by Jerry Gordon and Mike Bates (December 2014)
Vice President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Istanbul, Turkey, November 22, 2014
Source: AP Emrah Gurel
On November 22, 2014, Vice President Biden met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul. The agenda was ‘consultation’ with this alleged “valued ally” of the Administration. To ease the conversation, Biden announced at a joint press conference $135 million in aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey. It all had to do with Erdogan’s opposition to the US led coalition fight against the Islamic State, formerly ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. According to a report in Defense News, the meeting did not go well:
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday slammed US “impertinence” on the Syrian conflict, exposing the extent of strains between Washington and Ankara days after his key meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden.
Ties between the US and Turkey have soured in recent months over the reluctance of Turkish leaders to intervene militarily in the US-led campaign against the Islamic State jihadists, who have taken control of swathes of Iraq and Syria.
That meant relations between President Obama and President Erdogan have seriously deteriorated from the May 16, 2013 White House Rose Garden joint press conference. They were seeking to topple Syrian strongman Assad engaged in a civil war against opposition groups with hundreds of thousands of dead civilians. There was more than ample indication that Erdogan was playing a double game against the Syrian Kurds in support of ISIS. Turkey appeared to be emerging as the second state sponsor of terrorism across the Middle East, after Iran. That was reflected in a recent Business Insider, headline story, The US Is On A Collision Course With An ‘Absolutely Indispensable’ Ally. Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of Research at the Washington, DC-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies was cited in the Business Insider article saying:
The American Foreign Policy with Syria has been feckless while Turkey has been reckless. They have become one of the top sponsors or enablers of ISIS and this should be cause for serious concern.
The Administration has been thwarted in its objective of “degrading and destroying” the Salafist Jihadist Islamic State that has torn through Syria and Iraq leaving death and destruction in the wake of its blitzkrieg. It has become the second wealthiest terrorist group after Hamas in the Middle East. Erdogan permitted a small contingent of Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga to enter Kobani from the Turkish side of the border.Together with US led air strikes that may have temporarily set back ISIS forces ranged against this Syrian Kurdish bastion. Nearly 180,000 Syrian Kurds had fled Kobani for sanctuary in the Turkish border town of Suruc. The world media was consternated by this NATO member with the largest ground force equipped with US tanks and aircraft not joining the fray. Erdogan’s justification for stiff arming the Obama White House ISIS strategy was that the Assad regime’s oppression of its own citizens needed to be addressed.
The realities are that this Sunni supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood has turned the Southeastern frontier into a major center of terrorist finance for ISIS and Al Qaeda opposition groups in Syria. It is aiding funding of ISIS with sales of captured oil and even plundered antiquities. It has provided a veritable Jihadist highway for thousands of foreign fighters to enter the combat zone. They have even extended facilities for care of wounded ISIS fighters in Turkish hospitals. In late September 2014, they exchanged 180 foreign jihadists for return of 49 Turkish diplomats and their family members trapped in the Iraqi city of Mosul when ISIS captured it from fleeing national security forces on June 10, 2014.
That is not the only example of Erdogan’s support of terrorism. On November 27, 2014, Israel’s Shin Bet announced that it foiled a plot by 30 Hamas operatives on the West Bank. The Times of Israel reported:
The Shin Bet announcement said Israel had arrested dozens of members of a Hamas terror network operating throughout the West Bank. The network, Palestinian officials said, was funded and directed by Hamas officials in Turkey who have set up a de facto command center in [that] country.
More than 30 Hamas operatives were arrested during the month of September, the Shin Bet said Thursday. The majority were recruited while studying in Jordan and trained in either Syria or the Gaza Strip, which they entered via tunnels from Sinai.
The Shin Bet said the ring was preparing to kidnap Israelis in Israel and abroad, enter Israeli villages, detonate car bombs, perpetrate roadside attacks, and execute a major terror attack in Teddy Stadium, where the Israeli soccer team Beitar Jerusalem plays its home games.
The Shin Bet asserted that the plan was evidence of an “indefatigable” desire on Hamas’ part to rehabilitate its terror infrastructure in the West Bank and to tug Israel into a sharp military response, which might indirectly lead to the toppling of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ regime, which is “one of Hamas’ goals.”
The admitted mastermind for this failed operation is Saleh al-Arouri who has been based in Turkey since 2010. He had founded the Hamas Qassem Brigade on the West Bank. Al-Arouri claimed in August, 2014 responsibility for the operation by two Hamas terrorists masquerading as Orthodox Jews who murdered three young Jewish yeshiva students near Hebron on June 12, 2014. Israeli security and IDF launched a massive man hunt that recovered their remains on June 30th. Hamas began a rocket campaign. On July 8th the IDF launched the 50 day Operation Defensive Edge against the rocket and terror tunnel war from Gaza against Israel.
We had written extensively about the corruption of the Erdogan premiership in 2013 and early 2014, noting a $13 billion illicit gold trade for gas with Iran, thus enabling the evasion of US, EU and UN sanctions against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear development program.
On November 24, 2014 the P5+1 and Iran announced a seven month extension to June 2015 endeavoring to conclude a seemingly unattainable agreement. This in the face of continued implacable demands by Iran to lift sanctions while refusing to comply with disclosures requests from UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. One expert called this “an unmitigated disaster.” This has raised the prospects that bi-partisan members of the US Congress would likely pass new stronger sanctions that the Administration opposes. Meanwhile the clock is ticking on Iran achieving nuclear breakout. Many consider that an overarching threat to both regional and world nuclear non proliferation.
Against this background we convened another 1330amWEBY wide-ranging Middle East Round Table discussion with Dr. Jonathan Schanzer of FDD.
Bates: Good afternoon and welcome back to Your Turn. We are going to focus our attention on the Middle East as we frequently do on this program. We have in the studio Jerry Gordon, Senior Editor of the New English Review and its blog the Iconoclast. Welcome Jerry.
Gordon: Good to be here.
Bates: And joining us by telephone is Jonathan Schanzer. He is the V.P. of Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington D.C. and the author of the book, State of Failure, Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and the Unmaking of the Palestinian State. Great book by the way. I remember reading that. Jonathan, Welcome.
Schanzer: Thank you very much.
Bates: I’d like to open this with a question about what I think is the single greatest threat to planet earth and that is the Iranian Nuclear Program. I believe that Iran must not acquire a nuclear weapon no matter what it takes to prevent that. There was a Jeffrey Goldberg article in The Atlantic that primarily focused on senior administration officials with reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Jeffrey Goldberg said that he spoke to a senior official in the White House who regularly deals with Israel. The official said the Obama administration no longer believes that Netanyahu would launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to keep the regime in Tehran from building an atomic arsenal. Quoting the official, “it’s too late for him to do anything.” That sounds to me like the Obama Administration is bragging that Iran will become a nuclear power and that we had something to do with it! What is your take on that Jonathan Schanzer?
Schanzer: I think the entire episode was a bit bizarre. The fact that you would have a senior U.S. Official talking to a reporter on background and saying these sorts of things about a world leader. To me it’s extremely unprofessional. I found the entire episode very surprising and beneath the office of the White House. Now as to what the underlying messages were, I think number one, there does seem to be a bit of gloating on the part of this one official that Bibi now appears to be deterred from launching a preemptive strike on Iran. That is not necessarily a good thing. The Iranians need to know that there could be some repercussions for continuing this nuclear program. I think you’ve got a senior White House Official who is delivering a very dangerous message, perhaps even placating the Iranians. It wasn’t about the tensions between the two leaders, which we know has been ongoing. The fact that Netanyahu and Obama don’t love each other is no secret to anyone who’s been watching this since 2009. What we have really here is a fundamental challenge: on the one hand, Netanyahu sees himself as being put on this earth to prevent Iran from going nuclear, and on the other hand, you have a president who has failed in so many ways trying to establish a foreign policy legacy. He is now looking at the Iranian nuclear deal as perhaps the only positive thing that he will be able to salvage after six years in office. So it puts these two leaders on a collision course. I think what we saw from this unnamed official was a confirmation of that.
Bates: So you say that Iran needs to feel pressure and yet the Obama Administration has done just the opposite. They have eased sanctions without Iran having to really concede anything. Now they have an extension on the deadline for the talks so what’s the strategy here? Is the American administration just determined to let Iran kick the can down the road until one day we find out that they have a working bomb?
Schanzer: It does appear that way. I mean we had President Rouhani take to the airwaves on Monday proclaiming victory, talking about how an extension of the talks was a victory for the Iranians and that the centrifuges continue to spin. This is horrible news. I think you have an Administration that is now determined that they must succeed with these nuclear talks, that there is no way that they could fail. They continue to offer one concession after another. They continue to erode their own red lines. When we talk about the number of centrifuges, demanding the military dimension disclosures that we have been asking for, it looks like they may be off the table. The tough lines that the Administration promised that they are going to take are eroding. Meanwhile they are gloating about the fact that the Israelis seem to have fewer options on the table in terms of a preemptive strike. What they are telegraphing to the Iranians is please just make a deal with us. When you think about what the Iranian interest is, they are not necessarily interested in making a deal. They are very close to a nuclear weapon. They are very pleased with the progress that they have made, and the idea that they would just turn around and shake hands with the United States is still exceedingly unlikely. So we have a real problem on our hands in terms of the way that the Administration has approached this policy.
Bates: What makes that so frightening is an old adage in business and negotiations that the party that is unwilling to walk away from negotiations is the party that loses. The Iranians seem perfectly willing to not have a deal so they are going to win. The Obama Administration seems so desperate to get a deal that we, and the rest of the world, lose.
Schanzer: Unfortunately, that is the way this is looking right now. I think it’s really quite scary. One way of looking at this is the equivalent of a double overtime basketball game. We had two extensions on this Joint Plan of Action where it does not look like our side has a will to win. We look very content with going into one overtime after another so that everyone plays to a tie. The scary part of this is that we have a nuclear weapon on the line that could be falling into the hands of the world’s most dangerous terrorist state. You have to remember Iran has been a state sponsor of terrorism since the early 1980’s. This is something that is being addressed during these negotiations. We are talking about removing sanctions because Iran works with us with regard to its nuclear program. However, we are not talking about how much Iran has supported terrorist groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. We are not talking about human rights violations or the treatment of dissidents in their own country. These things have gone completely unaddressed during these talks. The entire process has been extremely dangerous, in my view, extremely reckless. Again we continue to dial back on the pressure that we have put on Iran in terms of sanctions, in terms of demands at the negotiating table. This is getting easier and easier for the Iranians. And the scary thing is, they are still not saying “yes.” This should be a red flag for anyone watching.
Gordon: Jon, Secretary of State Kerry warned against Congress seizing this third extension as a predicate for a new round of sanctions legislation. Yet if anything given discussions on Capitol Hill prior to this announcement and even following the statement he made yesterday there seems to be bipartisan support for doing that in the upcoming new Congress. What do you sense may occur in Washington?
Schanzer: Without question Congress is ready to tee up new sanctions. These wouldn’t be sanctions that would be imposed immediately. However, they would be sanctions waiting when it appears that Iran has stepped back from what is being required of them. In other words, the idea here on the part of legislators is to make it very clear that if Iran turns its back on these negotiations or even wavers, that there could be significant penalties waiting for them. The important thing to note is bipartisan support. There is widespread support for this, and so it seems highly unlikely that Congress is going to back down. The president may find a way of working around Congress unilaterally which has many members of Congress already upset. One gets a sense that a battle is in the making over the next steps in this Iranian nuclear negotiation.
Bates: If Congress calls for more sanctions and passes a bill to that affect and it is vetoed by the president, are there enough votes in Congress to override that veto?
Schanzer: It’s unclear. We don’t know exactly what the makeup of the new Congress will be and what battle lines the new legislators will draw. Will they work against an Iranian nuke or side with the president with these negotiations? It’s still unclear. After the start of the new Congress we will get a better sense of how this fight may play out. This is a very high stakes game here and the fact that the Administration is intent on potentially circumventing Congress should be of significant concern. You already have members of Congress who are upset about the President’s unilateral actions with regard to immigration. You have members of Congress who are upset with the President’s firing of Secretary Hagel. They view it as an attempt to obfuscate or to misdirect after the failure of this latest round of Iranian talks. This was a huge headline right as we announced here that we need another seven months to try to negotiate a deal with Iran. I think that the news cycle was thwarted to a certain extent. You have got a lot of members of Congress who would like to bring the focus back on the failure of these talks. Why do we need to have another seven months of discussions if as the Administration says we were so close to getting a deal?
Gordon: Jon there is a new frenemy in the Middle East that is Turkey, a NATO ally. Recently Vice President Biden went to talk with President Erdogan. You have noted in some of your research that the Turks under Erdogan may be the most significant emerging state sponsor of terrorism in the area. What can you tell us about that?
Schanzer: What we have been tracking over the last several months is the amount of ISIS activity that appears to be taking place on Turkey’s border and inside Turkish soil. The bottom line is that we see a very troubling trend that the border has been exploited by ISIS for the sale of oil. ISIS is now able to sell oil through middlemen and that oil is then transferred on into Turkey and actually used by the mainstream financial sector. We also have the sale of illegal antiquities by ISIS when they cross over into Turkey. You have cash that is being brought from the Gulf into Turkey and then transferred over the border into Syria to finance ISIS operations. We have a weapons trade that continues. We have a foreign fighter problem that has been growing. It has been documented that you have fighters coming from all over the Muslim world — from all over Europe, from Canada and the United States, for that matter. Turkey has now become a huge transit point for all of this activity. From my vantage point as a former Terror Finance Analyst at the Treasury Department, I would say that Southeastern Turkey has become a massive jurisdiction of terror finance activity that needs to be addressed. I think that part of Vice President Biden’s visit to Turkey was designed to address just that. We have seen a stream of Treasury officials go to Turkey to discuss with them some of the problems that I just mentioned. Erdogan wants to see the fall of the Assad regime and I am very sympathetic to that approach. However, the way that he has gone about doing is absolutely reckless. In our report we said that the American Foreign Policy with Syria has been feckless while Turkey has been reckless here. They have become one of the top sponsors or enablers of ISIS and this should be cause for serious concern.
Gordon: We had on the Turkish border at the town of Suruc overlooking the embattled Kobani a significant development. We didn’t see the Turks participating in that episode. In fact they only allowed only a small contingent of Peshmerga from Iraqi Kurdistan to assist their brothers to roll back ISIS. What kind of a picture does that paint of Erdogan and his country?
Schanzer: It paints a very cloudy picture and here’s what I mean. On the one hand, it is good news to say the least that ISIS has been rolled back. Part of that has to do with the fact that the Turks have allowed the KRG, the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, to send Peshmerga that have gone to fight in the embattled town. Kobani has been saved for now as a result of actions taken by the Turks and by the Syrian Kurds, with whom the Turks have a bit of a beef. There is a cloudier picture, and that is that the ISIS fighters that have been streaming across the Turkish border have gotten into direct conflict and have been fighting with the Kurds. And so the Kurds are now alleging that the Turks have been using ISIS not only to try to bring down the Assad regime, but also to try to eliminate some of their Kurdish enemies inside Syria. When one begins to look at the big picture it becomes extremely disconcerting when we have got a NATO ally working at least tacitly, and sometimes very overtly, with ISIS.
Bates: Jonathan there was a report that a Hamas operative based in Turkey had organized a plot on the West Bank to attack Israeli Officials. Is there any proof of that or are these simply allegations at this point?
Schanzer: We have been tracking one man for quite a while who is based in Turkey. His name is Saleh al-Arouri. He is a Senior Hamas operative and the founder of the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas on the West Bank. He was the man who took responsibility for the kidnapping and murder of those three Jewish teens in the West Bank earlier this summer. He was identified later during the Gaza war as the man who masterminded a plot to try to bring down Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. The idea was that he was going to try to start a kind of an Intifada, an uprising, against the Israelis. That ultimately the violence was to turn on Abbas himself, and that you would have this kind of second Hamas coup, much like the way they took down the Gaza Strip in 2007. They would do the same thing in the West Bank. Arouri claimed responsibility for the murder of those three Jewish teens in front of the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey at an Islamist Conference in August. We continue to hear about plots that are being hatched in Turkey. And all of this indicates that Turkey has become a headquarters for Hamas, probably rivaling Qatar in terms of its significance. This is, of course, extremely troubling in light of the fact that we are dealing with a NATO ally — that they should certainly not be doing any of this kind of activity. They should not be allowing these people to be based there, let alone hatching plots against civilians. Turkey has become a candidate for state sponsor of terrorism. Just look at ISIS, Hamas, and Al Qaida financiers based in Turkey. We have been documenting for more than a year now, the sanctions busting activity that the Turks have engaged in to help the Iranians evade sanctions during the height of this nuclear standoff. We have a very troubling picture emerging of Erdogan’s Turkey.
Bates: Jonathan Schanzer co-authored an outstanding monograph titled, Bordering on Terrorism: Turkey’s Syria Policy and the Rise of the Islamic State. It’s online and I encourage people to go read that. It goes into far more detail than we are able to discuss here on the radio.
Gordon: Jon, there were sixteen Israelis murdered in the last two months, including four Rabbis murdered at morning prayers in a Jerusalem Synagogue. That triggered off bizarre celebrations in Gaza and the West Bank. Why did PA President Mahmoud Abbas permit this eruption while condemning the attacks? Was this duplicity?
Schanzer: It’s interesting. I don’t think Mahmoud Abbas is directly responsible for this latest round of violence. I believe this has very little to do with him — that this is a very unique phenomenon that is taking place among the Jerusalem Arab population. In fact, I haven’t seen anything like this since 1929, where the Jerusalem Arabs were leading the charge of unrest against the Jewish population. That is extremely disconcerting. Abbas has kept the West Bank relatively quiet. He continues security cooperation with the Israelis. That all said, I think that he would like to claim credit for this nationalist wave that has been sweeping Jerusalem and spilling over into Northern Israel and parts of the West Bank. As a result he has engaged in a certain amount of incitement. He seems to be fanning the flames of some of this activity and it is a very dangerous tightrope act that Abbas is now engaged in. He’s trying to keep calm in the areas that he controls. He’s using the unrest in Jerusalem as leverage against the Israelis. At some point, one has to wonder whether he’s potentially tempted to walk down the same path that his predecessor Yasser Arafat did, which is negotiating with the Israelis and trying to find a way to coexist. Arafat essentially threw caution to the wind, embraced what became known as the Second Intifada and found himself isolated in his Mukata Compound in Ramallah ultimately dying after falling ill there. The way that things worked out for Arafat, one gets a sense that Abbas is flirting with fate thinking about his legacy — that he’s now almost eighty years old. He’s nine years into a four-year term. He is thinking about how he is going to be viewed in Palestinian history. He has not made significant gains diplomatically until now and it looks like he is flirting with an Intifada.
Bates: Jonathan, Secretary of State Kerry met with King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Amman. What is behind the row between Jordan and Israel over the Temple Mount riots?
Schanzer: What we have a complicated issue with the Temple Mount. It is an area that is holy both to Muslims and Jews. It is where the Western Wall is located. Jews considered this the holiest site in Judaism. Jews pray at the Western Wall. On top of the Temple Mount is the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. After the Israelis conquered the Temple Mount in the 1967 war, a law was passed which stipulated that Israelis would not pray on top of the Temple Mount and that was essentially designed to keep the peace between the local Muslim population and the Jews. Over time, there has been a small movement among Israelis who insist that Jews should have the ability to pray on top of the Temple Mount. If Jews have sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, and then there should be nothing that prevents them from going on top of the Temple Mount to pray. Now, small numbers of Jews have gone up onto the Temple Mount. The Waqf, the Islamic Endowment, has taken an opportunity to incite the local population. Their narrative is that Jews are looking to storm and take over the Temple Mount. They are going to kick Muslims out, and no longer allow them to pray there. All of this is obviously not true. The Israelis have been committed to ensuring that all three monotheistic faiths can pray in Jerusalem and where they want to. Here we have something that has become very dangerous — that the local Jerusalem population has taken up the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock as a cause that they say that they are fighting for. We have seen a rash of violence. Rabbi Yehuda Glick who was shot in late October is one of the leading proponents of Jews praying on the Temple Mount. He was shot at point blank range by a Palestinian who was steadfastly opposed to this. Netanyahu went to Jordan to discuss the tensions over the Temple Mount and ways of trying to diffuse this problem. I think it really stems from the fact that Muslims, refuse to allow Jews to pray there and are really taking this to a level we have never seen before. They are really exacerbating the problem and making it appear as a threat when, in fact, I don’t believe there is one.
Bates: I have a question about access to the Temple Mount. You say that all three faiths have access to it. However, when I was there earlier this year the Muslims had twenty-four hour access and could come and go as they please. Non-Muslims had to use the entrance by the Western Wall and there were two open times of about an hour, hour and a half, when you go in through this massive security line that limited your time up there. Neither Christians nor Jews could legally pray on the Temple Mount so it sounds to me like the Muslims already have eighty to ninety percent control of access.
Schanzer: They do, and that has been the policy. I can tell you that last year I attempted to go onto the Temple Mount with a Muslim colleague of mine and I was turned away. They said this is only for Muslims and that’s the rule. I can confirm that the policies are primarily dictated by the Waqf limiting visiting hours. However, some members of the Knesset are attempting to assert their right as Israeli citizens arguing that Israel is supposed to have full sovereignty over all of Jerusalem. They are trying to make a point of this. I should also note that Israel has made certain policies, so that Muslims under a certain age are limited in terms of their access to the Temple Mount to prevent riots or unrest. The big picture here is that the Temple Mount is still primarily under the control of the Waqf — this Muslim religious authority. Israelis have bent over backwards to ensure that Islam or Islamic Authority can continue to set the rule how people pray on top of the Temple Mount.
Gordon: Jon, aside from the Temple Mount discussions and negotiations isn’t King Abdullah in a dangerous dilemma in Jordan at this time?
Schanzer: The King of Jordan is always in a dangerous dilemma. He continues to fight off a very large Palestinian population that is not content with his rule. He has a major refugee problem. Apparently the third largest town or city in Jordan is a refugee camp for Syrians. This is the Zaatari Camp in the North of the country. On top of that you have to remember that the Hashemites themselves are just largely outnumbered – they are a ruling minority. It’s a kingdom caught in the age of the Arab Spring. This is not putting him in a very easy place. The King has always been walking a tightrope. He’s certainly trying to navigate these challenges. The Islamic Action Front, which is the Muslim Brotherhood branch in Jordan, poses a very significant threat to him. I think that threat has been largely mitigated, but it still exists and they flare up from time to time. They have for many decades now, so the King of Jordan continues to cling to power and it’s not at all clear whether he will be able to weather all of these storms.
Gordon: Jon, in Israel’s South there is a partnership between Israel and Egypt emerging after the recent summer war with Hamas. Egypt has been sealing off Gaza from the Sinai because they have had a number of actions against Hamas’ Salafist ISIS allies in the Sinai. Hamas has been testing rockets off the Mediterranean and basically trying to blackmailing the partners and get reconstruction started. What’s going on there?
Schanzer: We saw during the war this summer that Egypt under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi shares a strategic vision with the Israelis about Hamas. Egypt sees Hamas as a splinter of the Muslim Brotherhood and they of course have declared essentially a war against the Muslim Brotherhood. They are aligned with Israel on this issue. I would argue that Egypt is not doing this because they particularly love Israel. I don’t think President el-Sisi thinks of Bibi as his best friend. However, I do believe that they view things in the same way. Egypt now understands that Hamas’ rockets are a threat to Egypt as to Israel. El-Sisi over the last year has shut down more than 1,800 smuggling tunnels. I would argue that el-Sisi has done more harm to Hamas over the last year than Israel and the United States combined since Hamas was founded in 1987. They have done irreparable financial harm to Hamas. It was for that reason that I believe Hamas launched its war this summer. They were trying to break out of financial isolation and renegotiate the terms of existence alongside Israel and Egypt. Egypt had wanted nothing to do with that. As we see now, Egypt is building this buffer area around the Philadelphi Corridor, the short border between Gaza and Egypt. They are cutting off essentially all of the smuggling tunnels that exist which is going to make things even harder for Hamas to operate.
Bates: At the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge much to my surprise the cease fire has actually held and there have not been rocket attacks. However, there have been attacks not necessarily out of Gaza but out of East Jerusalem where we had rabbis killed in a synagogue and other Israeli citizens murdered. Do you see this as the beginning of a Third Intifada?
Schanzer: It is a tough thing to identify, if something is an Intifada or not. I mentioned this earlier that this is a very specific thing coming out of the Jerusalem Arab population, with a little bit of West Bank activity and some activity in the North of Israel. This is isolated for now. You have to remember that an Intifada is a popular uprising across the Palestinian spectrum. That would mean that everyone would want to get on board in terms of the violence against Israel. We are not seeing that right now. Abbas is trying to keep his own territory in the West Bank under control. I think Hamas is trying to keep the Gaza Strip under control after suffering significant losses and damage this summer. The two primary Palestinian factions are reticent to jump in while you have this organic grassroots movement in East Jerusalem, where local residents are driving a new round of violence. In my assessment, we are not there yet. However, we are looking at a very unique phenomenon that is extremely troubling for Israeli security.
Bates: That grassroots effort can be a lot harder to control.
Schanzer: That’s right.
Bates: So what is Israel doing to control it? What is their response to all of this violence?
Schanzer: They have essentially tried to do is to harden some of the softer targets. They now need to think about putting security at synagogues. I think they have got a heightened presence on the streets in terms of the border guards and they are certainly keeping closer tabs on potential suspects in East Jerusalem. It is a very hard thing to do when you have people who radicalize at the spur of the moment. They are not using, advanced weaponry. They are using knives and cleavers. It is a lot harder to stop. This is again one of the reasons why the Israelis are extremely concerned about the recent turn of events.
Gordon: The Palestinians have campaigned at the UN and elsewhere for Palestinian state recognition. We have seen votes in Sweden, UK, Spain, something that may even occur in France and the European Parliament. Is that realistic or is it simply just symbolic?
Schanzer: It’s symbolic for now. However, the Palestine 194 Campaign does pose a threat to Israel long-term. It is not just that the Palestinians would declare a state or gain recognition of statehood. The problem is as this campaign continues to gain steam you are going to see countries that are at least potentially going to impose sanctions on Israel. Why? Because they disagree with where Israel’s borders are, or that Israel’s policies continue in the West Bank in terms of its maintaining control of certain territory that the Palestinians claim as their own. There is also the threat of an ICC, the International Criminal Court action that the Palestinians have been promoting. If the Israelis don’t basically bend or buckle to their territorial demands, that Israel could find itself fighting off an international lawsuit. There is significant concern on the part of the Israelis about where this is going. I think it’s undeniable at this point that the Palestine 194 Campaign is gaining steam.
Bates: Can the United Nations recognize Palestine as a state without the approval of the Security Council?
Schanzer: They already have two years ago at the General Assembly. It was roughly 130 countries that recognized the state of Palestine; however, it was only a symbolic vote because it did not make Palestine the 194th country. PA has not backed down. They continue to push the issue. They continue to work with sympathetic countries to have internal votes that would recognize the State of Palestine. This would entail an upgrade of the diplomatic mission and perhaps other perks and agreements on how to deal with the Israelis moving forward. While, it wouldn’t make the state of Palestine, so to speak, the 194th country, it would give the Palestinians more facts on the ground and leverage to work with.
Bates: The General Assembly vote was purely symbolic. It didn’t admit Palestine as a member state to the UN. Does that require approval of the Security Council?
Schanzer: It does. The Security Council would be absolutely necessary to make it the 194th country. One of the things that Jeffrey Goldberg’s article noted was a one line that was very disconcerting. That was that the United States may be considering lowering the shield, as they call it, at the UN Security Council so that they might abstain on a vote about Palestinian statehood as opposed to vetoing it, which they have in the past.
Bates: People say it doesn’t matter who the president of the United States is. It’s just astonishing that people still have that attitude. Speaking of the President of the United States, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has resigned. Did he resign voluntarily or was he asked to go?
Schanzer: He certainly didn’t resign voluntarily. He was asked to go and then he had to be a good sport and stand next to the President while the President fired him. I think it is worth noting here is that this has been described as something of a foreign policy shake up. and a response to the recent elections. President Obama’s foreign policy was pretty much panned across the board during the midterm elections. It led to a significant win on the part of Republicans with many voters really express their displeasure with the President’s foreign policy. Firing Hagel will not change any of that.
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