Israel and Allies Seek to Break Up the ‘Sh’ite Crescent’: Yossi Melman, Jerusalem Post, July 15, 2017 — Last month, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Al-Quds Force, released a photo of himself in the company of troops from the Fatemiyoun Brigade.
Israel, the Arab States, and the Illusions of Normalization: Philip Gordon, INSS, July 3, 2017— In the absence of progress in direct negotiations with the Palestinians – or any real prospects for progress, for that matter – many in Israel are now focusing greater attention on cultivating relations with the wider Arab world.
A New “Arab Spring” in the Persian Gulf?: Dr. Edy Cohen, BESA, July 13, 2017— The Saudi economy has seen an unprecedented deterioration in recent years.
Medieval Times in the Modern Middle East: George Friedman & Kamran Bokhari, Mauldin Economics, June 26, 2017— If geopolitics studies how nations behave, then the nation is singularly important.
What’s Next For the Conflict in the Middle East?: Shlomo Ben-Ami, Globe & Mail, July 10, 2017
After the Defeat of ISIS in Mosul, Iran Prepares for Regional Domination: Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, JCPA, July 13, 2017
Middle East Peace Hinges on Regime Change in Iran: Shahriar Kia, American Thinker, July 5, 2017
Reframing the Arab-Israeli Conflict: Daniel Pipes, L'Informale, July 17, 2017
Jerusalem Post, July 15, 2017
Last month, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Al-Quds Force, released a photo of himself in the company of troops from the Fatemiyoun Brigade. They are mercenaries who belong to Hazara, a Persian-speaking Shi’ite minority group from Afghanistan. Many of the recruits are criminals or illegal immigrants to Iran, Iraq and even Syria, who are promised Iranian citizenship and a monthly salary in return for fighting.
Alongside Lebanese Hezbollah, the Afghan warriors are one of the Shi’ite militias mobilized by Iran and sent as cannon fodder to help defend the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. But Soleimani, one of his nation’s most charismatic and influential figures, is in Syria to accomplish an even more important and ambitious goal: to link Iran with Lebanon and reach the Mediterranean by creating a land corridor via the Shi’ite areas in Iraq and Syria.
The photo was taken at the Al Waleed border crossing known in Syria as al-Tanf, which is one of three official border crossings between Syria and Iraq. Its strategic importance is magnified by its close proximity to Jordan. It is no wonder Soleimani chose to be seen there. If Iran manages to take over the border crossings, it can be the “Victory Photo” of the Islamic Republic in the Syrian civil war, which already has run longer than the Second World War. It will be a manifestation of Iran achieving the strategic purpose of establishing its hegemony in this part of the Middle East. Such a scenario, known as the “Shi’ite Crescent,” very much worries Israel, Jordan, and the Sunni world led by Saudi Arabia and the US.
It is true that Iran can maintain its ties with Assad and Hezbollah by air. However, with a land corridor, it will be easier for Iran to ferry more troops and equipment, and more difficult for Israeli intelligence to monitor it and for the Israeli Air Force (IAF) to attack. Over the last three years, the IAF has executed dozens of bombing missions against convoys and arsenals of advanced long-range missiles – Iranian-made and destined for Hezbollah. Those sorties were based on precise intelligence about Iranian weapon transports arriving by air at Damascus airport.
Israel’s concerns over Iranian expansionist ambitions are twofold. First, these can tempt Iran to gain a foothold near the Israeli border on Syria’s side of the Golan Heights. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his military chiefs have made it crystal clear that any such Iranian effort would trigger a strong Israeli response. Two years ago, Israel defeated Soleimani’s small-scale attempts to establish anti-Israel units of sleeper cells, made of Hezbollah fighters, Syrians and Palestinians, near the border. Due to good intelligence, the IAF and Israeli artillery and rockets killed dozens of them, including their Hezbollah commander and an Iranian general who served as an adviser to these units.
Second, even if Iran is prevented from reaching the Golan Heights border directly or via its proxies and only consolidates its presence in Syria, it will still be a cause of great concern for the Israeli military. It will force Israel to divert military and financial resources to counter what would be a newly emerging front in the northeast. In recent years, the civil war in Syria has diluted that threat and allowed Israel to reduce its forces on that front.
The Iranian expansionist efforts are the main reason the US has increased its military operations in the al-Tanf area. US Special Forces and CIA agents and instructors are operating in the area to gather intelligence and train anti-Assad and pro-Western militias. Just recently, US planes downed, for the first time in the war, a Syrian fighter jet and drone that got too close to its training camp in the region. In response, Russia, which supports Assad, condemned the American attacks and threatened to shoot down any US-led Western-coalition plane that flies “west of the Euphrates [River].”
All this hectic activity is also in preparation for the “day after” scenario with ISIS. Islamic State is losing more ground in Iraq and Syria, and all the involved parties are struggling for control and influence in the vast areas it once held. Jordan, too, is deeply concerned about Iranian activity not far from its border and plans to create a 30-kilometer buffer zone northwest of its border inside Syria. Jordan, a key member of the US-led coalition, provides bases to train anti-Assad rebels, who are considered moderate and pro-Western. The Hashemite Kingdom also hosts special forces and intelligence operatives from a variety of nations including the US, Britain, France, Germany, Poland and, according to foreign reports, Israel. Its air force carried out sorties against Islamic State in Syria until one of its pilots was captured and burned alive in a cage more than two years ago…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
INSS, July 3, 2017
In the absence of progress in direct negotiations with the Palestinians – or any real prospects for progress, for that matter – many in Israel are now focusing greater attention on cultivating relations with the wider Arab world. From Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Isaac Herzog, many Israeli leaders believe that a growing confluence of interests between Israel and the region’s Sunni Arab states – primarily around the goals of containing Iran and fighting Islamist extremism – could provide a basis for Arab-Israeli normalization and contribute to progress on the long-stalled Palestinian issue. Netanyahu specifically argues that after years of hoping a breakthrough with the Palestinians would lead to better relations with Arab countries, he now thinks “this process could also run in the opposite direction: the normalization of advancing relations with the Arab world could help to advance peace – a more sober, stable and better-backed peace – between us and the Palestinians.”
The Trump administration also appears to be pinning its hopes on the approach known as “outside-in” – negotiating directly with Arab states and hoping they will use their influence with the Palestinians to advance agreement on Middle East peace. Arriving in Israel directly from Riyadh after a May 2017 summit there with more than 50 Muslim leaders, Trump said he was “deeply encouraged” by his meetings, and insisted that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman would “love to see peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” Trump told the Israelis there was a “growing realization among your Arab neighbors that they have common cause with you on this threat posed by Iran.” According to longtime Middle East analyst and negotiator Dennis Ross, “the logic of outside in is that because the Palestinians are so weak and divided – and because there’s a new tacit relationship between the Sunni Arabs and Israel – there’s the hope the Arabs would be prepared to do more.”
The strategic rapprochement between Israel and some Arab states is undeniable, and behind-the-scenes cooperation between them is now greater than ever. But having spent much of the past several months in both Israel and Arab capitals discussing the issue with political leaders, officials, diplomats, businesspeople, and others, I believe that many of the hopes placed on normalization in advance of a deal with the Palestinians are misplaced. While modest steps toward normalization by some countries may be possible if Israel also acts, genuine normalization between Arab states and Israel will only happen in the context of comprehensive peace supported by the Palestinians. Moreover, even the more modest steps under consideration will require more significant gestures from Israel than many Israelis seem to realize. Israel should certainly continue to pursue better relations with the Arab states for a number of political, strategic, and economic reasons. But those looking to the Arabs for a shortcut on the Palestinian issue – or who think they can establish closer relations with the Arabs without addressing that issue – are likely to be disappointed.
The growing confluence of interests, strategic rapprochement, and quiet cooperation between Israel and many Arab states is genuine. Israel is now far from the primary security priority of most Arab leaders, who share Israel’s deep concerns about Iran, Islamist extremism, and regional instability. In private, these leaders recognize that Israel does not threaten them and that there are strategic and economic benefits to quiet cooperation with Israel. As one senior Gulf official put it to me, “We and Israel now see the region in much the same way. Israelis are not killing our people; Iran and ISIS are.” Even King Salman of Saudi Arabia, which does not formally recognize Israel’s existence, acknowledges that Israel is a “fact.”
That said, there are still major political obstacles to a public Arab rapprochement with Israel. Leading Arab governments, particularly in Riyadh, face a vast array of threats to their security or even existence. They see security threats from Iran, Yemen, Syria, and Islamist extremist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State. And they see threats to political stability from restive, growing populations that must cope with rapid social and technogical change and economic austerity driven by low oil prices. Under these circumstances, the region’s leaders cannot afford to spend valuable political capital defending a public rapprochement with Israel that most of their citizens would consider a betrayal of the still-popular Palestinian cause. Previous Arab leaders who agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Israel – Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Jordan’s King Hussein – were strong, autocratic leaders who felt able (wrongly, in Sadat’s case) to run the political risk of normalization without threatening their rule. Today’s Arab leaders do not, for the most part, see themselves in a position to take such political risks, absent a valuable and certain payoff.
On top of that is an important regional dimension: at a time of intense geopolitical competition with Iran, Saudi Arabia in particular will not want to cede the Palestinian issue to its rivals in Tehran, who would be sure to denounce Riyadh for any public rapprochement with Israel. The Iranians in that case would claim to be the true defenders of Muslim rights in Jerusalem and seek to portray Saudi Arabia – even in the eyes of its own population – as “stooges” of the United States and Israel. This is a risk that Saudi leaders cannot afford to run…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Dr. Edy Cohen
BESA, July 13, 2017
The Saudi economy has seen an unprecedented deterioration in recent years. The continued decline of oil prices in world markets, the massive assistance to Egypt since the July 2013 takeover by Abdel Fattah Sisi, the cost of funding the coalition fighting the Houthis and their Iranian patrons in Yemen, and of course the considerable aid extended to the Syrian rebels have wreaked havoc on Riyadh’s public treasury and the ruling monarchy’s personal wealth.
As a result, Riyadh has had to slash 900 riyals (about $300) from military and civil servant salaries as part of a major cutback in the public sector, including the abolition of salary increments and bonuses. Recently, the authorities have also had to hike taxes on cigarettes and energy drinks to the tune of 100% of the cost of the product, after having imposed new taxes in June. One sign of the crisis reflecting its severity is a new toll that will go into effect in April 2018 on roads in the Riyadh area and on crossings into neighboring Arab states.
Aside from affecting its own residents, Saudi Arabia’s economic situation also stands to affect other Gulf countries and particularly Bahrain, which is suffering its own deep crisis as Tehran arms and funds Shiite organizations aimed at destabilizing it. The Iranians have been exploiting Riyadh’s and Bahrain’s difficulties to the hilt. Not long ago, the Saudis thwarted an attack near the holy sites of Mecca. The Iranian subversion could escalate to the point of seeking to destabilize the kingdom (as it is doing in Bahrain) by activating armed militias within its territory.
Shiite Iran is also helping Qatar, which, according to the (Saudi) plan, should by now have been begging for the lifting of the boycott. Tehran is thereby driving a wedge between the Arab Gulf principalities and bolstering its own status as the region’s hegemonic power. It has been sending Qatar tons of food and raw materials daily by sea, and these goods have flooded the emirate’s markets and shopping centers. There is, however, no free lunch. Tehran is now regarded as having rescued Qatar, and the principality will have to reward it for this. Iranian aid has already weakened the Sunni political-military coalition that was supposed to contend with Tehran’s expansionary ambitions. For example, Qatar has pulled out of the anti-Houthi coalition in Yemen.
The state of affairs in the Persian Gulf is extremely delicate. The fall of one principality would probably lead to the fall of others. The Gulf is undergoing one of the most difficult economic crises in its history, one that could destabilize some of the monarchies. Angry demonstrations and riots against rising prices, new taxes, and mounting unemployment, similar to those that occurred in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria in 2010 and 2011 – the ultimate nightmare of any Arab leader – are entirely plausible.
Moreover, the Qatar crisis is not over. The principality has strongly rebuffed the twelve Saudi conditions for lifting the blockade and normalizing relations with the foursome (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain). Those conditions include downgrading Qatar’s diplomatic ties with Tehran; ensuring that forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps leave the emirate; shutting Turkish military bases in Qatar; severing Doha’s ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and ISIS while ceasing to fund them; handing over terrorists residing in Qatar to the foursome; closing the Al Jazeera network; and paying compensation.
The failure of the attempt to isolate Qatar and subjugate it to the foursome’s demands has stirred fears of a Saudi military intervention there. Iran, however, has scored many points with the Arabs thanks to its support for the emirate. This is part of a long-term strategic game in which Iran first seeks to win Arab states’ sympathy and then arms and activates subversive groups in the Gulf.
Tehran is striving to curtail American and Saudi influence in the Gulf, take over the Islamic world in general, and seize the Gulf’s natural resources and holy places via its erstwhile proxies, the Yemeni Houthis positioned along the Saudi border. If Tehran’s plan succeeds, the Persian Gulf will be effectively divided between it and Russia, a highly undesirable development for Israel. The Gulf crisis is wholly unrelated to Israel, but Jerusalem must closely monitor what is happening there.
The current situation is ostensibly good for the US. Tensions create the perfect setting for exporting weapons and military equipment, as President Trump promised he would do during his Riyadh visit. Yet instead of seeking profits, however substantial, Washington would be better off working to enhance stability in the region, lest it plunge into a new “Arab Spring.”
George Friedman & Kamran Bokhari
Mauldin Economics, June 26, 2017
If geopolitics studies how nations behave, then the nation is singularly important. Nation-states are the defining feature of the modern political era. They give people a collective identity and a pride of place… even when their borders are artificially drawn, as they were in the Middle East.
Constantly in conflict with the notion of nationalism, especially in such a volatile region, are transnational issues. These are issues like religion and ethnicity that cannot be contained by a country’s borders. Arab nation-states are now failing in the Middle East, and though their failure is primarily due to their governments’ inability to create viable political economies, transnational issues—especially the competition between the Sunni and Shiite sects of Islam, as well as the struggle within the Sunni Arab realm—are expediting the process.
Transnational issues have long bedeviled the countries of the modern Middle East. Major Arab states like Egypt, Syria, and Iraq began to flirt with pan-Arabism—a secular, left-leaning ideology that sought political unity of the Arab world—not long after they were founded. It threatened entrenched powers, particularly Arab monarchies like Saudi Arabia. But for an ideal that promoted unity, pan-Arabism was a notably fractured movement, with claims of leadership coming from the Baath party in Syria and Iraq to Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. Whichever form it took, it advocated a kind of nationalism that defied the logic of the nation-state.
Pan-Arab nationalism failed because it couldn’t replace traditional nationalism and because it advocated something that had never existed in history. But the countries that rejected it never really developed into viable political entities. Autocracies and artificial, state-sponsored secularism kept them fragile, held together mostly by the coercion of state security forces.
Since the 1970s, these countries have been challenged by another transnational idea, Islamism (or political Islam), which has proved to be far more effective than pan-Arabism. Whether practiced by the Muslim Brotherhood, by jihadists, or more recently, by Salafists, the movement has spread throughout the Middle East. It has taken root not only among Sunni Arabs but also among Shiites. In fact, the Shiites were the first to create an Islamist government when they toppled the monarchy in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Sunni Islamists would not hold traditional political power until after the so-called 2011 Arab Spring. But their power was short-lived: Either the regimes they sought to replace survived the uprisings, as was the case in Egypt, or the uprisings themselves eventually gave way to armed insurrection, as was the case in Syria.
The anarchy of the Arab Spring was fertile ground for jihadists, especially for the Islamic State, which became the most powerful Sunni Islamist force in the region. The group owes its success primarily to its ability to exploit sectarian differences in the region—differences made all the more acute after the United States toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, a secular government dominated by Sunnis who had been in control of a majority Shiite country. The Baathist regime in Iraq was replaced by a Shiite-dominated government that Sunnis throughout the region had tried to keep from power. Likewise, the Islamic State, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey scrambled to take ownership of the Sunni rebellion in Syria, which had been led by a minority Shiite government. The Islamic State was the best positioned to exploit the situation, creating a singular battlespace that linked eastern Syria with western Iraq.
In doing so, it has destroyed what we have come to know as the sovereign states of Iraq and Syria. Iraqi and Syrian nationalism can’t really exist if there is no nation. The Islamic State has lost some territory recently, but its losses appear to benefit not the nations to which the land once belonged but the sectarian and ethnic groups that happen to be there. In Syria, Sunni Arab forces are not all that interested in fighting the Islamic State. The only two groups that appear willing are the Syrian Democratic Forces, which are dominated by Kurds who are trying to carve out their own territory, and Syrian government forces, who want to retake the areas that IS seized after the rebellion broke out.
Nationalism Replaced by Sectarianism
Identities based solely on sectarianism now stand in the place of nationalism. On one side are the Sunnis, led nominally by Saudi Arabia. On the other are the Shiites, led nominally by Iran. The Sunni bloc is in disrepair; the Shiite bloc is on the rise. The fact that Iran is Persian has in the past dissuaded Arab Shiites from siding with Tehran, but Saudi efforts to prevent the Shiite revival (not to mention the rise of the Islamic State) have left them feeling vulnerable. They are willing to set aside their differences for sectarian solidarity.
There’s historical precedent for what’s happening in the Middle East. In the 10th century, the Shiite Buyid and Fatimid dynasties came to power because the Sunni Abbasid caliphate, challenged by competing caliphates and upstart Persian and Turkic groups, began to lose its power. Shiite dynasties ultimately could not survive in a majority Sunni environment, especially not after it came back on top from around 1200 to around 1600. The Shiites rebounded in the 16th century in the form of the Safavid Empire in Persia, which officially embraced Shiite Islam as state religion. Power changes hands, cyclically, about every 500 years…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
What’s Next For the Conflict in the Middle East?: Shlomo Ben-Ami, Globe & Mail, July 10, 2017—With the battles of Mosul and Raqqa dislodging the Islamic State (IS) from its strongholds in Syria and Iraq, and the Syrian civil war becoming a war of attrition, the Middle East’s most acute conflicts are evolving fast. But that doesn’t mean they will soon be resolved.
After the Defeat of ISIS in Mosul, Iran Prepares for Regional Domination: Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, JCPA, July 13, 2017—When the Iraqi army liberated Mosul from ISIS this week, they were joined by the Shiite militia, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), or in Arabic the Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi. Leading the PMF is Jamal al-Ibrahim, known by his nom de guerre Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Middle East Peace Hinges on Regime Change in Iran: Shahriar Kia, American Thinker, July 5, 2017—As the Trump administration continues to overhaul and codify a comprehensive new Iran strategy, the opposition coalition to the mullahs in Tehran held a massive rally on Saturday in the French capital calling for regime change.
Reframing the Arab-Israeli Conflict: Daniel Pipes, L'Informale, July 17, 2017—Daniel Pipes recently visited Israel to introduce at the Knesset Israel Victory Caucus, which now joins a Congressional Israel Victory Caucus inaugurated in Washington. Both groups are based on a concept explained in a seminal article Pipes wrote in January 2017 published by Commentary as "A New Strategy for Israeli Victory."