No Reconciliation With The Butcher Of Damascus

I cannot begin this article without first expressing my profound outrage about the behavior of the Western powers, Turkey, the Arab League, and Kofi Annan, all of whom are still debating the likelihood of finding a political solution to end the merciless butchering of the Syrian people by the Assad regime. Do they really think…

July 19, 2012 Read more

Premature Elections Invite Political Instability

Although elections and political reforms are needed in the wake of the Arab Spring, premature elections could usher in a period of continued political instability punctuated by violence, or introduce new totalitarian regimes that would assume power under the pretext of maintaining order and stability. Of paramount importance is the formation of transitional governments proportionally representative of all segments of the populations for a minimum of five years. Such a government would be tasked with writing a new constitution and instituting gradual political reforms, while promoting human rights and economic development programs. Otherwise, elections will fail to produce the desired outcome of a free and vibrant new political and social order.

Indeed, no Arab country is ready for comprehensive political reforms without first developing a democratic culture, creating the environment that encourages the formation of political parties, and develops a clear political platform that is freely promoted to the public. Here, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and even Tunisia offer good examples of where internal socio-economic and political conditions highlight the difficulties involved. To that end, the situation in these Arab states strongly suggests that unless the following seven impediments are fully addressed, the Arab Spring will turn out to be the cruelest winter, shattering all hopes promised by the uprisings.

1. The Rush for Parliamentary Elections
The rush to hold elections invariably favors the existing social and/or political groups that are the most organized, disciplined, and rooted in society. In Egypt and Tunisia, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (MB) dominated the political scene. In Libya, however, although there was a strong possibility that the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) would win the Islamic wave was broken and continued political instability will dominate the immature Libyan political landscape. Generally, the inability of secular and independent parties and those who share similar political orientations to coalesce around a single platform has generally boosted the performance of the Islamists, as the former had neither the time nor the means to organize politically and offer alternate political platforms to the Islamists.

July 9, 2012 Read more

Iran: Staying In Power Trumps Nuclear Ambitions

The only way the clerical regime in Iran will meet the demands of the P5+1 to end its nuclear enrichment program and comply with the International Atomic and Energy Agency (IAEA) requirements of unfettered inspections of its nuclear facilities is if the Mullahs conclude that they stand to lose their grip on power. The United States and the European community, in particular, must now capitalize on Iran’s growing regional isolation, especially in the wake of the upheaval in Syria and its regional repercussions and the impact of the sanctions, which are now entering a new crippling phase that Tehran may no longer be able to withstand.

The intense pressure on Iran over its defiance of numerous UN Security Council resolutions continues to cast a dark shadow over Iran’s regional and international standing. After months of failed negotiations, the possibility of an Israeli and/or American attack on its nuclear facilities is approaching a dangerous precipice as Israel and the US have been continuously explicit that “all options are on the table”, including the use of force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran has consistently played for time in order to advance its nuclear program and is hard at work to shield it from potential attack. The international community should have no illusions over the prospect of breakthroughs at the upcoming technical talks in Istanbul on July 3rd.  Unless Iran halts enrichment and permits IAEA inspections, the talks will meet the same fate as all previous negotiation attempts.

July 2, 2012 Read more

Syria: The International Travesty

After fifteen months of relentless slaughter, the developments in Syria, with shockingly inordinate amounts of slain women and children, have demonstrated the international community’s ineptitude and contemptible moral bankruptcy in the face of horrific carnage. The failure to stop the crisis stems from the international community’s unwillingness to take stern measures to end the killing while it continues to take cover under the Annan plan and mouths countless verbal condemnations of the Assad regime, knowing full well that they will not succeed. Those that can change the course of events in Syria, including the US, EU, Turkey and the Arab League, have shamefully demonstrated the most startling shortsightedness coupled with wishful thinking in the face of insurmountable odds.

With the suspension of the observer mission in Syria, Mr. Annan has conjured yet another “ingenious” reformation of his beleaguered plan by calling for the creation of a “Syria Contact Group” that perplexingly includes Iran and Russia, who have and continue to provide President Assad with the means by which he slaughters his own people. While Mr. Annan is genuinely trying to end the killings by diplomatic means, his desire to preserve his reputation as an international mediator continues to stand in the way. Annan’s new plan (like the previous ones) will soon prove futile. Meanwhile, thousands of more innocent Syrians will die due to the West’s inability to garner the moral courage to decisively act.

June 25, 2012 Read more

Why Attacking Iran Is Becoming More Likely

The negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program during the past few months have produced nothing more than a diplomatic dance in the face of persistent Iranian ploys for time coupled with intransigence on key issues. In failing to reach a negotiated settlement, the conflict with Tehran is inching closer toward a point of no return, where Israel might decide that the circumstances warrant a unilateral attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Although there are other scenarios under which Israel may decide to attack Iran, chief among them is Israel’s fear that Iran is close to reaching what Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak terms, “a zone of immunity.” Under such circumstances and given more time, Iran would be in a position to store much of its previous enriched uranium, as well as its high quality centrifuges, deep inside the mountain base of Fordow, thus becoming completely immune from aerial bombardment.
This objective, which Tehran is hard at work in seeking to achieve, limits how much time Israel would have before it acts. This Israeli concern makes the continuing diplomatic efforts coupled with sanctions advocated by the Obama administration unviable options and might in fact be extremely risky to pursue. The Netanyahu government is absolutely convinced that Iran will continue to play for time as it has over the past several years, during which time Tehran has considerably advanced its nuclear program in defiance of the IAEA and in spite of severe sanctions.

June 19, 2012 Read more

The Prime Minister’s Speech

Having been engaged in the Arab-Israeli conflict as an advocate for peace, interlocutor, a keen observer and a commentator for much of my adult life, I fantasize once in a while about the regional, if not the global, implications of an Arab-Israeli peace. I allow myself to dream what seems to be an impossible dream because I believe in the dynamism and wealth of the human resources and creativity that both Israelis and Palestinians bountifully enjoy. Peace between Israel and the whole Arab world would usher in a renaissance period to the Middle East that history pages have yet to record.

When Prime Minister Netanyahu announced the expansion of his coalition government to include Kadima, which granted him a historic majority in the Israeli Parliament, I found myself fantasizing again about the prospect of such a comprehensive peace. Truthfully, if a coalition government representing three quarters of the Israeli electorates cannot muster the will and the courage to forge peace, who can, and under what conditions? Israeli and Palestinian leaders, regardless of their political coloration, must sooner than later face, under any circumstances, the inevitability of coexistence. Israel, in particular, who is on the defensive for continuing the occupation and the expansion of settlements, must strive to end its increasing isolation.

June 11, 2012 Read more

Putin’s Choice

Since the end of the Cold War, the relationship between Russia and the West has revolved around a perpetual “reset” that never seems to arrive and attempts to do so are typically based on mutual suspicion and of course, a perceived self-interest. For the past decade, Russia has seen considerable growth under President-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has presented himself as a stable figure that provides ordinary Russians with a greater standard of living. Russia continues to be inflicted, however, by internal and external problems including: persistent and endemic corruption, a myopic political establishment, crumbling infrastructure, limited trade outside oil and gas, an often erratic foreign policy, and denied civil and political rights to particular segments of the Russian population. How Putin will tread the treacherous road ahead will determine Russia’s role and influence in the international arena for years to come.

In response to the late 2011 legislative elections, which were marred by irregularities, a series of unprecedented demonstrations threatened the legitimacy of Mr. Putin’s rule as well as the oligarchic state that has endured under his watch.  The official reaction to the protests was unsurprisingly harsh as the assumed longevity of Mr. Putin was placed under intense scrutiny by domestic and foreign observers. Putin has become increasingly more assertive in his efforts to consolidate his power after the flawed elections. Little hope for reform was held when Putin replaced the majority of his cabinet, which is now staffed by loyalists, thus ensuring the continuity of his near dictatorial style as he begins his third term.

June 4, 2012 Read more

Preventing Sunni-Shiite Schism from Hijacking the Arab Spring

In April of this year, I wrote that the upheaval in Syria (the Sunni majority revolt against the Alawite-dominated regime) has turned into a battleground between the Sunni axis led by Turkey and Saudi Arabia and the Shiite axis led by Iran. As events continue to unfold in the region, particularly the Sunni Islamists’ monopolization of the political processes in new Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia plus the belligerent Saudi-Iranian exchange in Syria and Bahrain, what is increasingly visible is that the liberal, democracy-seeking Arab Spring is being hijacked by radical Islamists on both sides, risking major conflagration between the two pillars of Islam.    

The dispute between Sunnis (who make up the vast majority of the world’s Muslims) and Shiites is not faith-related but is rather essentially political about how the Caliph can be appointed and the nature of political power that religious scholars should have. Because, much like Europe in the 1500s and 1600s, with theology intertwined with geopolitics, the conflict was sustained for a millennium from the seventh to the seventeenth century and witnessed the conflict between the Shiite Safavid dynasty in Persia and the Sunni Ottoman dynasty in Turkey. It was not until the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 and the Iraq-Iran war (1980–1988) culminating with the Iraq war in 2003 that the relationship between the Arab world and Iran was again re-framed in the context of the Sunni-Shiite schism. The emergence of a Shiite government in post-Saddam Iraq, discriminating against its Sunni citizens, and the ensuing Sunni insurgency terrorizing the Shiite majority only added fuel to the fire. The high hopes accompanying the advent of the Arab Spring that the youth uprising would make a smooth transition to a liberal democracy are gradually fading away.

May 29, 2012 Read more

Turkey And Israel: Now Is The Time To Reconcile

I strongly believe that the time is right for Turkey and Israel to mend their critically important bilateral relationship which has suffered a precipitous decline since 2010. With the Middle East in turmoil as a result of the Arab Spring, the perilously unfolding crisis in Syria, the concerns around the Iranian nuclear program, the recent expansion of the Netanyahu government and the fact that the continuing and increasing level of bilateral trade relations between Turkey and Israel remains unaffected by these developments, all suggest that restoring their bilateral relationship now will serve the national strategic interests of both former allies. The question is, will Israel and Turkey recognize the potential gains they can both reap once they remove any obstacles standing in the way of rapprochement, knowing that full collaboration at this time is central to a regional stability that directly impacts their respective national security concerns?

Coupled with other significant developments, perhaps the most alarming issue at this particular time is the turmoil in Syria, in which Turkey has taken a strong and principled stand against the continuing carnage inflicted by Assad’s regime. Prime Minister Erdogan has made it clear that Bashar Assad and his cohorts must step down from power in order to end the crisis. Turkey shares a more than 800 kilometer (510 mile) long border with Syria and is deeply involved in Syria as it continues to provide humanitarian aid, shelter the refugees and host the Syrian National Council, the main opposition to the Assad regime. Israel, for its part, has prevented potentially greater conflagration by carefully and quietly monitoring the situation while taking no provocative action to keep the calm, which provided Turkey the necessary space to serve as the main power broker to oppose Assad with a sense of empowerment from the Arab League. The new political order that emerges in Syria will have a tremendous effect both on Israel and Turkey. By virtue of being neighbors of Syria, both have unique national interests in dealing with post-Assad Syria in a manner that will ensure regional stability and enhance their short and long-term strategic and security interests.

May 21, 2012 Read more
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