Archive | Middle East Briefing

Tragic consequences of Sykes-Picot pact

Posted on 19 May 2016 by admin

Exactly 100 years ago this week, May 16, 1916, an agreement was signed between Great Britain and France. Known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, it completely changed the Middle East and is the main cause of today’s wars and conflicts in the region.
Negotiated by the British and French diplomats Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot and officially titled the Asia Minor Agreement, it was a secret pact between Great Britain and France (with the agreement of the Russian Empire), defining their proposed spheres of influence and control in the Middle East after the expected defeat of the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
Britain was allocated control of areas roughly comprising the coastal strip between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River (Israel), Jordan, southern Iraq, and a small area including the ports of Haifa and Acre, to allow access to the Mediterranean. France was allocated control of southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Russia was to get Istanbul, the Turkish Straits and Armenia. The “controlling powers” were free to decide on state boundaries within these areas. Further negotiation would determine international administration pending consultations with Russia and other powers, including Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca.
With the Turkish defeat in 1918 and subsequent partitioning of the Ottoman Empire, the agreement effectively divided the Ottoman’s Arab provinces outside the Arabian Peninsula into areas of British and French control and influence.
Though an “international administration” was proposed for Palestine, Britain gained control of the territory in 1920 from the League of Nations and ruled it as “Mandatory Palestine” from 1923 until 1948. They also ruled “Mandatory Iraq” from 1920 until 1932, while the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon lasted from 1923 to 1946.
The agreement is seen by many as a turning point in Western-Arab relations. By creating new artificial “nation states” out of racially, religiously and culturally diverse — and often hostile — populations, Sykes-Picot sowed the seeds of all the current regional conflicts.
It also established a universal Arab opposition to the existence of the future State of Israel by negating British promises made to the Arabs by Col. T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) for a national Arab homeland under “King” Hussein bin Ali (great-grandfather of Jordan’s King Abdulla II) in the area of greater Syria, in exchange for their fighting with the British forces against the Ottoman Empire.
More than any other event in modern history, this agreement shaped the Middle East as we know it. It is also one of the main reasons for every one of the Middle East wars raging in the region.
In general, the geopolitical architecture founded by the Sykes-Picot Agreement disappeared with the declared establishment of the Islamic State in July 2014 and with it the relative protection that religious and ethnic minorities enjoyed in the Middle East. It is the reason for the disintegration of Syria, Iraq, Libya and Tunisia (all artificially created states), and the resulting flow of persecuted ethnic and religious refugees.
ISIS — The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (Levant) — makes it crystal clear when it claims that one of the goals of its insurgency is to “reverse the effects of the Sykes-Picot Agreement.”
There are those in the Middle East who argue that without the Sykes-Picot Agreement there would never have been a British Mandate for Palestine, therefore no “partition” and no Israel 68 years ago.
I strongly disagree with that argument for one simple reason: The Zionist Movement started in Basle in 1897, 19 years before Sykes-Picot. The rebirth of the State of Israel was already in motion, the pioneers were already settling the land…and the 2,000-year-old dream of our forefathers would be realized … Sykes-Picot or not.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress,and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org. Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org.

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White House’s claim of safer, more peaceful world simply fabrication

Posted on 05 May 2016 by admin

As we enter the last eight-and-a-half months of their current administration, White House officials and surrogates are in full spin-mode to convince opinion makers (the media), historians and the American and international public that U.S. policy and actions over the past seven-plus years have made the world better:
“We’re fortunate to be living in the most peaceful era in human history,” President Obama said in Germany on April 25 before announcing that he was sending 250 more American special operations forces troops to Syria.
“The world is safer today,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in January after the Iran Nuke deal was announced.
With all due respect, I beg to differ with both the president and the secretary of state.
Historians agree that the most peaceful era in recorded human history was the 200 years between 27 BCE (the reign of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus) and 180 CE … the period of the global “Pax Romana.”
Augustus, otherwise known as Octavian (great-nephew of Julius Caesar), set in motion a new foreign policy for Rome. Until then Rome had been focused on expanding the empire as much as possible. Augustus advocated a shift toward prosperity and pacification, within the borders of the empire.
Ceremonies such as closing the “Gates of Janus” signaled the achievement of world peace, and demonstrated the growing importance of a peaceful existence in the Roman Empire.
The Pax Romana ended abruptly in the year 180, when emperor Marcus Aurelius died and the throne passed to his son Commodus (portrayed by the actor Joaquin Phoenix in the 2000 movie Gladiator). Commodus didn’t share all of his father’s ideals and philosophies, so the emphasis on peace went out the window.
Maybe what President Obama meant to say is that this era is at least “as peaceful” as during the Pax Romana…
Let’s see:
In the Ukraine, Russian-backed rebels continue to fight the U.S. backed government.
The fighting in Syria rages on. The casualties, according to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research (February 2016 report), are over 470,000 dead and over 1.9 million wounded. 4.6 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.6 million are displaced within Syria; half are children. U.S.- and Russia-brokered cease-fire negotiations that started in Geneva last month have broken down, with John Kerry admitting Monday that “Syria’s civil war is in many ways out of control.”
The civil war in Yemen between Saudi-led Sunni forces and Iranian backed Shiite tribes continues unabated, with civilian casualties mounting.
The war against ISIS and al-Qaida has only caused both to surge in popularity, manpower, money, cyber capabilities and sophisticated weapons, while they increasingly launch, or attempt to launch, terror attacks around the world.
Tension between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran has increased exponentially since the Saudis executed a popular Shiite cleric in January. With diplomatic ties cut and growing threatening (and insulting) rhetoric, many analysts believe that war could break out … and could include nuclear weapons.
And that brings me to Secretary Kerry’s disingenuous claim about the world being “safer” after the bad and unenforceable Iran Nuke deal.
Here are just a few official statements made shortly after the sanctions were lifted following a report by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) that the U.S., and only the U.S., accepted as a pretext to declare Iran “compliant” with the deal and immediately lift most of the sanctions:
An Iranian nuclear official confirmed Tehran has not halted progress on the nuclear program, which would advance “vigorously,” state-run IRNA reported.
Yukiya Amano, the director general of the IAEA, revealed that Iran did not answer all questions about the possible military dimensions of its past nuclear work. This is the actual bomb hardware-making and -testing part of the program. This issue had dominated IAEA meetings, contributed to U.N. Security Council resolutions against Iran and was a major condition for releasing the sanctions. Amano made clear that his report left the question unresolved.
The report “wasn’t black and white,” Amano told reporters outside a meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation board. Suggesting some questions remain unanswered, he described his report as a “jigsaw puzzle” for which his agency only has “pieces.”
In a statement to the IAEA’s board of governors about the report, Amano said, “We are not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”
Iran has not come clean about its nuclear weapons program. Not that anyone seriously thought it would.
Amano did not sign off on the report, but neither did he oppose it. He just put it out there.
After the report came out the U.S. State Department suddenly said that the terms of the nuclear agreement were “non-binding” on Iran.
Say what?
And in a clever move, Iran defined anyone pointing out that it’s not in compliance with the deal as a “violator” of the deal, giving Iran an excuse to pull out. The Iranians knew from the negotiations that Obama needed this deal more than they did, and that he’ll pressure anyone, from the IAEA to Democratic senators, to make it happen and stick, no matter what Iran does.
While Amano keeps warning that Iran has not come clean about its weapons program, the U.S. narrative is that it doesn’t matter because our intelligence is so great that we know all about it anyway. So I guess the next step will be “Who even needs inspections?” Our intelligence is so great…

Saudi-Iranian war buildup

The assumption in the Middle East is that thanks to the ill-advised “deal” Iran is still exactly the same 4-6 weeks from building a bomb or two that it was 18 months ago (unless it has already “broken out” …).
Another widely held belief is that Saudi Arabia is already in possession of two, three or four nuclear warheads, purchased from the only Sunni country that has a known supply, Pakistan.
So, Mr. Kerry — do you still believe that the world is “safer” after the Iran nuke deal?
And Mr. President — do you really want us to believe that we are in “the most peaceful era in human history”?
To paraphrase the late Senator Lloyd Bentsen in his debate with Dan Quayle: I’ve studied Pax Romana, I understand Pax Romana, and this era is no Pax Romana — not even close.
After U.S. actions and policies over the past seven years, both domestic and international, I believe that the world today is neither better, nor safer.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org.
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org

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Huge significance of 2 small Red Sea islands

Posted on 21 April 2016 by admin

Last week the Egyptian government announced that it was handing over sovereignty of two small, uninhabited islands in the Red Sea, Tiran and Snafir, to Saudi Arabia, and is planning, together with the Saudis, to build a bridge between the two countries.
In exchange, according to reports, the kingdom and Saudi firms are expected, among other things, to:
Invest over $20 billion in Egypt
Provide about $1.5 billion for developing northern Sinai
Fund the causeway connecting Sharm-el-Sheikh and Saudi Arabia
Supply Egypt’s energy needs with a long-term loan at 2 percent interest
Since the 1800s, these islands have changed ownership several times, leaving the current status in a bit of a gray area.
In 1950, the Saudi government handed over both islands to Egypt because at the time Egypt had the military capability to “protect” them from Israel.
Both islands, at the mouth of the Gulf of Elat Aqaba have a combined area of only 44 square miles and are 5 miles from Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Both islands are arid and uncultivated with yet unexplored possible natural resources.
The big significance Tiran has is its strategic position — it forms the narrowest section of the Straits of Tiran, which is the only passage from the ports of Eilat in Israel, and Aqaba in Jordan, to the Indian Ocean and South Asian markets.
This strategic significance played a disastrous role for Egypt when, on May 22, 1967, President Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered the blockade of the Straits of Tiran.
Perceiving this as an act of war, Israel launched attacks on Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, starting the Six-Day War. This led to the loss of Arab land to Israel and the death of some 20,000 Arab soldiers.
Egypt regained the Sinai Peninsula, including the two islands, after the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
Tiran is included as part of the 1979 Camp David peace treaty, signed in Washington by Egypt and Israel, that guarantees freedom of Israeli shipping through the Straits of Tiran.
Both islands are uninhabited and only Tiran has a handful of international peacekeeping troops, mostly American and Egyptian soldiers. Many beaches on Tiran are mined.
The Saudi government now has to agree to abide by the same Camp David Accords with regard to guaranteeing safe passage for Israeli shipping through the Straits of Tiran.
Egypt, it seems, made an excellent deal: It receives an outstanding economic lifeline in exchange for territories that it probably does not technically own.
Israel was told in advance about the Saudi-Egyptian deal, and gave its approval, sort of. Israel’s concerns are mainly the fact that the current instability in the Saudi kingdom could lead to an overthrow of the somewhat fragile regime and the establishment of a hostile (to both Israel and the U.S.) government of either radical Islamist extremists like ISIS, or a pro-Iran group. Either way would create the risk of the Straits of Tiran being again blocked to Israeli commercial and military shipping.
Another concern is the planned bridge or causeway. Obviously it would be highly beneficial to the Egyptians and Saudis, but what threats will it pose down the road, to Israeli, Jordanian and American ships sailing beneath it?
All told, if the various agreements stand the test of time, at least at the moment it looks like a good deal. If nothing else, it brings together the interests, and reinforces relations, between the four moderate, anti-Iran and anti-Islamic terrorism powers in the Middle East: Egypt, Saudi Arabia (assuming the new 9/11 disclosures don’t shake the boat too much…), Jordan and Israel.
That makes the islands significant.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org

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Focus on good news: Israeli tech’s global improvements

Posted on 07 April 2016 by admin

Several readers have emailed me asking why my columns always deal with the more serious aspects of news from the Middle East. Well, that’s because I usually analyze the day-to-day current events in Israel and the region, and how they influence the U.S. in general, and U.S.–Israel relations in particular.

But I have been neglecting the positive, uplifting and world-changing news that comes out of Israel every day.
So this week’s column is dedicated exclusively to good news and developments from Israel.
These recent articles come from two sources — israel21c.org and nocamels.com — where you can find more about these inventions, together with a wealth of information on how Israel is constantly making the world better, safer and healthier.

Novel wound clot bandages can stop severe bleeding within minutes

Developed by nanomaterials specialist Dr. Shani Eliyahu-Gross of Core Scientific Creations, WoundClot is composed of highly absorbent gauze made from regenerated cellulose. When applied to a wound, this single-use, sterile bandage turns into a gel-state membrane, forming a stable membrane with the platelets (clotting blood cells) from the wound. By enhancing the natural process of coagulation, WoundClot stops hemorrhaging within minutes. Perhaps more importantly, the membrane lasts up for up to 24 hours. (nocamels.com)

Israeli tech puts 3D holographic heart in the doctor’s hand to save lives

Real View has developed what is probably the most advanced 3D interactive visualization system. Their holographic system allows physicians to work with the patient’s true 3D anatomy appearing as precise volumetric holograms floating in midair. (nocamels.com)

China signs 5-year agreement with Galilee institute

The Galilee International Management Institute has signed a five-year cooperation agreement with the Chinese government on innovations in agriculture. The Institute offers advanced seminars to professionals from over 170 transitional and industrialized countries, in an attempt to promote cooperation on global and regional levels.
Over the last 10 years, the Galilee International Management Institute (GIMI) has trained over 900 Chinese officials. The new agreements call for GIMI to train approximately 130 Chinese — mainly in the fields of agriculture, water management and technological innovation — each year for the five years. (israel21c.org)

A single blood test could detect multiple diseases

An Israeli-led international team of researchers has proof of concept for a single blood test that can detect multiple conditions, including diabetes, cancer, traumatic injury and neurodegeneration, in a highly sensitive and specific manner.
The novel method, tested on 320 patients and control groups, zeroes in on patterns of circulating DNA that is released by dying cells and traces it to specific types of tissue. (israel21c.org)

California to grow sustainable rice with Israeli water-tech

The first sustainable farming initiative leveraging Israel’s pioneering research and innovation in water technology will begin this spring at Conaway Ranch in Woodland, California. The goal of the novel project is to reduce the vast amount of water ordinarily used in growing rice.
“We couldn’t ask for better partners: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research and Netafim USA, the world’s leading drip-irrigation manufacturer, both of which have experience growing rice in arid regions,” said Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, president and CEO of Conaway Preservation Group, owner of the 17,000-acre Conaway Ranch in north-central California, upon announcing the project at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. March 20, adding: “This effort could serve as a model for other farms and potentially save hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water in California if widely adopted.” (israel21c.org)

Breakthrough blood test for Alzheimer’s disease to undergo clinical trials

In order to accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, medical professionals must conduct a long series of tests to assess a patient’s memory impairment, cognitive skills, functional abilities, and behavioral changes. The process also includes costly brain imagining scans and, in some cases, invasive cerebral spinal fluid tests to rule out other diseases.
A new discovery by a team of Israeli and American researchers seeks to effectively screen and diagnose Alzheimer’s using a blood test. The new study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, proposes a new biomarker for cognitive aging and Alzheimer’s disease: the activity-dependent neuro-protective protein (ADNP), whose levels can be easily monitored in routine blood tests. The study also found that higher ADNP levels tested in the blood correlate with higher IQ in healthy older adults. The researchers now plan to move forward into clinical trials in order to create a pre-Alzheimer’s test that will help to tailor potential preventative treatments (nocamels.com).
And these are just a few examples out of many.
It’s important to always remember that with all the “negative” news that comes out of that region, Israel is fulfilling its destiny as not only the Jewish Nation State and homeland, but as a constant light to all the nations of the world.
There is always “good news” from Israel, and I promise to emphasize it more.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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Russian force ‘withdraw’ step in Putin’s grand plan

Posted on 24 March 2016 by admin

On March 14, Vladimir Putin announced the withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria, declaring their campaign “a success.”
Within hours, aircraft and crews were observed departing from Khmeimim Air Base, near the northern city of Latakia. Since then, the media has been buzzing with speculation on the reasons for this “unexpected” move. Much of the speculation is dead wrong.
Let me be as clear as I can: There is no Russian withdrawal from Syria, but rather a highly publicized drawdown of a few combat aircraft from the Russian-built Khmeimim Air Base. Putin simply moved a few pieces on the board, without changing a thing.
This gambit is more about perceptions than military reality. It constitutes a political reframing of Russia’s mission in order to solidify Russia’s long-term military footprint in northwestern Syria … while convincing the citizens at home that the campaign is “over.”
Pun’s statement is another successful domestic and international publicity coup, which had nothing to do with how Russia leaves Syria … but rather how it stays — permanently.
In a widely broadcast video of Putin instructing Russian Defense Minister Shoigu and Foreign Minister Lavrov to “start” withdrawal, he orders that Russia’s large existing bases in Tartus (Navy) and Khmeimim (Air Force) will continue to operate at present levels. In addition, Russia’s defense minister is to make sure that they are fully defended from land, sea, and air.
Putin emphasized that the very advanced S-400 long-range anti-aircraft missiles, along with shorter-range systems, will remain in place. Russia’s main military bases will continue operations: with naval cover, a ground contingent for “force protection,” and an unknown number of troops still on the ground advising Syrian forces.
While Russia is withdrawing Su-25 strike aircraft and Su-34 bombers, it’s leaving Su-24 bombers and Mi-24 and Mi-35 attack helicopters, as well as Su-30SM and Su-35 multirole fighters. These aircraft continue to operate over Syria, having conducted strikes in recent days in support of Syrian army efforts to retake Palmyra from ISIS.
According to the Russian webpage “Sputnik”: “Nearly 20 Russian combat aircraft, an air defense system and some 2,000 personnel will stay at Khmeimim air base in Syria, including a squadron of Su-24 tactical bombers that during the main stage of the campaign conducted most of the airstrikes.”
The newest Su-30 and ‘Generation4+++’ Su-35 fighters will also stay at the Khmeimim air base for “aerial protection.”
Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov stated that intense combat operations will continue against ISIS and al-Nusra Front, in support of Assad’s advancing troops.
So far, Russia’s naval squadron has shown no sign of leaving the eastern Mediterranean, and there is no evidence of any significant withdrawal of tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers (APCs), troops or support units.
In other words, what is happening is a partial drawdown of forces that were surged into Syria after the shooting down of a Russian Su-24 by Turkey in November 2015.
With Russia keeping control of the Khmeimim air base and continuing to expand and harden the Tartus naval base, the permanent Navy and Air Force military infrastructure is actually expanding. The fighters and bombers that were withdrawn can easily be returned on short notice. Nothing is leaving that cannot come back within days.
So why declare a withdrawal now? Keeping and maintaining equipment and personnel in Syria has never been expensive for Russia. On the contrary, the operation has provided an invaluable training, testing and military hardware showcasing opportunity.
Declaring victory and announcing that (some) Russian forces are going home serves Putin in several ways:
It gives him political leverage with Assad in the current Geneva peace talks: Putin wants Assad to accept a compromise at the talks, and abandon any ambitions to reconquer all of Syria. If Syria breaks the cease-fire, or obstructs negotiations, Assad cannot know for certain that Russia will support him.
Since his domestic Russian audience is even more important to Putin than Syria’s future, he had to cash in politically on Russia’s recent military ”successes” before any further complications can occur. By declaring victory and calling an end to the operation, he locked in his gains in both domestic and international public opinion, regardless of what comes out of the cease-fire or peace negotiations, bumping his approval ratings at home.
Putin is using this declaration to recast the military operations in Syria as a “traditional” military “presence,” thus “normalizing” it for his domestic audience. Putin said it in plain Russian: The military presence moving forward will be considered Russia’s traditional footprint in Syria, and not an ongoing operation.
Putin’s March 14 announcement was never about how Russia leaves Syria, but rather about how it stays to secure its Middle East interests. Putin is betting that Russian voters and the international community will accept Russian permanent military presence in Syria as the new “normal.” … And that is Putin’s “Long Game” in Syria.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org.

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Is this 3rd Intifada? (Part 2)

Posted on 25 February 2016 by admin

In my last column I discussed the differences between the first two Palestinian “intifadas” against Israel (in 1987 and 2000), in an attempt to define and frame the current wave of mainly “lone-wolf” terrorist attacks being perpetrated by relatively young educated Palestinians, using primarily knives and scissors as weapons.
I raised three questions:

  • Is this really the Third Intifada, or just a long delayed continuation of the second one?
  • Is it even, by definition, an “intifada”?
  • If it is the Third Intifada, doesn’t the fact that it’s so very different from the first two (at the moment) in the absence of central leadership and large numbers of trained and armed fighters, make it more difficult to end — let alone contain?
    Here are my answers:

Many historians will probably label this the “Third Intifada.” But the label doesn’t really matter. In my opinion, every armed conflict Israel has fought since Nov. 29, 1947 — whether against conventional armies, well-organized, trained and armed Palestinian militias or Internet-incited lone-wolf terrorists with knives and scissors — is simply a continuation of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, which ended in a temporary “cease fire,” and will continue to flare up in various forms until Israel has signed peace treaties with all the Arab countries in the Middle East … including Palestine.
The armistice agreements were intended to serve only as interim agreements until replaced by permanent peace treaties. However, no peace treaties were actually signed until decades later, and to date only with Egypt and Jordan.
No. At least not yet. According to Merriam-Webster, “intifada” is an “uprising, rebellion; specifically: an armed uprising of Palestinians against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” So far there have been far less demonstrations, mass-casualty violence (shootings, kidnappings, car and suicide vest bombings), or participation of organized, trained and armed forces than in the first two.
The only noticeable organizational involvement so far is the continuous incitement on official Palestinian Authority and Hamas media that includes glorified details of the recent “martyrs” as well as promises of big financial and personal rewards to those who join them.
Difficult, yes … but not impossible. The tactics Israel used in the previous intifadas won’t work here. With no identifiable leader, no organization to pin the lone-wolf attacks on, relatively few victims and even fewer surviving young (and highly sympathetic) terrorists — targeted assassinations are out of the question.
Destroying family homes is also a bad option because, together with multi-angle viral pictures of dead or injured terrorists, made-up Internet stories and Photoshopped pictures of “Israeli soldiers” allegedly roughing up family members, it just creates more hatred and a desire to “avenge Palestinian honor,” as one 14-year-old justified attempting a knife attack after watching the Palestinian evening news on TV.
The only way, according to many Israeli analysts today, to at least try to stem the current “Internet intifada” is for Israel to consider doing what Arik Sharon was planning before his fatal stroke … a unilateral partial withdrawal from most of the West Bank, with Israel remaining firmly in control of all “consensus” Israeli settlement blocs (including the Jordan Valley), security assets (including airspace, strategic locations and airwave capabilities), international crossing points (together with Jordan), etc.
We all know what the end result will look like — it’s the same deal offered by Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Tzippi Livne, and more recently Bibi Netanyahu, to both Arafat and Abu Mazen. It’s acceptable to most Israelis (as long as “Palestine” is fully demilitarized).
And this should be started sooner rather than later. ISIS’ footprint is growing in the West Bank and Gaza. These attacks could get more deadly very quickly.
Also, with the leadership vacuum created in the Middle East by a clear weakening of U.S. resolve, involvement and credibility, Russia and Iran have become the “go-to” default super-powers in the region.
Just look north to Syria, and imagine how a real Israeli-Palestinian conflict could hypothetically worsen, when regional and international players start getting involved.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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Is this 3rd Intifada?

Posted on 11 February 2016 by admin

The current ongoing round of Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israelis, now in its fifth month, has been called various names.
Worldwide media has been using the terms: “Social Media Intifada,” “Knife and Stone Uprising,” “Youth Rebellion” (because most of the terrorists are under the age of 20), etc.
Last October, in a news conference in Spain, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called it: “Random Acts of Violence.”
Palestinian President Abu Mazen calls it “a Knife Intifada” while claiming that the murder of Jews is really “peaceful. …”
But after last week’s brutal attack in Jerusalem, where Hadar Cohen, a brave 19-year-old, newly recruited border patrol officer gave her life to prevent what would have been a major, multi-casualty attack by three heavily armed Palestinians from the West Bank, there is growing consensus in Israel that we should call it what it is — the Third Intifada — despite the serious political and security consequences that this highly charged definition entails.
But this begs three important questions:

  • Is this really the Third Intifada, or just a long-delayed continuation of the Second (which never actually ended but continued on low flames after Arafat’s death)?
  • Is it even, by definition, an “Intifada?”
  • And if it is the Third Intifada, doesn’t the fact that it’s so very different from the first two (at the moment), in the absence of central leadership and large numbers of trained and armed fighters, mean that it may be far more difficult to end — let alone contain?

To answer these questions we first have to go back and understand what happened in 1987 and 2000:
The First Intifada, or “popular uprising” (1987-1993), was not planned, well-organized or controlled … at least not in the beginning. It started in Gaza when an Israeli military truck accidentally collided with a civilian car, killing four Palestinians.
Unrest, frustration with Palestinian and Arab leadership, together with incitement against Israel, was already brewing in the territories Israel had captured 20 years earlier. All it took was this accident to ignite a protest movement that caught on like wildfire and spread through Gaza and the West Bank.
The initially unorganized protests involved a twofold local strategy of resistance and civil disobedience including: general strikes, blocking main roads both in Israel and the territories, and widespread, deadly, rock and Molotov cocktail attacks against IDF and civilian targets.
It took a while for the various PLO factions to organize, arm and take control of the protesters.
Over the next six years an estimated 2,000 Palestinians were killed by the IDF (most of them armed insurgents), while 100 Israeli civilians and 60 soldiers died; 1,400 Israeli civilians and 1,700 soldiers were injured.
The Second Intifada (aka the “Al-Aqsa” Intifada) started in September 2000. Palestinian and world news outlets claimed that it was triggered by a much-publicized visit to the Temple Mount area by Arik Sharon on Sept. 28.
However, Imad Faluji, the Palestinian Authority communications minister, admitted that the violence had been planned in July, far in advance of Sharon’s “provocation,” when Arafat returned from Camp David, having rejected the American proposals for a deal with Israel.
Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas said that Arafat instructed his organization to launch terror attacks against Israel after the failure of peace negotiations.
On Sept. 29, the Voice of Palestine, the PA’s official radio station, called “to all Palestinians to come and defend the Al-Aqsa mosque.” The PA closed its schools and transported Palestinian students to the Temple Mount to participate in the organized riots. That day, following Friday prayers, large riots broke out around the Old City of Jerusalem.
After Palestinians on the Temple Mount threw rocks over the Western Wall at Jewish worshippers, Israeli police fired back with tear gas and rubber bullets. When the chief of Jerusalem’s police force was knocked unconscious by a rock, they switched to live ammunition, killing four Palestinians.
As many as 200 Palestinians and police were injured. Another three rock-throwers were killed in the Old City and on the Mount of Olives. By the end of the day, seven Palestinians had been killed and 300 had been wounded. Seventy Israeli policemen were injured and the Second Intifada had started.
Unlike the First Intifada, the Second was prepared, organized, well-armed and well-commanded, with the deployment of highly trained terrorist units like Tanzim and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade from Arafat’s Fatah faction, and Izzadin al-Kassam Brigades from Hamas. It also saw the use of many religiously inspired suicide bombers, wearing explosive vests or driving booby-trapped cars that blew up on Israeli streets, in restaurants, cafes, buses, social and family events, etc.
The IDF, Police and Shin-Bet fought back by land, sea and air. The fighting lasted five years. The exact date of the end of the Second Intifada is disputed, though most agree on Feb. 8, 2005.
Casualty totals were high:

  • Israelis: 1,053 killed (334 IDF soldiers)
  • Palestinians: 4,789 killed (most of them combatants)
  • Foreigners: 55 killed

In my next column, I’ll answer the questions posed above, as well as look at:
How the recent changes in the Middle East, specifically the unchecked spread of ISIS and the unfortunate empowerment of the Iran’s fanatic hardliners, could directly influence the length, casualty levels and consequences of the “Third Intifada” (hint: ISIS is already recruiting and operating in Gaza and the West Bank).
Israel’s medium- and long-term strategy to deal with it.
I agree with most analysts who argue that unless something dramatic is done, this could become the longest and most pivotal conflict in Israel’s 68 years.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.

Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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Is the world safer today?

Posted on 28 January 2016 by admin

There are politicians that argue that today the world is a safer place. Sorry — but I’m just not buying it:

The disastrous ‘Iran Nuke Deal’

Jan. 16, 2016 will go down in infamy as the day that a humiliated United States lost any last vestige of respect and credibility in the Middle East. As Charles Krauthammer wrote in The Washington Post: “Iran shed almost four decades of rogue-state status and was declared a citizen of good standing of the international community, open to trade, investment and diplomacy … without giving up, or even promising to change, its policy of subversion and aggression … without having forfeited its status as the world’s greatest purveyor of terrorism …Overnight, it went not just from pariah to player, but from pariah to dominant regional power, flush with $100 billion in unfrozen assets and virtually free of international sanctions…”
Not to mention the fact that Iran now has a clear pathway to developing and stockpiling nuclear weapons within a few short years … or much less if they cheat.

Are Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran on the brink of war?

The execution of Saudi Shiite cleric Nimr al-Baqer al-Nimr and the subsequent attacks of Iranian rioters on the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and consulate in Mashhad, caused unprecedented damage to the relations between the two countries. Saudi Arabia cut off all diplomatic relations with Iran, together with other Arab-Muslim countries including Bahrain, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti and the Comoro Islands.
The UAE lowered the status of its diplomatic relations and the governments of Qatar and Kuwait recalled their ambassadors for consultation. Jordan joined the protest against Iran, but retained diplomatic relations.
Iran threatened revenge and warned that the end of the Saudi regime was close. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei threatened the Saudis with “divine retribution” against the heads of the regime.
But is war eminent? It’s possible though most analysts doubt it. One reason is that the Saudis and most Middle East countries believe that because of the watered down conditions of the “Nuke Deal,” Iran is still in the same 2-6 week nuclear “breakout” stage it was this time last year.
That’s why Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir flew to Pakistan last week not only to get assurances that the only Sunni Muslim nuclear country will provide assistance to repel Iranian aggression, but also possibly to get two or three off-the-shelf nukes.

Israel: Knife, gun and car-ramming terrorist attacks continue

Despite the cold and wintry weather, in recent days there has been an uptick of terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens and security forces. Here are just a few:
Two terrorists stabbed two women Monday (Jan. 25) afternoon at a grocery store in the settlement of Beit Horon in the West Bank. A security guard shot and killed both of the attackers.
Security forces found three homemade bombs in the vicinity of the store, apparently planted there by the terrorists, and a bomb squad was called to the scene to neutralize them.
The Shin Bet, in cooperation with the IDF, recently arrested 18-year-old Palestinian twin sisters Diana and Nadia Hawilah, following a search of their house that revealed weapons including pipe bombs, fertilizers used for making explosives, as well as a knife and Hamas headbands. … According to the investigation, Diana bought the chemicals found in her home, watched online video tutorials to learn how to build explosive devices, and intended to use them against Israelis.
A 13-year-old Palestinian girl tried to stab a civilian security guard at the entrance to the settlement of Anathoth in the West Bank’s Binyamin region Saturday morning. The security guard shot and killed her before she was able to hurt him.
There were many more attacks, including a 14-year-old boy who stabbed and killed a mother of six after seeing a program on Palestinian TV, inciting everyone to kill Jews.
There are politicians that argue that today the world is a safer place. … As I said above … I’m just not buying it!
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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2015 ends badly – ’16 starts even worse

Posted on 14 January 2016 by admin

At the end of 2015, the Middle East was settling into a relatively predictable, ongoing routine of high-tension rhetoric with sporadic “low-flame” outbreaks of violence:

Syria

The Sunni/Shiite civil war (aka: “The Saudi-Iranian-Russian-American-Turkish proxy war”) went on with no end in sight:
Assad’s Alawite forces, as well as ISIS and Turkey, continued to intentionally bomb civilian targets, while ISIS accelerated its barbaric ethnic cleansing of Christian, Kurdish, Druze and Yazidi villages in areas under its control. All this caused the growing flow of Syrian refugees into Jordan, Turkey and Europe to continue unabated.
The shrinking American-led coalition kept up somewhat effective airstrikes on suspected ISIS targets, while the U.S. tried unsuccessfully to recruit, train and support “moderate” anti-Assad Sunni rebels.
Pro-Assad Russia continued expanding its military presence in Syria, while launching effective missile strikes from the air, ground and sea against anti-Assad Sunni rebel forces (including ISIS and the groups the U.S. is supporting) that threaten Assad’s Alawite regime and Russia’s regional interests.
Iranian ground forces were deployed in Syria to help Russia and Hezbollah defend Assad’s regime, and to protect Iran’s over 100,000 long- and medium-range missiles deployed in Syria and Lebanon, but most were pulled out after suffering heavy casualties.
Israel, in coordination with both the U.S. and Russia, from time to time bombed targets in Syria to prevent the transfer of missiles and heavy military weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. One targeted attack killed several Hezbollah militants including convicted child-killer Samir Kuntar.

Egypt

Egypt continued its war against ISIS and al-Qaida affiliated terrorist groups in Sinai, while relentlessly arresting and prosecuting Muslim Brotherhood leaders and organizations (including Hamas) throughout the country … ignoring U.S. requests to let them go.
In the region, the centuries-old bloody religious conflict between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran was, with the exception of the proxy wars in Syria and Yemen, more verbal than combative. This was mainly because last year the Saudis believed the “crystal clear” presidential promise: America will never let their mortal enemy, Iran, acquire nuclear weapons.
In Israel, 2015 ended with the almost daily tragic routine of “knife and car-ramming” terrorist attacks. Tragic because they usually ended with the victims being wounded or killed (22 killed, 283 wounded at the end of 2015) and the terrorists, most of them Palestinian teenagers, being killed, wounded or detained (142 killed, 90 of them attackers, 3,000-plus wounded and 2,400-plus detained).
So how did 2016 start worse than 2015 ended?
In just the first seven days of 2016:

Syria

Hezbollah terrorists attacked IDF soldiers patrolling inside Israel on the foothills of Mount Dov, on the Israeli Golan Heights. Israel fired rockets and artillery shells at nearby Hezbollah positions.
Even before this incident, tension along the northern border was rising. When military intelligence confirmed that Iran and Hezbollah are preparing rocket and infiltration attacks against Northern Israel from Syrian controlled areas of the Golan Heights, the IDF and local authorities started preparing for another Lebanon war.

The region

As details of the watered-down, unenforceable and as-yet-unsigned JCPOA, the so-called “Iran Nuclear Agreement,” came out, the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Arab Gulf States felt betrayed by the P5+1 negotiators…and especially the U.S.
Statements by Iranian leaders, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, made it clear that Iran would neither sign the agreement nor fulfill its obligations to it.
The “robust and invasive anytime, anywhere” inspection regime of Iranian facilities by the IAEA, as promised by the U.S. last year, became a laughable self-inspection by the Iranians with no foreigners present.
In an obvious move to provoke Iran, the Saudi royal court ordered the execution of a convicted influential Shiite cleric, together with 46 mostly Sunni dissidents and terrorists.
Iranian demonstrators, encouraged by their leaders, took to the streets, broke into the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and set fire to parts of it. The Saudis responded by cutting diplomatic relations with Iran, and ordering Iranian diplomats and citizens to leave the kingdom.
While full-scale war is not foreseen at the moment, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. But with no movement yet on the JCPOA, nor any effective international inspection mechanism in place, Iran is still exactly as it was one year ago — having the ability and intent to “break out” with a nuclear warhead within 4-6 weeks, if it doesn’t have one already…
Which is why on Sunday, Pakistan, a Sunni Arab country with nuclear weapons, promised the Saudis “any assistance necessary” to repel or respond to an Iranian attack.

Israel

The year started with more knife and car terrorist attacks, but also with an alarming escalation: On Jan. 1, Nashat Melhem, a 29-year-old Israeli Arab, opened fire in a crowded bar in a lively area of Tel Aviv. A manager of the bar and a customer were killed. He then killed a taxi driver, also an Israeli Arab.
After a week on the run, he was found by the Shin Bet and police in his home village in the North. When they tried to arrest him he fired at them and was killed.
And this was just the first week of 2016.
Maybe we’re just seeing the last remnants of really bad policies from 2015.
Maybe world leaders have finally figured out what is going on, and what to do about it.
David Ben-Gurion always said: “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.”
With that thought, let’s “realistically” hope that maybe 2016 will, by some miracle, actually turn out to be better than 2015.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.

Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org. Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org.

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A gaze into my 2016 crystal ball

Posted on 31 December 2015 by admin

Traditionally, during the days before the New Year, journalists and pundits have a tendency to languish nostalgically on summaries of events and trends of the outgoing year. Who did what, who said what, who married (or divorced) whom, who was successful, who failed, who rose to stardom, who descended into oblivion, whose political fortunes shined and whose were humiliatingly tarnished.
Don’t worry — I have no intention of boring you with a walk down memory lane with facts that you already know or can easily look up.
Besides, while some good things happened this year, I really don’t feel like dwelling again on the international and political blunders (both Israeli and American!) of 2015.
In world affairs, we’re seeing “expert” end-of-year analysis about which of the world’s four “superpowers” — the U.S., Russia, China or Iran — has more worldwide respect, allies and influence.
Dictionary.com defines superpower as “an extremely powerful nation, especially one capable of influencing international events and the acts and policies of less powerful nations.”
There is good reason that on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, we say “Tichleh shana vekileloteha, tachel shana uvirchoteha” (“May a year with its curses end, may a year with its blessings begin”). In Arabic there is a phrase: “Il faht maht” (“What is past is dead”).
So, dusting off my usually reliable crystal ball, let’s leave 2015, and see what twists and turns the beginning of 2016 may have in store for Israel…
The “Knife Intifada” will continue, despite Israel’s ongoing upgrading of prevention, “threat-neutralization” and deterrence policies.
Recent polls show a growing support for this “national resistance” among Palestinian youth and young adults, mainly in the West Bank, as the result of nonstop incitement and pseudo-religious “justification,” together with daily media glorification of the so-called “martyrs” by prominent Arab and Palestinian leaders from Abu Mazen and his ruling Fatah faction, through Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, ISIS and others.
The naive potential terrorists are not only promised all the benefits of “martyrdom,” but also a glorified eternal place of honor in a future pantheon of “national heroes” whose death brought about the “Liberation” of Palestine. Both are very persuasive motivators.
While this low-intensity war is not an existential threat to Israel, the “optics” and international public relations will continue to fuel anti-Israel and “one-state” movements worldwide.
A new Lebanon war? After the targeted extermination on Dec. 19 of convicted murderer and terrorist, Samir Kuntar, together with other senior Hezbollah militants, Hassan Nasrallah, the organization’s leader, threatened Israel with a painful retaliation.
In response, a senior IDF official stated unequivocally that Nasrallah and Hezbollah would be making a big mistake if they perpetrated a lethal terror attack, either in Israel or anywhere in the world, to avenge Kuntar’s elimination.
So will a Hezbollah response to Kuntar’s death trigger another Israel-Lebanon war within the next few months? That’s certainly possible and the IDF is more than prepared.
However, Western sources claim that several Lebanese political factions are pressuring Nasrallah not to launch a revenge attack, since Israel will retaliate with devastating force against Lebanon.
Even Iran, Hezbollah’s patron, is telling Nasrallah to avoid a conflict with Israel right now, since it would cause huge damage to the current efforts to preserve Bashar Assad’s Alawite/Shiite government in Syria, and to Hezbollah and Iran’s influence and infrastructure in Lebanon.
Will Hezbollah do something really stupid? The next few days or weeks will tell.
A war with ISIS? On Saturday ISIS released a recorded message, supposedly by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In it he said: “We are getting closer to you day by day, do not think that we have forgotten about you…God caused the Jews of the world to gather in Israel, and the war against them has become easy … It is the obligation of every Muslim to carry out jihad. Jews, you will not enjoy (sic) in Palestine. God has gathered you in Palestine so that the mujahideen can reach you soon and you will hide by the rock and the tree. Palestine will be your graveyard.”
According to Israeli sources, ISIS has been planning attacks against Israel for some time. Covert and overt IDF, GSS (Shin Bet) and Mossad operations, both alone and/or in cooperation with the U.S., Russia, Egypt, Jordan, other Arab countries and Turkey, have so far effectively thwarted those plans.
In a taunt to the U.S. and Russia, Baghdadi added: “Be confident that God will grant victory to those who worship him, and hear the good news that our state is doing well. The more intense the war against it, the purer it becomes and the tougher it gets.”
Based on the methodology of the recent ISIS attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, it would be prudent to assume that al-Baghdadi’s words were not just intended to threaten Israel, but very possibly also to “activate” already imbedded, trained and equipped sleeper cells or “lone wolf” terrorists in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. I’m confident that Israel’s highly experienced defense and security services are on top of this. However, we should always remember that in security, there is never “100 percent.”
There is more in my crystal ball regarding Israel, America and the Middle East in the first half of 2016…but I have to recharge it now.
As for the second half of 2016 — I agree with the wise Jedi Master Yoda, who once observed: “Always in motion the future is…difficult to see.”
Happy New Year, and “May the Force be with us all” in 2016…we’re going to need it!
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org

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