A hard-hitting column this week in Haaretz by Amira Hass posed a series of questions to Hamas leaders that cut right to the heart of the strategy and raison d’etre of the Palestinian group. Hass’s intimate knowledge of Gaza adds force to her questions, especially when she asks Hamas leaders how they feel about the lack of any quantifiable gains from the last war with Israel, other than a sharp and probably temporary rise in the group’s own popularity.
Hass notes that despite the supposed “victory” over Israel, Jewish settlements continue to expand, Palestinian economic gaps are worsening and Gaza remains isolated from the West Bank.… Seguir leyendo »
La audaz decisión del presidente Obama de encabezar una coalición de países para degradar, contener y derrotar al grupo Estado Islámico en Siria e Irak mediante una combinación de instrumentos militares y políticos es, en principio, sensata, pero tiene muchas probabilidades de sufrir un grave problema que ya ha afectado a otras campañas de ese tipo.
La mezcla del poder militar de varios países de todo el mundo y el poder político de los Gobiernos árabes locales necesarios para apuntalar la intervención y lograr vencer al Estado Islámico (EI) es exactamente lo que engendró la aparición de Al Qaeda en los años ochenta del siglo pasado y sus derivados posteriores: el Estado Islámico de Irak y el Levante y el Estado Islámico (EI) actual.… Seguir leyendo »
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is entangled in three critical but faltering relationships with Hamas, the U.S. and Israel. How he reconciles them will determine whether Israelis and Palestinians resume talking or fighting in the months ahead.
On Tuesday, Abbas announced that he was disillusioned by more than two decades of failed mediation by the U.S. and would instead seek Palestinian statehood at the United Nations Security Council. If he doesn’t win a commitment from the Security Council to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem within three years, he plans to bring Palestinian grievances to the International Criminal Court and other global institutions.… Seguir leyendo »
Active warfare in Gaza between Hamas-led Palestinian groups and the Israeli armed forces may have ended for now. But the conflict continues in the arena of public opinion and mutual perceptions. Or perhaps misperceptions would be more accurate, to judge by two contradictory bits of news this week.
At a news briefing, a senior Israeli military intelligence official provided figures to show that Hamas and Islamic Jihad had “suffered a huge, even dramatic hit” to their military capabilities. Yet almost simultaneously, a public opinion poll in the West Bank and Gaza revealed that Hamas’s popularity among Palestinians had risen sharply. If new Palestinian elections were held today, Hamas would win easily.… Seguir leyendo »
Most Israeli analyses I have read and heard since the Gaza ceasefire took hold last week (including this one by my Bloomberg View colleague Daniel Gordis) reflect a mood of concern and despondency. Israelis worry that their proven military might has not been able to make them safe. They warn that in Gaza, Lebanon, Sinai and Syria, Islamist militants now surround their vulnerable nation. And they acknowledge that in the last five wars with Hamas and Hezbollah, Israel has not been able to subdue, eradicate or disarm its foes.
My visit to Jordan this week has convinced me that Israelis shouldn’t worry so much about their military capabilities, because their technological prowess and advantages remain significant.… Seguir leyendo »
On the Arab side, the true winners and losers from the seven-week Gaza war will only become clear in the coming weeks, as the conditions of the cease-fire play out. The current sense of jubilation among Palestinians reflects sheer relief. The fighting is over. Palestinians stood their ground, did not surrender to Israel’s intense attacks, and forced its leaders to accept a cease-fire. Hamas and other resistance groups maintained their arms and some of their facilities. Israel’s blockade of the territory is being lifted gradually. Fishermen now have deeper access to the sea, and large-scale reconstruction looks likely to start quickly.… Seguir leyendo »
At this pivotal moment, with negotiations for a longer-term cease-fire in Gaza under way, a key question for all sides is whether Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah organization can reassert control over the territory, ending both Israel’s siege and resistance rocket attacks by Hamas.
The divergence between what Abbas can achieve in Gaza and what Israel and the United States hope he can, however, is profound. The latter appear to view Hamas as a truant in need of adult supervision. They want the Palestinian Authority to run Gaza mainly so they can avoid having to engage Hamas directly.… Seguir leyendo »
In terms of sentiment and fear, Israelis and Palestinians have responded in remarkably similar ways to the conflict in Gaza. Israelis have united around the need to destroy the tunnels and rocket launchers manned by Hamas and groups such as Islamic Jihad. Palestinians are equally united in their refusal to accept any ceasefire that doesn’t ultimately lift the Israeli siege of Gaza.
Both sides feel more vulnerable than ever before. Both have paid a heavier price in terms of death, destruction and inconvenience than in previous confrontations. Both have toughened their negotiating demands. Both feel they have no option but to continue the fight.… Seguir leyendo »
The Syrian conflict has become the world’s greatest proxy war since Vietnam. It reflects every major fault line that has defined the Middle East for the past half-century and has drawn in local, regional and global actors, many of whom see this as an existential fight that they cannot afford to lose.
This is why the conflict is so vicious, and so difficult to settle diplomatically. But the war’s proxy status also holds the key to its resolution: The fighting will only cease when the United States, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia feel the negative consequences of the war and conclude that it is in their best interests to end it.… Seguir leyendo »
The UN action in support of the call from special envoy Kofi Annan for a total ceasefire in Syria on 12 April is, like all security council presidential statements, a lot like a new year’s resolution – sincere, grounded in real needs and aspirations, but really difficult to implement.
Of the several different but linked issues at play here, three will determine its fate: the capacity of the security council to intervene in a sovereign state’s affairs; the Syrian government’s sense of its own durability; and the capacity of the opposition to challenge and change the Damascus ruling elite. And my impression is that the ability of the opposition groups to form a more coherent movement will be the crucial factor, drawing on the substantial support they have generated in the Middle East and around the world.… Seguir leyendo »
To spend time speaking and listening to a wide range of people in Washington on Middle Eastern issues, as I did last week, is to wander into a world of deep perplexity. Every pillar of America’s Middle East policies is changing rapidly, and much of the change sees Middle Eastern actors taking charge of their own destinies, leaving the United States in a strangely weakened and often marginalized position.
The principal manifestations of this situation are the behaviors of the Palestinians, Saudis, Egyptians, Israelis, Turks and Iranians, and the Russians and Chinese from outside the region. The two most telling issues that reveal American perplexity are the Palestinian bid for U.N.… Seguir leyendo »
The signs are not good for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the tightly knit network of relatives, security agencies, Baath Party members and business associates that dominates the country.
The regime is increasingly isolated at home and abroad, but remains bunkered down and ready to fight to the end. The exact nature of that end game is not clear, but seems imminent now, especially in view of just the past week’s events. The most telling:
The Iranian foreign minister publicly said that the Assad regime should respond to the legitimate political grievances of the citizens, meaning that the current military crackdown is not sufficient to calm things down and maintain regime incumbency.… Seguir leyendo »
Egyptians refer to their “revolution” that overthrew the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak last February, and they revel in its continuing afterglow, appreciating how significant and satisfying was their deed.
The post-revolution phase now underway is a more difficult challenge than the weeks of street demonstrations that ousted Mubarak. Everyone in Egypt asks every day: Did the revolution really change much beyond removing the top officials from office, and will a new democratic system of governance fully take root in the country?
In Cairo this week, I had a vantage point from which to understand the deeper political issues at play here when I participated in a two-day seminar of 30 representatives of nongovernmental organizations from a dozen Arab countries, who gathered to discuss “Paths towards democratic changes and equitable development in the Arab region: Towards building a civil state and establishing a new social contract.”
The meeting — convened by the Arab NGO Network for Development, the Arab Institute for Human Rights and the Egyptian Association for the Community Participation Enhancement — clarified what I see as the three most important political dynamics to emerge from the Egyptian experience (which is also taking place in Tunisia):
- The Tahrir Square experience was an exhilarating mass empowerment of once helpless individuals who came together and were able to remove a disliked government;
- The concept of “the consent of the governed” is now operational in Egypt, as “people power” has become the legitimate source of authority and governance;
- The spirit of Tahrir Square must now be translated into a new governance structure and social contract that provide citizens with political and civil rights and also the promise of more egalitarian socioeconomic prospects.
… Seguir leyendo »
The movement of Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirates troops into Bahrain on Monday is a cause for concern on three levels.
It suggests that conservative Arab leaders in key energy-producing states are worried about the potential for unrest in Yemen to their west and Bahrain to their east to spill over into their countries.
It accelerates the long-simmering ideological war between some Arab leaders and the Iranian government, with an unspoken but strong undertone of Shiite-Sunni tensions.
It is likely to spark fresh internal tensions in some Gulf states where Shiite minorities will raise the level of their demands and protests.… Seguir leyendo »
The start of a new year is always a timely moment to look back and ahead. That exercise in the current state of the Arab world is a painful one.
I would point out five mostly troubling trends from 2010 that will probably define and plague the Middle East for the year ahead.
• The brutal attacks against Christians in Iraq and Egypt reflect the work of a small minority of fanatical criminals, and do not represent the views of the Muslim majority in the Arab world. Yet they are part of a trend of depluralization, and steady polarization and compartmentalization, of Arab society, whether the populations in question are Christians, Kurds, Palestinians, Assyrians, Shiites, Sunnis or other distinct groups that increasingly live among their own rather than co-exist in mixed communities.… Seguir leyendo »
It is sad and shocking — pitiful, even, in many cases — how Arab leaders are portrayed in the U.S. State Department cables released by WikiLeaks earlier this week.
A few points about the conduct of Arab leaders come to mind, as we learn new details of what they thought, said and did in various diplomatic moments. These points are about competence, accountability, truthfulness and dignity in the realm of leadership — or, as we have here, the shortages of these qualities in so many cases.
The most shocking revelation — not a revelation, really, as many of us had warned about this for decades — is that Arab governments that have spent hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars on buying American and other foreign arms still find themselves totally helpless, vulnerable and fearful in the face of what they see as growing Iranian power and influence in the region.… Seguir leyendo »
Many efforts to understand why Middle Eastern and South Asian societies are plagued and disfigured by terrorism suggest local causes — poverty, corruption and abuse of power by ruling elites, the impact of charismatic religious radicals, a sense of vulnerability to foreign cultures and military power. These are intriguing and relevant phenomena, but none alone conclusively explains the problem.
A more complete picture requires that we gaze beyond the local stresses of the Arab-Asian region, to get a more complete and accurate understanding of why terror persists as a chronic feature of this region.
This also requires more political honesty and courage than have been permissible in mainstream public discussions in the Western world — most particularly the United States and Britain — where the prevalent analyses of Arab-Asian-based terror focus mainly on the local problems and disregard the consequences of Anglo-American and other foreign policies.… Seguir leyendo »