A Newly Discovered Inscription Sheds Light on an Ancient Negev City

March 15 2019

Archaeologists excavating the ruins of an ancient city in southern Israel have found a Greek inscription with the city’s name, confirming that it is indeed Ḥalutsah—in Greek, Elusa. The Jewish Press reports:

The discovery of an inscription with the name of the ancient city in a site itself is a rare occurrence. . . . The name of the city of Elusa appears in a number of historical documents and contexts, including the Madaba mosaic map, the Nessana papyri, and [elsewhere]. However, this is the first time that the name of the city has been discovered in the site itself. The inscription mentions several Caesars of the tetrarchy, [a period when governance of the Roman empire was divided among four rulers], which date it to around 300 CE.

In addition, in the recent excavation season, a bathhouse and Byzantine church were uncovered. The 130-foot-long three-aisled church contained an eastward apse, whose vault was originally decorated with a glass mosaic. Its nave was decorated with marble. The bathhouse is a large, urban complex of which were revealed part of the furnace and caldarium (hot room). . . .

Elusa was founded toward the end of the 4th century BCE as an important station along the Incense Road, the ancient road between Petra, [in what is now Jordan], and Gaza. The city continued to develop, reaching its peak in the Byzantine period in the 4th-to-mid-6th centuries CE. In that period, it was inhabited by tens of thousands of inhabitants and was the only city in the Negev.

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More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, History & Ideas, Negev

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy