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

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