How Religious Faith—and Knowledge of Arabic—Can Help America’s Middle East Diplomacy

Having spent his career working for the State Department both in Washington and abroad, including numerous diplomatic postings in the Middle East, Alberto Fernandez is now the president of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, a U.S. government-funded Arabic-language radio and television network. In an interview with Robert Nicholson, Fernandez discusses the moral component of American foreign policy, and how his own Roman Catholic faith has informed his work:

[America’s priority should be] our national interests in the Middle East, our relations with historical allies, and the need to confront aggressive adversaries like Russia and Iran. But our long-term interests are ultimately best served by regimes that respect human dignity and promote policies that encourage human flourishing. We tend—overwhelmingly—to have the opposite [approach] today across the region. The region desperately needs more critical thinking, more honesty and understanding of the “other” in the face of daunting political and socioeconomic challenges.

But we also have a built-in problem in foreign policy because we tend to have a short attention span, something our adversaries often do not. . . . And we have tended to cultivate the type of tools, I am thinking here of the training of personnel, that focus on the more shallow, short-term, and superficial. I remember in Sudan being the only Western chief of mission who spoke Arabic. But the Russian, Iranian, and Chinese ambassadors all spoke Arabic. . . .

All too often Westerners come to the Middle East with a built-in sense of the superiority of postmodern liberal society over a supposedly benighted and fanatical East. The reality is rather more complicated than that. [Furthermore], being a [religious] believer can and should help you understand people’s motivation, what touches their heart and spirit, what is most precious to them, more than life itself. Westerners, especially the highly secularized members of the elite who tend to staff Western foreign ministries, have sometimes forgotten, if they ever learned, that man does not live by bread alone.

This dismissal of the spiritual (or if you prefer, ideological or inner) dimension of the human condition can be worse than folly. It can be deadly. This is not to present a simplistic clichéd image of a spiritual East and material West, but the world is broader and deeper than the jaundiced view from Foggy Bottom or Brussels or the island of Manhattan.

Read more at Providence

More about: Arabic, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, Religion, U.S. Foreign policy

The Possible Death of Mohammad Deif, and What It Means

On Saturday, Israeli jets destroyed a building in southern Gaza, killing a Hamas brigade commander named Rafa Salameh. Salameh is one of the most important figures in the Hamas hierarchy, but he was not the primary target. Rather it was Mohammad Deif, who is Yahya Sinwar’s number-two and is thought to be the architect and planner of numerous terrorist attacks, of Hamas’s tunnel network, and of the October 7 invasion itself. Deif has survived at least five Israeli attempts on his life, and the IDF has consequently been especially reluctant to confirm that he had been killed. Yet it seems that it is possible, and perhaps likely, that he was.

Kobi Michael notes that Deif’s demise would have major symbolic value and, moreover, deprive Hamas of important operational know-how. But he also has some words of caution:

The elimination of Deif becomes even more significant given the current reality of severe damage to Hamas’s military wing and its transition to terrorism and guerrilla warfare. However, it is important to remember that organizations such as Hamas and Hizballah are more than the sum of their components or commanders. Israel has previously eliminated the leaders of these organizations and other very senior military figures, and yet the organizations continued to grow, develop, and become more significant security threats to Israel, while establishing their status as political players in the Palestinian and Lebanese arenas.

As for the possibility that Deif’s death will harden Hamas’s position in the hostage negotiations, Tamir Hayman writes:

In my opinion, even if there is a bump in the road now, it is not a strategic one. The reasons that Hamas decided to compromise its demands in the [hostage] deal stem from the operational pressure it is under [and] the fear that the pressure exerted by the IDF will increase.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas