While we were splashing in the rain puddles and wallowing in the snow, life in the rest of the Middle East continued to roil with violence. Additionally political appointments with serious implications for Israel look more and more likely.
Here’s a selection of the news that you might have missed:
Syria: At least sixty thousand people have been killed, and the civil war shows no signs of abating, while Assad seems to have no intention of stepping down – at least according to the Syrian Foreign Ministry which denounced the UN envoy who demanded that Assad step down.
Egypt: It was left to the Grand Mufti himself to condemn a radical preacher, while Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government decided not to intervene.
Meanwhile the Sinai is still as volatile as ever, with the Egyptian military thwarting a car bombing against a church and a military base. This is probably one of the reasons why the IDF closed the border road on the Israeli side to civilian traffic.
The end of the monarchy in Jordan would constitute a particularly serious blow to U.S. interests. Should the regime fall, Washington would lose its best remaining Arab ally, and Israel would lose its last reliable peace partner.
But the trend line is not assuring. Most troubling, over the past 18 months a persistent opposition coalition has emerged that includes not only the monarchy’s enduring Islamist detractors, but also a growing number of “East Bankers.” Although the sentiments of these groups, known as Al Hirak, or “The Movement,” may not yet be widespread among the kingdom’s tribes, its members are tenacious and have been downright irreverent in their critiques of King Abdullah, violating every convention and law on the books in Jordan prohibiting defamation of royals.
- An Israeli priest in Nazareth has been hounded for his support of Israel, showing that with the Palestinians, even the Christians have to toe the anti-Israel line or else.
- This is why the war between Israel and the Palestinians will never end: A Hamas MP’s wife says it is the glorious duty of mothers to encourage their children to kill themselves.
- Palestinians and international activists built an illegal “outpost” in the E1 area between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, mimicking the actions of Israeli settlers. PM Binyamin Netanyahu urged Israel’s leftist Supreme Court to rescind the order preventing the evacuation of this provocative outpost. It will be interesting to see if the courts act as decisively against this outpost as it does against Jewish outposts. In this case a Bedouin family claims ownership of the land. In the case of many Jewish outposts and settlements there are documented deeds of Jewish ownership which are ignored or overruled by the overactive Supreme Court.
UPDATE: On Sunday the police evicted the Palestinians and activists on the basis of a court order, despite the Supreme Court’s order apparently still standing. The state acted out of concern for public order. Good decision on the part of the State and the police.
- PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Mashal met in Cairo to try and iron out their differences. Luckily for us they failed.
Iran: In news not intended to placate us, the Iranians sent their Foreign Minister to Cairo for talks with the Muslim Brotherhood to try and improve ties.
Moving now to the US, the nomination of Charles (Chuck) Hagel as Secretary of Defense and John Kerry as Secretary of State has the political world abuzz.
So much has been written about Hagel’s nomination and possible appointment that I will simply bring you a list of links which I think relevant.
The Jerusalem Post: Does the Hagel appointment signal a shift in the US’s policy towards Iran?
Times of Israel: Opposition to Hagel is not dying down after his nomination.
The JTA: Jewish groups appear to be softening their resistance to Hagel’s appointment.
I get the feeling that the American Jewish community finds itself between a rock and a hard place on Hagel’s appointment. If they don’t resist, he might well be appointed. If they do object, he might still be appointed, and whether he is or not they will find themselves accused of being “Israel-firsters” or part of the sinister “Jewish lobby”. This case is very much reminiscent of the resistance to and ultimate resignation of Charles Freeman as head of the National Intelligence Council, where the pro-Israel lobby was accused of sinister activism and bringing about his downfall.
The Daily Telegraph: Chuck Hagel will be facing questions about his views on Israel.
A very interesting analysis in the Times of Israel explains that Hagel’s refreshing candour may be his greatest liability:
Less noticed in the righteous campaigning on both sides is the simple fact that Hagel brought much of the criticism on himself. As his supporters never tire of pointing out, he has a long history of “honest” and “courageous” stances. What makes these stances courageous, of course, is that they were in marked opposition to the views of his party and, often, of the prevailing views of American voters.
There is a saying in Israel: You can’t dance at two weddings at the same time. While Hagel’s courage over the years in adopting unpopular positions may be admirable, it does not follow that his nomination should be immune from challenges driven by those very positions and statements. What makes his outspokenness “courageous” is the fact that it carries with it political consequences, and it is strange to expect that it could have been otherwise.
If he wants to prevent an Iranian nuke, one that would leave the global nonproliferation regime largely meaningless, likely trigger a regional nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and put groups like Hezbollah and Hamas under an umbrella — if not actually in possession — of a nuclear weapon, Chuck Hagel will have to convincingly express to the Iranians that a military strike is emphatically on the table.
It may be worth noting that an Israeli strike, too — messier and less effective than anything the US could pull off — becomes more likely if America is seen taking the military option off the table.
Hagel’s past outspokenness is already a liability in his new position, as regional powers now frantically consume every word he has ever uttered or written in an attempt to gauge what the likely new chief executive of the most powerful military in the Middle East thinks – and will be telling the president – about the region.
If he is confirmed by the Senate and takes the helm at the Pentagon, one of Chuck Hagel’s first duties will no doubt be to communicate to America’s allies in the region, whether Saudi, Israeli, Jordanian or Egyptian, that his appointment does not signal any weakening in America’s resolve or footprint in the face of Iran.
And once he concludes that round of reassurances, Hagel will likely, at long last, stop talking, at least until such time as his “refreshing candor,” to quote one pundit, no longer has the power to throw the entire edifice of regional security into chaos.
If the nomination fight itself did not drive the lesson home, surely the awesome responsibilities of the Defense Department will do so: Silence is not always a sign of cowardice. Sometimes, it is the height of wisdom.
Wise words indeed which Hagel would do well to pay heed to.
Commenter Debby sent me this link to an online petition to prevent Obama’s anti-Israel nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. Click on the link and fill in the petition. Perhaps together we can work to turn the tide.
My final item for now on this subject is a very hard-hitting article by Prof. Barry Rubin on the “noxious nominations of the Four Horsemen of the US American foreign policy apocalypse“:
About two years ago I joked that if Kerry were to become secretary of state it would be time to think about heading for that fallout shelter in New Zealand. This trio in power — which along with Obama himself could be called the four horseman of the Apocalypse for U.S. foreign policy — might require an interstellar journey.
Let me stress that this is not really about Israel. At the end of Obama’s second term, U.S.-Israel relations will probably be roughly where they are now. Palestinian strategy — both by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas — has left the United States no diplomatic or “peace process” option on that front. The problem is one of eroding U.S. interests, especially the American position in the Middle East but also in other parts of the world.
You can read elsewhere details about these three guys. Here, I will merely summarize the two basic problems:
–Their ideas and views are horrible. This is especially so on Middle Eastern issues, but how good are they on anything else? True, they are all hostile to Israel, but this isn’t the first time people who think that way have held high office. Far worse is that they are pro-Islamist as well as dim-witted about U.S. interests in a way no foreign policy team has been in the century since America walked onto the world stage.
Brennan is no less than the father of the pro-Islamist policy. What Obama is saying is this: My policy of backing Islamists has worked so well, including in Egypt, that we need to do even more! All those analogies to 1930s appeasement are an understatement. Nobody in the British leadership said, “I have a great idea. Let’s help fascist regimes take power and then they’ll be our friends and become more moderate!” That’s the equivalent of what Brennan does.
–They are all stupid people. Some friends said I shouldn’t write this because it is a subjective judgment and sounds mean-spirited. But honest, it’s true. Nobody would ever say that their predecessors — Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and David Petraeus — were not intelligent and accomplished. But these guys are simply not in that category. Smart people can make bad judgments; regular people with common sense often make bad judgments less often. But stupid, arrogant people with terrible ideas are a disaster.
With Brennan running the CIA, though, do you think there will be critical intelligence evaluations of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizballah, or even Hamas? Is the CIA going to warn U.S. leaders about the repression against women, Christians, and moderates? Will there be warnings that Islamists are taking over Syria or reports on Islamist involvement in killing Americans in Benghazi? Can we have confidence about U.S. policy toward Iran?
Kerry, of course, was the most energetic backer of sponsoring Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad before the revolt began. Now he will be the most energetic backer of putting the Muslim Brotherhood into power in Syria. Here is a man who once generalized about American soldiers in Vietnam as being baby-killers and torturers (such things certainly happened but Kerry, made the blame collective, except for himself of course).
As for Hagel, suffice it to say that the embarrassing quotes and actions from him in the past — including his opposition to sanctions against Iran — fueled a response to his proposed nomination so strong that the administration had to back down for a while.
For example, he [Brennan] also proposes a U.S. policy “to tolerate, and even to encourage, greater assimilation of Hezbollah into Lebanon’s political system….” This step, he suggests, will reduce “the influence of violent extremists in the organization.”
Of course, Hizballah does not need to stage terrorist attacks if it holds state power! Terrorism is only a tactic to seize control of countries. If you give revolutionaries their goal, then why do they need to continue using such a tactic? Yet putting them in power does not increase stability, improve the lives of people, or benefit U.S. interests.
In Brennan’s terms, that means the problem would be solved. Instead, the correct response is parallel to Winston Churchill’s point in his 1946 Fulton, Missouri, speech: “I do not believe that Soviet Russia desires war. What they desire is the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines.”
This is what Brennan — and the Obama administration — fails to understand regarding this point. The danger is not terrorism but a dangerous revolutionary movement that becomes even more dangerous if it controls entire states, their resources, and their military forces.
Ouch! These alarming words are truly frightening and depressing. We need to be well-prepared and hunker down for whatever comes next.