Analysis 10-01-2014

Behind the Scenes Turmoil at the Federal Reserve

This week, the Senate confirmed Janet Yellen as the new Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  At the same time, it is confirmed that her previous position as Vice Chairman and Governor will be given to Stanley  Fischer, former head of Israel’s central bank (Wall Street Journal, Jan. 10, 2014). Xxx Obama’s announcement   Stanley Fischer brings decades of leadership and expertise from various roles, including serving at the International Monetary Fund and the Bank of Israel.  He is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s leading and most experienced economic policy minds 

The move is politically controversial and will have foreign policy repercussions as  Fischer has dual Israeli/US citizenship.  Many, on both political sides of spectrum, are asking if such a position should be held by one who has dual loyalties.  They point out that critics of Texas Senator Ted Cruz say his dual Canadian/American citizenship make him a questionable choice for president.  Could  Fischer’s divided loyalties hinder the development of American monetary policy in favor of Israel?

No doubt Fischer is eminently qualified economist.  In addition to his position at Israel’s central bank, he also has held high-level posts at Citigroup, was chief economist of the World Bank, and First Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. As a professor at the University of Chicago and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he taught a generation of economists, including former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers, President George W. Bush’s economic adviser Greg Mankiw and former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke.

Unlike many economists who are more comfortable in academic situations, Fischer has been a success in implementing economic policy at the IMF and Israel’s central bank.  At the Bank of Israel, Fischer cut interest rates early in the global financial crisis and began raising them in 2009, the first major central bank to do so.

Fischer as central bank of Israel head helped in developing the financial sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program – a skill that may find itself useful at the Fed.  He has also come out in favor of an Israeli/Palestinian agreement.

But, there is more to this than bringing on a person who was successful at implementing monetary policy in Israel.  As America’s economy continues to move sluggishly along, there is turmoil in monetary circles.  The Obama White House wants an economic recovery that will help Democratic election chances in November.  However, the traditional tools of monetary policy used by the Federal Reserve have been ineffective and new tools introduced in the last 5 years have not been any more effective.  Many are asking if the rules of economics have changed or if there is a fundamental problem that isn’t being addressed.

The answer, as one can expect, depends on one’s politics.

However, before going into that, lets do a quick survey of the Federal Reserve and its place in the US and international monetary system.

A Beginners Guide to the Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve System (also known as the Federal Reserve, and informally as the Fed) is the central banking system of the United States. It was created on December 23, 1913, with the enactment of the Federal Reserve Act.  The Federal Reserve System’s structure is composed of the presidentially appointed Board of Governors (or Federal Reserve Board), the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), and twelve regional Federal Reserve Banks located in major cities throughout the nation.  The Federal Reserve Banks are owned by the respective banks in their districts.  However, that ownership doesn’t give them any control over the policies, which are determined by the Board of Governors.

The appointment of an Israeli citizen to the Vice Chairman position has raised questions about the Federal Reserve and its relationship to other countries, especially Israel.

Basically, the Fed acts as a banker.  The US Treasury has a checking account with the Fed, and tax receipts and federal expenditures go through it.  Foreign governments, central banks, and international organizations also have the same ability to have an account to facilitate business in the US.  They also can store securities with the Fed.  However, the Fed doesn’t have any ability to authorize loans to foreign governments without US government approval and a transfer from the US Treasury account.

Although the Federal Reserve’s Open Market activities can influence foreign exchange rates, Congress has given the US Treasury the authority over international financial policy.  If the Treasury decides to intervene in currency markets, it is the New York Fed that actually carries out the intervention.

One of the best known functions of the New York Fed is international gold storage.  Much of the gold in the vault arrived during and after World War II as many countries wanted to store their gold reserves in a safe location. Holdings in the gold vault continued to increase and peaked in 1973, shortly after the United States suspended convertibility of dollars into gold for foreign governments. At its peak, the vault contained over 12,000 tons of monetary gold. As of 2012, the vault housed approximately 530,000 gold bars, with a combined weight of approximately 6,700 tons.

The mandate of the Fed is to keep unemployment low and keep prices stable.  This is largely done through the Federal Open Market Committee.  It consists of all seven members of the Board of Governors and the twelve regional bank presidents, though only five bank presidents vote at any given time (the president of the New York Fed and four others who rotate through one-year terms).  The Federal Reserve System is considered an independent central bank because its monetary policy decisions do not have to be approved by the President or anyone else in the executive or legislative branches of government, it does not receive funding appropriated by the Congress, and the terms of the members of the Board of Governors span multiple presidential and congressional terms.

The Fed has several ways to influence the economy through the FOMC.  The best known is open market operations, which is the Fed practice of buying and selling Treasury securities to influence the supply of government debt and the cost of money. When the Fed wants to stimulate the economy, it buys bonds, thereby increasing the price and bringing down the interest rate on the securities. When the Fed wants to put the brakes on the economy, it sells Treasuries into the market to increase the supply, lower the price and raise interest rates.

They can also impact interest rates in other ways.  The most traditional Fed role is to set the federal funds rate, which banks pay to one another for overnight loans and which many consumer interest rates follow as a benchmark. The Fed can reach the desired federal funds rate in three ways: open market operations, the discount window and reserve requirements.

The Fed also sets the discount rate, which moves up and down in tandem with the federal funds rate. Banks pay the discount rate when they borrow from the regional Federal Reserve banks. When the discount rate rises, banks pay more to borrow and tend to lend less, which boosts interest rates and reduces the available credit. When the discount rate falls, banks lend more freely, flooding the market with credit and causing consumer interest rates to fall.

Finally, the Fed can influence interest rates through reserve requirements, which refer to the amount of capital that banks must hold as security for their deposits. If the Fed increases the amount required as reserves, banks will be discouraged from lending, which tightens credit availability and increases rates. If the Fed lowers reserve requirements, the reverse occurs. Typically, the Fed refrains from changing reserve requirements to influence monetary policy, unless it has no other option available, because of the uncertainty it can introduce for banks.

These are the traditional tools that the Fed has used over the last 100 years to set and manage American monetary policy.  However, in the last five years, the Fed has instituted several new tools – which have been controversial and have only had a marginal impact on the American economy.  In fact, former Fed Chairman Bernanke in August 2012 said these nontraditional policies, “could impair the functioning of securities markets, reduce public confidence in the Fed’s ability to exit smoothly from its accommodative policies, create risks to financial stability, and cause the possibility that the Federal Reserve could incur financial losses.

These nontraditional tools include credit easing, quantitative easing, and signaling. In credit easing, a central bank purchases private sector assets, in order to improve liquidity and improve access to credit.

Quantitative easing is buying specified amounts of long term financial assets from commercial banks and other private institutions, thus increasing the monetary base and lowering the yield on those financial assets.  This is different from the traditional policy of buying or selling government bonds in order to keep interest rates at a specified target value

Signaling can be used to lower market expectations for future interest rates. For example, during the credit crisis of 2008, the US Federal Reserve indicated rates would be low for an “extended period.”

However, despite the traditional tools of monitory policy and the new methods like quantitative easing, the US economy has stumbled along.  This has raised the question of, “What is the Federal Reserve doing wrong?”  This is the battle that both Yellen and  Fischer have entered.

The Future of Monetary Policy

So, what should the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve be?  That is a difficult one to answer.  In November 2011, Yellen said, “Monetary policy is not a panacea.”  Yet, she holds the tiller of American monetary policy.  On the other hand, Fischer has been generally supportive of the Fed’s efforts to pump money into the U.S. economy and keep interest rates low.

This is a case where much of the policy may come from Fischer.  Yellen is a respected academic and policy maker, but she is known to operate best when given a chance to prepare meticulously.  She is not an expert in crisis management.

Fischer has been forced to handle financial crisis on the fly.  He gained extensive crisis-management experience during his tenure at the IMF in the 1990s and as Israel’s central banker during the 2008-2009 global financial crises.

But, what sort of monetary policy should the Fed follow?  That is the question and there are many differing opinions – some optimistic and some pessimistic.

Yellen is worried about the ability of the Fed to impact the economy in the current situation.  Yellen believes in behavioral economics, which posits that people often don’t act rationally the way economic models say they should. She feels that the Fed’s traditional powers are limited now because the economy may be caught in a “liquidity trap,” with interest rates already so low that additional injections of cash by the central bank will do little or nothing to stimulate the economy

In the pessimist camp is Lawrence Summers, who was a Clinton economic advisor and was considered by Obama to be Fed Chairman.  According to him, the economic crisis isn’t over.  The reason for slow growth over the last 10 years is a fundamental structural change, where the inflation-adjusted interest rate may have fallen below zero – perhaps as low as negative 2-3% – “forever.”  This, according to him is caused by a glut of investment money from Asia and computer technology that has caused a decline in the cost of capital goods and reduced the need to invest.

This produces a problem for the Fed’s monetary policy tools.   Zero or negative interest rates make the Fed’s open market operations ineffective.  It also means the US will face long term slow economic growth.  The only solution will be a new set of monetary tools to manipulate the economy.

Nobel economist Paul Krugman has a different view.  He believes in more robust government sector spending.  He says concerns about US fiscal deficits and debt are misplaced even in the longer term. Although there is considerable concern that global investors will lose their enthusiasm for holding ever-greater amounts of US debt – resulting in a sharp depreciation of the dollar, which would make US exports more competitive. He maintains that there is less reason to worry about the long-term debt problem and more reason to worry that fiscal contraction over the last three years has been depriving the economy of needed demand.

There are also opinions within the Federal Reserve System.  David Wilcox, director of research and statistics at the Fed argues that the severity and duration of the downturn that began in December 2007 has been steadily eroding the capital stock and the size and skills of the labor force. Thus, slow US output and employment growth in the last few years is a result of the financial crisis, not of some structural change as Summers argues. Without customers, firms do not build new factories, even with low interest rates.  Meanwhile, workers who have been unemployed for a long time lose their skills and drop out of the market. This means less manufacturing capacity and a less effective labor force that is unable to economically grow as fast.  It also means that keeping interest rates low will not work by itself.  However, Wilcox recommends keeping interest rates low as long as employment remains high, which means that he favors continued easing in 2014.

There are also the concerns of the business and financial communities that have to make decisions based on Fed policy.  Richard Finger, a contributor to Forbes Magazine reflects the concerns of the business and money markets.  The quantitative easing tool especially concerns them as the Fed has increased its balance sheet to $3.7 trillion.  His concern, as written in Forbes is, “The Fed has no excess money or reserves… they simply fire up the printing presses and print out of thin air $85 billion of new money each and every month. This is money that goes directly into the money supply. Nobody knows the ultimate denouement of money printing on this scale. Germany tried “abnormal” money printing in the early 1920’s after W.W. I and the result was hyperinflation, collapse of the German economy, and the rise of Hitler.”

He also notes that Obama policy is preventing the investment that would encourage economic growth, even if there are low interest rates.  Obamacare and stiffer regulations, in his mind, are a bigger impact on the economy than Fed policy.

Beset with critics on both sides, the Fed is likely to steer a middle course.   Fischer is traditional and more likely to continue with the current Fed tools.  He feels monetary policy can work, even under current conditions. New tools like quantitative easing and signaling can push down the long-term interest rate. And there are other tools in addition to regulating the interest rate through the FOMC like influencing the exchange rate, equity prices, the real-estate market, and the credit channel.

Obama doesn’t care what policy is implemented as long as the economy recovers quickly – preferably before the November elections.   Fischer has a track record as a central bank chairman, which is something no one else has.  That was probably the key factor in his choice.  However, undoubtedly, the choice of an Israeli citizen as the head of America’s central bank will be considered a play towards Israeli public opinion.  What real advantage it gives Israel will depend eventually on Fischer’s real loyalties.



Cybersecurity and Stability in the Gulf

By James Andrew Lewis

Center for Strategic and International Studies

Jan 6, 2014

The Gulf has become a flashpoint for cyber conflict. Cyberspace has become an arena for covert struggle, with the United States, Israel and other nations on one side, and Iran and Russia on the other. Iran has far outpaced the GCC states in developing its cyber capabilities, both for monitoring internal dissent and deploying hackers to disrupt or attack foreign targets. Several such attacks over the past two years were likely either directed or permitted by Iranian state authorities. Even if Iran holds back from offensive actions as nuclear talks progress, the growth in Iranian capabilities remains a potential security threat for other Gulf states. The GCC countries have begun to develop their defensive capabilities, but they will need to expand their defenses and collaborate more effectively to deter future threats.

Read more



Iraq in Crisis

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 6, 2014

As events in late December 2013 and early 2014 have made brutally clear, Iraq is a nation in crisis bordering on civil war. It is burdened by a long history of war, internal power struggles, and failed governance. It is also a nation whose failed leadership is now creating a steady increase in the sectarian divisions between Shi’ite and Sunni, and the ethnic divisions between Arab and Kurd.  Iraq suffers badly from the legacy of mistakes the United States made during and after its invasion in 2003. It suffers from the threat posed by the reemergence of violent Sunni extremist movements like al-Qaeda and equally violent Shi’ite militias. It suffers from pressure from Iran and near isolation by several key Arab states. It has increasingly become the victim of the forces unleashed by the Syrian civil war.

Read more



Turkey Needs Less Money in Politics, and Less Politics in Court

By Sinan Ülgen

Carnegie Endowment

January 6, 2014

Financial Times

Until last month, one could not be blamed for thinking that nothing was rotten in the state of Turkey. The combined effect of government pressure, ubiquitous self-censorship and the conflicts of interest of media owners made reporting on corruption a taboo for the Turkish press. But this was shattered by recent allegations of high-level corruption within Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. The gravity of the allegations have already led to the resignation of four ministers and arguably represent the biggest threat to Mr Erdogan after 11 years of unchallenged rule.  The irony is that Mr Erdogan’s party had come to power in the wake of a failed decade of politics dominated by corruption and nepotism. His AK party had won a popular mandate with its anti-corruption rhetoric. Even the name of the party – “ak” means clean in Turkish – reflects that. It now seems that it was unable or unwilling to eradicate Turkey’s cycle of corruption-induced political crisis.

Read more



Principle and Prudence in American Foreign Policy

By Mackubin Thomas Owens

Foreign Policy Research Institute

January 2014

U.S. foreign policy is in shambles, characterized by drift and incoherence. It is at best a-strategic at worst anti-strategic, lacking any concept of how to apply limited resources to obtain our foreign policy goals because this administration has articulated no clear goals or objectives to be achieved. The foreign policy failures of the Obama Administration are legion: the Russian “reset” that has enabled Vladimir Putin to strut about as a latter-day czar; the betrayal of allies, especially in Central Europe, not to mention Israel; snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq by failing to achieve a status of forces agreement (SOFA) that would help to keep Iraq out of the Iranian orbit; the muddled approach to Afghanistan; our feckless policy—or lack of policy—regarding Iranian nuclear weapons, not to mention Libya and Benghazi, as well as Syria. President Obama has said that he was elected to end wars, not to start them, as if wars are fought for their own purpose. Ending wars is no virtue if the chance for success has been thrown away, as it was in Iraq.

Read more




Turkey’s 2014 Political Transition From Erdogan to Erdogan?

By Soner Cagaptay and James F. Jeffrey

Washington Institute

January 2014

Policy Notes 17

Turkey will hold local and presidential elections in 2014, both of significant import. The AKP, in power since 2002, has lasted longer than any other government since the country became a multiparty democracy in 1950. Likewise, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled Turkey longer than any other democratically elected leader. These two elections thus offer an opportunity for the AKP to strengthen its hand before the 2015 parliamentary elections.

Read more



President Rouhani and the IRGC

By Mehdi Khalaji

Washington Institute

January 8, 2014

PolicyWatch 2189

President Hassan Rouhani’s relationship with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is a central dynamic in the country’s politics and economy. As always, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ultimately determines the roles of the president and the IRGC, so Rouhani has sought to pursue his economic imperatives without crossing the Supreme Leader or the military elite on the nuclear issue.  Unlike previous presidents, Rouhani seems unwilling to dominate the IRGC or directly challenge its influence over various aspects of Iran’s political and economic life. Instead, his approach has been to refashion the IRGC’s functions through the Supreme Leader — who is commander-in-chief of the entire armed forces — rather than taking independent initiative. This means convincing Khamenei to improve the economy by adjusting the IRGC’s role in politics and business, limiting its influence over the public sector and weakening its ability to compete with the private sector.

Read more

Analysis 03-01-2014

Political Crisis in Turkey Threatens Erdogan’s Government

One political maxim that remains as true today as when it was coined over 100 years ago is that, “Power corrupts – absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  And, it doesn’t just occur in Third World one man rule like North Korea.  Democracies also are easy prey to corruption, especially when one political party stays in power too long.  America, Nixon, and Watergate is a prime example, but they are also found in Britain, France and Germany.  Even “progressive” nations like Sweden have their share of corruption, where the party is power abuses its power.

Therefore, it can’t be considered surprising that Erdogan and his administration in Turkey are finding themselves in trouble after 11 years in power and a growing centralization of power around Erdogan.  He has won three national elections – the first in 2002 because voters were tired of the corruption of the previous government, which was tied to the policies of Kemal Ataturk.  He replaced the overall direction with his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) that has pushed for a stronger Islamic bend to Turkish society and politics.  This has included putting restrictions on the sale of alcohol, enhancing the status of religious schools, encouraging the establishment of Muslim-oriented institutions of learning, and nominating more radical Islamists to powerful positions in the public sector.

However, with that came a corruption of his administration and a growing disrespect for Turkish institutions.  The Turkish media is subject to intimidation and journalists are sent to jail under a variety of charges. The business community is pressured to conform to Muslim mores instead or remaining secular.  This, in turn has alarmed more modern factions of the AKP, which are allied with American based Fethullah Gulen.

The first cracks appeared in the public support last summer with riots around Taksim Square over the development plan for a mall.  However, the development was only the spark that allowed public unrest with Erdogan over many issues like restrictions on alcohol sales to be exposed.  Riot police stopped the protests and the proposed development plans were shelved.

The current crisis is more serious in that it is a corruption scandal that strikes close to Erdogan himself.  There is rioting in the streets, but it is also pitting his political allies with those who back Gulen and is threatening a split in the AKP that threatens Erdogan’s political majority.

The crisis began in mid December when police raided several places as a part of a corruption investigation.  The raid netted the sons of Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan, Interior Minister Muammer Guler, and Environment and Urban planning minister Erdogan Bayraktar.  The raids had been kept secret from the government lest the Erdogan regime warn the ministers.

Investigations have also been launched into Prime Minister Erdogan’s sons Bilal and Bürak along with the newly appointed Istanbul police chief.  The state run Halkbank’s CEO Süleyman Aslan has been charged with taking bribes to circumvent the economic sanctions against Iran.  The police reportedly found $4.5 million in cash stored in shoe boxes in his home.  Police say gold was smuggled into Iran to buy Iranian oil and gas

Erdogan reacted quickly.  He ordered that future police investigations be reported to their superiors.  That order was blocked by a court.  He also, like many other political leaders in trouble, accused foreign countries like the US of fostering the trouble.

Erdogan then struck against the police who are generally more supportive of Gulen, than Erdogan.  He fired over 500 police officers and officials involved in the investigation and replaced with police loyal to himself.  He has also struck against the judiciary system by ordering the police not to obey judicial decrees.

These moves may hamper the police investigation, but they do nothing to stop the political hemorrhaging, help him win the local elections being held in a couple of months, or hold his political alliance together.  He forced three cabinet ministers to resign and has reshuffled the cabinet.  This may have stopped slowed the crisis a bit, but at the cost of political support within his own party.

The eroding support for Erdogan showed when Environment and Urbanisation Minister Erdogan Bayraktar was forced out as a result of his son being caught in the investigation and arrested in mid December.  Bayraktar, previously a close ally of Erdogan, urged the prime minister to follow suit and accused the PM of corrupt real estate dealings.  “For the sake of the wellbeing of this nation and country, I believe the prime minister should resign.”  Bayraktar made his comments during a live interview on NTV, which tried to cut him off and then later edited the interview clip on its website and during subsequent airings on television so that Bayraktar’s comments about Erdogan were missing.

Bayraktar probably voiced what many in the AKP believe is necessary in order to survive politically, but are afraid to vocalize.  However, despite the silence by many party members, the damage has rocked the AKP.  For instance, the previous interior minister, Idris Şahin, resigned from the party over the police purge and after accusing Erdogan of allowing a small oligarchy to run the party.

Three MPs also resigned from the party. One of the MPs, Ertuğrul Günay, left with a stinging attack on Erdogan and the party’s leadership.  “While the party was facing serious accusations, they tolerated the people responsible and ordered disciplinary action against those who were trying to get them to reason,” Mr Günay, himself a former cabinet minister, said in a parting statement.  “They have made my decision easier. The party has evolved into two different wings: the wide base of people who have been oppressed and an overbearing mentality on the top. This mentality has no chance now.

“At this point, those people who have this mentality are sailing to somewhere else, guided by their arrogance. We have come to the point of a parting of the ways.”   Another of the MPs, Erdal Kalkan, warned that more trouble was to come.  “This will not end here,” he said. “Our honorable people see everything.”

The reaction of a national leader to a crisis and mass resignations is instructive.  Some try to regain the initiative by bringing in new opinions and voices to broaden the political base.  Others try to stop the problem by bringing in loyalists who will not ask questions, but follow orders.  Erdogan is one to do the latter.

An example is the new Interior Minister Efkan Ala, who is not a member of parliament but is rather one of Erdogan’s political aides, who reportedly urged Erdogan to crack down harder on the protestors this summer and the Istanbul chief of police to cajole him to use greater force.

Although these new appointments will help Erdogan temporarily stop the problem, he is now relying on politically inexperienced subordinates who do not have the skills or savvy to regain power within the AKP or neutralize public unrest.  That bodes ill for Erdogan’s long term prospects.

Another problem for Erdogan is the growing lack of confidence in the Turkish economy during the continued unrest.  Turkey’s stock market has slumped and the Turkish Lira dropped about 5% in December despite substantial Turkish central bank intervention – only trouble plagued Argentina’s peso did worse.

Turkey heavily relies on foreign investment – which is scared off by political unrest and a government that is accused of corruption.  Interest rates on Turkish bonds are going up, which will economic growth in future quarters.

Inevitably elections revolve around economic issues and Erdogan has stayed in power by keeping the Turkish economy upright and encouraging foreign investment.  The current unrest promises to make the local elections in March a test for Erdogan and the AKP.  However, that is only the beginning as national elections are coming in 2015 and few think the Turkish economy will be helping the AKP.

The AKP is also losing the support of its strong grassroots supporters who back Gulen and his movement.  The Alliance for Shared Values, an organization allied with the Gulen movement released a statement that was critical of the Turkish PM.  It said, “Rather than doing what any democratic government ought to, the present government has attributed these investigations to foreign powers or certain groups. These efforts are perceived by the collective conscience of the Turkish society as an attempt to detract attention from the essence of this case…These are anti-democratic actions by the political leadership that deserve condemnation.”

Erdogan is facing the test common to all long serving politicians – corruption.  For many politicians, the answer is to claim all corruption charges are politically motivated and try to hamstring the investigation.  In democratic societies, this is a short term fix that inevitably leads to political defeat.  This is the course that Erdogan is currently taking.  And, given his penchant to blame other countries for the unrest, it’s probable that Erdogan will try to refocus on international events during this crisis.

This poses problems for US/Turkish relations since Erdogan has implied that the US is behind this political turmoil.  But, it helps him solidify support amongst voters in Turkey who are more suspicious of the US.

There are also two other courses for Erdogan.  One is to be more open to the investigation, take the short term political fallout, but place oneself in a position to win future elections, His arrogance so far makes this option unlikely course.  The second is to subvert the democratic process to ensure future political victories despite any corruption.

In the end, this is about more than corruption and gold smuggling.  It is about the amount of power Erdogan has and how much Turkey’s voters will allow him to have.



The Muslim Brotherhood’s winter offensive

A Year of Too-Great Expectations for Iran

By Mark Hibbs

Carnegie Endowment

December 30, 2013

If all goes according to plan, sometime during 2014 Iran will sign a comprehensive final agreement to end a nuclear crisis that, over the course of a decade, has threatened to escalate into a war in the Middle East. But in light of the unresolved issues that must be addressed, it would be unwise to bet that events will unfold as planned. Unrealistic expectations about the Iran deal need to be revised downward.  In Geneva on November 24, Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany agreed to a Joint Plan of Action. For good reason, the world welcomed this initial agreement because it squarely put Iran and the powers on a road to end the crisis through diplomacy.

Read more



An Anticlimactic Referendum in Egypt

By Nathan J. Brown

Carnegie Endowment

December 27, 2013

Egyptians will begin 2014 by heading back to the polls, this time to pass judgment on a new constitution. The draft, actually a series of changes to the old constitution so numerous as to constitute an entirely new document, will be put to a vote in mid-January.  In this Q&A, Nathan Brown argues that approval of the referendum is a foregone conclusion, and the result is likely to resolve little. Indeed, the constitution and the referendum are more likely to exacerbate tensions and divisions in Egyptian politics than to form part of a democratic transition.

Read more



The Islamist Feud behind Turkey’s Turmoil

By Soner Cagaptay and James F. Jeffrey

Washington Institute

December 29, 2013

Wall Street Journal

The news last week about a corruption scandal in Turkey seems on the surface a traditional case of prosecutors ferreting out wrongdoers in high places. But the turmoil that threatens Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has been a long time coming and is the most public manifestation of a struggle between Turkey’s two main Islamic-conservative factions hitherto united under the governing party: the prime minister’s Justice and Development Party, known as AKP, and the influential, popular Gulen movement.  The past year has already been challenging for Mr. Erdogan. Demonstrations that began in May grew out of anger over plans to develop Istanbul’s Gezi Park and were a liberal affair, challenging the prime minister’s increasingly autocratic rule. The Gezi Park occupants would seem to have little in common with the Gulen movement, an opaque, Sufi-inspired group known for its Islamic piety and, until recently, its support for Mr. Erdogan. But the Gezi and Gulen movements are now de facto, if not actual, partners with similar aims: resisting Mr. Erdogan’s near-total power.

Read more



Saudi Arabia: Outlawing Terrorism and the Arab Spring

By Lori Plotkin Boghardt

Washington Institute

December 27, 2013

PolicyWatch 2187

King Abdullah is expected to decree a new “penal system for crimes of terrorism and its financing” in the coming days. This comes on the heels of amendments to the country’s criminal procedure law earlier this month.   The terrorism crimes legislation passed December 16 by the Saudi cabinet defines terrorism as “disturbing public order,” “endangering national unity,” and “defaming the state or its status,” among other endeavors. A criminal procedure law change that came into effect December 6 legalizes indefinite detention of prisoners without charge or trial.  Together, the new regulations will tighten the legal framework for the kingdom’s approaches to terrorism, nonviolent dissent, and other activity deemed offensive to the government. To date, Saudi Arabia does not have a written penal code, and judges sentence defendants according to their own interpretations of Islamic law based on the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings, as noted in a Human Rights Watch report released December 18. King Fahd decreed a criminal procedure law in 2001, but judges do not consistently adhere to its provisions. A Specialized Criminal Court has tried both terrorism and peaceful expression cases since it was established in 2008.

Read more

Analysis 27-12-2013


Why was 2013 so Bad for Obama and What Will 2014 Mean to Him?

A year ago, Barak Obama was on the top of the world.  He had been reelected as president, his party had made some modest gains in the Congress, he was looking at the remaking of America, and some Democrats in Congress were writing a Constitutional Amendment that would have allowed him to run for a third term.

As 2013 ends, however, Obama is unquestionably at the perigee of his administration.  His policies, especially Obamacare, are in shambles and his popularity rating is lower than George Bush’s rating at the same time in his presidency.  His State of the Union agenda of action on education policy, immigration, gun control, climate change, job creation, infrastructure, tax reform, and raising the minimum wage remain unfulfilled.
Historically, second terms are difficult for American presidents.  The voters are growing tired of the same policies and the lame duck status makes members of the president’s party eager to find a new leadership to win the next election.  However, for Obama, much of the damage was self inflicted.

One problem was overestimating the extent of his mandate.  Although Obama had won a second term, his margin of victory was smaller than in his first election – a rarity since most presidents, who are reelected, do so by bigger margins.  This meant the electorate was less excited about his presidency than in the first four years and would be less tolerant of his policies.

The weakness of his mandate became obvious even before his second inauguration.  With the Sandy Hook shootings in December 2012, Obama made gun control his big issue leading into the new term. What he discovered was that his reelection hadn’t changed the politics of American gun ownership.  Democratic politicians quickly deserted him and just weeks after Obama’s victory at the polls, he was giving Republicans a political victory and Democrats a warning that close adherence to Obama’s policies might spell political defeat in 2014.

While a politician like Clinton would have modified his positions and moved towards the political center, Obama continued to spend his political capital on legislative efforts that didn’t’ have broad political backing.  He advocated immigration reform, which is popular with some parts of Obama’s base, but not popular with the average American voter.

Obama also misjudged the battle over sequestering some government money.  His administration stopped White House tours and curtailed some high visibility government operations in hope that the bad publicity would force the Republicans to budge.  However, the story didn’t go the way he expected as the media focused on his golf outings and the rock music concerts being held at the White House for the First Family.

Obama also damaged himself in the foreign policy realm – usually a positive arena for presidents – with his flip-flop on Syria and chemical weapons usage.  He first spoke of a “red line,” then backed down after rushing to accuse Assad of using CW, his critics were quick   to accuse him of vacillating between military strikes and doing nothing.

Obama was also hurt by several scandals – a common curse in second terms.  News that the Obama IRS was auditing Obama’s political enemies had an impact on voters.  Then, the Snowden NSA revelations caused damage to Obama, both domestically and internationally.

The final blow has been the poor roll-out of Obamacare, the one legislative achievement of Obama.  The result has been dramatic.  A survey from Quinnipiac University shows Obama’s approval rating at a negative 38 to 57 percent – a level of disapproval that in 2005 presaged the disastrous election results for the Republicans in the House and Senate in the 2006 elections.

Everyone agrees that 2013 was a bad year for Obama.  The question is if 2014 will be a better one?  Probably not.  American presidential history shows that presidential disapproval only gets worse as the second term goes along.


Looking Towards 2014

The biggest problem for Obama in 2014 is that he has proven himself to be politically tone deaf.  Unlike Clinton, who could redirect his politics, Obama is more ideologically inflexible and more likely to stick to his base beliefs.  This inflexibility will hurt his relations with Democratic politicians who will be forced to run for reelection in 2014 on Obama’s policies and give them reason to not support him or his legislative agenda.

Obama’s tendency to use executive authority rather than congressionally passed legislation will make it easier to do things, but will only frustrate voters who disagree with his policies.  It also gives Republicans issues to run on in 2014.

Politically, Obama is in bad shape with voters according to the polls.  According to the most recent Quinnipaic poll, Obama gets negative scores of 6 to 92 percent among Republicans, 30 to 62 percent among independent voters, 31 to 64 percent among men, 44 to 49 percent among women and 29 to 65 among white voters.

Even Obama’s support amongst his base is eroding.  Obama even gets a negative 41 to 49 percent among voters 18 to 29 years old and a lackluster 50 to 43 percent approval among Hispanic voters.  The only thing holding up his figures is the strong 85 to 9 percent approval rating among black voters.

This will have an impact on the mid term election in November.  Democratic chances of regaining the majority in the House are nil and retained Democratic control of the Senate is in doubt.  American voters say 41 to 38 percent that they would vote for a Republican over a Democrat for Congress, the first time this year the Democrats come up on the short end of this generic ballot. Independent voters back Republican candidates 41 to 28 percent. Voters also said by a 47 to 42 percent margin that they would like to see Republicans gain control of the U.S. Senate and the House. Independent voters go Republican 50 to 35 percent for each.

A CNN/ORC poll just released on Thursday confirmed this trend.  It showed that 55% of registered voters say that they are more likely to vote for a congressional candidate who opposes the President than one who supports him and four in 10 say they are likely to vote for a candidate who supports Obama.  There is also an enthusiasm gap that favors the turnout of voters in November.  Thirty-six percent of Republicans say they’re extremely or very enthusiastic about voting. That number drops to 22% among Democrats.

These are harbingers of bad news for Democrats for November.

Should the Republicans control both the Senate and House, Obama’s last two years could be very difficult.  Currently, Obama is protected by a Democratic Senate that can negate Republican control of the House.  However, without the Senate, Obama would be forced to veto legislation that he opposes, but that might be popular with American voters.  He might also find judicial nominations and confirmation of officials in his administration difficult.

This basically leaves Obama with two choices.  Either he can moderate his policies or help Democratic politicians retain their seats in 2014 – which would make his last two years easier.  Or, he can continue along the current track, which will mean continued poor polling for himself and other Democrats – which will lead to electoral disaster in November.

Obama’s current policy is to ignore the election and the polls.  His hope is to use the one area where the US president is supreme to turn events around – foreign policy.  And, at the top of the foreign policy agenda is brokering some deal that stops Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.

However, an Iranian nuclear deal is only going to help his presidency if it has the consent of the American voter.  In the case of Iranian negotiations, he is fighting American public opinion.  Americans gave Obama a negative 40 to 48 percent approval for his handling of the situation with Iran in a recent poll. They are split on the agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons, with 44 percent supporting the agreement and 46 percent opposed.

One result of the bad poll numbers on Obama’s Iran deal is that several Democratic politicians up for reelection in 2014 are publically opposing the deal and fighting for more sanctions in Iran.  Given the threats by Iran to pull out of the deal if the Congress imposes more sanctions, the chances of the current deal being consummated or a longer term deal being made are poor.

Engineering a Middle Eastern peace agreement is always a goal for American presidents, even though they do little for them during elections (Carter being the prime example).  That’s one reason why Secretary of State Kerry is focused on an Israeli/Palestinian deal at the moment.

However, the odds of such an agreement in 2014 are slim.  As was noted in the poll, some American voter’s blocks are pro-Israel and the Israeli government knows it.  If Obama tries to force them into an agreement with the Palestinian Authority that it doesn’t like, Israel is likely to go over Obama’s head to the American voter this year. From the other side a brewing third Palestinian Intifada is more likely to erupt if the Palestinian Authority buckles under the American pressure and accept a sellout agreement.

Since any agreement will require some American intervention and assistance, that will require congressional approval.  If Israel generally opposes the deal, Democratic politicians will be forced to move away from Obama and support Israel in order to be reelected.  That gives Israel the upper hand in negotiations in 2014 and will make them intractable at the negotiating table.

Domestically, Obama is in even worse shape because Congress has a larger role in the domestic field.  And, Obama has a very weak legislative record.

Contrary to popular belief, gridlock isn’t the reason Obama bypasses Congress.  Frequently, Obama is advocating policies like immigration reform, which are unpopular with the American voter, and therefore, their elected representatives.  One excellent example is the Iranian nuclear deal that is opposed by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress as well by the “brainwashed” American people.  The Administration is fighting passage of bipartisan Iranian sanctions legislation that might interfere with the president’s own negotiations.

Obama’s tendency to use executive orders is a sign of that weakness.  By avoiding the legislative route, he is admitting that his policy is so weak that Congress can defeat it and not face any consequences on Election Day.  Executive orders are also vulnerable to being declared unconstitutional by the courts or merely being reversed by the next president.

However, Obama is in a poor position to influence Democratic congressmen in 2014 because he has lost the most important political tools presidents have to influence legislation.

The best way a president has to influence a wavering congressman is to promise to campaign for him in the next election.  This works best in districts with a large number of voters who like the incumbent president.  It is a disaster with a president who is unpopular with independents.  That’s where Obama is with only 30% of independents approving of Obama.  This was confirmed by the CNN poll that showed that 55% of voters are more likely to vote for someone who opposes Obama.  At this point, Obama’s endorsement is a kiss of death.

The president can also help a wavering congressman by helping him in fundraising.  This can even work with unpopular presidents who still retain the support of the major contributors.  This won’t work now, however, because Obama’s fundraising is floundering and many fundraising events have had to sell cut rate tickets to fill up the hall.

Finally, a president can tell a congressman that he will give them a job in the administration if they support him and lose the next election.  However, with Obama having only two more years in office after the next election and Republicans likely to control the Senate where any high level jobs must be confirmed, the promise of a job is less attractive than in the past.

That makes Obama’s legislative muscle very weak.

2013 may have seemed to be a bad year for Obama, but it will probably pale in comparison to 2014.  Obama’s problems in 2013 had no consequence.  There were no elections, so he and his party retained control of the White House and Senate.  The biggest damage was to his popularity, which will have an impact on the 2014 election unless he can restore it.

However, Obama’s chances to restore his popularity are very limited.  First is the historical trend of American voters to tire of their president by the 6th year of the presidency.  His poll numbers may improve in the next 11 months, but probably not by enough to turn events around.

The second problem is that in the field of foreign affairs – the one field the president can have total control over – Obama has chosen to spend his political capital on a very controversial deal with the Iranians on their nuclear deal.

The third problem is that Obama is limited in making any major domestic initiative that may turn things around.  The American president is constitutionally limited in domestic policy and must work with Congress – something that Obama has shown himself unable to do.  2014 will be spent by both parties in Congress defining differences, not working in a bipartisan manner.  His reliance on executive orders will have a long term negative impact because they will tend to be more unpopular with the voter than legislated measures, which will only harden his disapproval figures.


While this happens, expect to see national figures emerge in both the Democratic and Republican Parties.  Obama is already perceived as a “lame duck” that can’t help his fellow Democrats get elected.  That means Democrats will start looking elsewhere for national leadership.  Hillary Clinton is an obvious choice, but other names are already being circulated as the next standard bearer of the Democratic Party.

And, though the Republicans are facing their own intra-party struggles, the potential of taking control of the Senate will encourage them to unite.  In the meantime, several Republicans will start looking at the presidential nomination in 2016.  By this time next year, people like Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, governors; Walker, Perry, and Christie will be making the obligatory trips to early presidential primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Obama still controls the White House, but as with all second term presidents, he is discovering the limitations.  His first year – the more important of the second term – is over, and he has done little.  He and his party face an uphill battle to retain political control later this year and many Democrats will decide their chances are better if they ignore Obama.

Historically speaking, 2015 will even be worse.  Democrats who aspire to the presidency will be starting their campaigns and differentiating themselves by publically disagreeing with Obama’s policies.  As his term winds down, the power of appointment to his administration becomes less valuable and people will see more political advantage by siding with his opposition.

Obama has learned that the American President is the most powerful position in the world.  In the next three years, he will also learn what other presidents have learned – that it can be the most ineffective and frustrating job too.



The Muslim Brotherhood’s winter offensive

By Frank Gaffney, Jr.

Center for Security Policy

December 23, 2014

Sixty-nine years ago this month, Nazi Germany mounted its last, horrific offensive in the dead of winter in what came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.  Perhaps taking a page from the playbook of their fellow totalitarians, the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have its own audacious winter offensive underway – only this one is being waged inside America, a country the Brothers have declared they seek “to destroy from within.”  At the moment, the object of this exercise appears to be to prevail on the U.S. government to do what it did once before: help install a Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt.  The difference, of course, is that the last time was in the heyday of the so-called “Arab Spring,” a moment when the ambitions of Egyptian Islamists and those of their counterparts in Tunisia, Libya, Syria and elsewhere were temporarily obscured by disinformation and wishful thinking.

Read more



The Potential for an Assad Statelet in Syria

By Nicholas A. Heras

Washington Institute

December 2013

Policy Focus 132

As the fighting in Syria continues with no signs of decisive victory on the horizon, the Assad regime may decide to abandon parts of the country entirely and form a statelet in the western governorates that remain largely under its control. Such an entity could include as much as 40 percent of Syria’s territory and 70 percent of its population. Establishing this statelet and defending it from rebels and al-Qaeda-aligned jihadists could have dire consequences for the Syrian people and the region as a whole, including intractable conflict, forced migration, ethnic/sectarian cleansing, and permanent, restive refugee populations in neighboring countries.  In this Policy Focus, analyst Nicholas Heras assesses the geopolitical, military, and economic implications of such a development, illustrating the various scenarios with detailed maps. As the international community consider negotiations and other options, many Syrians are becoming more fearful of the jihadist threat, more entrenched in their belief that the war is a foreign conspiracy against them, and less likely to support the opposition.

Read more



How much control does Ayatollah Khamenei have in Iranian-U.S. relations?

By Ray Takeyh

Council on Foreign Relations

December 23, 2013

Ali Khamenei is the Supreme Leader of Iran and has the final say on all issues pertaining to its foreign policy. The Islamic Republic has a complex constitutional structure whereby the authority of the president and the parliament are subservient to that of the Supreme Leader. All issues of war and peace, treaties and elections have to be approved by Khamenei. As such, the presidents and foreign ministers can engage in negotiations but cannot commit Iran to a final course until the Supreme Leader approves.  The question of relations with the United States has bedeviled the Islamic Republic since the revolution. Khamenei belongs to the cadre of ideologues who are suspicious of the United States and perceive its presence and influence as subversive. In Khamenei’s view, the United States is determined to overthrow the Iranian regime and its offers of diplomacy and dialogue have to be considered as insincere.

Read more

Analysis 20-12-2013


GCC Nations Create New Joint Command
In the face of a weakening US presence in the region and a potentially stronger Iranian presence, the GCC nations approved the creation of a joint military command structure last week. The three key areas of cooperation will be missile defense, Gulf maritime security, and counter terrorism.
The US quickly responded positively. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who was in the Gulf in recent days, outlined steps to increase security cooperation in the Gulf region and maintained that the US would continue to base forces in the Gulf region, “We have a ground, air, and naval presence of more than 35,000 military personnel in and immediately around the Gulf,” he said. This includes 10,000 US Army troops with tanks and Apache helicopters, roughly 40 ships at sea including an aircraft carrier battle group, missile defense systems, radar, surveillance drones and warplanes that can strike at short notice, he said.
In addition, this week Obama signed an order that opened the door to sales of missile defense and other weapons systems to the GCC as a bloc. This places the GCC in the same select group of organizations as NATO and the UN in terms of receiving military assistance.
The joint GCC command isn’t a new era of GCC military cooperation. In 1984, the GCC decided to create a joint military force of 10,000 soldiers divided into two brigades, called the Peninsula Shield Force (PSF), based in Saudi Arabia near the Kuwaiti and Iraqi borders. It currently contains about 40,000 troops.
However, the military role of Peninsula Shield in the last 30 years has been scant. A force of about 3,000 men from the PSF, in addition to forces of its member states, took part in the U.S. (and other coalition forces) military campaign to force Iraqis out of Kuwait in March 1991. 10,000 troops and two ships of PSF were deployed to Kuwait in February 2003, prior to the invasion of Iraq, to protect Kuwait from potential Iraqi attacks. It did not participate in operations against Iraq.
Its most active military role was in March 2011, Peninsula Shield forces, requested by the Bahraini government, entered Bahrain via the causeway from Saudi Arabia. The forces were from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Improving GCC Military Cooperation
Although the populations of the GCC nations aren’t great, their combined military forces are (on paper) a formidable force for the region. The nations rely on technology to act as a force multiplier for their smaller military forces. In fact, the GCC put $130 billion into military spending in 2012. “Our estimates showed that there was a real-term increase of over six per cent in 2012, reaching around $130 billion,” said Jeremy Binnie, Middle East and Africa editor at the London-based Jane’s Defense Weekly. The big ticket items were missile defense systems, ships, and aircraft.
In terms of the new GCC military cooperation, the biggest impact in terms of spending will be an integrated missile defense system for all the nations. Although each GCC country could develop its own system, the cooperation will allow for an integrated early warning system and deployment of missiles and radar where they would best meet the needs of the GCC – without consideration of national boundaries. Expect increased interest in a major, integrated Patriot/THAAD (Theater High Altitude Air Defense System) purchase.
However, purchases will be a minor part of the new integrated system. Each nation will insist on purchasing its own ships, armor, and aircraft. Counter terrorism and maritime protection are less a function of large military purchases and rely more on cooperation between the various organizations.
Clearly, the GCC nations have been coordinating their efforts. However, an integrated command can boost that coordination. It can also give the GCC a chance to expand its roles and specialize the respective national military forces of its members.
In terms of maritime strategy, the GCC nations have to move from simple coastal protection to the protection of their economic zones inside the Arabian Gulf. Key among these are convoy protection, countering Iranian potential retaliatory threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, monitoring Iranian presence in the Gulf, and projecting GCC power along the Gulf shoreline and onto oil platforms.
Historically, convoy protection has required considerable coordination. The GCC nations have focused on this with the creation of CTF152, which provides maritime security throughout the Gulf. However, that isn’t enough if faced with an Iranian attempt to choke maritime shipping within the Gulf.
Assuming that GCC nations will be committed to protecting all maritime shipping in the Gulf, the various ships of the GCC fleets will have to improve their command and control, their close maneuvering skills, and their defensive plans for convoy protection. To maximize their reliance on Washington, they are cooperating considerably with the US Navy, which has considerable skill in convoy protection.
The GCC navies also need to focus on keeping the Strait of Hormuz open in the face of Iranian opposition. From a passive point, this includes convoy protection, but from an active point of view, this means being able to neutralize Iranian anti-ship missiles on several islands in the Strait, most notably Abu Musa. This was done with the Islands of Loyality Exercise last year where the GCC nations focused on neutralizing Iranian military power on the Tunb islands and Abu Musa.
Another active role for the GCC nations will be counter-mine exercises, since Iran has previously deployed anti-ship mines to hamper shipping in the Gulf. Every year the GCC nations and 24 other countries hold an International Mine Counter Measures Exercise in the Gulf.
Counter mine warfare is also an area of high technology cooperation between GCC nations. Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), including larger unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and smaller tethered remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are being used more and more in finding and neutralizing enemy mines. Coordinating the type of robotic vehicles to be used, developing a system to share the information amongst the GCC navies, and developing tactics would be critical to keeping the Gulf mine free during any clashes .
One area of weakness for the GCC nations’ maritime strategy is projecting power along the Gulf coast. Although air power can hit anywhere in the region within hours, naval ships have “staying ability” and can act as the base for amphibious landing that can land the heavy equipment that airborne forces can’t deploy. They can also land on the numerous oil platforms in the Gulf. According to former American military officers served in the region, the UAE has the best amphibious forces among GCC Countries and is best prepared to conduct landing from the sea in support of military operations. They (former officials) are claiming that the UAE also has the ability to seriously damage Iran’s oil exporting infrastructure thanks to its investment in cruise missiles.

Another area of GCC military cooperation could be logistics, which has been a weak point of the GCC. This is a field where NATO was a major benefit during the Cold War. Not only did it standardize munitions and calibers of small arms, it had a unified logistics system of joint storage and stocking so an American unit could order a similar item from a British logistics system using an identical stock number.

The GCC nations have focused more on the major weapons systems and not the munitions needed to make them operational for long times. Three years ago, Saudi Ara¬bia committed to the purchase of nearly 800 air-to-air missiles (AAMs), 1,000 anti-shipping and anti-air defense missiles, and 4,000 guided bombs. The last need was prompted by Saudi Arabia’s rapid expenditure of its entire guided bomb arsenal in fighting against the Houthi rebels on the Saudi-Yemeni border in the summer of 2009, requiring emergency resupply from U.S. operational reserves. Between 2007 and 2011, the UAE likewise purchased over 400 U.S.- delivered AAMs and 2,800 guided bombs.
In addition, there have been recent purchases of large numbers of anti-tank missiles. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency has notified Congress that Riyadh will be given permission to buy 14,000 tube-launched, optically tracked missiles and other weapons in two separate deals valued at nearly $1.1 billion dollars. Saudi Arabia will also eventually receive more than 1,700 similar missiles. This indicates that Saudi Arabia has realized the need to deepen its munitions reserves.
American military experts advise that a better integrated logistics network would allow munitions to be shifted quickly and a centralized GCC reserve to be maintained. In addition, GCC purchases of commonly used munitions could allow for larger orders, lower prices, and greater availability.
Same experts advocate that the GCC nations needs to coordinate their military reaction to a whole spectrum of threats, ranging from simple terrorism to the perceived (but not realistic) threat of a nuclear Iran. This not only includes planning, but assigning areas of responsibility to various GCC nations
This brings us to:

The Major Threats Facing the GCC Integrated Military Command
Protecting Economic Centers. The GCC nations have some of the world’s most economically important targets in their region – ranging from financial centers to oil production facilities. They aren’t only threatened by other countries, but many terrorists whose goals may be very different, but would seek to cause severe economic disruption from a shutdown of the Gulf oil industry.
Obviously, the biggest targets are in Saudi Arabia – The Ras Tanura oil export terminals and Abqaiq refin¬ery in Saudi Arabia. And, this is where improved counter terrorism coordination between GCC nations, the US, and European intelligence services is expected.
From a military point of view, protecting economic centers requires the development and coordination of elite, highly mobile Special Forces skilled in counter terrorism. The GCC nations have developed such groups and have received training from both US and British Special Forces. However, specializing and coordinating these groups would prevent the supplication seen today. For instance, Saudi Special Forces could specialize in protecting and retaking petroleum facilities on land. Meanwhile, UAE forces, who have more seaborne experience, would focus on defense and retaking oil platforms in the Gulf.
Air and missile defense. This is one area which has received a lot of attention and will probably receive the greatest attention with the new military integration. In 2006, the Saudi Arabian deputy minister of Defense and Avia¬tion, Prince Khaled bin Sultan, laid out Riyadh’s think¬ing that Iran’s missiles were the key threat facing his country, noting that the threat “won’t be the Iranian Air Force, or Navy. It won’t be ships or boats. It will be missiles.”
The US will remain a critical player in the ballistic missile defense. US secretary of Defense Hagel said last week that the Pentagon “will better integrate with GCC members to enhance missile defense capabilities in the region,” adding “the United States continues to believe that a multilateral approach is the best answer for missile defense.”
The US Navy also deploys several cruisers with anti-missile capabilities in the region.
Perceived (or imagined) Iranian Threat. This is the major worry for GCC nations – not a nuclear threat, but a threat to their economic security through a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz and harassment of shipping throughout the Gulf.
This is where coordination between the GCC nations is the most critical. Clearly Iran is outgunned with modern armaments by the GCC nations, but they will have to wield it as a coordinated force if they are to be successful.
The Iranian Navy lacks modern equipment and most of Iran’s abilities lie with the Revolutionary Guards fleet of gunboats that can swarm the Gulf. They will rely upon numbers to overwhelm the GCC navies
The GCC nations rely on more modern, more capable fleets that can project power further and stay at sea longer. Their air forces are better able to provide critical air cover. They also have the advantage of having worked with the larger American, British and French fleets.
All the GCC states have invested heavily in the last decade in a new generation of power¬ful offshore patrol vessels that combine good seaworthiness and the ability to stay on station longer. They are well-armed, fast attack naval vessels with day and night sensors and effective offensive weapons systems, such as lightweight precision missiles and robotic stabilized cannons. These ships can out-see and out-shoot any Iranian counterpart. And, their ability to stay at sea longer makes up for the greater numbers of smaller Iranian craft that can’t travel far or stay at sea for long times.
In case of an Iranian threat to the Gulf shipping as result of retaliation to an attack on Iranian targets or interests by US or its allies, the GCC nations have to decide on what action to take and move aggressively. Convoy protection is passive and cannot win – it merely slows the damage to the commercial shipping fleet.
Used aggressively, the GCC nations have a powerful maritime threat if they can or know how to use it. Their ships and aircraft can strike key Iranian naval facilities like those on Abu Musa and neutralize them. They can use guided munitions to strike and destroy Iranian commercial oil facilities. And, they have the ability to carry out amphibious operations against smaller Iranian targets along the coast.
This is where political will and military integration comes in. If the GCC nations see the threat and decide to react aggressively, they have the tools. They however, need the integration necessary to carry it out.
That’s why the GCC announcement to develop a joint military command can be a positive aspect of the regions defense. The GCC nations have developed the capabilities for air and missile defense, maritime strategy, and counter terrorism (even selectively). However, national pride has often stood in the way of using them effectively.

The US and Iran: Sanctions, Energy, Arms Control, and Regime Change
By Anthony H. Cordesman, Chloe Coughlin-Schulte and Bryan Gold
Center for Strategic and International Studies
December 17, 2013
The interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear programs reached between the P5+1 and Iran has made this a major policy issue for the US, the other members of the P5+1, Iran, Israel, and the other states in the region. It raises major question about the extent to which sanctions drove Iran to negotiate, the impact of the agreement, prospects for broader forms of arms control, and how reaching an agreement affects the real world options for changing the behavior of Iran’s regime. The report provides an in-depth analysis of US and Iranian competition focusing on four interrelated areas – sanctions, energy, arms control, and regime change. It shows this competition has been steadily building since the fall of 2011, when the IAEA issued a new report on the possible military applications of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has continued to issue threats to “close the Gulf,” and has stalled negotiations, spurring a renewed round of sanctions that have had an increasingly significant impact on Iran’s economy throughout 2012 and continuing into 2013.
Read more

Shaping Iraq’s Security Forces
By Anthony H. Cordesman, Sam Khazai and Daniel Dewit
Center for Strategic and International Studies
December 13, 2013
Two years after the withdrawal of all US military forces from Iraq, the Iraqi military is facing major challenges as it seeks to confront a resurgence of Islamist violence. The failure to maintain any residual US force in the country to train and support Iraqi counterterrorism operations has placed heavy constraints on the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces and on US policy options for confronting terrorism spilling into Iraq as a result of the deepening crisis in Syria. The development of the Iraqi Security Forces has proceeded haltingly, and as a result Iraqi military and police units are ill-equipped to confront the non-state threats currently operating inside Iraq.
Read more

Year Four of the Arab Awakening
By Marwan Muasher
Carnegie Endowment
December 12, 2013
How will history judge the uprisings that started in many parts of the Arab world in 2011? The label “Arab Spring” proved too simplistic from the beginning. Transformational processes defy black-and-white expectations, but in the end, will the awakenings be more reminiscent of what happened in Europe in 1848, when several uprisings took place within a few weeks only to be followed by counterrevolutions and renewed authoritarian rule? Or will they more closely resemble the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, after which some countries swiftly democratized while others remained in thrall to dictatorship? Whatever the case, it is clear that the process of Arab transformation will need decades to mature and that its success is by no means guaranteed. The movements driving it are more unanimous about what they are against than about what they are for. But the debate to define this awakening has begun.
Read more

Tunisia’s Constitutional Process: Hurdles and Prospects
By Duncan Pickard
German Marshall Fund
December 18, 2013
Three unsettled and related issues — the completion of the constitution, the legal framework for elections, and the replacement of the current government — jeopardize progress that has been made in Tunisia’s democracy so far. The chief political parties of Ennahda, currently in power, and Nidaa Tunis, a leading secular party led by long-time politician and former prime minister Beji Caid Essebsi, are currently negotiating the terms of a deal that would cover these three contentious issues. The fundamental socio-political tension in Tunisia can be boiled down, if somewhat crudely, into these two camps: for Nidaa Tunis and a return to the progressive, French-style secularism of former president Habib Bourguiba, and for Ennahda and the rebirth of a Tunisian political identity rooted in Islam. This divide is the theme of the current crisis and likely will remain even in the new constitutional order.
Read more

The Fractious Politics of Syria’s Kurds
By Barak Barfi
Washington Institute
December 18, 2013
PolicyWatch 2184
On November 12, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian Kurdish group affiliated with the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), announced the creation of an interim government in areas under its control in northeastern Syria. The plan has the potential to increase rifts within the opposition and exacerbate regional tensions. To minimize them, Washington should help forge a pan-Kurdish coalition that can devote all of its attention to fighting al-Qaeda elements seeking to exploit Syria’s civil war.
Read more

The Syrian Regime’s Military Solution to the War
By Jeffrey White
Washington Institute
December 18, 2013
PolicyWatch 2185
It has become commonplace to say that “there is no military solution” to the conflict in Syria. That claim, invoked by Western officials including the U.S. secretary of state, is used to justify an emphasis on diplomacy (the Geneva II process) and limitations on assistance to the armed opposition. The war could indeed have a military outcome, and in light of current trends, that outcome could be a regime victory. The outlines of a regime strategy for winning the war are visible. This strategy hinges on the staying power of the regime and its allies, the generation of adequate forces, operational success, and continued divisions within rebel forces. It is subject to serious constraints, especially limitations on the size and effectiveness of regime and associated forces, and “game changers” could alter its course. But a regime victory is possible — and that is what the regime is counting on.
Read more


Analysis 13-12-2013



Kerry Offers Security Guarantees to Israel

 As US Secretary of State John Kerry barnstormed the Middle East, it became clear that providing security guarantees to Israel would be a keystone in progress in Iranian and Palestinian negotiations.  Without them, pro-Israel forces in the US Congress would make any deal nearly impossible.


The push began a few weeks ago when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu slammed the tentative Iran nuclear deal.  In a case of damage control, Kerry visited Israel last week, spoke to the Brookings Institution on Saturday, and made a policy speech on the Middle East on Wednesday.


Kerry insisted last Thursday that Israel’s security is a top priority for Washington, both in nuclear talks with Iran and peace talks with the Palestinians.  Kerry was in Israel for a day of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders aimed at breaking the logjam in the peace negotiations which stalled since they began in late July.  He met for more than three hours with Netanyahu in what was their first face-to-face meeting since the controversial nuclear deal struck with Iran.


“I can’t emphasize enough that Israel’s security in this negotiation (with Iran) is at the top of our agenda,” Kerry said at a joint news conference in Jerusalem.  “The United States will do everything in our power to make certain that Iran’s nuclear program of weaponization possibilities is terminated.” Kerry also stressed the two men had spent “a very significant amount of time” discussing the peace talks with the Palestinians. “Israel’s security is fundamental to those negotiations,” he said.


The most important issue as far as Israel goes is the negotiations with Iran.  Iran’s nuclear capability poses a larger threat in Israel’s eyes than Palestine, and Israel appears to be holding this issue over the heads of the Western negotiators in Geneva.  If Israel is not happy with the Iranian deal, there is no hope of a Palestinian deal or an Iranian deal that passes muster with Congress.


Consequently, Israel has become a “behind the scenes” partner in the Iranian talks as they have had considerable input on what they consider to be acceptable curbs in Iranian nuclear development according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.  Since the start of these talks between Iran and the P5+1 nations, Israel has been in continuous contact with the negotiating teams there, not only to keep itself updated but also in order to try and insert last-minute modifications to the agreement, and to prevent concessions to Iran in regard to its heavy water reactor in Arak.  In return for this, the Israeli PM has curtailed his criticism of the deal with Iran.


Part of the promised American security commitment is the appointment of American General John Allen (USMC-Ret) as a special envoy for US/Israeli security issues.  Kerry described Allen’s role as that of “assessing the potential threats to Israel, to the region, and ensuring that the security arrangements that we might contemplate in the context of this process, will provide for greater security for Israel”.  Kerry said he and Allen had offered Netanyahu “some thoughts about that particular security challenge” in a couple of discussions.  According to a report in Maariv newspaper, Allen was to have outlined a “bridging proposal” which will enable Israel to reduce, as much as possible, its military presence in the Jordan Valley.  However, they stressed that these were “ongoing” discussions, not the presentation of a plan. In his remarks at Saban Forum last week Kerry disclosed the wider range of the security work that he tasked Gen Allen to embark on:
“General Allen is joined by dozens – literally, I think there are about 160 people: military experts, intel experts and others working to analyze this so what we put on the table is deadly serious, real, because these stakes are real. And we have highly qualified defense officials working with dozens of organizations in the United States, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense; the Defense Security and Cooperation Agency; the Defense Threat Reduction Agency; DARPA, which is the Pentagon’s research arm that created the Internet; not to mention the Joint Staff and the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. They’re all hard at work, analyzing what began, frankly, back in 2011 as a preliminary analysis was made, and now is becoming state of the art as we ramp it up for this possibility of peace. They’re all hard at work in close consultation with their IDF counterparts. And we will engage in further close evaluation with Shin Bet, with Mossad, with every aspect, and with the Palestinians – and with the Palestinians, which is critical.”


Although the Iranian nuclear issue is seen as the most important, there are voices in Israel that warn that a Palestinian agreement must be reached.  In fact the focus on Iran was heavily criticized by a former head of the Shin Bet internal security service, Yuval Diskin.


“The consequences of not having a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are more existential than the Iranian nuclear project,” Yuval Diskin told a conference in Tel Aviv.

“Israel must freeze settlement building immediately” in order to reach a much-needed agreement with the Palestinians, Diskin said.


Despite Diskin’s comments, it is clear that the key to any peace accord must primarily address Israel’s concerns about Iran.



What an American Israeli Security Agreement Would Address


In addition to the security measures at the expense of Palestinians outlined previously and considering past Israeli concerns and the science of nuclear weapons, it is likely that the following will comprise the bulk of the agreement – what guarantees and restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program come out of the Geneva talks, what the US secretly agrees to allow Israel to do militarily to Iran ) hypothetically) if the deal falls through, and what the US will tangibly do to support Israeli security.


Israel knows that Iran has crossed the uranium enrichment line, but wants to limit further advancement.  This means Israel has tacitly accepted that Iran can build a first generation nuclear device, but wants to keep them from developing a second generation device.


As Israel sees it, first generation nuclear device using uranium 235 would be very difficult to load on current long range Iranian missiles since they weigh much more (the American first generation atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima weighed about 4.5 tons – this is not indicative of the final weight of an Iranian 1st gen nuclear device, but shows that 1st generation uranium devices are not as sophisticated and miniaturized as 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation designs).


According to reports, Israel’s focus has shifted from concern about enrichment to other technologies that would make an Iranian nuclear device more practical.  That’s one reason why the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor has become so critical.  Heavy water reactors are critical to the production of plutonium, a nuclear weapons material that is critical to the development of smaller and more sophisticated second and third generation nuclear weapons.  By stopping the Arak nuclear plant, Israel can help limit Iran to the development of a first generation nuclear device.


Israel is also focusing on nuclear detonation devices.  Unlike uranium 235, which can be triggered in a very simple gun/target device, plutonium must be triggered by imploding it with a sophisticated array of detonators and explosives that can crush a plutonium sphere into a critical mass.  Eliminate the detonator technology and Iran faces considerable problems constructing a plutonium device.  That makes the development of thermonuclear devices and warheads small enough to fit into a missile much harder.


Of course, these demands don’t detract from Israel’s desire to limit Iran’s enrichment program – especially the enrichment to weapons grade.  Israel asked that world powers insist the agreement committed Iran to convert all of its 190 kilograms of 20-percent enriched uranium into oxide, which cannot be used to develop nuclear weapons.  This will slow, but not stop Iranian development of a first generation nuclear device.




Israel would also want some sort of guarantee that they could act militarily if Iran breaches the agreement.  This wouldn’t be publicized or put on paper, but would be critical to receiving tacit Israeli agreement to any Iranian deal.


Such guarantees would probably contain several assurances.  First would be that the US would not initiate any sanctions against Israel (or neighboring nation that allows Israel to use their airspace) for carrying out an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities if Iran abrogates the agreement.  The second is that US forces in the Arabian Gulf would “look the other way,” if such an attack were launched.  Finally, Israel would want access to special American munitions like bunker busters to be able to carry out such an attack.


The final aspect to Israeli agreement would be a larger American/Israeli military cooperation.  This would include joint military exercises as has been scheduled in a few months.  However, it would undoubtedly include additional military aid in areas like anti-missile defense for both short range and long range missile threats.  This would also help encourage Israel to soften its stance in its dealings with the Palestinian Authority.


Palestinian Deal goes through Tehran and Geneva


The reason Kerry is emphasizing Israeli security is that it is the hinge on which the whole Obama/Kerry Middle East policy hangs.  An agreement with Iran on nuclear development that doesn’t’ receive tacit Israeli approval (at the least) is bound to fail as a pro-Israel US Congress pushes for more Iranian sanctions, which would abrogate the agreement from the Iranian point of view.  This, in turn would hinder working with Iran on solving Syria’s internal/regional war.


This forces Kerry to balance the desires of both Israel and Tehran in order to get a deal.  At this point this means allowing Iran uranium enrichment capability and the road to a first generation nuclear device.  However, Israel will draw the line at allowing Iran access to technology that gives them the ability to build second generation nuclear devices that are much more portable and pose a greater threat to Israel.


But, Israel will not agree to this unless they have a military option.  Although they are aware that Obama will not want them to strike Iran, they will insist that they will retain the right to do so.  If the US fails to recognize that, rest assured that Israel will work to sabotage the agreement in Congress.


Finally, Israel will want a higher profile American security presence, especially given the bad relations between Obama and Netanyahu over the last few years.  That will make Iran more willing to adhere to any agreement and open the door for a security agreement with the Palestinian Authority.


Kerry has his work cut out for him.  American Middle Eastern policy requires an Iranian nuclear deal coming out of Geneva – one that Iran agrees to and one that Israel can live with.  That requires an Israeli security agreement – one that Israel agrees to and one that the Palestinian Authority can live with.  Whether the pieces can come together has yet to be seen.



Three Negotiations on Iran

By Jon Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 11, 2013


Reaching a comprehensive deal with Iran over the country’s nuclear program will be tough for President Obama. Even successful bilateral negotiations would only be the first step, because in fact, his negotiations with Iran are actually three sets of interconnected negotiations. One set is with Iran, one is with Congress, and the third is with partners in the P5+1. Succeeding with the Iranians without succeeding on the other two fronts would leave the United States and its allies far less secure than if Obama had not negotiated at all.  For all of the focus on the complexity of negotiating with the Iranians, those negotiations are relatively straightforward. The president’s emissaries are in direct discussions with Iranian government officials, and the parameters of the discussions are known. Iran is seeking sanctions relief, and the United States—with its allies—is seeking verifiable guarantees that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons.

Read more



Iran and The Gulf Military Balance II: The Nuclear and Missile Dimensions

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 9, 2013


Volume II: The Nuclear and Missile Dimensions addresses missiles in terms of their capabilities in conventional and asymmetric warfare, as well as U.S., Arab Gulf, and allied options for missile defense. At the same time, it analyzes Iran’s nuclear and other WMD programs, Tehran’s possible use of nuclear-armed missiles, and U.S., Arab Gulf, and Israeli options for deterrence, containment, and preventive strikes.  The report shows that Iran’s current missile and rocket forces help compensate for its lack of effective air power and allow it to pose a threat to its neighbors and U.S. forces that could affect their willingness to strike Iran should Iran use its capabilities for asymmetric warfare in the Gulf or against any of its neighbors.At another level, Iran’s steady increase in the number, range, and capability of its rocket and missile forces has increased the level of tension in the Gulf, and in other regional states like Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. Iran has also shown that it will transfer long-range rockets to “friendly” or “proxy” forces like the Hezbollah and Hamas.

Read more



Uncertain Future for the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s Political Party

By Yezid Sayigh and Raphaël Lefèvre

Carnegie Endowment

December 9, 2013


With the death and destruction in Syria ongoing, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is forming a political party, the National Party for Justice and the Constitution. Known by its acronym, Waad—“promise” in Arabic—the party is meant to represent the Brotherhood, currently in exile, in an eventual democratic transition. Describing itself as “a national party with an Islamic framework [marjaiyyah] that adopts democratic mechanisms in its programs,” Waad is in theory open to all segments of Syrian society.  The Brotherhood’s concern to showcase its commitment to inclusive, pluralist politics and to reiterate its identity as a “centrist” Islamist organization is commendable given the growing radicalization and sectarianism in Syria. But delivering on its promise will prove a tough challenge. Religious and ethnic minorities as well as secular Sunni Muslims are likely to dismiss Waad as a mere facade for the Brotherhood.

Read more



An Unregulated Security Threat

By Andrew J. Tabler

Washington Institute

December 10, 2013

NOW Lebanon


As more and more Syrians flee to neighboring Lebanon, the situation there is a growing national security concern not only for Lebanon, but the entire region. While Hezbollah and Iran are supporting the Assad regime in Syria, their increased vulnerability in Lebanon should give them pause, as the recent bombing of the Iranian embassy and the assassination of Hezbollah operative Hassan al-Laqis show. Instead of continuing their carte blanche support for Assad, the Party of God and Iran have increased reason to constrain him, not only through the international effort to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, but also via a future political settlement in which the Assad family cabal “steps aside” in favor of a viable transitional government that can truly end the conflict.

Read more



Is Iran Set to Lash Out at Saudi Arabia?

By David Schenker

Washington Institute

December 10, 2013


The November 19 double suicide bombings of the Iranian embassy in Beirut may have looked shocking in the headlines — they killed 23 people. But they also should not have come as a surprise.  Since 2011, Tehran has earned its karma in Lebanon. The attack, whose victims included an Iranian diplomat, was likely payback for the Shiite theocracy’s unwavering support for the Bashar al-Assad regime’s brutal repression of the largely Sunni uprising in Syria. Aided by Iranian troops, weapons and its Lebanese Shiite proxy militia Hezbollah, over the past three years, al-Assad’s government has killed tens of thousands of mostly Sunni Syrians.  The real question is what comes now — and I expect a surge in regional violence. Paradoxically, the international “first step” nuclear agreement with Iran increases rather than diminishes the chances that the Shiite theocracy in Tehran will take steps that exacerbate the regional sectarian conflict.

Read more



Who Are the Foreign Fighters in Syria?

Interview of Aaron Y. Zelin

Carnegie Middle East Center

December 5, 2013


On the side of the Sunni Arab rebels, a conservative estimate would place the number of foreigners at 5,000 individuals, while a more liberal estimate could be upward of 10,000. These totals are for the entire conflict, not necessarily how many are currently on the ground there. Many of them have been killed, arrested, or have since returned home. The speed of this mobilization is unprecedented, compared to for example the foreigners who fought against the United States in Iraq or the Soviets in Afghanistan.  The majority comes from the Arab world, with Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Tunisia in the lead — although the number of Iraqis could be higher than what’s publicly known. The second-largest grouping is Western Europeans, especially from the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Additionally, there are some from the Balkans, the Caucasus, and many other places. By my count, we’ve seen Sunni fighters from more than 60 countries. There has also been an unprecedented number of foreigners coming in to fight for Assad’s regime. While the Sunni jihadis are coming in through informal networks, most of the pro-Assad fighters are Shia Muslims who believe in the teachings of Iran’s former religious and political leader Ayatollah Khomeini and are directed through Iran’s state-sponsored apparatuses.

Read more



Saban Forum 2013—Power Shifts: U.S.-Israel Relations in a Dynamic Middle East


Brookings Institution

December 6-8, 2013


On December 6-8, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings hosted its 10th annual Saban Forum, titled “Power Shifts: U.S.-Israel Relations in a Dynamic Middle East.” This year’s event featured webcasted remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Read more


Analysis 06-12-2013

America, Israel, and America’s Jewish Voter

The strategic situation in the Middle East has changed dramatically in the last few years.  Israel, which has generally been concerned about its neighbors sees little threat from them as Syria is engaged in a civil war and Jordan and Egypt maintain a cold, but peaceful relationships with the Zionist state.  The biggest threat seen by Israel is Iran, which is hundreds of miles away.

But, there is another strategic issue that bothers Israel: the United States, Obama, and the American Jewish voter.  Ever since its founding, Israel has relied on the US, the American Jewish voter, and the Democratic Party (who is the usual beneficiary of American Jewish votes) to come to their defense blindly.  Not anymore.

The chemistry in the Middle East has changed.  Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu have had very pubic disagreements.  Obama has Okayed an agreement with Iran that lifts some sanctions and promises to ease gradually any diplomatic isolation, although Israel strongly opposes it.  Yet, none of this has greatly upset the American Jewish voter, who has been critical for the Democrats in several key states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

Relations between Obama and Netanyahu have been tense and often have provided journalists with juicy tidbits that have demonstrated their mutual disdain for the other.  When Netanyahu came to Washington a few years ago, there were false rumors circulated by pro-Israeli circles that Obama left the meeting for dinner with his family. On the other side,, however, the White House didn’t release a photo of the meeting, which offended Netanyahu.  Netanyahu retaliated a year later at the White House, when he scolded Obama for saying that peace negotiations would have to begin with Israel’s 1967 borders.  “Remember that before 1967, Israel was all of 9 miles wide – half the width of the Washington Beltway. And these were not the boundaries of peace. They were the boundaries of repeated wars.”

The dispute went international in late 2011, when France’s president told Obama, “I cannot bear Netanyahu; he’s a liar,” and Obama replied, “I have to deal with him even more often than you.”

There is a time when these actions towards an Israeli Prime Minister would have so politically damaged an American president that he would have lost the next election.  However, Obama easily won reelection in 2012 against a pro-Israel Republican candidate, Mitt Romney by winning the heavily Jewish states of New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

How could Obama attack the Israeli Prime Minister and still win the American Jewish vote?

Much of that is due to the changing profile of the American Jewish voter and the Jewish community.  Ironically, you are more likely to find pro-Israel voters in an evangelical Christian church than in an American Jewish community center.

A recent high-profile Pew Research Center survey of American Jews shows that, with the exception of Orthodox Jews, the typical American Jew has shifted his or her opinion on issues in the Middle East.

The fact is that the American Jew is losing their “Jewishness” and is becoming more American than Jewish.  The Pew survey showed that 71 percent of non-Orthodox Jews intermarries and two-thirds of Jews do not belong to a synagogue.  These have a strong correlation to their support for Israel.

So, what are American Jew’s opinions on Israel and the Middle East?  61% of American Jews say “Israel and an independent Palestinian state can coexist peacefully.”  54% of American Jews say American support of the Jewish state is “about right,” while 31% say the U.S. is not supportive enough.  That’s a far cry from the first three decades of Israel’s existence, when there was very little daylight between the Israeli government and the overwhelming majority of American Jews.

There was a reason for that closeness in the early days.  The majority of the American Jewish community and newly established Israel were European Jews, and mostly Central or East European Jews. Many came from the Russian Empire in the 1880s and 1890s, when there was a major immigration of Jews to both North America and Palestine.

There is a reason for the dramatic change in the last couple of decades.

In the early years of Israel’s existence, religious Jews in North America felt a keen affinity with religious Jews in Israel, just as most secular Jews in North America felt an affinity with Labor Zionism, which was responsible for the Israeli kibbutz movement.  No matter the American Jew’s feelings – religious or secular – there was a reason to support Israel.

What has happened in the last few decades is that religion has created a dramatic shift.  While the average American Jew has become less religious, Israel, especially its leadership, has become more religious.  In fact, American Jews are nearly three times more likely to not believe in God than the average American according to the Pew report.

The religious bent of the Israeli government has alienated the secular American Jew, who has moved away from supporting Israel and given the Democratic Party more flexibility in its Middle Eastern policies.  Lobbies like J Street allow a more flexible policy toward Israel that still receives secular American Jewish support.

Ironically, much of this ambivalence towards Israel by American Jews can be traced to the pro-Jewish attitudes of Americans in general.  Unlike some of the Eastern European Christian attitudes, English Christian attitudes (which are the main contributor in American Christian tradition) has been pro-Jewish and focused on” Judeo-Christian traditions”.  Consequently, unlike in other countries, where Jews have been forced to remain in tight Jewish communities that look inward, American Jews have felt more welcome in the Christian community and have assimilated at a rate much greater than in other countries.  This has lessened their Jewish ties and made them better able to view Israel, not as a part of their religious or ethnic heritage, but from the point of view of American self-interest.

But, there is another political trend that has given Obama the flexibility to move Middle Eastern policy – the decline of the Judeo-Christian culture in America.  America has become less religious – especially in regards to adhering to the Judeo-Christian tradition.  The percentage of Americans who identify as Protestants (the most Judeo-Christian tradition) fell from 53 percent in 2007 to 48 percent in 2012 – the first time since the birth of the United States that Protestants were in the minority.  Add to this the changing demographics of America, where whites, who are more likely to be Protestant, are becoming a smaller portion of the population.  This means support for Israel, which is now based more on religious orientation, is dropping, although Hispanic Catholics are more pro-Israel than their white counterparts.

This is seen most in the Democratic Party, which polls show is more secular than the Republican Party.  Last year at the Democratic National Convention that re-nominated Obama, a motion to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was met with boos from the assembled delegates – a reaction very different than what would be seen at the Republican National Convention.

So, where is the current support for Israel?  Its strength is found amongst orthodox Jews, who remain faithful to their religious heritage (and are drifting towards the Republican Party) and evangelical Christians, who are now the cornerstone of American support for Israel.

According to the Pew Poll, “Twice as many white evangelical Protestants as Jews say that Israel was given to the Jewish people by God (82% vs. 40%). Some of the discrepancy is attributable to Jews’ lower levels of belief in God overall; virtually all evangelicals say they believe in God, compared with 72% of Jews (23% say they do not believe in God and 5% say they don’t know or decline to answer the question). But even Jews who do believe in God are less likely than evangelicals to believe that God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jewish people (55% vs. 82%).”

White evangelical Protestants also are more likely than Jews to favor stronger U.S. support of Israel. Among Jews, 54% say American support of the Zionist state is “about right,” while 31% say the U.S. is not supportive enough. By contrast, more white evangelical Protestants say the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel (46%) than say support is about right (31%).

Part of the shift occurred as a result of the events of 9-11.  The al Qaeda attacks on the US were seen by many evangelical Christians as an attack on their Christianity as much as on America.  This feeling has been furthered by radical Islamic attacks on Middle Eastern Christians in Egypt and Syria.  Meanwhile, Israeli leadership has fostered an evangelical Christian friendly policy that has solidified support in that sector of the American electorate.

This translates into pro-Israeli political views towards the Middle East.  White evangelical Protestants are less optimistic than Jews about the prospects for a peaceful two-state solution to conflict in the region. When asked if there is a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, six-in-ten American Jews (61%) say yes, while one-third say no. Among white evangelical Protestants, 42% say Israel and an independent Palestinian state can coexist peacefully, while 50% say this is not possible.

This attitude shift hasn’t been ignored by Israeli leadership.  No wonder that when Israeli PM Netanyahu comes to the United States, he is usually interviewed on the television network, the Christian Broadcasting Network – an evangelical Christian outlet.  This gives him the perfect outlet to reach his most ardent supporters.  And, since he has spent much of his life in the US, he is better able to connect with American evangelical Christians than many of his predecessors.

The result is that the political map of America’s Israel policy has changed.  Where once a pro-Israel policy would reap political benefits in New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and other Atlantic Coast states, a pro-Israel policy wins votes today in the Mid-Western states and the South.

This does not mean that evangelical Christian support for Israel is inherently tied to Israeli policy any more than American Jewish policy was tied to Israeli policy or Democratic Party policy was tied to Israeli policy.  It does, however, mean that policy towards America must be able to differentiate between evangelical Christian issues and Israeli policy.



Decoding the Summer of Snowden

By Julian Sanchez

Cato Institute

Nov/Dec 2013

Nearly 40 years ago, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, Americans got an unprecedented look behind the cloak of secrecy shielding government surveillance — and what they saw was chilling. A Senate committee headed by Sen. Frank Church uncovered a train of abuses by intelligence agencies stretching back decades, under presidents of both parties. Employing illegal break-ins, mail-opening programs, concealed bugs, bulk interception of telegrams, and telephone wiretaps, these agencies had gathered information about domestic political dissidents, journalists, labor leaders, and even members of Congress and Supreme Court justices. Perhaps most notoriously, the Church Committee revealed that J. Edgar Hoover had conducted a 10-year campaign to destroy and discredit Martin Luther King Jr., seeking to blackmail him into retirement or suicide with illegal recordings of the civil rights leader’s extramarital liaisons.  This summer, Americans got the most comprehensive look at the government’s massive surveillance machinery since the Church Committee, by way of leaked documents provided to the press by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden — as well as the government’s own grudging disclosures.

Read more


The Uncertain Strategic Case for the Zero Option in Afghanistan

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 4, 2013

It is far too easy to concentrate on the tensions with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and ignore the sheer lack of U.S. debate over the value of staying in Afghanistan.  The key question is whether there is a legitimate case for something approaching a zero option and a full withdrawal of U.S. forces and aid. If there is, it does not really matter whether Karzai signs the BSA or in fact if the US has a good excuse to leave. If there is not a legitimate case, one needs to be very careful about setting artificial deadlines and red lines.  The key problem in answering this question is that with little more than a year before the planned withdrawal of all U.S. troops, the Obama Administration has never provided any meaningful rational for staying Afghanistan or any plan for what happens after the end of 2014.

Read more



Recapturing U.S. Leadership in Uranium Enrichment

By George David Banks and Michael Wallace

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 3, 2013

The United States is at risk of finding its nuclear weapons capabilities severely weakened by the absence of an available capability to enrich uranium. International legal obligations prohibit the United States from using, for military purposes, foreign-produced enriched uranium or uranium enriched here in this country by foreign-source technology. With the closure of the Paducah, Kentucky, plant earlier this year, the United States has no domestic facility that uses U.S.-origin technology to enrich uranium, which, for example, could then be used to produce tritium, a key component in maintaining our nuclear arsenal. Further, existing stockpiles of tritium and enriched uranium produced by U.S.-origin technology are limited. Efforts to deploy a next-generation American enrichment technology must succeed so that our nation has the ability to address the forthcoming shortage of this strategic material. This national security requirement could be met with little cost to taxpayers if the federal government implemented policies that ensure a strong U.S. enrichment industry.

Read more



Patronizing a patriot

By Thomas Donnelly and Roger I. Zakheim

American Enterprise Institute

December 4, 2013

The Weekly Standard

House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon doesn’t look like an insurgent.  The quintessential Californian – a man of Reaganesque optimism whose congressional district now includes the Gipper’s presidential library – McKeon has been a steadfast supporter of House speaker John Boehner in turbulent times. Yet, to the green-eyeshade editorialists of The Wall Street Journal, McKeon is leading a “rebellion” of defense hawks, an “act of masochism” threatening the Holy of Holies: the sequestration provision of the Budget Control Act (BCA). McKeon’s crime is that he’s hoping for a 2014 budget deal that would reduce the amount of defense sequestration by half.

Read more



Egypt’s Draft Constitution Rewards the Military and Judiciary

By Nathan J. Brown and Michele Dunne

Carnegie Endowment

December 4, 2013

The draft constitution submitted to Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, on December 2 settles a few important matters—it enhances the status of the state institutions that banded together against the Muslim Brotherhood, including the military, judiciary, and police. But it leaves other equally important questions unanswered. The sequencing, system, and timing for presidential and parliamentary elections remain unclear, for example, issues that are particularly fraught because Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who removed Mohamed Morsi from power in July, might run for president.  The new constitution offers better human rights protections than the 2012 version forced through by the then president, Morsi. Yet it also continues a pattern of leaving much up to the vagaries of implementing legislation. And that legislation may be written—and implemented—in an atmosphere of government and public indifference, even hostility, to human rights concerns.

Read more



Rebels Consolidating Strength in Syria: The Islamic Front

By Aaron Y. Zelin

Washington Institute

December 3, 2013

PolicyWatch 2177

The recent merger of several Syrian rebel groups into the Islamic Front (IF) is one of the war’s most important developments. Although the political and military opposition has long been fragmented, the new umbrella organization brings seven groups and their combined force of 45,000-60,000 fighters under one command. It also links the fight in the north and the south. Most notably, though, it affirms the troubles Washington will have setting policy in Syria going forward.  Formally announced on November 22, the IF includes groups from three prior umbrella organizations: the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF), the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF), and the Kurdish Islamic Front (KIF). From the SIF, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya (HASI), Kataib Ansar al-Sham, and Liwa al-Haqq joined, as did the KIF as a whole and former SILF brigades Suqur al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, and Jaish al-Islam. None of these groups has been designated by the U.S. government as a foreign terrorist organization.

Read more

Analysis 22-11-2013


The Two Sides of Obama Foreign Policy and What it means to the Middle East

This week saw a reported rift over Egypt between Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice. Reports in a liberal blog with connections close to the White House say John Kerry didn’t agree with Susan Rice on major portions of the White House’s Egypt policy, and he made a deliberate and conscious decision not to mention Morsi in his Cairo meetings. Previously, Rice told Kerry he should speak publicly and privately about ousted Egyptian President Morsi’s trial while in the country earlier this month. Instead, the secretary of State said publicly that Egypt was “on the path to democracy.” Sources also said he didn’t discuss Morsi in his private meetings with Egyptian officials either.

Rice wasn’t happy about Kerry’s deviation from the White House policy. But disagreements between national security advisors and secretaries of state aren’t anything new.

There has usually been a difference between State Department and National Security Council policy and recommendations. The State Department is more non-political and takes a more long term view of foreign affairs. The National Security Council, which is appointed by the president, is more political and more likely to view policy in terms of domestic political advantage or the president’s agenda.

Presidents have also viewed the two foreign policy teams differently. While some presidents have relied heavily upon the State Department and relegated the NSC to a minor role, other presidents have tilted the other way and made the national security advisor the major foreign policy expert.

The best example of this was Henry Kissinger during the Nixon Administration. Nixon had a distrust of the State Department and relied heavily on Kissinger to develop and implement foreign policy. Ironically, however, Kissinger was to later become Secretary of State and transferred his considerable personal influence to the former “enemy.”

Under Obama, the State Department has sat outside the inner circle of power. In his first term, it was the political “Siberia” for his major Democratic competitor, Hillary Clinton. Real power was relegated to a series of “czars,” who had portfolio to handle the major foreign policy issues.

Needless to say, the rivalry between the State Department and the NSC continues in the Obama Administration, with each following different goals and policies.

Kerry and the State Department

Unlike many Secretaries of State, John Kerry comes to the position with his own political base. As a long time senator from Massachusetts and former presidential nominee in 2004, he has national name recognition and a political base. He is not beholden to Obama for power and knows that he could probably return to Massachusetts and run for the US Senate again if he so desired.

Kerry is also aware as a member of the US Senate that if Obama decides to “fire” him for his difference in policy, serious questions and a possible inquiry would be held by the Senate. Since Obama is in political trouble – even inside his own party – he can’t afford any more scandal. This gives Kerry considerably more latitude to ignore White House diktat.

Kerry’s style is a function of his years in the US Senate, which relies on developing personal relationships with other senators. This works to his advantage on the international scene.

The White House Foreign Policy Team

To understand what drives White House foreign policy, one has to understand who has the political power in the Obama White House. In this case, the key person is Valerie Jarrett, who is considered the single, most influential person in the Obama White House. She has been called Obama’s “Rasputin.” Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who clashed often with Jarrett, likened her and senior aide Peter Rouse to Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay.

Jarrett’s personal friendship with the president and first lady dates back more than two decades, before the couple was married, and before Barack Obama launched his political career in Chicago. The president has said he views her “like a sibling” and trusts her “completely.” As result, she enjoys “unlimited, almost mystical access” to the president.

Jarrett was born in Iran, which has some accusing her of favoring Iran and favoring a softer approach to their nuclear program, even though her parents were Western and not Iranian.

Although her job description says she serves as “chief liaison to the business community, state and local governments, and the professional left,” her influence throughout the White House is undeniable. She commands a staff of nearly three dozen and has a hand in decisions ranging from the invitation list to state dinners and what gifts to give foreign leaders, to who should be nominated to the Supreme Court, appointed to a vacant ambassadorship, or awarded the President Medal of Freedom. Survival inside the White House depends on being her friend. Her enemies quickly disappear. One reason why the current Secretary of Human Services, Sibelius, has survived the continuing scandals surrounding Obamacare is her close friendship with Jarrett.

Jarrett’s friendship with Susan Rice and Samantha Power has cemented their position inside the White House and Obama’s foreign policy. While Kerry has an outside political base he can rely upon, their power flows from Obama and they are loyal to him.
However, the difference isn’t just about who is closer to Obama. Rice and Power sees foreign policy in a different light and this is setting up the current difference between the State Department and the White House.

Rice and Kerry both have different styles. Kerry, who worked in the Senate, which relies on compromise and geniality, is more diplomatic. Rice is known to have sharp elbows and is known for a more combative tone. Rice has reportedly clashed with other administration officials, such as former Sudan Special Envoy Scott Gration. “Even more so than Donilon … [Rice] has a temper that needs tempering,” Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote at The Daily Beast. “And unlike Donilon, she often rushes to judgment, and then digs in. She’ll have to learn to count to one hundred—I mean one thousand—before making up her mind, and meantime, listen to different views carefully.”

However, Rice is known to be loyal to Obama. She was his premier foreign policy adviser since the 2008 presidential campaign. She is also a close personal friend of both Michelle Obama. As a result, Rice is an Obama insider, with a personal friendship with the president – not foreign policy expertise – as her greatest asset. She worked hard to preserve her relationship with the president while serving as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. for four years, spending more time in Washington than any of her predecessors.

Rice was the point person during the Benghazi attacks and damaged her reputation by claiming the riots were a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Muslim video. That was at the heart of her decision to withdraw her name from consideration as Secretary of State – a nomination that required the consent of the Senate and a bruising confirmation battle. Instead, she was given the position of National Security Advisor, which doesn’t need confirmation by the Senate.

In the Obama White House, the NSC position has more power as foreign policy decisions flow from there rather than the State Department. Thomas Wright, a scholar at the Brookings Institution said, “For better or worse, the Obama administration… Its chosen concept is central power—the idea that everything flows to and from the National Security Council.”

While Kerry is seen as more pragmatic, Rice is seen as a tool to further Obama’s world view via US foreign policy. The New York Times said of her appointment, (Rice) “would bring a more muscular, idealistic cast to Mr. Obama’s foreign policy.”

The other foreign policy decision maker in the Obama inner circle is Samantha Power, the ambassador to the UN. In many ways, she and her writings (which were responsible for her Pulitzer Prize in 2003) are at the core of the Obama foreign policy that eschews strategic interests for “humanitarian” issues. As such, this explains the stance taken by Obama during the Arab Spring.

Power has been a key player in the Obama position towards Syria, although she failed attend a critical UN emergency meeting on the Syrian CW crisis in August because she was in Ireland on a personal trip to visit family (she was born in Ireland). This reflects one of her weaknesses – she is more focused on ideology and less interested in practical diplomacy. The reality is that UN ambassadors need to be practical in order to win other nations over to the American side of an issue.

Obama’s speech a couple of months ago on Syria was a close reflection of Power’s views. The overwhelming emphasis was on humanitarian goals, with a brief, secondary, and noticeably weak effort to buttress that case with talk about threats to American interests. Power’s core argument in her writings is that American foreign policy has historically “refused to take risks” for humanitarian ends. Power chastises American leaders for declining to “invest the military, financial, diplomatic, or domestic political capital” necessary to prevent massacres. U.S. officials, she complains, consistently “play up the futility, perversity, and jeopardy of any proposed intervention.”

Ironically, despite her writings, Power is an opponent of the use of military power in the Middle East, specifically Syria. “There are other interests at play,” she told the Politico, noting that military action in the Middle East can affect oil prices and the U.S. economy. “None of us would pretend that we are a single-issue administration.

White House/State Department Foreign Policy Differences

The philosophical difference between the White House and the State Department under Obama has impacted US foreign policy. Kerry spent his first months as Secretary of State working to repair the U.S.-Russia relationship and use that as a mechanism to find a political solution to the Iranian nuclear issue and the civil war in Syria. Kerry believes he has developed a relation with the Russian Foreign Minister that can be used to reach an agreement on these problems. Rice, by contrast has traded public insults with her Russian counterpart at the U.N.

In regards to Syria, administration officials and other close supporters of the White House say Rice in internal meetings has supported a no-fly zone for Syria and is wary of arming the more liberal elements of Syria’s opposition.

Kerry has worked to reach an international settlement on Syria in conjunction with the Russians. Much of his success has relied upon his closer working relationship with the Russians, who have traditionally been a close supporter of Assad.

The rift over Egypt has been a long time in the making. Well before Kerry and Rice disagreed publicly on Egypt, the White House and the State Department clashed privately over the administration’s Egypt policy. During a months-long administration review of U.S. military aid to Egypt, the State Department and Defense Department pushed internally to preserve most of the assistance, while Rice insisted most military aid be suspended, pending more progress by the Egyptian government.

“There are real differences in the fundamental approach to Egypt between Susan Rice and John Kerry,” one Washington Egypt expert with close ties to the administration told a political blog. “We wouldn’t have had any aid suspension at all if it had been up to John Kerry and Chuck Hagel.”

The other problem is that there is no conflicting opinion within the inner circle to give Obama a sense of foreign policy balance. With Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and David Petraeus out of the way, the president has all but eliminated any dissenting viewpoints. Kerry is the only person in the Administration with the political power and will to disagree with the Jarrett/Rice/Powers foreign policy triumvirate.

The problem with conflicting foreign policy coming from two parts of the administration is deciding which one to believe and work with. In Egypt, officials are receiving diverging messages from the U.S. government’s various parts, causing confusion as they try to decide how to react to recent U.S. actions. For example, the administration has not told the government of Egypt what exactly it must do to get the partial aid suspension lifted, said a source close to the Egyptian government.

In terms of understanding White House foreign policy it is important to remember that Samantha Power is the philosopher of White House foreign policy – pushing “humanitarian” issues rather than strategic interests. Susan Rice is the executor of that policy through her control of the NSC. And, Valerie Jarrett provides the political cover by getting Obama’s approval and neutralizing any conflicting opinions.

How governments deal with the US today depends on their goals. If the goal is short term and focuses on humanitarian issues, it pays to focus on the Power/Rice/Jarrett policy team, which will give faster results and has the ear of Obama. However, for long term relations that focus on strategic issues that will outlive the current administration, the best bet is to focus on the State Department/Kerry route, which is based on long term US foreign policy and is more likely to be followed after Obama leaves office in three years.


International Security Demands U.S. Intercontinental-Range Missiles
By Michaela Dodge
Heritage Foundation
November 20, 2013
Issue Brief #4092

Since the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) entered into force in February 2011, the U.S. has borne a significant majority of the nuclear arms reductions required under the treaty. Russia, the other party to the treaty, has been increasing the number of its deployed nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles, which the treaty allows. Now, according to a document prepared by the Office of the Secretary of Defense-Policy to the Senate Intercontinental-Range Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Coalition, the Administration is planning on eliminating an ICBM squadron to allegedly comply with New START. Not only would such a move be unwise and imprudent at this time, but the U.S. does not need to eliminate an ICBM squadron to meet New START’s limits.

Read more…
The Other “Pivot to Asia” – The Shifting Strategic Importance of Gulf Petroleum
By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
November 18, 2013

It is all too easy to focus on energy developments in the United States and lose sight of the overall pattern of changes in world energy production and consumption. The fact is, however, that the Department of Energy does not forecast U.S. energy independence in its reference case – only a dip to 37% dependence on foreign oil by 2040. It does not mean that the US is free of the need to pay world oil prices in a crisis. Far more important, the US already imports some $2.4 trillion worth of goods to sustain a $14 trillion economy, and some $1.2 trillion of these steadily rising imports are dependent on the stable flow of MENA, and particularly Gulf, oil and gas exports to Europe and Asia.

Read more…
Engaging the Muslim World
By Walter Douglas
Center for Strategic and International Studies
November 18, 2013

Public diplomacy supports the interests of the United States by advancing American goals outside the traditional arena of government-to-government relations. Since 9/11, with the rise of al Qaeda and other violent organizations that virulently oppose the United States, public diplomacy in Muslim-majority countries has become an instrument to blunt or isolate popular support for these organizations. Efforts in this direction complement traditional public diplomacy that explains American policies and society to foreign publics. Public diplomacy must take many paths to accomplish its goals in the Arab Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the geographic focus of this study. Their populations are not monolithic. In fact, they are extremely varied within states and across regions. The best public diplomacy is tailored to these differences, with multiple approaches to strategically important segments in each country.

Read more…
Competing Visions of Islam: From Osama bin Laden to Morocco’s King Mohammed VI
By Alan Luxenberg
Foreign Policy Research Institute
November 2013

Some conservatives mistake Islam, the religion, with Islamism, a political ideology (of several variants); conversely, some liberals mistake criticism of Islamism with criticism of Islam. Worse, both sides sometimes arrogate to themselves the right to define Islam – either as a religion of war or as a religion of peace. But every religion can be defined only by its adherents, and those adherents themselves may define the same religion differently. Indeed, Michael Doran famously analyzed the events of 9/11 as the product of “somebody else’s civil war,” by which he meant the war among Muslims to define Islam. If Osama bin Laden represented one end of that spectrum, then the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, represents the other. As President Obama prepares to receive the King this Friday, it behooves all Americans to take the measure of this King and his vision of Islam, explore why that vision matters, and what it means for the United States.

Read more…
The Middle East Peace Process: Time for a Reality Check
By Bruno Macaes
German Marshall Fund
November 15, 2013

While a new round of peace negotiations has opened in July 2013, the debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be framed by general misperceptions and illusions. This brief takes a dispassionate look at the factual and political realities of the Middle East peace process today, and highlights how these illusions constitute an obstacle to realistic compromises. Finally, the author provides concrete solutions for enhanced transatlantic cooperation in the peace process.

Read more…


IAEA Chief Cites Modest Iran Nuclear Progress; Official Report Due
By Michael Adler
Wilson Center
Nov 15, 2013

Iran has not significantly accelerated its nuclear program in recent months, UN nuclear chief Yukiya Amano told Breaking Defense. This could be a sign that Iran hopes to create favorable conditions for a deal with the United States, which wants the Islamic Republic to freeze its program at its current level and not add to its nuclear capabilities. Amano’s International Atomic Energy Agency is to release a report later this week on Iran. The last report was filed on August 28, so the two-and-a-half months covered corresponds roughly to the time since Hassan Rouhani took office as Iranian president last August 3.

Read more…
Why a Nuclear Deal with Iran Is So Hard
By Michael Eisenstadt
Washington Institute
November 20, 2013
National Interest

It should have come as no surprise when talks between Iran and the P5+1 in Geneva two weeks ago ended without an interim confidence-building agreement — apparently because the Islamic Republic could not accept a revised draft agreement that did not recognize its “right to enrich.” Negotiations with Iran have always been difficult, protracted affairs — in this case, made more fraught by differences between France and the other members of the P5+1. Diplomacy has been further complicated by the fact that Tehran hopes to use negotiations to confirm (if not legitimize) its status as a nuclear threshold state, while preserving a degree of ambiguity regarding its actual capabilities — an outcome that the P5+1 is not likely to — or at least should not — agree to. Finding a way through these thickets will be key if nuclear diplomacy with Iran is to succeed.

Read more…
U.S. Relations With Allies In Free Fall
By Michael Doran
Brookings Institution
November 18, 2013

Israeli-American relations are in free fall. Why? On the face of it the key issue is the terms of the draft deal with Iran that Secretary of State John Kerry was reportedly ready to sign in Geneva, week before last. Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated yet again that it is “a bad deal.” And last week Israel’s intelligence minister, Yuval Steinitz, claimed the concessions to Tehran that the United States is contemplating will funnel between $20 and $40 billion to Iran’s coffers. The State Department’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, dismissed Steinitz as a fabulist. “Without going into specifics about what we’re considering, that number, I can assure you, is inaccurate, exaggerated, and not based in reality,” she said. The disagreement over the deal is significant; there can be no doubt. But the debate over its terms diverts attention from another factor of great significance—namely, Netanyahu’s growing distrust, in general, of the Obama administration.

Read more…


Analysis 15-11-2013

How serious is the Egypt – Russia Rapprochement?

Not since the Anwar Sadat expelled Russian advisors has the Egyptian government shown so much interest in a closer relationship with Russia. The Russian foreign and defense ministers visited Egypt this week as the new leadership in Cairo searches for new allies in order to lessen military dependence on Washington. A sign of that new relationship was the arrival of the Russian missile cruiser Varyag for a six day stay in the port of Alexandria, Egypt – the first major Russian naval vessel to visit an Egyptian port since the end of the cold War.

A major driver in the visit is the cold attitude towards the new Egyptian leadership by the Obama Administration, which has stopped its $ 1.3 billion in military assistance to Egypt. The high level Russian delegation has made it clear that the purpose of this visit is to strengthen relations and expand military/technical cooperation, which means arranging to sell Russian arms to Egypt.
This is a clear slap in the face to the Obama Administration. But, how serious is it? Does this mean that Egypt will once again become a client state of Russia and primarily use Russian weapons systems?

Probably not. Changing arms producers is much harder than simply buying a new car for one’s family. Egypt has billions of dollars invested in American and Western arms – acknowledged to be better than Russian weapon systems. In addition, Egypt has been relying on American training for the last third of a century, so there are very few officers or soldiers who are competent to operate the Russian arms currently in the Egyptian arsenal.

And, although the Egyptian still have a lot of Russian arms in storage, much of that is obsolete. Even the rifle and handgun calibers of the Russian small arms of the Cold War have changed, which means that just pulling them out of storage and putting them in active duty with Russian supplied parts and ammunition isn’t an easy alternative.

There is also the fact that the current relations freeze with the US is primarily due to Obama and he will be out of office in 3 years. A new American administration would probably be friendlier and more willing to restore military aid. Should the Egyptian government spend billions just to turn around again in 3 more years?

However, in the meantime, there some items of military hardware that is high on Egypt’s shipping list.

The most important would be new air defense weapons. Although the US has been generous in supplying Egypt, it was less than eager to help modernize Egypt’s air defense system, lest it be able to stop Israeli aircraft. Consequently, the Egyptian air defense network relies on antiquated Soviet missiles and radar, which is desperately in need of modernization. That means that Egypt is ready to invest in Buk M2, Tor M2 and Pantsir- S1 air defense systems, providing the financing can be found.

Another Russian weapons system at the top of Egypt’s shopping list is the MiG-29 M2 fighter jet, an advanced version of the Soviet-designed aircraft. Egypt is interested in 24 of the warplanes, a package that may be worth US$1.7 billion.

But, is Egypt ready for a major modernization program that relies primarily on Russian weapons?
Let’s look at each branch of the Egyptian military and review its status.

Egyptian Army

The Egyptian Army is the largest in either the Middle East or Africa. Although it once relied heavily upon Russian arms, it’s now is supplied by a mix of NATO countries, including the US, France, and Britain. Other major suppliers are Brazil and China. It also has a large domestic arms industry and manufactures the American M1A2 Abrams tank.

The small arms of Egypt are decidedly NATO in origin. Their pistols come from Italy, submachine guns from Germany, assault rifles from the US and Italy, and machineguns from Belgium. Those Russian style arms like the Misr Assault Rifle that are still in use are styles that were abandoned by the Soviets decades ago. They still in use older Russian calibers and were actually manufactured in Egypt by Egyptian military factories. Since Russia no longer offers free weapons, there is little advantage to moving to Russian small arms.

Although the Russian RPG-7 remains in the Egyptian arsenal as an anti-tank weapon, the more modern anti-tank weapons like the Milan (French) Swingfire (British), and TOW (American) are NATO standard. A move to Russian anti-tank weapons would negatively affect Egypt’s relations with France and Britain more than it would hurt the US.

Egypt has a large and very modern tank force thanks to the US decision to allow Egypt to buy and build the modern M1A1 Abrams tank. Consequently, Egypt’s tank force is only second to the Israelis in terms of numbers and quality.

Although Egypt has older Russian tanks in reserve, they are obsolete in terms of the Abrams or any Israeli tank they would go up against. The most modern Russian tank in Egyptian service is the T-80, which was introduced in 1976. It has a bad reputation of high fuel consumption and poor combat performance. In fact several were given to South Korea by Russia to pay off some old Soviet debts.

The Egyptians also have the Ramses II, which is an updated Soviet T-55, as well as some old Soviet T-62s. These have been modernized by NATO countries like Britain, Germany, and Italy and would benefit little from additional Russian military assistance.

Since the war in 1973, which saw the triumph and the destruction of some of the Soviet equipment, Egypt has become increasingly reliant on NATO weapons supplied from nations that Egypt wishes to maintain friendly relations with. Only some of the modern Russian weapons offer a quantitative edge over the NATO equipment. In addition, much of the older Soviet era equipment is domestically supported and not in need of Russian modernization.

Egyptian Air Force

Although not the region’s largest air force, the Egyptian Air Force is one of the largest air forces in the region. Currently, the backbone of the EAF is the F-16. The French Mirage 2000 is the other modern interceptor used by the EAF. The Egyptian Air Force has 216 F-16s (plus 20 on order) making it the 4th largest operator of the F-16 in the World. It has about 579 combat aircraft and 149 armed helicopters having 35 Apache’s AH-64D as it also continues to fly extensively upgraded MiG-21s, F-7 Skybolts, F-4 Phantoms, Dassault Mirage Vs, and the C-130 Hercules among other planes.

Egypt still uses the older Mig-21 aircraft that was given to them in the 1960s by the Soviets. However, their airframes are getting old and an attempt to modernize them with Ukrainian help was not terribly successful.

The decision by the Obama administration to stop F-16 shipments has definitely made the Russian Mig-29 (which was designed to counter the US F-16) more attractive.

But there may be more to this deal than meets the eye and it may be more in Russia’s interest than Egypt’s. Financial problems have made it hard for the Russian air force to buy as many modern Mig-29 aircraft as they need, which means that additional business from the Egyptian Air Force would be a welcome benefit to the Russian military as it would lower the cost per aircraft. However, since the Russians are stretched financially to buy Mig-29 for themselves that limits the financial terms they can offer the Egyptians, unless Egypt finds a financial supporter like Saudi Arabia to pay for the Migs. Otherwise, the aircraft offered to Egypt will be older Russian Mig-29s that will be replaced in the Russian Air Force by newer Mig-29 models.

If Saudi Arabia will be the financier of the Egyptian aircraft purchase, it seems more likely that they will make a deal with a NATO aircraft manufacturer that will supply fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia. That will allow them to make a better deal for their own air force as well as buying Egyptian aircraft.

The biggest problem for the Egyptian Air Force is pilot training and maintenance. Egypt has the highest F-16 accident rate, which indicates systemic problems with the Egyptian Air Force organization and operation. The addition of Mig-29s to the inventory will not solve that problem and may cause more trouble as maintenance organization are forced to rely on another logistical system for parts and maintenance.

However, military aircraft are a very visible acquisition, make headlines and are a point of national pride. That means this may be one way that Egypt and Russia can snub the US and make headlines while doing it. However, traditionally, aircraft acquisitions take years for delivery and pilot training to take place.

Egyptian Navy

Considering the other navies in the Mediterranean like the US, Russian, British, Italian, and French fleets, the Egyptian navy is relatively small. Most of these vessels were built by NATO countries and use NATO standard guns, missiles, radar, and electronics.

Russian naval vessels have never been in the same class as NATO countries in terms of quality and any movement to Russian ships would be a serious step down and threaten the logistical support of their current fleet.

The only benefit the Russian have to offer in terms of naval support would be if they build some sort of maintenance facility at an Egyptian port that would be available to Egyptian naval vessels. However, how good that maintenance support would be for NATO ships is questionable.

Will Egypt Become a Major Russian Customer?

The short answer is may be. Russia can no longer afford to give away weapons as they did in the Cold War. They are also having financial problems modernizing their own forces, which limits their largess.

Egypt meanwhile has a major arms industry that needs adjustments if Egypt started buying from Russia. Such purchases would also impact relations with other NATO countries that Egypt has no desire to alienate.

Egypt also knows that it has an edge in terms of American relations. The US eventually is concerned about maintaining the Camp David accords and that means continuing to give military assistance to Egypt. To totally cut off Egypt might put these agreements at risk. It would also mean economic problems for several American defense companies that are located in states that might go Republican if their economies deteriorate any more.

Undoubtedly, Egypt and Russia have decided it is in both their interests to improve relations at this time. It allows Egypt to scare the US a bit and gives the Russians a chance to embarrass the Americans. Another favorable dimension complementing relations is the Russian grain that Russia has been exporting to Egypt for long time and It was reported by Stratfor analysis that :
“Russia can support Egypt with larger grain exports. In the 2012-13 grain season, Russia made up a third of Egypt’s grain imports, approximately 2.7 million tons. Russia is currently having a healthy year for grain production at home, with a rise in exports for 2013-14 expected. The problem in recent months between Egypt and Russia has been the price — Cairo has been unable to afford Russian grain, which is more expensive than grain from countries such as Ukraine. An agreement for discounted grain is a possibility going forward.


Greater Iraqi–American Cooperation Needed on Counterterrorism, Syria, and Iran
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
November 5, 2013
Issue Brief 4079

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki came to Washington last week in search of greater U.S. security assistance in battling the al-Qaeda-led insurgency that increasingly threatens Iraq’s internal security as well as regional stability in the oil-rich Persian Gulf. The United States shares Maliki’s goal of defeating al-Qaeda’s franchise in Iraq, which has expanded into neighboring Syria. But it should be assured that Maliki’s Shia-dominated government does not use U.S. arms to crush the legitimate rights and aspirations of Iraq’s Sunni Arab, Kurdish, and Christian minorities, which are enshrined in Iraq’s constitution. Washington should also press Maliki to distance himself from Iran’s outlaw regime and halt Iraqi smuggling operations that undermine international sanctions against Iran.

Read more…

A Strong and Focused National Security Strategy
By Jim Talent and Jon Kyl
Heritage Foundation
October 31, 2013

When President Obama took office, the armed services of the United States had already reached a fragile state. The Navy had shrunk to its smallest size since before World War I; the Air Force was smaller, and its aircraft older, than at any time since the inception of the service. The Army was stressed by years of war; according to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, it had been underfunded before the invasion of Iraq and was desperately in need of resources to replace its capital inventory. Since the President took office, the government has cut $1.3 trillion from defense budgets over the next ten years. The last such reduction was embodied in sequestration. At the time sequestration was passed, the top leaders of the military, and of both parties (the very people who enacted sequestration), warned that it would have a devastating effect on America’s military.

Read more…

Solving Egypt’s Subsidy Problem
By Dalibor Rohac
Cato Institute
November 6, 2013

Subsidies to consumer goods, including fuels and food, account for almost one third of Egypt’s public spending, or 13 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Not only are subsidies highly ineffective in helping the poor, they are also an increasingly unsustainable drain on the country’s public finances and its foreign reserves. Yet reform remains a thorny issue in Egypt’s unstable political environment—mostly because subsidies are the main instrument of social assistance used by the government. Subsidies to consumer goods and fuels have existed in the country since the 1920s. Various approaches are available for scaling them down or eliminating them altogether. However, most of the prior attempts to reform the subsidy system in Egypt have failed. Cash transfers targeted at the poor would be a superior policy relative to the status quo.

Read more…

Saudi Arabia and the Arab “Frontline” States
By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
November 4, 2013

The United States needs to rethink its attitudes and polices towards Saudi Arabia and the Arab “frontline” states. The “Arab spring” has not become some sudden window to democratic reform. It has instead unleashed a broad pattern of regional instability in an area already deeply destabilized by extremism and terrorism, growing religious struggles between Sunni and other sects as well as between Sunni extremists and moderates, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its removal as a military counterbalance to Iran, a growing Iranian set of threats at every level, and massive demographic pressures on weak structures of governance and economic development. The day may come some years in the future where the resulting convulsions in states like Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen produce the conditions for effective reform: political parties capable of producing effective leaders and governance, politics based on compromise rather than a history of conspiracy and winner’s take all, elections that produce national rather than ethnic and sectarian tensions, and a rule of law rather than winner takes all and repression. Today, however, upheavals mean political instability and violence, massive new economic problems, power struggles, repression and refugees. The issue is not democracy and the more ideal human rights, it is the most basic set of human rights: security and the ability to lead a safe and secure life.

Read more…

One Word Will Define Egypt’s Constitution
By Nathan J. Brown
Carnegie Endowment
November 1, 2013
Foreign Policy

Those interested in following every word of the work of the Committee of 50 drafting comprehensive revisions to Egypt’s constitution now have a variety of sources to follow: one “official” twitter feed; an “unofficial” one; and the latest addition, an “official” Facebook page. But the most important word governing Egypt’s future constitutional order will not be mentioned in any of those places. Indeed, it will not even be placed in the final text scheduled to be submitted to voters next month. That fateful word will be spoken only by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and it will be a simple “yes” or “no” concerning his candidacy for the presidency of the Egyptian republic.

Read more…

How the West should Stop Crippling the Syrian Opposition
By Jean-Pierre Filiu
German Marshall Fund
November 06, 2013

Since its start in March 2011, the Syrian revolution has presented a challenge to classical interpretations of political protest and conventional attitudes toward armed insurgencies.
The markedly grassroots nature of this popular uprising has made the quest for a monolithic leadership elusive. In addition, the various underground groups that make up the opposition have nurtured complex dialectics with exiled militants. The Syrian National Council (SNC) that was established in Istanbul in October 2011 was, therefore,
a self-proclaimed patchwork, whose doors were left open to other groups.

Read more…

John Kerry’s Wishful Thinking About Egypt
By Lee Smith
Hudson Institute
November 5, 2013

Last week, in the midst of his latest trip to the Middle East, Secretary of State John Kerry told Egypt’s ruling military junta to keep up the good work. The Obama administration wants General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the man who removed Muslim Brotherhood affiliated president Mohamed Morsi from office in a coup on July 3, to return Egypt to civilian rule as quickly as possible. And that road map, said Kerry, “is being carried out to the best of our perception.” In reality though, it looks as though Egypt is heading in exactly the other direction.

Read more…

Ankara’s Middle East Policy Post Arab Spring
By Soner Cagaptay
Washington Institute
November 2013

When Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) entered office in 2002, it launched an ambitious plan to become a regional power. Aided by phenomenal economic growth, Turkey ultimately became the Middle East’s largest economy with a foreign policy based on wielding soft power to gain influence. To this end, the new elites in Ankara pursued deep economic and political ties with the region’s governments, including Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria. Nevertheless, the events of the Arab Spring and the subsequent emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood as a hardline political force in the region have shifted the trajectory of Turkey’s rise to regional preeminence. Turkey realized that its soft power is not readily transferable to hard power, a realization that has prompted a pivot in Ankara’s foreign policy over the past two years.

Read more…

Kerry’s Visit to Morocco and Algeria: Navigating Between Competitors
By Vish Sakthivel
Washington Institute
November 4, 2013

Over the past few days, following the State Department’s announcement that Secretary John Kerry would be making his first official visit to North Africa, Morocco temporarily recalled its ambassador from Algeria. The symbolic gesture came after the two countries exchanged insults over Western Sahara, accusing each other of hegemonic ambitions and disregard for human rights. Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s statement about the urgency of dispatching human rights monitors to the disputed region, which triggered Rabat’s reaction, coincides with three imminent events: the U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue, the annual summit that Kerry will inaugurate during his current trip to the region; Kerry’s visit to Algiers, also scheduled for later this week; and an expected mid-November visit to the United States by Morocco’s King Muhammad VI. Indeed, this latest squabble was aimed squarely at agenda-setting. In responding to the brouhaha, the Obama administration should be mindful of the complicated diplomatic and security issues at play, careful in its reassurances to committed allies in Morocco, and realistic about the limits of potential cooperation between the two countries.

Read more…

Israel and Turkey – Together Again

Undoubtedly the biggest result of the Obama trip to Israel was the phone call made by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to apologize for the 2010 IDF attack on the Turkish flotilla that killed nine people. The Israeli leader phoned Turkish PM Erdogan, while sitting with U.S. President Barack Obama in a trailer on a Tel Aviv airport tarmac. In the call, which lasted for nearly 30 minutes, Netanyahu acknowledged “operational mistakes” during the raid, which ended with the deaths of eight Turks and an American. “(Netanyahu) made it clear that the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional and that Israel expresses regret over injuries and loss of life,” the Israeli government said.

Although there are many unrelated reasons for the Turkish/Israeli rapprochement, the fact that it was done in such a way that Obama received credit for it is interesting. Netanyahu and Obama have had very chilly relations and very little trust exists on either side. Undoubtedly, the Israeli leader received something in return – possibly some flexibility in regards to Iran or additional military aid.

The reality is that there were many reasons on both sides for Israel and Turkey to strengthen ties. Israeli President Shimon Peres said that there were “more reasons today than ever before to strengthen Israeli-Turkish relations and cooperation.”

There were also reasons for the US to push the rapprochement too. In fact, Obama’s refusal to push Israeli/Palestinian peace talks or take a more moderate position in regards to potential talks during his visit may have been meant as a “bribe” to encourage Netanyahu to call Erdogan.

Turkey and Jews have a long history. Erdogan spoke of “the shared history and centuries old ties of strong friendship and cooperation between the Jewish and Turkish peoples.” In fact, it was the Ottoman Empire that had encouraged Jewish settlement in the 1800s.

However, it was the shared problem of Syria that was immediately responsible for the renewed ties. Although the deal had been worked on for years by Israeli and Turkish officials it was rushed by developments in Syria. Israel was also concerned by the recent unrest on the Syrian/Israeli border. It was also concerned about Syria’s large chemical weapons arsenal and reports that chemical weapons may have been used in recent days. Close cooperation between Israel and turkey could limit the damage as Syria spirals out of control.

However, there are other areas of cooperation including; NATO, Iran, Russia, the Kurds, and Cyprus. Turkey reduces the isolation of Israel in the region, shares the concern about events in Syria, and has good diplomatic contacts with other countries in the region that Israel can use. Israel helps Turkey in its geopolitical concerns regarding Iran, Russia, the Levant, and Cyprus. Together, they are the NATO’s far eastern flank, although Israel isn’t a formal member of NATO.

One area of common interest is Cyprus, which has a shared Turkish/Greek population, has untapped energy reserves, and is of interest to Russia – a historical rival of both Turkey and Israel. On Monday, the people of Cyprus digested the €10 billion euro bail-out agreed upon in Brussels by President Nicos Anastasiades and three lenders – the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank. This staved off an uncontrolled default and the country’s exit from the euro, but put it in conflict with Russia, whose citizens frequently used its off-shore banking facilities. The Bank of Cyprus, the country’s largest bank, will take over Laiki’s smaller accounts and liabilities. The uninsured funds of the larger depositors in both banks (mostly Russian), including €4.2 billion from Laiki Bank, will contribute to the resolution of the banking crisis.

Israel and Greek Cyprus have joint energy projects in the Mediterranean, which has brought about protests from Turkish Cyprus. The renewal of relations with Israel and Turkey could bring Turkish Cyprus into the energy development program. With the diplomatic détente, the export of Israeli gas to and through Turkey might become feasible. Freed from political obstacles, this would be one of Israel’s most commercially viable export options. Strategically, it’s a better alignment. Israel, Cyprus, and Greece will continue to work together but are unlikely to form an alternative energy corridor or fruitful strategic partnership in the eastern Mediterranean

The end of the flotilla crisis, Israeli cooperation in regards to Cyprus energy, as well as Ankara’s new opening to the Kurds and the PKK’s decision to end its armed struggle stabilizes Turkey’s relations on its western flanks and should improve relations with Washington and NATO. Turkey will now be better placed to support U.S. efforts in the Mediterranean and Syria.

One of those areas where Turkish influence could be beneficial is in the Gaza/Israel situation. As the Netanyahu phone call made clear, Turkish/Israeli relations depend on the fate of the Palestinians. Turkey has insisted that victims of the flotilla raid are compensated and Israel remained committed to the easing of restrictions of goods to Gaza before restoring relations. In fact, there has already been some easing of shipment of civilian goods into Gaza

Turkey, Israel, and Iran

Although the continued insurgency war\crisis in Syria was the major, publicized reason for the renewed relations between Turkey and Israel, Iran was the biggest unmentioned reason. Turkey plays a pivotal role in Israel’s air defenses against Iran. A NATO radar base in eastern Turkey, established in 2011 and manned by US soldiers, relays critical air defense information back to Israel. It is data from this system that allows Israel’s Arrow missile defense system to intercept Iranian Shahab 3 missiles. In addition, Turkey doesn’t want another nuclear neighbor and shares the same concerns that Israel has of Iran. This means that Turkey may turn a blind air defense radar eye to Israeli flights against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Geopolitics aside, both leaders have interests in the alliance. A Turkish alliance helps solidify Israel’s northern borders, especially with Syria. This allows it to focus more on a potential threat from Egypt. Egypt has a large conventional military and Israel is concerned that its IDF isn’t ready. Turkey’s cooperation in controlling unrest in Syria allows Israel to switch its focus.

Erdogan is also looking towards his political future and knows that his future is based on a good economy and stability. His term in office ends in 2014 and the constitution, in its current form, bars him from running for re-election. Erdogan hopes to change the law in his favor.

Although he can’t do much about unrest with Syria, the agreement with the PKK, the PKK’s ceasefire, and the end of this perennial source of violence, strengthens the border with unstable Syria and provides for more domestic stability.

The Israeli rapprochement also helps Erdogan by helping Turkey’s economy Bilateral trade between Turkey and Israel reached $4 billion in 2011, with a clear export surplus for Turkey.

Israel can also help solve the Cyprus issue in a way that makes Turkey look good. In a referendum, Turkish Cypriots agreed to the unification of the island, only to see Greek Cypriots veto it. Now a Western looking Greek Cypriot government needs closer economic ties with the West and that route goes through Turkey. Unlike his communist predecessor, Anastasiades is a man of the West and wants to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace. This can only be achieved through give-and-take with Turkey, and, if successful, could kick-start the settlement process. All Cypriots should benefit from the country’s energy resources. A Cyprus settlement could add several percentage points to GNP, improving the business climate and attracting new investment. Turkey would be the biggest benefactor, while Israel can provide investment in a more secure energy source.

Given all of the benefits to both sides, there is no surprise that Turkey and Israel are renewing ties. It offers immediate benefits in limiting the spillover of violence from Syria. It offers more of a bulkhead against Iran. And, it offers economic benefits to both nations, while keeping pressure on Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians. Given that, the question is less why did Netanyahu call Erdogen, but why it took him so long to call?

A Bad Year at AIPAC

But it would be dangerous to count them out

Most organizations would consider it a triumph if their annual convention had the Vice President of the United States as the keynote speaker. In addition to the VP, the convention also had Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrat Robert Menendez, and former presidential candidate Senator John McCain as speakers.

Yet, for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), this was a very bad year. For the first time in seven years, the President of the US and the Israeli Prime Minister were not attending (although the Israeli PM did speak from Israel via satellite as he desperately tries to form a governing coalition). Undoubtedly, one reason Obama wasn’t speaking at AIPAC was because they had clearly favored (although they didn’t endorse) the Pro-Israel Mitt Romney for President.

This is an unusual turn of event for what is considered one of the most powerful political committees in the United States. Yet, don’t count them out. While some think that Israel has taken some political hits with the Obama victory and Hagel’s confirmation as Secretary of Defense, AIPAC is working behind the scenes to tighten Israel’s control over US policy – with the help of the new Secretary of Defense.

To understand AIPAC and its political arm-twisting is to understand Machiavellian politics at its best. They work best when sitting behind closed doors with politicians, not when attacking them publically in the media.

For more than half a century, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has lobbied to ensure that America continues to unconditionally support Israel at the expense of other policy considerations. From a small pro-Israel public affairs group in the 1950s, AIPAC has grown into a 100,000-member national movement described by The New York Times as “the most important organization affecting America’s relationship with Israel.” It has been described as one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington, DC, and its critics have stated it acts as an agent of the Israeli government with a “stranglehold” on the US Congress.

AIPAC lobbies for financial aid from the United States to Israel, helping to procure up to three billion in aid yearly, making Israel “the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II.” Additionally, the result of AIPAC’s efforts include numerous exceptional provisions that are not available to other American allies. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), these include providing aid “as all grant cash transfers, not designated for particular projects, and…transferred as a lump sum in the first month of the fiscal year, instead of in periodic increments. Israel is allowed to spend about one quarter of the military aid for the procurement in Israel of defense articles and services, including research and development, rather than in the United States.”

AIPAC’s influence is legendary. Former AIPAC president Steiner claimed in 1992 that he had met with Bush U.S. Secretary of State Jim Baker and cut a deal with him. He bragged, “I got, besides the $3 billion, you know they’re looking for the Jewish votes, and I’ll tell him whatever he wants to hear … Besides the $10 billion in loan guarantees which was a fabulous thing, $3 billion in foreign, in military aid, and I got almost a billion dollars in other goodies that people don’t even know about.

Although some saw the Hagel confirmation as proof of the political weakness of the Israeli Lobby in today’s Washington, there were wheels within wheels that were setting Hagel up to be the chief protector of Israeli aid.

No sooner did Barack Obama nominate Hagel for Secretary of Defense on January 7 than AIPAC announced it would not oppose the former Republican senator from Nebraska. Indeed, so neutral did it wish to be on this delicate topic that its spokesman even avoided mentioning Hagel’s name, declaring only that “AIPAC does not take positions on presidential nominations.” AIPAC then maintained a complete silence through Hagel’s confirmation on February 26. More important, it did not lift a finger to influence the vote. Some observers insist that strong opposition to Hagel by AIPAC would have stopped the nomination.

Meantime, other Jewish organizations did oppose Hagel. The Zionist Organization of America produced 14 statements arguing against Hagel’s nomination between December 17 and February 22. The Anti-Defamation League also opposed him.

However, AIPAC was playing a longer term game when they allowed Hagel to become Secretary of Defense. He is now beholden to them for not scuttling his nomination and the payoff is coming soon. AIPAC figured, why antagonize a soon-to-be very powerful figure and a principal player in the U.S.-Israel relationship?

Part of AIPAC’s calculations include the fact that many other pro-Israeli people work for the Department of Defense and the new Secretary will be less likely to hinder their efforts. If Hagel had been violently opposed by AIPAC, he might have reined their efforts.

However, AIPAC was also looking at the Sequester’s budget cuts and insuring that Israeli aid wouldn’t be cut this year or in the future. In order to do that, they are pressuring Congress to name Israel a as a “major strategic ally” of the US, a unique status that would be enjoyed only by the Jewish state. With this designation of ‘major strategic ally’ the government would move programs that are currently paid out of the US aid to Israel into the base Pentagon budget. In order to pull this off, they would need Hagel’s support – something he may have opposed if AIPAC had pressed to stop his nomination.

This is the ultimate behind-closed-doors deal. AIPAC doesn’t oppose Hagel’s nomination and makes sure more money is funneled through the Defense Department, which gives Hagel more political influence. In turn, Hagel makes sure that Israeli aid moving through the Defense Department isn’t cut. Rest assured Hagel doesn’t talk negatively about the “Jewish Lobby” again.

AIPAC behind the scenes

AIPAC has a reputation for inserting its agents inside both Republican and Democratic administrations. In 1992, AIPAC president David Steiner was forced to resign after he was recorded boasting about his political influence in obtaining aid for Israel. Steiner claimed to be “negotiating” with the incoming Clinton administration over who Clinton would appoint as Secretary of State and Secretary of the National Security Agency. Steiner stated that AIPAC had “a dozen people in [the Clinton] campaign, in the headquarters… in Little Rock, and they’re all going to get big jobs.

Many of these AIPAC assets are recruited during their college years. In fact, hundreds of college students were targeted as future political leaders and given all-expenses paid trips to the 2013 AIPAC Conference. Jonathan Kessler, director of AIPAC’s Leadership Development Department told an audience, “Every future senator will pass through an American campus. Every future House representative will pass through an American campus. AIPAC’s job is to identify, engage and educate those individuals that are already self-defining, self-actualizing as campus political leaders.”

AIPAC started its Leadership Development Department, with the goal of teaching students about its issues and then molding them into effective pro-Israel advocates. Now AIPAC works on hundreds of college campuses, according to its website. AIPAC provides its student members with biweekly education materials, legislative updates, action alerts, trips to Israel and specialized training in what it calls “propaganda response,” says the Israel on Campus Coalition website, a pro-Israel college coalition supported by AIPAC.

Not all of these AIPAC students will end up as politicians. Some will work for American national security – a concern given the potential divided loyalties of these AIPAC participants.

AIPAC has been at the center of several allegations that it helps Israel spy on the US. In April 2005, AIPAC policy director Steven Rosen and AIPAC senior Iran analyst Keith Weissman were fired by AIPAC amid an FBI investigation into whether they passed classified U.S. information received from Franklin on to the government of Israel. They were later indicted for illegally conspiring to gather and disclose classified national security information to Israel. AIPAC agreed to pay the legal fees for Weissman’s defense through appeal if necessary, but charges were subsequently dropped.

A month later, the Justice Department announced that Lawrence Anthony Franklin, a U.S. Air Force Reserves colonel working as a Department of Defense analyst at the Pentagon in the office of Douglas Feith, had been arrested and charged by the FBI with providing classified national defense information to Israel. The six-count criminal complaint identified AIPAC by name and described a luncheon meeting in which, allegedly, Franklin disclosed top-secret information to two AIPAC officials. Franklin pleaded guilty to passing government secrets to Rosen and Weissman and revealed for the first time that he also gave classified information directly to an Israeli government official in Washington. On January 20, 2006, he was sentenced to 151 months (almost 13 years) in prison and fined $10,000. As part of the plea agreement, Franklin agreed to cooperate in the larger federal investigation.

The espionage cases shows a growing weakness of AIPAC – it no longer can count on official US assistance and must work illegally to get information that it once received officially. The Democratic Party under Obama has moved from its traditional pro-Israel stance. Even the Jewish-American voter has changed. Today a Palestinian arguing for a two state solution will probably receive a warmer welcome at a Jewish community center than an Israeli official arguing for a continuance of the status quo.

However, it would be dangerous to underestimate AIPAC. A new generation of pro-Israel politicians and bureaucrats are ready to take their place in the US government. And, given its skills at behind-closed-doors negotiating, AIPAC stands ready to keep Israel in its special place in American foreign policy.