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Ed Webb

The New Energy geopolitics and the Gulf Arab States - The Geopolitics - 0 views

  • today’s largest volumes of global seaborne crude oil – around 30% – along with a significant volume of LNG, passes through its Straits of Hormuz, making it the most important maritime oil chokepoint which connects the Gulf states with key global markets in the East and the West
  • The International Energy Agency (IEA) sees that the world can reach net-zero emissions by 2060, wherein 75% of reduction comes from energy efficiency and renewable energy, with another 14% from carbon capture and storage, 6% from nuclear and 5% from fuel switching. In this context, the fossil fuels’ share of the global energy mix falls from 82% in 2014 to 35% in 2060 under the 2°C scenario, or to 26% in the below 2°C scenario.
  • Renewable technologies and batteries require certain minerals for their production, such as cobalt, lithium, nickel and rare earth elements. Despite the fact that renewable endowments for wind, solar, geothermal and biomass are scattered geographically, controlling the production of these new commodities will have major geopolitical consequences as they are based only in a selected number of countries such as Chile, Bolivia, Mongolia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
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  • At present, China dominates the world’s investment and innovation in renewable energy technologies.
  • the importance of the Gulf Arab states will be eroded not only because of the decline in global demand for oil but also because Gulf countries are not rich in the minerals required to build renewable energy technologies, and are highly dependent on technology imports rather than in-house technology innovation and research and development
  • all hydrocarbon producer economies will see a fall in total rent of about 40% by 2040 compared with the ‘golden years’ of 2010-14 due to rigorous policies on fuel switching and efficiency to reach net-zero emissions in the second half of this century
  • In 2013, R&D investment in Gulf countries averaged 0.3% of the gross domestic product (GDP), compared with 2%–3% in industrialized countries. The 0.3% figure is far less than the minimum percentage (1%) needed for an effective science and technology base specified by UNESCO.
  • in the new energy era, the Gulf Arab states are still advantaged by their geographical location. These countries are specially positioned for harnessing wind and solar energy
Ed Webb

Simon Dalby, 400ppm: Anthropocene Geopolitics | Society and Space - Environment and Pla... - 1 views

  • Humanity is remaking the biosphere; producing the new natures in which the human future will play out. Hence the now widespread use of the term Anthropocene for the period of planetary history in which the dominant ecological force is humanity, or more precisely, fossil fueled industrial capitalist humanity.
  • Natural environments are no longer in any meaningful sense the given context for human existence; they are being remade by land use changes, urbanization and by both technologies and species moved and recombined in numerous artificial assemblages. Atlases with their designations of planetary biomes frequently need replacement with a dynamic cartography charting the changing “anthromes” that are the new terrestrial ecological patterns that matter.
  • Globalization now has to be understood as a process of material transformation quite as much as a matter of trade, culture and politics crossing frontiers. The processes whereby business decisions are made to produce particular products by using certain technologies is key to understanding the future of the planet; economic geography has become essential to geomorphology.
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  • The Westphalian political imaginary of separate competing territorial states is a spatial arrangement singularly unsuited to the collective tasks ahead, but it is the institutional context within which we have to act.
Ed Webb

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer: The rise of Eurasia: Geopolitical advantages... - 0 views

  • a report by the Astana Club that brings together prominent political figures, diplomats, and experts from the Great Game’s various players under the auspices of Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev. Entitled, ‘Toward a Greater Eurasia: How to Build a Common Future?,’ the report warns that the Eurasian supercontinent needs to anticipate the Great Game’s risks that include mounting tensions between the United States and China; global trade wars; arms races; escalating conflict in the greater Middle East; deteriorating relations between Russia and the West; a heating up of contained European conflicts such as former Yugoslavia; rising chances of separatism and ethnic/religious conflict; and environmental degradation as well as technological advances. The report suggested that the risks were enhanced by the fragility of the global system with the weakening of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and NATO.
  • Erdogan’s vision, according to Eurasia scholar Igor Torbakov, is built on the notion that the world is divided into distinct civilizations. And upon that foundation rise three pillars: 1) a just world order can only be a multipolar one; 2) no civilization has the right to claim a hegemonic position in the international system; and 3) non-Western civilizations (including those in Turkey and Russia) are in the ascendant. In addition, anti-Western sentiment and self-assertiveness are crucial elements of this outlook. Expressing that sentiment, Turkish bestselling author and Erdogan supporter Alev Alati quipped: “We are the ones who have adopted Islam as an identity but have become so competent in playing chess with Westerners that we can beat them. We made this country that lacked oil, gold and gas what it is now. It was not easy, and we won’t give it up so quickly.”
  • Turkey and Russia still “see themselves as empires, and, as a general rule, an empire’s political philosophy is one of universalism and exceptionalism. In other words, empires don’t have friends – they have either enemies or dependencies,” said Mr. Torbakov, the Eurasia scholar, or exist in what Russian strategists term “imperial or geopolitical solitude.” Mr. Erdogan’s vision of a modern-day Ottoman empire encompasses the Turkic and Muslim world. Different groups of Russian strategists promote concepts of Russia as a state that has to continuously act as an empire or as a unique “state civilization” devoid of expansionist ambition despite its premise of a Russian World that embraces the primacy of Russian culture as well as tolerance for non-Russian cultures. Both notions highlight the pitfalls of their nations’ history and Eurasianism.
Ed Webb

The Oil for Security Myth and Middle East Insecurity - MERIP - 0 views

  • Guided by the twin logics of energy security and energy independence, American actions and alliances in region became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The very thing the United States sought to eliminate in the Middle East—insecurity—became a major consequence of America’s growing and increasingly militarized entanglement.
  • In effect, the essential relationship of dependency between the United States and the Middle East has never been “oil for security.” It has in fact been oil for insecurity, a dynamic in which war, militarization and autocracy in the region have been entangled with the economic dominance of North Atlantic oil companies, US hegemony and discourses of energy security.
  • Although the destabilizing contradictions of this dependency have now undercut both American hegemony and the power of the North Atlantic hydrocarbon industries, the oil-for-insecurity entanglement has nonetheless created dangerously strong incentives for more conflict ahead.
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  • Oil’s violent geopolitics is often assumed to result from the immense power its natural scarcity affords to those who can control it. Recent developments in global hydrocarbon markets, which saw negative prices on April 20, 2020 have once again put this scarcity myth to bed
  • In a series of studies that began in late 1980s, economists Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler charted the extent to which the world’s leading oil companies enjoyed comparatively handsome rates of returns on equity—well ahead of other dominant sectors within North Atlantic capitalism—when major wars or sustained unrest occurred in the Middle East.
  • When oil prices began to collapse in the mid-1980s, the major oil companies witnessed a 14-year downturn that was only briefly interrupted once, during the 1990-1991 Gulf War.
  • The events of September 11, 2001, the launching of the global war on terror and the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq reversed the fiscal misfortunes of the North Atlantic oil companies in the previous decade. Collectively, they achieved relative returns on equity several orders of magnitude greater than the heyday of 1979 to 1981. As oil prices soared, new methods of extraction reinvigorated oil production in Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. In effect, war in Iraq made the shale oil revolution possible
  • fracking—not only benefitted from sky-high oil prices, generous US government subsidies and lax regulation, but also the massive amounts of cheap credit on offer to revive the economy after 2008
  • In response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran hostage crisis, the Carter Doctrine declared America’s intent to use military force to protect its interests in the Gulf. In so doing, Carter not only denounced “the overwhelming dependence of the Western democracies on oil supplies from the Middle East,” but he also proposed new efforts to restrict oil imports, to impose price controls and to incentivize more fossil fuel extraction in the United States, all in conjunction with solidifying key alliances (Egypt, Israel and Pakistan) and reinforcing the US military presence in the region.[5] In effect, America would now extract geopolitical power from the Middle East by seeking to secure it.
  • In denouncing certain governments as “pariahs” or “rogue states,” and in calling for regime change, American policy has allowed those leaders to institute permanent states of emergency that have reinforced their grip on power, in some cases aided by expanded oil rents due to heightened global prices
  • A 2015 report by the Public Accountability Initiative highlights the extent to which the leading liberal and conservative foreign policy think tanks in Washington—the American Enterprise Institute, Atlantic Council, Brookings, Cato, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Council on Foreign Relations and Heritage Foundation—have all received oil industry funding, wrote reports sympathetic to industry interests or usually both
  • For some 50 years, the United States has been able to extract geopolitical power from Middle Eastern oil by posing as the protector of global energy security. The invention of the concept of energy security in the 1970s helped to legitimate the efforts of the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations to forge new foundations for American hegemony amid the political, economic and social crises of that decade. In the wake of the disastrous US war efforts in Korea and Southeast Asia, Henry Kissinger infamously attempted to re-forge American hegemony by outsourcing US security to proxies like Iran under what is referred to as the Nixon Doctrine. At the same time, regional hegemons would be kept in check by “balancing” competing states against each other.
  • The realization of Middle Eastern insecurity was also made possible by the rapid and intensive arms build-up across the region in the 1970s. As oil prices skyrocketed into the 1980s, billions of so-called petrodollars went to purchase arms, primarily from North Atlantic and Soviet manufacturers. Today, the Middle East remains one of the most militarized regions in the world. Beyond the dominance of the security sector in most Middle Eastern governments, it also boasts the world’s highest rates of military spending. Since 2010, Middle Eastern arms imports have gone from almost a quarter of the world’s share to nearly half in 2016, mainly from North Atlantic armorers.
  • For half a century, American policy toward the Middle East has effectively reinforced these dynamics of insecurity by promoting conflict and authoritarianism, often in the name of energy security. High profile US military interventions—Lebanon in 1983, Libya in 1986 and 2011, the Tanker Wars in the late 1980s, the wars on Iraq in 1991 and 2003, Somalia in 1993, Afghanistan since 2001, the anti-Islamic State campaign since 2014 and the Saudi-Emirati war on Yemen since 2015—have received the most scrutiny in this respect, alongside the post-2001 “low intensity” counterterrorism efforts worldwide
  • cases abound where American policy had the effect of preventing conflicts from being resolved peacefully: Trump’s shredding of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement with Iran comes to mind; the case of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories and the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara have likewise become quintessential “peace processes” that have largely functioned to prevent peace.
  • the myth of authoritarian stability
  • A year after the unexpected 2011 uprisings, the IMF’s former director Christine Lagarde admitted that the Fund had basically ignored “how the fruits of economic growth were being shared” in the region
  • What helps make energy security discourse real and powerful is the amount of industry money that goes into it. In a normal year, the oil industry devotes some $125 million to lobbying, carried out by an army of over 700 registered lobbyists. This annual commitment is on par with the defense industry. And like US arms makers,[9] the revolving door between government, industry and lobbying is wide open and constantly turning. Over two-thirds of oil lobbyists have spent time in both government and the private sector.[10]
  • From 2012 to 2018, organized violence in the Middle East accounted for two-thirds of the world’s total conflict related fatalities. Today, three wars in the region—Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan—now rank among the five deadliest since the end of the Cold War. Excluding Pakistan, the Middle East’s share of the worldwide refugee burden as of 2017 was nearly 40 percent at over 27 million, almost double what it was two decades prior.
  • profound political and financial incentives are accumulating to address the existing glut of oil on the market and America’s declining supremacy. A major war in the Middle East would likely fit that bill. The Trump administration’s temptation to wage war with Iran, change Venezuela’s regime and to increase tensions with Russia and China should be interpreted with these incentives in mind.
  • While nationalizing the North Atlantic’s petroleum industries is not only an imperative in the fight against climate change, it would also remove much of the profit motive from making war in the Middle East. Nationalizing the oil industry would also help to defund those institutions most responsible for both disseminating the myths of energy security and promoting insecurity in the Middle East.
Ed Webb

Yemen pays price for Saudis' sectarian paranoia | Middle East Eye - 1 views

  • The success of the Houthi insurgency from the north that swept the Yemeni leadership from power, taking over the capital Sanaa, was perversely treated by the Security Council as a military coup justifying the intervention by a Saudi-led coalition. Strange to recall that the 2013 undisguised military coup in Egypt, with much bloodier reprisals against the displaced elected rulers, aroused not a murmur of protest in the halls of the UN. So goes geopolitics in the Middle East.
  • the geopolitical tendency to reduce an incredibly complex national history and interplay of contending forces to a simplistic story of Sunni versus Shia rivalry for the control of the country
  • allows Saudi Arabia to portray the strife in Yemen as another theatre of the wider region proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies against Iran, which is a guaranteed way of securing US and Israeli backing
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  • not a regional politics based on sectarian priorities, but rather a pathological preoccupation with regime stability in the Saudi monarchy, with anxieties arising whenever political tendencies emerge in the region that elude its control, and are perceived as threatening
  • There is a long experience of division between the north and the south, and this means that any unity government for the whole of Yemen can only be sustained by an iron-fisted dictator like Saleh or through a genuine power-sharing federalist kind of arrangement. Beyond this, the country bears the scars of Ottoman rule intermixed with a British presence in Aden and the surrounding area, vital for colonial priorities of controlling the Suez and the trade routes to the East.Additionally, Yemen remains a composite of tribes that still command the major loyalty of people. The modern European insistence on sovereign states in the Middle East never succeeded in overcoming the primacy of Yemeni tribal identities. Any possibility of political stability requires subsidising Yemen’s tribes as Saudi Arabia did during Saleh’s dictatorship (1990-2012) or creating a multi-coloured quilt of autonomous tribal polities. When geography and tribalism are taken into account recourse to the Shia-Sunni divide or the Riyadh-Tehran rivalry as an explanation of Yemen’s strife-ridden country is a cruel and futile fantasy.
  • What is needed is establishing a political transition sensitive both to the North-South split and the strength of Yemeni tribes coupled with massive economic assistance from outside and the creation of a UN peacekeeping presence tasked with implementation
  • Such a rational path is currently blocked, especially by the intense militancy of the aggressive Saudi leadership of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, and his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Secretary of Defence, the apparent champion of military intervention
Ed Webb

Turkey can avert a tragedy on the Tigris - Yahoo! News - 0 views

  • The issues are complex. Advocates and opponents cast the debate as preservation of the past challenging progress for the future, conservation versus energy, national interests versus minority Kurdish interests, nationalism versus the interests of neighboring countries. The government argues that the dam will bring irrigation and power to the region. Opponents maintain that much of the electricity generated will go to other parts of the country. Iraq has protested vehemently against Turkey damming the Tigris River just upstream and further restricting the water flow across the border. There is also the geopolitical drama of the European partnerships withdrawing and Turkey potentially pursuing other partners such as China and Russia.
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    Water, heritage, nationalism, geopolitics...
Ed Webb

Warmer Ties With Turkey Kindle Hopes in Syria - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • At a time of economic and political uncertainty here, the new warmth with Turkey has stirred hopes about Syria’s future direction, in areas that include religion, oil and gas, and peace with Israel.
  • “It’s about regathering the region, and a feeling that the West is much weaker, less liable to do anything here. I think Syria has lots of ambitions to redefine its geopolitical position.”
  • the widespread notion that Turkey will draw Syria toward moderation and a regional peace deal may be something of a fantasy, albeit a useful one.
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  • “I think there is a sort of vision developing between Syria and Turkey where they could serve jointly as a regional trade hub, linking Europe with the Gulf and other parts of the East,” said Nabil Sukkar, a Damascus-based economic analyst.
  • a real social and cultural rediscovery, with Turks and Arabs warming to each other after long years of hostility. Syria, after all, was born out of the Ottoman Empire’s dismemberment in 1920, and its identity was built in large part on the rejection of its former masters in Istanbul.
  • Many Syrians say Turkey feels much closer to them culturally than Iran or Saudi Arabia, two important allies of recent decades. Turkish films and television shows are often dubbed into Syrian Arabic and become huge hits here. One film, “Valley of the Wolves: Iraq,” portrayed Turkish agents taking revenge on American soldiers for massacres carried out on Arabs in Iraq, in a neat parable of recent policy shifts.
  • “Before, we were afraid to come here,” said Omer Sonmez, a Turkish businessman who first visited Syria three months ago, and now crosses over regularly to trade roasted pumpkin seeds and other foods. “We thought it would all be so closed, with no women on the street. But when you talk to Europeans, they say the same thing about Turkey!” “And look,” Mr. Sonmez added, glancing around at the crowds emerging from Aleppo’s covered market. “We are not so different. Even our faces are similar.”
Ed Webb

Ethiopia: Exploiting the Gulf's scramble for the Horn of Africa - African Arguments - 0 views

  • the United Arab Emirates played a key behind-the-scenes role in facilitating the deal between Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki. Both men met with Emirati leaders on several occasions before and during the reconciliation, and they have stayed in regular contact ever since.
  • After decades of disengagement, countries east of the Red Sea are scrambling to gain a greater footprint along the opposite coast. In response, states on the Horn such as Ethiopia are trying to leverage these rapidly changing geopolitical dynamics to enhance their own influence.
  • Relations between the Horn of Africa and Arab nations east of the Red Sea date back over millennia. They took a turn for the worse following the 1973 “Oil Crisis”, triggered when oil-producing Arab counties cut down production to punish Western countries that supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War. Horn countries became collateral damage as inflation skyrocketed. To overcome economic devastation and soaring debt, they began to court oil-rich Gulf States, offering political loyalty and natural resources in return for aid. Countries such as Somalia, Djibouti, Egypt, and Sudan invoked their cultural and religious connections with the Gulf in a bid to gain help in dealing with their balance of payment crisis and political instability. Arab nations seized the opportunity, using their wealth and newfound geostrategic importance to expand their influence in the Horn and secure key loyalties.
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  • profound geopolitical shifts have now renewed the Middle East’s interest in the Horn and reinvigorated the strategic significance of countries west of the Red Sea. The two main reasons for this are the war in Yemen and deepening intra-Gulf rivalries. These factors have led three main groups to vie for influence in the Horn: the Arab axis (led by Saudi Arabia and UAE, but including Egypt and Bahrain); the Iran axis; and the Qatar-Turkey axis.
  • Saudi Arabia is reportedly developing a military base in Djibouti and is considering Ethiopian requests to supply it fuel for a year with delayed payments. Meanwhile, the UAE has agreed to provide Ethiopia with huge loans, investment and infrastructure support; it has upgraded Eritrea’s Assab port and constructed a military headquarters nearby from which it has launched offensives into Yemen; and its company DP World has secured contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the ports in Berbera and Bosaso, located in the semi-autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland respectively.
  • main aim is to isolate Iran, with which it has a long-standing feud, and contain the influence of the Qatar-Turkey Axis, which it accuses of promoting “political Islam”.
  • Qatar and Turkey also have deep footprints in the Horn through development aid, trade, and investments in infrastructure. Both are heavily involved in Somalia, where Turkey manages the capital’s ports and airports and has a military base. And both are investing heavily in Suakin in Sudan, with Qatar announcing a $4 billion plan to develop the port this March. There are reports that Qatar has also financed Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, drawing anger from Egypt and its Arab allies, though Ethiopia has denied these claims.
  • Somalia has been particularly affected by intra-Gulf rivalries as some regional governments have pulled in opposite directions in an aim to consolidate alliances across the sea.
  • Amidst the growing competition for influence among the Middle Eastern axes, Addis Ababa has managed to avoid taking sides – at least publicly – and leverage its geostrategic significance as the region’s hegemon to attract much-needed investment from several different partners.
  • Ethiopia has also positioned itself well to benefit from the complex scramble for Red Sea ports. The land-locked country relies on Djibouti for nearly 97% of its imports, but now has clear avenues for diversifying its routes to sea. The rapprochement with its neighbour should give it access to Eritrean ports, while the UAE’s development of Berbera in Somaliland will give it another crucial option. Ethiopia defied the Somali federal government’s objections when it supported the UAE’s deal with the semi-autonomous region, but in return it has acquired a 19% stake in the project.
  • The combination of Gulf’s transactional politics and Africa’s often kleptocratic leadership could prove treacherous as historic rivalries take on new twists and matters develop beyond the Horn’s control.
Ed Webb

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer: Harsh Turkish condemnation of Xinjiang crack... - 0 views

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    Note how competing identity questions linger from the 19th century ferment in the Ottoman world and beyond: Turkey aspires to leadership in the Islamic world, particularly the Sunni world, but also in the pan-Turkic cultural space. Nation-state interests, such as economic ties to China or geopolitical rivalry with Iran and Saudi Arabia are also part of the picture.
Ed Webb

The Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum: A Lebanese perspective - 0 views

  • Energy Ministers from Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority took an important step in Cairo toward establishing an Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF)
  • assist in the creation of a regional gas market, ensure security of supply and demand, optimize resource development, facilitate the use of existing infrastructure and build new ones if necessary, etc.
  • it has become increasingly clear that regional cooperation is needed to make the most out of the region’s resources. The Eastern Mediterranean’s gas potential is promising. But, beside Egypt, the countries in the region have to deal with a number of challenges to exploit their resources. First, these resources are mostly offshore, in deep and ultra-deep waters, which makes drilling a complex and costly operation. When found in commercial quantities, their extraction is expensive. Second, the relevant infrastructure to monetize these resources is quasi-inexistent (outside Egypt). And if this was not enough, the geopolitical risk is high (conflict in Syria, terrorism, the Cyprus problem and sour relations between the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey, a constant state of tension between Lebanon and Israel, deteriorating relations between Turkey and Egypt, and between Turkey and Israel etc.).
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  • Turkish warships prevented a drillship from reaching its drilling target in Block 3 of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone
  • Besides Syria, which is still struggling with its many wars, there are two notable absences: Turkey and Lebanon.
  • On one hand, there are offshore resources that – until now at least – require cooperation to facilitate their exploitation, and on the other, we see renewed geopolitical rivalries in the Eastern Mediterranean.
  • it is clear that this alignment is primarily in reaction to what many of the founding members perceive as aggressive Turkish behavior over the last few years. Many Lebanese are ignoring this dimension and feel that this forum, and this alignment, are directed against them.
  • A small country like Lebanon, in a turbulent region, does not have the luxury of picking and choosing its friends, with a country with which it is in a state of war to the south, and a Syria mired in conflict along the rest of its borders.
  • More than any other member State, Egypt has the possibility to reach out to Lebanon. Egypt is the key player in this new configuration, and, as an Arab country that maintains close and brotherly ties with Lebanon, it can play an important role in reassuring the Lebanese about the project while also seeking to strengthen prospects for energy cooperation between the two countries.
Ed Webb

Curb Your Enthusiasm - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • optimism is raging about the potential energy bounty lying underneath the eastern Mediterranean Sea. But energy development could as easily become a casualty as the cure for the region’s tortured geopolitics
  • Lebanon and Israel are at daggers drawn over new plans for exploration in offshore gas fields in disputed waters, and Hezbollah is using the energy dispute to ratchet up rhetoric against Israel. And this month, a Turkish naval ship intercepted an exploration vessel working in waters off Cyrus, threatening to escalate tensions between the Greek and Turkish halves of the divided island.
  • Israel’s first two gas fields are running at full speed, and two more could see investment decisions this year, notes Nikos Tsafos, an energy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Meanwhile, Egypt brought the Zohr field, its own mammoth gas discovery, online in record time, which promises to ease a cash crunch in Cairo aggravated by importing pricey gas.
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  • Israel’s two gas export deals — with Egypt and Jordan — were signed with the two Arab countries with which the Jewish state already had peace treaties, and even then relations are still fraught at times. Meanwhile, hopes that natural gas pipelines and projects could soothe years of tensions between Israel and Turkey have apparently evaporated.
  • “Politics drives energy relations, not vice versa,”
  • Lebanon’s decision this month to award an exploration concession to three international firms — France’s Total, Italy’s Eni, and Russia’s Novatek — to drill in a promising block off the Lebanese coast has ignited fresh tensions between Beirut and Jerusalem.
  • Mediation was at the top of the agenda during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent visit to Lebanon, as it has been for U.S. officials since 2012, but with little success. A senior U.S. diplomat tried again Wednesday but found little Lebanese appetite for U.S. proposals. While Israel wants continued U.S. mediation in the spat, Lebanon and especially Hezbollah see Washington as too pro-Israel to play that role, especially after the Donald Trump administration’s controversial decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the United States is “not an honest broker.”
  • This month — as it did in 2014 — a Turkish ship intercepted a drilling vessel in Cypriot waters; Ankara, which recognizes the Turkish north of the divided island, refuses to cede those waters to Greek Cyprus and angrily warned it could take further action if development continues. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said it is “determined to take the necessary steps” to support the northern half of the island in its dispute with Greek Cypriots, who Ankara said are “irresponsibly jeopardizing the security and stability of the Eastern Mediterranean region.”
  • “Shared interest in [energy resources] might provide an incentive for cooperation among countries of the region that already enjoy more or less good relations,” Sukkarieh says. “But it is equally conceivable that they could fuel rivalries as well, like we are seeing lately with Turkey.”
Ed Webb

How Biden Kept Screwing Up Iraq, Over and Over and Over Again - 0 views

  • Reviewing Biden’s record on Iraq is like rewinding footage of a car crash to identify the fateful decisions that arrayed people at the bloody intersection. He was not just another Democratic hawk navigating the trauma of 9/11 in a misguided way. He didn’t merely call his vote for a disastrous war part of “a march to peace and security.” Biden got the Iraq war wrong before and throughout invasion, occupation, and withdrawal. Convenient as it is to blame Bush—who, to be clear, bears primary and eternal responsibility for the disaster—Biden embraced the Iraq war for what he portrayed as the result of his foreign policy principles and persisted, most often in error, for the same reasons. 
  • “I think the vast majority of the foreign policy community thinks [my record has] been very good.” That will be important context should Biden become president. He’s the favorite of many in Democratic foreign policy circles who believe in resetting the American geopolitical position to what it was the day before Trump was elected, rather than considering it critical context for why Trump was elected. 
  • National Democrats embraced the war on terrorism with enthusiasm and, with few exceptions, were disinclined to challenge Bush on foreign policy even as that foreign policy became more militant and extreme
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  • Biden’s hearings highlighted the dangers of occupation, such as the basic uncertainty around what would replace Saddam Hussein, as well as the bloody, long, and expensive commitment required to midwife a democratic Iraq. “In many ways, those hearings were remarkably prescient about what was to happen,” said Tony Blinken, Biden’s longtime aide on the committee and a deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration. “He and [GOP Sen. Richard] Lugar talked about not the day after but the decade after. If we did go in, they talked about the lack of a plan to secure any peace that followed the intervention.”
  • But the balance of expert testimony concerned guessing at Saddam’s weapons program, the pragmatic questions of invading, and the diplomatic legwork of an action whose justice—if not necessarily its wisdom—was presumed
  • the regnant foreign policy consensus in America: Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and had sealed his fate by doing so. It was an enormous factual mistake born out of an inability to see that Saddam believed that transparent disarmament would spell his doom at the hands of Iran. This misapprehension led advocates to accept that the U.S.—preferably with others, but alone if necessary—was justified or even obligated to get rid of Saddam
  • Bush’s secretary of state, Colin Powell, convinced the White House to attempt securing United Nations support for the war. It was a cynical maneuver: the Security Council could accept additional weapons inspections but not war; Bush could claim he tried for an internationalist solution before invading unilaterally. Its primary effect was to legitimize the war in the eyes of uncomfortable congressional Democrats who had made the tactical error of disputing the war for insufficient multilateralism rather than arguing it was wrong
  • For Biden, the critical point, “what this is about,” was America daring to “enforce” U.N. Security Council disarmament resolutions that the U.N. was saying did not justify war. When the world stood against America, in the forum Biden considered critical and Bush considered pretextual, America would simply act in the world’s name. He approvingly quoted the infamous Henry Kissinger: “As the most powerful nation in the world, the United States has a special, unilateral capacity, and indeed obligation, to lead in implementing its convictions, but it also has a special obligation to justify its actions by principles that transcend the assertions of preponderance of power.” America’s confidence in its nobility was, in the end, all the justification it required. 
  • Biden acknowledged that the “imminence and inevitability” of the threat Iraq posed was “exaggerated,” although that recognition was irrelevant to both his reasoning and his vote. He performed an end-zone dance over Bush advisers who favored what he called the doctrine of preemption—a euphemism for wars of aggression—as if his vote did not authorize exactly the preemptive war those advisers wanted. The trouble Biden saw was that elevating preemption to a foreign policy “doctrine” would grant “every nation an unfettered right of preemption.” Left unsaid was that it would be better for America to keep that unfettered right for itself.
  • Nothing that followed went the way Biden expected. Bush did not share Biden’s distinction between the U.N. weapons-inspection process and the invasion. Iraq did not passively accept its occupation. And Biden did not reap the political benefit of endorsing the war that seemed so obvious to the Democratic consultant class in the autumn of 2002. 
  • Iraq was an abstraction to Biden—as it was, ironically, to the neoconservatives Biden had criticized—a canvas on which to project theories of American power
  • Biden was unprepared to break from prevention, which is always the prerogative of hegemonic powers. Boxed in, he continued to argue that the trouble was Bush elevating preemption to centrality in foreign policy, and fretted that predatory states would cite that “doctrine” to prey on weaker ones. He neglected to see that all those states needed was the example of the Iraq war itself. Eleven years later, when Biden was vice president, Vladimir Putin cited Iraq as a reason the U.S. had no standing to criticize him for invading Ukraine. 
  • Biden praised the leadership of the Coalition Provisional Authority, a shockingly corrupt and incompetent organization. Its chief, Jerry Bremer, was “first-rate,” Biden said mere months after Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army, the greatest gift America could have given the insurgency
  • Rebuilding Iraq’s police force was left to former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik, whom Biden called “a serious guy with a serious team.” Iraq’s police would soon become indistinguishable from sectarian death squads; Kerik would soon plead guilty to tax fraud and other federal corruption charges
  • By the next summer, with Iraq in flames, Biden continued his misdiagnosis. The original sin wasn’t the war itself, it was Bush’s stewardship—the same stewardship Biden praised in 2002. “Because we waged a war in Iraq virtually alone, we are responsible for the aftermath virtually alone,” he thundered at the 2004 Democratic convention. The intelligence “was hyped to justify going to war,” Biden continued, causing “America’s credibility and security [to] have suffered a terrible blow.” Yet Biden made no call for withdrawal. It was easier to pretend that Bush was waging a different war than the one he empowered Bush to wage. 
  • The U.S., unable to win the war it chose, would be better off reshaping the map of Iraq into something that better suited it. The proposal was a natural outgrowth of viewing Iraq as an abstraction. Now that Iraq had undermined American power, Iraq would be subject to a kind of dismemberment, a theoretically cleaner problem to solve than a civil war or a weak client state. In September 2007, Biden prevailed upon his fellow senators to endorse his proposal on a staggering 75-23 vote. There was no support for the idea among actual Iraqis outside Kurdistan, but they were beside the imperial point.
  • 2007 saw Biden’s most valorous act on Iraq. With the war a morass, Biden secured $23 billion, far more than the Pentagon requested, to buy Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, whose hull design proved more survivable against the insurgency’s improvised bombs. Replacing insufficiently armored Humvees with MRAPs was “a passion,” he said. While the number of lives MRAPs saved over the course of the program’s $45 billion lifespan has been disputed, the Pentagon estimated in 2012 that over 2,000 service members are alive today because of the vehicle. Biden counted securing the funding for the MRAP among his greatest congressional achievements.
  • Barack Obama had opposed the Iraq war, but was hardly afflicted with the “distrust of the use of American power” that Biden feared in 2004. Selecting Biden as his vice president laundered Biden’s reputation. No longer was Biden the man whose faith in American exceptionalism had driven the U.S. into a morass. He was the lovable uncle in aviators who washed his metaphorical Trans Am on the White House lawn. Obama gave him responsibility for a three-year project of U.S. withdrawal, one that Biden considers an accomplishment. 
  • Biden and other U.S. officials appeared at times dangerously unconcerned about Maliki’s consolidation of power that once again marginalized Sunni Iraq, which the war had already proven would give jihadis the opportunity they needed
  • Biden reflected America’s schizophrenic attitude toward ending post-9/11 wars, in which leaving a residual force amidst an unsettled conflict does not count as continuing a war.
  • “I’ll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA,” the Times quoted him. Instead, the following year, the Iraqi parliament did no such thing
  • Biden is the last of the pre-Obama generation of Democratic foreign policy grandees who enabled the Iraq war. John Kerry and Hillary Clinton both lost their presidential bids, saddled in both cases with the legacy of the war they supported
  • A President Biden is likely to find himself a man out of time. Writing in The Guardian, David Adler and Ben Judah recently described Biden as a “restorationist” in foreign policy, aiming at setting the American geopolitical clock back to what it was before Trump took office. Yet now an emergent China, a resurgent Russia, and the ascent of nationalism and oligarchy across Europe, India, and South America have fragmented the America-centric internationalist order that Biden represents. While Trump has accelerated these dynamics, he is far less responsible for them than is the martial post-9/11 course of U.S. foreign policy that wrecked itself, most prominently in Iraq.
Ed Webb

Business as Usual in Western Sahara? | MERIP - 0 views

  • potentially promising peace talks took place in Geneva in December, 2018 between the Polisario Front liberation movement of Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco in an effort to kickstart the stalled peace process for the nearly 45-year conflict over this North African territory
  • The two claimants to the territory, Morocco and the Polisario Front, sent delegations. In addition, and as at previous talks, neighbouring Algeria and Mauritania were also invited to attend
  • UN peacekeepers have been on the ground in Western Sahara for nearly three decades as part of the mandate of MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), which has been renewed regularly since 1991 even though the Secretariat’s negotiators have made little progress toward a solution to the Morocco-Sahrawi dispute
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  • the forces protecting the status quo, and thus Morocco’s ongoing colonization of Western Sahara, remain durable
  • If formal talks have been sporadic and often lacked clear outcomes, the parties have been pursuing other initiatives in the past few years. Polisario has achieved favorable outcomes in legal cases calling into question Morocco’s exploitation of resources from a non self-governing territory.[3] Morocco is focused on increasing its reach and influence in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa. In January 2017 the Kingdom rejoined the Africa Union, which it had left in protest at the admission of SADR in 1984.
  • Algeria not only hosts the exiled SADR government, but also the thousands of Western Saharans who were exiled by Morocco’s invasion in 1975 and who now number 173,000.
  • In the world after the September 11 attacks, the North Atlantic community, led by Paris and Washington, began to view the stability provided by the UN mission in Western Sahara as an end in itself. Since at least 2004, the Council—unable to take independence off the table (because of international law) yet unwilling to force Morocco to contemplate it (because of geopolitics)—has opted to keep the parties talking in the hopes that a new reality will someday emerge.
  • Facing a Moroccan military invasion of its desert colony and with the dictator Franco on his deathbed in October 1975, Spain abandoned its plans for a plebiscite and arranged for Morocco and Mauritania to divide the territory. Mauritania renounced its claim in 1979 and later recognized the government for Western Sahara which the pro-independence Polisario Front founded in 1976, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). War between Morocco, supported by France and the United States, and the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, lasted until a ceasefire was established in 1991, which still holds today.
  • While this consensus-based process has been part of the dynamic reinforcing a status quo that has provided international political cover for Morocco’s ongoing colonization and economic exploitation of Western Sahara, it has rarely been met with anything short of a unanimous vote from the entire Security Council and especially the Permanent Five. In breaking with this tradition, the US resolution elicited almost unprecedented abstentions from two permanent members of the Security Council with little historical interest in the Western Sahara issue, China and Russia, as well as the de facto AU representative on the Council, Ethiopia, a state that also recognizes SADR.
  • Operating under Chapter VI of the UN charter, the only material leverage the Security Council has in Western Sahara is to tie the fate of MINURSO’s peacekeeping force to progress at the negotiating table. The Council, however, has always been loath to terminate a mission that appears to be keeping the peace in Western Sahara. In past few years, several nearby countries—Mali, Chad, Niger, Libya, and Nigeria—have witnessed increasing levels of terrorism and armed conflict which have raised international concerns about the possible destabilizing effects of a UN withdrawal from Western Sahara.
  • the new US attitude toward Western Sahara appears to be driven by John Bolton, who became Trump’s National Security Advisor shortly before the April vote on MINURSO. Bolton has a long history with the Western Sahara conflict, from his days in heading the State Department’s UN office at the end of the Cold War, to serving as an aide to Baker’s Western Sahara mission in the late 1990s, to his controversial interim appointment as the US representative to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006. It is no secret that Bolton has been sympathetic toward Polisario, a cause that became popular among the UN-bashing conservatives in the mid-1990s. While Bolton’s “get tough” approach to Western Sahara might be framed in terms of sensible UN cost-cutting, his recent statements on the issue, where he framed the Western Sahara question as a simple matter of organizing a vote on independence, have sent the Moroccan diplomatic corps, Washington D.C. lobbyists and media apparatus into a frenzy.
  • There has been no fundamental change to the basic geopolitical architecture of the conflict to suggest that Morocco and Polisario Front are more willing to accept an outcome they view as existential annihilation (respectively, independence for Western Sahara or some kind of political-economic integration with Morocco).
  • the Sahrawi nationalist movement benefits from a safe haven in Algeria, which serves as a base for pro-independence Sahrawi activism. Recent years have seen this activism flourishing beyond the refugee camps in Algeria: in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, in the Sahrawi diaspora, and in social media campaigns. The “supply” side of Sahrawi nationalist demand for self-determination seems assured.
  • France has supported Moroccan efforts to decouple MINUSRSO’s primary and secondary functions. Though MINURSO ostensibly exists to facilitate a political solution that respects Western Sahara’s right of self-determination, its secondary peacekeeping function has effectively provided international cover for Morocco’s ongoing colonization of the territory since 1991.
  • Sahrawi activists contesting Moroccan rule continue to provide substantive documentation, now easily circulated by social media, that the Moroccan authorities commit human rights abuses against nationalist Sahrawis.[4] Troublingly, MINURSO is one a few UN peacekeeping missions in the world whose mandate does not include a provision for human rights monitoring, due in large part to French protection on the Security Council. Similarly, some Sahrawis in the Moroccan-controlled territory continue to voice grievances that the economic investment and development of the territory under the auspices of Morocco does not benefit the Sahrawi population but instead go to Moroccan settlers, corporations, and political-economic oligarchs of the makhzan.
Ed Webb

Will the U.S.-Saudi Arabia Relationship Ever Reach a Breaking Point? - 1 views

  • Again and again, the unlikely partners would fall out—usually over the Arab-Israeli conflict, much later over the 9/11 attacks. But the fundamental bargain struck by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and then-King Ibn Saud in the waning days of World War II that consummated the U.S.-Saudi relationship 75 years ago would never break
  • lawmakers in oil states such as Texas, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Alaska accuse Saudi Arabia of waging “economic warfare” and have drafted legislation to immediately pull out U.S. troops and furl up a decades-old U.S. security umbrella that has protected the vulnerable Saudi state
  • many in Washington are coming to question the very fundamentals that have underpinned a very special bilateral relationship for 75 years—essentially, U.S. security to ensure the free flow of Saudi oil and Saudi support for U.S. designs in the Middle East
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  • Today’s tensions stem, in many ways, from the original foundations of the odd-couple relationship: an oil-for security bargain that always sought, but never fully managed, to bridge the divide between a liberal democracy and a conservative religious monarchy
  • Some experts believe U.S.-Saudi ties will ultimately weather the storm, as they always have, because of the need for a large, wealthy, and anti-Iran anchor for U.S. interests in the Middle East
  • “But we don’t need the Saudis anymore—this comes in a very different geopolitical environment than previous crises.”
  • Saudi Arabia was one of the only countries in the world that continued to receive U.S. Lend-Lease aid after the end of the war.
  • essentially underwriting the security of an oil-rich desert sheikdom to keep oil supplies flowing—and to keep the Soviets out of the Middle East.
  • Roosevelt had met Ibn Saud hoping for Saudi support for a Jewish homeland in the Middle East, which the king vehemently opposed, and the U.S. president—in Saudi eyes—gave his word not to press the matter. But Truman, Roosevelt’s successor, eventually supported the creation of Israel, sowing years of distrust and cries of betrayal in Saudi Arabia
  • “In my conversations with the king, the crown prince, and the deputy crown prince, they favored the effort to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But they wanted more: They wanted us to push on Iran’s actions in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, and we didn’t do that.”
  • The Iranian revolution, as well as an assault that same year on the Grand Mosque in Mecca, terrified Saudi leadership, who saw how vulnerable their own position was. The revolution, by removing the shah and creating permanent enmity with the United States, left Saudi Arabia as America’s main linchpin in the Middle East, all the bad blood from the oil embargo notwithstanding
  • Fearful of being toppled by religious radicals, Saudi leaders embraced a much more conservative line and empowered hard-line religious leaders in their own country, the first steps toward a decadeslong program to export the austere Wahhabi brand of Islam particular to the kingdom. Soon, wealthy Saudis, including one Osama bin Laden, started funding the Muslim mujahideen who were fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that began the same year as the Iranian revolution. Two decades later, that Saudi lurch toward a harsher official line on religion would end up creating the biggest crisis yet in the special relationship.
  • “The relationship never really recovered from 9/11,”
  • the George W. Bush administration, despite vehement Saudi objections, decided to invade Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. Saudis feared that would open the door to greater Iranian influence on their doorstep, as in fact happened.
  • In the end, the United States and Saudi Arabia patched up the dispute, and the oil embargo ended by the spring of 1974. But the scars it left were deep and long-lasting, permanently damaging Saudi Arabia’s image in American popular opinion, and leaving deep-rooted fears that the Saudis could and would use their oil weapon to damage U.S. interests—a fear that has persisted even though the nature of the Saudi oil threat has changed.
  • “King Abdullah was very respectful and liked Obama personally, but there were things they couldn’t understand,” said Westphal, who was present for three of Obama’s record four trips to Saudi Arabia. “‘Why are you supporting Maliki, who is essentially handing over his country to the Iranians? How can you not depose Assad?’”
  • Since 1979, Saudi leaders had seen Iran as the gravest threat to the region and their own security, and U.S. efforts to reach a nuclear deal while seemingly letting Iran continue its destabilizing behavior in the region unsettled the Saudis.
  • “There’s no question that the Arab Spring unsettled the U.S. relationship with the Saudis. For them, the U.S. response [to calls for reform in the Arab world] was way too sympathetic, and the relationship cooled,”
  • Saudi leaders famously rolled out the red carpet, and a glowing orb, for Trump’s first overseas trip as president. It seemed a surprising about-face after Trump’s attacks on Muslims, and repeated attacks on Saudi Arabia, on the campaign trail, when he accused the kingdom of carrying out 9/11, criticized it for sponging off American protection, and threatened an economic boycott. Saudi leaders were happy to overlook Trump’s comments, eager to forge ties with an untested and unorthodox president before other foreign leaders could. “Washington is like Rome in the Roman Empire, and we are like a satellite state—you pay homage to the emperor,” Shihabi said. “You could put a monkey in the White House, and we’d pay homage.”
  • The playbook that has reliably worked since 1945 to ground the bilateral ties in personal relationships with the president now seems to be backfiring. Mohammed bin Salman, reviled by many in Congress for his alleged role in the Khashoggi killing, as well as other continued human rights abuses inside Saudi Arabia and in Yemen, is seen as being exceptionally close to Kushner and Trump. Riding the coattails of a historically unpopular, already-impeached president isn’t the best way to improve Saudi Arabia’s image.
  • Despite decades of close economic ties and military and counterterrorism cooperation, Saudi Arabia never seemed to plant deep roots in the United States that would institutionalize the relationship beyond kings, generals, and presidents. This meant when tensions flared up between the two countries, Riyadh didn’t have many outside allies to come to its defense in Washington
  • Mohammed bin Salman’s foreign-policy excesses: the disastrous war in Yemen, the bizarre virtual kidnapping of Lebanon’s prime minister to pressure Iran and Hezbollah, and an embargo on Qatar, its small neighbor and a key U.S. military partner. At home, there was the regular drumbeat of reports on human rights violations, plus a $100 billion shakedown on wealthy political rivals to consolidate power under the guise of an anti-corruption campaign.
  • As long as they’ve been a country—they’re so young—they really don’t know what their place in the world would be like without the backing of the United States,”
  • Unlike in 1973, when Saudi Arabia used the oil weapon to jack up oil prices and hurt the United States, this time crashing oil prices did the trick. U.S. shale producers need oil prices above $40 a barrel to break even; the Russian-Saudi price war sent the price of oil to $25 and then into the single digits, ensuring a wave of bankruptcies and economic hardship from Texas to North Dakota.
  • “The Saudis have a deep problem with the Democrats, and that’s been clear for a long time. Now they have spoiled their relationship with Republicans,”
  • In the summer of 2019, when Iranian attacks on oil tankers near the Persian Gulf threatened the flow of oil, Trump’s response was to tell allies such as Japan and South Korea to protect their own ships, questioning why the United States should continue to carry out a mission it’s done for decades unless other countries coughed up cash. That fall, key Saudi oil facilities were attacked, allegedly by Iran, knocking out 5 percent of global oil production in a matter of minutes. The U.S. response, other than a Trump tweet, was to do nothing.
  • The bitter recriminations during this spring’s oil price war, coming on the heels of the Khashoggi murder, the continued war in Yemen, and other Saudi missteps, give many observers reason to believe that the relationship is due for a fundamental rethink.
  • as long as the United States continues to view Iran as a major threat, close relations with Saudi Arabia will have a strong appeal
Ed Webb

The Israeli right's new vision of Jewish political supremacy - 0 views

  • The settlement project's success has led to an intertwined Jewish and Palestinian population, reviving the problem Israel tried to solve through expulsion in 1948. Now, the right's priority is segregation.
  • a new trend has emerged within the dominant stream of the Israeli political right: the nation, rather than the land, is now at the heart of right-wing discourse
  • This has manifested in the progression of anti-democratic legislation, incitement against Palestinian citizens of Israel and left-wing organizations and activists, and in emphasizing the idea of the “Jewish state.”
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  • The culmination of this process was the passing of the Jewish Nation-State Law in the Knesset in July 2018.
  • The Zionist project is committed to a well-defined ethnic-religious group, at a defined point in space and time. In that, Zionism is not unique, of course: the commitment of nationalistic movements in general is limited and defined a priori, and therefore exclusion, marginalization of, and separation from the Other (not to mention expulsion of that Other) are inherent to them and are their by-products
  • why the Jewish Nation-State Law was enacted 70 years after the state’s establishment rather than immediately thereafter
  • The common explanation for the rise of this new discourse is that years of occupation have weakened liberal values in Israel, and the nationalist right-wing governments are stronger than ever. As such, the right is now able to implement its ethnocentric and anti-liberal ideology and weaken the democratic character of the state’s institutions.
  • the nationalist discourse serves to shore up a new electoral project led by the right-wing political parties.
  • The logic is simple: if it is no longer effective to talk about the indivisible land (as belonging to the Jews), let us instead talk about the indivisible nation and mark external and internal enemies. According to this understanding, the wave of anti-democratic legislation, especially the Jewish Nation-State Law, serves as propaganda that bolsters the coalescing of the right wing around an ethnocentric agenda. In other words, the messianic-nationalist energy is directed inwards rather than outwards.
  • a state that grants a privileged status to Jews is no longer regarded as a self-evident phenomenon
  • the old tools that served to maintain Jewish political supremacy are no longer sufficient, and there is a need for active separation and active legitimization. Separation is no longer the result of history; rather, it must be inscribed on the political body by law and politics and must be enforced.
  • For a short time, from the beginning of the 1990s until the beginning of the Netanyahu era in 2009, it seemed possible to talk about the right of self-determination for both peoples, and the two-state solution appeared to be at hand.
  • The notion of “two states for two peoples” that took root in the collective Israeli consciousness as an optimal, realistic, and implementable solution to the conflict created an illusion of separation between the two populations — as if they were separate political entities. Although this separation was to be fully implemented at some point in the future and was repeatedly postponed, Israelis felt that the two-state paradigm implied that the Palestinians in the occupied territories were over “there,” on the other side of the border, on the way to their independent state with an anthem, a flag, and independent prisons, outside of “our” (i.e. of the Israeli-Jewish national collective) responsibility. Israel’s decision to restrict Palestinians’ freedom of movement between the territories and Israel during the First Intifada, and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority pursuant to the Oslo Accords, contributed to this experience of separation.
  • With the promise of the preservation of a Jewish majority within the ’67 boundaries — albeit through a future solution not yet fully implemented on the ground — it appeared easier for Israel to move, however slowly and tentatively, along the liberal path in their attitude toward Palestinian citizens. This tendency expressed itself in the “constitutional revolution” and the policies of the Rabin government in the early to mid-1990s. These policies strengthened the “democratic” aspect of the “Jewish and democratic” equation and began to advance the status of the Palestinians as citizens with equal rights, even if only rhetorically.
  • That era, which was one of partial optimism for Palestinian citizens and for human and civil rights in Israel, continued until the beginning of the 21st century, when the Second Intifada broke out during Ehud Barak’s government and Israeli police shot dead 13 Palestinian citizens as they were protesting in October 2000. This event marked a new rupture regarding the place of Palestinians in Israeli society. A few years later, with Netanyahu at the helm, a tendency to continually incite against Palestinian citizens of Israel developed, and the cautious optimism evaporated.
  • The crumbling of the two-state idea and the blurring of the Green Line led to a de facto single geopolitical entity in which both populations are mixed to some degree. The sharp distinction between the Palestinians “there” and the Israeli Jews “here” became hazy. Before, the two-state solution created the illusion of separation into two independent entities and removed the Palestinians from the Israeli political awareness; now, even this “calming” sensation diminished. Before, it could be claimed that the Palestinians in the territories were headed for their own separate and independent state; now, it has become clear that the territories are here, in a de facto Greater Israel, and so are the Palestinians.
  • two groups figure prominently between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea: the Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Jewish settlers in the West Bank
  • The new nationalist/ethno-religious discourse, and in particular the new law, which has been assiduously promoted for many years, is not merely a replay of history or its direct continuation. They are not merely expressions of anti-liberal and ethnocentric trends enabled by the strengthening of the right, or a mere reaction to the Palestinians’ vision documents. And they are not merely intended to create further political bias or to redefine the limits of political legitimacy. Rather, they constitute an innovation in the Israeli right’s political project, by serving the need to actively and legally enshrine Jewish privileges, despite the fact that these exist anyway, and to give them a new constitutional framing and anchoring. This effort has successfully rallied a significant part of the Jewish-Israeli population.
  • The Jewish settlers, for their part, strengthened their presence in the occupied territories, and are no longer marginal or temporary inhabitants. The more their presence in the territories is perceived as natural, the more they bring the territories into Israel, creating a new geographic unity.
  • the Israeli right has had to pay a significant price for this success: in this unified space (unified only for Jews because Palestinians cannot move freely within it), the Jewish majority is no longer self-evident. The settlement project brought back the problem that Zionism solved through expulsion in 1948.
  • Expelling the Palestinians from the territories is no longer an option that can be openly discussed; neither can the Palestinians be offered full citizenship (though this possibility can be bandied about for propaganda reasons). The first possibility is untenable because of international pressure, the second because of the Jews. We are stuck in the situation that had existed during the British Mandate: one geopolitical entity with two peoples mixed together. This time, however, we are not under the Mandate, but under Israeli rule.
  • All of this helps clarify the role of the new nationalist/ethno-religious discourse: it is a discourse of segregation.
  • with the crumbling of the two-state paradigm, the blurring of the Green Line and the continuing effort to extend the Jewish state over the entirety of Greater Israel, the settler right sees a need to conceptualize Jewish privileges, this time within a patently non-democratic regime between the river and the sea, which is expected to be based on a Jewish minority. The 1948 expulsion, which was a solution to the demographic problem, is no longer feasible, and therefore the need arises to establish a new-fangled apartheid regime. The Jewish Nation-State Law embodies the core of this attempt
  • In contrast to the classical discourse of Greater Israel, which was focused on “unifying” two separate regimes on two separate tracts of land — Israel and the occupied territories — the new discourse is an attempt to push for the legal segregation of two populations intermixed within the same territorial framework.
  • The segregation inspired by the law is not a division between “here” and “there” but between “us” and “them” — between Jews and Palestinians, no matter where they live between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. It is not based on dividing the territory into two territories, but dividing the two people within one single territory.
  • True, the two-state paradigm is also a paradigm of separation, but it is a separation of two distinct political frameworks. Apartheid, on the other hand, separates populations that share a territory within one comprehensive political sovereign framework. Acting within a unified entity, such separation is surgical — i.e. violent and destructive.
  • the question of the Jewish democratic state and that of Greater Israel — the internal question and the external question — become two aspects of the same project: to legitimize the privilege of Jews over Palestinians between the river and the sea.
  • With the blurring of the Green Line and the return of the demographic threat, the logic of separation from the Palestinians has been abandoned and replaced with the logic of a segregating regime. It is a regime in which one group clearly dominates another; in which that domination is comprehensive and permanent, rather than temporary and security-based; and which is maintained by a legal system and reinforced by a violent and forceful state.
  • This dominating logic and the fact that the plan arranges for segregation, not separation, is clear when looking at the map included with the proposal. The Palestinian entity is surrounded on all sides by Israeli sovereignty: in the air and on the ground, from the north, south, east, and west. Segregation based on ethnicity, religion, and nationality, rather than on territory, is complemented by two other aspects in the plan, reflecting the demise of the Green Line: its treatment of settlers, and of Palestinian citizens in Israel
  • the current plan discards territorial logic and treats Palestinians’ citizenship as a problem to be solved, and the status of settlers as a given and immutable fact
  • it departs from the conflict management paradigm in order to impose a one-sided American-Israeli vision to “end” the conflict, or rather eliminate it without solving it.
Ed Webb

Russia's Middle East Gambit - Carnegie Moscow Center - Carnegie Endowment for Internati... - 1 views

  • Russia is out to raise the stakes for U.S. military intervention, which it sees as destabilizing for the world order; to minimize the impact of Islamist radicalism and extremism born out of the Arab Spring; and to try to find political solutions to a host of issues, from the civil war in Syria to Iran’s nuclear issue to post-American Afghanistan
  • In Russian society, the long and painful experience of Soviet involvement in Afghanistan gave rise to what was called “Afghan syndrome,” i.e., shunning involvement, especially with military forces, in the Muslim world. Focused on itself and its immediate neighborhood, the Russian Federation physically quit and then neglected whole regions of former Soviet influence, including the Middle East. It continued selling arms to some of its ex-allies, including Syria, but now on a commercial rather than ideological or strategic basis.
  • Iran turned out to be a responsible neighbor and a useful partner, staying away from the Chechen conflict and even helping Russia negotiate an end to the bloody civil war in Tajikistan
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  • The Syrian civil war, however, has put Russia’s relations with the West, Turkey, the Gulf States, and Israel to a serious test
  • Unlike Europeans and Americans, Russian officials did not expect Western-style democracy to follow secular authoritarianism: What they began to brace for, early on, was a great Islamist revolution engulfing the entire region
  • In the hope of getting Western support for the Russian economic modernization agenda, Moscow decided in 2011 not to stand in the way of a humanitarian intervention in Libya. It was soon bitterly disappointed, however, when the no-fly zone in Benghazi morphed into a regime change in Tripoli. The experience of being used and then ignored by the West has informed Russia’s subsequent stance on Syria
  • From Moscow’s perspective, Assad may be problematic insofar as his methods are concerned—but his enemies constitute a real threat not just to Syria, but also to other countries, including Russia
  • Russia’s image has suffered in many parts of the Arab world, where it is portrayed as a friend of authoritarian regimes and as an ally of and arms supplier to Bashar al-Assad and therefore as a friend of Iran
  • The amount of heavy lifting required from both Washington and Moscow is stunning, and the odds are heavily against success at the new Geneva conference next month, but the alternative to a political settlement is truly frightening. One obstacle is that Russia has insisted in involving Iran in Syria-related discussions, to which the Gulf Arabs and the United States strongly object. Moscow is frequently referred to as Tehran’s ally and advocate. Indeed, Russia has built a nuclear power reactor in Bushehr and has supplied Iran with a range of weapons systems. Russia, for its part, sees Iran as not so much a theocracy bent on developing nuclear weapons to terrorize the region as a power that has been in the region forever and that is likely to play a more important role in the future.
  • the Iranian theocracy has more checks and balances than the old Soviet system
  • Tehran, they think, is probably aiming for an outcome in which it stops at a relatively small step before reaching a nuclear capability and trades its restraint in exchange for dropping all sanctions against it and respect for its security interests
  • According to U.S. diplomats, Moscow cooperates more with Washington on Iran than it is usually given credit for in the mainstream Western media. Unlike many in the United States, however, Russians believe that pressuring Iran has limits of usefulness: Beyond a certain point, it becomes counterproductive, undercutting the pragmatists and empowering the bad guys that one seeks to isolate
  • Russia’s attitudes toward Israel are overwhelmingly positive. Many Russians admire the social and economic accomplishments of the Jewish state and its technological and military prowess. Intense human contacts under conditions of a visa-free regime and the lack of a language barrier with a significant portion of Israel’s population help enormously
  • Putin knows that denying or withdrawing air-defense cover is the ultimate argument he needs to hold in reserve to make Assad buy into a real power-sharing deal
  • Moscow is beginning to step out of its post-Soviet self-absorption. Its main preoccupation is with security—and Islamist extremism features as a primary threat. This is a big issue. By contrast, Russia’s interests in the Middle East are relatively modest. They are centered on oil and gas exploration deals, pipeline geopolitics, and pricing arrangements; other energy opportunities beckon in the nuclear area. While Russia’s position in the regional arms bazaar has suffered in the last decade as a result of developments in Iraq and Libya (and may yet suffer more in Syria), Moscow is clearly determined to stay in the arms business. Finally, as Russia recasts itself as a defender of traditional Christian values as well as a land of moderate Islam, it is discovering a range of humanitarian causes in the birthplace of both global religions.
  • In the energy sector, Russia has accommodated to Turkey’s new role of a regional energy hub but has worked hard to protect its own share of the European Union’s natural gas market
Michael Fisher

Turkey and Egypt Look to Team Up Amid Tumult - NYTimes.com - 0 views

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    "Each country seems to need the other in an alliance that could shape the region for decades to come and help it emerge from the tumult of Arab revolutions."
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