Benjamin Netanyahu’s Visit to Oman Shows That Improved Relations with Arab States Aren’t Dependent on the Peace Process

Last week, the Israeli prime minister—along with his wife and high-ranking officials—made a state visit to Oman, where they met with the country’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Nor has this been the only recent sign of Israel’s improving relations with the Arab world, as Aaron David Miller and Hillel Zand write:

On Sunday, the [Israeli] sports and culture minister Miri Regev . . . became the first senior Israeli official to visit Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The same day, after years of being forbidden to display national symbols at Gulf sporting events, the Israeli national anthem played when the Israeli judo team won a gold medal at the International Judo Federation’s Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi. Next week, Israel’s intelligence and transportation minister Yisrael Katz will visit Oman and its communications minister Ayoub Kara will visit Abu Dhabi. An Israeli gymnastics team is also currently competing in Qatar.

These moments of soft diplomacy appear to be bearing fruit for Israel’s foreign-policy agenda. After Netanyahu’s visit, Oman’s foreign minister stated, “Israel is a state present in the region, and we all understand this. The world is also aware of this fact.”. . .

The Arab world’s new openness to Israel is driven in part by increasing impatience and annoyance with the Palestinians. . . . Add to this the Arab states’ fear of Iran and Sunni jihadists, and a desire to please the Trump administration—and suddenly it’s obvious that Israel and its neighbors are bound by common interests. . . .

The upshot of all of this isn’t that the Arab world is moving at breakneck speed to desert the Palestinians, or to normalize ties with Israel fully. But Netanyahu appears to be dealing with an Arab world ready to engage incrementally with Israel despite the fact that a peace deal is not forthcoming. In a volatile and combustible Middle East, the prime minister should enjoy his thaw while it lasts.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Israel-Arab relations, Miri Regev, Oman, United Arab Emirates

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey