Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, December 31, 2018

Russia Once Again a Middle East Player

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Russian president Vladimir Putin is a busy man. In the last little while, he has spoken to, or met with, a whole array of Middle East leaders.

Indeed, the road to Moscow is increasingly well-travelled, while the one to Washington is far emptier these days.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken 11 times on the phone with Putin over the past year and only three times with U.S. President Donald Trump, according to a tally of the calls reported on their respective websites. 

While Netanyahu has visited Moscow four times in the past year, he has visited Washington twice since Trump was elected president in 2016.

For Israel, setting ground rules with Moscow over their part in the Syrian civil war is of the utmost importance. The two countries keep in constant touch, lest one mishap gets them embroiled in conflict.

In October, Syria shot down a Russian military plane, but Moscow blamed Israel. The defence ministry said Israeli jets put the Il-20 plane into the path of Syrian air defence systems after failing to give Moscow enough warning of a strike on Syrian targets.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of a country that is a member of NATO, in the past year has spoken 20 times on the phone with Putin and only seven times with Trump.

Erdogan’s decision to purchase Russia’s advanced S-400 missile system, which Moscow says will be delivered next year, is a sign of the times.

Other leaders of countries who have traveled to Moscow this year include Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

He chose Moscow over Washington for his first and so far only official overseas visit – in fact the first ever by a Saudi monarch to Russia.

His crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, now the effective ruler of the kingdom, met with Putin at the recent Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Russia has refrained from criticizing Saudi Arabia or the crown prince over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. The murder has sorely tested the kingdom’s relations with the United States, other Western nations, and Turkey.

The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, flew to Moscow to meet with Putin on the eve of his visit to Washington in April, earning a rebuke from the Trump administration. 

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, one of the seven polities that constitute the United Arab Emirates, declined an invitation to Washington this spring. 

But, though a U.S. ally, he traveled to Moscow in June, his seventh trip in five years, signing a strategic partnership agreement with Putin.

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi in October made his fourth visit to Moscow, compared with one to Washington. He signed a strategic partnership agreement with Putin, marking a shift of a U.S. ally toward Russia.

All of this illustrates the personal rapport Putin is establishing with Middle Eastern leaders.

Russia’s 2015 military intervention in Syria has given Putin perhaps the single biggest boost, as he has managed to ensure the survival of President Bashar al-Assad, who at the time seemed doomed to defeat at the hands of his enemies. 

Lebanese Prime Minster Saad Hariri also favors a greater Russian role and has visited Moscow several times in recent years.

“Russia has managed to create the perception in the Middle East that it is more powerful, more capable and more relevant than the United States,” asserted Riad Kahwaji of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, based in Dubai, another of the United Arab Emirates.

“It’s not how much power you have. It’s how you use it. The United States has all these troops and bases, and Russia has a fraction of that. But Russia uses its power more effectively.”

Monday, December 24, 2018

Israel Turns to Nationalist Leaders Around the World

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

When long-time friends begin to desert you, while your enemies grow stronger, you have little choice, especially if the fate of a country is in your hands, but to make new ones.

Israel was once the darling of Europe’s liberal political regimes, but how long ago that now seems. 

Where to turn? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has found the answer: those right-wing nationalists who, whatever their opinions about Jews per se, see in Israel a kindred spirit: a nationalist state, one that has not fallen into the political trap of worshipping the purveyors of globalist utopias.

Such a politics would very quickly see the country demographically engulfed and militarily defeated by militant neighbours who plot daily plot its destruction.

Right-wing leaders support much of Israel’s current policies. Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania, for example, have blocked a European Union decision meant to condemn the transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem.

Netanyahu saluted Victor Orban as a “true friend of Israel” when the Hungarian prime minister arrived for a visit in July.

Orban proudly calls his government “illiberal” and has exhibited increasing authoritarianism at home. He has cast himself as the champion of a Christian Europe and is at odds with the EU over its policies regarding the migrant crisis.

Orban drew criticism last year for praising Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s World War II-era ruler, who introduced anti-Semitic laws and collaborated with the Nazis.

One of Europe’s most controversial political figures, Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, arrived in Israel for a visit in mid-December; it prompted criticism over his far-right policies and anti-migration views.

Salvini is considered the driving force in Italy’s new populist coalition government and a rising star in the nationalist movements sweeping Europe.

Declaring that he was “proud to be here in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel,” Salvini added that whoever wants peace “must support Israel and protect Israel,” which he called “a fortress of protection for Europe and the Middle East” and a “bulwark of Western rights and values.”

He chastised the EU for its “unbalanced” position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying the organization “condemns Israel every 15 minutes.”

Austria is a touchy case, though. Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl would love to visit Israel, but Israel currently boycotts her because of her affiliation with the Freedom Party, now a coalition partner in Austria’s government, which has been accused of anti-Semitism because of its Nazi roots.

Nonetheless, she has vowed to fight against anti-Zionism and to stand up for the Jewish state in international forums. Israelis are justified in feeling that the EU treats their state unfairly, she said in November, pledging to change that.

Her country, she declared, would take the lead to “inject realism” into the EU’s attitude, arguing that “Israel is often held to a higher standard than other countries.”

Czech President Milos Zeman’s speech to the Israeli Knesset in November, in which he stressed that his country is not only Israel’s best friend in Europe but one of its best friends in the world, underscores a major shift in the attitude of many Jews: they now feel safer in eastern Europe than in the west. 

Like other east European nationalists, Zeman spoke about what he called “the civilization struggle” – clearly, a concern he shares with others in Hungary, Poland, and elsewhere.

Populist leaders from beyond Europe are also made welcome by Netanyahu. In September, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, widely accused of committing human rights abuses, paid a state visit to Israel.

This is a man who has boasted of personally ordering the extra-judicial murders of thousands of suspected criminals, of attacking the country’s media and political institutions, and making outrageous and insulting remarks to all and sundry.

Netanyahu greeted last autumn’s election of Jair Bolsonaro, another controversial hardliner, as the new president of Brazil, hailing his bona fide pro-Israel credentials. Bolsonaro has pledged to move his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“I am certain that your election will lead to a great friendship between our nations and to a strengthening of Israel-Brazil ties,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Bolsonaro during a congratulatory phone call.

“Looking forward to your visit in Israel,” he added, referring to the far-right politician’s promise to come to Israel on a foreign trip as president.

Are the Democrats Becoming the B in BDS?

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

I have joked for some time now that the letter D in BDS stands for the Democratic Party. It’s becoming less of a gag by the day.

In the Nov. 6, 2018 American midterm elections, three Democrats who have nothing positive to say about Israel gained seats in the House of Representatives. As time goes on, they will be joined by many more.

Rashida Tlaib, elected in a Detroit-area Congressional district, is a supporter of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement that targets Israel, as is Ilhan Omar, who won a Minneapolis seat. She has called Israel an “evil” country and an “apartheid regime.”

“I personally support the BDS movement” because of “issues like the racism and the international human rights violations by Israel right now,” said Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman to be elected to Congress.

BDS seeks the end of Israeli occupation of “all Arab lands,” the full equality of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and “the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN General Assembly Resolution 194,” passed on Dec. 11, 1948. If implemented, it would allow millions of Palestinians to “return” to what is now Israel, and would effectively destroy the Jewish state.

Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center responded that if she chooses to promote such campaigns, “she puts herself in the camp of those that seek the Jewish state’s demise.”

Tlaib has even deemed U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, a rising Democratic star, guilty of racism for meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Tlaib announced in December that she plans to lead a trip of incoming lawmakers to the West Bank.

It will focus on issues like Israel’s detention of Palestinian children, education, access to clean water and poverty -- and perhaps a visit to the northern West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Foqa, where her grandmother lives.

It is not surprising, either, that Omar supports the movement. In a statement to the website Muslim Girl, someone on Omar’s staff explained that “Ilhan believes in and supports the BDS movement and has fought to make sure people’s right to support it isn’t criminalized. She does however, have reservations on the effectiveness of the movement in accomplishing a lasting solution.”

In fact Omar misled Jewish voters in her district during the campaign, obfuscating about her position.

Before her victory she had called BDS “counteractive” and maintained that it prevents dialogue. Like many other Democrats, she noted her opposition to anti-BDS legislation but framed it as a free-speech issue.

Somali-born Omar has faced controversy and accusations of anti-Semitism for spreading conspiracy theories about the State of Israel and Zionists. In 2012 she tweeted: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a socialist who now represents a New York district, has said she wants to end the “occupation of Palestine.” When pressed on what exactly she meant by that, she admitted that she was “not the expert on geopolitics on this issue.”

She described Israel’s recent killing of Hamas rioters and saboteurs storming the Gaza border “a massacre” and called it “a crisis of humanitarian conditions.”

Yet Democrats, who claim to hear anti-Semitism dog whistles from every porch in red America, rarely see a problem with this kind of rhetoric.

Maybe it’s because the leftists aren’t on the Democrats’ fringe any longer. And so the campaign to boycott Israel has been gaining prominence.

Sooner, rather than later, these people will replace aging party leaders like Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer or Benjamin Cardin.

Many people on the left twist themselves into pretzels when they insist that their “anti-Zionism” is not anti-Semitism. See, for instance, the article by Michelle Goldberg in the Dec. 8 New York Times.

Yet they will at the same time accuse those on the right of being anti-Semitic when left-wing political activist George Soros is described – correctly -- as a “globalist,” even when he is not identified as being Jewish. Double standards, anyone?

Monday, December 17, 2018

Sure Bet on New Israel-Lebanon War

By Henry Srebrnik, [Saint John, NB] Telegraph-Journal

My wife and I have only been to Las Vegas once, and even there we didn’t gamble. So I’m no expert on betting. But I’m reasonably confident bookies don’t take wagers on sure things, like the winners of WWE wrestling matches where the results are already decided.

In the world of international relations, there are also conflicts so likely to erupt there is basically nothing for soothsaying political scientists to argue about. For instance, there would be very short odds on the likelihood of a war between Israel and the Hezbollah-run state in Lebanon. Because that’s a certainty.

Israel fought a punishing battle against Hezbollah in 2006, but the group has since re-armed. Hezbollah is believed to have an arsenal of between 100,000 and 150,000 rockets and missiles, though the vast majority are thought to lack precision technology.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 of August 11, 2006 -- which ended the war-- hoped that the Lebanese government would reassert its authority throughout the country, including the disarmament of all Lebanese armed groups apart from the Lebanese army and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), from operating in southern Lebanon.

Nothing of the sort happened. In fact, in an operation dubbed Operation Northern Shield, Israel has now begun destroying Hezbollah attack tunnels the group has dug from its side of the Lebanese-Israeli border into northern Galilee in preparation for the next confrontation.

“But the war itself has not been won,” observes Ben Caspit, a writer for the Middle East news site Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse, in a Dec. 5 column.

“The decisive rounds are still ahead of us and they are not connected to tunnels but to the precision missile project and the direct flights that have begun to land in Beirut’s international airport, straight from the Revolutionary Guard Corps of Tehran.” They “do not bode well for Israel’s future.”

Iran has delivered advanced GPS components to Hezbollah which will allow the group to make rockets into precision guided-missiles.

The American government justifies its policy in Lebanon, including support for its army, with nonsense about strengthening Lebanese “state institutions,” but this is farcical. To all intents and purposes, Hezbollah calls the shots – literally – in this failed state and operates with the tacit support of the Lebanese army and government.

Neither Lebanon’s military nor UNIFIL do anything to stop them -- they don’t even control the country’s main airport. They will never take action to prevent Hezbollah’s arms smuggling, because the Lebanese government doesn’t ask them to. It is itself a hostage.

Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in a Dec. 13 column published on the American Jewish online magazine Tablet, put it well. “The paradox of current U.S. policy of ‘preserving the stability’ of a country whose politics and armed forces are directly controlled by an Iranian terror group has created an open political farce.”

It’s a political farce that is propelling Israel and Lebanon toward another war, and soon. You can take that bet to the bank.