“April is the cruelest month,” a line from T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Wasteland, was very much in evidence given the eruption of conflicts in the troubled Muslim realms of the Middle East and North Africa. The yearlong rebellion in Syria against the minority Alawite Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad reached a bloody climax with more than 11,000 slaughtered in the streets of Homs, Damascus and Daara by security forces. This despite the intervention of a UN peacekeeper envoy with a troubled past, former Secretary General Kofi Annan. Annan negotiated a cease fire that has yet to take full effect.
Calls have been made for several hundred additional unarmed monitors, in place of what should have been negotiations for the removal of the autocratic regime, an ally of Iran. The experience with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon has demonstrated that multilateral peacekeeping forces fail to rein in terrorist groups like Hezbollah and do not prevent them from fomenting war with neighboring states. Further, there is concern that the Obama Administration is seeking others, notably Saudi Arabia, to provide money and arms to Syrian opposition forces. This at the risk of radicalizing Sunni opposition forces in Syria akin to what the Wahhabist Saudi Arabia did in Afghanistan in the 1980’s.
American and Western policymakers have emphasized diplomacy and application of tightening economic sanctions in dealing with a truculent nuclear Iran. Representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany were at a one day meeting in Istanbul in mid-April with a special envoy of the Supreme Ruler of Iran. That achieved nothing except the scheduling of another meeting in Baghdad in late May. The reaction from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was that the Istanbul talks simply had given the Islamic Republic more time to continue enriching uranium to create bomb-making materials. Thus, the Istanbul P5+1 meetings with Iran raised the uncertainty of possible unilateral military action by the embattled Jewish state against Iranian nuclear facilities. President Obama quickly disagreed with PM Netanyahu expressing his desire to give both diplomacy and tightening sanctions more time.
The Administration has raised the visibility of deepening relations with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt by receiving a delegation at the White House and continuing to send $1.5 billion in assistance. Egypt’s looming Presidential election pits Muslim Brotherhood candidates against Salafist fundamentalists and former Egyptian foreign minister Amr Moussa. This raises the concern that another Islamic Republic could be in the offing – oppressing women, secularists and minority Copts under Islamic Shariah. Moreover, given the campaign oratory of Egyptian Presidential candidates there would appear to be dangerous prospects that whoever is elected would tear up the ‘cold peace’ treaty with Israel. This despite the control exerted behind the scenes by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Then there is concern about Jordan with a large, restive and oppressed Palestinian population and suppressed Muslim Brotherhood group, the Islamic Action Front. This combination could result in open civil war. In the Sudan, the regime of General Omar Al Bashir in Khartoum has declared war on the newly created Republic of South Sudan over oil resources in the border region of Heglig. That could renew the genocidal jihad against the 193rd Member of the UN whose independence was declared last July and backed by the Obama Administration.
Against this background “Your Turn” host Mike Bates, of radio station 1330AMWEBY of Pensacola, Florida, Senior Editor Jerry Gordon of the New English Review and Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of Research of the Washington, DC- based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies held a radio round table discussion.
Bates: Good afternoon and welcome to Your Turn. This is Mike Bates. We are having a special edition of Your Turn today, our periodic our Middle East round table discussion. I have with me in the studio Jerry Gordon, Senior Editor of the New English Review and its blog, The Iconoclast. He is also the author of the new book, The West Speaks. Jerry, Welcome to Your Turn.
Gordon: Glad to be back.
Bates: And joining us by telephone, Jonathan Schanzer, V.P. of Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Jonathan, welcome to Your Turn.
Schanzer: Thank you very much.
Bates: I would like to focus on breaking news. It concerns one of the newest nations on planet earth, South Sudan. Jerry what can you tell us about what is happening in Africa?
Gordon: Gen. Omar al-Bashir, the head of the government of Sudan which is located in Khartoum declared war on the Republic of South Sudan. You may recall that this country, newly born last July, was voted in as the 193rd member of the United Nations (UN). The Obama Administration applauded the move. The breakaway new country was created underneath the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 brokered under the Bush Administration. This declaration of war by the Islamist government of Sudan is all about oil and renewal of jihad against the Christian/Animist Republic of South Sudan that has the majority of oil resources. The question is what will the Obama administration that supported independence for South Sudan do about it?
Bates: Jon, do you have any observations?
Schanzer: I think that it is probably important to discuss the context of this dispute between Islamist Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan. Throughout the 1990’s Sudan was one of the top sponsors of Al Qaeda. They had sponsored other terrorist groups like Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Sudan really played a pivotal role in helping of these terrorist groups cross fertilize and coordinate. What happened after the 9/11 attacks was that the United States really came down very hard on Sudan and began to pressure them. It was interesting that Sudan began to cooperate with the United States quietly in the war on terror. The Sudan government helped the United States get a grip on the foreign fighters going into Iraq. There was a sense that as the Republic of South Sudan was getting ready to take form, the United States was extending a carrot to Khartoum, telling them if they worked to insure the peace and relative stability of South Sudan, they would ultimately be removed from the state sponsors of terrorism list. Senator John Kerry went to Khartoum in 2010 promising General al Bashir exactly that. Now, the Obama Administration has not removed Sudan from that terrorist list, probably for good reason. Sudan still supports Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Sudan is still a hub for supply of weapons to these Palestinian and other terrorist groups, primarily supplied by Iran and its terror network. The bottom line is there has been erosion of trust between the United States and the al-Bashir government in Khartoum. It is primarily for this reason that al-Bashir has just decided he doesn’t care any longer about what the United States wants or thinks. This has really prompted the shift that we are seeing now. It is extremely dangerous for South Sudan. It is a new country as you noted, and a vulnerable one. There is potential there for yet another nasty war in Africa. I believe that a lot of it has to do with the false promises of this Administration in terms of getting Sudan off the terrorism list.
Bates: Jerry, you said that it was about oil. I thought there was an oil revenue sharing plan between Sudan and South Sudan. How much of this conflict is oil and how much of this conflict if any, is religious or ethnic in nature, Jonathan?
Schanzer: It is all of the above. Certainly, oil will continue to play a part in this. It is a source of a lot of conflict in the Middle East. Certainly, northern Sudan is a predominantly Sunni Muslim area. They have been at war with the Christian/Animist South and Darfur for over 50 years. That has been one of the flashpoints of the conflict. Genocide has been carried out by the al-Bashir regime. There are many reasons behind this conflict. However, Washington had at one point gained leverage over the al-Bashir government after the genocide had taken place. After all the terrible things had taken place there was a sense that perhaps we had finally brought the regime to heel. I sense this is a real breakdown in diplomacy and a real breakdown in communication. I would say that the Obama Administration has really fallen down here. It is not to say that we owed the al-Bashir regime anything. However, the reality is that this has not been handled as well as we could have to prevent what appears to be a new round of bloodshed in the making.
Bates: It is an unfortunate situation. I thought that the treaty with the new nation of South Sudan was going to resolve that conflict. However, as in so many conflicts in the region they aren’t easily resolved. Let’s switch our focus to the main topic pertaining to Israel, the Iranian nuclear threat. The P5+1 (the UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany) talks took place in mid-April in Istanbul. Jonathan, what happened?
Schanzer: As expected nothing happened. As I like to say, P5 + 1 equals zero. There was a large international meeting designed to bring the Iranians back to the negotiating table. It was a foregone conclusion that this international meeting in Istanbul would not amount to anything. The Iranians simply wanted to have more time to waste the international community’s time. The international community wanted this session. I’ll speak to the Obama Administration. I think there is a sense here that as long as Iran is talking then we can prevent Israel from attacking or prevent other actions from taking place. The international community viewed these talks as a positive sign. The bottom line is that we knew the Iranians never took it seriously. There is going to be another round of discussions that will take place in Baghdad in late May. This is really stalling. What we all know is that diplomacy will fail. The Iranians are committed to their nuclear weapons program. They will continue to threaten Israel and the international community with those weapons once they are in hand. I believe that this is a colossal waste of time. It was a shame that the international community bought into this. However, it was to be expected given that no actor on the world stage is unwilling to do anything to prevent the Iranians from achieving nuclear weapons, other than through sanctions and harshly worded letters which amount to nothing.
Bates: Jonathan I certainly agree with your statement that the Iranians are going to pursue this at all costs. If we believe President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he certainly stated that they are going to pursue it no matter what. I read recently in the Jerusalem Post that the Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi hinted that there might actually be some concessions the Iranians would be willing to make. Do you read anything into that?
Schanzer: Well I don’t. We should recognize that the representative of Iranian Supreme Ruler, Ayatollah Khamanei, at these talks in Istanbul did not indicate any compromises that he was willing to make. We are also not hearing anything from Ahmadinejad, who ultimately has very little power within the regime. The real power in this Islamist government comes from the Supreme Ruler who really decides just about everything. The Iranian President is a distant second in terms of power. Behind him comes the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which is the equivalent of the Praetorian Guard for the Supreme Leader. The IRGC has been responsible for accumulating a lot of weaponry and developing this nuclear program. I place very little stock in what we are not hearing at international forums like the one in Istanbul from the people who purport to speak with authority for the Iranian regime. Now, that said, I would be thrilled to see the Iranians step back from the brink. I think it would be a wonderful development. However, it won’t actually solve the problem. Even if the Iranians decided to put the nuclear program on the shelf for any period of time, which might alleviate the international crisis, we still have a regime in power that is responsible for mass human rights violations internally and that sponsors terrorist proxies. This includes terrorist groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Resistance Committee, which Iran has sponsored over the past 30 years. This is a dangerous regime in Tehran. Even if they shelved the nuclear program we are still going to have a challenge dealing with them across the region. We are not going to be able to ease sanctions. We are not going to normalize relations with the Iranians. They are extremely dangerous. Ultimately, our goals are not only to have the Islamic Republic of Iran stop its nuclear program and support for world terrorism, we need this regime to fall. That needs to be made very clear and should be the goal right now. We shouldn’t lose sight of that.
Gordon: Jonathan, on the heels of the P5+1 meeting with Iran in Istanbul, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu criticized the session for giving the Iranians “freebies” to continue enrichment of sufficient fissile material for production of bombs. He emphasized Israel’s sovereign right defend itself at a Holocaust commemoration at the Yad Vashem memorial in Israel. That led to an immediate pushback on the part of President Obama from the rostrum at the Cartagena, Colombia meetings. Regarding the question of regime change in Iran there was a stunning video of Ahmadinejad in Bandar-Abbas on the Persian Gulf showing people climbing on to his car complaining about poverty and being hungry. Is that an indication that things are really falling apart there?
Schanzer: Everything that we are picking up right now indicates the Iranian economy is in shambles. The event you described in Bandar Abbas reflects that sanctions and economic pressure are working. However, the question is: to what end? That is what concerns us. Let me just give you a picture of what is occurring inside Iran. The Iranians have admitted that inflation is up to 21% in the country. Inflation is probably even double the reported figure. The Iranians are clearly having a difficult time, due in large measure to sanctions passed by Congress. Iran is not able to acquire vital refined petroleum. They have the raw oil but they don’t have the means to refine it. When they send oil offshore, Iran faces sanctions through foreign sources that refine it, which makes it harder for them to repatriate the refined products. We know that the Iranians are having trouble selling oil on the market because of the oil sanctions that we have in place. The West has blocked Iran’s use of SWIFT, which is a secure technology that international banks use to transfer funds for transactions. We have sanctions against Iran’s central bank. Clearly, the Iranians are in a lot of economic pain. Whether this translates to the end of the regime or to changing the behavior of the regime is yet to be seen. We cannot let up pressure on the Islamic Republic. That really gets to the heart of what Prime Minister Netanyahu was complaining about. By engaging in these P5+1 discussions, we are offering the Iranians a diplomatic lifeline to talk about where they are with their nuclear program. We should not talk to the Iranians about their nuclear program. We should not think about loosening these sanctions until they cease completely. To be quite frank, that is where the Israelis and many Americans stand. Nobody really wants to engage with the Iranians. That is why I think the meetings in Istanbul and those in Baghdad in May will be a colossal waste of time.
Gordon: Jon, the atmosphere in Israel is highly polarized regarding an attack on Iran’s nuclear program. There was a recent documentary on Channel 10 in Israel, which must have been cleared by the military censors, about what a possible attack might look like. There are polls in Israel that show that 60% of Israelis support a possible military option. And yet you have figures like former Mossad head, Meir Dagan who basically says this won’t happen for several years. What can you tell us about the charged atmosphere in Israel?
Schanzer: That divisive atmosphere is very typically Israeli. There is an old joke that says that if you put three Israelis in a room you are going to get 10 opinions. Israel has a vibrant democracy where people are free to speak their minds. It should come as no surprise that there is a pretty significant and even acrimonious debate over this issue of what to do with a nuclear Iran. You have people like former IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz, the opposition leader in the Kadima party, who won that position in a recent party primary, Meir Dagan, the former Mossad chief, and a number of other people saying that an attack is not necessary right now. Or that an attack should only take place if and when Israel is directly threatened and has run out of options and time, and that an Iranian nuclear bomb is imminent. There is a sense now that the nuclear weapons program, even though it is marching ahead with centrifuges spinning and progress being made, that the Iranians have not yet assembled a weapon. That until Iran assembles a nuclear device Israel should not attack. The primary reason behind those caveats is that an Israeli attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities would spark a regional war. These Israeli critics of a possible military option are concerned that Iran would probably bomb Israel, grinding the country to a halt for an indefinite period of time. Potentially, Hamas, Hezbollah, and possibly Syria might fire rockets at Israel from short ranges that might not be fully intercepted by defense systems like Iron Dome. There is also the assessment that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be like mowing a lawn. Even if Israel took out some of the nuclear program infrastructure, as long as scientists remained in Iran there would be, every opportunity to reconstitute the program within less than two years. Prime Minister Netanyahu noted that he ultimately bears the responsibility for five to six million Jewish souls in Israel and feels that with the weight of history upon him, drawing parallels to the Holocaust. He does not want to idly stand by while Israel’s enemies prepare for its annihilation. The debate in Israel is basically about survival versus practical measures that are needed to destroy Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Thus, there is a very large spectrum of informed opinion in terms of how Israelis view this challenge.
Bates: Unlike the 1981 attack on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq which was above ground in one location and within operating range of Israel’s air force, the Iranian nuclear attack scenario is complicated. Iran’s nuclear facilities are farther away, much of it below ground and scattered around the country. Doesn’t that make Iran’s nuclear program a significantly more formidable target?
Schanzer: It does. You are looking at the necessity to refuel mid air. You have the threat of Russian made surface to air missiles with which Iran is now equipped. Israel would have more than two dozen possible targets to hit multiple times. In some cases Iran’s enrichment facilities are equivalent of a football field beneath the ground or burrowed into the side of a mountain. This would be a Herculean task for the Israelis to undertake. That is not to say that they are not up to the challenge. Israel has an advanced technology-based military. The thought is not lost on Israeli military planners that many of Israel’s pilots would not return from such a mission. That is unless they have something else up their sleeves. Don’t discount that from happening with the Israeli military. Over the years they’ve been able to ingenuously exploit technology which we have come to expect from the Israelis. Thus any Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program may not be what we would consider conventional. They may have some other plans afoot.
Bates: President Obama recently said that he had Israel’s back. What do you think he meant by that?
Schanzer: He said that at the AIPAC Washington Policy Conference in March. Then the next day he changed his mind and said that had nothing to do with US military involvement in an attack on Iran. It was really more solidarity with the Israelis. That wasn’t the assurance that Netanyahu wanted, nor the Jewish community here in the United States. There remains a debate over how committed Obama is to safeguard Israel during this very challenging time.
Gordon: Jon, the Syrian situation is in flux. Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General criticized Syria for not complying with the Kofi Annan Peace Plan. Additionally, there is the issue about whether or not a limited number of unarmed cease fire monitors should be brought in, Is this a send up on what the U.N. has done across the border between Israel and Lebanon with United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)? Finally, there is concern about whether or not Saudi Arabia is flexing its muscles willing to supply arms and training for the opposition in Syria. What is going on?
Schanzer: The situation in Syria obviously is a mess. It is largely due to the United States not flexing its muscle or demonstrating effective leadership. Following Susan Rice, US U.N. Representative, on Twitter, she commented the other night that, Syria had said it was going to comply with the request of the international community. She tweeted that words were not enough. I thought to myself that was ironic, given that all that the United States was putting out was words. As a result of that, we’ve had to rely on the UN. As we have experienced, it’s very difficult for the UN to accomplish anything as it requires first of all a majority of countries on the Security Council to agree. Then you also need to bypass the countries that may wish to veto any UN plan for Syria like Russia and China. They have consistently vetoed sanctions against the Syrians because of alliances and business deals. We have been forced to rely on a man who has failed us repeatedly. I’m speaking about Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the UN during the 1990’s. This was the man who stood by during the Rwanda Massacre. He was the man who stood by during the Srebrenica Massacre in Bosnia. He was the man who stood by and allowed the Oil for Food Scandal to evolve in Iraq. That scandal not only helped Saddam Hussein stay in power, but also enriched Kofi Annan’s son Kojo. This is a man who has failed repeatedly, but continued to receive support within the UN. Now the UN brings him back out of retirement to play a significant role in probably one of the more consequential conflicts of our time, looking at an opportunity to topple the Assad regime in Syria. What Annan has done instead is throw a life line to Assad in Syria. After the international community and the United States rejected Assad as the legitimate leader of the Syrian state, Annan’s plan actually calls for the Syrian opposition to negotiate with the Assad regime. Although unarmed UN peacekeepers have been agreed to, we know how this plays out, given what happened with the UNIFIL forces in Lebanon. They were unable to stop anything from happening in Southern Lebanon. Hezbollah has only amassed more weaponry and engaged in war with Israel. UNIFIL has been feckless and completely unable to stop Hezbollah. In Syria, we have decided to allow the U.N. to act in our stead. It is a complete policy failure with Annan involved. The vacuum in Syria has alerted the Saudis that they may have a role to fill. This is extremely dangerous. The last time the Saudis got involved in a major conflict where the Russians had a stake was during the Afghanistan Crisis in the 1980’s. You may recall the United States was covertly involved with arming the Mujahideen fighters against the Soviets. However, it was the Saudis that played a major role radicalizing the fighters in Afghanistan. The fear is that the Saudis could do that again and radicalize the Syrian opposition, indoctrinating them with Wahhabi doctrine, and spawning a new generation of Jihadi fighters. That we are willing to contract this out to the Saudis represents again a dangerous failing on the part of the United States, when this country doesn’t play a leading role.
Bates: If we are going to rely on the United Nations to get involved with the Russians and the Chinese vetoing resolutions that call for action, the UN clearly isn’t going to do anything militarily. What limited options do we really have in Syria?
Schanzer: We have none at this moment. We should be facilitating a process for talking with the Syrian opposition. Instead, we have publicly stated we don’t know who they are. We have had more than a year to understand who they are and to figure out who we can work with. However, the Administration continues to say that they are concerned about what they don’t know about the opposition. If that is the case, don’t expect anyone to step and provide military assistance to the opposition, arm them or provide them with cash. There has been talk about providing secure communications equipment so that the opposition can evade Syrian forces. At the end of the day we have stood by and allowed 11,000 people to be slaughtered in the streets in Syria. That is ironic when you think about how NATO, the US, and Europe got involved in Libya. It was because they said that they were afraid of a slaughter, a humanitarian disaster, in Benghazi. I guarantee you that no matter what was going to happen in Libya, it wasn’t going to be that 11,000 people were slaughtered in cold blood there. There may have been a conflict, but I don’t think that 11,000 people would have been killed. So are double standards in Syria hurting us? This makes relations with the Arab people extremely difficult when you talk about how the Obama Administration has sought to reset relations in the Middle East. The situation in Syria looks absolutely horrible. The US has lost the respect of the Arab people. They are wondering how we have devised our Middle East policies. How we decide that some cases require intervention and in other cases we’ll just stand by and allow people to be slaughtered in cold blood?
Bates: I am continually amazed at the incompetence of the US State Department. I remember we were watching protests in Tahrir Square in Egypt, live on TV here in the studio. Our State Department was praising them. The three of us concluded: be careful what you wish for. The Muslim Brotherhood may take over in Egypt and that’s exactly what ended up happening. The Muslim Brotherhood took over in Egypt. While Hosni Mubarak may not have been the greatest autocrat that ruled Egypt, he at least honored the Peace Treaty with Israel. Now, we’ve have a front runner for the Egyptian presidency, Amir Moussa, pledging to take a tougher stance on Israel and perhaps no longer abide by the Peace Treaty which could spark a regional war.
Schanzer: That’s right. If you would take a step back and look at our Arab Spring policies from a 40,000 foot altitude, we have punished our friends and we have rewarded our enemies. In the case of Egypt, there were major problems under the Mubarak regime, but they were allies. We worked with them on the war on terror and they were helping to insure calm with Israel and ensure that the Palestinians were at the negotiating table.
Then you take a look at what we are doing with Syria. Syria was an avowed enemy of the US. It was working in alliance with Iran. It was providing assistance to terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. We’ve done very little with regard to Syria. We’ve refused to get involved. There is a Marine motto, “no better friend and no worse enemy.” The US currently is exactly the opposite. We are no worse friend and no better enemy. The messaging is completely wrong and off. The policy is turned backwards and it is an extremely difficult thing to watch from my vantage point here in Washington. I just don’t understand how these policies have been devised and I certainly don’t understand how we plan on moving forward.
Gordon: Jon, speaking about policies in Washington, we recently had a ‘charm offensive’ by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood party leaders who were welcomed by the West Wing of the Obama White House and our State Department. Isn’t that essentially out of sync with what you just discussed?
Schanzer: We have had this ‘charm offensive’ by the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist activists from Tunisia, Jordan, and Egypt. These groups were sponsored by think tanks. They were welcomed at the White House, who rolled out the red carpet for these Islamists. They were not asked tough questions about how they view the role of Shariah in their countries. Some of them actually came out very forcefully in favor of Shariah on their own. I don’t get the sense that we have really challenged them enough. There is a sense here in Washington that the Islamists are on the march, that we are going to need to accommodate them. This is the wrong policy. We ought to let them know in no uncertain terms that there are certain policies that we can’t abide by if they wish to maintain alliances with the US. The fact that they came to Washington and were trying to make sure that the policy community understood where they were coming from indicated that they certainly wanted to maintain these alliances. I don’t believe that we have placed enough demands on these potential new leaders. We have a real policy problem making clear what we want and how we reward or punish actors in the region for running afoul of US policy.
Gordon: Speaking about the Muslim Brotherhood, adjacent to Israel is the Kingdom of Jordan. Recently King Abdullah II apparently launched new legislation that would essentially bottle up the equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, the Islamic Action Front (IAF).
Schanzer: That is something that he is going to have to do if he wishes to maintain power. By the way that could set off an Arab Spring style revolt in Jordan. The background is that the IAF, the Muslim Brotherhood spin-off, won an election in 1989 by a fairly large margin in Jordan. That was under Abdullah’s father Hussein. For three or four years there was an uneasy calm that existed between the King and the Brotherhood. Then in the next election, I believe it was 1993, Hussein changed the election laws and made sure that the Brotherhood couldn’t win more than a limited number of seats in the parliament in Amman. That law still exists. It is why you have some unease and tension in the Kingdom of Jordan. The Palestinian population which represents 80 plus percent of the population and the IAF are all looking for greater representation in the parliament. King Abdullah has talked about reform, transparency, and opening up election laws. However, he also knows that if he allows that to happen, with the Brotherhood mobilized it will gain power via the IAF. The IAF will demand the implementation of Shariah and the end of the peace treaty with Israel. That would create a dangerous impasse for both Israel and the US. The King is playing a game of chess with the indication that he’s ready to checkmate the Brotherhood. That is not a good sign. It means that he has probably run out of options, and once he does; either there will be a roundup of Brotherhood members or very draconian measures taken resulting in an uprising in the streets. I don’t really think that there is a whole lot of choice between those two options.
Gordon: Jon, a meeting in late April didn’t occur between the Prime Minister for the Palestinian Authority Salam Fayyad and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Is that a reflection of the rejectionist position the Palestinians are perfecting or is it something else given the impasse with Israel on peace negotiations?
Schanzer: A meeting just took place with Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator. He delivered a harshly worded letter threatening to disband the Palestinian Authority if certain demands with Israel weren’t met. The letter basically threatened suicide on the part of the Palestinian leadership. It is the kind of brinksmanship that we have come to expect from the Palestinians. On the other hand we noted the absence of Salam Fayyad, the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority. That is a very interesting development. Some people ascribed this to Fayyad, saying he would not meet with Netanyahu because of hunger striking Palestinian inmates in Israeli jails or, disdain for Netanyahu. Through some of my sources, I learned this was actually something very different. This was the result of Fayyad not wanting to do the bidding of Abbas. I wrote a piece for Foreign Policy several months ago detailing a split between these two leaders. Fayyad is a committed bureaucrat at the top of the Palestinian Authority. He wants transparency, things to operate smoothly, money to flow from the international community, and he wants adherence to certain international standards of governance. In contrast Abbas, the leader of the PLO, is basically a populist leader of Palestinian causes which sometimes conflict with the operations of the Palestinian Authority itself. As I have documented numerous times, he is a corrupt leader now three or four years past his legitimate term. The two men have really not seen eye to eye. According to some reports, they don’t even talk and have not talked for a couple of years. Abbas was trying to enlist Fayyad to threaten to disband the Palestinian Authority which is not in the interest of Fayyad, so Fayyad refused to go along. Fayyad may not favor warm relations with Netanyahu, but the absence of Fayyad from the meeting serves to underscore there are significant differences of opinion among Palestinian leaders about the direction the Palestinians are heading.
Gordon: There were two Palestinian protest events in Israel recently, the Global March to Jerusalem on March 30th and Flytilla on April 15th. Both seemed to have been busts. In the case of Flytilla, the Israelis notified international airlines, especially those in E.U., placing over 1,000 people on a black list stopping them from boarding flights in Europe. They were basically detained at those airports in the E.U. although several dozen came through. There was a novel element in the Israeli campaign against Flytilla that the Prime Minister’s office used. I’ll turn to my friend Mike Bates to talk about it.
Bates: Jerry, thank you for giving me the opportunity to read this letter which by the way I learned about on your blog, The Iconoclast. This was a sarcastic letter that was prepared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Information Directorate given to each Flytilla protestor on arrival. This is an awesome letter. It read, “Dear Activist: We appreciate your choosing to make Israel the object of your humanitarian concerns. We know there were many other worthy choices. You could have chosen to protest the Syrian regime’s daily savagery against its own people which has claimed thousands of lives. You could have chosen to protest the Iranian regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent in support of terrorism throughout the world. You could have chosen to protest Hamas rule in Gaza where terror organizations commit a double war crime by firing rockets at civilians and hiding behind civilians but instead, you chose to protest against Israel, the Middle East’s sole democracy where women are equal. The press criticizes the government. Human rights organizations can operate freely. Religious freedom is protected for all and minorities do not live in fear. We therefore suggest that you first solve the real problems of the region and then come back and share with us your experience. Have a nice flight.” What an awesome letter that was. I wish I could write with that much sarcasm and fluidity.
Gordon: Was that cool Jon?
Schanzer: It was certainly an interesting approach from the Israelis who typically lose the public relations war. This is a win. A rare one at that. I think the big win here was the fact that very few people got through. It also has to be put into context. Just a few weeks before, there was the Global March on Jerusalem where very few people managed to even approach Israel’s borders. The last Flotilla in 2011 had been stymied in Greece. You get a sense here that the Israelis are finally getting a handle on this delegitimization movement that has been growing worldwide. The only question that I have is whether it is going to stymie these protests permanently or whether these are just fleeting wins.