Sunday, October 30, 2016

Israel, the Middle East and coalitions that are built on shifting sand dunes - by Dr. Mordechai Kedar

Middle East coalitions are also built on shifting sand dunes, and once again I warn those who make the decisions in Israel and outside it to steer clear of a love affair with the present-day stars in the constellation, from basing any long term policy on Middle East "coalitions" and especially from paying in hard currency - such as land - for a piece of paper just because the word "peace" is written on it.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar..
28 October '16..
H/T Sally Zahav

A little over two years ago, in mid-August, I ended my weekly article with the following sentence:

"The Middle Eastern see-saw is leaning heavily towards the Saudi-Egyptian axis, but it is not at all clear whether that coalition will continue to direct the Middle East in another year or two. Israel must not be tempted to align its security and future with a temporary constellation, no matter how good it appears to be. Israel must always base its policy on long term planning that gives priority to Israel and its territorial possessions and not to agreements resting on the shifting sands of the Middle East."

Unfortunately, for the last two years Israelis and many others have been talking about the importance of a treaty between Israel and the so-called "coalition of moderate Sunni nations" - to wit, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, The United Arab Emirates, and the Palestinian Authority - all of them united against the Iranian threat and ISIS which threaten the stability and welfare of their regimes. There are even those who accuse Israel's government of not being wise enough to make use of the present situation in the Middle East to forge a peace agreement with the Arab and Islamic world on the basis of the Saudi Peace Plan adopted by the Arab League.

The foundation of the "moderate Sunni coalition" was the close cooperation between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that began when King Abdullah, all heart and outspread hands, supported General Sisi, who in July 2013 ousted elected president Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, this in sharp contrast to the will of the US government and Europe. The Saudi billions saved Egypt from bankruptcy, and the cooperation between the two countries reached the point where Egyptian soldiers came to the aid of the Saudis in their struggle against the Iranian and Houthi forces in Yemen.

Except that since then, the sand dunes on which the aforementioned "coalition" was built have shifted in the wake of the north winds coming from the battlegrounds of Syria, putting paid to the bets on what seemed like a winning hand just a short while ago.Today the relations between Egypt and the Saudis are a far cry from cooperation and Egypt is now in close cahoots with Saudi Arabia's enemies, headed by Iran.

How did the turnabout happen?

The answer is clearly to be found in the situation in Syria for the past two years, especially Russia's involvement, the Aleppo campaign and the resolutions concerning Syria passed by the UN Security Council, of which Egypt is a member this year. The Assad issue polarizes all the countries involved in Syria: Russia, Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah support Assad actively, not only politically, and are taking part in the fighting. Assad would be long gone without this involvement. On the other side of the court, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and some of the Emirates are undermining Assad politically and financially, arming and training those rebelling against his regime.

The scales of war tipped towards Assad during the past year once Russian military involvement began to increase in strength. One can say with certainty that Russia has become the Syrian Army's main source of power, mainly from the air, and that a good part of the Russian navy, armed with rockets and aircraft carriers, is concentrated opposite Syria's shores. The air defense systems that Russia has spread along the Syrian coast threaten the activities of the US, Israeli and Turkish warplanes in the area.

Russia acts without legal or moral constraints, and bombs civilian neighborhoods mercilessly, forcing their citizens to become human shields for the rebels - those that Saudi Arabia supports, mostly in the eastern quarters of Aleppo.

In the political arena, Russia managed to force Erdogan to stop helping the rebels and concentrate instead on preventing Syria's Kurds from establishing an independent state that might threaten Turkish stability. Sisi has been faced with the dilemma of whom to support from the first day of his regime in July 2013 - wondering whether he should stand behind Assad or behind Assad's Islamist enemies, the ideological brothers of Sisi's own opponents in the Sinai and along the length of the Nile.

While Sisi was politically and financially dependent on the Saudis, he abstained from supporting Assad publicly, but the direct and massive Russian intervention in Syria made him rethink what policy it would be best to pursue. He realized that Assad might succeed in overcoming his opponents and that the Saudi regime might fail in its war against the Syrian dictator, so he decided to bet on the winning horse. He abandoned the Saudis, crossed the lines, and now feels that Assad can remain in power no matter what future agreement lies ahead. The US decision to stay out of the fray also helped convince Sisi that the power in the Middle East is in the hands of Russia and its Iranian allies, making it worth his while to join the winning team and abandon the losers.

The October 8th vote in the Security Council saw the Egyptian delegate take a stand supporting Russia's suggested resolution and not that of the Saudis. In response, Saudi Arabia's UN delegate said that Egypt's support of Russia is a "sad thing" and the Saudis promptly stopped an oil shipment headed for Egypt and placed restrictions on Egypt Airlines flights to Saudi Arabia.

Egypt's police removed the concrete barriers that protected the Saudi Embassy in Cairo, claiming that a traffic tunnel is being constructed exactly at that spot, and the Saudi ambassador got the hint, leaving Cairo and returning to his homeland. Sisi, at a military ceremony, announced that "Egypt bows only to Allah," meaning to no man or other country, alluding to the Saudi regime. The media received reports that a former senior Egyptian officer sold patrol boats to the Houthis in Yemen, the tribes that Iran supports and Saudi Arabia is trying to destroy. And all this deterioration in the relations between the two countries occurred over 5 days, from the 8th to the13th of October.

Meanwhile, the relations between Russia and Egypt have become stronger over the last year and the cooperation between Putin and Sisi has extended to the military sphere, much to the chagrin of the Saudis. Egypt is purchasing Russian arms, taking part in joint maneuvers with the Russian army and Russia is helping Egypt build a nuclear power plant.

The Palestinian Authority

The Palestinian Authority (PA) had also joined the list of the "moderate Sunni coalition" with which Israel was supposed to reach a peace agreement, according to the pundits. Except that it turns out that this very same PA rests on shaky legs at best.

For the past decade, we have been accustomed to a political and territorial split in the Palestinian Arab sector, with Gaza a Hamas state and Judea and Samaria's Arabs in love with the PLO.

All that was until last month, when the PLO dream was shown to be totally divorced from reality, as the organization itself split between Abbas supporters and those who support Mohammed Dahlan, corresponding to a growing schism between urban Arabs and refugee camp dwellers.

Throughout the past year, and particularly last month, there were violent outbursts between civilians and PA security forces in which the Palestinian police behavior towards these civilians was on a level of cruelty and violence equal to that which was prevalent in the Arab world for many years until the "Arab Spring" broke down the cruelty barrier. The reason is obvious: The security organizations are filled with personnel brought from Tunisia, not native Palestinian Arabs, and are therefore not considered legitimate by local residents.

What is going on today in the PA can be considered preparation by public and political institutions for the day after Abbas: Hamas is getting stronger, accruing arms and planning a takeover of Judea and Samaria. The fear of Hamas on the part of PLO supporters is behind their search for a young, energetic and proven rival to Hamas. Mohammed Dahlan suits the bill almost perfectly, but is strongly opposed by Abbas and his cohorts.

Is the PLO going to remain a united organization in the future? It is hard to predict, but Middle Eastern dynamics perpetuate controversies and deepen them, so it is quite possible that this internecine war will destroy the PLO just as its struggle with Hamas destroyed the dream of one Palestinian State even before its birth.

Developments within the PLO prove once again that the only possible solution regarding the Arabs living in Judea and Samaria is the Emirate solution advocating the establishment of Emirates in the cities of Judea and Samaria ruled by local hamoulot (clans). In order to create them, the PA must be allowed to fall apart so that seven Emirates can be built on its ruins: Jenin, Shechem (Nablus), Tulkerem, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Jericho and Arab-populated Hevron.

The hamoula, which some call a clan and others a tribe, is a stable entity, the only solid and dependable one in the sociological reality of the Middle East, the only one which can support a legitimate and stable political body for many years. Western-style states, established on the shifting sands of dreams that drift with the blowing winds, bring destruction on their people. Just look at Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen.

Middle East coalitions are also built on shifting sand dunes, and once again I warn those who make the decisions in Israel and outside it to steer clear of a love affair with the present-day stars in the constellation, from basing any long term policy on Middle East "coalitions" and especially from paying in hard currency - such as land - for a piece of paper just because the word "peace" is written on it.

One example: Israel has a peace treaty with Jordan since 1994. That does not prevent this artificial state, which did not even exist before 1921, from advancing the UNESCO decision that negates the 3000 year old connection between the Jewish People and Jerusalem. Is that what one calls peace? Did Israel call the Jordanian ambassador to order and complain about his country's behavior in UNESCO? Is this the kind of "coalition" to which Israel can belong?

Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel.

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