February 6, 2015
Number 02/15 #02
This Update contains two knowledgeable analysis pieces on the situation in Sinai, where the Egyptian security forces are battling an ISIS-linked group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which carried out a particularly spectacular series of coordinated mortar and truck bomb attacks last Thursday, leaving 33 people dead. It goes on to include another good piece on the rise of European antisemitism, especially in the wake of recent reports suggesting antisemitic attacks in Britain are at the highest ever level.
First up is Zvi Mazel, former Israeli Ambassador to Egypt, on Sinai. He notes that while the Egyptian army has had some success dealing with arms smuggling and in jailing or killing terrorists, it is not geared to deal with the sort of guerilla war it is having to fight in Sinai. He argues that the insurgency combines extreme partisans of the overthrown Muslim Brotherhood government, the disgruntled local Bedouin, and outside Jihadis, and says the US is making a mistake in refusing to assist Egypt in confronting this threat, which can easily spread beyond Egypt. For all that he has to say, CLICK HERE. More good reporting and analysis on the Sinai attacks comes from Walter Russell Mead, Yaroslav Trofimov and a report published by Reuters.
Next up, counter-terrorism expert Yoram Schweitzer takes a more Israel-centric look at the “low-intensity conflict” in Sinai. Schweitzer analyses the size and sophistication of the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis attacks and the links between the group and both IS and Hamas. He goes on to discuss Israel’s interests in events in Sinai and strongly suggests it is in Israel’s interests to do everything possible to aid the Egyptian armed forces, including potentially by lobbying Washington to provide support. For the rest of his expert discussion, CLICK HERE.
Finally, American columnist and author Richard Cohen looks at the reality of the rise of European antisemitism and especially the claims increasingly being heard that this is simply a response to Israeli policies. He talks about what he discovered about antisemitism in researching a recent book – including its past pervasiveness and power – and directly takes on the claim that it is anger about the treatment of the Palestinians that is driving the current prevalence of antisemitism among Arabs and Muslims. He also says his studies of antisemitism convinced him not only that Israel is good for the Jews, but very necessary. For this important argument in full, CLICK HERE. Also offering an interesting recent discussion of rising European antisemitism, based his own recent experiences there, is Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Seeming to illustrate Cohen’s point, a British TV anchor strongly implies that antisemitism by Palestinians is justified.
- Speaking of antisemitism – the head of a pro-Russian Ukrainian separatist group says the Ukrainian government is run by “miserable Jews” , while a Palestinian Authority preacher calls Jews “apes and pigs.”
- There has been much analysis and comment on the resignation of Canadian academic William Schabas – as a result of conflict of interest claims – as head of a controversial panel convened by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate last year’s Gaza conflict. Comments worth reading come from the Jerusalem Post, Israeli academic Gerald Steinberg, Shmuel Rosner, American legal academic Anne Bayefsky and former American official Elliot Abrams.
- In addition, Israeli international law expert Alan Baker argues that the UN inquiry violates the UN’s own rules for fact-finding inquiries.
- Allegations the EU is funding West Bank construction in violation of both Israeli and international law.
- Stephen Cook from the US Council on Foreign Relations offers a penetrating analysis of the way Turkey, once a model of Islamic democracy, is increasingly looking like a typical Middle East dictatorship. More on the lack of free expression there from Turkish writer Burak Bekdil.
- Meanwhile, US-based Turkish religious leader Fethullah Gülen, whose followers were once important supporters of the current AKP Government but have recently had a falling out with it, published a New York Times op/ed denouncing Turkey’s eroding democracy. Istanbul based journalist Claire Berlinski offered a brilliant fisking of the piece, exposing the major role of Gülen and his followers in helping create the current situation in Turkey.
- In the wake of ISIS’ brutal murder by immolation of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, counter-terrorism expert Matthew Levitt argues that this may be a turning point leading to the decline of ISIS by discrediting the group among fellow Muslims. A different view comes from strategic analyst Max Boot, who says ISIS’ brutal and very public crimes do appear to be benefiting the group in various ways.
- Levitt also had some insightful comments on recent revelations about the 2008 assassination of notorious Hezbollah terror kingpin Imad Mughniyah.
- A remembrance of extraordinarily prolific and widely-hailed historian Sir Martin Gilbert, who died on Tuesday, age 78.
Jerusalem Post, Feb. 1, 2015
After spectacular attacks mounted against police and army targets in Sinai by Islamic terrorist organization Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis left dozens of dead and wounded late on Thursday, there was an outpouring of support for the army, probably the most popular organization in Egypt.
I am an Egyptian soldier trended on social networks.
Nevertheless, some hard questions are being asked.
Why cant the Egyptian army, arguably the strongest and largest Arab army in the Middle East, defeat a terrorist organization in an integral part of the country, the Sinai Peninsula? After all, the regime rushed huge reinforcements to the area, including helicopters, armored personnel carriers and other heavy equipment. The media in Egypt, which enjoys greater freedom than in the past, is vocal in its criticism of the president, who came from the ranks of the army and had pledged to eradicate terrorism.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi immediately cut short his visit to Addis Ababa, where he was attending the annual summit of the organization of African Unity to deal with the situation. The fact is that in the 18 months since the ouster of the Muslim Brothers, Islamic terrorist organizations in the Sinai Peninsula have vastly developed their operations. They have united under the banner of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and have demonstrated that they can be highly effective. Last October, an attack on an army post left 31 soldiers dead. A night curfew was imposed on Northern Sinai and a buffer zone 1,000 meters deep along the Gaza Strip was created, its inhabitants being forced to relocate. Though they did receive compensation, the move deepened the hostility felt by local Bedouin against the regime.
The army has met with some success. Some 1,850 contraband tunnels were destroyed, hundreds of terrorists killed or jailed. In the past few weeks there appeared to be a marked decline in terrorist attacks; at the same time, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis declared its allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and took the name of Sinai Province.
It was under this name that it took responsibility for Thursdays attacks.
Throughout Egypt, police stations, government buildings, power lines and other strategic facilities are targeted by explosive devices. Though the overall damage is slight, the population feels threatened, and economic development in hampered. The Muslim Brotherhood regularly tries to organize mass protests.
While they attract fewer and fewer participants, they are becoming more violent, leading to aggressive repression by exasperated security forces. The president still has the situation well in hand, and his efforts to develop the economy are bearing fruit; his popularity is still very high.
It has become only too apparent that after 18 months of intensive efforts in Sinai, the army still does not know how to fight guerrillas.
The problem of course is that the Egyptian army was never properly trained for that type of warfare not by its own commanders and not through American military assistance. That assistance included training in military academies in the US (Gen. Sisi attended such an institution) and joint military exercises.
However the focus was on classical warfare a type of warfare not relevant in the Middle East today.
Furthermore, though the Egyptian army is fighting on Egyptian territory, it has to deal in Sinai with a largely hostile Bedouin population that shows no disposition to cooperate with a central government which has ignored them for decades. This was to prove a fertile ground first for Hamas, which during the Mubarak years set up with the help of the Bedouin contraband routes to bring missiles and weapons from Sudan to Gaza. Today there is an added danger coming with jihadists crossing from Libya to join Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and bringing with them missiles and weapons pillaged from Muammar Gaddafis arsenal.
Urgent measures are needed to help Egypt overcome a terrorist threat which is now compounded by the presence of an outpost of Islamic State in Sinai and the flux of militants from other zones.
Unfortunately Cairos long term ally, America, in spite of the many military assistance agreements it entered with Cairo following the peace treaty with Israel, is dragging its feet and has yet to restore fully its military cooperation, put on hold following the army takeover. Egypt is not receiving the help it so desperately need to maintain its stability.
The Obama administration still supports the Brotherhood, claiming that far from being a terrorist organization it is an authentic and legitimate political current of Islam. Only last week a delegation composed of members of the Brotherhood who fled Egypt in the wake of their ouster was received at the State Department. The photo- op went viral.
When will the West and America finally understand that a prolonged and bloody conflict in Sinai will ineluctably affect all countries in the region and threaten not only Israel but Europe, where heightened tension is already felt and ultimately the United States itself?
The writer, a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.
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Egypts war against Salafist jihadi elements, primarily in the Sinai Peninsula, has also spilled over to its streets. The war in the Sinai is thus merely part of a broad campaign, shared by Egypts Middle Eastern neighbors. The governments of these countries are fighting to prevent the spread of militant Salafist jihad, seeking to impose Islamic religious law based on the Taliban model, which governed Afghanistan from 1996-2001.
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The title of my recently published book is Israel: Is It Good for the Jews? When I started writing it, I did not know how I was going to answer that question. The more I delved into the subject, the more I read and did research, the more I concluded that the answer is yes. The recent events in Paris make me even surer.
In the long and blood-soaked history of Europes Jews, the death of four more in a Parisian kosher market is, at best, a footnote. But they were not the accidental victims of the terrorists wrath, not just merely in the way or in the line of fire. They were singled out for who they were and not for what they had done like publish provocative cartoons. They were killed for being Jews.
Why? The conventional answer is Israel or, to put it another way, the plight of the Palestinians. There is some truth to both of these, yet the Islamic world is not so concerned about Palestinians that it has accorded Palestinian refugees anything like equal rights in the countries where they have sought refuge or protested when whole Palestinian communities were uprooted from Kuwait and other Gulf states after the PLO supported Saddam Hussein ethnic cleansing of a type. The Arab world weeps for the Palestinians but only on cue and not too much.
So the supposed madness, the supposedly justifiable anger, that drives some Muslims into sharing core beliefs with Adolf Hitler, is not all that essential to the Islamic or Arab identity. Millions, maybe a billion, Muslims go about their daily business without giving Israel or the Palestinians a thought. They do give a thought, however, to their own helplessness, to the astonishingly high rates of unemployment both in the Arab world and in the minority neighborhoods of European cities. Here is where the Jew plays a role. He can be blamed.
Anti-Semitism is the most durable and pliable of all conspiracy theories. It supposedly accounts for the death of Christ and the Jewish dominance of the liberal media. It carefully noted the disproportionate number of Jews in the communist movement and in the capitalist movement. Anti-Semitism can account for the wealth of the Jews and their scientific and artistic achievements. They are we are a most nimble people. Weve had to be.
Blaming Israel for anti-Semitism misses the point. For at least 1,948 years, anti-Semitism both existed and thrived when Israel did neither. The pogroms of Europe and the occasional ones of the Muslim Middle East took place with no Israel in sight. The Holocaust consumed 6 million Jews and not because Hitler was pro-Palestinian. Anti-Semitism infected ancient Egypt, ancient Rome, the subtle mind of T.S. Eliot and the tinkering brain of Henry Ford way before any future Israeli had pushed around any future Palestinian. Anti-Semitism does not need a reason. It needs only an excuse.
That excuse is present in contemporary Europe. Its Muslim minority is poor and inordinately unemployed. It loathes Israel for what it is allegedly doing to the Palestinians, and it hates Jews for being Jewish supposedly rich, powerful, secretive, conspiratorial and manipulative.
The remedy the cure is education and assimilation. In the United States, high levels of anti-Semitism in the Hispanic population dissipate with assimilation. The Anti-Defamation League tells us that, while 12 percent of all Americans are anti-Semites, the figure for foreign-born Hispanics is an astounding 36 percent. But for Hispanics born in the United States, the figure is only 14 percent. America is adept at assimilation. Europe is lousy at it. Europe needs work.
But non-Muslim Europe needs work as well. Especially on the left, discussions and denunciations of Israel feel like a snowball with a rock in the center: Something aside from protest is being aired. Anti-Zionism may be legitimate, but it too often seems like a way of expressing anti-Semitism. Israels occupation of the West Bank has always troubled me, but it is governed benevolently compared with the way China oppresses Tibet and where are those demonstrations?
In researching my book, I came away in awe of anti-Semitism. It may be more durable than most of our current religions it is older than most and it made me wonder when it would stage one of its periodic revivals. That now seems underway and, sadly, makes my book title almost irrelevant. The question is not whether Israel is good for the Jews but whether it is necessary. That answer, increasingly, is yes