What the Warsaw Conference Means for Israel and the Middle East

Feb. 22 2019

Last week, representatives of over 60 countries—Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel among them—gathered in Warsaw to discuss Middle Eastern security. For the U.S., which organized the event, it was primarily an opportunity to solidify an alliance to contain Iran, and thus representatives from ten Arab states attended, even allowing themselves to be photographed with the Israeli prime minister. Clifford May writes that the conference may have changed little, but it revealed much:

The Arab states and the Jewish state agree, as does the current U.S. administration, that the most serious threat to peace and security in the Middle East is the Islamic Republic of Iran. America’s West European friends, by contrast, are ambivalent—despite Tehran’s . . . attempt to bomb a rally of Iranian dissidents in Paris last summer and to assassinate a political foe in Denmark last October, and despite credible Dutch accusations last month of Iranian involvement in four additional assassination and bomb plots since 2015. . . .

[For their part], the Arab diplomats gathered in Warsaw are probably not, in their heart of hearts, enthusiastic about the exercise of self-determination by the Jewish people in part of its ancient homeland. But no other state in the region has both the will and the military power to stand up to the Shiite mullahs. Israelis have become the strategic partner of the Sunni Arabs because there’s no one else. . . .

In theory, increasing Arab-Israeli rapprochement should make it easier to find a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In practice, don’t bet on it. Palestinian officials denounced the Warsaw conference as a “conspiracy aimed at eliminating the Palestinian cause.” . . . The Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas is . . . savvy enough to understand that any agreement with Israel will be seen as a betrayal and a crime not just by Hamas but also by Tehran and the various jihadist groups. So long as the Islamic Republic stands a chance of emerging as the regional hegemon, no Palestinian leader can sign a peace treaty with Israel—no matter how beneficial for Palestinians—without painting a bull’s eye on his back. . . .

The last time Israelis and Arabs got together to discuss Middle Eastern peace and security was nearly 30 years ago. Conventional wisdom held that the Madrid conference of 1991 was a huge success. Conventional wisdom turned out to be wrong.

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More about: Europe, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israel-Arab relations, Mahmoud Abbas, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy


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