Thursday, February 17, 2011

"It Never Stops"

Arlene Kushner

My approach yesterday of providing good news first seemed to be well received. But today I must start with the bad news, because I don't want to chance some of my readers just reading the good stuff and not getting to the rest.


News has broken of willingness by the Obama administration to allow criticism of Israel with regard to "settlements" to go through in the Security Council, if the tone is softened.

Omri Ceren has written an article in Commentary about this that should be seen. It includes a citation from the publication Foreign Policy, which says:

"The U.S. informed Arab governments Friday that it will support a U.N. Security Council statement reaffirming that the 15-nation body 'does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,' a move aimed at avoiding the prospect of having to veto a stronger Palestinian resolution calling the settlements illegal. But the Palestinian’s rejected the American offer. … [US Ambassador to the UN, Rice] outlined the new U.S. offer in a closed door meeting on Tuesday with the Arab Group. … [I]n exchange for scuttling the Palestinian resolution, the United States would support the council statement, consider supporting a U.N. Security Council visit to the Middle East, the first since 1979, and commit to supporting strong language criticizing Israel’s settlement policies in a future statement by the Middle East Quartet." Adds Ceren:

"In a way, this is a natural follow-up to the administration’s bumbling in Egypt, where they managed to alienate all parties in the Middle East except the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, and Iran’s assorted proxies. This gesture won’t win us any lasting goodwill from Arab elites. WikiLeaks showed that they care far more about geopolitical stability than they do about the settlements, such that the spectacle of the White House abandoning a second ally for the second week in a row would be met with worried chagrin, regardless of what they say out loud...

"...our [US] UN mission...seems to believe that 'bargaining' means 'getting progressively closer to the other side’s position.' We’re negotiating with the likes of Libya and the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon over whether we should protect one of our last Middle East allies against a biased UN lynch mob."


OK. We have a radical-Muslim loving enemy in the White House. This is not news.

Seems, once again, that we may be saved by the Arabs, who are refusing to compromise and are pushing for that full Security Council resolution. Which, by the way, will be debated tomorrow (and very likely past Shabbat time for me, here in Israel). For, in spite of everything, the US may still veto this full tougher resolution (albeit reluctantly) because it contradicts US policy, which is that issues must be dealt with via negotiations. If the US had no problem accepting the full resolution, it would not have tried to soften it. As it is, the US now has to decide whom to anger.


However, we are not without friends in the US, and I am receiving word about members of the House speaking out about this -- though I do not have details as I write.

What I ask is that each of you speak out as well. It must be today:

Communicate to Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama your demand that the US not betray the only friend it has in the Middle East, and that the resolution on settlements in Israel to be brought before the Security Council be vetoed.

We need huge numbers on this. Flood them with your messages. No rudeness -- it's counterproductive. No long sermons or history lessons. Keep it short, clear and direct.

For Secretary Clinton

Contact the State Department Public Communication Division:

Phone 202-647-6575 Fax 202-647-1579

For President Obama

Fax: 202-456-2461 White House Comment line: 202-456-1111

e-mail form via: (This is the least effective option.)


I had predicted that, because of the unrest in Egypt, Israel would not be permitting any further Egyptian troops into the Sinai, following the 800 we agreed to allow in, primarily in the south and at Rafah, in January.

I was wrong. The Sinai is in chaos, and it's not just the Bedouins who are the trouble: Egyptian police have been holding mass demonstrations in the northern Sinai because they are attacked by the Bedouin: police have been killed recently. They want better pay, and better conditions.

And so we've said yes to some "small number" (not quantified) of additional army troops to deal with the terrorist-supporting Bedouins, who are not being dealt with by the police, and to guard the natural gas pipeline to Israel.

Bedouin near St Catherine's monastery, Sinai, Egypt

Reportedly, the Egyptian military has agreed not to deploy near the border with southern Israel, and to leave if requested to do so. There may be good reasons for the decision made in Israel -- with regard both to protection of the gas line and prevention of terrorism -- but there's a danger, a certain perverse logic, here. The promises made by the Egyptian military are only good if they wish to honor them. If a situation arose in which we would feel the need to ask them to leave, we then might be facing precisely the sort of situation in which the Egyptian troops were no longer amenable to respecting our demands.

Obviously the betting in Jerusalem is that the military in control in Egypt presents no threat to Israel now. And the following article helps us understand why this may so.


Thoughts of George Friedman, writing for the Stratfor Geopolitical Intelligence Report, are below. I have reproduced a good deal of what he wrote, but stay with it because it's a fascinatingly different perspective:

"On Feb. 11, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned. A military council was named to govern in his place. On Feb. 11-12, the crowds that had gathered in Tahrir Square celebrated Mubarak's fall and the triumph of democracy in Egypt. On Feb. 13, the military council abolished the constitution and dissolved parliament, promising a new constitution to be ratified by a referendum and stating that the military would rule for six months, or until the military decides it's ready to hold parliamentary and presidential elections.

"What we see is that while Mubarak is gone, the military regime in which he served has dramatically increased its power...

"At this point, we simply don't know what will happen. We do know what has happened. Mubarak is out of office, the military regime remains intact and it is stronger than ever...but the reality of what has happened...and the interpretation that much of the world has placed on it are startlingly different. Power rests with the regime, not with the crowds. In our view, the crowds never had nearly as much power as many have claimed.

"Certainly, there was a large crowd concentrated in a square in Cairo, and there were demonstrations in other cities. But the crowd was limited. It never got to be more than 300,000 people or so in Tahrir Square, and while that's a lot of people, it is nothing like the crowds that turned out during the 1989 risings in Eastern Europe or the 1979 revolution in Iran. Those were massive social convulsions in which millions came out onto the streets. The crowd in Cairo never swelled to the point that it involved a substantial portion of the city.

"In a genuine revolution, the police and military cannot contain the crowds. In Egypt, the military chose not to confront the demonstrators...because it agreed with the demonstrators' core demand: getting rid of Mubarak. And since the military was the essence of the Egyptian regime, it is odd to consider this a revolution.


"The crowd in Cairo, as telegenic as it was, was the backdrop to the drama, not the main feature. The main drama began months ago when it became apparent that Mubarak intended to make his reform-minded 47-year-old son, Gamal, lacking in military service, president of Egypt. This represented a direct challenge to the regime. In a way, Mubarak was the one trying to overthrow the regime.

"The Egyptian regime was founded in a coup led by Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser...It was intended to be a secular regime with democratic elements, but it would be guaranteed and ultimately controlled by the military.

"...Each successive president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, while formally elected in elections of varying dubiousness, was an officer in the Egyptian military...

"Mubarak's decision to name his son represented a direct challenge to the Egyptian regime. Gamal Mubarak was not a career military officer...Mubarak's desire to have his son succeed him appalled and enraged the Egyptian military, the defender of the regime. If he were to be appointed, then the military regime would be replaced by, in essence, a hereditary monarchy — what had ruled Egypt before the military...Mubarak's insistence on Gamal and his unwillingness to step down created a crisis for the regime. The military feared the regime could not survive Mubarak's ambitions.


"This is the key point to understand. There is a critical distinction between the regime and Hosni Mubarak. The regime consisted — and consists — of complex institutions centered on the military but also including the civilian bureaucracy controlled by the military. Hosni Mubarak...was increasingly seen as a threat to the regime, and the regime turned on him.

"The demonstrators never called for the downfall of the regime. They demanded that Mubarak step aside...The military did not like the spectacle of the crowds, which is not the way the military likes to handle political matters. At the same time, paradoxically, the military welcomed the demonstrations, since they created a crisis that put the question of Mubarak's future on the table. They gave the military an opportunity to save the regime and preserve its own interests.

"The Egyptian military is opaque... Who was on what side is a guess. What is known is that many in the military opposed Gamal, would not push the issue to a coup, and then staged a coup designed to save the regime after the demonstrations in Cairo were under way.

"That is the point. What happened was not a revolution. The demonstrators never brought down Mubarak, let alone the regime. What happened was a military coup that used the cover of protests to force Mubarak out of office in order to preserve the regime.

"We now face the question of whether the coup will turn into a revolution. The demonstrators demanded — and the military has agreed to hold — genuinely democratic elections and to stop repression. It is not clear that the new leaders mean what they have said...But there are deeper problems in the democratization of Egypt. First, Mubarak's repression had wrecked civil society...Second, the military is deeply enmeshed in running the country...and it is not clear that, in the end, the military will want to leave the position it has held for more than half a century.


"Of course, there is the feeling...that something unheard of has taken place, as U.S. President Barack Obama has implied. It is said to have something to do with Twitter and Facebook. We should recall that, in our time, genuine revolutions that destroyed regimes took place in 1989 and 1979, the latter even before there were PCs. Indeed, such revolutions go back to the 18th century. None of them required smartphones, and all of them were more thorough and profound than what has happened in Egypt so far. This revolution will not be 'Twitterized.' The largest number of protesters arrived in Tahrir Square after the Internet was completely shut down.

"The new government has promised to honor all foreign commitments, which obviously include the most controversial one in Egypt, the treaty with Israel... [however], the crowds in the square seemed to have other thoughts, not yet clearly defined. But then, it is not clear that the demonstrators in the square represent the wishes of 80 million Egyptians.


"The Egyptian government is hardly in a position to confront Israel, even if it wanted to. The Egyptian army has mostly American equipment and cannot function if the Americans don't provide spare parts or contractors to maintain that equipment...Egypt is not going to war any time soon.

"It is not that nothing happened in Egypt, and it is not that it isn't important. It is simply that what happened was not what the media portrayed but a much more complex process...

"...An 82-year-old man has been thrown out of office, and his son will not be president. The constitution and parliament are gone and a military junta is in charge. The rest is speculation."


Prime Minister's brief comment on the situation in Egypt was, in essence, that while we hope for the best for the people of Israel, we must prepare for the worst.


The predicted entry of two Iranian ships into the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal has not transpired. At least not yet. I'm getting conflicting reports on what may have happened:

The reports that the ships were coming through the Suez Canal may have been premature, for there were claims that the officials at the Canal never received from Iran the requisite application for permission to pass. (Those claims, of course, not necessarily proving anything.)

Or Iran may have been intending to move on this, but then been dissuaded by messages that we'll never know about.

Or, as Al Arabiya TV reported today,
Egyptian authorities may have prevented the two Iranian ships -- currently docked at the Jeddah port in Saudi Arabia -- from crossing the Canal.

From one unnamed Egyptian source came a report that the planned crossing was postponed to an unknown future date.

At any rate, for the moment, the knowledge that an Iranian missile ship is not in Mediterranean waters qualifies as good news in my book.


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

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