The Frog and the Scorpion in the Middle East

By Rachel Ehrenfeld, Norman Bailey, Allan Gerson
Tuesday, August 20th, 2013 @ 3:16AM

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Obama administration’s apparent focus on returning the Muslim Brotherhood to political participation in Egypt and keeping the Syrian conflict from metastasizing is deceptive.

The administration’s real effort is being put into making peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.  This is in keeping with Obama’s commitment to “righteous causes” all the world can agree on, especially when they cost the U.S. nothing and result in no real change.

All the while, there’s no doubt that the geopolitical shape of the Middle East is changing. However, that change may take a while to occur.  There is speculation lately that the chaos in Egypt will, at least until a stable new regime emerges, benefit Israel and the U.S.  While it’s consolidating power, the Egyptian military hardly needs the kind of trouble that is brewing in the Sinai, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s encouragement of Hamas’s penetration and the gathering of jihadis there, and this may necessitate Israeli-Egyptian security cooperation.

On the Syria front, the Kurds there and Iraq should receive U.S. help in resisting Assad, the Iranians, and the Turks. Also, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, which share Israel’s interests in containing Egyptian violence, may quietly line up with Israel and the United States (if it stops supporting the Muslim Brotherhood) and decide to help the Kurds into the bargain.

Change, however, may well be speeded up by untoward events in a number of countries.  For example, if Egypt disintegrates into all-out civil war, a whole new game will be on. If the Sinai becomes the battleground it’s been heading toward over the past few years, Iran’s involvement in the region will accelerate and put Israel and the Gulf in greater danger.

Similarly, if Syria disintegrates, Tehran will likely to step up its effort to turn Syria-Lebanon into an Iranian satrap.  Sunni Islamists have already threatened to take jihad to their Shi’a opponents, even going so far as to advocate taking the struggle into Iran.  Such a struggle could well involve the Kurds and the Saudis and make for an even messier fight.

It is also a mistake to think that the Muslim Brotherhood, which over the decades has increased its influence throughout North Africa, Gaza, and Turkey, will necessarily recede because of its troubles in Egypt. The Brothers have given themselves numerous options for stirring the pot, and not just in Jordan and Saudi Arabia.  And nothing will stop the Brothers from increasing incitement to jihad in the U.S. and Europe.

In geopolitical terms, this is what the Obama administration faces. Yet, despite of increased Palestinian virulent hate propoganda against Israel and the Jews, the administration demands Israeli concessions to “prove” their willingless to live peacfully with their belligerent neighbor.

Someone should call Kerry’s attention to Palestinian president Abbas’s continuing calls to eliminate Jewish presence from the region, much like Morsi and his Brothers. Clearly, Abbas’s agenda is war, not peace.

The administration’s willful blindness and deafness reagrding the Middle East has done enough to the destaliaze the region. But Obama, the stillborn Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, apparently needs a “peace process” he can claim as his own.

However, advancing the cause of Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinians, would further sink the Middle East into chaos that would further damage American interests abroad, as noted by Allan Gerson (below). It is also likely to end up stinging us at home.
Norman Bailey illuminates the dangers ahead with the tale of the scorpion who said to the frog which he stung as he was being carried across the Suez Canal, “This is the Middle East.”

 A New Balance

Out of the murk of the Middle East since the so-called “Arab Spring,” a new strategic balance may be emerging that is not unfavorable for Israel.

By Norman Bailey

August 18, 2013

Out of the mist and murk of the Middle East since the inception of the so-called “Arab Spring” more than two years ago, there are signs that a new strategic balance may be emerging in the region. This realignment process is made up of various elements, some of which we have emphasized in previous columns:

* Withdrawal of the US military presence in Iraq and the pending withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan.

* European neglect of the region and general withdrawal within itself to try to reverse its long-standing economic and financial decline.

* Discovery and incipient production of vast reserves of natural gas in Israeli waters.

* Gradual emergence of an autonomous, if not independent, Kurdistan, marking the formation of a new political entity in the Middle East, covering twenty to forty million people, depending on whether it is limited to Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan, or whether it will eventually cover also the Kurdish regions of Turkey and perhaps Iran.

* Increasing military, security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and the new military-controlled government in Egypt. Egyptian closure of the border with Gaza.

* Replacement of the Emir of Qatar by his son, due to Saudi pressure. The possibility of a visit by a Qatari prince to Israel to discuss economic and technological cooperation. Reports that the reopening of the Israeli trade office in Doha is imminent.

* Turkish preoccupation with domestic problems, especially growing opposition to the Erdogan government by Kemalist secularists, the Alevis, the Kurds and the Gulenists. End of Erdogan’s dream of the creation of a neo-Ottoman overlordship in the region.

* Realization by Saudi Arabia and the gulf states that they cannot count on the United States to provide protective cover in case Iran succeeds in creating a nuclear arsenal, nor on a distant Russia, but paradoxically, on Israel and only on Israel.

Among other things, what this all means is that the Israeli-Palestinian talks so dear to the hearts of Obama and Kerry, are less than a sideshow. They are totally irrelevant to the important developments in the region. Put otherwise, no-one cares. It is pure political theater, and a farce at that.

Much more significant is that the emerging strategic realignment may also mean that Syria/Lebanon also become a sideshow; more political theater, except in this case a tragedy rather than a farce. Lebanon and Syria, like Iraq, will be paralyzed by the ferocious conflict between Sunni and Sh’ia.

For Israel, the situation, barring accident, unforeseen events and/or sheer political stupidity is evolving in a most favorable manner. That, coupled with the new government’s willingness to take on serious domestic reforms, bodes well for the future. However, as the scorpion said to the frog which he stung as he was being carried across the Suez Canal, thereby assuring that would both die: “This is the Middle East.”

Further Reading:

Misdirected Condemnation for Egypt

The Obama-Rice team encourages more violence

The U.N. context also teaches one to understand that heinous actions are often (although not always) preceded by provocation. Yet in the president’s speech, there is no reference whatsoever to the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s as if there was simply a peaceful demonstration beset by security personnel bent on attacking them with martial force.

Yet for more than three weeks, the Muslim Brotherhood was told the organization had to disband its occupation of public space or face the consequences of forcible removal. What would any other security apparatus, especially in the Arab world, do in the face of such a blanket refusal to budge?

Conspicuously absent in the president’s address was any mention of the fact that more than 40 police officers were killed. These were well-protected security forces. How did they manage to get killed unless “peaceful protesters” were well armed and prepared to fire at will? Why rush to judgment before the smoke on the ground has cleared?

Of course, this is not to say that the United States should not strongly deplore the military’s actions that led to so much loss of life. But why not in more measured tones? The answer appears to be that the president’s justification – “we did align ourselves with principles” – indeed mirrors the reality of the administration’s preparedness to more readily make allies with abstract principles than with real countries and governments. Other administrations (Jimmy Carter’s may be an exception) try, to their credit, to adhere to principles insofar as they do not conflict with national security concerns, not the other way around.

It is true, as the president said, that “America cannot determine the future of Egypt.” However, that’s precisely what he is attempting to do in desperately trying to ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood is part of Egypt’s future. The future of Egypt, Mr. Obama proclaimed, lies in investment and economic opportunity. Yet he hardly alluded to the fact that under the rule of erstwhile President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt was going down the path of economic ruin. It is no accident that 30 million people are demonstrating about that perilous state of affairs.

What has the United States to gain in condemning the interim government’s crackdown as warranting, at the least, the cancellation of planned joint military exercises? At this moment, it simply serves as a signal to the Muslim Brotherhood that if they persist in their tactics, they eventually will prevail, even though those tactics now center, for all intents and purposes, on civil war.

How does such a response further regional peace and security? Will Israel be more secure with Egypt’s military undermined and incapable of taking effective action against the jihadist threat in the Sinai? Will Egypt be saved from descent to chaos?

What occurred was deplorable and repulsive, but not incurable. It would be far better to now engage Egypt’s military to ensure better riot control in handling ostensibly unlawful demonstrations. If the U.S. military has effective strategies for dealing with protesters such as those who pushed an Egyptian National Guard armored personnel carrier off a bridge or fired bullets at security forces, then let those better practices be shared now as part of joint exercises.

This administration must eventually come to grips with the reality that for all its talk of advancing democracy, the region lacks democrats. In fact, the most stable government Egypt had in a long time was the Cabinet that was formed by the military. Why not hold our powder until after an independent investigative commission determines what went wrong? True humanitarian assistance can proceed in the interim, rather than pious cancellations, in more effectively serving America’s national interests in a more secure and stable Egypt.

Allan Gerson is former chief counsel to United Nations Ambassadors Jeane Kirkpatrick and Vernon Walters.


Categories: ACD/EWI Blog, Latest News, Middle East Conflicts, Muslim Brotherhood, U.S. Policy

On The Campaign Trail

Check the dates and see when we're in your town!