Israel Symposium Keynote Speech 2018
The 3rd Annual Israel Symposium was held on Sunday, August 12, 2018 at Temple Shalom in Dallas, Texas. Middle East Forum director, Gregg Roman gave the keynote address.
Despite media narratives continuing to highlight Israel’s enemies and their fixation with its destruction, Israel’s current situation is much better than it was yesterday and is certainly better than it was seventy years ago.
State of Affairs
25 years after Oslo, the promise of peace has congealed into a reality of never-ending war.
The framework that Palestinians and Israelis exist in today is not the only option
The West Bank is currently run by a deeply divided government that ignores its population’s needs and refuses to submit to elections, while a single private resident, by engaging with Israelis constructively, has managed to erect an entire new city.
In Gaza, we have a Hamas leadership that jails its own members for questioning its corrupt practices, and that refuses to cooperate in any way with Israel while the physical and mental health of its population continues to plummet.
In Israel, we have an extremely stable conflict management approach that, consequently, will continue to manage it without ever ending it.
Starting in March of this year, the “Great March of Return” to Jerusalem started, quickly evolving into violence. Israel has offered countless amounts of assistance, yet the Hamas leadership continues to allow its people to suffer while refusing Israel’s help. What is the answer to Hamas’ rejectionism? In short, forcing acceptance. If peace will not be accepted voluntarily, it must be coerced through force. So why is the status quo still holding?
Three Reasons the Status Quo Persists
The Islamic Doctrines of Waqf and Fiqh are primary contributors to the intransigence and all-out rejectionism of the Palestinian leadership. Waqf defines all land ever held under Muslim rule as the eternal property of Islam, and Fiqh demands that, when such land is lost, the enemy must be expelled, and the land reclaimed.
International Organizations, primarily UNRWA, serve to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee narrative, validating and protecting it in the eyes of the international community. Similarly, the UN’s structure ensures this trend’s continuation given the more than 25% of member states that constitute the Muslim voting bloc.
The management mindset of Israel’s leadership – it’s government and security services -has resulted in an unwillingness to make the difficult but necessary decisions to move beyond conflict management toward conflict resolution.
In Syria, Assad’s troubles are just getting started as his allies begin to angle to maximize their shares of the spoils. The Iranians are seeking to extend their control across Iraq and to the Mediterranean. Russia finds itself as the new regional power broker and in the untenable position of aiding both Iran and Israel simultaneously. In Lebanon, Hezbollah faces significant internal criticism after sustaining significant losses in the Syrian conflict.
In Jordan, King Abdullah is trying to balance regional geopolitics and rising domestic unrest due to an inability to provide his people with basic staples. el-Sisi faces similar domestic strife in Egypt from low food production and foreign currency reserves. Israel finds itself in a uniquely improved condition and is beginning to project regional power. In Saudi Arabia, the assent of Prince Muhammad bin Salman has further contributed to Israel’s enhanced regional position.
Overall, Israel is in a great place but must remain vigilant. Iran is the threat of today; Turkey is the threat of tomorrow, and Iran’s tie-building with Venezuela is an increasingly troubling reality that must be closely watched.
Israel Symposium Keynote Speech 2018
Before I begin I’d like to give you some insight into the results from a survey that I took of recent headlines: “Terrorist wave continues as Palestinian leaders encourage violence against Israelis.” “Palestinian institutions continue vicious incitement against Israel.” “How ISIS plans to destroy Israel.” “ISIS promotes murdering Jews in new online campaign.’ “US Islamic preacher calls on Allah to annihilate the Jews.” “U.S. based Imam advocates violence against Israel in anti-Semitic sermon.” “Qaradawi calls Muslims to arms against Israel and the Jews.” And lastly, “Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, and Palestinian groups unite to praise deadly Ariel attack.”
Despite the above stated headlines, what I’m going to tell you today is that the present regional situation of Israel’s strategic balance in terms of its northern border, its eastern border, its southern border, its assets in the East and Mediterranean Sea, its position in Europe, its relationship with the United States and its general global dominance, now ranking in as the 15th strongest army in the world and the best equipped, best trained, and most capable in the Middle East, puts Israel in a very unique place and time. This is not because of the President of the United States or the downward slide of Islamism in the Middle East, but it is due to over seventy years of development. Israel has been able to fortify itself because of its role as a “villa in the jungle”.
So, whenever you hear about BDS being this existential threat to Israel, don’t worry. When you hear about Israel’s potential imminent destruction because of a nuclear-armed Iran do not worry. When you hear about domestic strife, such as the Palestinian flags parading throughout Kikar Rabin, in the middle of Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, or the domestic strife over the passing of a Nationality Law, I would implore you to not worry. It is because of The strife and the tension and the regional situation that Israel has had to face day after day, not just for the last 70 years, but arguably since the First Aliyah in the late 1800s, Israel is a stronger place today because of all its been through and all the fraught tensions it has had to experience. So, if there’s one thing you can take out of today, it’s that Israel’s current situation is much better than it was yesterday and is certainly better than it was seventy years ago.
So, let’s get into the talk today. I’d like to first start off with a general analysis of where we stand vis a vis the Palestinians. Then we will get into a little bit of a regional context, understanding how Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Sunni autocracies are facing the present threat to Israel. Then we will talk about the 800-pound gorilla in the room, Iran, and it’s because of the other 800-pound gorilla, Turkey. Then after that, we’ll talk a little bit about the US-Israel relationship, and finally come back with some policy conclusions.
First on the Palestinians. This September marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords. A day which many, a generation ago hailed or thought they hailed as an end to the ongoing struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians. A struggle which had been going on since the establishment of the country. Today, we find ourselves in a situation where Palestinians disagree more with themselves than they disagree with Israel. Twenty-five years after this peace process was launched, which was supposed to have joint security cooperation, joint economic cooperation, a five-year track to be able to build a Palestinian state which would live side-by-side with Israel in coexistence, we are even further away from peace. This isn’t to say that we are farther away from peace because of anything the Israelis or the Palestinians did, but rather it is due to the Oslo Peace Process, which has not created a paradigm for peace. Instead, it has created a paradigm for war.
What I am calling for you to think about is that sometimes when institutions and edifices of diplomatic processes calcify, you may have to break those processes in order to be able to find something new. The framework that Palestinians and Israelis exist in today; one that was created on the White House lawn between that famous, or maybe infamous, handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, is one that I am imploring you not to think of as the only option to attain regional stability or domestic stability.
Right now, in the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, is serving his fourteenth year as president. The Palestinian Legislative Council, the PLC, with its speaker, a member of Hamas, not being able to speak with the President, a member of Fatah. We also have civil institutions in the West Bank. A brand-new Palestinian city was built, its first planned city ever, housing up to 40,000 Palestinian residents and meant to serve as the bridge between Areas A and B. These are the areas that Palestinians are given whether it be domestic governance, in terms of civil and security control, or simply security control, or area C, which is controlled by Israel. A man coming from a long line of Palestinian entrepreneurs, named Bashar al-Masri decided that it would be his vision to build a new Palestinian city. He was able to do this with Israeli architects and engineers, Palestinian labor, and American financing. That was not an outgrowth of the Oslo Accords. That was a Palestinian pulling himself up by the britches, facing both Israeli military bureaucracy and relentless Palestinian kleptocratic and corrupted institutions to be able to actually build his own city.
In Gaza right now, you have a situation where 42% of the population is under the age of 15, 40% of the population has moderate to severe levels of depression, 30% meet the full criteria for PTSD, suicide rates are spiking, and diarrhea and dysentery are primary threats to children because of the lack of clean water they are given. We have leadership that openly puts its own people in jail solely because they’re not willing to do what Hamas does. UNRWA, the second largest institution in Gaza right now, is dealing with an ongoing mutiny against their international employees, with an almost two-and-a-half-week sit-in by UNRWA’s Palestinian employees because they haven’t been paid due to a U.S aid cut of about $300 million. This aid cut took place between January and August 2018. The gut reaction of the international press of U.S. media and European institutions would say this aid cut occurred because of the siege, or it is because of Israel’s blockade of Gaza. However, the situation in Gaza is the way it is because of the rulers of Gaza. It has nothing to do with Israel’s governance over that area. Israel’s job as a sovereign actor is to take care of what’s going on inside Israel, to protect itself from threats both external and internal. Since the leadership of Gaza is in no way willing to cooperate with the Israeli authorities, like they did before the 2005 disengagement, we now have 11 years of blood, sweat, misery, and tears of the Gazan-Palestinian population, which is due to their own chosen leadership’s inability to govern that small island.
The situation in Israel, as it stands, permeates from a Prime Minister who has been in power for the past nine years. Benjamin Netanyahu was elected in February of 2009 and is now in his fourth Knesset term, with elections expected, at the latest, to be held in November of 2019. Currently, Israel is very stable in terms of its ability to manage a conflict. However, there are also significant symptoms and byproducts of lack of mobility in Gaza and this lack of movement in the West Bank looking forward. As previously mentioned, there is a calcified institution where you have to break from the chains of mediocrity and of the status quo. Something must be done to disrupt the status of the Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank. Bashar al-Masri was able to do it by building a city. However, in Gaza it is going to take something much more violent and unpleasant.
This is where I get into something I like to call the “Victory Proposition”. Over the past four months in Gaza, starting in March of this year, the “Great March of Return” to Jerusalem started. This march was an internationally supported and Hamas organized movement to send tens of thousands of young Palestinians to the border with Israel, to face tear gas, snipers, and tanks, but in turn sent balloons with Molotov cocktails attached to them, burning Israeli fields, shooting at Israeli soldiers, and encouraging civil disobedience. This moved forward to the next step of terrorist attacks against the Israeli Forces who were lawfully defending their border, a border that they left thirteen years ago during the Gaza disengagement. We are now thirteen years from the withdrawal of Israeli civilians and soldiers from Gaza and in return we have received rockets, machine gun attacks, tunnels by land and by sea, flotillas, hateful rhetoric, incitement, arguably the most vitriolic satellite television station in all of the Middle East, Al-Quds Television, coming out of Hamas-run Gaza. We have our fields burning, we have our children going to bomb shelters, children having to play not under the light of the sun but staring up at a concrete structure while playing on jungle gyms because that is the aftermath of the Gaza Disengagement. As stated beforehand, the situation is much worse on the other side of the border. This isn’t because of Israel’s unwillingness to give Gaza what it needs to develop, but because of its leaders’ intransigence to receiving what their people rightfully deserve.
We have a situation where, on one hand, violence is the response to siege. On the other hand, the reason why there is a siege is because there is a behavioral necessity from the leadership of Gaza to commit violent attacks against Israel, time after time. I think there are many other leaders and analysts and former officers of the Israeli Army and politicians that will tell you how many offers were made to the Gaza leadership, how many times, whether it was Fatah or Civil Authorities or Hamas, Israel was willing to open up the piggy bank and give as much support as possible. After every round of conflict; Operation Cast Lead at the end of 2009 and the Paris Peace Conference, for example. Four billion dollars in aid was given to promote the reconstruction of Gaza. Or in 2012, after Operation Pillar of Defense, where five billion dollars were committed to rebuild Gaza. Operation Protective Edge at the end of 2014 saw seven billion dollars committed to not just rebuild, but to build up Gaza. This included a new airport and a proposed island to be built in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea to bypass Israeli ports, and a Palestinian owned-and-operated port in Cyprus, disconnecting Palestinians from Israel once and for all. So many creative ideas; so much creative energy going into this process to be able to take Gazans out of their squalor and what was their response? “We do not negotiate with Zionists.” ‘We do not recognize those who are firing upon us when we try to breach their borders.” “We will not in any one which way alleviate the suffering of our people because we are strung up on our ideological underpinnings which in one way or another cause us to continue to see our people suffer.”
This intransigent leadership inside of Gaza itself creates a situation with two options: to let the conflict go on in a low flame until it rises up again or to get into the same situation as we have had for the last four months, with the wave of balloons and kites and other creative means to rebel against Israel, with PETA even condemning Hamas’ actions. With this being said, what is the answer to Palestinian rejectionism in Gaza or in the West Bank? And what is the answer for how to replace a structure of a peace paradigm, which is no longer working? The answer lies in having the entire body politic, the society, the culture, the economy of the Palestinians not be based on rejecting Israel, but by accepting it. In order to get to this, there are several problems that we have to address: What are the underpinnings of the conflict? Why is the status quo still holding right now? And why is Europe and the United States still pursuing this grand bargain for peace, using the same alignment that was already attempted between Israel and the Palestinians back in 1993? The explanation for this can be boiled down to four reasons.
The first reason being the ideas from Islamic Doctrine, Waqf and Fiqh. Wafq is the idea that once certain interpretations of Islam conquer an area, it becomes Muslim land. Additionally, it is the duty of those who interpret it this way, not of all Muslims, to hold onto that land. The second is Fiqh. In this idea, you are to do everything that you can to expel the enemy from that land.
The second underpinning of this paradigm that is not working anymore is international support for the Palestinian cause. If you look at every institution in the United Nations, like a refugee agency solely dedicated to the Palestinian cause, there are twelve employees of UNRWA for every one employee of every other international organization. Looking at the World Food Program, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN Peacekeeping Force, UNRWA has more employees than all of these other agencies put together on a per-capita basis. In UNRWA, 99% of its’ employees are Palestinian. UNRWA is an international jobs agency specifically giving underwriting for international development aid just for Palestinians themselves. This agency, which was created in 1949, exists now to perpetrate the myth of Palestinian right of return to Israel.
In light of all of this, the first two problems are that you have a religious interpretation, Waqf, that says this land which was once your land, is permanently yours. And the second, Fiqh, which tells you to keep this land and do everything you can to fight for it, exercising every means possible to do so. In addition to this, you have an international agency validating your argument. Furthermore, if you look at the international definition of a refugee, it is defined as someone who left an area of conflict, including minors up until the age of 18. However, if you have citizenship in another country, if you reside in a territory which you call your home, or if you are a 3rd, 4th, or 5th generation individual, you are not a refugee. UNRWA is the only agency that grants refugees the ability to expand, rather than contract.
In 1948, the Palestinian refugee count started off with some seven hundred thousand refugees. Now, the Palestinian refugee count has ballooned to 5.2 million people. 5.2 million Palestinians that think they have a right to go back to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Nahariya, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and to make that their homes. All the while, this is being paid for with American and European money. However, the Americans are starting to wake up and starting to cut off money, while the Europeans are doubling down and giving even more money to this agency.
The other element of international support for this Palestinian intransigence has to do with the way in which the UN was built from 1945 thru 1947. There are three committees that exist. One for administration, one for finance, and one for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. There is an entire UN Security Council standing committee which ardently backs the Palestinians. This will never change because more than a quarter of the members of the UN are coming from Islamic countries, another quarter are coming from European countries which have traditionally supported the Palestinians. This creates a voting block which will not be willing to change any way that international law and national institutions codify the Palestinian situation giving them the bias rather than Israel.
The third element of the caustic heritance associated with the Israeli Palestinian conflict deals with the situation within Israel itself. Within Israel there is an inability for the Israeli Security Services and the security cabinet to take the difficult process of decision-making, calling for the overthrow of Hamas in Gaza and reoccupying Gaza in the Palestinian Authority through negotiating with mayor’s rather than negotiating with the corrupt Central Authority in Ramallah. Now the instantaneous gut reaction to all the statements I just made are, “Reoccupy Gaza?” How many Israeli soldiers are going to lose their lives if that happens? I answer with “how many more Israeli soldiers will lose their lives if we let the situation continue the way it is?” Secondly, if you were to take out all of Hamas’ leadership, they will simply be replaced by more radical leadership. My answer to you is if you knew Palestinian politics in the way in which the clans in the family system work, you would find a way to be able to operate intelligence that works within Gaza, you can find a way to operate governance networks just like Israel did in the seventies and eighties before the Oslo Accords, instead of reverting back to that, with the intent of letting Gaza become its own state and its own entity, just not one ruled by Hamas.
Lastly if I’m saying that the Israeli Security Services are not courageous enough to make these decisions, the response would be “how dare you question the generals to protect Israel on a day-to-day basis, how dare you question their ability? At the end of the day, it’s the civilian leaders of Israel who decide how the Security Service act and unfortunately, we’ve seen many retired generals and retired former heads of the security services say, “the only way to deal with this conflict is to make sure the Palestinians get just enough to leave us alone.” My response to that is when you leave the Palestinians alone they plan the next war while you plan for the war that just happened. So, these three things, Waqf and Fiqh mentality or Islamic Doctrine, international support and the hesitancy of the Israeli Security Services to be able to deal with the situation the way it is, are all impediments to achieving real peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Now what’s the answer? How do you tackle this? The idea is to change your mindset from one which is, “let’s just manage the conflict” to “let’s ask Israel to do what it has to do to solve the conflict on its terms within the humanitarian legal, moral and practical means.”
The way that I want the Palestinians to feel is the way that Americans felt when they woke up on April 30, 1975 seeing the last helicopter leave the US Embassy in Saigon, going off to an American carrier and the American defeat in South Vietnam had been cemented. America still had its Army, it still had its nuclear weapons force, it still had its ability to fight in other theaters in terms of much larger strategic wars, but it lost the will to fight against the Vietnamese. America on that day was defeated. I want the Palestinians to feel the same way, that they no longer have the will to wake up in the morning. Not that if you’re in school you’re going to learn about hating Israel, if you’re out of the job you’re blaming Israel, if your governmental leader you’re trying to find a way to blame domestic woes on Israel if you’re a militant leader it’s no longer worth the will to fight. The Palestinians have to feel the way that America felt when it was morally defeated and the way in which to go about this requires full U.S. backing for any Israeli decision that it will take, which will go beyond the realm of the status quo and into an area which will allow a solution to be made, whether it be a two state solution, a three state solution, or a four state solution. We have to bring the Palestinians there, because we have already been there for the last 25 years.
In terms of public opinion polling, there is a statement “let the IDF win.” The second part of that statement that no one ever talks about is, “what are the goals of the political class after the IDF wins?” That is something that I think has to be really thought out.
For the past seven years we have seen a civil war rise up in the cities of Syria, we have seen the Assad army almost at the brink of defeat, and then a crushing response from its Iranian, Lebanese, Iraqi, and Russian allies brought it back from the brink of defeat. And now we have the last bastion of the Syrian Resistance present in a region called Idlib, in the northwest of Syria. Beyond the 30% of what Syria’s Kurdish population controls, northeast of the Euphrates river, with the support of the American government, but I had the unfortunate reality of witnessing the defeat of the second-to-last Syrian front on the Golan Heights about three weeks ago.
There’s a base in the Golan Heights called “Tel Saki,” the site of one of the most famous battles that took place during the Yom Kippur War where one soldier gave himself up to save some 25 or 30 other soldiers that were hit in a bunker underneath this encampment. In Tel-Saki you walk up this elevated growth that comes out from this peninsula and you look 1 km, .6 miles ahead of you, and you see ballooned tarps along the border fence with Syria and what this is are not the IDF monitoring what’s going on inside of Syria, but the last Syrian refugee camps literally skirting themselves up to the border as the Syrian Army is about to advance on them.
You see Russian Sukhoi-24 jets, going down, bombing the landscape, mushroom clouds rising beyond the Israeli-Syrian border, seeing the last vestiges of the Syrian resistance in southern Syria literally being decimated in transporting the last of the Syrian rebels and also the Syrian Civil Defense volunteers called the White Helmets, going up to Idlib and the 800 individuals associated with the White Helmets being taken on Israeli buses driven down through the Golan Heights and over an area called Hamat Gader, the point where Jordan, Syria and Israel meet.
Now, that facilitation of the Israelis taking Syrian rebels and moving them into Jordan to a Safe Zone was not a one-off incident. It was the last operation in seven years of cooperation between Syrians and Israelis trying to provide a civil outreach to the southern Syrian civil population. Israel in the course of its seven years being on the front lines of the Syrian Civil War but not really getting involved that much between the rebels and the Syrian government, more offering about 150 different airstrikes interdicting strategic weapons which would otherwise threaten Israel should they be turned on it after the Civil War would take place. We find ourselves in a situation where for these seven years over 4,000 Syrians were treated in Israeli hospitals. Over 300 million shekels was spent on Syrian healthcare by the Israeli government where the Israelis didn’t receive $1 from the international community just to treat these Syrian civilians who were facing Assad’s rage. We also have a situation where the Syrian army now that it has defeated and rooted the rebels from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, has announced the only 2 days ago in SANA, the Syrian Arab News Agency, that it intends to build its army to be one third larger than it was on the Golan, before the Syrian Civil War started.
So, seven years of Israeli outreach to the rebels, they even treated ISIS terrorists inside of Israeli hospitals, they didn’t discriminate on who they gave care to. It could have been a Syrian soldier, or a member of Hezbollah, Syrian civil war civilians, secular Islamist, religious jihadist, but right now we have a situation of seven years of warfare between Syria and the rebels that fought against it are going to the potential situation, or future situation where Syria will now turn its guns on Israel after turning its guns on its own people.
But there’s some good news here. Because the second phase of the Syrian War, just because Syria has defeated its domestic enemies, it now has to deal with a much graver situation which could actually see the downfall of Bashar al Assad. Syria now has to fight nation-states. It has Israel to worry about it, it has Iraq to worry about., it has Turkey to worry about it, it has an assent Kurdish polity to worry about that controls 30% of its country. It has Russia to worry about, it has Iran to worry about. Now that the war in Syria is over, well almost over, so to the victor divides its spoils. But, depending on how you look at it there’s seven different victors’ in Syria.
The last stricture of Syria right now finds itself to beat Bashar al-Assad, where at one time in 2010 he was able to control all of the territory within the Syrian Arab Republic, but he’s now only able to control his own capital. I would even go so far as to say that serious sovereignty with the government does not extend 5 km in any which way beyond Damascus. This is because the Iranians, Hezbollah, the Russians, the Turks, the Americans, Israel, the Iraqi government, the Jordanian government are all dictating the way that the activity on the ground within Syria works. They may claim to be able to have control over all these areas, but about 60 different negotiated cease-fires between himself and the rebels that he was fighting to limit his ability to be able to govern Syria does not want to fight anymore or the Syrians don’t want to fight anymore they want to rebuild, but that is not the intention of those who lost blood in that conflict.
The Iranians right now are trying to build a highway from Tehran through Baghdad to Damascus, Beirut, and to access the Mediterranean Sea. This was an initiative supported by the Russians for the last two and a half years. However, we find ourselves in a situation now where Russia is actually defending the Israeli position of not having Iran in Syria. Not because it cares about Israel but because it wants to be able to reap the spoils of its involvement in supporting Assad during the Syrian Civil War. Russia is competing for licenses on Spectrum, the Syrian cell phone system. They want a drill with gas from the Russian National Oil Company in wells that were abandoned and were destroyed during the Syrian Civil War. They’ve now been able to increase their military presence that for the first time since 1977 the Russians have a deep-water port outside of the Black Sea. What does this mean? That the Russians actually have the ability to put their forces outside of an area that’s connected to contiguous Russia. They have an airport. They have the appointment of forces with military police that are somehow guarding the ability for the Iranians not to get in to the rest of Syria so that they turn their weapons on Israel.
On the Lebanese side with Hezbollah, over 1,800 Hezbollah fighters, around 5% of Hezbollah’s fighting force were killed in Syria. Hassan Nasrallah, the General-Secretary of Hezbollah is in one way or another facing criticism from within his own movement. After 2006 when over a thousand Lebanese were killed during the second Lebanon War Nasrallah was actually on a high rather than a low. He goes and helps his neighbor without fighting Israel and now we see that the only vestige of control or power that he had over his own militant movement was being able to point his guns towards Israel, rather than on Syria.
Moving onto to Jordan, we find ourselves in a situation where the King, in one way or another, is trying to find a delicate balance between President Trump and his own domestic problems. The largest protests on Jordan streets in 20 years took place just a few weeks ago because of the inability for him to be able to provide basic staples to his own people. Let’s not forget that as much as 60% of Jordan’s population is Palestinian and another 25 to 30% are Bedouin, meaning that the majority of Jordanians are not Jordanian. They in one way or another come from two different tribes, they are different minority groups that build a lot of domestic pressure against him.
In Egypt right now, arguably the friendliest Egyptian president to Israel ever, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, finds himself also facing many domestic problems. Ethiopia and Kenya are ready to go to war against Egypt right now because of the situation associated with building a brand-new dam on the Nile River, on the Blue and the White Nile. Within Egypt itself you have tourism down, traffic through the Suez Canal down, the shipment of natural gas and oil down and also the ability for Egypt’s principal industries, like the production of cotton and other trinkets, that were off and going to areas and a big drought, leaving roughly only 40% of Egypt’s wheat that it consumes is growing within country. It has to consume and purchase 60% of its grain supply from other countries. When dealing foreign currency reserves, Egypt is not a great place either. However, through all of this regional strife and squalor there is one country which still is able to thrive and to prosper, and to continue to grow and expand, and in one way or another mitigate all the problems in which are rising around it, and that is Israel.
Israel has given solutions to el-Sisi to help him combat against his own domestic terror groups that are fighting against him. Israel supported the Syrian civilians in the south of the country and has even offered help with Syrian reconstruction, if Bashar al-Assad would ever agree to that. Israel has gone to Jordan and it has signed a defense pact, that if Jordan’s government is ever at risk of falling, Israel will step in and intervene militarily to ensure that that government stands tall.
This is all just in the area around it. We have not spoken about Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, or all the countries that have in one way that affected Israel’s interests. Israel has even gone so far right now as to put themselves in alignment with the Sunni Gulf Arab States, with the exception of Qatar.
Iran was recently responsible for the launching of an attack against Saudi and Emirati shipping in the Strait that goes between Yemen and Djibouti on the way into the Red Sea. Following this, Benjamin Netanyahu made a statement that “if this straight is threatened by Iranian or by Iranian proxies, Israel will intervene militarily on behalf of Saudi and Emirati interests, if they are not able to defend this waterway.” Israel is not just fighting the wars that it has in its own backyard, it’s now starting to project its power throughout the Middle East and it’s doing it in alignment with former enemies. Only 14 years ago, Saudi Imams were offering $25,000 to $50,000 to the family of every suicide bomber who was willing to blow themselves up in an Israeli city. Now, 14 years later, you have Muhammad bin Salman, the Crown Prince, Defense Minister, oil minister, the minister of everything of Saudi Arabia, saying that he admires the idea of a Jewish polity and even supports a two-state solution. You have Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Saudi officials in Jerusalem. Going beyond that, an Israeli delegation now sits in Dubai at the International Renewable Energy Agency and Emirati officials are using Israeli cyber-security software to mitigate free speech in their own country, but at least it’s a commercial partnership, so we have that to look at too. All of this is being done in the wider context of Israel being in a jungle versus its biggest enemies Iran and Turkey.
Iran is the threat of today. Turkey is the threat of tomorrow. Iran in one way or another right now is trying to control five different areas of the Middle East: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Sanaa and Yemen. They have a loose partnership with the Qataris which allows them to have an advocate in the Western World from an Arab ally that is right now at odds with its other Arab neighbors.
They also have a significant presence in Venezuela. The size of the American Embassy in Caracas, at its height, was around 40 employees. The size of the Iranian Embassy in Caracas right now is 500 employees. Being in Texas you may have read this in the Dallas Morning News about an investigation that was being done on the kind of passports that people were being found with when they were caught crossing illegally at the border from Mexico into Texas, 278 Arabic speaking nationals, with Arabic sounding names, that didn’t speak Spanish, were caught transiting from Mexico into Texas using Venezuelan passports. The former Vice President of Venezuela, now on the Kingpin list for the US Treasury Department in terms of Narcotics trafficking, is named Tareck El Aissami. He is half Lebanese; half Druze and he is right now number two in the Maduro government. His great-uncle was one of the founders of the Syrian Ba’ath party. This is the alignment that we have to be able to fight against. Iran extending its presence against Israel throughout the Middle East and also close to us here at home.
The conclusion is twofold: number one, Israel is in a great place right now strategically. However, number two, we still have to look at the threats that will come tomorrow, not just the threats that are coming at us with Iran.
Originally published on Middle East Forum: https://www.meforum.org/7540/israeli-regional-power-and-the-struggle-over