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Russian Chess in the Middle East – Part IV

This is the last of a four-part series on Russian maneuvering in the Middle East, and how it affects Israel. If you have not done so already, we recommend first reading Russian Chess in the Middle East – Part IRussian Chess in the Middle East – Part II and Russian Chess in the Middle East – Part III

“The discrepancy of approaches [in Russia’s dealings with Israel] is explained by the split inside the Kremlin,” said Zvi Magen, an expert specializing in Russia’s foreign policy at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). “The government is divided into those who call for tighter cooperation with the Islamic states (like Syria and Iran), and those – the so-called mainstream – who advocate good ties with all the regional players as part and parcel of Russia’s multi-vector foreign policy,” he argued.

As the Middle East once again becomes a ground for a US-Russian confrontation, Moscow views Syria and Iran as its last frontier, the fall of which would hurt Russia’s national interests and undermine any hope of restoring its past glory as a superpower.

That’s why, according to Magen, Russia is clinging not to the regime of Assad but rather to Syria as a strategically important location. “Determined to maintain its positions in the region, Moscow is willing to hold talks with all the parties to the conflict, be it the government or the opposition, while trying to reach a consensus with the West,” he explained.

Addressing the potential split of Syria, Magen is certain that if it does take place, Russia will try to establish ties with the various resulting cantons to promote its interests.

When it comes to Iran, Magen thinks that Moscow will not want to see a nuclear Iran at her borders because that would enable Iran to “…leverage nuclear weapons to position itself as a superpower with all of the geopolitical ramifications this has for the region, including damage to Russia’s standing.”

Additionally, an atomic bomb in the hands of the Islamic Republic could trigger a regional arms race, which would destabilize international security.

Nevertheless, the pundit believes Moscow has an interest in keeping Iran’s anti-American regime in power to use it as a “bargaining chip” in its negotiations with Washington.

Perhaps this is the reason behind the Kremlin’s growing concern with the economic sanctions that have been imposed on Iran since 2006. “The regime of US and EU sanctions could finally topple the government in Tehran, depriving Russia of an ally in its anti-western bloc. That’s why Russia is actively mediating between the West and Iran, trying to find a way out of the stalemate,” argued Magen.

Commenting on the Israel-Russia ties, Magen, who served as Israel’s ambassador to Russia in the late 1990s, argued that the two states have much in common.

“First of all, there is a natural affinity due to the strong spiritual, historic, cultural and political ties, coupled with impressive bilateral trade that was primarily achieved thanks to Israel’s big Russian-speaking community that bridges between the countries,” he argued.

Moreover, following the upheavals in the Arab world, Russia and Israel found themselves in the same boat, facing a common challenge: radical Islam. Combined with a looming Turkish threat — as Ankara ‘bares its teeth’ to Moscow and Jerusalem amid attempts to pursue its hegemonic ambitions — the two countries seem willing to consider closer ties on security, military and strategic levels.

“Even though Israel is indeed considered to be the client of the US, and it seems unlikely that the Jewish state would be willing to turn its back on Washington in favor of Moscow, one can’t exclude the possibility that Israel might be interested in adding Russia to its circle of allies as part of Israel’s own multi-vector foreign policy,” concluded Magen.

 
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Posted by on 3. September 2012 in Arab, Iran, Islam, Israel, Middleeast, Muslim, Politic, Putin, Russia, Syria, USA

 

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PM Netanyahu’s Remarks at the Start of the Weekly Cabinet Meeting

From twitter: Read PM #Netanyahu‘s Remarks at the Start of the Weekly Cabinet Meetinghttp://bit.ly/O4z5QP  #Israel #Iran #economy#paralympics

02/09/2012

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Following are Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting today:

“Last week, the representatives of 120 countries gathered in Tehran. They heard contemptuous, anti-Semitic remarks by the ruler of Iran, and this was in continuation of his statements about the destruction of Israel. Nobody stood up. Nobody left the hall. This is worse given the IAEA report that was published over the weekend. The report confirms what we have been saying for some time – while the international sanctions are indeed making things difficult for the Iranian economy, they are not delaying the progress of the Iranian nuclear project.

The Iranians are using the talks with the major powers to gain time in order to advance their nuclear project. I believe that the truth must be told – the international community is not setting Iran a clear red line and Iran does not see international determination to stop its nuclear project. Until Iran sees a clear red line and such determination, it will not stop the progress of its nuclear project – and Iran must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons.

On the economic front, I would like to say that the world is still in a continuing economic crisis, the worst to strike the global economy in 80 years. These conditions are making it difficult for the citizens of all countries, especially the developed countries, and are also making things difficult for Israelis. We are obliged to tighten our belt in order to maintain the Israeli economy. This is not easy, this entails difficulties for citizens and I know this. But alongside these difficulties, which have been created as a result of the global crisis, we are also doing things. This week, the law on free education from age 3 took effect, which is saving at least NIS 800 per child per month. This is alongside the income tax credit points, the reform in the cellular phone market, and free dental care for children up to age 12. All of these, and other steps, are saving money for many citizens. In my view, it is more important than anything that we maintain Israelis’ jobs; it must be understood that this is the most social thing.

Last week, the Central Bureau of Statistics published the unemployment data for last month. They stand at 6.5% — this is lower than the unemployment rate in the US, Europe and almost every other developed state. We will continue to maintain the economy and we will continue to maintain Israelis’ jobs and will even work to create additional jobs.

Today, the Cabinet will hear a review by Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan on the important actions being taken to improve the environment – I can say the quality of life – and advance the green revolution in Israel.

We will also hear a review by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Israel Police Inspector-General Yohanan Danino on the many actions being taken to lower the crime rate in Israel. There are optimistic data in this regard and it is important that we hear them. We also give our backing to the continuation of these actions.

Lastly, I would like to congratulate the Israeli athletes who won three bronze medals at the Paralympics over the weekend. These are bronze medals; for us they are all gold and we are very, very proud of our athletes and we salute them. You can watch them live.

Thank you.”

 
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Posted by on 2. September 2012 in Iran, Israel, Jerusalem, Middleeast, Netanyahu, Politic

 

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Russian Chess in the Middle East – Part I

Syrian authorities are ready to negotiate with the opposition and “form a government of national unity,” said the country’s Deputy Prime Minister, Qadri Jamil, while rejecting President Bashar Al Assad’s departure as precondition for talks during a press conference in Moscow on Tuesday.

Although this is the first time that a high ranking official has declared the regime’s willingness to sit down for talks with the rival forces trying to oust the regime from power, the US dismissed Jamil’s remarks as “insignificant,” with the State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland insisting on Assad’s resignation as the only way out of the stalemate.

So far, the demand has been met with fierce objections by the Russians and Chinese, who call for the establishment of a transitional government involving all of the conflicting parties. Moscow also opposes US demands for a no-fly zone over Syria that might pave the way to a military intervention – something that according to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov could lead to a “catastrophe”.

As the conflict in Syria enters its 18th month, Russia and the West have failed to reach an agreement that would stop the continuing bloodshed in Syria. The world powers are also struggling to find a solution to Iran’s suspected nuclear program. Even though the recent round of talks between the Islamic Republic and P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) were deemed a “failure,” Moscow called such an approach as “hysterical rhetoric,” suggesting that Russia is anxious to find a diplomatic solution to the impasse.

In an attempt to understand Russia’s foreign policy in the Middle East as well as Moscow’s motivation to back regimes perceived by many as oppressive, Israel Today talked to leading experts in Russia and Israel.

Check back for the continuation of this important story.

 
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Posted by on 27. August 2012 in Middleeast, Politic, Russia, USA

 

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The Changing Middle East: Revolt Against Artificial Borders – Part I

The Arab Spring is turning out to be a revolt against the Middle East borders artificially created by Western powers after World War I as much as it is a pro-democracy movement

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 | Elizabeth Blade – http://www.israeltoday.co.il

Several days ago, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Syria announced that it would establish its own militia, the Armed Men of the Muslim Brotherhood, and function independently of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – the main military rebel movement.

United by a common goal to topple the Assad regime, the two entities seem to have different backers, pursuing conflicting interests. The FSA – consisting mainly of defectors and representatives of various religious groups – is supported by Saudi Arabia, while the new group is funded by Qatar, a country that promotes Islamist regimes.

The fact that there are conflicting parties involved in the civil war comes as no surprise to some experts, who say divisions within the opposition were dictated by the ethnically diverse nature of Syria.

“Syria is a medley of ethnicities, religions, languages and cultures – all living in one place, where every group is competing in a tug of war, trying to promote its own interests,” said Orit Perlov, a researcher with the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS) specializing in the Arab states.

The same pattern holds true for the rest of the Arab world, where different ethnic communities and tribes have been forced to share the same territory despite significant differences. With the eruption of the upheavals that have rocked the Middle East since late 2010, movements have begun resisting the artificially drawn borders – intact since the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 – that divided control over the Arab provinces of the ailing Ottoman Empire between Britain, France, and Russia after the conclusion of World War I.

In December 2011, the spokesperson for Syria’s MB, Zuhair Salim, stated that the organization was interested in reviving the caliphate and creating a state for all Muslims of the region. “The hell with Syria and Syrian nationalism!” he was quoted by Kurdish-Iraqi publication Kurdwatch as saying. “How was the modern Syria created? It was sketched by Sykes and Picot… We don’t recognize this agreement!” he added.

Addressing the issue, Reuven Paz, a former head of the research department at Israel’s General Security Service agreed with Salim’s statement, saying that “although the Arab Spring was inspired by social inequality and widespread corruption it was also caused by the desire to scrap the artificial boundaries between states and to establish a more natural territorial division of the Middle East”.

Boasting a crucially strategic location, the Middle East served as a convenient ground for the superpowers to promote their geopolitical and economic interests, where little (or no) heed was paid to the interests, desires, or differences of the affected local communities. “The borders were aimed at securing the world powers’ access to key locations, like the Suez Canal, present day Iran and Iraq, [all of which] led to India, Britain’s former colony,” explained Paz. The pundit also stressed that western involvement in the region has only increased following the discovery of impressive reserves of oil first in Persia (1908) and then Saudi Arabia (1938).

But by fragmenting the region, Paz reasoned, the world powers created mostly failed states, torn by endless wars and conflicts. Each of Israel’s neighbors, for example, has had tense relations with a fellow Arab state. Such was the case with Jordan and Saudi Arabia (following King Hussein’s pro-Saddam stance in 1991), Syria with Iraq (after Syria sided with Iran during the Iran-Iraq war), Lebanon with Syria (amid the Lebanese civil war), among other instances. The absence of close economic relations, the expansionist ambitions of certain regional leaders, and frequent territorial disputes aggravated the situation even further, leaving the region in a perpetual state of tension and conflict.

“Even though there were attempts to unite the peoples under various ideological concepts, including socialism, communism, nationalism, Pan Arabism, all of them failed – although strong armies and powerful leaders (read dictators) did serve as connecting elements,” stated Paz, stressing that only religion was able to bring a sense of unity and belonging.

Yet, in a pluralistic country like Syria, the possibility of religious unity is unlikely. Out of the country’s 22.5 million people, some 74% are Sunni Muslims (with at least 40% belonging to the MB). Other Muslim sects like Druze, Alawis and Kurds make up 16% of the population, whereas Christians of various denominations comprise 10%.

This is part one of a three-part story. Check back for part two of this important report.

 

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Why is Netanyahu mute on findings legalizing Jewish settlement?

Committee of top Israeli jurists rules Jewish presence in ‘West Bank’ cannot be labeled ‘occupation’ under international law, but Netanyahu seems too scared of Obama to accept the conclusion

Thursday, August 09, 2012 | Ryan Jones – http://www.israeltoday.co.il

Israeli Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan this week questioned why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has remained mute on the findings of a recently concluded legal commission that concluded Jews do have a legal right to build and live in Judea and Samaria (the so-called “West Bank”).

“After years in which, unfortunately, a question mark hovered over the question of the right of the state of Israel to settle in Judea and Samaria, a panel of senior jurists…determined that Israelis have a legal right to settle [there],” Erdan was quoted as saying by Israel National News. “Let us not leave this report in the desk drawer.”

Erdan was referring to the Levy Committee that Netanyahu himself established to look into the legality of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria under international law.

The committee was comprised of three senior Israeli jurists, including an international law expert who was party to the formulation of the “Oslo Accords.”

The committee made public its findings early last month, noting that the standard accusation that Israel is militarily occupying Judea and Samaria is inaccurate under international law.

“Our basic conclusion is that from the point of view of international law, the classical laws of ‘occupation’ as set out in the relevant international conventions cannot be considered applicable to the unique and sui generis historic and legal circumstances of Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria, over the course of decades,” the judges wrote.

In other words, the Geneva Conventions define “military occupation” as the seizing of another nation’s land, and the fact is that no nation legally controlled Judea and Samaria following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, which itself had ruled the area for over five centuries.

Additionally, the Jews cannot be considered an outside force in Judea and Samaria, but rather the historic founders of the territory as a unified nation-state. Jewish archeological finds dating back millennia abound in the “West Bank.”

The committee based its findings on “international, Jordanian, Israeli and even Ottoman laws,” all of which led to one inescapable truth: “Israelis have the legal right to settle in Judea and Samaria and the establishment of settlements cannot, in and of itself, be considered to be illegal.”

The issue of private Arab land being taken for Jewish construction is another matter, but judges did point out that the vast majority of Jewish settlement construction is on state-owned land or land legally purchased by Jewish individuals and organizations.

So why is Netanyahu sitting on this report rather than presenting it to his cabinet for discussion and adoption?

The prime minister himself is keeping a tight lip on the subject, but most commentators assume the reason is because of the Obama White House’s deep displeasure with the Levy Committee.

“We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts,” US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters after the committee’s findings were published. Ventrell said the White House was “concerned” that Netanyahu had even established such a committee.

 

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