Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Iran Warships Enter Suez

A Guest Posting from Ariel Harkham - Co-Founder of the Jewish National Initiative

Yesterday, February 22, two Iranian warships, the Alvand and the Kharg passed through the Suez Canal for the first time in 30 years undisturbed. This naval deployment begins a new era in Israel’s national security strategy.

Israel, with the fall of the Mubarak regime and Cairo’s decision yesterday to provide Iran access to the Mediterranean theatre, no longer has to hold its breath to see what would replace the Mubarak autocracy. Israel is forced to inhale and ingest the toxic winds coming out of Egypt today. This new Egyptian ruling class has sent a loud signal that the 30+ year status quo in Israeli and Egyptians relations has been irrevocably altered. This should be regarded as the opening salvo against the once venerated signed and honored peace treaty by Egypt’s previous governments. That the territories which were gained from such signatures is now used to damage Israeli interests and security instead uphold them is just an outward sign of changing winds. A long held cold peace that has accelerating toward a lethal freeze.

Some in the media have tried to minimize the importance of these new international developments, characterizing them as more Iranian posturing, empty of any real significance. Such sentiment could not be further from the truth. With an Iranian naval presence so close to Israeli shores, posturing has turned into positioning, where Iran is now projecting its force, setting up its pieces not just to effect Israeli internal deliberation, or bolster allies, but to enhance its standing among those state actors now sitting on the fence of Iranian resolve.

The diplomatic overtones of these boats use of the Suez Canal and its presence off the coast of Israel is a victory in the battle of perception. And though Israel also has its boats somewhere near Iranian territory, as it has been reported, Iran doesn’t have an unsympathetic Turkey, buffered by Hezbollah-Syrian aggression to wrestle with in the North, nor does it have an indifferent Egyptian stance amplified by Hamastan to contend with in the South. More clearly, Israel’s fragile security environment plays a direct role in the diplomatic arena; as to who will get involved and who will stay out, who will remain a friend and who will become a foe. Minimizing belligerent symbolism is crucial for Israeli diplomacy, unfortunately with these two warships now entering the fray, the diplomatic conversation has by consequence changed for the worse. This is precisely what Iran desires, changing the perception that Israel is a winner, convincing other that it is not a regional hegemon, but rather a paper tiger. This can only occur by changing the psychology, by inputting a new line of conversation, which can be accomplished by raising the stakes through proxy, speech and now military deployment.

From a military standpoint these boats aren’t little dinghy’s, but quite the contrary. The Kharg has a crew of 250 sailors and can carry up to three helicopters. The Alvand, on the other hand, is armed with torpedos and anti-ship missiles. They will be docking at a Syrian port to coordinate with its ally, it will sail proudly in the Mediterranean intimidating Israeli shipping and trade, and is a possible intelligence threat, camouflaged to eavesdrop on Israeli signals and be used for electronic warfare.

Iranian boats in collusion with a new Egyptian regime are now sailing in the Mediterranean changes Israel’s threat assessment for the worse. The ramifications of this development abound, escalating a conflict to ever greater heights of danger. Yesterday’s Suez crossing is sure to be considered by future historians as Iran’s crossing of the Rubicon in its race towards war with the Jewish State.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Libya Human Rights Abuse - The UN Stays Silent

In the past 5 years the UN human Rights Council has passed 50 resolutions, 35 of them against Israel. Despite the ongoing and horrific human rights abuses that have taken place in Libya and continue to do so at an alarming rate during during the recent uprisings in Libya, not 1 resolution has been passed by the Council against the state nor has there been a whisper of the suggestion of calling an emergency session of the council regarding the current horrors taking place in Libya today. The UN surely has double standards. Read more... Digg! Stumble Upon Facebook Fark Netvouz

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Revolution in Egypt Continued...

With Egypt being out of the media spotlight for about a week since the demonstrations in Tahrir Square resulted in successfully removing President Mubarak from power, it would be a mistake to think that all is fine and the transition to a functioning democracy there will be clear. Indeed, quite the opposite and furthermore are what lie ahead as far as Israel's strategic and defence policies are concerned.

It is important to remember that the revolution in Egypt is not yet a democratic one for since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, Egypt had been ruled under emergency legislation that gave a large amount of power to its military, and continues to do so post-Mubarak under Defence Minister mohammed Hussein Tantawi. The stage at the moment is a difficult one in which a transitional government will need to be set up that will handle the overseeing of new elections and constitutional reform.

It is not clear at all however how all this will pan out in practice for the current system has provided the ruling military elite with high powers that favour them financially as they also dominate over economic policy. One of the key demands of the demonstrators was to address this bias to favour economic improvements for the people. As a result, there will continue to be this tension between the people and the military even now that Mubarak has been deposed and how this tension is resolved remains to be seen.

For Israel, the removal of governments on its borders has been seen twice before: in Lebanon and in Gaza. In both cases the vacuum was filled by radical forces in the shape of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. There are fears by many in Israel that the same will occur in Egypt where the long-time opposition of Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood, is waiting in the wings and biding their time to make their move to power. Although the people of Egypt and the government controlled media have continued to be highly intolerant and hateful towards Israel and Jews in general, President Mubarak, supported by the US, was good to his word in upholding the 1979 Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel and changed the conflict from an existential threat to Israel, to one of a manageable dispute. As the US will be conituing to support Egypt in these uncertain times, it is unlikely that this peace treaty is about to be ripped up anytime soon though in the long run there are many in Israel who are nervous about who exactly will come to power in Cairo and what their foreign policies might be. furthermore, as the people themselves are anti-Israel, even the secular leaders, out to win votes when election time comes, will be trying to gain popularity by reflecting the people's thoughts and speaking out against Israel.

Egypt under Mubarak, a kind of western ally, was also a staunch anti-Iran advocate who cooperated in preventing the spread of influence from the terrorist state in the region. There will be too much domestic tenstion and pressure coming up in the next few months for Egypt to be concerned as much as it was in regional Arab affairs including the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks which have all but dried up in recent weeks. With Mubarak gone and Egypt still in a state of turmoil, Iran has already begun flexing its muscle today by sending a warship through the Suez canal, something that has not been attempted in over 30 years. It was only due to Israel's objection of it being a clear provocation that the boat was turned around. Although Egypt's peace treaty will hold for now, in the short term there is a real risk of a relaxing of the security around the Sinai/Gaza border at Rafah where arms are attempted to be smuggled through on a daily basis. Indeed, there have already been reports of increased activity on the border and Israel also fears that its gas supply from Egypt will also be cut off.

Israel has enjoyed large benefits from its treaty with Egypt including economic growth resulting from the cuts in defence budget for the past 30 years. It is far from certain what its strategy should be going forward as it finds itself in its most precarious position in the region since its War of Independence.
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Riots in the Middle East

Following the revolution in Egypt it came as no surprise that the people of other Arab states would shortly follow. First it was Yemen and Jordan, and now Libya and Bahrain. Let us understand a little more however about who is behind each protest and why they are protesting.

Beginning in Tunisia when Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire on December 17th 2010, due to a deep feeling of social humiliation that the nation strongly related to, demonstrators protested against the rule of President Ben Ali who, after the death of 50 demonstrators, finally fled the country as the army stood aside and let the people drive him out. Prime Minister Mohammed Channouchi stood in as interim leader though was soon deposed by demonstrators who put their leader, Fouad Mebazaa, in his place. The reasons for the demonstrations are ones that we will see repeated over and over again below, though in Tunisia's case the revolution was lead by a rising middle class who have become highly educated and organised enough to create such a revolt. With Tunisians seeing themselves less as Arabs and more as Mediterraneans who have travelled to Turkey, Spain and Greece, it was not hard for them to feel cheated out of the standard of living enjoyed in Europe but not in Tunisia.

Neighbouring Tunisia is Algeria which also saw a wave of riots as the wave of unrest spilled over due to a sharp increase in food prices and high unemployment rates being the top of the iceberg on top of the poor living conditions, low housing supply and government corruption. Algeria has had constant rioting for the past 20 years however with barely a week going by without a protest taking place in some part of the country about the way the government insists on badly treating its people and ignoring its demands. The difference in this wave of protest however is that the people have come together as a national community and psyche in an impressive show of universal demonstration and force. For more on Algerian history and background to the riots, click here.. For a full history of the Maghreb, click here.

Moving to Jordan, the protests have been coming mainly from the Beduin tribes which are traditionally the backbone of support to the Hashemite monarchy. They have had enough however in the lavish spendings of the Jordanian monarchy while the poor amongst the population go hungry. Many in the army and security services though also come from the same Beduin background that make up the demonstrators, thus potentially leading to a full scale mutiny against the Jordanian authorities. The Muslim Brotherhood and the large Palestinian sector of the country (roughly 70%) are however remaining silent and instead are biding their time for when the first real cracks will begin to appear and then make their move.

The story in Yemen is similar with the people demonstrating against President Saleh's 32 year rule and government corruption, inefficient public spending while the country's people live in poverty (Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world with over half the population living on less than $2 a day and with oil, its main source of income, possibly drying up within a decade the poverty would get even worse) and lack of political freedoms. As a result of the poverty stricken neighbourhoods and a lack of security policy or practice, Yemen has become a haven for Al-Qaida and the recruitment of young terrorists.

And now in Bahrain, with a 3rd protester having been killed, the government is under pressure to end the riots as quickly and harmlessly as possible. the government has been incredibly heavy handed in its treatment of the demonstrators and continues to be so in order to stamp out the wave of unrest.

Clearly Arab regimes in the region are nervous about their own populations' desire to uprise as seen by Syria bolstering its security forces who have been put on high alert should the unrest spread, as it has done already in its patron state, Iran. It seems that for now there will not be any more toppling of governments on the scale we have seen in Tunisia and Egypt, but for sure the recent and ongoing uprisings will have had a long term affect on the region and on the Arab psyche as a whole.
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Jihadi Forums - Review

For the latest review of what's going on in the Jihadi Forums, click here. Read more... Digg! Stumble Upon Facebook Fark Netvouz

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Middle East Shuffles

The effect of the Egyptian revolution is becoming apparent and the dominoes have been sent in motion as protests began in Iran today leading to the Iranian authorities having to subdue the protests with tear gas and paintballs.

The hypocricy of the Iranian government is clear. Depsite them being in favour of the revolution in Egypt, knowing it could well lead to an Iranian proxy through the Muslim Brotherhood taking control of the country, it has been highly authoritarian in suppressing its own people's desire for change.

Meanwhile, in the Palestinian territories, the entire cabinet of the PA has handed in their resignation following announcement from Mahmoud Abbas that he intends to continue with his leadership of the organisation with Salam Fayyad as his Prime Minister. It is clear that the leaders in the Arab world are becoming nervous about their own position as protests in Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt have proven to pay dividends with even Bahrain and Kuwait starting to join the protests against government:

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Herzliya Conference 2011 - Forum on Policy and Strategy

Last week saw the Herzliya Conference, the prestigious event held each year in Israel at the Interdisciplinary Centre, Herzliya, where officials from all over the world convene to discuss the cutting edge policies and strategies on a national, regional and world level.

The speakers this year included outgoing Israeli Chief of Staff, Major General Gabi Ashkenazi and incoming temporary Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni, leader of the opposition party Kadima, Governer of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fischer, Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel, Mr Gidi Grinstein Founder of the Reut Institute for Strategic Thinking, Dr. Patrick Clawson, Dputy Director for Research at the Washington Institue for Near East Policy, and many more.

To view the lectures given, click here
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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mubarak Resigns

President Hosni Mubarak, ruler of Egypt for the past 30 years, has resigned and agreed to step down immediately bringing celebration and joy to those hundreds of thousands who have been demanding his departure in revolutionary protest over the past 18 days. Although the next steps remain unclear, the army has stepped in as temporary guardians of the state with all that entails. However it was only on Thursday night that we heard a Mubarak in denial as he insisted on staying on until September thinking he had the full support of his military to back him up and clear the protesters from the streets of Cairo. How wrong he was.

While Mubarak thought he could transfer power to his number two and favourite of the Obama Administration, Intelligence chief Oman Suleiman, the Egyptian people had other ideas for this revolution was not about just one man but about the entire system. Indeed, it was only hours before Mubarak's speech that the army had told the people the exact opposite of what Mubarak declared in his speech and so were as shocked as the people were to hear Mubarak's speech of defiance and insistence of remaining in power. As a direct result, the protesters and their leaders promised even bigger strikes, demonstrations and turmoil that would shut the whole country down and were enough to encourage the army to push Mubarak to back down and flee to Sharm el-Sheikh. What followed shortly was the resignation speech from Omar Suleiman on behalf of President Mubarak:

In the name of Allah the most gracious, the most merciful.

My fellow citizens, in the difficult circumstances our country is experiencing, President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak has decided to give up the office of the president of the republic and instructed the supreme council of the armed forces to manage the affairs of the country. May God guide our steps.

The new face of Egpytian power is Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi who promises to guide Egypt through the transitional steps to democracy and will act according to what the people of Egypt want. How this is expected to take place is unclear or who decides what the people of Egypt really want. What is bound to occur is a struggle for power and influence in the new Egypt for what will not be easy to dissolve from the last 60 years of Egyptian history is the system of power, status and priveleges that dominate Egyptian politics. Should Antawi and his men still be in power by the end of the year then the entire protest to remove Mubarak will have been for nothing. If the military now moves solely to protect its own position, and that of the big businessmen who have done well out of links with the regime, then the system will not open up, at least not without repression and bloodshed. The US and Israel however will be welcoming the army rule as it implies a continuity of the status quo and preservence of the cold peace that has been a corner stone of Middle East stability for the past 30 years.

For more analysis on the current situation and how unclear the future really is for Egypt, click here.

Click here for reactions across the Middle East to Mubarak's resignation.
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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Revolution in Cairo

Following the riots in Tunisia last month, revolution and uprising has spread to Cairo with the masses demanding the end to President Hosni Mubarak's 30 year rule. It is clear what the Egyptian people don't want and that Mubarak's days are highly likely to be numbered. What is not clear is what the Egyptian people do want and it is here that major uncertainty could spell potential catastrophe for the US, Europe and Israel.

Many are likening the uprising in Egypt to the 1979 Iranian revolution which although was brought in by the people, what remained in the aftermath was an Islamist regime that turned a once 'peaceful and cooperative' state with good relations with the US and Israel, into a rogue terror state that spread its influence around the world. Egypt's revolution, founded mainly on dissatisfaction with high unemployment rates, food rises and lack of freedom for change, could well turn out the same way. Although secular in its nature, those factions behind the organisation of it and pressing for their strongest candidate, UN Nuclear inspector, Mahommed AlBaradei, to be Mubarak's replacement, are far less organised than the more likely candidate for takeover, the radically Islamic Muslim Bortherhood.

Already the campaign to slur AlBaradei has begun with accusations of him being pro-Iranian as demonstrated in his lack of action over Iran's nuclear facilities. He has also been out of the conutry for too long that he is not respected as the natural Egyptian leader. The Muslim Brotherhood however, major supporters and founders of Hamas and a longtime strong opposition to Mubarak is waiting in the wings and are certainly organised enough to take over should Mubarak's reign come to an ungraceful end. With a radical Islamic rule in charge of Egypt's army and 80 million Egyptians, it is highly probable that one of their first acts in power would be to tear up the Begin-Sadat peace agreement that has been the bedrock of Israel's security and recognition in the Middle East for the past 30 years.
No more would the Gaza-Egypt border be patrolled so heavily by Egyptian soldiers to prevent arms smuggling to Hamas via underground tunnels. The sea too would be open for Iranian shipments to sail through much more easily than at present. Israel would be wise to invest more heavily in its navy as a result. In total, it would mean a major security threat on another of its borders with there currently being on in the north with Syria and Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza to the west and now Egypt to the south. With relations with Turkey at an all time low as it places itself solidly in the Iranian sphere, Israel would be further isolated by such a takeover in Egypt.

At the same time, the US would be losing its staunchest ally in the Arab world. Despite Egypt not being a real democracy, with Mubarak fixing elections to give himself an overwhelmingly unrealistic majority win throughout his rule, the status quo has suited the US and Israel very nicely as Egypt proved itself to be a force of stability in the most volatile region in the world. This loss would mean a breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, that have all but stalled completely anyway, as Egypt with Mubarak as its leader enjoyed a comfortable position as mediator between the two sides as well as between Hamas and the PA Authority - though these talks had also collapsed recently.

The dilemma Israel and the US now has of choosing between an authoritarian dictator who keeps stability internally and security commitments externally and sticking by one's own principles of democracy and freedom for a people has never been so stark as we are seeing now. It is in the interest of all to have Mubarak stay on, though to say so outloud would be to deny the Egyptian people the very thing held so dear to the Western world and which it constantly strives to bring to all peoples. With today's news however showing Mubarak reatliating with a counter-revolution attack using mercaneries and those loyal to him, the future for Egypt is far from clear and while it remains so the world continues to hold its breath.

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