Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

Middle East Update – Qatar, Iran and terrorism

Posted by sanityinjection on June 9, 2017

I find that it’s rather difficult for those of us in the US to find quality, up-to-date analysis of what is going on in the Middle East. As it has for thousands of years, what happens in this region disproportionately affects the rest of the world. So I’m going to try to post periodic updates summarizing what you need to know with my own analysis.

SAUDI – QATAR SPAT: Perhaps the biggest story this week was the intra-Arab diplomatic spat between the small but wealthy Persian Gulf state of Qatar and a group of countries including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. These countries not only have suspended diplomatic relations with Qatar but have cut off land and air travel access and ordered Qataris to leave their territory. This creates a serious problem for Qatar since they import most of their food from these countries and will now have to rely on Iran and Turkey for help. The seriousness of the Saudi-led group’s intentions can be understood from the fact that the Saudis will also suffer from the diplomatic break: Qatar supplies natural gas for the Saudis and other countries in the region, and the Qataris have been kicked out of the coalition military forces fighting the Houthis in Yemen. That war is not going well for the Saudis, so you can tell they are pretty pissed if they are willing to weaken their forces there over this dispute. So what is really going on?

Basically, Saudi Arabia and the other states believe that Qatar is not only too soft on Iran, but too cozy with Islamist groups like Hamas, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and Shiite groups in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The Qatari media outlet Al-Jazeera has been a long time thorn in the side of the other Arab monarchies. But the last straw came recently when Qatar paid ransom money to both Iran and al-Qaeda, which of course will be used to fund more terrorism in the region.

Ultimately, the dispute amounts to an inconvenience for the US, whose military Central Command is based in Qatar. But if the Arabs are successful in pressuring Qatar to move away from it support for Iran and other groups, that could be a positive development from the US perspective. There are reports that a minor exodus of Hamas operatives leaving Qatar has already begun.

TERROR ATTACKS IN IRAN: Also this week, the Iranian capital of Tehran became the latest victim of terrorist attacks. The timing is somewhat suspicious, coming in the wake of the Saudi media campaign linking Iran with Islamic terrorism. What better way to prove that Iran is not in bed with Sunni groups like IS and al-Qaeda than for it to be attacked by them? I’m not going so far as to claim that Iran staged the attacks as a false flag operation on their own people, but I wouldn’t put it past the terrorists to have expedited plans to attack Shiite Iran (whom they view as heretics, in many ways worse than infidels) as a way of trying to counter the Saudi propaganda effort. It’s worth noting that these attacks are the first major terrorist attacks in Iran in over 25 years.

BATTLE OF RAQQA: In Syria, US-backed coalition forces have begun their assault on the IS capital of Raqqa, even as progress continues to be made in driving them out of their other stronghold of Mosul in Iraq. Most analysts expect these campaigns to be successful in essentially ending IS as a “caliphate” or territorial power in Syria and Iraq. However, IS-affiliated groups continue to operate freely in places like Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, so the threat of terrorist attacks is far from over.

PALESTINIANS CARE MORE ABOUT JOBS AND DEMOCRACY THAN FIGHTING ISRAEL: A poll conducted last month of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza produced surprising results suggesting that public opinion among Palestinians may be more open to compromises for peace than the Palestinian leadership would like to admit. Basically, the results showed that Palestinians are more interested in being able to find good jobs and having an honest, responsible government than about issues like whether the US moves its embassy to Jerusalem. From Israel, Palestinians most want freedom of movement and more job opportunities from Israeli companies more than they care about Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Perhaps most astonishingly, 62% of Palestinians in Gaza agreed that Hamas should quit calling for Israel’s destruction and accept the idea of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.

These poll results may provide some ammunition for US efforts to broker a new agreement, by calling into serious question the claims of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas that they would face a popular backlash if they compromised with Israel on their positions.

For more info on these and other Middle East developments, I recommend the Washington-based Al Monitor website. You can find there up-to-date reports from each of the regions within the Middle East as well as some of the most insightful and objective analysis to better understand what is really going on underneath the spin.

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Fouad Ajami gives the Arab world a wake-up call

Posted by sanityinjection on August 6, 2009

Sometimes, an op-ed column stands out not because it presents some profound new insights, but because it represents an oasis of truth amid a field of BS, and simply by doing so seems like a breath of fresh air.

So it is with Fouad Ajami’s WSJ piece on the status of the Arab world today. Ajami’s excuse for writing is last month’s UN Arab Human Development Report – which should really be called the Arab Human Non-Development report given the lack of progress in just about every area. Ajami boldly suggests that Arab regimes, and not America or Israel, are to blame for their own problems. He argues that the Bush Administration’s policy initiatives in Iraq and Lebanon (of which he is a well-known supporter) shook up Arab complacency, but that the new Administration seems content to let them shuffle back into complacency by blowing smoke up their casbahs.

Anyone interested in Middle Eastern politics should take a moment to read Ajami’s essay.

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Irony, thy name is Al-Qaeda in Iraq

Posted by sanityinjection on June 22, 2009

Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups in Iraq have said all along that they are fighting to end the American occupation of Iraq. This is the excuse they use to justify their barbaric terrorist attacks not only on US soldiers but on Iraqis themselves (the lives of the innocent are equally to be sacrificed for their glorious cause.)

So, with US troops on schedule to pull out of Iraqi urban areas by June 30 as part of the larger withdrawal plan, one might logically assume that the bombings and attacks would decrease with the removal of the provocative US presence. Indeed, this has been the essence of the anti-war argument offered by Western liberals: The US is to blame for terrorism because of its presence in the Middle East, and if we would just pull out and leave the region undefended, everyone would be happy and play nice. And Al Qaeda has echoed that line of thinking in their statements, since it works to their advantage.

In fact, though, we are more likely to see an increase in terrorist attacks in Iraq accompanying the US pullback. There are two reasons for this. One is that the removal of US forces simply makes it easier for the terrorists to carry out their attacks, and it’s only natural for them to take advantage of the opportunity. But the second, and more fundamental reason, is that in fact the last thing Al Qaeda in Iraq wants is for the US to leave – because it would remove their excuse for existing there. With the US gone, Iraqis will have little sympathy for Al Qaeda attacks on Iraqis. But in fact, Al Qaeda still wants to bring down the democratic government of Iraq and replace it with an Islamofascist theocracy.

The hope of Al Qaeda and their allies is that by increasing their attacks, they will force the US to reverse its pullback and keep our troops in Iraq, so they can continue to justify their existence and kill more of us and more Iraqis. Precisely the opposite of what they claim to want.

This is important for the Western defeatists to understand. Yes, the terrorists hate the US because of our presence in the Middle East, but not because it offends them. They hate us because we are the only force that has both the capability and the will to prevent them from establishing their Muslim caliphate. If we were to shrink back into our shell and leave the Middle East, the terrorists wouldn’t pack up and go home. They would renew their struggle with greater energy, knowing that the path to victory and the religious enslavement of the Middle East was now clear.

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Afghanistan: What the Left really thinks

Posted by sanityinjection on April 2, 2009

There is a common misperception that most of the Left in America supports the war on Afghanistan, and that it was only the war in Iraq they opposed. While this is true of some Democrats, most of the Left only focused on Iraq as the more obvious target. With the Iraq issue now essentially resolved, hardcore leftists are now turning their sights to Afghanistan in opposition to President Obama’s plan to slightly increase US forces there.

There is no more hallowed or respected liberal political journal than The Nation. And there is no left-winger with credentials more solid than Tom Hayden – founder of Students for a Democratic Society, member of the Chicago Seven, and former state legislator from California. Hayden is intelligent and articulate, and he cannot be dismissed as a crackpot of the Cindy Sheehan/Code Pink variety. Thus, his piece in The Nation last week deserves some attention as an authentic representation of the thinking of a sizable chunk of the American Left.

Hayden makes a number of interesting points, the first of which is his assertion that adding 20,000 American troops in Afghanistan will not prevent additional terrorist attacks. I have to say that I agree with Hayden, but only in the sense that I could agree with him that the earth will continue to revolve around the sun. The purpose of the troop buildup is not to eliminate Al Qaeda’s ability to plan a terrorist attack – there is no way to do that completely. The purpose of the buildup is to stabilize Afghanistan so that it will no longer be a haven for Al Qaeda or any other adical groups. Hayden actually undercuts his case by suggesting that Al Qaeda may be spurred by the buildup to launch an attack or “risk complete destruction, an American objective that has not been achieved for eight years. ” So Tom, if you believe that the troop buildup could finally result in the complete destruction of Al Qaeda, isn’t that a great argument for doing  it?

Apparently not. Hayden argues that the US should maintain a “deterrent posture” – whatever that is – “while immediately accelerating diplomacy to meet legitimate Muslim goals, from a Palestinian state to genuine progress on Kashmir. ” That’s a dumbfounding statement. First of all, it suggests that Al Qaeda exists in order to pursue “legitimate Muslim goals”. Al Qaeda’s objective is a worldwide Islamic state under sharia law, and even Hayden wouldn’t call that a legitimate goal. Second, it suggests that the Palestinian quest for statehood is fundamentally a Muslim issue, which it isn’t – many Palestinians are Christians. Finally, the idea that there is a unified “Muslim” political agenda – can you imagine if someone started talking about a “Christian” or “Jewish” foreign policy agenda? Ye Gods!

Fundamentally, Hayden’s position is that Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks are provoked by our actions, so we should stop provoking them and giving them what they want – the total withdrawal of US military and economic interests in the Middle East. With bold naivete, Hayden actually suggests that this would make the world more stable than it is today.

He goes on to drag out the usual “Afghanistan is Vietnam” analogy, unfazed by having made the same argument about Iraq and having been proven wrong. He ends by asserting that the war in Afghanistan is likely to last throughout Obama’s Presidency, which I also agree with. (Hayden is way too smart to be wrong about *everything*.)

Again, let me reiterate: Hayden is not some wacko DailyKos type with no credibility. He’s practically the Godfather of the Left. So don’t be fooled – now that they have proven wrong on Iraq, the Left is undauntedly pushing the same tired arguments on the next most opportune target, Afghanistan.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Palestinian groups continue to shoot themselves in their collective foot

Posted by sanityinjection on September 9, 2008

The secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, offered a rare public rebuke of squabbling Palestinian factions today:

“I am extremely angry with the Palestinian organizations…Do they (the Palestinians) have a state for them to be fighting over ministerial positions? We kidded ourselves and called it the state of Palestine. It’s not a state until it obtains its full rights.”

It is highly unusual for an Arab leader to make such a statement, particularly an experienced diplomat such as Moussa. This suggests two things: 1) The level of infighting among Palestinian factions is as bad as ever, and 2) Non-rejectionist Arab countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are serious about trying to move the peace process foward and are frustrated with the lack of unity among the very people they are trying to help.  In an even more unprecedented move, the Arab League is actually considering some form of sanctions against any Palestinian factions seen as obstructing the current efforts by Egypt to reconcile the various groups.

Sadly, the Palestinian nationalist movement, like many political movements before it, is riddled with corruption and individuals seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of the cause they claim to espouse. No one exemplified this more than the late Yasir Arafat, now viewed as the George Washington of his people.  The continued fighting also affects the attitude of the Israeli side: dismaying those who seek a genuine Palestinian partner for peace, and giving cover to the Israeli rejectionists who use it as an excuse to delay and avoid further negotiations. Similarly, Palestinian rejectionists do their best to undermine the peace process while blaming everything on the Israelis. (Ironically Hamas’ electoral success is largely due to the fact that, being fanatics, they are far less corrupt than the more moderate Fatah faction.)

When Israel and Egypt, and later Israel and Jordan, signed peace agreements, they were between UN member states that could be held accountable by the international community if they failed to live up to the terms of the agreement. (And in fact, both peace deals have been hugely successful and beneficial to both sides.) Unfortunately, the Palestinians cannot be held accountbale. Nominal Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has little sway outside his capital city and must rely on Fatah militias, who frequently have agendas of their own. And the only international leverage against the Palestinians is to withhold aid from the corrupt officials that steal it, which is then denounced on humanitarian grounds. Meanwhile, ordinary Palestinians continue to suffer, especially in overcrowded Gaza.

Article here:

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Memo to Israeli PM: Rejectionism is not helpful

Posted by sanityinjection on August 14, 2008

ABC News reports that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has denied rumors that he had proposed allowing a small number of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel as part of a final peace settlement, in keeping eith the “right of return” which has always been a fundamental demand of the Palestinians. However, his office went a step further and said that, “under any future agreement, there will not be any return of Palestinian refugees to Israel in any number.” While this may play well politically in Israel, that kind of categorical denial hurts peace efforts and encourages similar rejectionism from the Palestinian side.

The issue concerns large numbers of Palestinian families who either (depending on your point of view) fled or were forced out of Palestine in 1948 when Arab armies attacked the newly-declared State of Israel. Since that time, they have been housed in run-down, squalid refugee camps in Arab countries, some the size of small cities. The Palestinains have consistently demanded that the right of these refugees to return to what is now Israel be recognized – the so-called “right of return”.

Of course, there are tons of problems with this. Most of the houses, and in many cases, the villages the Palestinians left no longer exist. There is nowhere for them to return to. The refugees, now almost all elderly, have bred large families who would all want to return along with them. In addition to arguing that the Palestinians left voluntarily, Israel rightly points out that the refugees are still in the camps because the Arab countries (with the notable exception of Jordan) have consistently refused to allow them to integrate into their countries, fearing that would be a symbolic acceptance of the Israeli victory.

Allowing the “right of return” in any significant numbers would be impossible for Israel. It would create a huge Arab population with a high birthrate that would eventually swamp the Jewish population and have the political power to destroy Israel as a Jewish state through democratic means. Olmert’s statement is grounded in this understanding, and Palestinian negotiators are well aware of it.

On the other hand, the “right of return” is so fundamental to the Palestinian cause that it is impossible to imagine a peace settlement that does not address the issue in at least a symbolic way. And the Israelis are aware of that also. Olmert’s categorical rejection of even a symbolic right of return is basically a slap in the face for Palestinians, and that’s not how you negotiate.

Olmert will be stepping down as Prime Minister, so a new government will not be bound by his statement. But it is dismaying to see an Israeli leader deliberately sabotaging the atmosphere of peace talks for cheap political gains.

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Helping to understand why peace in the Middle East is so elusive

Posted by sanityinjection on August 4, 2008

Reuters reports that about 181 members of an influential Palestinian family in the Gaza Strip fled to *Israel*, of all places, in fear for their lives. Why? After all, for the majority of Palestinians, Israel is the enemy, a foreign occupier on their soil. Were these people traitors to the Palestinian cause?

Hardly. The family in question, the Hilles clan, belongs to a Palestinian faction called Fatah, associated with the late Yasir Arafat and the current Palestinian “government” in the West Bank. Gaza, however, has been taken over by a rival faction called Hamas. Both factions want Israel out of the West Bank. Fatah,  a secular group, has, on the surface, accepted the principle of peaceful negotiations, while Hamas, an Islamic group, believes in armed struggle to drive all the Jews into the sea and reclaim all of Israel for the Palestinians. Despite these differences, both groups are essentially on the same side and both view Israel as the enemy.

And yet, the two groups hate each other so much that they continue to fight violently with each other in Gaza. Even the common enemy isn’t enough to unify them. Thus, the Hilles fled to Israel because they knew that Hamas planned to execute them, whereas at the hands of the hated Israelis they could expect to be treated lawfully and even with some rights as refugees.

So what did the “enemy” Israelis do? They decided that the best thing to do with the Hilles would be to provide transportation for them to the West Bank, where they would be safe under the authority of the Fatah-controlled government. But Fatah initially said, “Send ’em back, we don’t want them.” According to Fatah, the Hilles, you see, had not done *enough* to fight the Hamas takeover in Gaza. (These people really can’t win.) An *Israeli* civil rights group had to intervene to keep most of them from being sent back, and the Fatah authorities finally agreed to allow the majority to come to the West Bank.

The point of all this is that there are too many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who are only too happy to hate and kill each other just as well as they hate and kill Israelis. Turning over the occupied territories to such as these is asking for the kind of violence and chaos we have seen in Lebanon and Iraq. When the Israelis sit down to talk peace with Palestinian “President” Abbas, they point to all this and say, “How can we possibly trust a Palestinian state to guarantee the security of Israel when you can’t even keep your own people from killing each other?”

The ultimate losers, of course, are the many Palestinians who want nothing more than to live, work, and raise their children in peace.

Full story:

Posted in Foreign Affairs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Is this Palestinian man ordinary, or extraordinary?

Posted by sanityinjection on July 14, 2008

A truly amazing story. I would love to see this documentary if I can:

I don’t know if I could have done what Ismail Khatib did, were I in his place. The story serves as a good reminder that we can always choose to look at a situation in more than one way. Khatib, no doubt, wanted to bring some kind of positive meaning to the tragic stupidity of his son’s death. One response might have been to join a militant group, or give money to those who would exact revenge for his son’s death by wreaking random violence on Israeli civilians (“the enemy”.) Instead, Khatib chose to see the people helped by his son’s organs not as citizens of the government that killed Ahmed, but rather as parents in danger of losing their own sons and daughters, a tragedy he could prevent. I’m sure Khatib did not set out to make some grand political statement about living together in peace (Had it been possible to donate his son’s organs to a Palestinian hospital serving Palestinian patients, he probably would have done so.) But sometimes what is needed to effect change is not a great and glorious vision, but simply the wisdom to embrace an opportunity when it arrives in your path.

The story also should remind us that the majority of people in every country simply want to be able to live, work, and get an education for their children in peace. Sometimes the people with guns who yell the loudest make it hard to remember that.

Yikes, I’m starting to sound like a hippie!

Posted in Current Events, Foreign Affairs | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »