
Publication: Mideast Security and Policy Studies
EU Funding of Illegal Palestinian Settlement in Area C →
Prof. Louis René Beres
Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue. The author of many books and scholarly articles in the field, he contributes regularly to several major world newspapers and magazines. Dr. Beres was Chair of Project Daniel (Israel, 2003).

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Post  Admin on Wed 11 Sep 2019, 8:09 pm
Russia Will Likely Collapse from the Inside
By Emil AvdalianiSeptember 11, 2019

St. Petersburg, Russia, photo via

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,286, September 11, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Russia is historically prone to internal collapse, as is shown by numerous examples from both the imperial and Soviet periods. The collapse usually takes place as Russia rests on the laurels of recent military victories while internal economic and social troubles grow. History teaches that the best way to deal with Russia is to keep intervention to a minimum and wait for its internal troubles to bring about its collapse.

When one power is defeated by another, the primary reason for its defeat is often internal weakness – military, social, or economic. Such weaknesses undermine state efforts to produce a fitting response to an enemy onslaught.

In the Russian case, these fundamental problems are compounded by another major flaw: geography. Russia’s harsh climate affects the central government’s ability to project its power efficiently. Long land borders with potential enemies add to the problem. Internal economic and technological weaknesses are a major hindrance to the state’s ability to succeed over the long term.

The implication of these fundamental flaws is that Russia is prone to internal collapse. The question is one of timing: whether or not the Russian Federation will collapse in the coming decade.

The Soviet example gives a good overview of the Russian predicament. When WWII ended, the US saw the prospect looming of a direct multipolar confrontation with the Soviets. George Kennan, a young US diplomat in Moscow, wrote a report commonly referred to as “The Long Telegram” in which he described a strategy to contain and defeat the Soviet Union.

Many works have been produced based on his ideas, with most concentrating on his idea of containment. Often disregarded, though, is his far more important idea that ultimate American victory was essentially assured as early as the 1950s because the Soviet system, burdened by its economic form and flawed state management, would eventually fail. Kennan, who was a student of Soviet systemic inefficiencies, probably also knew that failure from within was a problem that had haunted Russian leaders throughout the country’s history.

Consider the Time of Troubles in the late 16th to early 17th century. During that period, internal disturbances led to the Polish occupation of the Russian heartland, including Moscow. We can also look to the end of the Romanov era in 1917 – another good example of Russian state collapse. The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 is of course the most recent example. In every case, a complete breakdown of social order followed the collapse.

Note that these Russian defeats were not military. Their major cause was internal economic weakness coupled with military inefficiency that had grown over decades. To put it another way, when Russia was economically strong (and thus militarily strong) it was able to defeat the two largest land operations in world history: in 1812 against Napoleon, and in 1941 against Hitler. When weak and left to its own devices, Russia repeatedly collapsed in on itself and transformed into a new system.

All these precedents have one thing in common: Russia’s economic underdevelopment caused internal instability and a subsequent change of system. But they also explain why discussions inside Russia about enemies within have always been common – during the time of the Romanovs, during the Soviet era, and today.

Particularly since the 2014 crisis over the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, western analysts and politicians have argued about the best way to deal with Russia. Military solutions are not put forward (as too many historical examples show that a direct military clash with Russia is suicidal). The optimal solution might be a new containment strategy that combines military and economic moves with an understanding that the current Russian government will eventually collapse because of the system’s fundamental deficiencies.

A new containment policy against Russia would bring results – not necessarily because of America’s economic and military strength, but because of Russia’s inability to reverse internal economic downturns, build a powerful military (despite expenditures in the tens of billions, the Russian military is still no match for the rising Chinese and already established American armies), impose effective control over large swaths of hostile Eurasian land, become a center of gravity for neighboring states (primarily former Soviet countries), and so on.

Surprisingly, Russian collapse often takes place following decades of relative peace on the country’s borders, when there were no serious military confrontations on a par with Napoleon’s or Hitler’s invasions. Rather than use these relatively peaceful periods to develop the economy and build technologies to stay abreast of the Western democracies, Russia lagged behind while resting on the laurels of its military victories.

Though it is impossible to know definitively when Russian internal troubles will transform into crisis/collapse mode, many signs indicate that if no change is made to foreign policy, no broad economic reforms are made, and internal corruption is not fought, protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg will only grow. Around 50,000 people protested on an August weekend in Moscow.

Also, there are hints in the Russian media that the domestic elites are starting to talk about possible solutions to the country’s foreign and internal crises. If the elites are openly discussing different scenarios, we can infer that there has been a shift in perception among the Russian public – an indicator that the country is facing serious problems.

The old Russian habit is revealing itself once again: the regime is savoring its victories against Georgia and in Syria, its annexation of Crimea, and the war in Ukraine while disregarding the country’s real challenge – its technological, military, and economic underdevelopment. A clever western politician would sit back and wait until the situation in Russia brews into crisis mode.

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Emil Avdaliani teaches history and international relations at Tbilisi State University and Ilia State University. He has worked for various international consulting companies and currently publishes articles on military and political developments across the former Soviet space.

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Post  Admin on Tue 10 Sep 2019, 10:02 pm

The Day After an Iranian Nuclear Strike
By Dr. Ori Nissim LevySeptember 10, 2019
Construction worker at the top of the Azrieli Center circular tower, Tel Aviv, photo by Ted Eytan via Flickr CC
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,285, September 10, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: There is much discussion around the world about how to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. But few, if any, international bodies deal with the question of how to prepare for the day Iran achieves such capabilities, if that day has not already arrived.

Defining the problem

The geopolitical struggle in the Middle East between Iran (either directly or via proxy) and its regional rivals is a battle for supremacy, not a battle for destruction. The mullahs’ desire for a nuclear program does not revolve around the potential destruction of Israel, though one might reasonably conclude otherwise from their public statements. Their central object is, rather, to render the regime immune to external attack as it pursues its dogged quest for regional hegemony and spreads Tehran’s Islamist message across the world.

With that said, there is no question but that Israel must prepare itself for the prospect of a nuclear Iran. Israel has outstanding technological abilities, is an innovator in high-tech military and civilian industries, and has – through its long history of coping with military threat – excellent military capabilities and a fundamental understanding of security needs. Israel is thus able to be a world leader in nuclear defense preparedness.

The nuclear world is already very dangerous. Extensive nuclear activities are being conducted around the globe, and serious mishaps do not stop at national border lines – the accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima, for example, spread radioactive materials far and wide. Over 10,000 nuclear warheads are scattered around the world. More than 51 nuclear devices have been lost entirely, their whereabouts unknown. To date, there have been more than 2,200 nuclear incidents; the world average is two per month. Just a few weeks ago, a fire broke out aboard the Russian AS-12 Losharic nuclear submarine that killed 14 people – the worst loss of life aboard a Russian submarine in over a decade. The Putin government has been accused by the Russian media of covering up many details of the incident.

An ostrich policy leads to risk and weakness

A nuclear weapon is by definition a tool of military aggression. If it exists, it can be used, even if the likelihood of such use is slim. If such a weapon were to be created by Iran, the Israeli home front would have to dramatically change its level of preparedness and create new programs based on comprehensive and up-to-date analysis. The ostrich policy of some countries could lead to catastrophe. Huge failures, such as those at Chernobyl and Fukushima, reached their massive proportions because of mismanagement.

First things first. A realistically sized nuclear bomb detonated in a central Israeli city would not be the end of the world, and would not lead to a post-apocalyptic future. Though it would be a painful blow and would likely cause tens of thousands of casualties, according to experts, it is possible that “only” 1,000 civilians would be killed. The parameters affecting the number of casualties would include whether the attack occurred during the day or night, the specific hour, whether it took place during a weekend, what the weather was like, and so on.

A calculation by Dr. Yehoshua Sokol, chairman of the Academic Forum for Nuclear Awareness (AFNA), argues that if 80 atom bombs (!) were to land in Israel, less than 10% of the population would be injured and “only” 300,000 people would die. The number of casualties would not increase in line with the number of bombs.

What this means is that a nuclear strike scenario is not an endgame military maneuver. Many of us think in terms of the dramatic pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after nuclear attack – images of charred lands going on for miles. These images do not apply to today’s cities. Japanese cities in 1945 were crowded urban landscapes consisting of one- or two-storey wood and paper houses. Those structures were consumed by fire generated by the heat of the explosions. The vast majority of casualties resulted from the enormous fires that raged across the cities for days on end and from flying debris from the fragile wooden homes that maimed the unprotected.

The situation today

Today’s cities are very different, particularly in Israel. Israel’s cities are newer than most urban landscapes around the world, and 93% of the country’s population lives in them. Israeli cities are built from steel, brick, and concrete. Ever since 1975 (with the last update in 2014), Israeli urban structures have been built according to specific standards against earthquakes. In 1991, it was further mandated that every new apartment be fitted with a protected space (a mamad) with 30 cm-thick reinforced concrete walls. The mamad provides adequate protection from a nuclear blast and its aftereffects (though not perfect, as radiation can penetrate the windows). Tama-38, a building restoration and renovation program operating since 2005, reinforces older structures by adding protected spaces to each apartment. Older buildings and complexes have communal public shelters that can be modified to provide excellent protection against nuclear weapons as well as against conventional bombs.

Israeli urban construction can be a model for nuclear defense preparedness around the world. It shows how, through simple but adequate preparation, the number of potential casualties can be greatly reduced. Professionals in the field claim loss of life and damage can be reduced 10- to 20-fold by taking some basic steps. Catastrophic results can be mitigated through preparation, advance attention to rehabilitation needs, and strong national leadership that takes action immediately following an event.

21st century weaknesses

It must be considered that modern-day urban areas have flaws that older Japanese cities did not have. Car fuel tanks, for example, could light up like sulfur. A key weakness is our 21st century reliance on a technological and electrical infrastructure that would be seriously affected by a nuclear attack.

Apart from its ability to destroy the target’s power grid and telecommunications infrastructure, a nuclear device has an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) effect – a power surge that effectively burns out electrical devices within a 5-10 km radius. Combined with the physical power of a bomb, an EMP could lead to more casualties in the weeks following an attack than would be caused by nuclear fallout and radiation. We depend on our power infrastructure for our water, air, sanitation, food supply, and contact with the world, including access to vital emergency services such as hospitals and firefighters. The loss of that infrastructure would be a major blow.

Though Israel is a small state, most of its emergency forces and facilities outside the bombed area would likely remain intact and could provide relatively quick aid to those affected. Still, Israelis must prepare not just for immediate damage and fallout, but for life without power or technology.

The most important element is missing

The simplest and possibly most effective method of preparedness is communication with the public. Information is key. Public knowledge and preparedness should not be restricted to operational guidelines on how to act in a crisis – instead, citizens should be provided ahead of time with sufficient knowledge to enable them to decide for themselves how to behave. Informing the public about multiple possible defensive methods can vastly mitigate the number of casualties from a direct blast. People who have received prior information on how to survive without power, food, and water would be much better prepared to handle the period between a nuclear blast and their extraction from the area.

A flow of knowledge about what to do the day after a nuclear attack is critical to preparing the public – but no one in Israel seems to want to talk about it. Plans are made far from the public eye, but civilian defense cannot happen without the participation of the most important actors – the civilians themselves.

The policy of silence on what can and should be done in case of a nuclear emergency is inadequate in today’s world, considering recent changes in Iran’s perception of the nuclear deal. Chances remain small that an attack will occur, but the possibility grows as regional instability rises. There is a need for a policy of providing preemptive information to civilians that would direct them to the nearest shelters, teach them the effects of a nuclear blast, and instruct them on how to protect themselves in their neighborhoods and ensure that their food and water are not contaminated. Civilians need to know how they can survive, stay informed, and communicate with others as they await rescue.

The true power of the nuclear weapon is intimidation

The real power of nuclear weapons is their ability to intimidate. If a target country is well prepared, it can significantly reduce those weapons’ power to do it harm. Preparation can be even more valuable than huge investments in structural shelters.

Israel, which is a world leader in many security and civil aspects, can set a new bar for global preparedness for nuclear attack. Israeli urban construction provides an excellent model for nuclear preparedness. It can be part of a comprehensive preparedness model for the rest of the world to follow.
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Dr. Col. (res.) Ori Nissim Levy is an international expert in nuclear defense. In the IDF, he was responsible for building large-scale military exercises and was Chairman of the Nuclear Forum. Dr. Levy prepares countries and cities for nuclear events based on the Operational Nuclear Defense Model (ONDM), which addresses the life cycle of a nuclear event from preparations through rehabilitation.

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Post  Admin on Mon 09 Sep 2019, 12:03 pm

Was Israel’s Entry Refusal a Boon or a Bust for Tlaib and Omar?
By Prof. Hillel FrischSeptember 9, 2019

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, official photos via Wikimedia Commons
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,283, September 9, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The dual abilities of Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar to arouse the ire of President Trump and spout antisemitic, anti-Israel messages with impunity have raised their profile well beyond that of other junior representatives and significantly boosted their popularity. Supporters of Israel, as well as those who care about the interests of the US, will have to strive to defeat them in the next Congressional elections.

Ever since the heavy British crackdown on the Irish rebels after their defeat during the famous Easter uprising of 1916, policymakers have been acutely aware that overreaction often plays into the hands of those a state is attempting to defeat.

Up to and during the Irish insurrection, the Irish nationalists were a small minority of the Irish population, which explains why it was defeated within only five days. It was the British overreaction – the hanging of 14 of the organizers and the heavy court sentences given to some of the perpetrators of the insurrection, on flimsy evidence – that rallied the vast majority of the Irish public behind the nationalist cause and against British rule.

Within less than three years, the majority had voted the nationalists into the British Parliament, where they refused to take their seats. The rest is history.

This raises the question of whether Israel’s refusal to allow entry to first-term Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar, both passionate supporters of the BDS movement, helped or hurt them. And another question follows on from that one: how similar was the effect of this decision to the effect of Trump’s Twitter attack of a month before, aimed at the two Congresswomen as well as two others, in which he told them “to go back to where they come from” (though only one of the four, Omar, was born on foreign soil, in Somalia)?

Google Trends provides data with which to answer these questions. This tool plots the relative number of searches for a term over time and then aggregates the data to give weekly averages. The number of searches reflects not only interest but often empathy as well.

Trump’s Twitter outburst occurred on July 12. Israel’s refusal to allow Omar and Tlaib entry on the terms they demanded occurred on August 14. (The refusal was later altered to allow Tlaib entry provided her visit was limited to family matters. She rejected the offer.)

Relative searches over 12 months for Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib as of August 25, 2019

As the graph indicates, the high point for Tlaib was neither Trump’s tweet nor Israel’s decision to refuse her entry. It was her inauguration on January 3, 2019, when she swore allegiance to the US on an English language Quran while dressed in a traditional Palestinian costume.

That said, both the tweet and Israel’s entry refusal were high points of relative interest. The searches indicate that interest in Tlaib was stimulated by both events.

The common denominator of two of these occasions – Tlaib’s Palestinian costume and Israel’s refusal to grant her entry on her terms – demonstrates that her pro-Palestinian persona is a boon to her popularity.

A different profile emerges for Ilhan Omar (see graph below). For her, the high point was clearly Trump’s tweet. Omar’s inauguration did not seem to elicit wide interest. Surprisingly, Israel’s refusal to grant her entry did not seem to generate widespread interest in her, despite the huge media interest in the decision.

Both politicians generated searches in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Relative searches over 12 months for Congresswoman Ilhan Omar as of August 25, 2019

It appears that in both cases, it was domestic American politics – in particular, President Trump’s focus on the Congresswomen themselves rather than on the Israeli reaction – that boosted their popularity. This is typical of American politics, which is highly domestically focused and where foreign affairs arouse little interest.

Of course, the president’s animus toward the two women did involve Israel and BDS. One can therefore infer from the resulting increase in interest in them that their striking out against Israel indirectly increased their popularity.

To confirm this point, we can compare Tlaib’s and Omar’s search trends (which measure popularity) against those of other first-term members of Congress. Co-President of the House Democratic Freshman Class Colin Allred (a former professional football player from Texas), and President of the House Republican Freshman Class Mark Green (a former medical officer in the US army and veteran of the Iraq war), make a good comparison because of their contrasting backgrounds: they are both male, Caucasian, and presumably Christian, and have achieved relatively prominent positions.

Relative searches over 12 months for Congressman Mark Green as of August 25, 2019

As shown above, the high point for Green, as it was for Tlaib, was his inauguration. But ever since then, he has compared unfavorably in terms of popularity with both Tlaib and Omar. Interest in him has been steady but low. Even more tellingly, Green generated sufficient data in only 35 states compared to all 50 for the Congresswomen.

The same holds true for Democratic representative Colin Allred. The high point for him was his inauguration – after which interest in him dropped off almost completely. Searches for Allred generated sufficient data in 43 states.

Relative searches over 12 months for Congressman Colin Allred for August 25, 2019

The lesson is clear. It pays to be anti-Israeli in Congress, at least during President Trump’s incumbency. It behooves Israel supporters to find candidates who can defeat Tlaib and Omar, who are not only on the wrong side in relation to Israel but are hostile to US interests as well.

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Prof. Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

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Post  Admin on Sun 08 Sep 2019, 11:43 am
Hezbollah’s Demographic Problem Explains Its Restraint
By Prof. Hillel FrischSeptember 8, 2019
Hezbollah posters around the streets of Baalbek, Lebanon, photo by Will De Freitas via Flickr CC

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,281, September 8, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Hezbollah responded with restraint to Israel’s three-pronged attacks over the past two weeks in Syria, Iraq, and, above all, a neighborhood in Dahiya, the vast Shiite area in Beirut where Hezbollah is headquartered. The organization’s effort to avoid escalation reflects its demographic problem in Lebanon.

Israel’s three-pronged attacks over the past two weeks in Syria, Iraq, and, above all, in Dahiya, the vast Shiite neighborhood in Beirut where Hezbollah is headquartered both above and below ground, were met with a very limited Hezbollah response. An IDF truck was struck by two missiles with the obvious objective of killing Israeli soldiers in retaliation for the killing of two Hezbollah soldiers in an Israeli attack on Syria. This limited response – against Israeli military personnel only – sent a clear signal, acknowledged by the Israeli side, that Hezbollah wants to avoid escalation that could lead to all-out war.

The object of the Israeli attacks was to destroy equipment that would have facilitated the local manufacture of precision-guided missiles that could target Israel’s key strategic infrastructure of power plants, airbases, seaports, and airports. Israel has been taking this kind of action in Syria for nearly two years, and felt compelled to do the same in Lebanon as well.

There are several reasons why Hezbollah restrained its response. The most important is probably its demographic predicament.

Despite the pretense of being an all-encompassing Islamic resistance movement – Hezbollah rhetoric almost never directly refers to Shiites or Shiism and instead conjures pan-Islamic enemies, primarily Israel – the organization is perceived, both inside and outside Lebanon, in strict sectarian terms as almost exclusively Shiite.

Its promotional material features photos of Ayatollah Khomeini and present-day spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei. It supplies links to their speeches and carries detailed coverage of Sunni suppression of Shiites in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. It runs articles that advocate the rule of Khomeini as supreme jurist, which arouses antagonism not only among Sunnis but also among a considerable segment of Shiites in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon.

Hezbollah has also been at odds, often violently, with the Sunni community in Lebanon – especially in Tripoli, where since 1984 Hezbollah has sided with the small, Syrian-backed Alawite minority against the Sunni majority at the behest of the Syrian regime. The Hezbollah-Sunni rift widened to include suppression of Sunni fundamentalist organizations in the south, and later of mainstream Sunni political organizations. This culminated in the assassination of Sunni PM Rafik Hariri in 2005.

Relations are equally tense with most of the Christian and Druze communities, though Hezbollah has succeeded in allying with former Maronite general and president Michel Aoun and his supporters.

What all this means is that Hezbollah’s recruitment pool is strictly limited to the Shiite community in Lebanon – and there’s the rub.

Not only is the Shiite community relatively small (between 1 million and 1.5 million people), but it is suffering from a rapidly declining birthrate very similar to that of Iran, the only large country with a Shiite majority.

The Shiite birthrate has declined from five to six children per woman of child-bearing age in the 1980s to fewer than the 2.05 needed to maintain the existing population twenty-five years later. This has many implications.

By far the most important for Hezbollah is that small families are reluctant to sacrifice the person who is all too often their only son in a society where the two-child family is becoming the norm.

We see something similar in Israeli data. Every year, the IDF identifies the high schools with the highest percentages of male graduates who volunteer for fighting units. Five to seven of them are both religious and situated in the West Bank, and seven to nine of the ten belong to the national religious stream. The common denominator is that these recruits come from larger families than those found at secular schools.

Hezbollah has been sacrificing Shiites for 37 years, with only a brief hiatus of five short years between the second Lebanese war in 2006 and the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

Ardor for sacrifice is hard to maintain. Iran has to work very hard to get non-Iranian Shiites to fight its battles after the loss of hundreds of thousands in the prolonged war with Iraq over thirty years ago. That is a magnification, many times over, of what 1973 was to many Israelis.

Hezbollah is up against a similar problem, and it is not one the organization can easily counter. Declining birthrates are the result of urbanization. Most Lebanese Shiites live in the multi-storied apartment buildings of the Dahiya, not the small villages and towns of the past from which they were bused in on election day to vote for Hezbollah.

In the city, children are no longer helping on the family farm. They are consumers, not producers. Their parents want them educated and professional, and many would rather see them in Canada or Australia than fighting Iran’s wars in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

Sheik Hassan Nasrallah also knows that the declining reservoir of recruits will be needed on the domestic front.

The balance between Sunnis and Shiites has grown in favor of the former as hundreds of thousands of Syrian Sunnis have found refuge in Lebanon. Essentially, the Alawite regime has exported its problem to Lebanon, and more specifically to the Shiite areas on Lebanon’s eastern border.

Hezbollah has not only paid in blood to prop up the Syrian regime. It faces a more uncertain future in Lebanon itself as a result of that support. Under such circumstances, restraint is a reasonable response.

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This is an edited version of an article published in The Jerusalem Post on September 4, 2019.

Prof. Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

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Post  Admin on Fri 06 Sep 2019, 9:44 am

The Mysterious Explosion of a Russian Nuclear Missile Engine
By Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Raphael OfekSeptember 6, 2019

Nyonoksa (Нёноксе), near site of explosion of Russian nuclear missile on August 8, 2019, photo via Wikipedia

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,280, September 6, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The fatal explosion that occurred recently during testing of the Russian Burevestnik nuclear cruise missile raises many questions. Could it have been avoided? Was it a fundamental failure of the ambitious armaments plan declared by President Putin in 2018? Whatever the answers to these questions, the renewed trend toward an unconventional armaments race could deteriorate into a second Cold War.

On August 8, during a test of the nuclear-powered engine of the 9M730 Burevestnik cruise missile (petrel in Russian; nicknamed the SSC-X-9 Skyfall in the West), held on a floating platform in the White Sea near the Nyonoksa missile test site in the far north of Russia, a mysterious explosion occurred that killed eight people. The blast raised questions about the status of a new generation of five advanced weapons introduced by Putin in 2018, of which Burevestnik, described by the Russian president as supersonic and of unlimited range, occupied pride of place.

Five of the eight people killed in the explosion were Rosatom (Russian State Atomiс Energy Corporation) employees, and three more employees were injured. According to the company’s announcement, the disaster occurred while testing an “isotopic energy source for a liquid propulsion system.”

Shortly after the explosion, the weather monitoring agency Roshydromet reported a significant spike in radiation 40 km from the blast site. Also, in the city of Severodvinsk, which is near the explosion site in the Archangelsk district, the radiation level was reported to have jumped to 16 times the normal level. This led the alarmed residents to rush to stock up on iodine, which reduces the effects of radiation exposure.

The initial response of the Russian authorities to the incident was befuddling (if reminiscent of their conduct in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster). Following the blast, residents of the village of Nyonoksa, which is close to the beach and adjacent to the blast site, were told to evacuate immediately – but the order was soon rescinded. Information about the blast was difficult to obtain. When a Rosatom spokeswoman was asked if there was concern about radiation emissions as a result of the blast, she said the agency had nothing to add to the statements of the Russian Defense Ministry and the regional authorities – but the Defense Ministry had given out only a few details. Only later did the Rosatom Corporation release a video interviewing senior scientists at the nuclear center.

The dissipated radiation that followed the blast clearly indicated that the exploded missile engine was nuclear. Furthermore, the Russian authorities have admitted that five of the people killed were nuclear experts.

American arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis and his staff discovered, using an Automatic Identification System (AIS) designed to detect ships far from shore as well as satellite photos, that the ship Serebryanka had docked over a month before the blast in a closed area a few nautical miles off the Nyonoksa military test site. Serebryanka is a nuclear fuel ship for Barents Sea nuclear ice-breakers, and is usually docked at its base port of Murmansk. It remained docked off the Nyonoksa test site for about 30 hours after the August 8 blast, apparently to help cleanse the area of radioactive materials.

According to the DIA (US Army Intelligence), 13 tests of the Burevestnik or its systems have been conducted since 2016, including the August 8 disaster. Only two can be classified as having been relatively successful. In a November 2017 test, a missile was launched from a site in Novaya Zemlya and all missile systems were tested during flight. But the flight lasted only about two minutes, during which the missile went 35 km and then crashed into the Barents Sea. Another test of the missile’s nuclear reactor was carried out in January 2019; according to the Russian news agency TASS, it was a success.

Missile development by the superpowers has been going on for a long time. In the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, the Pentagon conducted Project Pluto, which had the aim of developing a nuclear-powered supersonic cruise missile designed to carry several warheads. This project was similar to the Russian Burevestnik program. Progress in the development of ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) made Project Pluto superfluous in the Pentagon’s view, and it was abolished in 1964.

A schematic diagram of the Burevestnik missile released by the Russian Defense Ministry shows that the missile is fired from its launch pad using a liquid-fueled booster rocket. After the missile rapidly accelerates, its engine begins to operate. The engine is based on ramjet technology that allows the missile to reach supersonic speeds of up to Mach 20.

The nuclear jet engine sucks air through its nozzle and then compresses and heats it to a very high temperature through the nuclear reactor inside the engine, which is shaped like a hollow cylinder. The air is then emitted sharply outward from the rear, providing the missile with the thrust to move forward.

Rosatom said the failed experiment of August 8 was testing an “isotopic energy source for a rocket engine fueled with liquid fuel.” This negates the possibility that the source of energy applied to the Burevestnik missile is the metallic plutonium-238 isotope, as does the steep jump in the level of radioactivity in the areas near the explosion site. This is because plutonium-238 is not fissionable and therefore cannot be used as fuel for a nuclear reactor. Although this isotope is an alpha radiation emitter, it has very short-range radiation that is stopped after 5 cm of air.

With that said, the isotope’s potent alpha emission renders it usable as a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG). Indeed, it was used by the US space program as an energy source. It can therefore be stated with certainty that the “isotopic source of energy” referred to by Rosatom was a nuclear reactor. The advantage of a nuclear reactor is that it allows a cruise missile to move through the air for a very long time, giving it an essentially unlimited flight range.

However, the jump in radioactivity in the air near the blast site reduces the likelihood that the nuclear reactor installed in the Burevestnik missile is fueled with enriched uranium, or even highly enriched. It is therefore reasonable to conjecture that the nuclear fuel of the reactor is plutonium-239, which, in addition to being toxic, is radioactive. It is also more suitable for refueling a miniature reactor because its critical mass is five times lower than that of uranium-235, which makes it possible to reduce the reactor’s dimensions.

Moreover, it is possible that the plutonium fuel in the reactor was not metallic but in a saline state, which would further reduce the amount of plutonium needed to fuel it. This hypothesis might explain Rosatom’s reference to “an isotopic source of energy for a liquid-fueled rocket engine.” Rosatom conducts many activities related to the development of molten salt reactors (MSR). These are nuclear fission reactors in which the primary reactor coolant and/or nuclear fuel is a molten salt mixture, and they use plutonium-239 as fuel.

The August 8 rocket engine explosion appears to have been caused by a rapid jump in reactor criticality beyond the permitted level. Nuclear missiles use a liquid-fueled booster rocket to accelerate to a speed that will enable their reactors to operate. There is thus a high probability of failure during the launch phase due to an obstacle hindering synchronization between the rocket’s acceleration and the nuclear reactor system, or – either alternatively or in addition – a failure of the reactor’s criticality control system.

Taking an overall view, it appears we now have a resurgence of an unconventional armaments race between the big powers, at least for purposes of deterrence – a situation that could deteriorate into a second Cold War.

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Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Raphael Ofek, a BESA Center Research Associate, is an expert in the field of nuclear physics and technology who served as a senior analyst in the Israeli intelligence community.

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Post  Admin on Thu 05 Sep 2019, 9:18 pm

How Sincere Is the Turkey-Iran Friendship?
By Dr. Alon J. DoenyasSeptember 5, 2019
Presidents Rouhani, Putin, and Erdogan at summit in Sochi, 2019, photo via Office of the President of Russia

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,278, September 5, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: If the world press is anything to go by, the Turkey-Iran courtship is getting serious, and Russia is playing best man. The two countries’ strengthening ties are based on shared regional goals, the most prominent of which is Syria. But how sincere is the burgeoning relationship?

The horrific civil war in Syria is a matter of deep concern to both Turkey and Iran. What will Syria look like when the war ends? Who will rule? Will the country be split up? Will the Kurds of Syria try to establish an independent state? And what about the refugees who have fled to Turkey and become a burden there?

Common concerns over Syria have led to deepening ties between Ankara and Tehran, as reflected in the many high-level meetings that have occurred in recent years between officials of both countries, including presidents Erdoğan and Rouhani. Four summits on Syria have been held by Turkey, Iran, and Russia; the latest was in Sochi earlier this year and was hosted by President Putin. Photos from those summits and meetings went viral, strengthening the image of a love story in the making.

It is no secret that the beleaguered Islamic Republic has always wanted to get closer to neighboring Turkey. Whenever a more Islamic-oriented party is in power in Ankara, the Iranians approach. This occurred in the 1990s, when Erbakan was in power; the same is happening today with the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government.

Doing this makes sense from an Iranian perspective for several reasons. First, Turkey, with its population of over 80 million, is a great economic market in general, and a huge potential market for Iranian oil in particular. Second, Turkey is a regional superpower, so it is wise to be on its side. Third, and most important, the Turkic-Azeri population of Iran is estimated to be a full quarter of the Iranian population. With a Turkic minority of that size, it is sensible to keep the biggest and most important Turkic country in the world close by.

It is nevertheless questionable that Ankara and Tehran will ever get particularly close. Major obstacles stand in the way. Turkey and Iran are the two major Muslim non-Arabic players in the Middle East. Both have a good deal of territory and big populations of over 80 million. Officially, Turkey is a secular republic populated by mostly Sunni Muslims; Iran is an undemocratic Islamic Republic populated mostly by Shiites. The sects are totally different in their beliefs and method of practicing Islam. The two countries designate themselves as playing a leading role in the Muslim world, but their completely different perspectives on Islam might clash.

Moreover, Turkey has reason to worry about Tehran’s global Islamic ambitions because Iran affects all of Turkey’s Muslim-bordering countries. It is true that in Syria, neither country wants to see an independent Kurdish state emerge and they will do what they can to prevent that from happening. But Iran has thrown its lot behind Bashar Assad’s regime, which Turkey opposes. Though the majority of the Syrian population is Sunni, the regime is Alawite (which is associated with Shiite Islam). Ankara may have wished the “Arab Spring” to culminate in a new Sunni leadership for the Sunni state, but in the absence of such a result, it does not want to watch Assad massacre his Sunni subjects. For its part, Tehran is backing the regime that is not only conducting these massacres but pushing millions to flee Syria – often for Turkey, where they are a great burden.

The case of Iraq is instructive. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a Sunni-governed state, but after the fall of his regime, Iraq, where Shiites constitute over two-thirds of the population, came under Shiite domination – with Tehran playing an ever-growing role in its neighbor’s domestic affairs. In the process, Turkey was geographically cut off from the rest of the Sunni world. Its neighboring countries are either Christian or Shiite. This being the case, Turkey does not want to see a stronger Iran with greater regional influence on its own border.

Turkey and Iran are also competing for influence in Central Asia’s Muslim republics. Many that were part of the Soviet Union are Turkic, and they view Turkey as a role model. Pan-Turkic ideology is common in some of these countries, and their leaders want to maintain good relations with Ankara. But Iran, which is geographically closer, very much wants to gain influence over them. The spread of revolutionary Islam is, after all, one of the Islamic Republic’s core principles.

Neither the Shiite Iranian ambition to influence the Muslim world, nor Tehran’s dogged drive for nuclear weapons, is in the Turkish interest.

It is also important to remember that Turkey is part of NATO and maintains relations with both the US and Israel (despite recurrent tensions), which the ayatollahs refer to, respectively, as the “Great Satan” and the “Little Satan.” Furthermore, according to a Turkish official, Ankara stopped purchasing Iranian oil in May as a result of the US sanctions.

It is undeniable that Turkey and Iran are getting closer thanks to their common interests, particularly in Syria. But many obstacles stand in the way of a genuine alliance.

Dr. Alon J. Doenyas holds a PhD in Middle East Studies from Bar-Ilan University. He specializes in Turkish domestic and foreign affairs.

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Post  Admin on Thu 05 Sep 2019, 3:13 pm

Muhammad Dahlan and the Deal of the Century
By Dr. James M. DorseySeptember 5, 2019
Muhammad Dahlan, image via Twitter

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,279, September 5, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: A controversial former security official and Abu Dhabi-based political operator, Muhammad Dahlan, has lurked for several years in the shadows of Palestinian politics. It is possible that he will emerge in an attempt to pave the way for US president Donald Trump’s much maligned “Deal of the Century” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

President Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestine Authority, and Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, have condemned President Donald Trump’s proposed, yet-to-be-published “Deal of the Century.” They boycotted a conference in Bahrain in June organized by Jared Kushner, Trump’s negotiator and son-in-law, that focused on economic aspects of the proposal.

The Palestinian boycott followed Abbas’s earlier rejection of the US as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, cut off funding, and closed down the Palestinian representation in Washington. Trump has since recognized the occupied Syrian Golan Heights as part of Israel.

At the Bahrain conference, which was attended by government officials and businessmen from the Gulf, the US, Europe, and Asia, Kushner unveiled a $50 billion investment plan, $28 billion of which would be earmarked for the creation of Palestinian jobs and reduction of poverty.

The Trump administration has said it would release political details of the peace plan only after the September 17 Israeli election so it does not become an issue in what appears to be a tight electoral race between PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and former military chief Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party.

The Saudi and UAE crown princes, Muhammad bin Salman and Muhammad bin Zayed, have quietly sought to support the US peace effort that in Kushner’s words will deviate from the 2002 Arab peace plan by not calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Dahlan, who is believed to be close to the UAE’s Prince Muhammad as well as former Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, has played an important role in that effort, particularly with regard to UAE efforts to clip Hamas’s wings.

Dahlan went into exile in the UAE in 2007 after Hamas defeated his US-backed efforts to thwart the group’s control in Gaza. US President George W. Bush described Dahlan at the time as “our boy.”

Dahlan has since been indicted by Abbas’ PA on corruption charges.

In his latest move, Dahlan is reported to be considering establishment of a long muted political party, a move that would enjoy UAE and Egyptian support but could divide his following in Gaza.

Some of Dahlan’s supporters in the Democratic Reform Current, which remains part of Abbas’s Fatah movement, have argued in the past that a party would further fragment the Palestinian political landscape.

The revived talk of a party appears to be fueled by Israel’s facilitation of hundreds of millions of US dollars in Qatari support for Gaza’s health and education services as well as reconstruction.

Qatar, with its close ties to Islamist movements, has long supported Hamas, while Prince Muhammad’s visceral opposition to any expression of political Islam has pitted the UAE against the movement.

The two states’ diametrically opposed views of political Islam lie at the core of the rift in the Gulf, with the UAE alongside Saudi Arabia leading a more than two-year-old diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.

The revived talk follows a failed 2017 effort to negotiate Dahlan’s return to Gaza in talks with Hamas and representatives of Egyptian intelligence.

The deal would have involved Hamas sharing power with Dahlan in exchange for a loosening of the Israeli-Egyptian economic stranglehold on the impoverished Gaza Strip at a time when Abbas was refusing to pay the salaries of Gazan civil servants and Israel was reducing electricity supplies in a bid to force Hamas’s hand.

The talk of Dahlan’s making a political move comes against the backdrop of a broader, sustained UAE-Saudi effort to facilitate the US peace plan, despite the two states’ official insistence that East Jerusalem should be the capital of an independent Palestinian state, as well as counter-maneuvers by Qatar and its ally Turkey.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE sought to weaken Turkish efforts to exploit opposition to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem to bolster its claim to leadership of the Muslim world and weaken Jordan’s role as the custodian of the Haram esh-Sharif in the city that is home to the Al Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.

Speaking earlier this year to an Arab media outlet believed to be close to Qatar, Kamal Khatib, an Israeli Palestinian Islamist leader, asserted that Dahlan, working through local businessmen, had unsuccessfully tried to acquire real estate adjacent to the holy site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, where Judaism’s two ancient temples once stood.

With approximately half its population of Palestinian descent, Jordan has walked a tightrope balancing a reluctance to endorse the Trump administration’s approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking with its complex ties to the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Unlike Jordan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are not shackled by Palestinian demographics. They still need to tread carefully, however, in supporting an initiative that is widely believed to be designed to deprive Palestinians of independent statehood – domestic public sentiment might be volatile, and the plan could backfire and strengthen Hamas.

A formal re-entry into Palestinian politics by Dahlan could help resolve the UAE and Saudi dilemma that is accentuated by concern that too much pressure on Abbas to reverse his rejection of US mediation could boost Hamas, which is tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Said one Gulf official: “We are trying to strike a delicate balance. The key in doing so is to strengthen moderates, not extremists” – the official’s code word for Hamas and other Islamists.

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Dr. James M. Dorsey, a non-resident Senior Associate at the BESA Center, is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture.

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