The “New” Middle East
By Sol W. Sanders
Sunday, August 3rd, 2014 @ 6:15PM
As usual, there are more questions than answers about the current Middle East situation. And, for that matter, there is difficulty following the gyrations of Obama Administration policy.
But there is growing evidence of a defiant Israel, stoic in the face of Hamas’s ability to exploit the misery of its own making for Gaza’s 1.8 millions, and growing pressure from the Obama Administration for an indecisive ceasefire. Jerusalem appears dedicated to the destruction of the most dynamic terrorist organization in the Middle East.
Successful demilitarization of Gaza would not only remake the Israel-Palestine relationship but could be the world’s first conclusive victory in the war on Islamic terrorism.
In a rapidly evolving situation, not only changing conditions but loyalties and alliances are breathtaking. Here are some basic considerations:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is beset with the typical domestic Israeli ideological in-fighting, from peace advocates on the left to proponents of reoccupation of Gaza on the right. But he rides a wellspring of domestic support, despite heavy casualties, for refusing a temporary compromise with Hamas such as those in 2008, 2009 and 2012 . Furthermore, what is seen now as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s 2004-5 unilateral Gaza withdrawal and destruction of its four Israeli Settlements has further discredited “land for peace” — that is, abandoning 1967 conquests of the locales of the historic Hebrew kingdoms for a “two state solution”.
But the Israeli public is still absorbing the evidence of a major intelligence failure in underestimating Hamas’s capacities with its sophisticated tunneling operations. That surge of suicide bombing, mayhem and kidnapping was planned for September 2014 Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) — to take advantage of a Jewish holiday, an echo of the Arab surprise of the 1973 Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) War.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether Jerusalem, with the tacit concurrence of Cairo, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Mohammed Abbas’ Fatah movement, will have the stomach for completing Hamas’s decimation.
Destruction of Hamas would be a severe blow to Tehran’s mullahs, who have used it as a further diversion from demands by the U.S., Israel and other American allies to halt the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons. It is not only that Hamas represents part of the strategic pincers — in the south with Iranian-supported Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the north — against any Israeli attempt to take out Iranian nuclear weapon potential. But the ability of Shia Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to jump the deadly 1600-year-old sectarian divide to support Hamas as a product of the ultra-anti-Shia Sunni Moslem Brotherhood. The Tehran-Gaza alliance unites Islamic terror in a way not seen before. Even Iran’s traditional enemy, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now reaching for ultimate power in the Turkish presidential elections this fall as he moves closer to the Brotherhood, has also become one of Hamas’s patrons.
Will the Tehran mullahs watch this asset fall apart, or would they, for example, finally unleash Hezbollah and its missiles on Israel’s north in order to try to rescue the Hamas remnant?
Contrary to the 2012 Gaza ‘truce” when Mohamed Morsi rode the wave of a Moslem Brotherhood electoral victory, President Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sees Hamas as an enemy. The ruling Egyptian military is in a brutal campaign to wipe out the Brotherhood’s domestic political and paramilitary following. Furthermore, Hamas’s Iranian connection on Egypt’s doorstep imperils Cairo’s traditional political and cultural leadership of the Arab and Muslim world. Tacit military cooperation with the Israelis is restoring Egypt’s control over Sinai and presumably would close the smuggling routes for longer-range Iranian missiles and other weaponry reaching Hamas through the Red Sea and Sudan.
It remains to be seen if Sisi can maneuver a ceasefire/truce in tacit cooperation with the Israelis that will dismantle Hamas’s military as a minimum, while all the while paying enough homage to Gazan victims to quiet the Arab Street’s overall sympathies for the Palestinian cause.
This tiny little Gulf sheikhdom with only 2 million people — with the highest per capita income in the world from its enormous gas reserves — has taken a hit. That’s because Qatar’s al Thani family’s high stakes game of playing all sides included being the principal backer of Hamas. It was not only Qatar’s financing but IT controls that permitted Hamas to launch thousands of missiles at Israel from its sophisticated tunnels, protecting them from air power, and preparing a growing terrorist plot against Israel.
While Qatar played a principal role in the Obama Administration’s “lead from behind” strategy in toppling Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, it is the principal funder for the jihadists against Washington-backed moderates seeking overturn of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus. Qatar also was middleman in swapping of five Taliban commanders imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held for five years by the Taliban.
Although it has the smallest military force in the region — 11,800 conscripts — Washington sold it $11 billion in weapons earlier this year, including anti-aircraft missiles. A major fighter purchase is set for later. This was the price for use of a major air base where Washington strategists attempt to coordinate defense for all the Gulf states against an increasingly menacing Iran. Washington reached agreement to continue to operate and maintain troops at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base at least through 2024, having moved there when Saudi Arabia reversed course after originally hosting U.S. forces during the Gulf Wars. Qatar’s bitter feud with Saudi Arabia, restrictions on the use of the base, and meddling in its Gulf neighbors’ domestic politics limit that cooperation.
A collapse of Hamas could prejudice the whole shaky network of Qatar’s activities, perhaps demanding a new American strategy to oppose Tehran in the Gulf rather than continuing the dawdling talks (recently extended for four months) that are neither inhibiting Tehran’s weapons’ progress nor (given the further-lightened sanctions) forestalling the restoration of its economy.
Admission that three UN Gaza schools stored Hamas armaments (which were returned to Hamas) is finally giving currency to the region’s greatest “secret”, the 70-year-old effort of the UNRWA, a highly paid international secretariat, with the collaboration of neighboring Arab states, to cultivate a “refugee” status for Palestinians. UN-operated schools have preached anti-Semitic hatred and jihad against the Israeli state. While simultaneously Israel absorbed 800,000 Jews from Arab and Muslim countries, shorn of all their possessions, the oil-rich Gulf states imported millions of laborers from South and Southeast Asia, largely refusing Palestinian Arabs emigration or naturalization.
Recent events have forced UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon into condemnation of Hamas’s violation of repeated attempts at cease fire in contradiction to the UNWRA. Slowly the barbarity of Hamas’s strategy of deliberately exposing Gazans to additional jeopardy from Israeli aerial and ground bombardment in order to exploit world sympathy is seeping through a media unable to report actual conditions in Gaza for fear of their reporters’ lives. For example, CNN interviews with spokesmen for Hamas have, without identification, taken place in one of the area’s largest hospitals.
Some UN officials — for example, the head of the UN Human Rights organization who condemned the U.S. for its participation in developing Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense and suggesting Washington should aid Hamas in a parallel effort — may finally be bringing some semblance of balance into mass-media reporting in the area.
It remains to be seen whether Washington, as the disproportionate bankroller of UN activities and maker of massive direct aid payments to the Palestinians, will use its leverage to reform the aid-giving process.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposal — apparently “demanded” in a bitter conversation by Obama with Netanyahu — to use Qatar and Turkey as mediators in a Gaza ceasefire outraged the Israelis and their American supporters. The effort to cut out Egypt, the traditional mentor for the Gazan Arabs, appeared to be a continuation of the Obama Administration’s flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood and its cool relations with the Egyptian military.
But, almost immediately, including in public statements, Washington flipped back to endorsing Cairo as the mediator, including a role for Mohammed Abbas and his West Bank Palestinians. Cairo’s backing by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the Arab League has not only strengthened what had been seen as Abbas’s fading role but that of the Palestinian “moderates” despite their public caterwauling in defense of Hamas.
Washington, momentarily, has few options but to wring its hands over the civilian carnage in Gaza and to hope that others will find the basis for ending the crisis successfully, that is, with the demilitarization of Gaza.
A version of this column will be published at yeoldecrabb.com on Monday, August 4, 2014
Sol W. Sanders
Categories: ACD/EWI Blog, Hamas, Hamas/Gaza, Hezbollah, Iran, ISIS/IS, Islam, Israel, Latest News, Middle East Conflicts, Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Shari'a, Syria, Terrorist Financing, Turkey, U.S. Foreign Policy, U.S. Policy