March Madness in the Middle East

by Jerry Gordon and Mike Bates (April 2013)

President Obama and Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu, March 2013

comment from PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat was:

issued warnings to the Netanyahu government about expansion of settlements in disputed territories in Judea and Samaria. Relations between the two national leaders were frosty after appearances in the White House in 2010 during which Netanyahu appeared to lecture Obama about the facts on the ground with the Palestinians and Iranians the Middle East.

June 2009 speech at Cairo University emboldened overthrow of autocratic Arab regimes, promoted the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause. Further, he tied the existence of the modern Jewish state of Israel to the Holocaust and not its international legal rights.

election in June 2012 of a former Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Morsi, as President in June 2012 raised security concerns for both Israel and the US. That was further compounded by the now two year old rebellion in Syria against the minority Alawite regime of Bashar Assad with casualties now in excess of 70,000 killed and tens of thousands injured. Reports from that internecine conflict have given rise to bloody battles crossing the border with Lebanon. Al Qaeda militias have gained control of the Syrian frontier side of Israel’s border on the Golan. Moreover, there are allegations of non-conventional chemical and biological weapons filtering into the hands of Assad regime ally Hezbollah. Further, as cited by Jonathan Schanzer, Israel’s quiet northern border could mask the “winds of war” given the recent fall of the Lebanese government which may strengthen the position of Hezbollah.

being seated at the 34th Arab League Summit in Doha, Qatar supplanting the minority Alawite Assad regime representatives. At the same Arab League conference, the Emir of Qatar pledged $1 billion to support the PA’s claim to Jerusalem, to combat “judaizing” of Israel’s eternal capital allegedly protecting its Islamic heritage. 

the trial and the conviction in March 2013 of a Swedish Lebanese operative in a Cypriot Court. He was caught planning potential hits against tourist spots favored by vacationing Israelis. In the wake of these revelations France is finally coming around to the long held position of the U.S, U.K. and The Netherlands, that Hezbollah is a terrorist group backed by Iran’s Quds Force. 

selected audience of 2,000 Israel students and leftists that had the atmosphere of an extension of his permanent campaign style on domestic issues in the US. Obama courted his Jerusalem International Convention Center audience in his speech  on March 21, 2013 with themes affirming the Jewish nation’s ancient historical connections to the land and the “you are not alone” reference to America as a strong ally supporting Israel’s national security interests. Nevertheless, he chose this occasion to further the Palestinian Arab peace initiative. In his speech, he emphasized that peace with the Arab Palestinians was necessary in view of the demographics in the disputed territories and recognizing the Palestinian right to self-determination. Moreover he told the audience that Israel had valued peace partners in the persons of PA  President Abbas and PM Salam Fayyad. In his discussions with PM Netanyahu he suggested that the Palestinians should set no pre-conditions for discussions with the Netanyahu government and should recognize the Jewish nation.

release of another tranche of $500 million in US taxpayer funds to meet payrolls of the corrupt PA. He flew on to Amman to speak briefly with King Abdullah, besieged with rising discord domestically from an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Action Front, and dissident Bedouins. The King has had to contend with the spillover of Syrian refugees roiling the majority Palestinian population deprived of suffrage in the Hashemite Kingdom. As he did in his PA visit, the President released $200 million in aid. Following the recent Qatar Arab League Summit in Doha,  King Abdullah went to Ramallah to sign an agreement with PA President Abbas to defend both “Christian and Muslim holy sites” in Jerusalem. 

apologizing for the May 2010 IDF Naval commando raid on the Turkish Flotilla vessel Mavi Marmara that resulted in the deaths of 9 Turkish activists aboard the vessel which participated in the Free Gaza Flotilla. The move has not immediately resulted in resumption of bi-lateral relations. Instead  it led some Israeli pundits like Martin Sherman to call the PM’s actions in a Jerusalem Post op-ed  “senseless and spineless” redolent of the “servile” behavior of Jews in the Galut (Diaspora). Junior coalition partner Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett opined:

announced a cease fire with Ocalan and return of PKK fighters to their northern Iraq bastion in exchange for possible autonomy in Southeastern Turkey. Lest we hold out too much hope the 2004 cease fire between the PKK and Turkey didn’t hold.

polled thought he was more pro-Israel and less pro-Palestinian than prior to his visit. That led former Israel Ambassador Yoram Ettinger to comment in a USA Today column:

of Israel’s energy independence which may be a geo-resource and energy market game changer. Israel will have to deal with Russian interests via agreements between the Tamar partners and Gazprom which covets its bear hug of the European natural gas market. However, to balance that there was a strategic agreement between the Leviathan field partnership and a major Australian energy firm Woodside Petroleum, Pty. As motivation for the Leviathan Woodside deal, David Wurmser of Delphi Global Analysis in an inFocus article cited the large and growing Asian natural gas markets. Israeli natural gas would be delivered via a pipeline connecting the Israeli port of Ashkelon with Eilat in the Red Sea, thereby avoiding transit through the insecure Suez Canal. Nonetheless, Israel will have to allocate a portion of royalty income flowing into its Sovereign Wealth Fund to upgrade IDF air, naval and special operations protection of its burgeoning energy developments. The US Geological Service estimates upwards of 120 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and perhaps tens of billions of barrels of oil may lie below the Levant Basin. An energy prize that Turks, Hezbollah, Assad's Syria and Hamas clearly covet.

The Israel Test in which Gilder posits that a country’s reaction to Israel is actually a test of that country not of Israel. Israel is, objectively speaking, an extraordinary country: what it grows, what it builds, what it does, how it educates, what it produces, what it achieves – all of this is, objectively speaking, amazing in 65 years. There are some people in the world that will look at all of that and say, “Boy, those are really smart people. Clever people. I want to be with those people. I want to learn from them. I want to share with them. What a great thing the Israelis did making something out of very little.” There is another group of people who look at the same objective circumstances and say, “Yes but, they stole the land, yes but they murdered the people. Yes but they are an apartheid state. Yes but they are bad. They are evil. We need to take from them. We need to destroy what they have achieved.” So it is a test of people’s reaction to Israel. Are you comfortable being with Israel and working with Israel and looking at the miracle that is Israel? Or do you want to tear it down either because you think they did it illegitimately or because you just can't stand to have certain people succeed? 

profile done by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic where he was able to have King Abdullah on the record in a very candid way talking about all the different challenges that he faces throughout the region. He has basically an Arab Spring type of environment in his midst right now. It is not a full blown revolution in the way that we've seen in Egypt or Tunisia. Rather it is a smoldering one. The king has been trying to figure out a way to implement reform because there are people who are extremely unhappy with the corruption that is alleged to be taking place in the government. It is not a representative government in Jordan, and so he continues to try to tinker and tweak without making wholesale changes. The more that he does this, the more the crisis mounts because the population is still extremely unhappy with him. There is this sense that eventually the King may have to write himself out of the equation and become more of a symbolic figure rather than one who rules all of Jordan. But, the potential for revolution in Jordan is actually only part of the problem.  You also have a restive Palestinian population both in the East Bank and the West Bank. Palestinians who are threatening to launch another Intifada against Israel would obviously destabilize Jordan. You also have massive outflow of refugees coming from Syria and some of these are Palestinians as well. The country of Jordan is having an extremely difficult time assimilating all of these refugees coming in from Syria. I have heard that there are Syrian operatives sneaking across the border along with some of the refugees, trying to get a sense of who among them is part of the opposition. There is sort of Spy vs. Spy taking place on the Jordanian side of the border. It's a very complex situation right now for the Jordanians. It was incredibly important for the President Obama to go to Amman and to demonstrate support. I would argue that the visit was about two years too late. Jordan is a linchpin for stability in the Middle East and for some reason; this Administration has largely ignored what could become one of the most consequential issues in President Obama’s second term.

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