Shalom!

Welcome to my blog.

I am an independent Middle East Strategic Intelligence Analyst, and lecturer specializing in the current affairs of the Arab and Muslim world and their impact on Israel and the region.

I am the Fellow of Intelligence and Middle East Affairs for the Eisenhower Institute Eisenhower Institute, where among other responsibilities I leads a year-long program entitled “Inside the Middle East – Intelligence Perspectives,” designed to ensure that the next generation to be in positions of influence in the United States will have a more intimate understanding of the Middle East and will apply methods of critical thinking regarding Middle East Affairs in a way that will result in a more accurate reading the Middle East reality and which will better serve the West’s interest.

My blog offers you insight into my analysis of what goes on in our region and its impact here and globally.

As a former Senior Israeli Official on Arab Affairs I spent most of my intelligence career in Arab speaking areas. My work today, including all the articles I publish, is based on a wide variety of Arabic sources which you will see referenced throughout my articles. My blog, like my briefings and tours do not tell you what you can read in the news yourself – subscribe to my blog to be sure to get the story behind the story.

I hope you will find my analysis and commentary thought-provoking. I want your feedback – respond by commenting or email me directly.

Please be in touch if you would like to consider booking me for an event in Israel or anywhere in the world.

And next time you’re in Israel be sure and be in touch with me as you’re planning so you can include an Intelligence Briefing or an Intelligence Tour while you’re on the ground in Israel.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Please feel free to email me at avi.yanshuf@gmail.com.

Avi


Crisis in Yemen: Significant Milestone

March 30, 2015 

Crisis in Yemen: Significant Milestone

by Avi Melamed

 

In October 2014 I published an article entitled “Sixty Six Egyptian Fisherman, Yemen, and Instability in The Middle East” in which I said:

The events in the fall of 2014 would result in increasing instability in the Middle East

The developments in Yemen at that time would have serious regional ramifications

Saudi Arabia and Egypt would not tolerate the deteriorating situation in Yemen threatening their strategic interests

My predictions have been fully realized:

On March 25th, a military coalition of the Arab Gulf states (except for Oman) plus Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan, and one non-Arab state (Pakistan), led by Saudi Arabia, launched aerial attacks on Houthi Shiite tribe targets in Yemen. Reportedly, The Saudi military is preparing to operate forcefully on the ground, while Egyptian battle ships have taken positions in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

The dramatic developments in Yemen should viewed within the following context:

Yemen has become the playground for foreign factors – Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and others

Yemen has become yet another stage for the expanding Iranian influence in the region, thus fueling growing Arab anxiety. (I wrote about the Arab anxiety in the above-mentioned article, as well as in my most recent article, entitled Pax Amer-Iran published only a few days ago).

Inner Yemeni politics; Yemen is – to put it simply – a collapsing state. Its history throughout the second part of the 20th Century is mostly a violent one. It has become the stage for almost every possible political violence: Sunni tribes vs. Houthi Shiite tribes; Marxists vs. Republicans; Government vs. Militant Islamic groups, etc.

Under these conditions, it is no wonder that Yemen has also become a haven for Militant Islamic groups – and mostly Al-Qaeda – who controls the district of Shabwah in South Yemen.

The result is a state that has simply crumbled under its own never ending violence, domestic and regional power struggles, as well as corruption.

The Arab world is chaotic in large parts – and Yemen is the quintessential example of that chaos.

The rapid occupation of twelve, out of twenty-two, Yemenite Districts by the Houthi Militia (which is estimated at 20 – 30,000 militants) in the last couple of months, has to do primarily with the inner Yemeni politics.

The major reason for the rapid Houthi Military achievements is the silent consent of the Yemenite Military. Yemen has a considerable army, yet in most cases, the army remained in its bases, watching indifferently as the Houthi occupied more and more districts. One reason for that is the fact that the Yemenite army is mostly loyal to Yemen’s former President, Ali Abdullah Saleh who is trying to come back to power through building an alliance with the Houthis. The other reason is that Saleh and the Houthi pay the salaries of the Yemenite soldiers, thus securing their passive position.

The interesting fact is that not so long ago, Saleh was a close ally of none other than the Saudis. In fact, after being badly injured in a failed assassination plot, Saleh received medical treatment in both Saudi Arabia as well as in the USA. Today Saleh is allied with the Houthi tribe, a local Yemenite factor which is backed by Iran, and this jeopardizes the Saudi strategic interests.

If you are feeling dizzy at this point, here is another fact that will probably put you over the edge. Saleh – like the Houthi – is a Shiite. That fact did not prevent him from conducting a fierce military campaign against the Houthi during the time he was the President of Yemen. This is a typical Middle East politics; yesterday’s enemy is today’s ally.

And there is of course the United States perspective.

In my most recent article Pax Amer-Iran published only few days ago, I predicted that the United States policy may results in increasing instability in the Middle East. The dramatic developments in Yemen not only support my analysis; they also reinforce the serious questions I posed in that article regarding the concept and mindset that guides US policy towards the Middle East and the possible – and deeply concerning – ramifications.

The US administration officially expresses that is “understands” the Arab coalition operations in Yemen. However, it is more of a reluctant “understanding”; it is quite clear that the US prefers dialogue and agreements. The problem is that all attempts to reach agreements with the Houthi through dialogue failed thus far. The Arab Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia have tried to mediate a political compromise – in vain.

The US policy towards the crisis in Yemen begs – and not for the first time – the question: Does the United States administration fully understand what is going on in the region and is it aware of the ramifications of its policy. The USA policy regarding the crisis in Yemen is quite puzzling:

Why does the US seem to ignore the fact that attempts to solve the crisis diplomatically failed – mostly because the Houthi simply demanded that the agreement would be on their terms?

Did the US administration think that Saudi Arabia or Egypt would sit back and quietly watch Iran expand its influence to yet another Arab state and gain control over one of the most crucial sea passages in the world?

Did the US administration assume that Saudi Arabia would watch quietly as Iran deploys missiles and rockets in Yemen, in Saudi Arabia’s backyard, and gain control over the Bab el-Mandeb Strait?

Was there not one single advisor within the US administration that understood that the deteriorating situation in Yemen would likely result is a serious regional crisis, deepening the chaos and violence that the Middle East is already experiencing?

These questions are deeply disturbing given the fact that the script regarding the crisis in Yemen was clearly written on the wall. Twenty-year old college students of mine from Gettysburg College in my program at the Eisenhower Institute “Inside the Middle East – Intelligence Perspectives” issued an Intelligence Report in October 2014, in which they accurately predicted the growing potential for dangerous instability in Yemen.

Is it possible that the United States Intelligence Agencies, with an annual budget of 70 billion dollars and thousands of brilliant minds failed to predict that scenario? It is simply inconceivable.

The only explanation left then is that the current policy of the United States towards the Middle East is guided by some big plan – perhaps, as I wrote in my article “Pax Amer-Iran” – by the concept of reaching out to Iran at the expense of the Arab-Sunni world. Analyzing the policy of the USA in the Middle East today – and Yemen is one example – one can seriously argue that the US administration’s guiding concept and policy has a serious weakness; it seems more and more as if it does not consider reality.

In the same article, I also wrote “…It is hard to imagine that Arabs and Sunnis will do nothing to push back the Iranian occupation of Arab soil.” Indeed, the current Arab coalition move in Yemen proves my prediction was accurate. As could be expected, almost all Arab regimes (except for Oman) participate in the coalition, alongside Egypt, Sudan and Pakistan. The involvement of Pakistan – the only non-Arab factor in the coalition – is significant given the fact Pakistan is the only Muslim state that possesses military nuclear capacities. In that context one should note that Turkey, a major Sunni state, is not operating within the coalition, though the Turkish President made very clear demands from Iran to withdraw immediately from Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and to stop its attempts to expand in the region.

The Arab Coalition operation aims to block the Iranian influence in Yemen. The operation does not aim neither to eliminate the Houthi, nor to deprive them of political power. It aims to bring the sides to the table and to portray clear red lines to all participants. Indeed, Saleh already called for the resumption of the diplomatic process. His call – as of now – met a cold Saudi reply; the Saudi’s discouraging reply to Saleh’s initiative signals that the Saudis will be the ones to set the terms and time for the resumption of the diplomatic process. The Arab Coalition prefers to avoid a ground operation and hopes that the aerial raids on Houthi targets will be sufficient to set the right conditions for the resumption of the diplomatic track.

The immediate question is what will be the Iranian counter-move?

Will Iran escalate the military conflict in Yemen or will Iran blink and withdraw?

The answer has to do mostly (though not only) with the aftermath of the talks regarding Iran’s nuclear program. The Iranian regime is stretched beyond its capacities. Its imperialistic aspirations place a growing – almost unbearable burden – on the crumbling Iranian economy. If International sanctions on Iran are not lifted, and oil prices continue to drop, the Iranian regime will not be able to continue its expansion in the Middle East as it wishes. They will have to compromise. Since Iraq and Syria are of a greater importance to the Iranian regime, it is more likely they will make the compromise in Yemen.

Many Arab commentators welcome very enthusiastically the Arab Coalition operation; they describe it as a triumph of the Arab world. Obviously, it is premature to estimate the ramifications of the recent Arab coalition operation in Yemen. However, the excitement of Arab columnists is understood. In the shadow of the Iranian momentum at the expense of Arab states, and while Arab leaders seem to be powerless to confront the Iranian threat, in addition to being unable to lead the Arab world through the deep crisis in Arab societies, sentiments of failure, humiliation and lack of hope become very common in the Arab world. Moreover, the ability of Arab leadership to unite and to operate decisively to ensure Arab interests is not a common scene in the Middle East. The Arab League, for example, is viewed by Arabs as incompetent, corrupt, and a useless body – and to a large degree, that uncomplimentary outlook was accurate.

The operation in Yemen brings back pride and hope for Arabs. In the Middle East mindset, and mostly these very days, pride is a very powerful factor. The Arabs send a clear message to Iran: We are determined to gain back control and to block you. The Arab Coalition operation may indicate the beginning of an interesting change in the balance of power in the Middle East; it may signal the beginning of an Arab Sunni momentum. Such a momentum could affect other arenas in the Middle East like Iraq, Lebanon and Syria where Iranian-Arab confrontations are taking place openly.

One thing is clear: in the complex picture of power struggles and balance of power in the Middle East, the Arab Coalition military operation in Yemen is a meaningful and significant milestone.

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Avi Melamed

Bio

Former Israeli Senior Official on Arab Affairs and former Intelligence Official and educator, Avi Melamed today is an Independent Middle East Strategic Intelligence Analyst, regional expert and lecturer specializing in the current affairs of the Arab and Muslim world and their impact on Israel and the region. He has a proven record of foreseeing the evolution of events in the Middle East and their impact on a local and regional level.

His expertise includes: The Arab awakening; Arab perspectives on Israel; Emerging challenges and opportunities in the Middle East; Evolving forces in the region and their current and future impact on Israel’s strategic environment, etc.

Avi is the Fellow of Intelligence and Middle East Affairs for the Eisenhower Institute of Gettysburg College with offices located in Washington, D.C. and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where among other responsibilities he leads a year-long program entitled “Inside the Middle East – Intelligence Perspectives,” designed to ensure that the next generation to be in positions of influence in the United States will have a more intimate understanding of the Middle East and will apply methods of critical thinking regarding Middle East Affairs in a way that will result in a more accurate reading the Middle East reality and which will better serve the West’s interest.

Avi is also developing a high school program to increase Media Literacy and Critical Thinking, this will be piloted to seniors and may be expanded to other grades.

His knowledge and wide and varied experience offer a behind the scenes insider’s view of the constantly-changing Middle East landscape and insight into future regional implications.

His outstanding analytical abilities, unique understanding of the Arab world and the Arabic language, decades of experience working in Arab speaking areas throughout the region, direct access to sources, and networks throughout the Arab world resources allows him to keep his finger on the pulse on the Arab world and has positioned him as one of the most well-rounded and insightful analysts in his field.

In his work as an analyst Avi provides intelligence analysis, briefings and tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policy makers, international media outlets as well as a wide variety of organizations and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East affairs. His tours and briefings, based on Arab sources, decades of field experience, policy design and intimate connections throughout the Arab world, offer an insider’s view of the constantly-changing Middle East landscape and future regional implications.

In the public sector, Avi held various government and Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions. Fluent in Arabic and Israeli- Jew with a unique understanding of Arab society and culture, Avi spent over twenty years living in Arab cities and communities throughout the region, often in high-risk positions at sensitive times. During the first Intifada he was appointed the youngest-ever Deputy Advisor on Arab affairs to the Mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek and later he served in the Ehud Olmert administration as Senior Advisor. He was instrumental in developing Israeli policy in and around Jerusalem, and represented the city in local and international forums. He held various Intelligence and Counterterrorism field positions in delicate areas on behalf of the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli government, and Israeli security and intelligence services.

He is also the founder and creator of Feenjan – Israel speaks Arabic, a non-profit initiative which presents contemporary Israeli society and culture to the Arab world in Arabic, and serves as an online platform for Israelis and Arabs to discover and discuss issues of common interest.

In the private sector Avi facilitates relationships between Israeli and international firms and potential partners in the Arab world.

Through all of Avi’s efforts, as a speaker, an analyst, a writer, and an entrepreneur, he is a bridge builder. He dedicates himself to enhancing the Arabic, English and Hebrew speaking audience’s comprehensive understanding of the Middle East and of each other.

Avi is currently writing a book which will be released in the fall of 2015 that will be a resource for policy makers around the world when it comes to Middle East Affairs and will be a GPS to help everyone navigate the dramatically changing Middle East. Avi has authored two books, Separate and Unequal – Israel’s rule in East Jerusalem, published by Harvard University Press and Ubrusi, A Novel.

He is a frequent guest on English and Arabic networks including Al Jazeera and BBC Arabic, his articles are translated into multiple languages and are available on international news websites.

Avi has degrees from The Carmel Institute for Military Research, George Mason University, and The Hebrew University.

Avi is a frequent contributor in Arabic, Hebrew and English to many news outlets including Al-Arrabiya, Al-Jazeera, BBC, CBN, the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, etc.

He provides briefings to many local and international organizations including AIPAC; American Jewish Committee; American Jewish Congress; Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School; Birthright; Foreign Diplomats and Embassies; Friends of the IDF; Georgetown University; Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation; Herzeliya Interdisciplinary Center; Israel & Co; Israel Border Police Senior Command; Israel Defense Forces; Israel Ministry of Defense; Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Israel Police; Israel Prison Authority; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Jewish Community Relations Council; Jerusalem Foundation; Jewish Federations of North America; Jewish National Fund; Hillel; J-Street; Keren Hayesod; Peres Center for Peace; Princeton University; The Israel Project; Tufts University; University of California, Berkeley; the United States Army; World Bank; World Presidents Organization, Young Presidents Organization, etc.

Contact Information:            Israel Cell                    +972-54-207-6422

US Land Line              (202) 787-3919

Email:                          avi.yanshuf@gmail.com

Web                             https://avimelamed.wordpress.com/


Pax Amer-Iran

March 20, 2015

Pax Amer – Iran

by Avi Melamed

At the peak of its power and influence, the United States’ foreign policy was described as Pax Americana. That description was inspired by the term Pax Romana –”The Roman Peace” – the term that describes the period of time between 27 BC and 180 AD known as the “Golden Era” of the Great Roman Empire, a period characterized by prosperity and stability throughout the wide territory of the Roman Empire.

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On June 4, 2009 the President of the United States, Barack Obama, delivered a speech at the University of Cairo entitled “A NEW BEGINNING” in which he called for the opening of a new page in the relations of the West with the Muslim world. Obama’s speech created expectations for a substantive change that would have a positive impact on the Middle East.

Five years after that speech, the picture is completely different.

The prevalent tone among the dominant leaders in the Arab world, as well as among leaders and influentials that shape public opinion in the Arab world, is one of disappointment, growing criticism and anger which is sometimes expressed in a manner that violates the rules of protocol regarding diplomatic etiquette – and even that of Arab etiquette – regarding the policies of President Barack Obama. In their eyes, Obama’s policies appear to be hesitant, inconsistent, directionless and clumsy, stemming from a total lack of understanding on the part of decision makers and those who influence and shape policy in the United States regarding the processes and trends that are taking place in the Middle East, as well as the power bases involved.

However, the criticism in the Arab world with regard to the United States policies in the Middle East does not end there.

There are those in the Arab world who think that the policy of the United States in the Middle East in the second decade of the 21st century does not reflect confusion, bewilderment or a lack of direction – but rather actually reflects a calculated, strategic change of direction of the United States government, the essence of which is a hand extended in friendship to the Iranian regime in place of the Sunni Arab world.

Looking these very days at the dramatic events in the Middle East, one cannot rule out these Arab sentiments. In fact, these very days we are witnessing an earthquake of historical scale in the Middle East as Iran is expanding its influence throughout the region.

Four Arab states – Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen are today under direct and indirect growing Iranian influence; the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, as well as Iranian backed Shiite Militias – Afghan Shiite Militias, Hezbollah, and Iraqi Shiite Militias, are fighting in Iraq and Syria; while in Yemen, the Iranian backed Shiite Houthi tribe occupies northern and central Yemen – including its capital, Sana’a.

The shocked Arab world watches as their worst nightmare materializes right in front of their eyes. Why is this nightmare for the Arab world?

The two axes of an historic struggle have played – and continue to play – a central role in the history and the reality of the Middle East:

One axis is the struggle between Sunnis and Shiites in Islam. Most Muslims are Sunnis. A minority of them, about 20%, are Shiites. The word shi’a in Arabic is related to the term Shi’at Ali – “The Ali Faction.” Ali was the fourth Caliph (ruler) of the Islamic Caliphates. He was the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, the founder of Islam. Ali was murdered in the year 661 CE, and after his eldest son, Hasan, declined to rule, his younger son, Al-Hussein, demanded the throne. The Caliph at that time, Yazid ibn Muawiyah ibn Sufyan, was not pleased with Al-Hussein’s demand. The struggle for control soon became violent, and in the year 680 CE, Al-Hussein, his family and his supporters were killed in a battle against Yazid’s army in the Karbala region (the Iraq of today). Al-Hussein ibn Ali became a symbol of tortured sainthood within Shi’a and he is referred to as “the Master Martyr” by Shiites.

The slaughter at Karbala is the cornerstone of the Shi’a. Since then, Shiites commemorate the day of Al-Hussein’s murder every year. On that day they curse Yazid ibn Muawiyah, shave their heads and beat themselves with swords, knives and chains until they bleed in memory of Al-Hussein’s sufferings, in a ceremony called Ta’zieh (consolations).

The struggle between Sunni Islam and Shiite Islam was one of the key factors that shaped regional history. An abyss of hostility, differing ideological and theological opinions, political clashes and mutual violence has divided Sunni and Shiite Islam for more than 1300 years.

An additional axis which has played a role in the shaping of the region was the rivalry between two large regional civilizations: the Arab civilization of the Arabian Peninsula on one hand, and the Persian civilization on the other. Hundreds of years of political, military and cultural rivalry have characterized the relations between these two civilizations. At a certain point, the Persian civilization converted to Islam and adopted the Shi’a faith.

In 2015 it seems as if the wheels of history turn. As Iran moves full steam ahead and occupies Arab states either directly, or indirectly – through its proxies – Iranian senior officials today are openly talking about the return of the Persian Empire. Recently, a senior Iranian official announced that Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, is the capital of the Persian Empire. Another Iranian official announced that Syria is the 35th district of the Iranian Empire.

One should remember that both Damascus and Baghdad are not only Arab State capitals; they were the center of the two biggest Arab Sunni dynasties that ruled the Muslim Caliphate from 661 – 1250, and these dynasties were responsible for the creation of the Sunni – Arab domination over the Shiites and the Persian civilization. Hence, one can understand why the Arab world is traumatized by the current Iranian momentum.

Arab analysts are convinced that the Iranian momentum is taking place not only with the United States of America’s silent consent; they believe it is actually a joint US-Iran strategy aimed at making Iran the dominant super power in the Middle East over the Arab Sunni world.

As a fact, the Iranian regime’s current achievements are taking place right under the nose, and directly in front of the eyes, of the current US administration.

To say it simply: Arabs are convinced that the current United States administration is throwing the Arab world under the bus.

There are many indicators to support that argument:

The first indicator is of course the discourse characterizing the US-Iranian talks regarding the Iranian nuclear program. It is quite clear that the United States administration is determined to cut a deal – some argue, that they are willing to do so at almost any cost.

A second indicator is the fact that the United States seems to accept – almost in an indifferent way – the fact that Iranian military forces openly and directly operate in Syria and Iraq, and that the Iranian backed Houthi Shiite tribe occupies the northern and central part of Yemen.

A third indicator is the fact that in the Worldwide Threats Assessment of the US Intelligence Community that James R. Clapper, the United States Director of National Intelligence, presented to the Congressional Intelligence Committee on February 26, 2015, Iran and Hezbollah were not mentioned at all in the context of terror groups. Only a year ago, in the 2014 report, here is what the US Intelligence assessment on that matter was:

“In 2013, Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism worldwide remained undiminished through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), its Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and Tehran’s ally Hezbollah, which remained a significant threat to the stability of Lebanon and the broader region. The U.S. government continued efforts to counter Iranian and proxy support for terrorist operations via sanctions and other legal tools. The United States also welcomed the EU’s July 2013 designation of Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization“.

Thus, it is quite clear that the US administration is making a dramatic shift in the Middle East.

The US views Iran as a partner – perhaps a major partner.

What are the reasons for this shift?

The common arguments Arab analysts make to explain the US’s dramatic shift towards Iran are:

US policy reflects the American view that the disintegrating Arab societies are a limping horse. It’s time to choose a new one – Iran.

The US administration believes that Iran can generate and secure stability in the troubled Middle East, and can be useful in successfully fighting Militant Islam groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other Sunni Militant groups.

The US–Iranian alliance is part of an orchestrated deal aimed to ensure the interest of four partners: the US, Iran, Turkey and Israel – at the expense of the crumbling Arab states and societies.

The US administration came to terms with the idea of Iranian nuclear weapons and subject to that view embraces a policy of containment – and they are not willing to confront Iran.

Iran’s markets are desirable targets for US and Western companies. Signing a deal with Iran and lifting the sanctions will open the Iranian market for US companies to make big money.

And, finally, there is another argument:

Arabs are more and more convinced that it is a cynical US policy aimed not to stabilize the Middle East, but rather to do just the opposite. It is a policy whose goal is the deliberate destruction of the Arab world by encouraging more instability in the Arab societies. That way – according to that particular Arab mindset – the US will have the legitimacy to strengthen its relations with Iran under the excuse of “fighting together against militant Islamic factors who generate instability.”

What are the ramifications of the USA’s shift?

It is hard to imagine that Arabs and Sunnis will do nothing to push back the Iranian occupation of Arab soil. Iran’s actions will likely result in a Sunni counter reaction.

There are initial signs of the formation of a Sunni coalition led by Turkey and Saudi Arabia to block the Iranian momentum. The fact that these two states – who have a long and bitter history of rivalry and animosity – are willing to cooperate indicates that their top agenda item is one thing and only one thing: to confront the Iranian threat – by all means.

The struggle between the axes of the Sunni states and the Iranian Mullah Regime is creating a Sunni-Shiite “mutual stranglehold” is manifested by endless rounds of violent clashes between Sunnis and Shiites in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. And Lebanon is slipping further into chaos as an outcome of the Sunni –Shiite war in Syria.

We can see the actual results of that mutual stranglehold playing out right now:

In Syria more than 215,000 Syrians have been killed and millions have become refugees.

In Iraq dozen of thousands of people have been killed in the clashes between Sunnis and Shiites.

In the last couple of days alone, reportedly 4,000 Iraqi Shiites militants were killed in the fierce battles against ISIS in the city of Tikrit in Iraq – numbers of Sunni Iraqi casualties are uncorroborated.

Thousands have been killed in Yemen – and the war in Yemen seems to be expanding.

And speaking of Yemen, the most recent example of this mutual stranglehold is the attack on the Shiite Mosques in Sana’a on Friday, March 20th, killing over 140 Shi’ites. The Sunni Militant group, ISIS, claimed responsibility for this attack.

The flames of the Sunni- Shiite conflict expand and threaten to drag the region into total chaos.

Another immediate clear ramification of the US policy is already taking place right now:

Saudi Arabia is sending very clear hints that it will not sit by quietly and watch Iran arm itself with nuclear weapons.

The Saudi King recently met with all the senior political and military leaders of Pakistan, the only Muslim state that possesses nuclear weapons.

Saudi long range missiles were recently displayed in a military parade.

The Saudis recently signed a contract with South Korea to establish a nuclear program for civilian purposes in Saudi Arabia – which includes the building of two nuclear reactors and the qualification of Saudi physicists.

The Middle East is on the verge of a nuclear arms race.

Another very likely ramification is that Sunni Militant Islamist groups (ISIS, Al-Qaeda, etc.) who loathe the Shiites will get stronger because they will recruit more and more Sunnis to confront the Iranian-Shiite occupation of the Sunni Arab states.

In that context, the recent announcement of US Secretary of State, John Kerry that the USA should negotiate with Syrian President Assad regarding the future of Syria will very likely play straight to the hands of the Sunni Militant Islamic groups. The Syrians who lost everything in the brutal war imposed on them by Assad and Iran are not looking to dialogue with the brutal dictatorship; they are looking for one thing only – to take their revenge. That road leads them directly to ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other Sunni Militant Islam groups.

Another possible ramification – no less disturbing – is in the Israeli context.

As of now, thousands of Shiite militants including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces, militants of Hezbollah from Lebanon, Afghan Shiite militants, Iraqi Shiite militants and others – under the direct command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers are fighting against Syrian rebels on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, a few miles away from the Israeli side of The Golan Heights. A US-Iranian deal that will leave Assad (or any other Syrian figure who will obviously be an Iranian lackey) in power, together with an Iranian nuclear capacity, will enable Iran to create a new stage of instability – the Golan Heights. The Iranian regime does not conceal its desire to generate a new arena of confrontation against Israel in the Golan Heights. It will probably be done under the excuse of “fighting the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights” – that model has been very successfully deployed by Iran; in the name of “resistance” and “ending the Israeli Occupation,” Iran successfully created and nurtured two arenas around Israel which produce constant violence and instability. One is in Lebanon and the other is in the Gaza Strip. (I have written many articles on that issue, see for example: “Is War in the Middle East Inevitable?” (February 2012).

Today, on top of the aerial corridor it uses to send weapons and ammunition to Syria, Iran can create and deploy a land corridor stretching strait from Iraq to Syria. Under an Iranian nuclear umbrella, Iranian conveys of missiles and rockets will freely make their way from Iraq to the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, adding to the hundreds of thousands of Iranian rockets and missiles that are already deployed in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, aimed at Israel. Thus, Iran will almost complete the construction of a noose around Israel’s neck; Israel will face an existential threat – and we haven’t even mentioned the Iranian nuclear capacity yet. I find it hard to believe that any Israeli government will sit quietly and watch that scenario evolve.

A reminder – in January 2015, according to foreign reports, Hezbollah senior militants and an Iranian Revolutionary Guard General (together perhaps with other Iranian officers) were killed in an Israeli attack near the Israeli-Syrian cease-fire line in the Golan Heights. In my article A Significant Message (January 2015) I estimated that the attack, attributed to Israel, was an Israeli signal that it will not allow Iran to open a new front on Israel from the Golan Heights.

Thus, from almost every possible angle – ironically and very disturbingly – the American administration’s policy today might very well be extremely counterproductive resulting in increasing instability, encompassed by a terrifying increase of bloodshed as well as a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Is the United States administration aware of this?

Does the United States fully calculate the ramifications of its policy?

Is it possible that the United States administration is totally oblivious to these very possible ramifications?

I must admit that I – like many other analysts – find the United States policy puzzling. Time and time again US officials send out confusing, contradicting messages:

While senior US officials say that the “USA has no clear information regarding the Iranian support to the Houthi tribes in Yemen,” the US Secretary of State openly declares that the USA is aware of Iranian support for the Houthi .

While the US Secretary of State declares that the United States should negotiate with Assad, a State Department Spokesperson declares that Assad is totally not a counter part to dialogue with.

The US Secretary of State announces that Iran is operating in Iraq, and on another occasion he says that the United States is disturbed with the Iranian presence in Iraq.

The President of the United States declares he will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon, yet it is clear that he is determined, some argue that he is not only determined – but he is eager, to sign a deal with Iran; a deal which at best slows down Iran’s race towards nuclear weapons.

Obviously no one has a crystal ball. Yet, we may ask history to come to our aid here. In 1979 the Mullah regime came to power in Iran. It is argued that the appeasement approach of the US President at that time, Jimmy Carter, towards the Iranian Mullah Regime was based upon the hope that the regime will become cooperative and will play a positive, stabilizing role. Today we have the perspective to say that that hope – if it existed – proven to be a bad gamble.

A generation later, the Iranian Mullah Regime can proudly exhibit its achievements thus far:

It has brutally imposed its dictatorship over the Iranian people.

It gladly and cynically sacrifices Israelis, Palestinians, Syrian, Lebanese, Iraqis and others on the altar of its interests.

It is responsible for the massive destruction and devastation in the Gaza strip, Lebanon and Syria – and to a lesser extent Israeli cities (thanks to the successful performances of the Israeli Iron Dome interceptive rocket system).

The Iranian regime is now controlling / influencing significant parts of the Arab world, thus marking an historical triumphant milestone in its rivalry against its bitter loathed enemies – the Arabs and Sunnis.

And on top of that, the Iranian regime is making its way steady toward nuclear military capacity.

As a fact, the Iranian regime has for the last generation been the most destabilizing factor in the Middle East. The important thing to understand in that context is that for the Iranian Regime constant instability is the preferred situation – for both ideological and operational reasons. 

It is argued that President Obama’s policy towards the Iranian regime is also motivated by a similar hope that guided the Carter administration in 1979. Given the gloomy outcomes of Carter’s policy in the context of the Iranian Regime, one should seriously question whether the Iranian regime – encouraged by its achievements on the ground and heading towards nuclear military capacity, while its financial resources are again restored once the sanctions are lifted – will be friendly and cooperative and will play a positive, stabilizing role. The risk of a second bad US gamble is quite high – and accordingly is the price involved.

One cannot overlook the Irony. It seems as if one of the most anti-democratic regimes in the world, who despises every single value that Democracy stands for, who openly despises the USA and describe it as “The Big Satan,” marks its biggest achievements during the shifts of US Democratic presidents.

An Arab senior journalist, Tariq Humeid recently wrote in his article “America and the Gulf Area – who secures who?” (Published in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, March 7 2015) the following words: “…One thing is clear: the US President is either looking for personal glory or more likely is totally oblivious to what he is doing. The fact is that a bad deal with Iran is a disaster…Obama is leading the Middle East to a catastrophe“.

Mr. Humid is not the only one making that gloomy prediction. Many share his outlook.

In a counter-balance to criticism of the Obama administration in the Arab world, it is important to emphasize three things:

First, in a way that is practically unavoidable, United States policy in the Middle East – on almost every subject – has always been subject to sharp criticism from various entities in the Arab world. It should be enough to give the example of the anger and the criticism in the Arab world towards the United States because of its support for Israel.

Second, the Middle East is an extremely complex system, full of challenges, problems and sources of power with differing and often clashing interests. Consolidating a policy with regard to a system so complex is not a simple task, and it is not possible to design a uniform policy that will be appropriate for every situation, or in a way that will prove satisfactory to all those involved. That is even truer in the face of the enormous shake-up that has overtaken the Middle East in the second decade of the 21st century.

Third, the according of appreciation to a policy and its results is both subjective and based on interpretation of the observer’s point of view. So, for example, the criticism in the Arab world of the United States’ unwillingness to intervene militarily in the war in Syria, does not necessarily attest to the fact that United States policy with regard to the issue is misguided. There are those who will argue, and with a measure of justice that cannot be dismissed, that, in the light of American interests, this policy is correct.

As I said, no one has a crystal ball. However I think that at this point two things can be said quite decisively.

First, the gloomy scenarios I portrayed here are definitely not science fiction. They should be considered and understood with the utmost seriousness and concern.

Second, five years after his speech in Cairo, President Obama can say that he did indeed open a new page in the history of relations between the USA and the Muslim and Arab world; as of today, the image of the United States in the Middle East has hit rock bottom; the level of anger of Arabs towards the USA because of Obama’s policy is unprecedented. Politeness is a major virtue in Arab culture; yet, the rhetoric used by Arabs to express their anger is shockingly impolite.

Turkey does not hesitate to criticize Obama openly; the Iranian regime hardly bothers to disguise its contempt towards the current US administration; Iran’s foreign minister screams at US Secretary of State in their meetings. I doubt if you can find today one single Arab Middle East analyst or political figure who will argue that President Obama’s policy in the Middle East is a story of success.

At the peak of its power and influence, the United States foreign policy was described as Pax Americana. In 2015 it seems like the United States Middle East foreign policy should be described as Pax Amer-Iran. As things look right now in the Middle East, it is more likely to assume that the results of Pax Ameri-Iran will be quite different in comparison to the “Golden Era” of the Pax Romana. 

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Avi Melamed

Bio

Former Israeli Senior Official on Arab Affairs and former Intelligence Official and educator, Avi Melamed today is an Independent Middle East Strategic Intelligence Analyst, regional expert and lecturer specializing in the current affairs of the Arab and Muslim world and their impact on Israel and the region. He has a proven record of foreseeing the evolution of events in the Middle East and their impact on a local and regional level.

His expertise includes: The Arab awakening; Arab perspectives on Israel; Emerging challenges and opportunities in the Middle East; Evolving forces in the region and their current and future impact on Israel’s strategic environment, etc.

Avi is the Fellow of Intelligence and Middle East Affairs for the Eisenhower Institute of Gettysburg College with offices located in Washington, D.C. and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where among other responsibilities he leads a year-long program entitled “Inside the Middle East – Intelligence Perspectives,” designed to ensure that the next generation to be in positions of influence in the United States will have a more intimate understanding of the Middle East and will apply methods of critical thinking regarding Middle East Affairs in a way that will result in a more accurate reading the Middle East reality and which will better serve the West’s interest.

Avi is also developing a high school program to increase Media Literacy and Critical Thinking, this will be piloted to seniors and may be expanded to other grades.

His knowledge and wide and varied experience offer a behind the scenes insider’s view of the constantly-changing Middle East landscape and insight into future regional implications.

His outstanding analytical abilities, unique understanding of the Arab world and the Arabic language, decades of experience working in Arab speaking areas throughout the region, direct access to sources, and networks throughout the Arab world resources allows him to keep his finger on the pulse on the Arab world and has positioned him as one of the most well-rounded and insightful analysts in his field.

In his work as an analyst Avi provides intelligence analysis, briefings and tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policy makers, international media outlets as well as a wide variety of organizations and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East affairs. His tours and briefings, based on Arab sources, decades of field experience, policy design and intimate connections throughout the Arab world, offer an insider’s view of the constantly-changing Middle East landscape and future regional implications.

In the public sector, Avi held various government and Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions. Fluent in Arabic and Israeli- Jew with a unique understanding of Arab society and culture, Avi spent over twenty years living in Arab cities and communities throughout the region, often in high-risk positions at sensitive times. During the first Intifada he was appointed the youngest-ever Deputy Advisor on Arab affairs to the Mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek and later he served in the Ehud Olmert administration as Senior Advisor. He was instrumental in developing Israeli policy in and around Jerusalem, and represented the city in local and international forums. He held various Intelligence and Counterterrorism field positions in delicate areas on behalf of the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli government, and Israeli security and intelligence services.

He is also the founder and creator of Feenjan – Israel speaks Arabic, a non-profit initiative which presents contemporary Israeli society and culture to the Arab world in Arabic, and serves as an online platform for Israelis and Arabs to discover and discuss issues of common interest.

In the private sector Avi facilitates relationships between Israeli and international firms and potential partners in the Arab world.

Through all of Avi’s efforts, as a speaker, an analyst, a writer, and an entrepreneur, he is a bridge builder. He dedicates himself to enhancing the Arabic, English and Hebrew speaking audience’s comprehensive understanding of the Middle East and of each other.

Avi is currently writing a book which will be released in the fall of 2015 that will be a resource for policy makers around the world when it comes to Middle East Affairs and will be a GPS to help everyone navigate the dramatically changing Middle East. Avi has authored two books, Separate and Unequal – Israel’s rule in East Jerusalem, published by Harvard University Press and Ubrusi, A Novel.

He is a frequent guest on English and Arabic networks including Al Jazeera and BBC Arabic, his articles are translated into multiple languages and are available on international news websites.

Avi has degrees from The Carmel Institute for Military Research, George Mason University, and The Hebrew University.

Avi is a frequent contributor in Arabic, Hebrew and English to many news outlets including Al-Arrabiya, Al-Jazeera, BBC, CBN, the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, etc.

He provides briefings to many local and international organizations including AIPAC; American Jewish Committee; American Jewish Congress; Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School; Birthright; Foreign Diplomats and Embassies; Friends of the IDF; Georgetown University; Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation; Herzeliya Interdisciplinary Center; Israel & Co; Israel Border Police Senior Command; Israel Defense Forces; Israel Ministry of Defense; Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Israel Police; Israel Prison Authority; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Jewish Community Relations Council; Jerusalem Foundation; Jewish Federations of North America; Jewish National Fund; Hillel; J-Street; Keren Hayesod; Peres Center for Peace; Princeton University; The Israel Project; Tufts University; University of California, Berkeley; the United States Army; World Bank; World Presidents Organization, Young Presidents Organization, etc.

Contact Information:            Israel Cell                    +972-54-207-6422

US Land Line              (202) 787-3919

Email:                          avi.yanshuf@gmail.com

Web                             https://avimelamed.wordpress.com/


הסרט שנגנז התגלה

3 מרס, 2015

אבי מלמד

הקדמה קצרה: את המאמר שתקראו כתבתי כבר בחודש מרס 2014, לאחר שפורסם ברשת יוטיוב סרטון עלילתי קצר של 8 דקות בשם “ירמוכ” של בימאי ערבי בשם מחמד בכרי. זמן קצר לאחר מכן הודיע בכרי כי הוא מסיר את הסרט מרשת יוטיוב. מאחר ולא ניתן היה לצפות בסרט, גנזתי את המאמר שכתבתי.
אבל בימים אלה השתנו הנסיבות: לאחר סריקות מקיפות הצלחתי לשמחתי למצוא שוב את הסרט. לפיכך, אני יכול לפרסם עתה את המאמר (כמובן בגרסא מעודכנת)
במה עוסק הסרט ירמוכ? מה הרקע לסרט הזה? מדוע הסיר בכרי את הסרט ?מהן התובנות שניתן למוד מהפרשה?
הרקע לסרט ירמוכ הוא המלחמה המתחוללת בסוריה מזה קרוב לארבע שנים, שגבתה עד כה לפי אומדנים את חייהם של למעלה מ – 200,000 בני אדם, רבים בהם אזרחים – נשים גברים וילדים.
הסרט ירמוכ (שברובו נטול דיאלוג) מתייחס לשתיים מהתופעות הטרגיות של המלחמה:
תופעה אחת היא סבלם של תושבי המחנה הפליטים הפלסטיני אלירמוכ שבדמשק (על המצוקה במחנה הפליטים הפלסטיני אלירמוכ כתבתי אשגר מודיעין באוקטובר 2013) על פי נתונים שמפרסם גוף בשם “ועד הפעלה למען הפלסטינים בסוריה” בפברואר 2015, מספר הפלסטינים שנהרגו בסוריה עד כה הוא 2648 מהם 165 שמתו מרעב והיעדר טיפול רפואי. בדיווחים מצטברים נמסר, כי מנהיגי דת במחנה התירו אכילת חתולים וכלבים על רקע הרעב השורר במחנה. בדו”ח רשמי של סוכנות הסעד והתעסוקה של האו”ם לענייני הפליטים הפלסטינים (UNRWA), שפורסם בפברואר 2015, נמסר כי כ- 18 אלף איש במחנה הפליטים ירמוכ בדמשק מצויים בסכנת מוות כתוצאה למצור ולמלחמה בסוריה. קרוב ל 100 אלף פלסטינים נמלטו מסוריה מהם חצי ללבנון, אחרים נמלטו לירדן, תורכיה, קפריסין ואירופה.
התופעה השניה קשורה במישרין בטרגדיה אחרת שמתחוללת כתוצאה למלחמה בסוריה. על פי דיווחים של סוכנויות רווחה וארגונים הומניטאריים, קרוב לשבעה מליון סורים הפכו לעקורים בארצם, ולפי אומדנים רשמיים, קרוב לשלושה מליון סורים נמלטו מסוריה והפכו לפליטים בארצות שכנות. רובם מתגורר במחנות פליטים מאולתרים, בעליבות ובמאבק הישרדות יומיומי. המצוקה הקשה הביאה משפחות סוריות רבות להשיא את בנותיהן לגברים מרחבי העולם הערבי (ובעיקר מהמפרץ) בתמורה לכסף. למעשה מדובר ברוב המקרים בתעשיית סחר נשים לצרכי מין באיצטלה של נישואין במסגרת חוזה שבסיומו שבות הנשים למשפחותיהן. ארגונים שונים – ערביים ולא ערביים – פרסמו דיווחים ונתונים המתעדים את תופעת “נשואי החוזה” בקרב פליטות סוריות, לצד דיווחים על התפתחות תעשייה של סחר בנשים סוריות בעולם הערבי תוך ניצול מצוקתן ומצקות משפחותיהן. במסגדים בקהיר ובמקומות שונים בעולם הערבי ניתן למצוא ברושורים ובהם הצעות לשידוכים עם נשים סוריות. נישואי חוזה בסיטואציה של הפליטים הסורים נועדו למנוע מצב של פגיעה בכבוד המשפחה שעלולה להיגרם אם יפנו בנות המשפחה לעסוק בזנות בכדי לפרנס את משפחותיהן. וכך הצדדים לעיסקת נישואי חוזה מרוצים (למעט הנשים עצמן כמובן) על תופעה זו כתבתי אשגר מודיעין (מאי 2013)
הסרט של מחמד בכרי חולל סערה בעולם הערבי. הועלו טענות כי הסרט הוא בעצם אמירה סימבולית של בכרי על מצבו העגום של העולם הערבי ואינו מתייחס ספציפית למצב במחנה הפליטים הפלסטיני. אלה שצידדו באמירה זו הביאו לראיה את העובדה כי בכרי כינה את סרטו “ירמוכ” ולא “אלירמוכ” שהוא שמו הרשמי של מחנה הפליטים הפלסטיני בדמשק. בנוסף, ציינו את העובדה כי בכרי חתם את סרטו בכתובית “אל העולם הערבי”. אחרים טענו מנגד, כי בכרי מתמקד בסרטו במצוקה של הפלסטינים במחנה הפליטים אלירמוכ בדמשק.
כך או כך, בכרי מצא את עצמו באש צולבת: מצד אחד ביקרו אותו פלסטינים בחריפות בטענה שהסרט ממזער את סבלם של הפלסטינים. מצד שני טענו כלפיו בעולם הערבי כי הסרט מתעלם מסבלם של הסורים. מצד אחד האשימו אותו הפלסטינים כי הסרט מציג באופן מזלזל ומשפיל את הפלסטינים. מצד שני טענו כלפיו בעולם הערבי כי הסרט מציג באופן מעליב ומשפיל את כל הערבים. בכרי פשוט מצא את עצמו במלכוד.
תחת הביקורת הגואה, בכרי פרסם הודעה רשמית בערבית ובה הביע התנצלות אם פגע במישהו. בהודעתו כתב בכרי כי “אם היה יכול היה הולך בעצמו למחנה הפליטים אלירמוכ בדמשק” וכי בסרטו ביקש “להסב את תשומת לב העולם לסבל של האנשים החיים במחנה הפליטים אלירמוכ בדמשק”. בכרי הודיע כי הוא מסיר את הסרט ואכן הסרט הוסר מיוטיוב. בין השיטין בהודעתו של בכרי ניתן להתרשם כי יתכן והלחץ עליו לא היה מילולי בלבד. בסרטון קצר זה מדבר בכרי על תפיסת עולמו כיוצר.
מעבר לתיאור מציאות קשה, הפרשה כולה מעידה על אחד מהגורמים המרכזיים למצבו העגום של העולם הערבי והוא הסירוב להביט במראה ולקחת אחריות. לא בפעם הראשונה, מעדיף העולם הערבי להרוג את השליח מאשר להביט במראה, לקחת אחריות ולהתמודד עם הבעיה והאתגר.
יש פן מעניין, סימבולי משהו, לפרשה הזו. מחמד בכרי התפרסם בין השאר בסרט דוקומנטארי שביים בשם “ג’נין, ג’נין”. בסרט זה הציג בכרי “עדויות” לטבח – לכאורה – שביצעה ישראל במחנה הפליטים ג’נין גדה המערבית בשנת 2002. עובדתית, במחנה הפליטים ג’נין התקיימו במשך כ 10 ימים קרבות מרים בין חיילים ישראלים לבין מיליטנטים פלסטיניים. בקרבות נהרגו 23 חיילים ישראלים וכ – 55 פלסטינים – רובם מיליטנטים.
הפלסטינים האשימו את ישראל בביצוע רצח עם אולם ועדת חקירה של האו”ם כמו ועדות חקירה של ארגוני זכויות אדם ניקו את ישראל מאשמה. העתון טיים קבע בכתבה שפרסם תחת הכותרת ” The Story of the Battle of Jenin” כי ” there was no wanton massacre in Jenin, no deliberate slaughter of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers. But the 12 days of fighting took a severe toll on the camp.”
למרות זאת טען בכרי בסרטו “ג’נין, ג’נין” כי החיילים הישראלים ביצעו זוועות במחנה (כגון ירי על בית החולים, דריסת פצועים עם נגמ”שים והריגת תינוק במכוון). החיילים שלחמו במחנה הפליטים ג’נין האשימו את בכרי בהסתה ובשקרים. על רקע זאת, החליטה המועצה לביקור סרטים בישראל לאסור על הקרנת הסרט, אך בעקבות עתירה שהגישו בכרי ופעילי שמאל ישראלים, ביטל ביהמ”ש העליון בישראל את החלטת המועצה לביקורת סרטים והורה על הקרנת הסרט. קבוצת חיילי מילואים שנלחמה בג’נין והורים ששכלו את בניהם בקרב, הגישה תביעת דיבה כנגד בכרי. בית המשפט בישראל פסק כי הסרט אמנם שקרי ומהווה דיבה על החיילים, אך מאחר שהוא מוציא את לשון הרע על ציבור ולא על אדם פרטי, התביעה לא נתקבלה.
כפי שיודעים מן הסתם מרבית הקוראים, מחמד בכרי הוא ערבי ישראלי. הוא אזרח של מדינת ישראל. אי אפשר להימנע מהמחשבה שמה שהתחולל סביב שני הסרטים של בכרי – הסרט ירמוכ והסרט ג’נין ג’נין –מספק הסבר לשוני העמוק בין ישראל לבין העולם הערבי. קשה לא לחשוב שאולי מצבו של העולם הערבי היה שונה לחלוטין ממה שהוא היום, אילו ידע לתת לגיטימציה לקולות אחרים בתוכו – גם אם הקול פוגע, מציק, מטריד, או לא עולה בקנה אחד עם דרישות לקונפורמיזם רעיוני ומחשבתי. הפרשה הזו מלמדת, שחירות הביטוי – וגם אם לעתים היא קשה לשומע, פרובוקטיבית, פוגענית או מקוממת ומעוותת– עדיין מהווה רכיב חשוב ביצירת חברה בריאה ומשגשגת. זהו גם חומר למחשבה עבורנו, הישראלים.


Yarmuk Movie: Kill the Messenger

March 1  2015

Yarmuk Movie: Kill the Messenger

by Avi Melamed

The article you are about to read was actually written in April 2014. I wrote the article following an eight-minute fiction movie called Yarmuk that was published on YouTube in March 2014. The movie was directed and produced by an Arab director and actor named Muhammad Bakri. The movie was removed from YouTube shortly after it was posted, and – unfortunately before I could publish my article. My attempts to find the movie were unsuccessful therefore I decided not to publish my article.

Until now.

These very days, after a long search and research, I found the movie.

What is the movie’s background? Why was it removed and by whom? What can we learn from that episode?

In previous articles I have published, I wrote about some of the outcomes of the war in Syria. For example, in an October 2013 Intelligence Bulletin “Desperate Situation in Syria – reports of people eating cats and dogs, I described the humanitarian crisis in the Al-Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus caused by the ongoing siege of the camp by Assad’s troops and his allies, the Iranian regime and Hezbollah. Dozens of thousands of Palestinians have fled from Syria looking for a shelter in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Others made their way to a refugee camp established in Cyprus. Others have escaped to Europe. As of February 2015, based upon a formal report of the United Nations Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRA) 18,000 people inside the al-Yarmouk camp are in serious danger of dying. According to Palestinian resources, 2,648 Palestinians were killed thus far in the war in Syria, 165 died of starvation and lack of medical treatment, and about 100,000 Palestinians have run from Syria.

Another outcome of the war in Syria relates directly to one of the many, yet extremely tragic, aspects of the war in Syria – the Syrian refugees. According to formal estimates, the number of Syrian refugees who have fled Syria is today about 3,000,000 people. Most of them live in difficult conditions in provisory refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. They struggle daily with the tough conditions.

This misery and poor conditions cause Syrian families to marry off their daughters to men from the Arab world (mostly from the Arab Gulf states) for money. In fact, it is female trafficking disguised as a legitimate marriage contract which expires at some point, and then the girls (most of the time) go back to their families. This model of marriage is legal in Islamic law, it enables the families to comply with the strict and conservative Islamic norms and values, thus avoiding disgrace. And so, almost all parties to the deal are satisfied – probably. Except for the girls. On that topic please read my Intelligence Bulletin “Syrian Refugees” (May 2013).

Bakri’s movie – which has almost no dialogue – hints and relates to these two phenomenon.

The movie generated a firestorm in the Arab world.

Arguments were made that the movie is an allegory of the gloomy situation in the Arab world. Those supporting that argument site the fact that the movie was named “Yarmuk” rather Al-Yarmuk – which is the official name of the Palestinian refugee camp. They also argue that the fact that Bakri ends his movie with the title “To the Arab nation” is evidence that the movie is an allegory. Others argue, however, that it is about the Palestinians specifically.

One way or the other, Bakri caught hell from both sides. Palestinians, on the one hand, blamed him for “humiliating the Palestinians” and “undermining the suffering of the Palestinian refugees by emphasizing the tragedy of Syrian female trafficking.” While non-Palestinian Arabs on the other hand, blamed him for “humiliating the Arabs” and for “diminishing the tragedy of the Syrian refugees while emphasizing the suffering of Palestinian refugees.

Bakri published a formal announcement expressing his apologies. He stated that “had I been able to, I would have gone myself to Al-Yarmuk refugee camp” and that “All I wanted was to draw the world’s attention to the tragedy of Al-Yarmuk camp.” Bakri also announced that he was removing the movie from YouTube and so he did. In this short video, Bakri presents his outlook as an artist.

Reading in-between the lines of Bakri’s statement, suggests that his decision was not only the result of the criticism; it is possible that he was exposed to other pressures, on top of the verbal ones.

This story has many layers.

First, Bakri’s movie reflects the reality. The events described in his movie do take place. As of now, hundreds – if not more – of the Palestinian residents of the Al-Yarmuk camp were killed during the war in Syria. Dozens of thousands flee, heading mostly to Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

Arab and non Arab organizations and media platforms document the tragedy of Syrian female trafficking in the Arab world, as well as the exploitation and sexual abuse of Syrian woman in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, the Gulf States and other places in the Arab world.

On another level, the story indicates one of the major reasons for the illness of the Arab world – the refusal of many people in the Arab world to look in the mirror and to take responsibility. Not for the first time, Arabs prefer to kill the messenger.

There is another interesting aspect to that story. Muhammad Bakri is famous for a documentary movie he produced and directed a couple of years ago entitled “Jenin, Jenin.” The movie documents the alleged war crimes committed by Israel during a military operation inside the camp in April 2002.

The facts are as follows. Following a massive wave of Palestinian suicide bombing attacks on Israeli civilian targets, Israel launched a military campaign to restore security and control in the West Bank where the overwhelming majority of Palestinian suicide bombers were dispatched from to carry out their missions.

For twelve days, from April 2 – 14, 2002, fierce military clashes took place between the Israel Defense Force and Palestinian militants in the Jenin Palestinian Refugee camp located in the northern part of the West Bank. Twenty-three Israeli soldiers and some fifty-five Palestinians – most of them armed militants – were killed during the fighting.

The Palestinians accused Israel of genocide, arguing that Israel killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians including babies. The United Nations, as well as the Human Rights Watch investigating committees ruled that these accusations were groundless. Time magazine published a detailed report about the events entitled “The Story of the Battle of Jenin‘ in which it concluded decisively that “there was no wanton massacre in Jenin, no deliberate slaughter of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers. But the 12 days of fighting took a severe toll on the camp.”

Yet, Bakri’s movie perpetuates, until today, the Palestinian accusations. Israeli soldiers who were involved in the fight in Jenin accused Bakri of manipulation and spreading lies. Israeli censorship ordered that the movie not be presented publically. In response, Bakri, together with Israeli human right activists appealed to the Israeli Supreme court who ruled that the movie would be screened. Soldiers who fought in Jenin, as well as families of Israeli soldiers that were killed in Jenin, filed a lawsuit accusing Bakri of defamation. Though the Israeli court ruled in their favor, it turned the lawsuit down because it was defamation of “the public” and not of an “individual.”

One last interesting aspect to the story. Muhammad Bakri is an Israeli-Arab. He is an Israeli citizen.

In a way, the story of the two different movies Bakri made – “Jenin, Jenin” and “Yarmuk” is to some extent the story of the differences between Israel and the Arab societies. The difference between a society (Israel) that enables freedom of speech and expression and pluralism – even if it is hard to take and offensive to many people, and between the Arab societies which refuse to face criticism and prefer to shoot the messenger rather than dealing with the challenges. One cannot avoid thinking that Arab societies could have been in a different and better place today had they enabled open dialogue, criticism and different opinions.

Yarmuk – The Movie

**********************************

Avi Melamed

Bio

Former Israeli Senior Official on Arab Affairs and former Intelligence Official and educator, Avi Melamed today is an Independent Middle East Strategic Intelligence Analyst, regional expert and lecturer specializing in the current affairs of the Arab and Muslim world and their impact on Israel and the region.

His expertise includes: The Arab awakening; Arab perspectives on Israel; Emerging challenges and opportunities in the Middle East; Evolving forces in the region and their current and future impact on Israel’s strategic environment, etc.

Avi has most recently been appointed the Fellow of Intelligence and Middle East Affairs for the Eisenhower Institute Eisenhower Institute of Gettysburg College with offices located in Washington, D.C. and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where among other responsibilities he leads a year-long program entitled “Inside the Middle East – Intelligence Perspectives,” designed to ensure that the next generation to be in positions of influence in the United States will have a more intimate understanding of the Middle East and will apply methods of critical thinking regarding Middle East Affairs in a way that will result in a more accurate reading the Middle East reality and which will better serve the West’s interest.

Mr. Melamed has a proven record of foreseeing the evolution of events in the Middle East and their impact on a local and regional level.

His knowledge and wide and varied experience offer a behind the scenes insider’s view of the constantly-changing Middle East landscape and insight into future regional implications.

His outstanding analytical abilities, unique understanding of the Arab world and the Arabic language, decades of experience working in Arab speaking areas throughout the region, direct access to sources, and networks throughout the Arab world resources allows him to keep his finger on the pulse on the Arab world and has positioned him as one of the most well-rounded and insightful analysts in his field.

In his work as an analyst Avi provides intelligence analysis, briefings and tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policy makers, international media outlets as well as a wide variety of organizations and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East affairs. His tours and briefings, based on Arab sources, decades of field experience, policy design and intimate connections throughout the Arab world, offer an insider’s view of the constantly-changing Middle East landscape and future regional implications.

In the public sector, Avi held various government and Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions. Fluent in Arabic and Israeli- Jew with a unique understanding of Arab society and culture, Avi spent many years living in Arab cities and communities throughout the region, often in high-risk positions at sensitive times. During the first Intifada he was appointed the youngest-ever Deputy Advisor on Arab affairs to the Mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek and later he served in the Ehud Olmert administration as Senior Advisor. He was instrumental in developing Israeli policy in and around Jerusalem, and represented the city in local and international forums. He held various Intelligence and Counterterrorism field positions in delicate areas on behalf of the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli government, and Israeli security and intelligence services.

He is also the founder and creator of Feenjan – Israel speaks Arabic, a non-profit initiative which presents contemporary Israeli society and culture to the Arab world in Arabic, and serves as an online platform for Israelis and Arabs to discover and discuss issues of common interest.

In the private sector Avi facilitates relationships between Israeli and international firms and potential partners in the Arab world.

Through all of Avi’s efforts, as a speaker, an analyst, a writer, and an entrepreneur, he is a bridge builder. He dedicates himself to enhancing the Arabic, English and Hebrew speaking audience’s comprehensive understanding of the Middle East and of each other.

Avi is currently writing a book which will be a resource for policy makers around the world when it comes to Middle East Affairs. Avi has authored two books, Separate and Unequal – Israel’s rule in East Jerusalem, published by Harvard University Press and Ubrusi, A Novel.

He is a frequent guest on English and Arabic networks including Al Jazeera and BBC Arabic, his articles are translated into multiple languages and are available on international news websites.

Avi has degrees from The Carmel Institute for Military Research, George Mason University, and The Hebrew University.

Avi is a frequent contributor in Arabic, Hebrew and English to many news outlets including Al-Arrabiya, Al-Jazeera, BBC, CBN, I24 TV News Network, the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, etc.

He provides briefings to many local and international organizations including AIPAC; American Jewish Committee; American Jewish Congress; Birthright; Foreign Diplomats and Embassies; Friends of the IDF; Georgetown University; Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation; Herzeliya Interdisciplinary Center; Israel Border Police Senior Command; Israel Defense Forces; Israel Ministry of Defense; Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Israel Police; Israel Prison Authority; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Jewish Community Relations Council; Jerusalem Foundation; Jewish Federations of North America; Jewish National Fund; Hillel; J-Street; Keren Hayesod; Peres Center for Peace; Princeton University; The Israel Project; Tufts University; University of California, Berkeley; the United States Army; World Bank; World Presidents Organization, etc.

 


סעודיה: מלך חדש, ריקוד ישן

25./1/2015

המלך עבדאללה בן עבד אלעזיז אל-סעוד, מלכה השישי של סעודיה (2005-2015) הלך לעולמו בגיל 91. עבדאללה היה הבן ה – 12 מתוך 36 בנים (ומספר בלתי ידוע של בנות) של מייסד הממלכה הסעודית עבד אלעזיז אל- סעוד (1932-1953). יורש העצר הנסיך סלמאן הוכתר למלכה השביעי של סעודיה בו ביום שעבדאללה נקבר.

המלך סלמאן הוא בן 79. הוא מונה ליורש העצר לאחר ששני אחיו המבוגרים יותר, הנסיך סלטאן והנסיך נאאף, מתו בתוך שנה (2011-2012) שלושת האחים הם בנים לאותה אם – חצא אל סדירי, אחת מנשותיו של מייסד הממלכה הסעודית (נפטרה ב- 1969) בעוד אמו של המלך המנוח עבדאללה אגב, היתה פהדה אלשמרי, ואילו אמו של יורש העצר הנוכחי, הנסיך מקרן, היא ממוצא תימני.

בתקופת שלטונו התמודד המלך עבדאללה עם אתגרים פנימיים חברתיים וכלכליים גדלים והולכים בסעודיה, בעיצומה של סערה עצומה הפוקדת את המזה”ת והעולם הערבי. שעה שמדינות ערביות מתפוררות או בדרך להתפורר, אלימות פושה ומתפשטת באיזור והאתגרים הכלכליים, החברתיים והפוליטיים העצומים של החברות הערביות מחוללים טלטלות עזות, נתפס המלך עבדאללה כמנהיג יציב, אחראי, שמקדם רפורמות בארצו באופן זהיר ומחושב, שהעקרון המנחה של התנהלותו ומדיניותו הינו השמירה על היציבות בממלכה. כביטוי לכך, התאפיינה מדיניותו של עבדאללה בעיקר בפעילות דיפלומטית ובגישה פרגמטית של תווך, גישור ופישור מחלוקות איזוריות מתוך רצון להבטיח ככל הניתן יציבות והימנעות מסחרור. כך למשל, היה עבדאללה מעורב בנסיונות להשיג פשרה פוליטית בלבנון, או הסכם הפיוס בין הרשות הפלסטינית לבין חמאס. דוגמא נוספת היא יוזמתו לסיום הסכסוך הישראלי – פלסטייני. ואף כי התוצאות היו מאכזבות, לא היה בכך משום ביטוי לחולשתו של עבדאללה אלא בעיקר ביטוי לחומרת ומורכבות הקונפליקטים. הרצון לשמור על יציבות ככל הניתן היה בין השאר גם הרקע למדיניות הקשוחה של עבדאללה כלפי גורמים איזוריים כמו קטר, האחים המסלמים או חמאס, שבפעילותם גרמו לחוסר יציבות. תחום מרכזי נוסף במדיניותו של עבדאללה הינו כמובן הנושא האירני. מודאג עמוקות מהחתרנות האיזורית של אירן ומתכנית הגרעין שלה, פעל עבדאללה – לרוב בערוצים דיפלומטיים ודיסקרטיים – במאמץ לבלום את אירן ולעצור את תכנית הגרעין שלה. עם זאת, לא היסס עבדאאלה לפעול גם באופן נחרץ תוך שימוש בכח כדי להבהיר לאירן כי יש לו קוים אדומים. כך למשל, שלח המלך כוחות צבאיים לבחריין וסיכל נסיון הפיכה בבחריין בהשראת המשטר האירני. הצבא הסעודי פעל נגד שבטי החות’יים השיעים בצפון תימן הנתמכים על ידי המשטר האירני (נובמבר – דצבר 2009) ובסוריה, מממנת ומחמשת סעודיה כוחות של המורדים ובעיקר את “החזית האסלאמית הסורית” במלחמתם נגד אירן ואסד. בזירה הבינלאומית – על רקע האשמות שהופנו לסעודיה בגין סיועה לפעילות האסלאם המיליטנטי – יזם עבדאללה – במידה מסויימת של הצלחה – פעילות שנועדה לשנות את תדמיתה של סעודיה ולמצב אותה כגורם המעודד דיאלוג בין תרבותי ובין דתי, דוגל בסובלנות ולוחם בקיצוניות.

המלך סלמאן היה שותף מלא לדרכו להתנהלותו של המלך עבדאללה. לפיכך, ניתן להניח כי ימשיך במדיניות דומה. מטבע הדברים יש כאלה התוהים האם לאור חלופי המשמרות בסעודיה – כאשר ברקע נמשכות ומחריפות הטלטלות באיזור ולאור האתגרים הפנימיים המשמעותיים בסעודיה – תחווה סעודיה עצמה מציאות של חוסר יציבות?

תשובתי היא שאינני רואה בעתיד הנראה לעין סכנה ליציבות הפנימית בסעודיה. ראוי לשים לב לעובדה שביום בו נקבר עבדאללה הוכתר סלמאן למלך החדש וכל הצמרת הסעודית התייצבה כאיש אחד במפגן ציות ואחדות ברור להביע נאמנות למלך החדש. סלמאן עצמו ביצע מהלך חשוב ומעניין: הוא הודיע על מינויו של הנסיך מחמד בן נאאף (יליד 1959) לתפקיד יורש העצר לאחר הנסיך מקרן. הצעד של סלמאן חשוב משום שיורש העצר הנוכחי – הנסיך מקרן – הינו צעיר הבנים של מייסד הממלכה ולפיכך יהיה אחרון המלכים מהדור הראשון. המינוי של מחמד בן נאאף מתייחס כבר לדור השני: הוא יהיה הנכד הראשון של עבד עלזיז אל סעוד למלוך בסעודיה בבוא העת. בצעד זה משדר סלמאן מסר של יציבות – וזה אכן שם המשחק.
היציבות בסעודיה נובעת מכמה גורמים:
גורם אחד הוא העובדה שבית המלוכה מייצג מארג חברתי-כלכלי-פוליטי המושתת על בסיס שבטי ומשפחתי, שיש לו אינטרס משותף בשמירה על יציבות ובשימור ואבטחת המערכת החברתית – פוליטית- כלכלית הקיימת. במובנים רבים המונארכיה היא המארג החברתי והמארג החברתי הוא המונארכיה.
גורם שני הוא העושר של סעודיה, המאפשר לה לבצע השקעות ענק במטרה להתמודד עם האתגרים הכלכליים והחברתיים. תקציבה של סעודיה לשנת 2015 הוא קרוב ל 230 מליארד דולר, והוא הגדול ביותר בתולדותיה. מרבית התקציב מיועדת להשקעות בתחומי תשתיות, תעסוקה, השכלה, מינוף כלכלי ועוד. היכולת לתת מענה מתן לצרכים מספקת נדבך נוסף התורם שלמירה על יציבות הממלכה.
גורם שלישי הוא ההזדהות הרגשית העמוקה של האוכלוסייה עם בית המלוכה, המושתתת על שני רכיבים מרכזיים: רכיב אחד הוא לגיטימציה על בסיס דתי – תרבותי של בית המלוכה הסעודי. סעודיה נמצאות בחצי האי ערב שהוא ערש דת האסלאם והתרבות הערבית (תוארו של מלך סעודיה הוא “מגן המקומות הקדושים לאסלם בחצי האי ערב”) הרכיב השני קשור לקודים התרבותיים והחברתיים של החברה הסעודית שהיא חברה שבטית. ערכים של נאמנות, ציות ומסירות מוטמעים עמוק בחברה הסעודית, ויוצרים חיבור רגשי עמוק והזדהות עם בית המלוכה והעומד בראשו. טקסים מרכזיים בחברה הסעודית נותנים ביטוי לכך. כך למשל, טקס הביעה – שבועת הנאמנות – של הנתינים לשליט, או ריקוד החרבות – אלערצ’ה שהוא “ריקוד העם” הרשמי של סעודיה המתקיים לציון עתות שלום, מלחמה או שמחה, ומקורו בתקופה הקדומה של התרבות הערבית. אין להמעיט בחשיבותו של גורם ההזדהות הרגשית: בתקופה שחלפה מאז החלו אירועי ההתעוררות הערבית הוכח יותר מפעם אחת – בירדן, מרוקו, סעודיה, כוויית – כי ההזדהות הרגשית של הציבור עם המונארכיה ועם המונארך ממלאת תפקיד מרכזי בשמירה על יציבות המשטר והמארג החברתי – פוליטי.


Saudi Arabia: New King, Old Dance

January 25. 2015

Saudi Arabia: New King, Old Dance

by Avi Melamed

King Abdullah Bin Abd-Alaziz, the sixth king of Saudi Arabia, died on January 23, 2015 at age of 91.

King Abdullah Bin Abd-Alaziz, ruled Saudi Arabia for ten years from 2005 to 2015. He was the twelfth son, out of 36 sons and an unknown number of daughters, of the founder of the Saudi Arabia Kingdom Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (1932-1953).

Following King Abdullah’s death, Crown Prince Salman was announced the new King of Saudi Arabia.

King Salman is 79 years old. He was appointed the Crown Prince following the death of two of his brothers – Prince Sultan who died in 2011 and Prince Nayef who died in 2012. All three are sons from the same mother, Hussah Al-Sudairi, one of King Abd Al-Aziz Al-Saud’s wives – she died in 1969.

King Abduallah Bin Abd-Alaziz’s mother was Fahda bint Asi Al Shuraim. The current Crown Prince is Muqrin, the youngest son of Abd Al-Aziz Al-Saud, born in 1945. He is the son of a different mother (who is of Yemenite origin).

King Abdullah ruled during one of the most dramatic chapters in the history of the Middle East – the outbreak of the events known as the Arab Spring. During his rule, the Kingdom knew both progress on various issues, as well as growing social and economic challenges.

While Sunni Arab States are disintegrating, militant Islam is gaining momentum, Arab societies are experiencing massive turbulences, and the Sunni-Shiite rivalry is deepening and growing throughout the region, King Abdullah was perceived by many in the region – and in the world – as a responsible, calculated, solid leader, as well as a cautious reformer. In the face of growing challenges, both regionally and domestically, King Abdullah strived to enhance stability.

King Abdullah’s domestic, as well as foreign and regional policies, were primarily characterized by a diplomatic, cautious and mediating approach. For example, the King initiated and encouraged agreements between the disputing sides in Lebanon as well as between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Though his efforts did not succeed or last, it does not necessarily indicate the weakness of the king; it is rather mostly a manifestation of the complexity of the conflicts.

In the face of the growing intimidation of Militant Islam, the King initiated and supported activities aimed at enhancing inter-faith dialogue and tolerance.

However, on some issues the King did not hesitate to conduct an aggressive, decisive policy. For example, it was because of his pressure that the Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, withdrew from Lebanon in 2005. The King rushed to send his armed forces to prevent a coup in neighboring Bahrain and to defend its dynasty.

The King led intensive diplomatic efforts aimed to restrain the growing Iranian intimidation. However, his policy was not only a diplomatic one. The King did not hesitate to use military force in order to signal to the Iranians that he would not tolerate the crossing of red lines. That was the case in Bahrain, that was the case in the war against the Houti Shiite tribes in northern Yemen (November-December 2009), and that was the case in the war in Syria where Saudi Arabia supports, arms and finances the Syrian Rebel groups and primarily “The Islamic Syrian Front.”

King Salman was King Abduallh’s full partner in the shaping and implementation of Saudi policies. Therefore, Arab analysts predict that King Salman’s “policy will be similar to Abdullah’s.”

Naturally, many wonder if the transition itself will result in turbulence and instability in Saudi Arabia. Given the inner challenges in Saudi Arabia, as well as the turbulence in the Middle East, it is an important question.

I do not foresee instability taking place in Saudi Arabia in the foreseeable future. In my assessment, stability will be kept in Saudi Arabia. One should note that the same day King Abdullah was buried, the new King was sworn in and the Senior Leadership of Saudi Arabia formally announced allegiance to the new King.

One of Salman’s first steps as the King is very interesting and meaningful. He ordered that the next Crown Prince, after Prince Muqrin, will be Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, who is the grandson of Abd Al-Aziz Al-Saud. King Salman’s move is meaningful because the current Crown Prince – Prince Muqrin – is the last son of Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia. By nominating Mohammed Bin Nayef as the first Crown Prince from the second generation (i.e. the grandson of Abdul Aziz Al-Saud) King Salman conveys a message of continuity and stability of the Kingdom. And indeed, the name of the game in Saudi Arabia is stability.

The stability of the Saudi Monarchy stems from a couple of factors:

First, the Monarchy represents the fabric, founded on a tribal and familial base, which preserves the stability of the existing socio-political-economic system. In many ways, the Monarchy is the social fabric and the social fabric is the Monarchy.

The second factor is the enormous wealth of Saudi Arabia which enables the Monarchy to carry out large scale social and economic programs to meet the needs of the Saudis. The 2015 Saudi national budget is about USD $230 billion – the biggest budget ever in Saudi history.

A third factor is the deep emotional identification of the population with the Royal Dynasty, based on two central components. One component is the legitimacy of the Saudi Royal Dynasty on a religious and cultural basis. Saudi Arabia is located in the Arabian Peninsula which is the cradle of both the religion of Islam and Arab culture. The formal title of the Saudi King is the “Servant of two scared religious sites of Islam.” The other component is the admiration of the Monarch. Saudi culture and society is a tribal one, where values of loyalty, devotion, and obedience to the leaders are deeply rooted. Ceremonies like the Bay’ah, the Oath of Allegiance, or the Ardah Dance, the Saudi formal dance in times of war, peace, and joy that go back to the early times of Arab culture, manifest the centrality of these values and sentiments in Saudi society. One must not underestimate the importance of the factor of emotional identification. In the period that has elapsed since the Arab Awakening began, it has been shown more than once – in Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia – that the emotional identification of the public with the Monarchy and with the Monarch, fills a central role in maintaining the stability of the regime.

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Avi Melamed

Former Israeli Senior Official on Arab Affairs and former Intelligence Official and educator, Avi Melamed today is an Independent Middle East Strategic Intelligence Analyst, regional expert and lecturer specializing in the current affairs of the Arab and Muslim world and their impact on Israel and the region.

His expertise includes: The Arab awakening; Arab perspectives on Israel; Emerging challenges and opportunities in the Middle East; Evolving forces in the region and their current and future impact on Israel’s strategic environment, etc.

Avi has most recently been appointed the Fellow of Intelligence and Middle East Affairs for the Eisenhower Institute Eisenhower Institute of Gettysburg College with offices located in Washington, D.C. and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where among other responsibilities he leads a year-long program entitled “Inside the Middle East – Intelligence Perspectives,” designed to ensure that the next generation to be in positions of influence in the United States will have a more intimate understanding of the Middle East and will apply methods of critical thinking regarding Middle East Affairs in a way that will result in a more accurate reading the Middle East reality and which will better serve the West’s interest.

Mr. Melamed has a proven record of foreseeing the evolution of events in the Middle East and their impact on a local and regional level.

His knowledge and wide and varied experience offer a behind the scenes insider’s view of the constantly-changing Middle East landscape and insight into future regional implications.

His outstanding analytical abilities, unique understanding of the Arab world and the Arabic language, decades of experience working in Arab speaking areas throughout the region, direct access to sources, and networks throughout the Arab world resources allows him to keep his finger on the pulse on the Arab world and has positioned him as one of the most well-rounded and insightful analysts in his field.

In his work as an analyst Avi provides intelligence analysis, briefings and tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policy makers, international media outlets as well as a wide variety of organizations and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East affairs. His tours and briefings, based on Arab sources, decades of field experience, policy design and intimate connections throughout the Arab world, offer an insider’s view of the constantly-changing Middle East landscape and future regional implications.

In the public sector, Avi held various government and Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions. Fluent in Arabic and Israeli- Jew with a unique understanding of Arab society and culture, Avi spent over twenty years living in Arab cities and communities throughout the region, often in high-risk positions at sensitive times. During the first Intifada he was appointed the youngest-ever Deputy Advisor on Arab affairs to the Mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek and later he served in the Ehud Olmert administration as Senior Advisor. He was instrumental in developing Israeli policy in and around Jerusalem, and represented the city in local and international forums. He held various Intelligence and Counterterrorism field positions in delicate areas on behalf of the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli government, and Israeli security and intelligence services.

He is also the founder and creator of Feenjan – Israel speaks Arabic, a non-profit initiative which presents contemporary Israeli society and culture to the Arab world in Arabic, and serves as an online platform for Israelis and Arabs to discover and discuss issues of common interest.

In the private sector Avi facilitates relationships between Israeli and international firms and potential partners in the Arab world.

Through all of Avi’s efforts, as a speaker, an analyst, a writer, and an entrepreneur, he is a bridge builder. He dedicates himself to enhancing the Arabic, English and Hebrew speaking audience’s comprehensive understanding of the Middle East and of each other.

Avi is currently writing a book which will be a resource for policy makers around the world when it comes to Middle East Affairs. Avi has authored two books, Separate and Unequal – Israel’s rule in East Jerusalem, published by Harvard University Press and Ubrusi, A Novel.

He is a frequent guest on English and Arabic networks including Al Jazeera and BBC Arabic, his articles are translated into multiple languages and are available on international news websites.

Avi has degrees from The Carmel Institute for Military Research, George Mason University, and The Hebrew University.

Avi is a frequent contributor in Arabic, Hebrew and English to many news outlets including Al-Arrabiya, Al-Jazeera, BBC, CBN, the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, etc.

He provides briefings to many local and international organizations including AIPAC; American Jewish Committee; American Jewish Congress; Birthright; Foreign Diplomats and Embassies; Friends of the IDF; Georgetown University; Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation; Herzeliya Interdisciplinary Center; Israel Border Police Senior Command; Israel Defense Forces; Israel Ministry of Defense; Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Israel Police; Israel Prison Authority; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Jewish Community Relations Council; Jerusalem Foundation; Jewish Federations of North America; Jewish National Fund; Hillel; J-Street; Keren Hayesod; Peres Center for Peace; Princeton University; The Israel Project; Tufts University; University of California, Berkeley; the United States Army; World Bank; World Presidents Organization, etc.


מסר משמעותי

Below is the Hebrew version of the English article I posted yesterday “A Significant Message“, please click here for that article.

20 ינואר 2015

מסר משמעותי

ארגון חזבאללה הלבנוני הודיע כי שישה מפעיליו נהרגו בתקיפה שהתרחשה באיזור קנייטרה בצד הסורי של רמת הגולן ב 18 בינואר. בנוסף, הודיעה אירן רשמית כי בתקיפה נהרג קצין של משמרות ההפיכה האירניים בדרגת גנרל, אודותיו נמסר במידע ממקורות אחרים, כי הוא היה סגנו של גנרל קאסם סלימאני, מפקד כח אלקדס, חוד החנית של משמרות המהפכה האירניים. בדווחים בלתי מאומתים נמסר גם, כי באירוע נהרגו בסך הכל שישה אירנים בנוסף לאנשי חזבאללה.

בין הרוגי חזבאללה באירוע עלו שמותיהם של ג’האד מג’אניה, שתואר כ “מפקד חזבאללה בגזרת הגולן” (ובנו של ראש הזרוע הצבאית של חזבאללה עמאד מג’אניה שחוסל בדמשק בפברואר 2008) וכן שמו של מחמד אחמד עיסא המתואר כבכיר חזבאללה המחזיק בתיק סוריה ועירק בארגון.

על אף שישראל לא נטלה אחריות לאירוע, חזבאללה ואירן מייחסים את התקיפה לישראל, ובכיר אירני הצהיר רשמית כי חזבאללה יגיב באופן קשה על התקיפה. מפקד משמרות המהפכה האירניים עצמו איים בתגובה קשה נגד ישראל.

מידע מצטבר מצביע על נוכחות של אנשי חזבאללה ומשה”מ ברמת הגולן. במסגרת זאת נמסר, שאירן פרסה תשתיות לאיסוף מודיעין במוצבים של הצבא הסורי הפרוסים לאורך קו התילים מספר ק”מ ממזרח לקו הפסקת האש בין ישראל לבין סוריה. בנוסף, חזבאללה הקים ומפעיל תשתית שיזמה עד כה מספר מצומצם של פיגועים נגד יעדים ישראלים צבאיים ואזרחיים ברמת הגולן וזאת באמצעות “קבלני ביצוע”. כך למשל דווח במרס 2013 על הקמתו של ארגון בשם “גדוד משחררי חוות שבעא”. סביר להניח שמדובר באחד מקבלני הביצוע של חזבאללה.

חזבאללה ישאף להגיב באופן קשה על התקיפה בקנייטרה. הפגיעה הקשה שספג הארגון בתקרית באה ימים מועטים לאחר ראיון בו הצהיר מנהיג הארגון חסן נצראללה כי ברשותו טילים מתקדמים מסוג פאתח 110 המסוגלים לפגוע במטרות בעומק ישראל באופן מדוייק. ככמו כן איים ולא בפעם הראשונה כי יכבוש חלקים מהגליל ואף מעבר לגליל. כחלק מממשוואת ההתרעה מול ישראל הבהיר נצראללה בהזדמנויות שונות, כי כל פגיעה באנשיו או בריבונות לבנון תגרור תגובה של הארגון. לפיכך, ההצהרות הללו בצירוף עם תוצאותיו הקשות של האירוע מבחינת חזבאללה אינם מותירים לו מרחב הבלגה גדול. הוא יהיה חייב להגיב.

עם זאת, להערכתי ינחה המשטר האירני את חזבאללה להגיב באופן שלא יוביל לעימות חזיתי רחב עם ישראל, וזאת בשל שני שיקולים אסטרטגיים של אירן:

שיקול אחד הוא השמירה על שרידות משטרו של אסד בסוריה. חזבאללה, המעורב בהנחיית אירן במלחמה בסוריה עד צוואר, הוא גורם מפתח בהגנה על שרידות משטרו של אסד. המלחמה בסוריה גובה מחירים כבדים מאוד מחזבאללה: השדרה הלוחמת של הארגון נפגעת קשות. יש לו מאות רבות מאוד של הרוגים ואלפי פצועים, רבים מהם קשה. כתוצאה לכך יש תרעומת גוברת והולכת של העדה השיעית בלבנון שבניה חוזרים בארונות מסוריה. בנוסף ,מעוררת מעורבות הארגון במלחמה בסוריה אופוזיציה חיצונית ופנימית לנצראללה ומנהיגותו, ומגבירה מתחים פנימיים ומאבקי כח בתוך הארגון. במקביל, חזבאללה מתכתש היום עם ארגונים סונים קיצוניים לאורך גבול לבנון – סוריה, ובה בעת נאלץ גם להקצות משאבים גוברים והולכים להגן על נכסיו מתקניו ואנשיו בתוך לבנון מפני התקפות של ארגונים פלסטינים המזוהים עם אלקאעדה וקבוצות סלפיות ג’האדיות הפועלים מתוך מחנות הפליטים הפלסטינים בלבנון, וכן ארגונים אלסמאיסטים המסתננים מסוריה לתוך לבנון במטרה לפגוע בחזבאללה בביתו כנקמה על מעורבותו המלחמה בסוריה. במישור הכלל ערבי, גרמה מעורבותו של חזבאללה במלחמה בסוריה לפגיעה אנושה בתדמיתו של הארגון בעולם הערבי. בנוסף, על רקע המצוקה הכלכלית מחריפה של פטרונו – המשטר האירני – קוצץ היקף הסיוע הכספי שמקבל חזבאללה מאירן, דבר היוצר לחץ מוסף על הארגון. כללו של דבר, חזבאללה כיום מצוי בשפל קשה והוא מותח את יכולותיו עד לקצה. פתיחת חזית צבאית במקביל מול ישראל בתזמון הנוכחי עלולה להיות הרת אסון מבחינת חזבאללה ואירן.

השיקול השני הוא תכנית הגרעין האירנית. ההשקעה העצומה של אירן בבניית יכולת הטילים והרקטות העצומה של חזבאללה נועדה לשמש הן כקלף מיקוח ביד המשטר האירני בהקשר של המו”מ על תכנית הגרעין האירנית, והן להרתעה מפני תקיפה צבאית של תשתית הגרעין האירנית. עימות חזיתי כולל עם ישראל עלול להסתיים בפגיעה קשה ביותר במערך הרקטי של חזבאללה ולהביא לכך שאירן עלולה לאבד קלף מיקוח מרכזי.

בהנחה אם כן שחזבאללה לא יזום תגובה שעלולה להוביל לעימות צבאי כולל עם ישראל לעת הזו, מהן אופציות התגובה של חזבאללה ומה הסבירות למימושן בשקלול האילוצים והתנאים שצויינו לעיל ?

אפשרות אחת הינה ירי רקטות. הסבירות למתקפה רקטית רחבת היקף של חזבאללה על שטח ישראל בתגובה לאירוע בקנייטרה אינה גבוהה. יתכן עם זאת, שקבלני משנה של חזבאללה יבצעו ירי רקטות ספוראדי משטח לבנון / או סוריה לעבר שטח ישראל. נסיון העבר מלמד שירי כזה מתרחש בצמידות גבוהה למדי לאירוע שקדם לו (בטווח זמן של 12-72שעות) הסבירות למימוש מתווה זה בינונית עד גבוהה.

אפשרות אחרת הינה תקיפה שמטרתה הרג של חיילים ישראלים. המתווה הסביר יותר בקטגוריה זו הינו תקיפת יעדים צבאיים יעדים אפשריים לתקיפה כזו הינם סיורים, מוצבים, כלי שיט וכלי טיס צבאיים. הסבירות למימוש מתווה כזה גבוהה. ראוי בהקשר זה לציין כי לאירן ולחזבאללה יש יכולת לבצע פיגוע התאבדות תוך שימוש בסירות מהירות. יתכן כי מתווה כזה יבוצע על ידי סוכן משנה שלא יזוהה ישירות עם חזבאללה

מתווה נוסף הינו חטיפה של חיילים ישראלים. הסבירות שחזבאללה יבחר במתווה זה הינה להערכתי נמוכה.

מתווה אחר הוא תקיפה של יעדים ישראלים ויהודים בחו”ל. אף כי חזבאללה עשה שימוש במתווה זה לא אחת, הסבירות שחזבאללה יבחר במתווה זה אינה גבוהה בעיניי וזאת מכמה סיבות: ראשית, המו”מ של אירן עם המערב לגבי תכנית הגרעין של אירן נכנס לשלבים מכריעים, ולאירן יש אינטרס בלגיטימציה בדעת הקהל העולמית. מתקפת טרור של חזבאללה שהוא בן חסות של ימצק את תדמיתה של אירן כגורם מסוכן התומך ומעודד טרור עולמי ובכך יחליש את יכול המיקוח של אירן במו”מ על הגרעין שלה. בהקשר הזה חשוב להזכיר כי תחת רישומה של מתקפת הטרור בפאריז, בדעת הקהל המערבית ובקרב הממשלות במערב גוברת ההבנה כי הטרור הוא איום מוחשי וכי יש לגלות אפס סובלנות כלפי מי מעודד טרור ותומך בו. ראוי להזכיר בהקשר זה, כי מנהיג חזבאללה עצמו גינה את מקפת הטרור בפאריז. סיבה שניה היא, שחזבאללה חווה סדרת כשלונות מביכה בנסיונות לבצע מתקפות בחו”ל. יתכן, כי הסיבה לכשלונות אלה הינה חדירה מודיעינית עמוקה של שירותי מודיעין ובכלל זה של ישראל לשורות הארגון. סגנו של נצראללה הודה בגלוי כי הפגיעה שנגרמה לחזבאללה כתוצאה לחדירה המודיעינית לשורותיו עמוקה וקשה. בהקשר זה יצויין, כי בשבועות האחרונים מצוי חזבאללה במבוכה עצומה על רקע דווחים כי נחשף בכיר בשורות מנגנון פיגועי חו”ל של הארגון שפעל לפי דווחים בשירות המוסד הישראלי. בהקשר זה נמסר כי חזבאללה מבצע כיום שידוד מערכות רחב – הכולל סגירה ורה –ארגון של מנגנון פיגועי חו”ל שלו. המשמעות האפשרית לכך היא שנפגעה היכולת האופרטיבית של חזבאללה להוציא אל הפועל “תכנית מדף” לביצוע מתקפה בחו”ל בטווח זמן קצר.

יש מתווה אפשרי אחר לתגובה של חזבאללה והוא נסיון כיבוש של מוצב צבאי ישראלי. להערכתי, אם יבחר חזבאללה במתווה כזה יעד התקיה יהי ברמת הגולן ולא על גבול לבנון. יש לכך כמה סיבות: ראשית, תקיפה של מוצב בגבול לבנון תהווה הפרה של החלטת מועצת הבטחון 1701. שנית, תקיפה כזו תוביל בוודאות גבוהה לתגובה ישראלית קשה נגד לבנון שממשלתה מוחזקת על ידי ישראל כאחראית למתרחש בשטחה. התפתחות כזו תחייב את חזבאללה – המנסה לזכות בלגיטימציה בנימוק שהוא “מגן על ריבונות לבנון”, להתערב ומפה קצרה הדרך להתלקחות חזיתית רחבה שלחזבאללה ולאירן כאמור אין לעת הזו אינטרס בה. על פניו נראה, כי הסבירות למימוש מתווה של תקיפת מוצב ישראלי אינה רבה, אולם ראוי בעיניי לבחון מתווה זה במשנה רצינות. מדוע? מעבר לעובדה שמהלך כזה יכול לגרום להרג רב של חיילים ישראלים, לחזבאללה יכול להיות ענין מיוחד במהלך כזה מסיבות נוספות: ראשית, תדמיתו של חזבאללה ככח צבאי חזק נסדקת ונשחקת על רקע סדרת כשלונות וכשלים מבצעיים חמורים שאירעו לו במלחמה בסוריה, כמו שבי של לוחמיו בידי ארגוני מורדים בסוריה, גידול חד במספר ההרוגים שלו בגזרת אלקלמון, ואולי האירוע החמור מכל מבחינתו – כיבוש מוצב של חזבאללה על גבול לבנון –סוריה על ידי ארגון ג’בהת אלנצרה והרג שמונה לוחמי חזבאללה באירוע (אוקטובר 2014) על פי דווחים, נצראללה עצמו נחפז להגיע לביקור באיזור לאחר האירוע כדי לשכך את הביקורת ולשקם את מורל לוחמיו. לפיכך, האופציה של תקיפת מוצב ישראלי שמן הסתם תתועד על ידי חזבאללה מכל זוית, עלולה להיראות בעיני הארגון כדרך לשיקום תדמיתו ויוקרתו.  סיבה נוספת שעלולה לגרום לחזבאללה לשקול ברצינות מתווה כזה היא הערכתו, שישראל לא תגיב באופן חמור על מהלך כזה (גם אם יוביל להרג חיילים ישראלים) אם מתוך הבנה שזהו מהלך המתקיים במסגרת חוקי משחק מקובלים או מתוך חוסר רצון לפתוח מלחמה כוללת או שתי הסיבות גם יחד. הנעלם הגדול ביחס לסבירות המימוש של מתווה זה הוא האם חזבאללה, כפי שקרה בשנת 2006, יבחר לממש מתווה זה מתוך הערכת חסר של תגובה ישראלית למהלך כזה? על שאלה זו אין תשובה ברורה לעת עתה.

מכלול השיקולים והאילוצים מציג לאירן וחזבאללה דילמה מהי דרך התגובה הנכונה ביותר מבחינתם. המשמעות לכך היא, להערכתי, כי בטווח הזמן הקרוב לא צפויה תגובה כזו. סביר להניח כי אירן וחזבאללה יקחו את הזמן לגבש ולתכנן את תגובתם – וצריך לזכור כי חזבאללה הוכיח לא אחת תכנון המאופיין ביצירתיות מרשימה ויכולת ביצוע גבוהה.

בהנחה שישראל אכן ביצעה את התקיפה ברמת הגולן, יש לראות בכך מסר ישראלי משמעותי לאירן ולחזבאללה בכמה רבדים. ברובד אחד, ממחיש האירוע כי לישראל יש יכולות מודיעיניות מעולות. ברובד אחר, ישראל מבהירה כי רמת הגולן היא מחוץ לתחום. בדור האחרון, הצליחה אירן לבנות טבעת חנק סביב ישראל באמצעות סוכני ביצוע – חזבאללה בלבנון, חמאס וג’האד אסלאמי ברצועת עזה. תוך שהיא ממצבת עת עצמה כמגינת הפלסטינים בשם סיסמת “ההתנגדות“, גורמת אירן לישראל (וגם לפלסטינים וללבנונים) לדמם באופן מתמשך. התקיפה הישראלית מבהירה כי ישראל לא תאפשר לאירן ולחזבאללה לשכפל את הדגם של לבנון ורצועת עזה גם ברמת הגולן. ברובד אחר מעבירה ישראל מסר למשמרות המהפכה האירניים ולחוד החנית שלהם – כח אלקדס: אינכם חסינים מפגיעה. ולבסוף, המסר הישראלי החשוב ביותר הוא שלמרות הנסינות של אירן וחזבאללה ליצור משוואת הרתעה באמצעות איומים ומפגני כח צבאיים, ישראל פועלת ויוזמת כדי להבטיח אינטרסים חיוניים שלה, וכי אינה נרתעת מלפעול – גם בידיעה שעלול להיגבות ממנה מחיר יקר – כדי להסיר איום הנתפס בעיניה כבלתי נסבל. חשוב להזכיר בהקשר הזה כי הצמרת הישראלית הבכירה ביותר מדגישה תקופה ארוכה כי יכולת גרעינית צבאית אירנית היא איום בלתי נסבל מבחינת ישראל. ההקבלה ברורה למדי.


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