Mideast Media Sampler 07/11/2013
1) Where did Hezbollah get American arms
Last month Lee Smith attempted to clarify if the administration had sent army to the Syrian rebels as it said it would, or not. All he (or anyone) got was studied ambiguity:
In fact, it’s still not clear what the White House is doing. In a June 13 conference call with reporters ostensibly rolling out the new policy, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes failed to provide any details. Reporters asked several times what kind of aid the administration had in mind, and whether Obama was actually going to arm the rebels. “We’re just not going to be able to lay out an inventory of what exactly falls under the scope of that assistance,” said Rhodes.
Last week, Obama himself addressed the Syria issue, without providing any more clarity than his point man for strategic communications. In an appearance on the Charlie Rose show, the commander in chief told his host, “I’ve said I’m ramping up support for both the political and military opposition. I’ve not specified exactly what we’re doing, and I won’t do so on this show.”
Maybe someone in the White House is advising Obama that obfuscation and ambiguity make a president look presidential. His administration is stealthy and indirect—instead of communicating with the public through press conferences, it prefers leaking to the media via unnamed officials. Accordingly, it was through several press reports that the “inventory,” as Rhodes repeatedly called it, was laid out. The White House will send the rebels small arms and ammunition—lethal aid, to be sure, but hardly game-changing, or even likely to tilt the balance of power on the ground in Syria.
Citing expert, Phillip Smyth, USA Today reported, though, that Hezbollah has been boasting of somehow acquiring American arms:
U.S. and Western weapons have been reaching Iranian-backed Shiite militias fighting to keep Bashar Assad’s forces in power in Syria.
Analysts say it’s unclear if the weapons were captured, stolen or bought on the black market in Syria, Turkey, Iraq or Libya. Propaganda photographs from Shiite militias posted on dozens of websites and Facebook pages show the weapons were acquired in new condition, said Phillip Smyth, an analyst for Jihadology.net, a site affiliated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Many of the weapons are things the militias “shouldn’t really have their hands on,” Smyth said. Iranians love to show “they have weapons and systems that are very close to the Americans.”
The article cites Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who fears that in the future similar weapons were captured from rebels.
Does that mean that United States has been arming the Syrian rebels? Not necessarily. Another expert, Nic Jenzen-Jones, says that a likely source of these American weapons is Lebanon.
Given the degree to which Hezbollah has co-opted the Lebanese army this would not be a surprising result.
2) Who’s isolated now?
A few years ago a mantra among Israel’s critics was that Israeli by fighting terrorists on the Mavi Marmara and building apartments in Jerusalem had isolated itself internationally. Israel had needlessly alienated moderate Islamist Erdogan in Turkey and moderate autocrat Abbas in Ramallah. Worse Netanyahu had alienated Israel’s best friend, President Obama in Washington.
It’s useful to remember this background when reading Thomas Friedman’s Morsi’s Moment from last November.
It is impossible not to be tantalized by how much leverage Morsi could wield in the peace process, if he ever chose to engage Israel. Precisely because he represents the Muslim Brotherhood, the vanguard of Arab Islam, and precisely because he was democratically elected, if Morsi threw his weight behind an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, it would be so much more valuable to Israel than the cold peace that Sadat delivered and Hosni Mubarak maintained. Sadat offered Israelis peace with the Egyptian state. Morsi could offer Israel peace with the Egyptian people and, through them, with the Muslim world beyond.
Ironically, though, all of this would depend on Morsi not becoming a dictator like Mubarak, but on him remaining a legitimately elected president, truly representing the Egyptian people. That is now in doubt given Morsi’s very troubling power grab last week and the violent response from the Egyptian street. President Obama has to be careful not to sell out Egyptian democracy for quiet between Israel and Egypt and Hamas. We tried that under Mubarak. It didn’t end well. …
So, as you can see, the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the future of Egyptian democracy and the U.S.-Israel-Arab struggle with Iran and Syria are now all intertwined. Smart, courageous leadership today could defuse the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, advance Egyptian democracy and isolate the Iranian, Syrian and Hamas regimes. Weak or reckless leadership will empower all three. This is a big moment.
Friedman makes some assumptions here. He presumed that Morsi could be swayed to democracy and ignored the authoritarian nature of the Muslim Brotherhood. He presumed that the Palestinians want an agreement with Israel, which they don’t. And most of all he presumed that Israeli leader would act as he wanted them to act (“smart, courageous”).
In subsequent months, Iran and its proxies have continued to alienate themselves from the Sunni world. The Muslim Brotherhood, at least in Egypt, managed to do the same.
Erdogan after briefly flirting politically with Assad, then turned against him. And his much vaunted moderation was shown to be a sham once he turned his troops violently against protesters. Abbas can’t keep a functioning government together.
Smart Israeli leadership waited this events out and didn’t proceed recklessly as Friedman advised.
Barry Rubin provides an overview of recent events in the Middle East and how they enhanced Israel’s posture. A couple of them are:
Hamas: With Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood thrown out of office, Hamas poses much less of a threat. Instead of having Egypt as a patron, Egypt is now a greater enemy than it was under Mubarak. That then breaks up the issue of a Brotherhood Egypt, Hamas, and Syria.
Egypt: And speaking of Egypt, the transformation for Israel’s strategy almost approaches the victory of the 1967 war except this is not a victory over Egypt but a tremendous enhancement of cooperation. The threat of the dissolution of the peace treaty and a potential new war has been replaced by a prospect of deeper peace and more strategic help.
The draining of terrorist resources and energies. Syria is now a target, as well as Iraq, for Sunni terrorists; and now Egypt is, too.
Would Israel have been better off it had made deal that would have passed muster with the now deposed Morsi? (Assuming that one was possible.) Should Israel have given in to the extremist, Erdogan’s demands? Once again Israel is considering making a confidence building gesture to bring Mahmoud Abbas back to negotiations. Given Abbas’s record and rhetoric, it’s hard to believe that he will respond positively.
Friedman’s reading of the Middle East is seen solely through his rose colored glasses of Arab moderation. Events of the past months have proven him wrong.
3) Ozymandias in the Gulf?
Martin Kramer comments on Qatar’s latest grandiose plans:
Well, Deloitte reports that Qatar is spending $200bn—yes, that’s billion—for infrastructure to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, including six stadiums (http://usat.ly/1atXzNV). In the distant (or not-so-distant) future, Doha will make a splendid ruin. It will draw tourists for millennia.