Diplomatic Engagement with Islamists (Almost) Never Works

Last year, a British parliamentary commission issued a report urging the Foreign Office to engage diplomatically with Islamist leaders and even to try to persuade them to take more liberal stances. Such suggestions have gained purchase recently among Western diplomats and policy experts; John Jenkins is, to say the least, skeptical:

I cannot think of a single example where Western diplomatic or any other sort of engagement has produced any change in the position of any political Islamist. Deniable channels of communication may sometimes be wise, for example when we have kidnappings to resolve or must ensure the physical security of diplomats (both of which we had to do in Gaza when I was the [British] consul general in Jerusalem).

But our decisions publicly to engage with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood after 2000 and in 2008 to re-engage diplomatically with Hizballah’s political wing produced absolutely no shift in their thinking. Instead we tended to shape our own actions to avoid a negative reaction from Hizballah in Lebanon—by, for example, failing sufficiently . . . to condemn the egregious murders of their opponents. Again, occasional attempts in Iraq to shape the thinking of [Islamist leaders] failed. They gamed us instead. We have seen the same with the Houthis in Yemen and over the years with Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza. . . .

[In addition], there is the issue of language. Islamists notoriously use different discourses for different audiences. Just watch Al Jazeera’s English- and Arabic-language coverage of key events in the region for some excellent examples. . . . I encountered serial examples of this when asking Muslim Brothers and other Islamists to explain “a civil state in the framework of the sharia” or “Islamic democracy,” both common concepts but ones that Islamists surround with deliberate ambiguity in order to disguise their intent. I recall, with undimmed admiration for his hutzpah, sitting with Libyan politician and rebel commander Abdul Hakim bin Hajj in Tripoli in 2011 as he sought to convince me he was a committed Lockean. . . .

Does this mean no engagement is possible? Not at all. But it has to be on our terms if it is our engagement. That means . . . making sure we are absolutely clear what Islamist claims to value democracy (for example) or human rights mean in practice. . . . And it means selling engagement—which has a huge value for all Islamists—at its proper price, not at a liberal discount.

Read more at Policy Exchange

More about: Diplomacy, Hamas, Hizballah, Islamism, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics & Current Affairs

Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security