Friday, April 29, 2011

Senator John Kerry on U.S. Policy Toward the Middle East

With revolutionary change sweeping through the Middle East and North Africa and violence erupting in Libya, U.S. policy toward the region is quickly evolving. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry discussed the challenges for the United States and his policy recommendations. Carnegie's Marwan Muasher moderated.

Challenges and Opportunities

Kerry described the cascade of democratic uprisings across the Middle East as “one of the most momentous developments of our time.”  The overthrow of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt has paved the way for the establishment of more transparent and accountable governments, and the United States has a crucial role to play in facilitating these democratic transitions, Kerry said. 
  • Investing in democracy: Political reforms not only serve the interests of protesters who are demanding transparent and accountable governments, but they will also preempt potential threats to U.S. national security, Kerry said. Extremism cannot flourish in open political systems where citizens enjoy economic prosperity. The United States has a strong national interest in supporting the development of emerging democracies in the Middle East through aid and other assistance programs. Although the current congressional climate may be unfavorable to foreign aid appropriations, Kerry cautioned, “We can either pay now or pay later with increased threats to our own national security.”

  • Lessons from Berlin: Kerry pointed to the breakup of the Soviet Union as a historical case study that can guide American engagement with a post-revolutionary Middle East. Just as Tunisians and Egyptians are celebrating the dismantling of repressive regimes, citizens of the former Soviet bloc countries “welcomed the destruction of stultifying autocracies” with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Kerry said. Recognizing the opportunity to support nascent democracies, U.S. policy makers wisely supported an infusion of economic aid and development assistance to Eastern European countries. According to Kerry, American assistance was a pivotal factor in catalyzing successful democratic transitions in former communist states.

  • Supporting free market reforms: Kerry argued that the United States must take advantage of the opportunity to support liberal economic reforms across the Middle East. Citing the lack of economic opportunities for the region’s swelling youth population, Kerry said he is working with Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain on new legislation to fuel sustainable economic development through innovation and entrepreneurship.

  • Irreversible change: Although Kerry acknowledged that emerging democracies in the Arab world face uncertain futures, he was certain that “the old order of the Middle East cannot be restored.” After years of repression and economic hardship, citizens have fundamentally overhauled the authoritarian status quo by “tearing down the walls of state-sponsored fear and bureaucratic indifference,” he asserted.

  • A blow to extremism: The uprisings of recent weeks have proved that dramatic political change is not only possible, but can be achieved peacefully. Kerry said the success of largely peaceful popular protests has undermined the legitimacy of extremist groups seeking to advance their political agendas through violence and terrorism. “The people of Egypt liberated themselves in eighteen days without a single IED or suicide bomb,” Kerry said.

  • Restoring American credibility in the region: How U.S. policy makers respond to unrest in the Middle East will shape Arab public opinion toward the United States for decades to come, Kerry said. Citing the example of Libya—where Moammar Qaddafi’s embattled regime is violently suppressing the rebel movement with “grotesque brutality”—Kerry said a failure to intervene on behalf of the Libyan people will lead regional observers to question Washington’s commitment to human rights and democratic principles.

  • Immediate action needed in Libya: With Libya on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, Kerry stressed that “the international community cannot watch from the sidelines as a quest for democracy is met with raw violence.” Kerry endorsed recommendations by the Arab League and the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace and said that U.S. and international leaders should consider “whatever is necessary” to prevent further escalation of violence.

More Changes on the Horizon

Although substantial political changes have already been achieved in Tunisia, Egypt, and other countries undergoing popular uprisings, Kerry said he expects these transformations to continue for the foreseeable future. “To keep the mandate of their people and meet the challenges of modernity, leaders of the region have no choice but to embark on paths of reform,” Kerry said.
  • Libya: Although Qaddafi’s violent crackdown has momentarily dampened the momentum of the rebel movement, Kerry was confident that “the will of the Libyan people will ultimately prevail.”

  • Bahrain: The United States has important strategic interests in Bahrain, where the Navy’s Fifth Fleet has been based since 1991. Following recent clashes between state security forces and anti-government protesters, Kerry urged both sides to refrain from violence and seek a negotiated solution to the current political crisis through an inclusive national dialogue. Referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council’s decision to deploy troops into Bahrain on March 14, Kerry called on the GCC countries to ensure that the intervention “does not lead to broader regional conflict.”

  • Morocco: Kerry identified Morocco as one of the countries that has responded to the imperative for immediate reform, citing King Mohammed VI’s decision to conduct a popular referendum on proposed constitutional amendments.

  • Jordan: According to Kerry, Jordanian King Abdullah II has “moved skillfully” to preempt popular unrest by promising to expand participation in the political process.

  • Oman: In Oman, Sultan Qaboos recently directed the country’s partially elected consultative council to propose constitutional amendments, in a move that signaled his commitment to broader reforms, Kerry said.

  • Israel: The cascade of reforms that is currently transforming the Middle East will have important implications for Israel’s security, Kerry said. Noting the removal of pro-Western governments in Lebanon and Egypt, Kerry predicted that countries which have historically enjoyed strong ties with Israel “may change their postures.” Referring to the stalled negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Kerry stressed that continued progress toward achieving a lasting peace is the only way to guarantee Israel’s security and the stability of the region as a whole. Highlighting the urgency of resuscitating the stalled peace process, Kerry said, “To the extent Israelis found the security situation acceptable prior to the outbreak of unrest, the status quo with its neighbors is now unsustainable.”
event transcript

Kerry's remarks

Sources on Middle East

Twisting Assad's Arm

U.S. diplomats are always complaining they have no leverage over Syria. They're wrong.

As Bahrain stifles protest movement, U.S.’s muted objections draw criticism

A Statement by President Obama on Syria

The White House Blog

President Obama just released the following statement on Syria:
The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators. This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now. We regret the loss of life and our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the victims, and with the Syrian people in this challenging time.
The Syrian Government's moves yesterday to repeal Syria’s decades-old Emergency Law and allow for peaceful demonstrations were not serious given the continued violent repression against protesters today. Over the course of two months since protests in Syria began, the United States has repeatedly encouraged President Assad and the Syrian Government to implement meaningful reforms, but they refuse to respect the rights of the Syrian people or be responsive to their aspirations. The Syrian people have called for the freedoms that all individuals around the world should enjoy:  freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and the ability to freely choose their leaders. President Assad and the Syrian authorities have repeatedly rejected their calls and chosen the path of repression. They have placed their personal interests ahead of the interests of the Syrian people, resorting to the use of force and outrageous human rights abuses to compound the already oppressive security measures in place before these demonstrations erupted. Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria's citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies. We call on President Assad to change course now, and heed the calls of his own people.
We strongly oppose the Syrian government’s treatment of its citizens and we continue to oppose its continued destabilizing behavior more generally, including support for terrorism and terrorist groups. The United States will continue to stand up for democracy and the universal rights that all human beings deserve, in Syria and around the world.  

Gathering Clouds for Syria's Assad


Mohamad Bazzi, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
April 18, 2011
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is facing the most serious challenge to the Ba'athist regime since the 1980s. Assad's security forces have been unable to quell a wave of protests that began last month in the southern town of Deraa and have since spread across the country. On April 15, Syria witnessed the largest demonstrations yet, as tens of thousands of protesters marched from several suburbs into central Damascus.
Assad initially responded to the country's protests with a violent crackdown and token concessions--such as appointing a new cabinet--that failed to appease Syrians seeking dramatic change after forty-one years of autocratic rule by the Assad family. On April 16, Assad promised to lift the state of emergency in place since 1963 that grants wide authority to the security forces. But protests erupted again the next day, as thousands took to the streets across Syria chanting: "The people want the overthrow of Bashar!"
Assad enjoys greater popular support than other Middle Eastern rulers ousted by recent uprisings, such as Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. But he is squandering this political capital as his crackdown intensifies and he continues to ignore the need for fundamental change.
In his April 16 address, Assad tried to strike a conciliatory tone after an earlier speech in which he dismissed pro-democracy activists as "dupes" or saboteurs in a plot hatched by "foreign agents" to weaken Syria. Aside from his pledge to repeal the emergency law within days, he vowed to fight corruption, reduce unemployment, and to "study" new laws that would allow the formation of political parties and guarantee the right to peaceful assembly. But repealing the emergency law would do little to restrict the power of various security agencies because Syria has other laws that guarantee members of the secret police immunity for virtually any crime committed in the line of duty.
Assad also warned that these concessions would be followed by a crackdown. Once these changes are in place, he said, "there will no longer be a need to organize demonstrations in Syria." He added ominously that the government would not "tolerate any act of sabotage."
These measures did not appease the protestors because Assad failed to loosen the Ba'ath Party's monopoly on power. In refusing to make substantial concessions, Assad is relying on a tactic he learned from his father: The Syrian regime does not respond to pressure, whether external or internal, and this principle has served it well in times of crisis. While this approach worked for Hafez Assad during the three decades he ruled Syria, it is unlikely to succeed over the long term for his son, as he confronts a different and unprecedented type of pressure rooted in deep popular grievances.
[M]any secular Sunnis, especially in Damascus, are still on the sidelines. If these Sunnis take to the streets in sustained, large-scale protests, then Assad's government will face a grave danger.
The unrest shows little sign of letting up. Over the past week, protests spread to several coastal towns, Damascus, and Aleppo--one of Syria's largest cities that was once a center of resistance to the Ba'ath Party. Human rights activists estimate that more than two hundred demonstrators have been killed and hundreds arrested since protests began in Deraa, a Sunni town near the border with Jordan that has suffered from economic neglect by the central government.
It is especially troublesome for Assad that the unrest started in Sunni areas that traditionally supported the Ba'ath Party and have provided recruits for the Syrian military. On March 6, the police arrested fifteen teenagers who had scrawled anti-government graffiti on several buildings in Deraa. The arrests set off large demonstrations, which led to clashes with security forces and dozens of casualties. Assad and his advisers bungled the initial response: The president failed to offer condolences to the families of those killed or to visit the town, setting off a new round of protests that spread to other areas. As the crackdown intensified, demonstrators also honed their rhetoric from demands for "freedom" and "dignity"--and an end to abuses by the security forces--to calls for Assad's overthrow.
Assad's main goal is to preserve the rule of his Alawite regime in a Sunni-dominated country. (The Alawites, who make up about 12 percent of Syria's population, are an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam.) Unlike the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, it is unlikely that the Syrian military leadership would abandon Assad. Most of the country's generals and top security officials are Alawite, and their fortunes are tied to Assad's survival. Syria is also home to Christian, Druze, and Shiite minorities--about 15 percent of the population--and they tend to support the Alawite regime. Along with many secular Sunnis, these minorities look to Assad as a source of stability, and they fear that his fall could precipitate a civil war.
The Ba'athist regime has a history of using extreme violence to suppress opposition. In 1982, as the Muslim Brotherhood carried out attacks against military and civilian targets in several cities, Hafez Assad dispatched troops to the city of Hama to put down an Islamist uprising. Assad's forces leveled sections of the city, killing an estimated twenty thousand people. Since then, membership in the Muslim Brotherhood has been punishable by death.
While the current wave of protests has been partly inspired by Sunni preachers in some cities and towns, Syria is not facing another Islamist uprising. Like other rebellions in the Arab world, the largest protests have taken place after Friday prayers. But many secular Sunnis, especially in Damascus, are still on the sidelines. If these Sunnis take to the streets in sustained, large-scale protests, then Assad's government will face a grave danger.
For an oil-poor country that has little economic clout, the Syrian regime derives its power from its strategic position and carefully nurtured alliances. Syria has played the role of a regional spoiler and Arab nationalist standard-bearer since 1970, when Hafez Assad rose to power in a military coup. He perfected the art of shifting alliances, stirring up trouble in neighboring countries, and keeping his enemies mired in costly battles.
When Hafez died in 2000 and was succeeded by Bashar, many believed the soft-spoken ophthalmologist could never balance the regional cards as masterfully as his father. But it is clear that the younger Assad has grown comfortably into the role of a strongman who must adapt to shifting Middle East realities.
Assad did not have much time to master regional dynamics before he confronted a serious external challenge. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration turned its attention to Damascus as another candidate for "regime change." Syria meddled in Iraq, nurtured Palestinian militants opposed to peace with Israel, and dominated its smaller neighbor, Lebanon.
By 2009, Assad had waited out the Bush administration and was maneuvering himself out of international isolation. At the same time that he was reaching out to Saudi Arabia and other Arab powers, Assad maintained his relationship with Iran and its allies in the region: Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iraqi Shiite factions. These moves are a classic example of the statecraft practiced by Hafez Assad.
The younger Assad has been deft at dealing with external pressure on Syria, applying the lessons of his father's foreign policy. But today, he cannot hunker down and wait for the storm of protests to pass. To avoid considerable bloodshed, Assad must move beyond the survival methods and political instincts of his father.

U.S. Faces a Challenge in Trying to Punish Syria

April 25, 2011


WASHINGTON — The White House said on Monday that it was exploring new sanctions against Syria — mostly involving the assets of top officials around President Bashar al-Assad — but officials acknowledged that the country was already under so many sanctions that the United States held little leverage.
“We’re talking about a country whose economy is about the size of Pittsburgh’s,” said one administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the continuing debate within the administration about the next steps. “There are things you can do to amp up the volume” of sanctions, the official said, “but the financial impact is slim.”
The problem the Obama administration faces with Syria is similar to those involving North Korea and Myanmar, which have long been under sanctions. In Syria’s case, the United States already, in 2006, banned transactions with the Commercial Bank of Syria. In early 2007, it accused four government-related research organizations of working on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and banned transactions with them.
But later that year, when Israel found a nuclear reactor under construction in the Syrian desert and destroyed it in an airstrike, the United States took no further action, in part because the Bush administration could not think of any truly effective sanctions. Now the Obama administration is looking for specific sanctions against individual leaders, though most of their money is probably in Europe or Lebanon.
So far, President Obama has stopped well short of calling on Mr. Assad to step down, or of declaring, as he did of Libya’s leader, Col.Muammar el-Qaddafi, that Mr. Assad had lost the moral authority to lead his country. Nor, apparently, has the administration been working behind the scenes to ease Mr. Assad out of office, as in the case of Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Asked how the administration justified treating Mr. Assad so differently, Jay Carney, the president’s press secretary, said Monday that it was “up to the people of Syria to decide who its leaders should be.” He tried to differentiate Syria in other ways as well.
“Libya was, again, a unique situation,” Mr. Carney said. “We had large portions of the country that were out of the control of Muammar Qaddafi.  We had a Qaddafi regime that was moving against its own people in a coordinated military fashion and was about to assault a very large city on the promise that it would show” what Colonel Qaddafi himself called “no mercy.” And, Mr. Carney continued, “we had the support of the Arab League.”
Administration officials say that while they lack many effective economic tools, they believe Mr. Assad is sensitive to portrayals of his regime as brutal and backward. “He sees himself as a Westernized leader,” one senior administration official said, “and we think he’ll react if he believes he is being lumped in with brutal dictators.”
Recently, the White House stepped up its denunciations of the Syrian government, and of Mr. Assad himself. “Over the course of two months since protests in Syria began,” Mr. Obama said in a statement on Friday, “the United States has repeatedly encouraged President Assad and the Syrian government to implement meaningful reforms, but they refuse to respect the rights of the Syrian people or be responsive to their aspirations.”
He accused Mr. Assad of putting “personal interests ahead of the interests of the Syrian people, and resorting to the use of force and outrageous human rights abuses.”

Sources on Middle East

Azerbaijan: US Military Ties with Baku are Stagnating - Experts

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Declaring our intervention in the Maghreb a failure

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Poll: Egyptians have unfavorable view of U.S., are divided on fundamentalists

Washington Post

By Michael Birnbaum, Monday, April 25, 9:31 PM

CAIRO — Egyptians are deeply skeptical about the United States and its role in their country, but they are also divided in their attitudes about Islamic fundamentalists, according a poll released Monday by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.
Most Egyptians distrust the United States and want to renegotiate their peace treaty with Israel, the poll found. But only 31 percent say they sympathize with fundamentalists, while 30 percent say they sympathize with those who disagree with fundamentalists. An additional 26 percent said they had mixed views.
The poll is the first comprehensive look at attitudes of Egyptians since protests forced President Hosni Mubarak to end his 30-year reign in February. The numbers reveal a society that overwhelmingly agrees that Mubarak was bad for the country but is divided about what the future should look like.
Although 75 percent were positive about the Muslim Brotherhood, which was officially banned under Mubarak and is now the strongest political organization in the country, almost as many — 70 percent — felt positively about the youth-based April 6 movement that was mostly secular and was one of the key organizers of the protests.
The poll found that 39 percent of Egyptians believe the U.S. response to the upheaval in Egypt was negative, almost double the 22 percent who said it was positive. But many Egyptians — 35 percent — said that the U.S. impact on what happened in Egypt was neither positive nor negative, suggesting that, to them, the United States might not have had much to do with the situation either way.
The United States initially struggled to adopt the right tone toward the protests, at times sending conflicting messages about how quickly Mubarak, its longtime ally, needed to step down, while consistently saying that the decision was in the hands of Egyptians.
Egyptian attitudes toward the United States more generally stayed about the same between 2010 and 2011 — with just 20 percent holding a favorable opinion of the United States this year, an increase of three percentage points from 2010, and 79 percent holding an unfavorable opinion, a decrease of three percentage points.
More Egyptians — 64 percent — said they had low or no confidence in President Obama in 2011 than they did last year, up five percentage points.
And 54 percent want to annul the peace treaty with Israel, compared with 36 percent who want to maintain it.
In a sign of the enduring respect Egyptians have for their military, as well as their gratitude that generals ultimately sided with protesters over Mubarak, those polled were overwhelmingly unified in their support for the head of the transitional military council running the country, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi.
Ninety percent held positive views of him, and 88 percent had positive views of the military in general. They were almost as unified in their opposition to Mubarak. Only 13 percent held favorable views of him; 86 percent held unfavorable views.
A majority of the country wants Egypt’s laws to strictly follow the Koran — 62 percent — and even among those who disagree with Islamic fundamentalists, the number only drops to 47 percent.
The April 6 youth organizers have struggled to determine how best to translate their successes into influence in the political future of the country. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, benefits from a preexisting political organization in a country that has few of them. New political parties seem to be announced every week, and the likely outcomes of the September parliamentary and November presidential elections are unclear.
That might be why only 41 percent of those surveyed felt that free and fair elections were very likely, as compared with 59 percent who thought they were only somewhat likely or unlikely. Support for individual political parties is very divided, and highest number of those surveyed — 21 percent — said they didn’t know which party should lead the next government.
Of the current presidential candidates, Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League and a former foreign minister under Mubarak, is the favorite, commanding an 89 percent favorable rating. Ayman Nour, an opposition politician, was second among the candidates named, with 70 percent viewing him favorably. Mohamed ElBaradei, the former leader of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who is a well-known face in the West but is regarded as an outsider by many in Egypt, had a 57 percent favorable rating.
The pollsters conducted face-to-face interviews with 1,000 Egyptians across the country over a period of two weeks at the end of March and beginning of April, and the survey has a margin of error of four percentage points.

Libya, Russia And NATO Disunity


The NATO foreign ministers met in Berlin on Thursday to determine the objectives of the alliance’s intervention inLibya. The conclusions were relatively tepid, with the meeting essentially reaffirming that forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had to stop all attacks against civilians, permit unhindered humanitarian access to the country and withdraw from the cities they had “forcibly entered, occupied or besieged throughout all of Libya.”
The meeting’s show of unity among the 28 member states belied the reality of the last couple of weeks. The military intervention in Libya has not found support in Germany or the alliance’s newer East/Central European members, while in the last few days, France and the United Kingdom have launched criticism against the alliance for not moving aggressively enough on the ground. Furthermore, while the meeting on Thursday said nothing of regime change, French, British and U.S. leaders penned an op-ed to appear in Friday’s press that reaffirms regime change as the goal of the intervention. That is a considerable lack of clarity on whether NATO is unified on that issue or not.
Libya, however, is not a spark for NATO disunity or a glimmer into future discord. Rather, it is a symptom of a well-progressed disorder that has afflicted the alliance for several years.”
While the NATO meeting on Libya dominated the news on Thursday, we found comments of the Russian permanent representative to the alliance, Dmitri Rogozin, to be far more important. While Rogozin generally criticized NATO’s intervention inLibya, it was his comments on the proposed European ballistic missile defense (BMD) system that attracted our attention.
Rogozin suggested two things. First, in the run-up to the meeting, he said that Russiaexpected “real guarantees” that the BMD would never be aimed against Russia. Second, he said Europeans should establish a group of “wise men” to “support official talks, first between the U.S. and Russia, and then between Russia and NATO” regarding the BMD.
The first comment, regarding the guarantees, has to do with Moscow’s suggestion for the European BMD project to be a single system with full-scale interoperability. Most NATO member states are fully committed to the U.S. proposal that the BMD system should have two independent systems that exchange information and that Russia’s system not be integrated into Europe. The most vociferous opponents of the Russian single-system proposal are the post-Soviet sphere Central/East European NATO member states like the Baltic States and Poland. For them, the BMD system is about a tangible alliance with the United States, and not so much about preventing ballistic missiles from Tehran hitting Tallinn or Warsaw. Russia, on the other hand, realizes this and is trying to prevent the system from being the pretext used to bring U.S. boots to its former sphere of influence. It therefore wants a single system that it will be able to mold in developmental stages.
The second comment, about creating a European “wise men” group to referee U.S.-Russia talks on the two versions of the BMD, has to do with the fact that NATO is, at this moment, as disunited as it has ever beenRussia is betting that not all Europeans are as committed to the two-systems version as NATO ambassadors and officials indicate.Russia hopes to sow seeds of discord by getting West European diplomats (certainly, Rogozin did not mean wise men from the Baltics) to see Central/East Europeans’ demands for excluding Russia as unreasonable and excessive.
Russian probing of NATO unity comes at a time when the alliance is showing its discord over Libya. Germany, France and the United Kingdom are also split, with Berlin seeing London and Paris going off on a 19th century-style colonial expedition. Germany has few interests in the Mediterranean and it has been vocal about this in the past. Meanwhile, France is trying to prove that it is a leader in Europe and if it can no longer be the political and economic leader that Germany now has become, it will be a military one. At the same time, Italy is standing on the sidelines, angered that France and the United Kingdom have threatened its national security (because Rome has far more at stake than anyone) by upending a favorable set of arrangements that Rome had with Gadhafi.
Quite possibly, never before has NATO’s soil been as fertile for such seeds of doubt as today. Central/East Europeans are irked about yet another “out of theater” operation in Libya. For them, the theater of NATO’s concern should be Europe, focused on the security threat posed by a resurgent Russia. Seeing NATO’s main security guarantor, Washington, dragged into a third Middle East military operation by France and the United Kingdom is disconcerting.
Libya, however, is not a spark for NATO disunity or a glimmer into future discord. Rather, it is a symptom of a well-progressed disorder that has afflicted the alliance for several years. Bottom line is that the interests of the alliance are no longer compatible. The alliance has not had a common enemy since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. But what is different today, 20 years after the end of the Cold War, is that a powerful Germany is thinking for itself and one of its most cherished new-found signs of independence is a policy towardRussia that is fundamentally incompatible, with security fears of the NATO member states living in the shadow of the Kremlin’s sphere of influence.
The Kremlin senses this disunity and plans to act on it — and it did not need Libya to understand it.

The Folly of Protection

The Arab Revolutions: An Israeli Perspective

PolicyWatch #1778

By Ehud Yaari

March 15, 2011

Israel has been watching the ongoing upheaval in the Arab world with steadily growing concern. While they hope to see a happy, democratic end to the popular eruptions of protest and discontent against dictatorial regimes, Israelis are bracing themselves for a series of less optimistic outcomes.
A different Middle East is emerging, one that may be temporarily called "square-ocracy," or the transfer of power from governments to masses of demonstrators in the streets. Rulers are bowing to popular demands, fearing the fate of former Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. But it is still unclear who will lead these countries in the long term, in which direction they will move, and what type of "freedom" will emerge. An extended period of uncertainty and instability may lie ahead, forcing Israel to cope with a highly volatile environment and reassess some of its longstanding assumptions about the nature of its relationships with some neighboring states.
To be sure, Israel was hardly mentioned during the huge, early demonstrations in Egypt and elsewhere. Over time, however, some anti-Israeli slogans began creeping into the protest movement's inventory. For example, tens of thousands cheered in Cairo's Tahrir Square when previously exiled Islamist leader Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi urged them to march on Jerusalem. Mubarak was portrayed as a Zionist agent with a Star of David smeared over his face. Calls for suspension of the bilateral peace treaty and expulsion of Israeli embassy staff were often heard during demonstrations in Amman. In Yemen, demonstrators shouted accusations that President Ali Abdullah Saleh was collaborating with Israel. In Libya, insurgents have often described Muammar Qadhafi as a Jew.
In short, a degree of anti-Israeli sentiment has slowly been mixed into the overwhelmingly domestic agendas of Arab protesters. Israel is clearly not at the top of these agendas, but it has become a part of the revolutionary discourse. Below is a short list of Israel's most pressing concerns about the ongoing unrest.
Egyptian Gas Sales and Treaty Review
The Supreme Military Council under Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi is making a quiet effort to reassure Israel that Cairo's policy toward it has not changed, and that Egypt still regards bilateral peace as a major strategic asset. At the same time, however, the army's high command seems reluctant to resume gas exports to Israel for fear of public reaction. At this point, the hesitancy is political in nature, not a function of technical difficulties. The council is particularly concerned about the current investigation into charges of corruption involved in the most recent contract governing Egyptian gas sales to Israel, which was orchestrated by Mubarak's close friend Hussein Salem, one of the first Egyptians to flee the country when the revolution gained momentum. The longer this suspension continues, the more difficulty Cairo will have announcing a resumption in sales. The latest word from the new government is that the gas supply will resume soon but prices will be renegotiated.
Whatever the results of the eventual presidential and parliamentary elections, the next government will likely seek a "review" of several elements in the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. For example, some Egyptian politicians have indicated a desire to link progress toward Palestinian statehood with continued implementation of the treaty. The Muslim Brotherhood has already called for resubmitting the treaty to a national referendum.
Indeed, with the official dissolution of the Mabahith, or State Security Investigations -- the Egyptian agency traditionally tasked with curtailing Ikhwan activities -- the Brotherhood is becoming bolder by the day. It will certainly use its clout to contest about a quarter of the seats in the parliament, as well as to influence the outcome of the presidential race. The organization's growing power, combined with policy statements by potential presidential candidates, seems to indicate that Egypt's next leaders will adopt a new policy toward Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In short, a less friendly and cooperative government in Cairo is almost a certainty.
Instability in the Sinai
The next Egyptian government will also likely focus on removing the peace treaty's "limitations over sovereignty," meaning the provisions requiring demilitarization of eastern Sinai. Israel has already permitted Egypt to deploy three battalions in the demilitarized areas, to protect Sharm al-Sheikh and the al-Arish-Rafah region bordering the Gaza Strip. Israel could also conceivably accept a limited revision of the Military Protocol to allow an Egyptian military presence close to the border in the hope of improving Cairo's hold over the Sinai.
Since the revolution, Egyptian authorities have effectively lost control over most of the peninsula and some of its Bedouin tribes. The army has vacated the positions it previously maintained in Central Sinai, instead concentrating on securing the northern coastal road and the road along the Gulf of Aqaba. As a result, the Sinai is fast turning into a wild frontier, a safe haven for local arms smugglers and migrating jihadist groups. Hamas is taking advantage of this situation by developing its network of allies among the armed tribes with the intention of mounting terrorist attacks against Israel via the peninsula. Iran and Hizballah are also redoubling their efforts to gain a solid foothold there.
These activities would only accelerate if Cairo changed its official policy toward the Hamas regime in Gaza. In early contacts between the Egyptian military and Hamas officials, a permanent reopening of the Rafah terminal was discussed not only for individual travel, but also as a trade corridor. This portfolio is now with Gen. Murad Muwafi, who replaced Omar Suleiman as head of General Intelligence. In his previous role as governor of North Sinai, Muwafi dealt with Hamas issues on a daily basis.
In light of these factors, Israel may soon face a major dilemma: how to foil terrorist attacks emanating from the Sinai (e.g., new attempts to lob missiles at Eilat) if Egypt proves unwilling or unable to do so. Preemptive Israeli operations across the border would certainly trigger a major crisis between the two countries.
The Palestinian Authority
According to various indicators, some Palestinian groups may view the storm of successful demonstrations throughout the Arab world as a model for unrest against Israel. Discussions are already quietly under way among different Palestinian groups concerning the structure and potential format of nonviolent marches by thousands of people toward Israel Defense Forces positions, West Bank settlements, Israeli security barriers, and, most important, Jerusalem. The Israeli army is already taking measures to prepare for these possibilities.
For its part, the Palestinian Authority has obtained information about plans to call for mass demonstrations in the West Bank urging an end to the Fatah-Hamas split. Hamas has already allowed a similar demonstration in Gaza. It is difficult to predict at this stage whether West Bank Palestinians would respond to such calls in large numbers. From Israel's point of view, other dangers may emerge in addition to the challenge of dealing with the demonstrations themselves. For example, pressure from the streets could spur Mahmoud Abbas to accept a "unity before reconciliation" deal that gives Hamas complete security control over Gaza, allows it to take part in a "national unity government," and enables it confront Fatah in West Bank elections. Such a deal would legitimize Hamas without securing any substantial concessions from the movement.
Under constant pressure from petitions and potential demonstrations, King Abdullah has been promising to speed up reforms in the Hashemite Kingdom. Various opposition groups -- including the Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinian nationalists, and East Jordanian critics of the king's conduct -- are all voicing reservations regarding peace with Israel. Attentive to this mood, Abdullah has appointed some well-known anti-Israeli politicians to the new cabinet, formed by Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit. He also nominated a harsh critic of Israel, Khaled al-Karaki, to the all-important job of chief of the Royal Cabinet.
Clearly, then, Amman is heading toward a policy of cooling relations with Israel, though coordination on security and water issues continues. In fact, this may be the worst period in the short history of peace between the two states. Israeli officials are now worried that the king will accept Iranian overtures to improve relations and visit Tehran.
Severe tests lie ahead for Israel's relationships with its Arab peace partners. Much effort will be needed to protect the peace treaties from the growing assertiveness of the Muslim Brotherhood and other hostile factions. The United States can greatly facilitate this goal by making clear that it regards peace as the cornerstone of its regional policies, even as it supports transition to democracy in the Arab world. Otherwise the Middle East may enter an era of reform under reformers who view peace as a liability. Washington should put the word out that the process begun at Camp David is not finished, and that peace treaties are a benefit for new democracies.
Ehud Yaari is an Israel-based Lafer international fellow with The Washington Institute.