Tagged: Israel

Trump Election: Reactions in the Middle East

Many things have already been said about the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency. In this piece, I want to focus on the reactions of Middle Eastern leaders to the outcome of the US election.

Although it would not be completely surprising if Trump’s positions on the Middle East will change from the campaign trail to the presidency, they are still worth considering. As summarized by Paul Salem, these positions are:

  1. he favors cooperation with Russia and the Assad regime in Syria against ISIS and has little regard for the Syrian opposition;
  2. he has promised either to tear up the nuclear agreement with Iran or to monitor it very aggressively; either way the tone of détente will be replaced by hostility;
  3. he has spoken fondly of authoritarianism and authoritarian leaders, and argued that human rights and democracy should not be US foreign policy priorities;
  4. he has said he will ratchet up the war on ISIS without revealing how that would happen;
  5. he has vilified Muslims and called for a ban on their entry to the United States;
  6. he has questioned America’s alliances and commitments, and argued instead that US protection should be in exchange for payment.


“President-elect is a true friend of the State of Israel, and I look forward to working with him to advance security, stability and peace in our region.” — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Personally and for my nation, I interpret favorably the American people’s choice and I wish for a future filled with success.” — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“The U.S. elections result will not have any impact on the Islamic Republic’s policies…. Today, the U.S. is definitely not more capable than before…of creating global consensus against Iran.” —Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Egypt President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi called Mr. Trump and expressed hope his election will “inject a new spirit into the trajectory of Egyptian-American relations.”

Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi praised the president-elect for continuing to prioritize the war against the extremists: “We are looking forward to seeing the world and the United States of America standing by Iraq in facing terrorism.”

Saudi King Salman expressed hope that Trump would bring stability to the Middle East. “We wish your excellency success in your mission to achieve security and stability in the Middle East and worldwide,” he said, praising US-Saudi relations, which are “historic and tight between the two friendly countries, that all parties aspire to develop and reinforce”.

A spokesman for the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbassaid: “We will deal with any president elected by the American people on the principle of achieving permanent peace in the Middle East based on the two state solution on June 4 1967 lines with east Jerusalem as its capital.”


My Book is Finally Out

Check my new book out New Beginning in US-Muslim Relations: President Obama and the Arab Awakening at Palgrave Macmillan official website.

Short description:

This book carries out a comparative study of the US response to popular uprisings in the Middle East as an evaluation of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy commitments. In 2009, Obama publicly pledged “a new beginning in US-Muslim relations,” causing eager expectation of a clear shift in US foreign policy after the election of the 44th president of the United States. However, the achievement of such a shift was made particularly difficult by the existence of multiple, and sometimes conflicting, US interests in the region which influenced the Obama administration’s response to the popular uprisings in five Muslim-majority countries: Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and Syria. After providing a detailed analysis of the traditional features of both US foreign policy rhetoric and practice, this book turns its focus to the Obama administration’s response to the 2011 Arab Awakening to determine whether Obama’s foreign policy has indeed brought about a new beginning in US-Muslim relations.

Enjoy your reading!

Series: Armed Forces in the Middle East (Israel)

Israel ranks at the top of the list of the most powerful militaries in the Middle East. Here are some data.

$15 billion defense budget
176,500 active frontline personnel
3,870 tanks
680 aircraft

The Israel Defense Forces has defended against a diverse range of enemies since the country achieved independence in 1948. Israel has successfully fought large conventional armies, like the Egyptian and Syrian militaries in 1967 and 1972, as well as asymmetrical foes, like Palestinian militant groups.

Israel has a conscription system in which most Jewish and Druze citizens of the country are required to serve in the military for either two or three years. A close defense relationship with the US and an energetic domestic defense industry give Israel a qualitative edge over all of the region’s other militaries: Israel has space assets, advanced fighter jets, high-tech armed drones, and nuclear weapons. Its air force has incredibly high entry and training standards. “Pilot to pilot, airframe to airframe, the Israeli air force is the best in the world,” Harmer says.

Israel also has one of the region’s most battle-ready armies, a force that has fought in four major engagements since 2006 and has experience securing a few of the most problematic borders on earth.

Israel’s military has also never attempted a coup or ruled the country directly, unlike several others on this list.

Thanks to Israel’s small size, the military can rapidly mobilize its reserves on relatively short notice.

Key allies: The US is the major one, though Israel enjoys a degree of security cooperation with Jordan and Egypt.


Source: Business Insider UK 2014

There is No Peace Process

Since 1972, the United States has used its veto power at the UN Security Council to shield Israel from more than 40 resolution that were somewhat critical of the Jewish state.

Recently US President Barack Obama said that the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process has made it harder for the United States to continue defending Israel at the United Nations. President Obama explained that “up until this point we have pushed away against European efforts for example, or other efforts. Because we have said, the only way this gets resolved is if the two parties worked together […] Well, here’s the challenge. If in fact, there’s no prospect of an actual peace process, if nobody believes there’s a peace process, then it becomes more difficult, to argue with those who are concerned about settlement construction, those who are concerned about the current situation, it’s more difficult for me to say to them, ‘Be patient. Wait, because we have a process here,’ because all they need to do is to point to the statements that have been made to say, ‘There is no process.’

Now France is co-sponsoring a UN Security Council Resolution that would set an 18-month deadline for completion of talks leading to the creation of a Palestinian state. Details of the proposed resolution have emerged amid warnings that if no agreement is reached in that timeframe, France, and potentially other countries, would go ahead and unilaterally recognise a Palestinian state.

What will the United States do? Will the United States use its veto power to stop the adoption of yet another resolution?

Some observers suggest that this time President Obama may decide to withhold US veto power. No doubt, such a decision would be a decisive shift in the traditional US Israeli policy.

Follow me on Twitter @EugenioLilli

The Current Crisis in Gaza is a Product of Years of Preparation

Ilana Feldman, from George Washington University, recently wrote a piece that provides essential background to the current crisis in the Gaza Strip.

She argues that mobility management has been a longstanding Israeli tactic in Gaza.

Mobility management started right after the 1948 conflict when thousands of Palestinian refugees were separated from their homes and possessions by the “provisional” border defined by the Egyptian-Israeli armistice. During the twenty-years of Egyptian rule, Palestinians in Gaza were allowed to cross —with a permit—the southern border into Egypt.

In 1967, Israel occupied Gaza. Palestinian movement was relatively unimpeded for the first twenty-five years of the occupation. Israel wanted Palestinian cheap labor, so people were allowed to cross the border from Gaza into Israel to work and visit – though not to reclaim their former homes. A few years into the first Intifada (late 1980s), Israel began to impose restrictions on Palestinian movement from the Occupied Territories (while simultaneously bringing in foreign laborers to take the place of Palestinian workers). The first steps in developing a comprehensive “pass system”  required Palestinians who wished to move to get a security-services approved magnetic card (in addition to the ID card required of everyone). Israel developed a full “closure policy” in 1991 according to which any Palestinian movement required a permit.

The 1993 Oslo Accords that were signed between Israel and the Palestinians consolidated such restrictions. The Strip was fenced off and movement between the West Bank and Gaza became impossible for most Palestinians. Freedom of movement for goods was still allowed but people could no longer reach the other parts and people of Palestine.

The beginning of the new millennium has witnessed increasing restrictions on Palestinian movement. During the second Intifada (early 2000s) Israel began also to restrict foreigners’ entrance into Gaza. After the organization Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections, Israel, with Egyptian backing and US support, imposed a full blockade on Gaza. The blockade stopped the entrance of many goods into Gaza, along with the export of Gazan products abroad. The “tunnel economy” that has emerged since then is one Palestinian response to such restrictions.

Professor Feldman concludes by painting a dire picture:

…Gazans are immobilized in every sense: cut off from other members of their community, isolated from the “international community,” deprived of economic opportunity, basic goods, and access to advanced medical care…

Five Myths about Hamas

Professor Nathan J. Brown, that I had the pleasure to interview at George Washington University some time ago, discusses five myths about the Palestinian organization Hamas. What are these five myths? Do I agree with them?

1. Hamas poses no meaningful threat to Israel.

Brown notices that during the current fighting all the ground combat is happening in Gaza; Israeli territory remains relatively unscathed. In fact, since the beginning of the conflict in July 8 about 40 Israelis has died compared to more than 1000 Palestinians. Although a worrisome concern Hamas does not currently represent an existential threat to Israel.

2. Hamas’s popularity stems from the social services it provides.

Brown argues that the number of Palestinians who benefit from [Hamas] services is small. And it’s dwarfed by those who get assistance from the Palestinian government, international aid bodies and nongovernmental organizations. Hamas’ popularity instead derives from the organization’s reputation of being uncompromising on Palestinian rights and uncorrupted by money and power. 

3. Hamas has lost popularity.

Brown says that at this point Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is seen as isolated, aloof and having spent all his political capital on a failed peace process. Instead Hamas improves its credentials in the eyes of Palestinians as the movement that does not bend and dares to take on Israel are being burnished among much of the audience it cares about.

4. Hamas’s loss of regional allies has tied its hands.

Brown writes that Hamas is currently more internationally isolated than it was during the previous round of fighting in 2012. However, the fact that Hamas has relinquished its government responsibilities in Gaza early this year has given to the organization a bit more freedom to maneuver.

5. Hamas has a strategy.

Brown holds that Hamas is resilient, cagey and, in a perverse way, principled in its dedication to armed resistance. But it has no map, and all its actions to date […] have brought Palestinians no closer to any kind of national goal.

All of Professor Brown’s points are very compelling and I think I generally agree with them. Hamas’ lack of a long-term strategy is probably the most controversial issue of the five. Does any actor currently involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have in fact a workable strategy for a peaceful resolution of it?

The last Israeli governments haven’t shown any significant interest in pursuing a genuine diplomatic solution. Palestinian President Abbas has mostly failed in his effort to promote diplomatic negotiations with Israel. The United States, regardless of a few sporadic public statements, has usually aligned itself with Israeli policies even when such policies were criticized by the rest of the international community. All that considered, Hamas’ controversial reliance on a continued armed resistance seems as much as a strategy as those of the above mentioned actors.