Saturday, December 31, 2011

Silly Obama Rabbit, Tricks Are for Islamists

By Barry Rubin

It's the end of 2011 and also the end of the old order in the Middle East. It would be an exaggeration to say that it's the end of U.S. interests in the region but it sure looks like the beginning of the end for a lot of them. The problem isn't just Obama policy and the advance of revolutionary Islamism but the decline of the most basic logic and common sense in evaluating the world.

Here's an example of how the mass media, Western foreign policy establishment, and Obama Administration miss the most obvious possible points as the Muslim Brotherhood (and lots of other enemies) run rings around them.

Egyptian police and prosecutors raided the offices of 17 groups which are either “pro-democracy” movements or their Western funders.  Two of the groups were the taxpayer-funded Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. (Talk about ways to antagonize the United States!) The U.S. government was outraged and protested.

A number of people were quoted but not gave any clue to the real political significance of the event. They talked about how civil society groups played a central role in the revolution; how this is an attempt to stem protests.

The New York Times informs us: “The raids were a stark escalation in what has appeared to be a campaign by the country’s military rulers to rally support by playing to nationalist and anti-American sentiment here.” Talk about Western chauvinism! The newspaper only gave the names of the two U.S. groups and not a single one of the Egyptian organizations targeted! The Washington Post at least included another U.S. group, Freedom House, the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and two Egyptian nongovernmental organizations: the Arab Center for Independence of Justice and Legal Professions and the Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory.

But what does it all mean? Well, there are two ways to answer that question:

Click here to read the entire article.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Theme: Israel is Collapsing; Losing Its Democracy. Evidence? None

By Barry Rubin

It is truly amazing how anti-Israel forces generate so many false stories every day. At a time when revolutionary Islamists are taking over most Middle Eastern countries and the democracy dream in the region is collapsing, one would think that the main threat and evil force in the region is Israel. After all, we live in a time when Thomas Friedman, court jester for Middle East issues, can openly write antisemitic canards in the New York Times (the Israel lobby bought a standing ovation for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Congress!).

What is even more remarkable is how new anti-Israel themes are generated without any evidence whatsoever.

The new one is the idea that Israel, and its democracy, are in danger (moderate version) due to internal extremism or are (radical version) falling apart altogether. At least two new commercially published books make this claim, as do scores of articles and even a speech by the secretary of state. The New York Times publishes an op-ed saying that gays are persecuted in Israel while, of course, they aren't but are murdered in every other county in the region.

Yet what actual evidence can be accumulated for all of this campaign?

Click here to read the entire article

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tunisia: There’s Still Hope for Democracy Because The Majority Doesn't Want Islamism

By Barry Rubin

Is Tunisia, the Arab world’s historically most moderate country in social and intellectual terms, headed for Islamism or some kind of difficult but democratic future? I want to rethink my conclusions on this point. Or is it just the timeline that needs to be extended?

It should be stressed that Tunisia has more prospects for achieving democracy and avoiding radical Islamism than do Egypt or Libya. In Egypt, 60 percent of the vote was obtained by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists in the first round, with claims of up to 75 percent in the second round. Excluding Christian voters, that means somewhere between two-thirds and 80 percent of Egyptian Muslims support radical Islamist parties.  Only the army, which is eager to suppress moderates but would rather make deals than fight the Islamists, stands in the way of radicalization. In Libya, the political situation is far less clear but radicals have the guns while tribal and regional conflicts are likely to promote conflict and extremism.

In Tunisia, though, there is a strong base for moderation. Incidentally, Tunisia is the only country where there is a European-style left, in keeping with Tunisia’s Mediterranean orientation and relative openness to Western influences. Tunisia's new interim president Moncef Marzouki, promising a moderate republic. But the real defense against an Islamist dictatorship, even an elected one, is that the majority doesn't want it and those people are unlikely to change their minds.

It is easy to identify what went wrong in the Tunisian electoral process: the ridiculous divisions among the anti-Islamist forces. Of 217 seats, the Islamist party, al-Nahda, won 89. What about the other 128? The answer is that basically all but a half-dozen seats—that went to pan-Arab nationalist or far leftist parties—went to moderate anti-Islamist forces, social democratic or liberal parties.

In short, there is a strong potential base in Tunisia--unlike almost every other Arabic-speaking country--for a real alternative to an Islamist transformation of the society. Still, the Islamists are ruling and will be able to do a lot to create the kind of society they want. The question is: How much?  

Monday, December 26, 2011

Egypt: As Grim Islamists March Toward Power, The Naïve Dance in Tahrir Square...and Washington

“Germany was having trouble,
What a sad, sad story.
Needed a new leader
To restore its former glory.
Where, oh, where was he,
Who could that man be?
We looked around,
And then we found,
The man for you and me,
And now its....”
--”The Producers”
By Barry Rubin
Almost 80 percent of Egyptian Muslims in nine provinces voted for radical Islamist parties in the second round of Egypt’s election. Roughly 5 percent voted for a moderate Islamic party and about 15 percent voted for liberal parties.
That says it all. In the overall vote—that is, including the Christian voters--70 percent supported  radical Islamists, 47 percent (4 million) the Muslim Brotherhood (86 of 180 available seats so far; they might win more) and 32 percent for the Salafists (3.2 million, the Washington Post seriously underestimated their votes).
The liberal (but not overtly anti-Islamist) Wafd won 1 million; the liberal Egyptian Bloc won almost 800,000, and the moderate Islamic, Wasat Party, 370,000.
Incidentally, the vice-chairman of the Wafd said in an interview last July that the U.S. government carried out the September 11 attacks and Ann Frank’s diary was a fake. At least he doesn’t like Iran, though he thinks it is right about the Holocaust being phony. And he’s the liberal.
In preparation for the new order, the military junta is closing down shops selling alcohol. It’s only the beginning. The much-touted Turkish model shows how Islamic law can be introduced gradually and more subtly: simply keep raising taxes on such beverages until no one can afford them. Raymond Stock describes thedestruction of Egypt's greatest library.
Egyptians and foreign observers now have two choices: face reality or retreat into comfortable fantasies about moderate Islamists. The Christian population cannot afford to engage in fantasies so it is increasingly fleeing, as documented by Lucette Lagnado in a moving, detailed article on Coptic refugees in the United States.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

When Obama Preaches; Anti-American Dictators First Sneer At Him, Then Spit at Us

This column was published in the Jerusalem Post in a different version. I own the rights. I strongly recommend you read and link to this version. 

By Barry Rubin

I don’t think one could come up with a more teachable moment regarding international affairs—and including Middle East politics--than a little incident that just happened between President Barack Obama and Venezuela. First, the facts.

Obama gave an interview with a Venezuelan newspaper in which he articulated some of his administration’s most basic themes. Obama said:

“Venezuela is a proud, sovereign nation....The United States has no intention of intervening in Venezuela's foreign relations, However, I think the government's ties with Iran and Cuba have not benefited the interests of Venezuela and its people.

"Sooner or later, Venezuela's people will have to decide what possible advantage there is in having relations with a country that violates fundamental human rights and is isolated from most of the world. The Iranian government has consistently supported international terrorism."

Now, this is precisely the same approach that Obama has taken toward Iran. He said, and this has been a common talking point for administration officials, that Iran would not benefit from having nuclear weapons. He continued:

“Iran understands that they have a choice: They can break that isolation by acting responsibly and foreswearing the development of nuclear weapons, which would still allow them to pursue peaceful nuclear power, like every other country that’s a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or they can continue to operate in a fashion that isolates them from the entire world.”

Obama has rejected America’s leadership role. He feels that the United States has been too much of a bully historically, so he doesn’t stress what U.S. interests require but politely asks other—hostile—countries to behave differently. He tells them that to do so is in their interest because their current behavior doesn’t benefit them.

Foreign leaders can only react with astonishment and—if they are hostile—laughter. If they are pro-American they react with horror.

First, you are signaling weakness and fear, practically putting a “kick me” sign on your back.  
Second, telling some else what their “true” interests are is just as patronizing as telling them what your own interests are and demanding that they be respected. When you ask an aggressive dictator “pretty please” you are asking for some spit in the face.

And that’s just what Obama has received from Venezuela, Iran, and others. Here’s how the Venezuelan dictator, Hugo Chavez, responded:    

"Obama, mind you own business, man. Focus on governing your country, which has become a disaster. Now you're going looking for votes by attacking Venezuela….

“Obama, you're a phony....Go and ask the black community in your country what you are to them: the biggest frustration in I don't know how many years. Go and ask the many people in Africa who may have believed in you because of the color of your skin, because your father was from Africa. You're a descendent of Africa, but you are the shame of all those people."

In other words, your enemy reacts with disdain. You may not criticize him but he’ll criticize you. You may not do things he doesn’t like but he’ll do things you don’t like.

And each time Obama ignores these insults--and incidentally isn't this the kind of statement that if made by a non-leftist, Westerner would be quickly labelled as "racist" and the media would launch a hate campaign against the person?--ignores the violations of U.S. interests, ignores the threats and attacks on U.S. allies.

Incidentally, that’s also why Obama can disrespect U.S. allies, because they can only rarely if ever answer back as Chavez or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad do. Obama may sizzle over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s slap-down in a brilliant oration to a joint session of Congress, but his websites bulge with statements of praise wrung from Israeli leaders heard through their gnashing of teeth.

But there’s something else going on here that shows your ignorance and signals your ineffectiveness. Your enemies know perfectly well where their interests lie. Of course, the Venezuelan regime benefits by building alliances with fellow radicals and anti-Americans.
Similarly, Iran’s regime benefits in many ways by seeking nuclear weapons. Turkey’s regime benefits by forming alliances with Iran, Hizballah, Hamas, and other fellow revolutionary Islamists. The Palestinian Authority rulers benefit by not negotiating or compromising with Israel.  The Muslim Brotherhood benefits by seeking to seize state power and transform their states into Islamist ones. And so on.

Obama thinks that he can persuade radicals to be moderate. Back in the administration of President Jimmy Carter, that U.S. government thought it could persuade the new Islamist regime in Iran to be moderate. President Bill Clinton thought that a spell in power would turn Yasir Arafat into a moderate. It was just a matter of these revolutionaries seeing where their true interest was. In Marxist terms, America’s enemies were suffering from “false consciousness.”

In another recent example of this syndrome, Vice-President Joe Biden says that U.S. policy toward the radical, anti-American Afghan group, the Taliban, is to:

“Try to get the Taliban to move in the direction to see to it that they, through reconciliation, commit not to be engaged with al Qaeda or any other organization that they would harbor to do damage to us and our allies....”

Recently, a Third World diplomat whose democratic country has faced threats from radical regimes asked me: “Why don’t these people understand that the Muslim Brotherhood is a radical group?” My answer was: “Because they don’t understand the role of ideology.”  

Part of this handicap is cultural; part due to the ideological blindness of Obama. Yet the Obama Administration is also ensuring it won’t learn by covering its eyes and ears, pretending that a revolutionary Islamist ideology doesn’t even exist.

Here’s what’s equally incredible. I have seen numerous attempts by the Obama Administration, and its apologists—including Jews--to pretend that its policy is really good for Israel. Over and over again such people and their writings always ignore the regional strategic aspect of the damage that it is doing.

So what if the U.S. government gives Israel military aid, which mostly consists of maintaining old programs? The Obama Administration is building up the threat Israel faces to unprecedented levels. “I love Israel” statements don’t solve this huge strategic problem. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

In The Liberal-Conservative Debate Where's the Common Sense?

By Barry Rubin
It never ceases to amaze me—especially since I seem to be one of the very few people pointing this out—that both liberals and conservatives in the American debate are missing the most important point, the essential but simple argument that spells the difference between victory and defeat, right and wrong.
What people on both sides don't understand is that it is the historical situation and not an eternal ideology that makes for the right policy. What was appropriate for a time when the United States didn't have enough regulation and government was too weak is not appropriate for a time when the United States is overregulated, government is too strong, and the country is ridiculously deep in debt.
For example, Theodore Roosevelt was a great president and what he did was right and necessary. But that was a century ago. It is most telling that President Barack Obama in making a speech for what amounts to statism tries to pretend he is a man who is dealing with a situation in which the federal and state governments were helpless against massive corporate monopolies and when neither any serious government regulation nor effective trade unions existed!
In other words, Obama is running the country and running for office as if it were 1912, not about to be 2012. He is trying to convince people that massive greedy rich corporations that hate big government (like General Electric, General Motors, and all those green job con-men?) control the country. These millionaires wear big top-hats and smoke cigars as in some left-wing cartoon from 1912.
A lot of conservatives seem to think that to explain where the country is going wrong and fix it they have to prove that Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt were completely wrong.   
There is such a thing as balance. America’s rapid industrialization after the Civil War put the system out of balance and threatened to wreck the country’s constitutionally-mandated system. Robber barons, monopolies, exploitation of labor, the buying and selling of legislatures, were all commonplace. Only with the two Roosevelts and Truman was the balance corrected.
A proof of that fact is that few conservatives sought to rollback all the pre-1952 innovations. And the same applies to such later initiatives as civil rights along racial and gender lines or the main and much needed environmental legislation following the discovery of just how much America’s water and air had deteriorated.
Yet the governmental machine just kept going beyond the point of reasonable balance. More and more; further and further. The books of regulations grew and grew, strangling the society, trying to perfect ever-smaller faults at an ever-higher price. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

MERIA Journal, December 2011: just published

Volume 15, No. 4 - December 2011, Total Circulation: 35,000
Pakistan is facing a serious crisis today and despite the proclivity of the nation’s elites to blame external forces, the wounds are largely self-inflicted. India is not the biggest danger Pakistan faces today. It is the extremist groups that the security establishment has nurtured over the years that have turned against the Pakistani state. The [...]
U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks have given a new insight into American policy in Lebanon, especially efforts to counter Hizballah. Hizballah’s willingness to use a combination of hard power through violence and coercion, combined with a softer touch via extensive patronage networks has given them unmatched control over the Shi’a community since the 2005 [...]
This article discusses the 2006/2007 U.S. troop surge in Iraq. It examines to what extent the shift in strategy was responsible for the dramatic drop in violence as well as the implications for U.S. strategy in future conflicts.  [...]
This article considers the reasons for and the overall impact of holding a national referendum in Turkey on September 12, 2010, for a series of constitutional amendments passed by the governing AKP (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi or Justice and Development Party). Although the measures were publically accepted with nearly 58 percent approval, the prospects for [...]
This article surveys all aspects of U.S. Middle East policy under the Obama administration, critiques this strategy and premises, and suggests what U.S. policy should be. A previous version of this article was published in The Journal of International Security Affairs (Fall/Winter 2011).   The Obama administration has comprehensively lost its way on Middle East policy [...]
A GEOPOLITICS OF CYPRUS By James Leigh and Predrag Vukovic
Due to its strategic location, Cyprus has been coveted by various external powers throughout its history. Today shipping routes for oil and competition for control of potential chokepoints make European powers, Turkey, and others very involved with that island country.  [...]
This paper focuses on the current Indo-Israeli defense cooperation and its constraints. The article begins with a brief historical account of this relationship, followed by a discussion of its progression into the defense arena in the late 1990s under the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. Subsequently, it examines the magnitude of the more recent [...]

Fourth Best President?: The Unbearable Heaviness of Obama’s Ego

By Barry Rubin

In his interview with “60 minutes,” President Barack Obama said he was the “fourth-best president.” This was cut from the program. Since it is such a compelling statement, I can only presume it was cut—like so many other great stories that have been self-censored by the media—to keep Obama from looking bad.

But those making fun of Obama for this statement have just skimmed the surface. Actually, there is a lot to be discovered from really examining what he said. And, before proceeding, I should note that my main professional training was in U.S. history—just to make clear that I’m treating this seriously and from a basis of study.

First, Obama showed how he takes the total support of the mass media for granted something inconceivable for any previous president. He begins:

"The issue here is not going be a list of accomplishments. As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign-policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president….”

In other words, Obama is attributing the fact that he’s a great president to the interviewer, Steve Kroft. According to Obama, Kroft has already proclaimed him to be wonderful. Obama is just going along with what the media said.

It has often been remarked that Obama is a narcissist but what we see here is actually dangerous, a man who is so closed and arrogant that he really cannot take criticism into account.  Any leader, except a dictator (and as a result they make lots of mistakes) needs to listen to criticism and adjust policies, not necessarily change them entirely but alter them to deal with facts and opinions.

Note in Obama’s case how his new “jobs bill” is merely a repeat of the failed stimulus. And similar things can be said about his foreign policy. He simply does not take in developments and criticism. This is parallel to a ship’s captain being warned that there’s a big iceberg ahead and continuing with his speech about how he has set the perfect course.

This theme is reinforced by his saying, “The issue here is not going be a list of accomplishments.” In other words, no one can even dispute that he has had great accomplishments. The science is settled; debate is closed. This also tells us that if Obama gets a second term he won’t do any better at all.

  Click here to read the entire article

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Biden Makes It Seem As If You Can Only Be an Enemy of U.S. Interests If You Attack the World Trade Center

By Barry Rubin
Vice President Joe Biden has given a very revealing interview with Newsweek. In it, he confirms my consistent analysis that the administration defines the U.S. problem with revolutionary Islamism as only involving al-Qaida. It cannot be stressed enough why this policy is so extraordinarily dangerous.

Why? The irony is that while the Obama Administration refuses to use the expression “War on Terrorism” this is precisely how they have defined the entire U.S. strategy, although one might also call it the War on the Perpetrators of September 11.” What is missing here is any dealing with major strategic issues.

It is true that September 11 and other massive terrorist attacks are of huge significance. But there’s a whole world out there. Revolutionary Islamists are taking over the Middle East, moving toward the rule of tens of millions of people, getting nuclear weapons, carrying out subversion and terrorism against U.S. allies, and inciting hatred of the United States and a passionate desire to hurt it.

Among the countries where anti-American Islamists—however they conceal their views and goals—are in power are the following: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Tunisia, and Turkey. Syria is their ally and so, to a certain extent, is Qatar.  Pakistan often covertly supports such forces as well. The list of those supporting this stance is far longer than those on the other side.

The Obama Administration has consistently underestimated the growth and spread of Islamism.  No, let me go further: It basically claims that the phenomenon doesn’t exist at all.  Worse still, like someone faced with fire who pours gasoline on everything in its path, the Obama Administration is doing things that worsen the situation by backing radical Islamists and systematically failing to support their intended victims.

To be fair to Biden, however, it is understandable that he must downplay the Taliban threat in this case because he is justifying the coming U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Yet what he says is far more revealing in a damaging way than the superficial criticism—Biden says Taliban is not our enemy—misses.

Regarding al-Qaeda, Obama said that the American goal in Afghanistan is “to fundamentally alter their capacity to do damage to American allies and vital U.S. interests….” Yet what about the other, far larger, more powerful and more dangerous groups that are doing that?

The interviewer, the very capable Leslie Gelb, (a liberal Democrat foreign policy establishment guy who nonetheless sounds very unconvinced by Biden) asks.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Syria: The Forgotten--Including by the Obama Administration--Revolution

By Barry Rubin

I feel guilty every day that I don’t write about Syria’s revolution.  There are massive numbers of demonstrators taking high risks and often paying with their lives; there is a higher proportion of really democratic-minded people than in other Arab countries; and there is general international indifference to their battle in contrast to the “glamor” surrounding the far-shorter, much less bloody Egyptian uprising. The estimated death toll is over 4000 though, of course, nobody knows for sure.

In contrast to Egypt, and partly due to the inability of journalists to cover the story, the Syrian insurgents aren’t made into celebrities. And, curiously, the regime that is repressing them isn’t stigmatized anywhere near what happened to the far less repressive governments in Egypt and Tunisia or even, for that matter, democratic Israel.

Much of the news is the bare stuff about lists of demonstrations and acts of repression. At the end of this article I have appended the story of one province on one day alone to give some sense of the magnitude of the battle.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration, so eager to overthrow friendly regimes in Bahrain, Egypt, and Tunisia, has a peculiar disinterest about doing more against the hostile regime in Syria. Of course, for almost three years the U.S. government considered that anti-American, terrorist-sponsoring, repressive regime to be friendly or at least potentially so. For the U.S. government to do more, I'm not talking about military intervention but far more basic efforts.

As Tony Badran writes in Lebanon Now: “It became obvious that four months after President Barack Obama called for Bashar al-Assad’s departure, his administration has yet to develop a policy to achieve that objective.” U.S. officials sound as if they are advocating conciliation between the regime and opposition, something they never sought in Egypt or Tunisia.

In addition, rather than have a real independent policy, the Obama Administration seems just to be following the Arab League’s lead. Yet, as Badran explains, by continually minimizing what it is willing to do the Obama Administration even undercuts the Arab League’s leverage.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Coming War Threat: Terrorists Are Developing A Safe Haven in Egypt to Attack Israel

What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech.... 
--William Shakespeare, "Hamlet"

By Barry Rubin

Or, in other words, do these writers, policymakers, and "experts" care  what happens in the Middle East? War? Bloodshed? Repression? Christians fleeing; women being turned into chattel? Just a possible boost to their careers and a test for their theories. A good luncheon topic. But this is real, all too real.

First, a word on contingencies. Governments and political analysts are supposed to examine likely problems in order they can be evaded or minimized. The time to be alarmed is not when problems become visible but when governments refuse to recognize their existence. Western regimes and analysts are generally taking a best-possible-case view on Egypt and other developing issues in the region. I'm tempted to say they are taking a fantasy view. They dismiss not just worst-case but highly likely case scenarios. Now that's what's alarming.

In the Sinai Peninsula, Hamas is building support bases and arms-manufacturing facilities including those for building rockets. Over time, these rockets will no doubt be upgraded.  In other words, Egypt is becoming a safe haven for anti-Israel terrorism. We know that these attacks will come from the Gaza Strip. The only question is whether at some point they will come directly across the Egypt-Israel border.

Israel had a long experience with three comparable situations....

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, will be published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).

click here to read the entire article

The “Arab Spring” and Its Impact on Israel

This article was written for the European site, Crethi Plethi, and is reproduced here for your convenience.

By Barry Rubin

The “Arab Spring” is the name given to the tumultuous political events of 2011. In three countries—Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia—the regimes that had been in power for between 40 and 60 years were overthrown. In Syria and Yemen the governments were seriously challenged and internal conflicts continue with the outcome not yet clear. And in Bahrain, a major challenge to the monarchy was put down by force.

What is the meaning of these events for the future of these countries and also to their relationship to Israel and that country’s security? This article addresses the shorter- and longer-term strategic and geopolitical implications of the “Arab Spring.”

In the three countries where power has changed hands—Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia—Islamists have emerged as powerful political forces. In Egypt, where elections are not yet completed, the Muslim Brotherhood received just under 40 percent of the vote and even more radical Salafists obtained about 20 percent. This means that Islamists will be the leading political parties in forming the parliament and in writing the country’s constitution.

What other forces exist? Only two: the army and the future president. The armed forces do not want political power but they do want to ensure their economic enterprises and wealth. The military junta, which still governs the country, is also concerned about preventing anarchy and maintaining U.S. aid. While asserting itself periodically to try to avoid extremism, the generals have backed down when challenged by the Brotherhood.  Presumably, the junta will disband when a new president is elected, perhaps in the summer of 2013.

Who is a likely president? Only two potential candidates will have a chance. One of them is Amr Moussa, an Arab nationalist who has both a realistic and a demagogic side. The other is an Islamist backed by the Brotherhood, but that organization has not yet decided to push on that front and might make a deal with Moussa in order to have a strong ally against the military and also to avoid pushing itself too obviously forward.

Finally, a critical element is the failing Egyptian economy. The situation is so bad that the current prime minister cried at a press conference in discussing it. If a huge—and unsolvable--crisis emerges, the only way for a government to deal with it politically is to divert attention into an anti-Israel, anti-Western scapegoating.    

This brings us to the effect of these events on Israel. At present, Egypt is by far the most important country in this regard. An Islamist Libya can provide money and weapons; an Islamist-led Tunisia can provide some moral support; Syria still hangs in the balance, but Egypt is the state that affects regional issues.

How does Egypt affect Israel? On a number of levels, all negative:

--The Israel-Egypt peace treaty might well not be abrogated but it will be largely emptied of content. Can Egypt-Israel peace be assumed in future? No. It might be hoped that the military will restrain conflict because it doesn’t want to get involved in a losing war and fears losing U.S. military aid. But that is a hope that might well be undermined, far more fragile than the last thirty years of the peace treaty being rock-solid even if the bilateral peace remained cool.

The other specific elements in the treaty are the presence of an Israeli embassy in Cairo, which is endangered by potential mob attacks as Egyptian security personnel stand by and don’t interfere, and Israeli tourism in Egypt, which is now too dangerous given the overall collapse in security and the freedom of operation for terrorist groups.

The Muslim Brotherhood says it wants to renegotiate the treaty. Israel has allowed Egypt to send more military units into Sinai in hope they will combat terrorists there. But if Egypt becomes more radical will the authorities there pull back these forces if Israel asks it to do so?

--The security of the Egypt-Israel border. There has already been one cross-border attack. In response, Israeli government agencies have lost 2 percent of their budgets (and employees their salaries) so a border fence can be quickly constructed. There is a new military unit to guard the border and a new intelligence unit to watch for threats there. In order to try to maintain good relations with the Egyptian military, the Israeli government hushed up the cold-blooded murder of an Israeli soldier by the Egyptian army. More attacks are possible by international terror groups or by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip operating through Sinai.

--The Egypt-Gaza Strip border is now open to weapons, money, supplies, and international terrorists going to help strengthen Hamas and the even more extremist groups there. Whatever controls Egypt’s army has there are weak indeed and further undermined by bribery and the officers’ political sympathy with Hamas. Thus, Hamas can get just about any kind of weapon it wants and is freed from economic pressure.

--The Sinai as a secure area for terrorists. Hamas is reportedly establishing arms-making and logistical bases in Sinai, where Israel cannot attack them. The equipment can then easily be sent into the Gaza Strip.   

--The natural gas pipeline. This is one of Israel’s most important sources of energy. It is now unreliable due to constant attacks. Egyptian politicians say they want to renegotiate prices. Israel is hurrying to replace this natural gas with supplies that can be obtained from off-shore wells but constructing the necessary facilities will take a couple of years.

--Hamas in the Gaza Strip now enjoys full support from a powerful Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups. As the Islamists become part of a future government, this support will become official.

--What would happen in time of war provoked by Hamas? At a minimum, weapons, money, supplies, and volunteers will flow from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. As Egyptians are killed and fighting goes on, the level of hysteria and support for Hamas will rise in Egypt. At a maximum, there could be attacks—whether or not Egypt’s military wants them—across the Egypt-Israel border and even possibly direct supplies of weapons from Egypt to Hamas or even Egyptian military intervention.

Compared to these huge implications, Israel is far less affected on other fronts. The “Arab Spring” has actually limited Iranian influence almost totally to Shia areas. It has also limited Turkish influence to a small area.

Since the situation in Syria remains unsettled it is hard to predict the outcome and thus the effect on Israel. What is clear is that the Syrian regime can no longer use attacks on Israel to make problems at home go away. In Lebanon, Hizballah is too busy digging in, dealing with the loss of Syria as a secure patron, and consolidating control over the country to attack Israel in the present, though the situation might change in future.

Overall, the rising confidence of revolutionary Islamists and especially Sunni Islamists creates a more dangerous regional situation for Israel. U.S. credibility is at an all-time low. Indeed, arguably the Obama Administration looks to the Turkish regime, itself Islamist, rather than Israel as its favorite Middle East ally.

While Israel can cope with the situation, then, the situation is terrible and dangerous, not only for Israel but for Western interests generally.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, will be published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

How Can Israel Please the American Government, Media, and “Experts”? It Can’t

This article was published in a different form in the Jerusalem Post. I own the copyright and ask you to read this version and link only to it.

By Barry Rubin

There is a constant effort—especially by the anti-Israel left--to portray those who express mainstream  Israeli public opinion and the views of professional analysts as “right-wing” or “Likudnik.” This leads me to wonder what one would have to say to please these people. What would be the equivalent of a “liberal” position for Israel according to them? What kinds of positions would they see as legitimate?


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What follows is not meant to exaggerate in any way but is, I believe, a genuine list of what they demand. To please them, I presume one would have to say the following:

--President Barack Obama is the best president for Israel ever (even he says so!). There are no problems in the relationship and if there are these are all due to Israel’s government being so selfish, short-sighted and unreasonable.

--Israel would have to agree to the following: a long-term freeze of all construction on existing settlements; to drop the demand for the PA's recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, drop the demand for demilitarization of a Palestinian state and that Palestinian refugees be resettled in the new state of Palestine (or remain where they are living now), and accept the partition of Jerusalem. Israel could keep its demand for security guarantees but would have to ask for the minimum on this point, too, since Israeli demands block peace.

--Peace with the Palestinians could be achieved within a few months if Israel only gave more concessions, including those listed above, and stopped being so belligerent and stubborn.

--The Palestinian Authority—PA--would not have to change any of its policies since its demands, by definition, don't block peace. (At some point, though, the PA might have to drop its demand that all refugees or any of their descendants could choose to go live in Israel and that the border lines be exactly along the post-1948 ceasefire lines. This would not be clear, however, until Israel agreed to all of the points presented here.)   

--The PA’s incitement to violence; daily denials of Israel’s existence or right to exist; and refusal to negotiate or compromise are not important and Israelis should never talk about these things.

--The PA sincerely wants peace and if given the West Bank plus a corridor to the Gaza Strip and all (or almost all?) of east Jerusalem it would be a reliable partner and keep all of its commitments.  In exchange for a peace agreement, Israel should withdraw to the 1967 borders with minor modifications and dismantle all settlements. 

--If the above were to happen, the Middle East would become quiet and peaceful. Islamists would either become moderate or lose support. Terrorism against the West would cease or at least decline steeply and America would be very popular

--The PA’s partnership with Hamas in the Gaza Strip isn’t really a problem. Once there is a peace agreement, Hamas will give up its goal of wiping Israel off the map because it would have to respect the democratic rules of Palestine and would get caught up in the daily business of politics and administration. There would be no more rocket, mortar, or cross-border attacks and if there were the government of Palestine would deal with them by arresting and punishing those responsible.

--Meanwhile, if Hamas does attack Israel from the Gaza Strip then Israel should not retaliate since to do so would inevitably involve disproportionate force and hurt Palestinian civilians.

--The failure of Western countries to keep their commitments to Israel in 2006 to bar Hizballah from rebuilding its military installations in southern Lebanon and stop its arms’ smuggling is unimportant and Israel should not mention it. This—or for that matter the experience of the 1990s’ peace process and 2000 Camp David meeting—are unimportant and should not influence Israel’s thinking.

--If the state of Palestine were to violate the peace agreement, all Western countries would strongly support Israel and the UN would recognize that Palestine was at fault, side with Israel, and take necessary steps to end this behavior.  

--Israel has nothing to fear from Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya being governed by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood is really moderate. Israel should stop talking about the existence of any threat from these quarters.  It is up to Israel to patch up relations with Egypt and not to be concerned about such things as a cross-border terrorist attack, continued assaults on the natural gas pipeline, and the government-permitted mob takeover of the Israeli embassy in Cairo.  (Optional?) Israel should agree to renegotiate the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and the natural gas sales' agreement.

--Israel should apologize to Turkey for letting its own soldiers defend themselves after being attacked by jihadi terrorists on the Mavi Marmara. It should pay compensation to the families of those who attacked it and end the embargo completely against the Gaza Strip. There should be no restrictions on what items can transit the Israel-Gaza border. The collapse of the Israel-Turkey relationship was completely Israel’s fault.

--Israel should give up any option of attacking Iran’s nuclear weapons’ facilities at any time, not only now to prevent Tehran from getting such weapons but presumably in the future as well if there is a perceived threat from Iran. Instead, Israel should depend on U.S. protection. If Iran hits Israel with nuclear weapons, the United States will then (probably?) retaliate.

--If Hamas attacks Israel from the Gaza Strip with rockets, mortars, or cross-border attacks, Israel should not retaliate since some Palestinian civilians might be killed. Any Israeli attacks cannot use planes, artillery, helicopters, or other advanced technology since that would be a disproportionate response. 

I’m not in the least bit joking and honestly don’t think I’ve exaggerated the above points covering what the American and European left (including its Jewish components) thinks should be the proper Israeli policy.

Nevertheless, I don’t see the Kadima or Labor parties adopting such a program. I think it would be most amusing to go down to the corner of, for example, King George and Dizengoff streets to quiz random Israeli pedestrians about what they think of this plan.

As always, since the mainstream Western media generally does not allow a real response to the ridiculousness of the program it advocates for Israel you won’t be reading any of the points made above in such places. People will just be left to believe that the current government is just unreasonably reactionary; that most Israelis support Obama (or if they don’t they deserve what they get); and if Israel just let the American far left choose its government then everything would be just fine. In fact, every public opinion poll in Israel backs up my points.

Indeed, if anyone  left-wing blogs or the mass media does remark on this article it will only be to brand it “right-wing.” Not at all. It's just right.

Oh, wait, there is an alternative. Such organs might quote or reprint this article saying that it is very accurate and they are pleased to see people in Israel agreeing with their position.

Meanwhile there are at least two new commercially published books in the United States--and numerous articles--that Israel is collapsing. What is the evidence for this? Not much. A country with consistently high scores on personal satisfaction, the highest growth rate in the OECD, close to the best medical system, the fifth highest life expectancy, etc., etc. Meanwhile, the same people tell us how great everything is in Egypt, Turkey, and so on. Welcome to the age of insanity.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, will be published by Yale University Press in January. Other books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Friday, December 16, 2011

U.S. Policy and Iran: Why Obama’s Bargain has Failed

By Barry Rubin

The Biblical verse Deuteronomy 30 quotes God as saying: I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life that thou may live….”

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This notion of choice is the basis for Obama Administration policy toward Iran. And as in the Bible the “correct” choice seems rather obvious. Who would not choose “life”? Answer: The Islamist regime of Iran.
Since late 2010, when he finally decided that he couldn’t make a deal with Iran, Obama turned to his own choice scenario. Here’s how he presented it in his December 8 press conference:

“Iran understands that they have a choice: They can break that isolation by acting responsibly and foreswearing the development of nuclear weapons, which would still allow them to pursue peaceful nuclear power, like every other country that’s a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or they can continue to operate in a fashion that isolates them from the entire world.”

Now, when presented like that, how could Tehran not decide it should be ‘acting responsibly and foreswearing the development of nuclear weapons”? And yet Iran doesn’t make the choice Obama expects. Why is that?

I suspect that you, dear readers, already know much of the answer but you can ask yourself why you haven’t heard this answer more often.

First, when even God makes humanity an “offer it can’t refuse,” humanity has still largely refused it! There is evil in the world, there are people who do not follow any religion or moral system, and there are those who do not follow their own religion faithfully. There are, for example, clergymen who lie, cheat, and steal, too.

So such bargains often don’t work. Why is that?   Because people don’t believe that there are only two choices. They look for loopholes or additional options and find them, at least in their own minds.
The same applies to Iran. In international relations a key loophole is called “credibility.” If the power of the United States isn’t visible and compelling, its enemies don’t feel they need to follow its dictates or accept its definition of the situation.

Second, in addition to attacking the terms of the proposed bargain, Tehran challenges its premises. Of course, Iran is in many ways isolated and its pursuit of nuclear weapons has costs. Yet what if the costs of isolation are lower than Obama claims?

Iran has good relations with China, India, Pakistan, Russia, and Turkey (despite some minor problems in that last case). It projects extensive influence into Lebanon and Iraq. Obama’s “great achievement”—and in part it is real—has been to reduce Iran’s economic relationship to most of Europe. But, after all, the Europeans wanted this, too, and in some cases—the same goes for the U.S. Congress--they were ready to move faster and further than Obama.

Iran’s relations with countries like Britain, France, and Germany have not exactly been great during the last quarter-century even when Iran wasn’t pursuing nuclear weapons. But they are not at zero either, as numerous reports about continuing trade show.

So while Iran has definitely lost more in the last year due to Obama’s efforts how much more and is this loss intolerable? No.

Third, the Iranian regime, rightly or wrongly, judges that the benefits of having nuclear weapons are also higher than Obama thinks. Notice above in his statement, Obama does not mention  a single possible benefit for Iran in having nuclear weapons!  Can he list them and show they are bogus? Of course the Iranian regime knows the truth even if the American people don't

Let me list some of the advantages for Ira in having nuclear weapons:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Who's the Leading Authority in Defining Islam? Ayatollah Western Media

By Barry Rubin

The Washington Post has an article by Michael Gerson attacking Newt Gingrich’s warning that the imposition of Sharia law is a tremendous danger to U.S. interests. I’m only interested here in how the article reveals an element of Gerson’s worldview. (Don't miss the really cool observation at the end of this article.)

Gerson writes:

“Gingrich joins Iranian clerics, Taliban leaders and Salafists of various stripes in believing that the most authentic expression of sharia law is fundamentalism and despotism.”

So who is going to determine the “authentic expression” of Sharia law? Gerson? The Washington Post? The clerics most liked by Washington Post writers regardless of the size of their following? You can't create some ideal Sharia law and then say that there's nothing to worry about.

For all practical purposes, though, Islam and Sharia are going to be defined not by theories, debates by non-Muslims over theology, comparative readings of original texts, or your preferences. You, especially a non-Muslim, cannot "figure out" what Islam "really" is. All of that is irrelevant. Islam (and Sharia) will be defined by who has power as the actual political and religious leaders of Muslims. If moderates were running things--and it makes no difference whether you think Islam is a "religion of peace" or an inevitably aggressive ideology--then Islam would be moderate. And if revolutionary Islamists are running the countries, providing the most influential imams, and controlling the mosques, Islam will be radical.

The ideas that being critical of Islam as actually practiced is "Islamophobia" or that the West should understand that Islam is just great are equally fallacious. The idea that Islam "must" be radical is irrelevant.

What counts is the reality. Here's the reality: about 250 million people are going to be living in what basically are Islamist states in the Middle East, even if there are a few small compromises. Millions of people watch and listen to people like Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Brotherhood’s radical guru. How many followers do Gerson’s moderate guys who want to reform Islam have?

What's important is that any Islam defined and controlled by Hamas, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, or the Taliban is going to be radical and anyone who is really moderate will have to shut up, flee, change sides, be murdered, marginalized, or get thrown into prison.

Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists: Same Goals; Different Strategies

This article was published by the Daily Caller

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By Barry Rubin

The two parties with the largest number of votes in Egypt have been the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party along with the Salafist al-Nour Party. Both are Islamist parties. Yet Western observers—including the Obama Administration—claim that the Muslim Brotherhood is a “moderate Islamist” group while the Salifists are radical.

There are indeed important differences between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists but they are really issues of timing and tactics rather than of goals or principles. One way to think of them is as Coke traditional formula and Coke Light.

The Brotherhood seeks to transform Egypt into a radical state governed by the Sharia. It is, however, more cautious—one might say, smarter—in going slowly.

This caution is rooted in the organization’s history.  It began in 1928 as a revolutionary group to restore the caliphate and in the 1930s and during World War Two collaborated with the Nazis. After the war it launched a terrorist campaign against the government. When the military seized power in 1952, the Brotherhood was its main rival. The officers suppressed the Brotherhood, sending some leaders to concentration camps and others to the gallows. It would be 20 years before the regime allowed the Brotherhood to operate, and even then only illegally.

Knowing it could again be shut down at any moment, the Brotherhood was careful. There were frequent of arrests. The Brotherhood leadership declared a strategy of “da’wa,” that is long-term propaganda and organization to build a base of support. Only in October 2010 did the new Brotherhood leader, Muhammad al-Badi, say that the time for revolution had arrived. Within weeks, it helped launch the revolution that brought down President Husni Mubarak.

In contrast, Salafi groups only began to emerge in the 1970s. The assassination of President Anwar al-Sadat by Salafi terrorists in 1981 triggered repression against them. But this was far less than in the 1950s and focused on those responsible for the killing.  Many groups continued to operate.

These groups were all small, based on community and campus organizing, and each with their own leader.  A lot of the members had left the Brotherhood, which they found too moderate in behavior. They did not want to wait for revolution but wanted it right now. During the 1990s, many took up armed struggle and killed hundreds of people in terror attacks, focusing especially on killing Christians, government officials, and tourists.

But they were crushed by the government in the end. Many of their leaders, while in prison, concluded that they had made a strategic error and renounced violence. They were largely inactive in the dozen years leading up to the 2011 revolution.

While the Brotherhood furnished organized cadre and played a central role in the events of January and February, the Salafists were still recovering though many participated, especially in the most violent activities like the attacks on Christians and on the Israeli embassy.    

Again, it should be emphasized that both the Brotherhood and the Salafists wanted the same goal. But the Brotherhood is far more patient. It has learned the lesson of the Turkish Islamists: go slowly, conceal your aims, and victory is far more likely.

Brotherhood leaders understand the disadvantages of going for power quickly. It will be more likely to lead to a clash with the army; the economy would suffer due to a loss of investment and loans. Indeed, Egypt is headed for a serious economic crash and the Brotherhood does not want to be in charge at the moment when that happens.

Far better, Brotherhood leaders think, to work with the army as much as possible, perhaps even to support a non-Islamist president. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood can play the key role in writing a Constitution that would move Egypt toward Islamism. It would take such ministries as education, social welfare, and religion that would help it increase and strengthen the size of its support base due to both ideological indoctrination and patronage.

On foreign policy, the Brotherhood is having great success in lulling the United States and the West to sleep, even supporting it as “moderate,” thus getting money and help from the West while denying it to the army or moderate forces. The Brotherhood would use its power to empty the Egypt-Israel peace treaty of content without officially abrogating the agreement. It could give a lot of support to Hamas and to the Jordanian and Syrian Brotherhood branches without getting directly involved in any conflicts.     

This is a sensible policy. In contrast, the Salafists want revolution right now and trust in God to overcome all problems and barriers for themselves. Take an issue like tourism. The Brotherhood might permit the sale of alcohol to tourists and let women wear scanty bathing suits on beaches where few Egyptians would ever see them in order to keep revenue coming in. To the Salifists this is mere treason against proper piety.

This kind of tactical difference is by no means uncommon in revolutionary movements. Lenin wrote a pamphlet, “Left-Wing Communism, An infantile Malady,” about it.  In this attack on the Salifist equivalents in the Marxist movement, Lenin quoted Friedrich Engels, the co-founder of Marxism; "What childish innocence it is to present one’s own impatience as a theoretically convincing argument!"

Lenin’s words fit perfectly the struggle among Egyptian Islamists. A revolution, he explained, is:

“A war which is a hundred times more difficult, protracted and complex than the most stubborn of ordinary wars between states, and to renounce in advance any change of [tactics], or any utilization of a conflict of interests (even if temporary) among one’s enemies, or any conciliation or compromise with possible allies (even if they are temporary, unstable, vacillating or conditional allies)—is that not ridiculous in the extreme?”

Of course, Lenin was consciously seeking to mislead Western democracies into thinking they could work with the "moderate Communists" so that, divided and weakened, they could be more easily destroyed. 

And that’s why the Brotherhood approach generally succeeds and that of the Salafists fails. Of course, by their extremism the Salafists will push the Brotherhood into a tougher stance, and by their readiness to use violence, they will help crush moderates, women who want more rights, and Christians. The two groups will compete but they will also work together, at least tacitly, in fundamentally transforming Egypt.