January 4, 2008
Number 01/08 #01
As this is the first Update for 2008, we decided to both review 2007 and look at the challenges 2008 might bring in the Middle East.
First, Efrat Weiss from ynet news reports on the 2007 annual security report from Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency. The report shows that while Palestinian terrorist attacks from the West Bank have greatly diminished, rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza are increasing, and Hamas continues to build up its strength. For this report, CLICK HERE.
Next Professor Barry Rubin examines the ways in which the Middle East was changed in 2007 and the questions posed by these changes that will be key issues in 2008. He argues that the most important development was clearly the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, but other notable trends include Israel’s general prosperity, the US success in Iraq and the potential change of stance by the French. To read this interesting analysis, CLICK HERE.
Finally, eminent historian Proessor Efraim Karsh discusses the chances for peace in the wake of the Annapolis Conference. Professor Karsh is not optimistic, as he sees little difference between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor Yasser Arafat, or between Abbas’ PLO and the terrorist Hamas. He argues that both are committed to Israel’s destruction, as evidenced by the continuing calls for the “Right of Return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and their continuing refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. To read this pessimistic yet realistic appraisal of the problems likley to plague the peace process in 2008, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- In a worrying development for the new year, a katyusha rocket fired from Gaza struck northern Ashkelon 16 kilometres inside Israel, the furthest a rocket from Gaza has penetrated into Israel, while police warn that Ashdod, 25 kilometres inside Israel, may also be vulnerable.
- Daniel Pipes reveals that, despite the rhetoric, far more Israeli Arabs want to be citizens of Israel than would opt for citizenship of a new Palestinian state.
- Sever Plocker worries that Palestinians are more and more angling for a one-state “solution” rather than a two state solution, and lists the changes in Palestinian rhetoric and tactics that have convinced him that this is the case.
- Dov Weisglass, a former spokesman for former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, urges Israel’s current government not to talk to Hamas.
- Walter Russell Mead explains that the world would be much more dangerous without the US presence in the Persian Gulf.
- Raymond Ibrahim argues that, despite the findings to the contrary of the US National Intelligence Estimate, common sense dictates that Iran does want nuclear weapons.
- Michael Ledeen details the improving security situation in Iraq and its implications, and explains that this is due to the increasing effectiveness of security forces there, and despite the spoiling efforts of Iran which continues to vigorously support militias there.
ynet news, January 1, 2008
Security forces say that while terror groups were only successful in carrying out one suicide bombing in 2007, they were able to fire over 1,200 Qassam rockets at Israeli targets. Gaza become the focal point of Palestinian terror this year, but organizations there are working tirelessly to aid their counterparts in the West Bank.
The annual Shin Bet security report released on Tuesday shows a continued decline in the volume of suicide bombings inside Israel during 2007 but warns of a sharp increase in rocket attacks over the course of the year.
The decrease in suicide bombings was primarily attributed to improved cooperation between the IDF and Israeli police forces.
The Shin Bet successfully thwarted 29 terror attacks in 2007; six of these were attempted suicide bombings inside Israel.
The study reported several significant changes in the region, with Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip reigning as the most influential of these.
There has also been a notable increase in incidents of smaller-scale attacks against Israelis, with more Molotov cocktails and rocks being thrown at cars traveling throughout the country.
Gaza: Hamas growing stronger
Terror organizations fired more than 1,200 rockets towards Israel this year, killing two civilians and wounding 300 more, though the majority of these were shock victims. Only 800 of the total number of rockets fired made it across the border into Israel.
Meanwhile a total of 220 Palestinians suspected of involvement in terrorism were arrested by security forces in Gaza this year. The army also uncovered 12 tunnels in Gaza – four of these leading towards Israeli territory.
The Shin Bet’s analysis of the current situation indicates that Hamas has vastly improved its ability to function as a structured military outfit. This is attributed to the training undergone by its members in Iran.
Trainees are smuggled out of the Strip into Egypt and from there sent to various instructional facilities. They then return to Gaza with enhanced capabilities and expanded knowledge, which they pass on down through Hamas’ ranks.
Organizations such as the Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) were also noted as being responsible for numerous terror attacks.
There has also been a rise in attempts to smuggle terrorists into Israel in comparison to 2006. The report points to an Islamic Jihad attempt to smuggle two Palestinian women into Israel to carry out suicide bombings. The women were arrested at the Erez border crossing before they could exit Gaza and confessed they had planned to carry out simultaneous attacks in Tel-Aviv and Netanya.
Israel’s defense establishment maintains that terror groups are working vigorously to arm themselves following the disengagement. Hamas, in particular, has managed to smuggle some 80 tons worth of explosives across the Gaza-Egyptian border.
West Bank: 60% decline in suicide bombing attempts
Though there were no suicide attacks emanating from the West Bank in 2007, three terrorists were able to successfully infiltrate into Israel, though they were apprehended before they could carry out their intended attacks.
However, says the Shin Bet, this is not to say that terror groups are not still trying to target Israelis.
Some 4000 terror operatives were arrested in the West Bank between January and October 2007. Of these 117 were potential suicide bombers. But the triple-digit figure is somewhat encouraging as it shows a 60% decline in the number of potential bombers.
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THE JERUSALEM POST, Dec. 23, 2007
While 2007 didn’t greatly change the Middle East compared to some of its predecessors, here are some of its significant trends which will continue to dominate the year to come.
Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. This is the most important single Middle East event of 2007 because it is a clear, probably irreversible, shift in the balance of power. Four decades of a movement dominated by nationalists has come to an end. Given Fatah’s continuing weaknesses it is conceivable that Hamas will take over the West Bank within a few years and marginalize its rival.
To Islamists, this is a great victory. In fact, it is a disaster for Palestinians and Arabs. It deepens divisions and destroys any real (as opposed to the silly superficial events that take up governments’ time and media space) diplomatic option for them. A negotiated resolution of the Arab-Israeli or Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and with it prospects for a Palestinian state, has been set back for decades. Much Western sympathy has been lost. In years to come, struggles between Arab nationalists and Islamists, as well as between Sunnis and Shias, will dwarf the Arab-Israeli conflict.
During 2008 we will have to assess whether the Palestinian Authority still ruling the West Bank can meet the Hamas challenge. We already know it won’t meet the diplomatic challenge but it will take all year for most Western politicians and much of the media to discover that.
The military success of the US surge in Iraq. US forces showed that pessimistic assessments were wrong and they were able to reduce the power of anti-government insurgents and lower the death toll in Iraq. However, this is a long way from winning the war.
During 2008 the two key questions will be whether US troop withdrawals start in earnest and whether there is any political progress in bringing together Sunni and Shia communities in that country. It is hard to imagine what might change to bring about such an agreement. And even if the insurgents can kill fewer people they are likely to do enough damage to intimidate Sunnis from making peace. Still, the Iraqi government and society could grow strong enough to dispense with US combat troops.
The Western failure to substantially tighten sanctions against Iran. It was clear in 2007 that negotiations with Teheran would fail to deter Iran from its campaign to obtain nuclear weapons. Certainly, France, Britain and Germany were more willing to take – or at least to talk about taking – action but due to their own hesitations, plus resistance from Russia and China, very little happened.
The reaction to these events in Iran was mixed. On one hand, there was more worry about the pressures facing that country plus its own economic woes. On the other hand, the regime expressed more confidence that the West was chicken and that time and tide was on Iran’s side.
In 2008 we will be able to see if Teheran’s drive for nuclear weapons continues without serious hindrance. Equally, it will be possible to assess whether President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is being weakened by his factional opponents – especially in the March parliamentary elections – or tightening his hold on power and holding to his reckless course.
US policy returns to its traditional stance. Whatever innovations, for better or worse, President George Bush introduced into American regional policy have vanished in 2007. He is largely back to the traditional approach as carried out by both his father and predecessor. The administration has given up on reform or backing democracy.
In 2008, a new president will be chosen but real policy shifts will not take place until the following year, of course.
Israel prospers. Despite outdated talk of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s weakness, he used 2007 to rebuild his authority. Especially interesting, Israel’s economic growth has been impressive; unemployment fallen to all-time lows. Revolutionary enthusiasm and paper victories still thrill the Arab world and Iran but material gains continue to be what is important.
The demoralization of Lebanon. Worried that it is being abandoned by the West, forces supporting the moderate Lebanese government began to wonder if in fact Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah would be able to reestablish their control over the country. A key element is the identity of the country’s next president.
In 2008, it will be important to watch how power shifts in Beirut and whether the investigation of Syrian involvement in terrorism against Lebanese opposition figures leads to an international tribunal.
France changes course. President Francois Sarkozy has moved France away from the nationalistic effort to undercut the United States and appease radical regimes. Sarkozy, however, has played footsie with Syria and Libya. The question for 2008: Will he implement pledges to get tougher and will French institutions follow him in changing course?
The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center (http://gloria.idc.ac.il) at IDC Herzliya and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs. His latest book is The Truth About Syria.
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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 1 January 2008
- In reality, there is no fundamental difference between the ultimate goals of Hamas and the PLO vis-à-vis Israel: Neither accepts the Jewish state’s right to exist and both are committed to its eventual destruction. The only difference between the two groups lies in their preferred strategies for the attainment of this goal.
- Whereas Hamas concentrates exclusively on “armed struggle,” the PLO has adopted since the early 1990s a more subtle strategy, combining intricate political and diplomatic maneuvering with sustained terror attacks. In the candid words of Farouq Qaddoumi, the PLO’s perpetual foreign minister: “We were never different from Hamas. Hamas is a national movement. Strategically, there is no difference between us.”
- Such attitudes are commonplace among supposed moderates, notably Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), Arafat’s successor and perhaps the foremost symbol of supposed Palestinian moderation. For all their drastically different personalities and political style, Arafat and Abu Mazen are warp and woof of the same fabric: dogmatic PLO veterans who have never eschewed their commitment to Israel’s destruction and who have viewed the “peace process” as the continuation of their lifetime war by other means.
- By categorically refusing to recognize Israel’s Jewishness, the Palestinian leadership has effectively rejected the two-state solution, based, in the words of the UN partition resolution of November 29, 1947, on the creation of “independent Arab and Jewish States” in Palestine.
- In his Annapolis address, Abbas insisted that “the plight of Palestinian refugees…must be addressed…in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.” Yet Resolution 194 (passed on December 11, 1948) puts the return of Palestinian refugees on a par with the “resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees” in other countries; indeed, that provision made the resolution anathema to the Arab states, which opposed it vehemently and voted unanimously against it because the measure was seen, correctly, as establishing no absolute “right of return.”
- To deny the depth of the PLO’s commitment to Israel’s destruction is the height of folly, and to imagine that it can be appeased through Israeli concessions is to play into its hands. Only when Palestinians reconcile themselves to the existence of the Jewish state and eschew their genocidal hopes will the inhabitants of the Holy Land, and the rest of the world, be able to look forward to a future less burdened by Arafats and their gory dreams.
The PLO Vision of Palestine in Place of Israel
In August 1968, shortly before seizing control of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasir Arafat urged “the transfer of all resistance bases” into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, conquered by Israel during the June 1967 war, so as to launch a sustained terrorist campaign that would undermine Israel’s way of life by “preventing immigration and encouraging emigration…destroying tourism…weakening the Israeli economy and diverting the greater part of it to security requirements…[and] creating and maintaining an atmosphere of strain and anxiety that will force the Zionists to realize that it is impossible for them to live in Israel.”
Forty years later, with salvos of Gaza-fired missiles raining down on Israeli towns and villages on a daily basis, Arafat’s words seem prophetic. Yet his plan for victory would have remained a chimera had it not been for the Rabin government, which in 1993 invited the PLO, a group formally committed to Israel’s destruction by virtue of its covenant, to establish a firm political and military presence on its doorstep.
More than this, Israel was prepared to arm thousands of (hopefully reformed) terrorists, who would be incorporated into newly established police and security forces charged with asserting the PLO’s authority throughout the territories. In the words of the prominent Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini, Israel was willingly introducing into its midst a “Trojan Horse” designed to promote the PLO’s strategic goal of “Palestine from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea” – that is, a Palestine in place of Israel.
In line with this thinking, from the moment of his arrival in Gaza in July 1994 to lay the ground for Palestinian statehood at peace with its Israeli neighbor, Arafat engaged in an intricate exercise in duplicity, speaking the language of peace to Israeli and Western audiences while building up an extensive terrorist infrastructure and backing anti-Israel terror attacks. By the time of his death in November 2004, Arafat had transformed the territories transferred to PLO control – the Gaza Strip and the West Bank’s populated areas – into an effective terrorist state and had launched a vicious terror war (euphemized as the al-Aqsa intifada after the Jerusalem mosque) that plunged Israel into one of the greatest traumas in its history.
No Difference in Goals of Hamas and Fatah
One might have hoped that, eleven years and thousands of deaths after the launch of the Oslo process, the international community would pay closer attention to what the Palestinian leadership was actually saying (in Arabic) and doing. Yet such was the extent of the peace delusion that the European Union’s policy chief, Javier Solana, could state upon Arafat’s death that “the best tribute to President Arafat’s memory will be to intensify our efforts to establish a peaceful and viable state of Palestine.” When this widespread illusion of a new and more peaceful Palestinian political era failed to materialize, a handy scapegoat was found in the form of the Hamas Islamist group, which in January 2006 won a landslide victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections and replaced the PLO at the helm of the Palestinian Authority (PA), established in May 1994 as the effective government of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza.
In reality, of course, there is no fundamental difference between the ultimate goals of Hamas and the PLO vis-à-vis Israel: Neither accepts the Jewish state’s right to exist and both are committed to its eventual destruction. The only difference between the two groups lies in their preferred strategies for the attainment of this goal. Whereas Hamas concentrates exclusively on “armed struggle,” as its murderous terror campaign is conveniently euphemized, the PLO has adopted since the early 1990s a more subtle strategy, combining intricate political and diplomatic maneuvering with sustained terror attacks (mainly under the auspices of Tanzim, the military arm of Fatah, the PLO’s largest constituent group and Arafat’s alma mater). In the candid words of Farouq Qaddoumi, the PLO’s perpetual foreign minister: “We were never different from Hamas. Hamas is a national movement. Strategically, there is no difference between us.”
Such attitudes are by no means confined to “hard-line” elements within the PLO but are a commonplace among supposed moderates, notably Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), Arafat’s successor and perhaps the foremost symbol of supposed Palestinian moderation. For all their drastically different personalities and political style, Arafat and Abu Mazen are warp and woof of the same fabric: dogmatic PLO veterans who have never eschewed their commitment to Israel’s destruction and who have viewed the “peace process” as the continuation of their lifetime war by other means.
In one way, indeed, Abbas is more extreme than many of his peers. While they revert to standard talk of Israel’s illegitimacy, he devoted years of his life to giving ideological firepower to the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish indictment. In a doctoral dissertation written at a Soviet university, an expanded version of which was subsequently published in book form, Abbas endeavored to prove the existence of a close ideological and political association between Zionism and Nazism. Among other things, he argued that fewer than a million Jews had been killed in the Holocaust, and that the Zionist movement was a partner to their slaughter.
In the wake of the failed Camp David summit of July 2000 and the launch of Arafat’s war of terror two months later, Abbas went to great lengths to explain why the “right of return” – the standard Arab euphemism for Israel’s destruction – was a non-negotiable prerequisite for any Palestinian-Israeli settlement. Those who were disposed to regard these words as lip service by a lackluster apparatchik deferring to the omnipotent and hopelessly intransigent Arafat were to be bitterly disillusioned. In an address to a special session of the Palestinian parliament shortly after Arafat’s death, Abbas swore to “follow in the path of the late leader Yasir Arafat and…work toward fulfilling his dream…until the right of return for our people is achieved and the tragedy of the refugees is ended.”
Six months later, in a televised speech on the occasion of Israel’s Independence Day, Abbas described the proclamation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, as an unprecedented crime of history and vowed his unwavering refusal to ever “accept this injustice.” “On that day, a crime was committed against a people, who were uprooted from their land and whose existence was destroyed and who were forced to flee to all areas of the world,” he said. “The refugees have a full right to fulfill the right of return. We strongly object to the possibility they would become citizens of the countries they live in.”
Arabs Rejected UN Resolution 194 on Refugees
Against this backdrop, it is hardly surprising that the Annapolis summit not only proved little more than a photo opportunity but also underscored the pervasiveness of Palestinian recalcitrance. For one thing, by categorically refusing to recognize Israel’s Jewishness (or for that matter its very existence as a Jewish state), the Palestinian leadership – from Abbas, to Ahmad Qurei (negotiator of the 1993 Oslo Accords), to Saeb Erekat, to the “moderate” prime minister Salam Fayad – has effectively rejected the two-state solution, based, in the words of the UN partition resolution of November 29, 1947, on the creation of “independent Arab and Jewish States” in Palestine. For another thing, despite the lip service paid to the two-state solution in his Annapolis address, Abbas insisted that “the plight of Palestinian refugees…must be addressed holistically – that is, in its political, human, and individual dimensions in accordance with UNGA Resolution 194.”
Yet far from recommending the return of the Palestinian refugees as the only viable solution, Resolution 194 (passed on December 11, 1948) puts this particular option on a par with the “resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees” in other countries; indeed, that provision made the resolution anathema to the Arab states, which opposed it vehemently and voted unanimously against it. Equating return and resettlement as possible solutions to the refugee problem; linking resolution of this issue to the achievement of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace; placing on the Arab states some of the burden for resolving it; and above all establishing no absolute “right of return,” the measure was seen, correctly, as rather less than useful for Arab purposes. This, however, did not prevent Arabs and Palestinians from transforming the resolution into the cornerstone of an utterly spurious legal claim to a “right of return,” which in their internal discourse is invariably equated with the destruction of Israel through demographic subversion.
And therein, no doubt, lies the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. For to refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist, sixty years after the assertion of this right by the international community, and to insist on the full implementation of the “right of return,” at a time when Israel has long agreed to the creation of a Palestinian state roughly along the pre-1967 lines, indicates that, in the Palestinian perception, peace is not a matter of adjusting borders and territory but rather a euphemism for the annihilation of the Jewish state.
The Israeli government and the international community will be dangerously deluding themselves in continuing to view Abbas’ adamant refusal to fight terrorism as a reflection of political weakness (as they did with Arafat in the early Oslo years) and his avowed commitment to “the right of return” as a bargaining chip or lip service. To deny the depth of the PLO’s commitment to Israel’s destruction is the height of folly, and to imagine that it can be appeased through Israeli concessions is to play into its hands. Only when Palestinians reconcile themselves to the existence of the Jewish state and eschew their genocidal hopes will the inhabitants of the Holy Land, and the rest of the world, be able to look forward to a future less burdened by Arafats and their gory dreams.
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Professor Efraim Karsh is Head of Mediterranean Studies at King’s College, University of London, and a member of the Board of International Experts of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center. His most recent book is Islamic Imperialism: A History (Yale University Press, 2007).