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Bahrain Sends a Delegation to Israel

Dec. 15 2017

Last weekend, only a few days after the White House’s Jerusalem announcement, 23 members of a group called “This Is Bahrain” visited Israel. Simon Henderson explains what this might mean:

The group . . . was making its first trip to the country to show off Bahrain’s claim of tolerance of all faiths; it is dedicated to supporting King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa’s commitment to promoting religious freedom and coexistence across the globe, though it does not appear to have an official status. Bahrain does not have official ties with Israel, though King Hamad appears to believe that religious contact can be distinguished from open diplomatic contacts, a questionable though perhaps admirable distinction in terms of the Middle East. . . . [He] approved the trip himself, according to insiders.

[The visit] comes at a moment when Gulf states are bolstering their security and intelligence relationships with Israel because of a shared interest in confronting what they view as an Iranian threat. It is worth watching Riyadh and Abu Dhabi for their reactions to the delegation’s visit to see if Bahrain is leading the way or just trying to punch above its weight.

The group . . . met with Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, the only Arab member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet. Since news of the delegation’s visit broke, reports from Israel have claimed that Kara intends to visit Bahrain in the coming months. “There will be more surprises in the coming year. We see great interest among the Gulf states in developing connections with Israel,” he said in an interview.

Although close to Netanyahu, Kara is not necessarily the most reliable indicator of the state of Gulf-Israeli relations, which are the domain of Israel’s military, intelligence, and diplomatic establishment. There may also be a tension between [the diplomats’] desire to maintain and strengthen the existing ties quietly and the politicians’ desire for a public breakthrough. It may be that the latter group is going to get its wish: Bahrain’s King Hamad is usually not regarded as the political equal of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or his Emirati [equivalent], Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, but this Jerusalem visit suggests Israel’s relationship with Gulf countries can’t remain in the shadows forever.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Bahrain, Gulf Cooperation Council, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Saudi Arabia

What U.S. Success in Syria Should Look Like

April 26 2018

Surveying the history of the Syrian civil war, Jack Keane and Danielle Pletka explain that Bashar al-Assad’s brutal rule and vicious tactics have led to the presence in his country of both Shiite terrorists, led by Hizballah and backed by Iran and Russia, and Sunni jihadist groups like Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda. Any American strategy, they argue, must bear this in mind:

The best option is a Syria without Assad, committed to a future without Iranian or Russian influence. This is not a Pollyanna-like prescription; there are substantial obstacles in the way, not least those we have encountered in Iraq. . . . [But] only such a Syria can guarantee an end to Iranian interference, to the transshipment of weapons for Hizballah, and to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction of the kind we saw used at Douma. (Iran has been instrumental in Syria’s chemical-weapons program for many years.) And, most importantly, only such a Syria can disenfranchise the al-Qaeda and IS affiliates that have found a foothold by exploiting the Syrian people’s desperation.

How do we get there? The United States must first consolidate and strengthen its position in eastern Syria from the Euphrates river to the eastern Syrian border. This involves clearing out the remnants of Islamic State, some several thousand, and ultimately eliminating pockets controlled by the Assad regime and Iranian forces in northeastern Syria. This would enable the creation of a control zone in the eastern part of the country as a base from which to build a credible and capable partner that is not subordinate to the Kurdish chain of command, while effectively shutting down Iran’s strategic land bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean. A regional Arab force, reportedly suggested by President Trump’s new national-security adviser, would be a welcome addition. But we should seriously doubt [the Arabs] will participate without American ground leadership and air support.

In western Syria, the United States should rebuild a Syrian opposition force with advisers, weapons, and air power while upping the pressure on Assad and his cronies to select a pathway to a negotiated peace. Pursuing a settlement in Geneva without such leverage over the Assad regime is pure fantasy. Finally, the United States and other Western powers must impede Iran’s and Russia’s ability to be resupplied. Syria’s airfields must be destroyed, and Syria’s airspace must remain clear.

Read more at National Interest

More about: Hizballah, Iran, ISIS, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy