Monday, January 7, 2019

Netanyahu in Riyadh?

Given President Trump’s last foray into Middle East policy, it is comforting to see National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State take over. Surely, their prominence suggests that Trump erred in promising an early retreat from Syria. It also shows that Trump was persuaded that his was a bad move. Making foreign policy by the seat of your pants, without including the major players, is always going to be a bad idea.

Bolton wanted to make clear to Turkey that the United States was not going to abandon the Kurds. A good step, to say the least.

If Bolton and Pompeo stepped in to contain the damage, what does that tell us about Defense Secretary Mattis? Could he not have been less open about his disagreements? And what were those disagreements, anyway? For now we know that the Mattis-led military has been allowing female marines to train with men in boot camp. Surely, it will make the marines fiercer. And, tell me why it is so important to create situations where men beat up women? If that was the Mattis legacy as Defense Secretary, perhaps it was not all about Syria.

Anyway, in the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been under attack by local prosecutors… because he has, after all, raised Israel’s status and prestige in the world… and we can’t have that. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been under attack for seeming  to have ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. His reform movement seems to be in trouble, especially in the eyes of those who prefer to follow Obama and to side with Iran against the Sunni Arab world and against Israel.  President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi admitted to CBS that Egypt does cooperate with Israel in military matters. And he has been out opening up a large Christian Church in his country… a step in the right direction. 

As for Turkey, Bolton just clipped its wings. But, more importantly, as the New York Times reported today, the oppressive Erdogan regime has provoked a brain drain from Turkey.

To emphasize the importance of the Turkish brain drain, I quote the Times story at some length:

But after a failed 2016 coup, Mr. Erdogan embarked on a sweeping crackdown. Last year, the economy wobbled and the lira plunged soon after he won re-election with even greater powers. As cronyism and authoritarianism seep deeper into his administration, Turks are voting differently — this time with their feet.

They are leaving the country in droves and taking talent and capital with them in a way that indicates a broad and alarming loss of confidence in Mr. Erdogan’s vision, according to government statistics and analysts.

In the last two to three years, not only have students and academics fled the country, but also entrepreneurs, businesspeople, and thousands of wealthy individuals who are selling everything and moving their families and their money abroad.

More than a quarter of a million Turks emigrated in 2017, according to the Turkish Institute of Statistics, an increase of 42 percent over 2016, when nearly 178,000 citizens left the country.

Turkey has seen waves of students and teachers leave before, but this exodus looks like a more permanent reordering of the society and threatens to set Turkey back decades, said Ibrahim Sirkeci, director of transnational studies at Regent’s University in London, and other analysts.

If you are tempted to see Turkey as a rising power, think back to this information.

Anyway, in the midst of all this, Karen Elliott House writes in the Wall Street Journal this morning that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu might just be preparing to visit Saudi Arabia.

To be clear, House is not just any old reporter. She was publisher of the Journal and has extensive contacts in foreign policy circles and in Saudi Arabia. She is not just reporting; she is not just speculating in the dark; she is floating a trial balloon.

Anyway, House reads the situation:

The Trump administration has worked for nearly two years to get Riyadh and Jerusalem openly working together. Crown Prince Mohammed loves risk and is eager to turn the page from the Jamal Khashoggi murder. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Mideast trip this week seems choreographed for a dramatic finale starring the crown prince.

The U.S. stage managers are in place: National security adviser John Bolton landed in Israel Saturday, and Mr. Pompeo arrives Wednesday in Amman, Jordan, the first of eight Arab capitals he’ll visit in as many days. He plans to deliver a major speech in Cairo and to visit Riyadh early next week.

Mr. Pompeo’s trip is intended to underscore that far from fading out of the Middle East, the U.S. is leading a broad coalition against Iran. The linchpins of the effort are Israel and Saudi Arabia, which share a fear of Iranian expansionism and are the closest U.S. allies in the region. They have maintained informal but not-so-secret contacts, sharing intelligence on their common nemesis. Why not make it official?

A Netanyahu-Mohammed meeting would be a capstone of the Trump administration’s effort to isolate and contain Iran. The so-called Arab Street’s indifference to the U.S. Embassy’s move to Jerusalem is said to have given the crown prince the confidence to take his relationship with Israel public at the right time. On a more political level, it surely would divert public and media attention from problems currently besetting each of the three leaders involved.

Of course, the Trump administration has consistently tried to build better relations with Saudi Arabia. The 2017 anti-terrorism summit in Riyadh kicked it off. The crown prince has been developing a close working relationship with Trump advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner. And, as we have reported on this blog, relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel have been improving apace. Also, Netanyahu was recently received with all due honors in the gulf nation of Oman.

As for the Arab Street’s indifference to the Embassy move to Jerusalem, this was surely orchestrated from the top. If the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt had wanted there to be an uprising against it, there would have been an uprising.

Besides, House points out, the repression so often decried by bien pensant American congresspeople and media lights gives MBS a freer hand:

Openly cooperating with Israel without resolving the future of Jerusalem and its Islamic holy sites surely would provoke opposition from religious Saudis, though only sotto voce given the crown prince’s severe repression of domestic opponents. On balance it would appear he has achieved an international success without domestic repercussion.

House explains that a number of signs point in the direction of some kind of reconciliation:

For two years Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has worked to unite Israel and Saudi Arabia in a Mideast peace deal, ideally including full diplomatic relations. It isn’t clear the two countries are ready to go that far, but it does seem likely they are ready to leapfrog the intractable Palestinian issue and publicly cooperate with the U.S. to bring Iran to heel. Tehran’s growing influence in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and its intention to possess missiles that could reach the U.S., raises new alarms that militate in favor of a public Saudi-Israeli embrace.

Crown Prince Mohammed has been dropping hints that a formal rapprochement may be in the offing. On his April visit to the U.S., he publicly said when asked that the Jewish people, like “each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation.” Then he offered an Islamic justification: “Our Prophet Muhammad married a Jewish woman.” (A skeptic might note that before marrying the Jewish widow Safiyyah bint Huyayy, the prophet required her to convert to Islam.)

At a time when the Democratic Party is welcoming anti-Semitic Congresspeople who support Palestinian terrorism, the important powers in the Middle East have been telling Palestinian leaders to get over it. That the message has not yet reached certain new Democratic Congresspeople testifies to their fundamental imbecility.

In any event, the Saudi-Israeli rapprochement has been ongoing for some time now. The ostensible reason is that the nations should ally in the fight against Iran. The less obvious reason is that Israel has much to offer, in terms of technology and industry, while the Palestinians can only offer actions that diminish the reputations of Arab Muslims around the world.

1 comment:

trigger warning said...

No wonder Tlaib is enraged and unhinged. This has been a bad year for the Paleostinians.

"But now the days are short
I'm in the autumn of the year..." ♪♬
--- Ol' Blue Eyes