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Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Middle East Press On Israel Heading Toward Civil War, Iraq Palestine and Joe Biden: New Age Islam's Selection, 7 October 2020
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
7 October 2020
• Is Israel Heading Toward Civil War?
By Ben Caspit
• Biden Is Winning With Undecided Voters
By Anna Jacobs
• Suicide Rate among Youth on the Rise In Iraq
By Mustafa Saadoun
• Palestinians Ready to Talk Peace after US Presidential Election, Says Top Abbas Adviser
By Daoud Kuttab
• Even With New Peace Deals, Iraq Seems A Long Way From Normalizing Ties With Israel
By Hussain Abdul-Hussain
• Turkey’s Rising Role as A Regional Disrupter
By Osama Al-Sharif
Is Israel Heading Toward Civil War?
By Ben Caspit
Oct 6, 2020
Israeli police are confronted by protesters during a demonstration amid a second lockdown in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, Sept. 26, 2020. Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images.
The threat of civil war has overshadowed the history of Jews and Israelis since biblical days. In fact, the Hebrew term for “civil war” is “brothers’ war,” likely dating back to the 12 tribes, if not Cain and Abel. Jewish lore attributes the destruction of the First Temple and the Second Temple in Jerusalem to “baseless hatred” and domestic clashes among Jews themselves.
Modern-day Israel has been wary of such a prospect, consciously adopting the opposite approach that glorifies unity, emphasizes a shared fate and upholds internal cohesion as one of its greatest assets in confronting adversity. Since its founding in 1948, the prevailing sense of “the world is against us” has been a source of pride and power even during times of internal disputes. That cohesion has been eroding in recent years, being replaced by a bloody internal chasm fueled by vicious hatred that appears veering out of control. Rarely has Israel been so close to a violent domestic clash, perhaps even to civil war.
Israel has faced two deeply scarring internal clashes in its short history. The first occurred in June 1948, weeks after the declaration of independence, when newly installed Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered the sinking of the “Altalena,” a ship carrying weapons for the pre-state underground Etzel movement that was in the process of merging into the Israel Defense Forces. The second occurred four years later, when Menachem Begin, leader of the Herut party, the mother party of today’s Likud, led mass protests against Israel’s Holocaust reparations agreement with Germany. In both cases, the sides stopped on the verge of bloody clashes. The main credit in both cases goes to Begin, subsequently elected prime minister in 1977, who did all in his power to prevent civil war and took pride in this achievement until the day he died.
More than anything, Israel lacks a dignified model figure like Begin, who hit the brakes before it was too late and chose the welfare of the state over the personal or political interests of his movement.
Prime Minister and Likud party Chair Benjamin Netanyahu, does not intend to follow Begin’s example. On the contrary, he is engaged daily in intensifying incitement against state institutions and his perceived and real political enemies. Facing him are hundreds of thousands of dissenters who are also unwilling to step down. The silent majority of Israelis is torn between these two bellicose camps. The police is having a hard time getting a handle on the protests, trust in the institutions of state is at a record low and hatred is coloring the public arena as never before.
The dispute is no longer over competing left- and right-wing ideologies, nor over agreements and concessions to enemy states and issues of war and peace. The conflict between the two halves of the Israeli populace is purely personal. It pits supporters and opponents of Netanyahu against each other. On the one side is a large segment of the public that swears by Netanyahu and views him as the messiah standing between Israel and extinction. On the other side is a segment of the population, just as zealous, that views Netanyahu as a clear and present danger to the future of the state. Combined with the raging coronavirus pandemic, its economic fallout, the ultra-Orthodox Jews ignoring lockdown restrictions and the persistent protests turning increasingly violent, the internecine tensions are confronting Israel with the most slippery slope it has known since its founding.
The continued onslaught by Netanyahu and his emissaries on the rule of law, on law enforcement authorities, the courts and all other state symbols makes the current tensions particularly explosive. The campaign has yielded considerable success. Many in Israel no longer trust any state institution, and many believe the police have framed Netanyahu, the state prosecution and the attorney general have plotted to bring him down with an unfounded corruption indictment and the demonic left, albeit its almost extinct status, is conspiring to restore its glory days by a forceful takeover of the government.
Netanyahu’s opponents share with his followers the same sense that the institutions of the state are bankrupt. The anti-Netanyahu protest began some three years ago, but did not take off. It was limited to several small groups that mainly focused on the prime minister’s alleged corruption, but failed to attract broad support. The coronavirus outbreak and its economic destruction broke the dams, catapulting tens of thousands of young Israelis into the streets and turning what was largely a niche protest into a growing threat to Netanyahu’s hold on power. The regular demonstrations outside Netanyahu’s official Jerusalem residence quickly expanded and intensified, prompting smaller, spin-off protests across the country as tens of thousands took up positions at hundreds of intersections and bridges waving the blue-and-white state flag as well as black flags and calling for Netanyahu’s resignation. Thousands have appended the word “go” to their Facebook profile photos in recent days — as in, "Netanyahu, go away."
Netanyahu is doing all he can to block the protests, mobilizing the spread of coronavirus infections to serve his ends. Sources within the ministerial coronavirus crisis cabinet have reported repeatedly that the ban on protests that he managed to push through is of far more interest to Netanyahu than the fight against the pandemic.
The last time Netanyahu faced such popular protest was in 2011, when hundreds of thousands of Israelis flooded the streets and town squares to demand “social justice.” Netanyahu quelled that protest with relative ease by promising a few economic crumbs and negotiating the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier held captive by Hamas in return for the release of hundreds of jailed terrorists. Nine years on, this is no longer an option. Israel is breaking COVID-19 morbidity records, some 1 million Israelis have lost their jobs and tens of thousands their places of business, the budget deficit is soaring and the government appears to lack resolve or solutions. Israelis need not fear good news anytime soon.
The despair on the warring sides is growing. The police is employing increasingly violent tactics to control the protests. It will only take one spark to set off the barrel of dynamite threatening the streets. Calls by conservative journalists and pundits to offer Netanyahu a pardon and bury his indictment in return for his resignation have not helped restore calm.
Netanyahu does not seem to be planning a retreat, nor do his opponents. The evidence phase of his trial is due to start in January, his rival/partner Blue and White party is being held hostage in the largely crippled “unity” government formed in May and no logical solution appears in the offing. President Reuven Rivlin’s prophecy of several years ago that Netanyahu would take the state with him if he goes down, is coming true in front of our very eyes. Israel is still far from a real civil war, but the distance is growing shorter with every passing day.
President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden sparred Tuesday in their first of three debates, hoping to sway undecided voters planning to cast ballots by mail and in person in the final weeks leading up to the November 3 election. Credit: AF...
Just days after President Donald Trump touted his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and mocked his Democratic rival Joe Biden for always wearing a mask, Trump tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalised.
While Trump’s health and that of those around him who were exposed over a period of several days – as the president and most of his entourage chose not to wear masks – is a matter of grave concern, it should not halt discussions about last week’s presidential debate and the policy issues at stake.
In fact, it should invite even more critical conversation, revealing – as if the more than 200,000 deaths in the US were not evidence enough – in the clearest of terms, what happens when our nations’ leaders do not take a public health crisis seriously.
Biden Did Not Take The Bait
Most reactions to the first presidential debate rightly castigated the event’s utter chaos. It was exhausting and painful to watch for so many reasons, but the main problem with the debate was President Donald Trump’s tireless interruptions of both Biden and the Fox News moderator Chris Wallace, as well as the onslaught of vitriol from America’s commander-in-chief. He refused to condemn white supremacy; regularly brought up conspiracy theories; took cheap shots at Biden and members of his family; and bullied both Biden and Wallace for 90 minutes. At one point, the president of the United States mocked Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, for his struggle with drug addiction. Following the debate, he mocked him again, calling him “crackhead Hunter” on the Glenn Beck show.
The debate was a win for Biden for many reasons, but chief among them was that Biden did not take the bait. Yes, he called Trump a clown and told him to “shut up, man” (voicing the thoughts of many of us watching), but Trump was trying to push his buttons so that Biden would lose his temper and commit major gaffes (something he is known for), and he did not. He let Trump self-destruct in front of 73 million American television viewers.
While Biden’s performance was not perfect, the way he spoke to the camera, directly to the American people, allowed him to cut through the noise and the chaos. While Trump was spewing hatred, chaos, and narcissism, Biden did his best to counter what attacks he could and to shift the focus of the conversation to substantive issues. In the upcoming debates, he needs to do more of this and better lay out his platform and policies to lock in swing voters already leaning his way.
I was a supporter of Bernie Sanders for president, but I am voting for Joe Biden. And on Tuesday night, Biden did what he does best. He looked us in the eye and made us feel like we matter. Even if these moments were fleeting, they were present. The juxtaposition of Biden’s integrity and calm with Trump’s anger and chaos gave a clear picture of who was truly presidential material. For many of us, our lives, our societies, and especially our politics have been shaken to the core by the chaos of divisive politicians, violence and racism, and the existential threats to health and livelihood posed by an unprecedented public health crisis. Trump is not the root cause of these challenges, but he has done all he can to foment these flames for his own benefit. He is letting America burn because it serves his own purposes. This is why the biggest threat to Trump’s campaign is Trump himself. As Biden said after the debate, Trump’s behaviour was a “national embarrassment”.
The debate was also a major fundraising win for Biden. Perhaps one of the most important consequences of that debate was that the Biden campaign raised a record-breaking $3.8m in one hour during the debate. In a three-hour period from 9pm to midnight, 215,000 donations were received, including from 60,000 new donors, amounting to $10m. On September 30, the day after the debate, the Biden campaign raised $21.5m – its best fundraising day of the campaign so far.
‘Unhinged’, ‘Bully’, ‘Nice Guy’
The key question, however, is how independent swing voters responded to the debate performance. As expected, most partisan viewers sided with their preferred candidates, but early assessments of undecided voters revealed a negative opinion of Trump’s performance and mixed reviews for Biden. Some voters described how going into the debate, expectations about Biden’s performance were low and that he did better than they expected. Swing voters used adjectives like “puzzling,” “arrogant,” “unhinged,” “bully,” and “classic Trump” to describe the president.
Adjectives like “politician,” “predictable,” “leader,” “rehearsed,” “nice guy,” “compassion,” “coherent,” and “evasive” were used to describe Biden’s performance.
But how does this translate into voting? Some undecided voters said they were hoping for clarity after watching the debate and received none. Some labelled it “useless,” “ridiculous,” and “horrible.” In an interview conducted by the New York Times, one small business owner summed up the sentiments of many: “I didn’t hear anything that would impact people like me,” said Merrill Tufts, 51, of Winterville, North Carolina, but he did say he is leaning towards voting for Biden.
In a national poll conducted after the debate, Biden has a 13-point edge over Trump. According to Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball program at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, Biden is slowly securing the pivotal Midwest. Polls are showing that Biden is doing much better in northern small towns and rural areas than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. He is also capturing more white suburban voters than Clinton did. The programme’s analysis highlights how key states that voted for Trump by nearly double digits in 2016, such as Ohio and Iowa, are now toss-ups. Other crucial swing states that were decisive in Trump’s 2016 victory – like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania – are also leaning Democratic.
Very early polling has attempted to measure the public reaction to Trump’s diagnosis, which show that the impact has so far been minimal. Morning Consult/Politico polls conducted Friday and Saturday show people are “surprised” and “worried,” but concern over the pandemic and perceptions of Trump’s handling of it remain mostly unchanged from before. The polls did cite concern over the lack of transparency coming from the White House regarding the president’s health.
But the 2016 polls failed to capture the extent of Trump’s support. Why should this time be different? Firstly, Biden’s average lead is much greater and more consistent than Clinton’s was in 2016, by nearly every measurement. In other words, even if the polls are very inaccurate, Trump is still likely to lose. Secondly, the national polls in 2016 actually did reflect the popular vote, which Clinton won, but polling was off in key swing states, which pollsters this time around are paying even closer attention to.
Trump Is His Own Worst Enemy
The fact of the matter is that Trump is losing by a substantial margin in many of the key swing states and in the national polls. The race could still tighten and, as we have learned, so much can happen between now and Election Day. Trump’s diagnosis has added even more chaos and uncertainty to this election cycle, as the campaigns and the pundits scramble to adjust to this new reality. There has been much sympathy for the president, but it is unclear how this will impact the election.
The Biden campaign has handled the situation extremely well, further bolstering the candidate’s solid debate performance last week. They offered empathy to the president and all of those around him and took down all negative ads about Trump. They are calling for unity and asking Americans to come together while also reminding the public of the importance of wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing your hands. The Bidens are continuing to campaign and make this election about the American public and the importance of voting.
In spite of the president’s diagnosis and hospitalisation, it is important to highlight that Trump is his own worst enemy, and he may lose the election because he is losing undecided voters. His debate performance rallied his base, but it did not seem to give him a bump with more moderate voters who supported him in 2016. He needed to decisively win this debate and move the needle to gain some momentum. Early assessments of voter reactions to the debate, as well as the impact of Trump’s diagnosis, show that the president’s campaign is stuck, and that Biden is winning with undecided voters.
Anna Jacobs is a Doha-based researcher on US politics and foreign policy.
The Baghdad Police Directorate rescued an 18-year-old girl who was trying to commit suicide at Al-Jadriya Bridge in Baghdad on Sept. 26. The directorate has rescued dozens of others in similar situations.
On Sept. 23, a young man in the oil-rich Al-Basra province, which suffers from negligence and bad services, committed suicide under “vague circumstances.” A week earlier, a 16-year-old boy hanged himself in a shop in Baghdad.
Suicides in Iraq have not been limited to one region. On Sept. 2, the police in Kirkuk province in northern Iraq saved a young man who tried to jump off of a residential building.
Iraqi youths face numerous problems amid systemic political failure that prevents them from reaching their goals. They resort to suicide, and this is becoming a phenomenon rather than a matter of limited cases threatening Iraqi society for the first time.
On Sept. 12, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced 298 suicides in Iraq between Jan. 1 and Aug. 30, 2020, recording the highest level compared to the same period in 2003.
These figures indicate the rising rate of suicide in Iraq. Al-Monitor looked into a governmental statistical study that showed an increase in suicide cases from 319 in 2003, not counting the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, to 519 in 2019.
But the figures might be much higher, as some families try to hide suicide as the cause of death due to the negative impression society has about it. In many cases, the cause of death is recorded as “sudden death” without mentioning the word "suicide."
There are other indications that show a possibly higher number of suicides, including the norms and traditions that stigmatize suicide, especially for the families if women and girls are involved. For that reason, some cases are not registered as a suicide.
According to the OHCHR, various reasons such as poverty, desperation, unemployment, a person's economic situation and domestic violence lead to suicide.
According to a report conducted by UNICEF, "4.5 million (11.7%) Iraqis are pushed below the poverty line as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated socio-economic impacts. Losses of jobs and rising prices are causing the national poverty rate to climb to 31.7% from 20% in 2018."
The unemployment rate in Iraq has been on the rise, reaching about 13% in 2019 from 9% in 1999. This shows that the situation now is worse than before 2003.
The continuous rise in the unemployment rate in Iraq is one of the main causes of public despair.
The UNICEF report indicates that "42% of the population is vulnerable, facing a higher risk as they are deprived in more than one dimension of the following: education, health, living conditions and financial security."
The government reported enumerated the various methods of suicide, including hanging, burning, drowning, poisoning, shooting, suffocation and vein-slitting.
Young Iraqi males compare their lives to those in neighboring countries and see how others enjoy what they own while living under the rule of law without economic or security threats. Job opportunities available to other youths in neighboring countries are not available to young Iraqi males.
Fadel al-Garawi, member of the OHCHR in Iraq, told Al-Monitor, “Political desperation is among the causes of suicide among youths. But it is not a direct factor.”
He added, “The political complications, the country circumstances and the ruling authorities that manage the country without achieving citizens’ well-being or protecting their rights all lead to suicide. Consequently, a political phase capable of dispelling these causes that lead to suicide is needed.”
Reports by Iraqi state institutions assert that youths are the largest group among suicides, and they indicate the reasons are usually unemployment and no hope of real reform that would improve their situations in the country.
Suicide is not limited to certain social groups; it includes everyone. On Sept. 8, the district officer of Sinjar in Ninevah province, Mahma Khalil, announced the suicide of four displaced youths during the first days of the month.
Political psychology professor at Salahuddin University in Erbil Fares Kamal Nazmi told Al-Monitor, “The available indications show that there is a recent increase in cases, especially among youths in provinces that have witnessed wide-scale protests since October 2019 without achieving any of their radical demands related to political change, recovering a united nation and instilling the rules of social justice.”
Nazmi added, “The situation is generally catastrophic with no light at the end of the tunnel. Change is impossible. Iraqi youths are unable to control their fates and that of their country. They think they have been duped, betrayed and oppressed by the political regime. They have lost the ability and will to persevere and confront. As a result, they are left with deep psychological troubles about the meaning of life itself, thus [turning to] suicide as a solution.”
He noted that “for some, suicide might become a form of political protest that takes a dramatic violent turn against oneself.”
Figures in Iraqi state institutions indicated that “with the onset of the protests on Oct. 1, suicide figures dropped during the last two months of 2019. However, they resurged with the crackdown on protests and the extinguishment of these protests with the failure to reach results that achieve the demands of protesters.”
In addition to unemployment, lack of job opportunities and youth projects, weapon proliferation and absence of the rule of law, suicide has become a real threat to Iraqi youths who have been struggling for decades with wars and political crises and are often the victims of these circumstances.
Suicide will become one of the major challenges for the Iraqi government and will turn into a phenomenon threatening Iraqi society unless governments work on finding solutions and establishing projects to help young people achieve their ambitions and desires.
Palestinians Ready to Talk Peace after US Presidential Election, Says Top Abbas Adviser
By Daoud Kuttab
Oct 6, 2020
A senior adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said that an international conference, in coordination with the Quartet — the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia — should take place in early 2021 regardless of who wins the US presidential elections on Nov. 3.
In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, Majdi Khaldi, the most senior diplomatic adviser to Abbas, reiterated the call made by the Palestinian president to the United Nations General Assembly Sept. 27, saying, “We are open to dealing with whoever is elected as president of the United States.”
Khaldi conceded that a Biden administration would not be “committed to the same issues as the Trump administration has been working on.”
However, Khaldi had a clear message to both leaders: “We have said to the UN General Assembly that we are ready to attend an international conference in coordination with the Quartet and we would agree to that as soon as the elections are over — regardless of the winner. We want to have this conference in early 2021 after the inauguration of the new [US] president."
A member of one of Jerusalem’s respected families, Khaldi has been the senior diplomatic adviser to Abbas since 2006 in the rank of minister. He previously held senior posts in the Palestinian Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation.
Khaldi said that Palestinians hold on to their sovereign and independent rights and will not change plans based on who is a leader in any country. But while he noted the total boycott by the Palestinian leadership of contacts with the US executive branch, since the move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he conceded that talks with Americans from both parties have never ceased.
“Contact with members of the Congress from both parties has never stopped,” Khaldi said. He added that there has been no direct contact with the Biden team, but expressed optimism toward them. “We know that all US administrations and presidential candidates support Israel in different ways, but we are certain that a Biden administration would be more committed to international law similar to that of President [Barack] Obama. This does not mean in any way that a Biden administration would be less supportive of Israel,” he added.
Khaldi reflected general Palestinian displeasure with some of the Arab countries that normalized relations with Israel, saying that their action “will discourage Israel from carrying out any commitments to peace."
He noted, “All Arab countries have been under US pressure.” But he added that those countries that normalized relations with Israel “did not do it for Israel’s sake but for the sake of the United States and to help [President Donald] Trump, and out of concern as to who might come to the White House next.”
Khaldi rejected out of hand the idea of working with the leaders of the countries that normalized relations with Israel.
“The United Arab Emirates [UAE] has been negligent to the Palestine cause and they didn’t even bother to coordinate with us before they made their move," he said. He scoffed at the idea that the UAE stopped the annexation attempts of the Israelis. “It was lip service and it has since proven to be false,” he added.
The senior Palestinian diplomat also noted that US pressure had resulted in the near collective stop of Arab aid to Palestine. “In the past we had times when countries would delay making their committed transfers, but this time it is a nearly collective decision under US pressure to stop aid with the aim of getting the Palestinians to accept the US plans,” Khaldi said.
He did, however, say that not all Arab countries have acceded to the pressure, hinting that some countries are continuing their support to Palestine quietly.
Khaldi added that the current efforts to unite the Palestinians and hold elections will greatly increase the credibility and legitimacy of the Palestinian leadership and will help unify Palestinians at home and abroad. “For the last few years, we have seen a movement of the diaspora community of getting together and working for Palestine instead of working for partisan affairs. Palestinian elections will help to strengthen internal Palestinian communal fiber,” he said.
Khaldi noted that there have been efforts since 2007 with Egypt and others, but these failed because of external forces. “We are more optimistic now and we have a strong feeling that elections will have positive effects on all levels. This would help us internationally; the EU member states and the international community have been calling for this." he noted.
Khaldi concluded, “All Palestinian factions accept the leadership of President Abbas and the key role of the PLO as an umbrella for Palestinian nationalism. I hope that the [presidential] decree of parliamentary elections will be issued soon and that we can stand up to any outside pressure that will attempt to derail the unity efforts and attempt to stop elections.”
Even With New Peace Deals, Iraq Seems a Long Way From Normalizing Ties With Israel
By Hussain Abdul-Hussain
05 October 2020
Before the biggest Jewish population in the Middle East lived in Israel, it lived in Iraq where its roots go as far back as the Neo-Babylonian dynasty that ended in 539 BCE. If there is any Arab country that a majority of Israelis feels connected to, it would be Iraq. Yet, thanks to the rule of socialist Arab Baathism, followed by the dominance of Iran’s equally authoritarian political Islam, Iraq now seems far away from peace and normalization with Israel.
Compounding the problem is Iraq’s failing state. An Iraqi government that cannot secure the safety of diplomatic missions in Baghdad is not really in charge, and cannot be expected to deliver on any peace treaty that it might sign with Israel, or any other treaty for that matter.
But to give the cabinet of Mustapha al-Kadhimi credit where credit is due, it should be noted that when asked to comment on Emirati-Israeli peace, the Iraqi prime minister said that peace between any Arab country and Israel was a sovereign issue, and that it was up to the Emiratis to decide how to handle its relations with Israel.
Prime Minister Mustapha Al-Kadhimi’s statement reflected growing awareness in Iraq and Lebanon that national interests trump old tired pan-Arabist slogans about Palestine. At the virtual Arab League meeting on Sept. 9, when the Palestinian delegation tabled a motion to denounce the UAE and any other member state that might sign peace with Israel, both the Iraqis and the Lebanese abstained.
Beirut understood that anti-peace populism, as dictated by the Iranian regime, could wait. The UAE houses one of the biggest Lebanese expat communities in the world. Despite slowing heavily, expat remittances is the only lifeline left for Lebanon’s free falling economy.
Weeks later, Lebanon put its interests ahead of Iranian dictates and empty slogans and agreed to talk to Israel to delineate shared borders. Lebanon hopes to produce gas from border areas on a scale big enough to generate foreign currency revenue that can replenish its overdrawn treasury. However, so far, offshore exploration missions have found no gas.
So while signs that the Lebanese are crawling from underneath the Iranian thumb and taking some baby steps on the Israeli issue that are in their national interests, Iraqis have yet to show such awareness. Granted that Al-Kadhimi’s statement on UAE’s sovereign decision and his vote at the Arab League indicate some savviness, yet the Iraqi political establishment remains far from coming to terms with the idea of peace with Israel.
Right after the downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003, a Shia mob in Baghdad hurled stones on Palestinian refugees that numbered some 5,000, forcing them to take shelter at a UN camp on the border with Jordan. A majority of the Shia hated late president Hussein and perceived many Palestinians as working as his enablers, hence the Palestine cause never won traction with these Iraqis. But years of Iranian domination shifted the needle, even if Iran’s Iraqi puppets cannot argue their case against peace with Israel.
Qais al-Khazaali, the head of pro-Iran militia Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, once commented that peace with Zionists means spreading of homosexuality inside Iraq. Other pro-Tehran Iraqi politicians have expressed similar nonsense.
On the other side of the Iraqi political spectrum are Sunni loyalists of Saddam, who styled himself as Saladin, the conqueror of Crusader Jerusalem. In the 1980s, Saddam’s inspiration and uncle, Khairallah Talfah, printed a book in which he argued that three are not worth living: the Jews, the Persians and flies. Talfah was clearly impressed by Nazi propaganda among the Arabs, propaganda that eventually led to Jewish exodus from Iraq.
Unlike how Lebanon and Israel share disputed borders and fought decades of bloody wars, Iraq shares nothing with Israel and does not house Palestinian refugees. In their history, Iraq and Israel clashed only twice, when Tel Aviv bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor, and ten years later when Saddam fired 39 Scud missiles on Tel Aviv, which resulted in no casualties. Eventually, Hussein agreed to pay Israel $74 million in compensation. The money was taken out of Iraq’s oil-for-food UN program.
Aware of the thin history of aggression between the two, former lawmaker Mithal al-Alusi has been the most outspoken politician openly calling for peace with Israel. After al-Alusi visited Israel in 2005, his two sons were murdered, either by pro-Iran or Baathist militias.
But the mood in Iraq is against both: Shia militias and Sunni ISIS, many of whose leaders are holdouts from Saddam’s regime. The tens of thousands of Iraqis who took to the streets last October are citizens with awareness of benefit and cost, and realize that peace in general, probably including with Israel, means more trade, jobs and opportunity.
Like all other issues in Iraq that depend on restoring state sovereignty and the elimination of ISIS and the pro-Iran militias, Iraqi peace with Israel is incumbent on Iraq ridding itself of Iran’s dominance and becoming, once again, a normal state.
With Turkey’s latest intervention in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is extending his country’s foreign adventures from the Caucasus to North Africa, raising questions about Ankara’s controversial role as a major regional disrupter. Erdogan’s populist approach to regional crises reflects a desire to reshape Turkey’s place in the international arena. But what is it exactly that he wants to achieve?
In a speech last week, he complained about the failures of the post-Second World War order, just as he had before about Turkey’s grievances following the First World War, which restricted his country’s maritime access in the Aegean. In his words: “There is no chance left for this distorted order, in which the entire globe is encumbered by a handful of greedy people, to continue to exist the way it currently does.” In almost all of his speeches, Erdogan underlines the so-called Turkish exceptionalism while portraying the country as a victim.
Pundits have talked about Erdogan’s obsession with reviving Turkey’s Ottoman past. His foreign adventures betray a desire to reshape the region’s geopolitical status under an emerging, militarized Turkey. Even as he sides with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, he does so out of a superior approach as the titular head of the Turkic peoples, egging Azeri President Ilham Aliyev not to accept an unconditional cease-fire. By sending Syrian mercenaries and weapons to Azerbaijan — an allegation denied by Aliyev — Erdogan is demonstrating how he views the region and its people: Former Ottoman territories and subjects that he can manipulate.
His unconventional approach to regional conflicts has put Turkey in a unique, albeit difficult, position. Despite being a major NATO member, he has built a shaky alliance with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, as well as with Iran over Syria, where his ultimate objectives remain vague and suspicious. Against US warnings, he has obtained the Russian S-400 air defence system, thus forcing Washington to cancel its F-35 fighter jet deal with Ankara and impose sanctions.
While being an ally of Moscow in Syria, Erdogan has taken the side of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya as Putin backs the Libyan National Army of Khalifa Haftar. His support for the GNA has gone beyond diplomatic backing: He has violated UN resolutions by sending weapons and mercenaries to support Tripoli’s fragile government. Erdogan also signed a controversial maritime deal with GNA Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj that encroaches on Greece’s territorial sovereignty. Top aides have described Libya as a former Ottoman territory and have pledged never to leave.
In the ongoing intra-Libyan peace discussions, the main stumbling block is the removal of all foreign players. Ankara’s position on this crucial issue is vague and the risks of the talks collapsing because of this are high.
In Syria’s Idlib, Turkey continues to provide support to extremist groups, while Erdogan has pledged that Turkey will wipe out the groups it deems to be terrorist — i.e., the Syrian Kurds — if others fail to keep their promises. Turkey has become part of the problem that is preventing a political solution to the nine-year-old Syrian conflict. It has been accused of transferring Syrian refugees to populate abandoned Syrian Kurdish towns in the north of the country. In both Syria and Libya, Erdogan’s kinship to the Muslim Brotherhood has been a key ideological factor in charting his policy.
Last week, the EU threatened Turkey with sanctions over its dispute with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean. Relations between Ankara and the EU, particularly France, have been tense over Syria, Libya and now Greece. After weeks of heightened tensions, Turkey agreed to recall an exploration vessel from the Aegean and begin talks with Athens. Turkey’s grievances over maritime borders may be reasonable, but its maverick style of violating Greek and Cypriot waters does not help its case.
Today, Ankara is involved in active disputes with all of its neighbours and beyond. Erdogan’s foreign adventures have hurt the Turkish economy and reversed much of its gains. His popularity at home has been dented. The main question remains: What does Erdogan really want? His alliances with Moscow and Tehran are temporary, as the agendas of these countries intersect with his at times and contrast at others. Turkey’s policies have polarized the Sunni world and isolated it from its neighbours. Now Erdogan finds himself on the opposite side to Putin over Nagorno-Karabakh, while their agreement in northern Syria faces collapse.
With all these conflicts, which reflect badly on Turkey’s economy, currency and human rights, Erdogan is overreaching and he may soon find himself facing multiple foreign policy challenges. It is ironic that, in the course of the past few years, he has failed to respond to calls for, or even suggest, peaceful engagement. Syria’s Kurdish minority is not the issue, but Turkey’s Kurds are. He has squandered multiple opportunities to fix this problem peacefully.
In the end, while complaining about a distorted world order, Erdogan has become a major disrupting force in that very same order.
Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.