2 Years on and what about Israel


    It has been years that things looked very bleak for Israel in the Middle East. Hamas was gaining power, Hezbollah has engaged in conflict and was since training and  re-arming for the next one, Syria supporting movement of weapons to Hezbollah, Egypt not doing much to stop the weapons into Gaza and Jordan slaying its policies at every turn. At the same time in the outer ring, Iran was continuing its nuclear weapon program and supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, Turkey was becoming more religious and alienating itself from Israel, while supporting Hamas and finally the negotiations with Fatah were at a deadlock.

    However, then something unexpected happened and parts of the Middle East started burning. Changing the game completely.

    Looking back 2 years many things have happened that despite the chaos make more sense. For example, there has always been a tear between Shia and Sunni Muslims. This difference, which  is religious based, goes back many years and a great deal of blood has been spilled over it. However, it was always odd to see the cooperation between Sunni and Shia when it came to fighting Israel. As ambivalent as they made themselves seem, the Palestinians have always been a majority of Sunnis and therefore for Shia Iran to support them was unusual to say the least. Like gravity versus inertia, there was always a force pulling them down, however, it was almost invisible once the much stronger force pushing them together was at play.

    Another odd example was the rule of the minority of Alawaites in Syria, which was secular, yet supporting Hezbolla and at the same time hosting the Hamas leadership, both ultra religious groups of Shia and Sunni respectively. What is still peculiar in respect to the Syrian-Iranian relationship is that Alalwaite and Shia have very little in common, apart from the fact that they are grossly outnumbered by Sunnis in the world. In fact, many of the Alwaites traditions would seem foreign as well as sinful to Shia, who choose to look beyond the differences as well as Iran an ultra religious regime allied with a secular state.

    However, as they say a leopard cannot change its spots and it was only a matter of time until a catalyst ended this pretence.

    Since the uprising two very important things happened. The first one was the pressure that was created with the fierce fighting and extremely high number of casualties, which forced all groups to declare their allies. While the Palestinians would have liked to stay on the fence in regards to the conflict, they could not ignore the harassment and number of dead Palestinians at the hand of the Assad regime and as a result chose their natural Sunni side. On the other hand, Hezbollah has stayed loyal to its Iranian patron and has since openly declared its involvement in the fighting.

    The second byproduct was the pushing the Palestinian issue off the table. As far as the Arab world was concerned, once the glue that kept them all together was no longer effective, there was no reason to continue to support it. The Palestinian have been sidelined, as the regimes fight to keep control and stabilize their countries. Who still cares about the descendants of the 300,000  refugees that fled Israel over 60 years ago and  are now settled in neighbouring countries, when there are now over a million displaced Syrian refugees in Turkey and Jordan? Or When a country as big as Egypt is on the brink of bankruptcy and the streets are still riddled with anti government demonstrations. This change in attitude has manifested itself in many forms, for example Egypt, run by the Hamas’ mother group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is currently imposing more restrictions on Hamas than Mubarak ever did. Destroying the smuggling tunnels, stopping weapon shipments, restricting border movement and applying pressure for them to avoid a conflict with Israel. The Syrians on the other hand have expelled Hamas’ headquarters from Damascus and Iran just recently stop supporting Hamas with weapons and reduced their financially aid.

    As far as the Western media, while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will probably always gain some media attention, especially by the professionals dedicated to keep it in the headlines, in comparison in scale to what is happening around, it has shrunk and in some ways almost disappeared. Not only is it hard for the media outlets to favor such a relatively tiny and controlled conflict in comparison to the turmoil around, but the politics have blatantly conflicted with the usual narrative, making it a very long stretch to relate the events from the surrounding countries back to Israel. For example, Assad complaining that it is Israeli intervention that is pushing the rebels doesn’t sit well with the fact that Hamas, Israel’s sworn enemy has chosen the rebels side. There are other inconsistencies such as the Iranian role and change of heart about Hamas, which all point back to the same conclusion that it is a Muslim sectarian war.

    A new villain that has not come well from local uprisings has been Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey. On a few occasion he has already exposed his propensity for drama and uncontrolled anger, which is not necessarily followed through, like in the case of the Flotilla, after which he exclaimed that every flotilla travelling to Gaza would be escorted by Turkish war vessels, which never took place. While this was easy for the media to ignore, it was less easy for people to question the toughness towards Israel killing the 7 people onboard the flotilla in to say the least dubious circumstances, as opposed to the acceptance of Syria shooting down a Turkish plane killing two fighter pilots or regularly shooting into Turkish border towns. However, the recent events have landed him in the most negative exposure after his bad handling of the demonstration in Gezi park for the people opposing turning the public green space into a shopping mall. The casualties and evidence of police brutality against the Turkish people have earned him some very bad publicity.

    So while the region is burning and some taboos have been broken, such as rockets fired on Israeli territory from the Syrian side for the first time in decades and Egypt seriously considering renegotiating the peace treaty terms, the threats on Israel have reduced. While the terror attacks might grow and Israeli lives might be disrupted, apart from the Iranian nuclear program, Israel has little threat to its existence by its crumbling neighbours. In fact in the latest developments, the rebels have managed to injure Hezbollah in a way that Israel never could and Hamas’ weapon arsenal and money stocks are depleting, which would ultimately make it more focussed internally and less of a trouble for Israel.

    However, one must remember that this is the Middle East and not only is nothing forever, but things don’t necessarily have to make sense either.

Not The Usual Mess In The Middle East


    The recent events in the Middle East at a glance looks like one big mess. One could think that not much in the region  makes any sense anymore. It seems that everyone is fighting everyone and historic alliances have suddenly been broken. Moreover any involvement or prediction by the West, such as the positive effects on Arab countries establishing free democractic regimes have proved to be completely wrong.

    However, if one looks at the events and the background, one could see that it was up until now that things did not make sense and now there is finally a more logical explanation to some of the oddities that were prevalent before.

    The most extreme example would be the alliance between Sunni Hamas, Shia Hezbollah, Shia Iran and Alawaite Syria. The alliance that makes sense is Shia Iran with the Shia group Hezbollah, they share the same values and sect of Islam and Iran has helped set up Hezbollah and has been its main sponsor ever since. It is perhaps slightly less obvious that the Syrian Alawaite regime is also part of this alliance. However, despite the different roots and other fundamental differences the Shias consider that sect to belong to the same stream and therefore sees it as an ally opposing the Sunni sect.

    While those alliances, even if not perfectly, could somehow be explained, what really hasn’t made sense so far has been the alliance between the Sunni group Hamas and the other Shia players. Despite the media’s obsession with the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is naive to think that the animosity towards Israel surpasses the age-long Shia-Sunni divide. Considering the longevity (since ancient times), number of people(1.5 billion Muslims with 10%-20% being Shia) and the religious background (fundamental difference in belief). One could be forgiven for thinking that hating Israel is no more than an excuse to rally the Muslim world around a common cause. After all, before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Shias saw themselves as a natural ally to the Jewish state of Israel, in its struggle against the threat of Sunni Muslims.

    In order to understand how this “small-scale” conflict could bring together two major players, it is important to look at the relations between countries in the Middle East leading up to the time.

    Before the Western intervention in the Middle East, the region was divided to tribes.There was no division of “countries”, rather everyone was Arab and there was a belonging to a tribe and/or a group of people. For example the Hashemite’s, which make up Jordan today, the Assyrians, which make up Syria…etc. After World War I, the Western intervention divided the region up and created the basis of the countries today. However, while creating countries, they bundled together some of the groups (Druze, Sunnis, Shia, Kurdish, Christian…etc.) and they did not create democracies. The intervention has left the region with countries with dictators. Over the years there have been “free elections”, however, they have not been real, as control was passed down in the family and even in cases, n which the countries went through the motions of “voting”, it cannot be considered a democracy without the other institutions such as freedom of speech, free press, separation of law and government…etc. .

    While in the West dictators are viewed as a wholly negative feature, in the Middle East there was one noticeable benefit. Since the countries that were formed were not always homogenous, the dictator had the job of keeping the people united. This of course was done via oppression of the masses, however it provided stability to those countries (many would argue it still not worth the price of oppression, however one might look at Iraq and Syria and perhaps not feel quite as strongly about it anymore).

    In many ways the “Arab Spring”  has let the cat out of the bag. The wall of fear between the rulers and the people has been broken, which made the dictators’ job of keeping the stability nearly impossible. The individuals have realized their power and conditions have been so bad that they often feel like they have nothing else to lose and are now couragously fighting for what they believe (in some cases the fighting has been kidnapped by Jihhadist groups, but this is again a matter of convinient alliances to reach a goal). A catalyst for the uprisings has of course been social media and other technical advances, which have contributed to the exposure of the masses to the outside world as well as provided a safer platform to organize and communicate.

    The tensions between the sects have been felt and somewhat exposed in the wikileaks reports. While the authenticity and sincerity in the cables should always be questioned, it was surprising to read statements such as Asad calling Hamas an unwanted guest in his country, or the eagerness the Sunni Arab nations showed in wanting the Iranian nuclear facilities to be bombed. However the events in the Arab world, namely the Arab uprisings since then have confirmed these reports, as Hamas is no longer wanted in Syria and the Sunni countries have increased their oil production to allow the West to execute the sanctions on Iran.

    In the last couple of years the situation in the Middle East changed so much that the false pretence has been broken down and the real dirty politics have come out. The Shia – Sunni conflict is in full swing and  affecting many countries. Ironically all the ethnic groups that were able to play nicely for all these years under an oppressive dictator and sympathize with, what they called, human rights violations of the Palestinians, are now mercilessly slaughtering each other not sparing women and children and seeing millions being displaced. Even Turkey that once declared a zero conflict policy is now bombing Syria as well as trying to manage the internal Kurdish conflict, involving also occasionally bombing areas in North Iraq.

    The group probably worse off from this turn of events is the Palestinians. On the one hand their plight has been pushed aside as a minor issue in light of everything else that is taking place. On the other hand, while the more pragmatic Fatah is losing its place at the top*, Hamas is gaining prestige. The visit to Gaza by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thaniof, the Emir of Qatar just shows how little the Arab countries are interested in a long viable solution in the Middle East and how much this is about alliances and politics (It is almost laughable how a minute after Syria and Iran favour the more radical groups in Gaza over Hamas, Qatar moves in and offers Hamas money and support).

    With the re-election of president Obama it’ll be interesting to see how things unfold. Whereas in his first term Obama was testing the waters and making some junior mistakes as to how to handle Iran and the various revolutions, this time around things might look a little different and every foreign policy decision would no doubt, ripple across the Middle East changing the dynamics between countries and temporary allies.

    It has been said before never to attempt to predict the future in the Middle East. That statement is perhaps more true now than ever.

 

 

 

* Fatah losing its place is one of the worst things for the Palestinians as it seems that as an act of desperation Abbas will be insisting on getting a UN General Assembly recognition for a Palestinian state, probably in order to leave his mark on history, before he is ousted. While a recognition will do nothing for the Palestinians, other than give them the ability to fight Israel legally in various UN organizations. It will mean an immediate economic collapse as the US will cease any aid and banish their representatives from Washington, as well as Israel potentially withdrawing the Oslo agreements, in which they collect tax money for them, as well allow workers into Israel.

Arab Spring Turning into a Bitingly Cold Winter


 

    As the winter months are upon us and in the Northern Hemisphere we feel the cold weather, so do we start to realize the true error of what we called the “Arab Spring”. The term Arab Spring is based on the “Spring of the Nations”, which took place in 1848. It was in fact a series of revolutions which took place in the world, without any apparent central coordination and opposed the multi-national empires. The revolutions extended achievements are somewhat debated, but it was certainly a big step towards giving every country more power to rule itself.

    The Arab Spring started in a somewhat similar way, while there was no apparent central coordination; people in the street rose against their absolute leader and demanded more control. However, unfortunately, this is where most of the similarities end. Unlike Europe and the world at the time, the Middle East did not have a limited number of empires that ruled the region. In fact it was quite the opposite, each country in the Middle East has/had its own ruler and the revolution was never about breaking the rulings into smaller chunks, so that the leader truly represents the local interests.

     In the Middle East the countries already have local rulers, who were supposed to look after the local interests. The real dispute is whether they were actually doing it, as well as the fact that they could not be replaced by a democratic procedure, if they weren’t.

    When the Egyptians started gathering in Tahrir Square, many people criticized Obama for not responding quickly enough to the government crackdown. The “common wisdom” accused him for not doing so, because of Mubarak’s positive attitude towards the West. However, while that might be partly true, there is another bigger issue. Like many others, Obama didn’t know who would come next. While accepting that democracy is a positive process as a whole, Obama like many other leaders appreciated that true democracy is not something achieved overnight.

    Many people consider democracy the act of the people putting ballots into voting boxes and then giving the power to he/she with the most votes, however, this is where most people are mistaken. The action of voting is merely allowing people to participate, however democracy cannot exist without other institutions to support it. For example, how could people form their opinion with the absence of freedom of press? If no mass medium is reporting objectively on what is really happening how could people judge the candidates or their policy? Or even be aware that things could be different?

    Another institution, whose presence is essential, is the Court of Law. How could anyone seek justice or expect the country to be run fairly, when there isn’t a truly independent body that serves as a judge on matters that might be uncomfortable for the government to bear? In a way an objective media can exist only in a country where the law enforcement and courts are fair and independent and therefore can protect it from unfair censorship or retribution.

    While some institutions are missing from democracy, there are some whose presence is a hindrance, for example religion. When religion becomes a political power, democracy is damaged, since in some cases people are made to vote as religion dictates rather than what they truly believe in. Having religious involvement in politics is an issue that can be seen in Western democracies as well. In the Middle East for example, it is said that Israel is getting to a dangerous point, where the religious population is inclined to vote in accordance with the religious leaders, which is hampering the democratic process. It could be argued that it is the people’s choice to become religious, however there are plenty of examples to refute that and argue against its participation in the process of democratic elections. Another worrying example would be the US, which also has a large element of religious votes, however there it is also based on values and there is a true separation between religion and state.

    Returning to the concept of the 1848 Spring of Nations, while in 1848 the countries fought a separate local rule in the Arab Spring, it seems that the end result is turning out to be quite the opposite. In the Arab world, it seems that the religious parties are gaining more power and it is actually more likely that the Muslim Brotherhood movement would have a continuum of control across borders, as they win the majority in every country. Bizarrely this is very reminiscent of the Al-Qaeda goal to have a single Muslim Caliphate rule for region. So in some ways, the partial democracy taking place in the Middle East is pushing the region further away from the West in terms of ideology and consequently commerce and culture.

    However, while the revolutions are taking place and governments are changing, one must remember that in the Middle East many things are in play and therefore do not always seem logical to a Western eye.  As the US is ramping up its pressure on Iran, putting it under more economic constraint and possibly stopping its nuclear power, the result might invoke a regime change and possibly a decline as a key player for the foreseeable future. In the same breath it could be argued that despite the militant stance the Al-Nour  (Al Qaeda inspired Salafi party in Egypt) and the Muslim Brotherhood, have declared in their election campaign, once they start to govern they will find it difficult to give up the US financial aid ($1.5 billon a year according to Forbes magazine), as well as see tourism dithers as a result of their Muslim stance and Westen-phobia, so will become less radical.  Syria has not yet collapsed and the recent talk of a Hamas “kiss and make-up” deal, may harm Hamas and Hezbollah more than they think as Asad loses more legitimacy and sees his army taking more beatings from the rebel army.  This will no doubt have a ripple effect on Lebanon and the Israel/Palestine conflict, which may have a ripple effect on other aspects as well.

 

    So predicting which player will rise, which player will fall and what will the reality look like, once the dust has settled, is currently anyone’s guess.

Attack on Iran


    Every single person in the Western world should be somewhat concerned about the latest exchanges between Israel and Iran, as it might change things as we know them.  Now that military action in Libya is finished and the Arab League has managed to engage in some level of dialogue with Syria, the world attention is back to Iran and its nuclear program.  The timing or the decision of turning back to Iran is not a coincidence, rather, after every big change (i.e. change of government in Egypt, Libya, Syria) a vacuum is created and if the big players are not managed, they could move to fill this vacuum, in this case the fear is that Iran would advance on the newly formed regimes.

    What is surprising about the timing of the pressure being applied is that while one would expect more diplomatic pressure, it seems unusual to opt for a military strike, unless there is new information about the imminence of a threat. So far no new information has been provided or leaked to the public domain about Iran making a breakthrough in its nuclear capabilities, in fact reports suggest otherwise. It is assumed that the computer virus attack damaging the centrifuges, as well as the recent assassinations of key scientists and the economic sanctions are all slowing down Iran’s nuclear program.   

However, one must accept that not everything is in the public domain and not everything gets leaked. For example, the Western nations’ intelligence were sitting on information of Iran’s secret nuclear plan for months and it wasn’t until Iran realized that they have been found out that they “volunteered” that information. Another example is the bombing of the Syrian nuclear plant by Israel in 2007. There was no warning before, outside of the intelligence community, and it took time until the reports came through of what has actually taken place and why. So following that logic, it could be that Iran has decided to accelerate their nuclear plan. Perhaps it decided to make the nuclear breakthrough, in which Uranium is enriched to higher levels needed for a nuclear bomb in a relatively short amount of time. Possibly develop appropriate war heads to be able to mount a nuclear bomb on missiles. Or even just buy key components from other countries, which would provide immediate capabilities.

    Whatever is happening in the background, there are already symptoms showing on the ground. There have been reports of Israeli planes practicing manoeuvres in Italy, in which they bomb a distant location. As well as that air practice, Israel has launched a test missile today and has stepped up its drills to deal with the consequences of a massive missile attack to the heart of Israel.  It has also been reported that the US and British military are preparing for a possible attack by moving their navy vessels to strategic positions. On the other side, Iran has been quite defiant in its statements to the West, threatening a retaliation for any attack. The difference noted about these statements is that they were made by the head of the army, who has a direct reporting line to the superior leader. The controversial exposed plot to assassinate a Saudi diplomat and carry out a terror attack, are also signs of Iran stepping up the pressure.

    It is possible that once again this is just a show of strength of both sides, which in reality would not be allowed to spill over. In fact, since this is already in the media, suggests that it is not genuine, as such an attack would undoubtedly benefit from the element of surprise. However, no reasonable person could look at the facts and claim that the threat of a conflict is not on the cards.

    If a strike does take place, there could be different outcomes. Due to Wikileaks, it is a known fact that some Arab countries around Iran such as Saudi Arabia and Dubai are in favour of an attack. It is also known that the West has stepped up the pressure and no doubt that Israel is very much in favour of ridding Iran of nuclear power. Therefore, it is almost of little difference, who actually launches the attack as it is supported by most and the result would undoubtedly be the same, regardless of who pulls the trigger.

    If Iranian targets are attacked, it is assumed that it would rely on its proxies around the Middle East to launch an attack on American and Israeli targets. It is almost a given that Hezbollah and militant groups in Gaza would launch missiles into central cities in Israel (following the recent rift between Hamas and Iran, it would be interesting to see whether Hamas would launch missiles itself, look the other way, while the Islamic Jihad and other smaller groups do so, or distance itself from Iran and ensure the rocket fire is merely symbolic). Syria, which is Iran’s biggest ally in the region, normally does its military work via Hezbollah in Lebanon, however, it is not unlikely that due to the dire condition the government is in, would try to gain political power by positioning itself as a Muslim opposition to the attacks by the West and engage in the conflict in some capacity.

    Israel will clearly be impacted the most by this situation, however, this is a risk it is willing to take, as it knows that once Iran achieves nuclear weapon capabilities, it would be much worse off. Also, with the right level of cooperation of the attack, Israel would be able to take steps to protect itself from the proxies’ attacks and reduce the loss of life and property.

    The risks to this type of operation are plenty. The first risk is that the intelligence is not reliable enough. The Iraq war has taught the West that they do get it wrong sometimes and it is enough to underestimate Iran’s current capabilities or even to miss an important element of the program, which would be used following an attack to undermine the whole effort. The second risk could be a failure to execute the mission, from human error to uncalculated risks, if an attack is launched, but is not successful, this would carry a very heavy price. Another risk would be the conflict escalating. Although, no doubt that there will be a massive diplomatic effort along with the strike, it is not impossible that support for Iran would gather momentum in other Arab countries as well as perhaps inside European countries. The West would hope that at most only Shia Muslims may identify with Iran, which would reduce the risk to part of Iraq, which is already in turmoil or Bahrain and Azerbaijan, which do not really pose a threat. However, experience has shown that this could be seen as an East Vs. West or Christian/Jewish Vs. Muslim conflict and draw into it new stakeholders. Such a development might land another Iraq or Afghanistan, whereby the military battle is won, but constant insurgency is taking place (this time potentially on Western soil).

    It should be fair to say that the West is wary of war. The political agenda in most European countries is anti war. In all countries including the US there is a very strong leftist movement, which includes in its ranks high profile academics, artists, politicians and human rights activists, who continuously campaign against interference in the Middle East. Therefore any military action would include a political backlash. The timing is problematic also in the sense that the Western world and Europe, in particular, are going through an economic crisis. The current voter is a tough crowd to convince to invest what little money is available into a potential military conflict, when the threat is not so obvious and visible, especially, when the case put forward for Iraq in 2003 is still fresh and has a big negative impact.    

    Whether this attack will take place or not is still to be seen. Whether this attack is the right answer would become apparent, although possibly not immediately and possibly not conclusively. What is almost absolute is that this is not going to be a walk in the park. Even if executed perfectly, it is likely that the planning takes into consideration an attack on Israel as well as a backlash in the West. There is also no doubt that many in the West will criticize this action and offer many sinister interpretations as to why it has taken place. On the other hand, if the attack is to take place, it would potentially change the rules of the game. It is not unlikely that Iran would lose clout or even have a regime change. Also without Iran financing terror in the Middle East, Hamas might fall back to its less radical allies (Muslim Brotherhood), or that Syria and Hezbollah would become insignificant players. Or perhaps a new player would rise up to fill the void in the axis of evil. The West will no doubt go through some troubling economic times, as the oil price and availability would destabilize the markets.

      However, unless concrete foul motives behind the attack are revealed with time, one can safely assume that the people elected to lead, know more than they are telling and have decided that there is a threat great enough, which justifies an attack, in order to guarantee our security and way of life.

Abdullah’s dilemma


The images of watching another tyrant being toppled last week are probably still fresh in any news following person in the world. The images shown were very graphic of a leader who was once carrying himself arrogantly and confidently being pulled out of an underground hole like an animal, only to be at the mercy of the people he once ruled over with an iron fist. Gaddafi in the footage didn’t look very different to Saddam Hussain, although Saddam had the benefit of being captured by the American soldiers and therefore stood trial before being executed.

    These clips shown over and over on the different websites as well as news channels must be especially alarming to the leaders of the Arab world, who know that the wind can blow the other way at any moment. While Iran has quite a resilient ruling system, which would be hard to topple (as seen after the previous botched elections), it knows that if the US pushes tougher economic sanctions, this could be the catalyst that would undermine their control. Bashar El-Asad knows that he is probably the next in line, as his country is already engulfed in mayhem and even if he manages to work a miracle, his rule would most probably never again be as absolute as it was.

    In the article https://middleeastinterpreter.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/arab-spring-or-western-winter it was discussed that the countries most likely to undergo a successful Arab Spring revolt were not the monarchies, rather the countries that are being ruled by the aftermath of a military coup (Egypt, Libya, Syria and to some extent Turkey). Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bahrain, Kuwait…etc. have so far all been spared a genuine overthrow threat and it seems that they might be see it safely to the other side this time around.

    However despite being also being a monarchy, Jordan is a special case and it has reasons to worry.

    Jordan is currently ruled by King Abdullah, who took the reins from his father, King Hussain.  Hussain ruled the country from the 1950s to 1999. Under the last two kings many political reforms were made and the country enjoyed relative advancement as it has always “played ball” with the US and UN, especially noticeable in 1994, when it signed a peace agreement with Israel.

    Despite the relative stability and the fact that Jordan does not fit the mold of a country vulnerable to the Arab Spring, Jordan has always had strong undercurrents of revolution. Jordan’s ethnic groups include more than 50% people of Palestinian decent. Out of the population of roughly 6 million, this is more Palestinian than currently in the Palestinian territories taken by Israel in1967. Moreover, had Jordan not returned the West Bank to Israel, there would have been more Palestinians than Jordanian’s in the land, which would have led to a minority rule (similar to the Alouwaites ruling over Sunnis in Syria).

    Throughout Jordan’s history the Palestinian Liberation Front, which resided in its borders grew stronger with time and apart from dragging the fighting with the Israeli Defense Force into Jordanian land, it also challenged the rule of King Hussain. The Palestinians almost created a state within a state and there are also reports of failed assassination attempts of King Hussain. All these events led to establishing a couple of agreements between the PLO and the Monarchy, in an attempt to reach a workable system. However, when those failed to maintain order, King Hussain launched an operation known as Black September (in 1970), in which the Palestinian militants were crushed, killing thousands and driving the PLO out of Jordan.

    During the years of 1970 and 1971, King Hussain’s throne was at a genuine threat as the Palestinians leaders called for a revolt against the ruler. While Hussain managed to successfully destroy the mutiny (at the price of estimated thousands of dead), the potential for a resurrection of the conflict was never completely obliterated.

    King Abdullah has followed his father’s way by keeping the peace with Israel and avoiding getting stuck in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However due to the strong historical connection between the Palestinians and Jordan, while keeping out, he has a vested interest to keep the Palestinian attention away from his country.

    So unlike some of the country heads in the Middle East, who are quietly joining the Western opposition to global Jihad, which may one day undermine their rule, as it attempts to achieve one Caliphate rule across the Middle East, Jordan has a much more imminent threat of its rule being undermined by Palestinians.

    The best possible outcome for Jordan would be a long lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, in which most Palestinians’ demands would be met, in order to satiate their appetite for more land but also to restrict their right to arm themselves, in order to avoid them becoming a regional threat.

    The worst case scenario would be a weak position against Israel, which may turn the Palestinians’ efforts to Jordan or make Jordan on the receiving end of more fallout, i.e. more displaced Palestinians settling in its borders. While not imminent, both scenarios are not impossible and at a time when the winds of change are blowing in the Middle East, paranoia is not an irrelevant consideration in determining foreign policy.

    Another possible gloom scenario for Jordan would be the ethnic awakening of Palestinians in Jordan, wishing to do away with the monarchy and go to democratic elections. It is apparent to every ruler these days that technology can provide a platform to revolt and organize, while the violent methods employed in the past could no longer be hidden or tolerated for a length of time due to that same technology.

    It is no surprise, therefore, that the message coming from Jordan is criticizing the Israeli government for not wanting real peace and demanding that they make more concessions. King Abdullah has recently stepped up the pressure in the media, calling for more leniency from the Israeli government, openly doubting Netanyahu’s genuine interest to compromise for peace as well as questioning the stability of Israel’s peace agreements with its neighbors. All in an effort to make sure things are moving in the right direction to serve Jordan’s interests with no sudden turns. There are also indications that Jordan is giving the head of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, more maneuvering room by allowing him into Jordan (although officially for humanitarian reasons), this perhaps could indicate that there is a level of communication and influence happening between Jordan and Hamas away from the eye of the media.

    As for Jordan coping with the internal upheaval, so far the protests have been around corruption and mainly the poor economic situation, prompting King Abudllah to dismiss the cabinet and replace the PM. There has, so far, not been a real threat to the monarchy and none of the usual worrying symptoms, such high ranking generals defecting, have been on the cards.

    King Abdullah probably wasn’t lying when he said in his CNN interview “what keeps me up at night… is actually poverty and unemployment and the economic crisis.” But he didn’t go into detail about what this situation may bring to Jordan and his rule.  If King Abdullah is not successful in maintaining the peace in his country, we could expect a ripple effect on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he takes action to keep the plague away from his country.

Shalit’s Release and Other Symptoms


    When astrophysicists investigate the stars they rarely get to witness an event. Sometimes the events are too slow or two fast, but often they do not possess the right tools to give them a clear vision of the object. Despite the limitations, the worlds’ scientists have still made far reaching discoveries. The method they employ is looking at the effect on the other objects. For example by investigating the path of visible surrounding stars they can estimate where gravity is applied and therefore can determine whether there is  star hidden from view or an event such as a supernova has taken place that distorted the expected alignment.

    The Middle East is not so different in this respect. Many of the events are not witnessed, since there is no free press and certainly no access to private meetings between the leaders. Therefore, to decipher what is going on behind the false facade, one must look at the events around and extrapolate the root cause.

    Perhaps the most significant event to take place this week was the agreement of Hamas to release the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in return for the release of some 1000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Shalit has been in Hamas’ custody for over five years and talks have never progressed to the stage of release. There have been many reports about the negotiations and the involved parties, such as the German negotiator, however always resulting in a breakdown and both sides blaming the other.

    So what has changed this time? Certainly not the negotiation terms, but it seems that everything else that is happening around. Israel published a strong stance on not releasing any prisoners who have been convicted for murder of Israelis. This was most likely a negotiation tactic, as Hamas would not be able to politically afford releasing Shalit without getting in return some of their prisoners, who have been convicted for life, however Israel did not release prominent figures such as Baragouti and Saadat, who could become key people back in Gaza or the West Bank. Hamas, no doubt, was pushing very hard to release those prisoners, but decided to give up this claim. There has also been a dispute on how many prisoners would be banished from the Palestinian territories, reportedly this was a major dispute in the last round of talks, it is apparent now that Israel conceded slightly, but not gave away that demand.

    The events of the negotiation are directly related to Asad’s rule. Since the Arab Spring reached Syria, Asad’s status has been grossly undermined. The two major factors that are contributing to him staying in power are the fact that most of his generals are still in support of him, unlike in Egypt or Libya, where the close generals turned on their leader, which marked the end, and that Russia and China have been protecting him from any veto in the UN, which would result in a possible NATO attack or more likely sanctions imposed on the regime globally (rather than just US and EU currently).

    Asad’s undermining has consequently damaged Hamas’ status, which he supports heavily. Hamas’ leadership sits in Syria and enjoys freedom of movement as well as an open route used to coordinate support from Iran. The price Hamas pays for Asad’s patronage is unequivocally supporting his regime. This support has already backfired, when Hamas organized for Palestinian refugees to flood the Israeli border in order to create a distraction from the internal Syrian conflict. This unfortunately for Hamas and Asad led to many Palestinian deaths, which in return caused an uprising and subsequently violence between Syria’s army and the Palestinians. So much so, that Hamas in Gaza openly criticized Asad, a gesture that was not well received by its strategic ally Iran.

    Had things stayed as they are Hamas would have probably still been playing the stalling game in regards to Shalit’s release, since time actually was on their side. In Israel the government was under increasing pressure to release Shalit with various gestures aimed to remind the politicians that he is still in captivity. This pressure played straight into Hamas’ hands, who were seen by the Arab world as defiant to Israel, while playing psychological warfare on the Israeli public, by publicizing paintings of Shalit in captivity and often making reference to the government’s reluctance to progress the deal. However, this week Hamas has decided to end this episode and play their most powerful card in the pack. A very likely reason could be that Hamas is seeing the end of their operation in Damascus and are now seeking to boost their support and legitimacy before they find a different regime that would allow them to operate from its territory. If this assumption turns out to be true, then it is definitely a sign of Asad’s regime volatility and vote of no confidence from the Hamas’s leadership.

    Although less in the limelight, but also significant was the reported tensions within the Lebanese coalition, mainly between Hezbollah and Jumblatt, as reported by local Lebanese newspapers. Jumblatt is the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), which is secular and mainly representing the Druzes ethnicity in Lebanon. The party’s ideology is in great conflict with the religious Syrian supported party Hezbollah, which is why it was a shock to learn that Jumblatt lent his support to Hezbollah, when they voted Saad Hariri’s government out of power, after his insistence of supporting the UN’s investigation of the assassination of his father (STL).

    Jumblatt starting to make demands on Hezbollah is a clear indication of his belief that their position has been significantly damaged. Other than the pending UN investigation, which will no doubt have some consequences in the international community and internally, the most likely reason would be a weakening of the Syrian government, who currently supplies them with arms, which has made them effectively stronger than Lebanon’s national army.

    These symptoms both show a significant shift away from Asad’s rule and it is leaving less and less doubt that Asad’s time is limited. One of his officers, Colonel Riyad El-Asad, has already started an opposition army and it seems that it is only a matter time until senior officers would follow suit. What is not surprising is that Asad keeps fighting and will do so until the end. Considering he is of the Alawaite faction, which is a clear minority in a predominantly Sunni country, means that the Alawaites are likely to lose their status for a long period of time (nothing is forever in the Middle East) and the tactics used by his father, to violently crush down on any attempt of revolt, cannot be done internally and quietly as in the past, since now every person with a phone can easily upload uncensored images to the web.

    Perhaps only a frivolous man would put a timeline on Asad’s fate, but a reasonable one would predict his demise. The next steps to watch out for is for more allies distancing themselves from Asad and more army personnel defecting or turning against him, but until that happens, we will keep getting reports about tenths of opposition demonstrators being killed almost on a daily basis.

The Palmer Report


    The Palmer report is finally out after weeks of delay allowing the Israelis to reach an agreement with the Turks, who insisted that Israel apologizes for the killing of their civilians in the Flotilla in 2010 and compensates the families financially.

    Unlike previous reports such as the Goldstone report, the Palmer report was conducted under the sponsorship of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, rather than the Human Rights Council, which has been accused by Israel, the US and even Goldstone himself amongst others of bias against Israel. This very important fact enabled Israel to cooperate fully rather than to confiscate it under the claim that it has no mandate.

    The report itself is a 105 pages document, which bases its findings on the two independent investigations done by Turkey and Israel, as well as examining independent evidence. As expected the two investigations varied significantly on some fundamental points. For example the Turkish government claims that the blockade on Gaza is illegal, because it does not follow the naval agreement protocol as well as, the fact that Gaza does not qualify as an international conflict. The Israelis on the other hand, claim that it is an international conflict between two governments and that it has followed the correct protocol in enforcing the blockade.

    Other points of dispute are: the validity of Israel to board the ships in order to stop them, whether this was a humanitarian mission or publicity stunt as well as whether the ships changed their course to Egypt after the Israeli navy warnings. Both reports included their interpretation of the events and one could see that both reports were written with an agenda.

    Israel in general should be quite pleased with the report, as it clearly determines that the blockade over Gaza is a defence measure and therefore legal. The report also examines the timelines and events and determines that there is no reason to believe that the naval blockade is tied together with the land restriction of transferring goods and furthermore, does not appear to be a collective punishment measure, as it corresponds with security events, rather than political moves. Basing their facts on communication prior to the boats leaving and throughout the journey, the report determines that there is no reason to believe that publicity was not a main goal of IHH and accordingly that the boats did or would change their destination to Egypt.

    Turkey on the other hand did not come off the report lightly. The report did recognize that the government advised the IHH people not to risk themselves by travelling to Gaza and trying to break the blockade, however the report found that they did not do enough to stop them.

    While it was determined that Israel had the right to defend the blockade, Israel was criticized harshly for the planning of the operation. One of the main points was Israel’s failure to reassess the situation after the military’s speed boats sailing alongside the Mavi Marmara were attacked by projectiles. The panel examining the facts believed that more could have been done to stop the ship from continuing prior to boarding it with soldiers. The other main criticism was that once the soldiers were on board there was excess violence used., since some of the dead were injured from shots from close range as well as in their back.

    The conclusion of the report is that this encounter should have never happened in the first place. It blamed the IHH of being reckless in trying to break the blockade as well as for organized violence and intentions of publicity rather than practicality of supplying aid into Gaza. For example the report argued that the Mavi Marmara was too big for the Gaza port, which meant that had it reached Gaza, the goods would have had to be offloaded onto smaller boats out at sea, this would be much less practical than delivering the goods by land via Egypt. Another conclusion was that Israel did use excess force and should therefore express regret and pay financial compensation to the families of the dead.

    While this report is probably the least damning report about Israel to come out of the UN in the last 30 years, there is still a sense amongst Israelis that it was watered down, in order not to vilify Turkey as well as leave an opening for a Turkish-Israeli reconciliation. For example the report does not recognize that during battle there is always room for errors and uncertainty, which does not fall under anyone’s responsibility, nor did they consider that some of the dead were shot in the back or from close range as a result of the intense combat. It is not unreasonable to believe that one soldier seeing a fellow soldier attacked and in danger next to him, would shoot the attackers to prevent harm to the soldier, this shot is more likely to be to the back rather than the front and it is not any less valid or necessary if it is taken from close range.

    However despite the watering down that may or may have not been applied, the report had not managed to make things better between Turkey and Israel. The Israeli government after long considerations of the impact of a cold relationship with Turkey, decided not to apologize to the Turkish government and not to compensate the families of the dead. Israel did, express regret about the deaths, but was adamant about its right to protect itself and enforce the blockade. Furthermore, the report was only due to come out on the 2nd of September, however, it was leaked to the media a day earlier and as a result Turkey has called a press conference, in which it accused Israel of leaking the report and declared a list of measures it would take against Israel. Some of these measures include downgrading the diplomatic relationship between the countries, stopping the military cooperation, supporting the Palestinian state vote in the UN and aiding Turkish citizens wishing to sue Israel in the international court of law. It must be said that most of these actions, while not official, were already happening in practice since the Flotilla in 2010.

    Interestingly, despite the report being produced by the UN, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoglu has already said that he does not recognize the report’s conclusions as valid. These statements, while harsh, are probably a comforting point to Israel, since it seems that Turkey is not being reasonable and had Israel apologized as requested, it would have made little difference to the already deteriorating relationship. It will also be interesting to see the choices Turkey makes, as it seems like its position in the Middle East is quickly being compromised with Syria’s regime being toppled, shortly after tightening their relationship, the Kurdish community carrying out more daring operations and as a result reprisals from the Turkish army killing hundreds drawing some criticism and Iran suffering economic difficulties, as China is slowly moving to the US’s side and reducing its trade with it.