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New Emerging Saudi – Egypt relations

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Syrian crisis has provided significant stimulus for the Saudi kingdom to act quickly to bring all West Asian Muslim powers under one strategic umbrella that, in turn, led to Saudi king to resort to active shuttle diplomacy in the region, shoring up support for a peaceful Mideast. Arab world has been in turmoil for years now, sacrificing millions of Muslims without any real cause.

There have been a series of visits by Saudi leaders, including the king Salman himself, to Turkey and Egypt to expand the Saudi’s diplomatic profile in the region. King Salman’s recent first ever visit to Egypt plays important role in streamlining the Saudi led Mideastern relations in general.

Unlike Turkey which is focused on establishment of Palestine state at the earliest and containing of Israeli arrogance and military aggression with a legal framework, Egypt, supporting Israeli aggression and creating joint terror blockades around Palestine, thereby making the Palestinians feel suffocation, seeks economic assistance from Saudi Arabia.

Turkey pursues friendly policy towards Saudi Arabia and Iran and seeks Egyptian help to make the Mideast tension free and free from illegally nuclearized Israeli aggression.

Royal visit

Saudi Arabia’s King cum PM Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz concluded a five-day visit to Egypt on April 11, before he left for Saudi Arabia. King Salman arrived in Cairo on April 07 on his first official state visit to Egypt since ascending to the Saudi throne in January 2015. Saudi king Salman was greeted by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi upon arrival. King Salman met grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the highly prestigious Sunni educational institution, on Saturday. The Saudi leader delivered a speech in the Egyptian parliament. Salman previously visited Egypt’s southern Sinai city of Sharm El-Sheikh in March 2015 for an Arab League summit.

During his five-day visit, the king pledged billions of dollars in new investment for the cash-challenged country and the two sides signed four agreements worth roughly 22 billion dollars. As the latest Saudi policy, the Saudi king called for Egyptian cooperation against extremism and terrorism. The visit comes at a time when Egypt is suffering political and economic pressures due to years of domestic political turmoil that led to economic recession and security challenges resulting from regional chaos.

The two sides have signed eight agreements, six memos of understanding and three cooperation programs that covered fields including education, health, housing, agriculture, electricity and marine transportation. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have agreed on establishing King Salman University in the North Sinai city of Tour. Among the agreements signed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia during the visit are those related to housing projects in the Egyptian Sinai peninsula, the establishment of King Salman University in Tur town of South Sinai, the development of Egypt’s largest public hospital Qasr al-Aini, the building of a power station in western Cairo and the formation of a joint investment fund with a capital of 60 billion Saudi riyals -about 16 billion dollars. “All these agreements show the seriousness of the Saudi side to support the Egyptian economy, as there will be capital flow to Egypt which means there will be more employment and economic movement in the country in the near future.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia have agreed on establishing a land bridge to connect the two countries, visiting King Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz said in a joint press conference. “The land bridge will be named after King Salman,” Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said. Earlier, President al-Sisi has granted the Saudi king, who arrived on Thursday in Cairo for a five-day visit, the Collar of the Nile. The two sides have signed eight agreements, six memos of understanding and three cooperation programs that covered fields including education, health, housing, agriculture, electricity and marine transportation. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have agreed on establishing King Salman University in the North Sinai city of Tour.

For his part, Sissi transferred to the Saudis sovereignty of two islands in the Straits of Tiran that were contested by both countries. The two uninhabited islands that Sissi gave to the Saudi king are of enormous strategic importance, lying at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba from where it can control access to Jordan’s Port of Aqaba, Israel’s Port of Eilat. Sissi went out on a political limb to gift the two islands to the Saudis, a very unpopular move among Egyptians.

The Egyptian presidency described Salman’s visit to Cairo as “crowning the close brotherly ties between the two countries.” In a show of support for President General Abdel-Fatteh Al-Sissi, the king pledged billions of dollars in new investment for the cash-challenged country. For his part, Sissi transferred sovereignty to the Saudis of two islands in the Straits of Tiran that were contested by both countries. The Saudi king called for cooperation against extremism and terrorism.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia have also agreed on establishing a land bridge to connect the two countries, visiting King Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz said in a joint press conference. “The land bridge will be named after King Salman,” Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said. Earlier, President al-Sisi has granted the Saudi king, who arrived in Cairo for a five-day visit, the Collar of the Nile. (Such honors have become a customary phenomenon in bilateral visits as a sign of willingness on the part of the host nation for future ties)

The Saudi investors show awareness that their investment in Egypt today is investment in the future, because politically Egypt represents a political weight and strategic depth for the Gulf region, and economically investments in Egypt are promising and fruitful.

However, Saudi investment in Egypt is nothing new, as Saudi business tycoons have been investing in the country over the past few decades. Today, it is the Saudi government that pumps investments into Egypt, which is a new and positive aspect and an indicator of the soundness and healthiness of the investment environment in Egypt, Saleh explained.

Sisi in Riyadh

Before taking over power in Cairo, Sissi had illegally toppled the first ever elected president of Egypt Mohammad Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood in a bloodless coup and established his residency with support from Saudi Arabia and USA, among others.

The Egyptian presidency described Salman’s visit to Cairo as “crowning the close brotherly ties between the two countries.” Saudi Arabia has supported Cairo with billions of US dollars to help revive the country’s economy following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Earlier, Egyptian President Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had visited the kingdom in 2015 for economic support. On 02 March 2015, visiting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud held in-depth talks in Riyadh over the thorny regional issues before discussing the economic package for Egypt. The two leaders highlighted the current crisis in the Middle East and reviewed aspects of bilateral cooperation. They emphasized the depth of strategic relations between the two countries. The meeting also addressed the security conditions following the growing political chaos in Yemen. During a TV interview, Sisi said the two countries need to coordinate considering the “difficult condition” in the Arab region. Sisi’s visit was the latest in a series of meetings in Riyadh between Salman and top officials from his Gulf neighbors and Jordan.

Since late March, Egypt has joined a Saudi-led military coalition that has been launching airstrikes against the Shiite Houthi militants in Yemen, who have seized several cities in the country since September 2014, including the capital Sanaa, and have recently forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Egypt is currently providing naval support to the coalition, which has been airdropping weapons and equipment supplies to pro-Hadi tribal militia in Aden to fight against the Houthi militants. Despite Russia’s abstaining, the UN Security Council voted in favor of an arms embargo against the Houthis and the supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The resolution also imposed sanctions on the Shiite group, demanding its withdrawal from the Yemeni areas it has previously seized.

Later, on 15 April 2015, during a Saudi minister’s visit to Cairo, Egypt and Saudi Arabia agreed to carry out a major strategic military maneuver in the latter’s territory, which is to be joined by other Gulf and Arab states, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said in a statement. The statement came after a meeting between al-Sisi and visiting Saudi Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman, who had also held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sedqi Sobhi. “Egypt represents one of the main and effective forces to achieve security and stability in the Middle East region,” the Saudi defense minister said.

Egyptian revolution

During the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Saudi King Abdullah expressed support for Hosni Mubarak. “No Arab or Muslim can tolerate any meddling in the security and stability of Arab and Muslim Egypt by those who infiltrated the people in the name of freedom of expression, exploiting it to inject their destructive hatred. As they condemn this, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its people and government declares it stands with all its resources with the government of Egypt and its people.” He condemned the “people who tried to destabilize the security and stability of Egypt.

On 10 May 2012, ambassador Kattan announced that the kingdom agreed to provide US$500 million in aid to Egypt and will deposit an additional US$1 billion at the country’s central bank as part of the $2.7 billion support package they had agreed in 2011. Saudi Arabia will also export $250 million worth of butane to Egypt, which has faced ongoing shortages of the fuel, as well as US$200 million to help small and mid-sized firms. The donation was part of a move by multiple Gulf States to send a large aid package to Egypt.

Muslim Brotherhood leader and Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi’s first official visit was to Saudi Arabia in July 2012, although his views are not fully aligned with those of the Saudi government. Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi stated that Saudi Arabia is a pragmatic country and that whoever the president of Egypt is, Saudi government is aware of the fact that it has to maintain good relations with this country.

Saudi Arabia has supported Cairo with billions of US dollars to help revive the country’s economy following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. On 10 May 2012, the Saudi kingdom agreed to provide US$500 million in aid to Egypt and will deposit an additional US$1 billion at the country’s central bank as part of the $2.7 billion support package they had agreed in 2011. Saudi Arabia also exports $250 million worth of butane to Egypt, which has faced ongoing shortages of the fuel, as well as US$200 million to help small and mid-sized firms. The donation was part of a move by multiple Gulf States to send a large aid package to Egypt.

Saudi Arabia has been the key backer of al-Sisi since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 after mass protests against his one-year rule. It has pumped billions of dollars to help and invest into Egypt’s battered economy. King Salman met grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the highly prestigious Sunni educational institution; the Saudi leader also delivered a speech in the Egyptian parliament. Sisi’s visit was the latest in a series of meetings in Riyadh between Salman and top officials from his Gulf neighbors and Jordan.

According to Saudi Press Agency, on 02 March 2015, the visiting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud held in-depth talks in Riyadh over the thorny regional issues. The two leaders highlighted the current crisis in the Middle East and reviewed aspects of bilateral cooperation. They emphasized the depth of strategic relations between the two countries. The meeting also addressed the security conditions following the growing political chaos in Yemen. During a TV interview, Sisi said the two countries need to coordinate considering the “difficult condition” in the Arab region.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia on 15 April 2015 agreed to carry out a major strategic military maneuver in the latter’s territory, which is to be joined by other Gulf and Arab states, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said in a statement. The statement came after a meeting between al-Sisi and visiting Saudi Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman, who had also held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sedqi Sobhi. “Egypt represents one of the main and effective forces to achieve security and stability in the Middle East region,” the Saudi defense minister said.

Since late March, Egypt has joined a Saudi-led military coalition that has been launching airstrikes against the Shiite Houthi militants in Yemen, who have seized several cities in the country since September 2014, including the capital Sanaa, and have recently forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to the Saudi capital of Riyadh. In return for economic aid, Egypt is currently providing naval support to the Saudi led coalition, which has been airdropping weapons and equipment supplies to pro-Hadi tribal militia in Aden to fight against the Houthi militants.

Despite Russia’s abstaining, the UN Security Council voted in favor of an arms embargo against the Houthis and the supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The resolution also imposed sanctions on the Shiite group, demanding its withdrawal from the Yemeni areas it has previously seized.

Past

In the years immediately after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia were cordial, though driven by mutual suspicion of the Hashemites reigning in Jordan and especially Iraq at the time, and continuing from an anti-Hashemite alliance formed by King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, King Farouk of Egypt and President Shukri al-Quwatli of Syria after the foundation of the Arab League in 1945. Subsequently President Gamal Abdel Nasser and King Saud of Saudi Arabia co-operated to limit the reach of the Baghdad Pact, which they felt was designed to increase the influence of Hashemite Iraq. As a result, the two countries signed a bilateral military pact in 1955, and worked to successfully prevent Jordan from joining the Baghdad Pact.

Egypt came to have extensive involvement in the Saudi army, economy and education system. However the alliance was undermined by Saudi anxieties about the Egyptian government’s promotion of anti-monarchical forces in the Arab World, including the uncovering of an Egyptian-style Saudi Free Officers Movement and increasing labor unrest, Egypt’s increasing shift towards the Soviet Union, and efforts by Iraq and its western allies including the United States to drive a wedge between the two countries.

Under President Nasser, Egypt, backed by the Soviet Union, came to represent the Non-Aligned Movement and pan-Arabism, and was a nominal advocate of secularism and republicanism. The Saudis by contrast were strong supporters of absolute monarchy and Islamist theocracy, and were generally close to the governments of the United Kingdom and USA.

By 1958 this deterioration in the relationship apparently had led to King Saud offering a bribe of £1.9 million to Abdel Hamid al-Sarraj, the head of Syrian intelligence at the time and later Vice-President of the United Arab Republic, to secure the assassination of Nasser. An era of tension between Egypt and Saudi Arabia set in, negatively impacting the pan Arab nationalism.

Arrival of Mubarak as Egyptian leader tried to put the bilateral ties with Saudi back to normal footing. Unlike the situation at the time of Nasser, Mubarak’s Egypt – a conservative dictatorship closely allied with Washington – no longer represented an ideological or political polar opposite to Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, there remained mutual suspicion and a rivalry between the two countries, both aspiring to preeminence in the Arab World in general and among the Arab allies of the US in particular. Saudi’s preeminence remained intact, however.

Present

Egypt has been in need of the economic push because the country is suffering declining foreign currency reserves, shortage of US dollars and low investment growth rates. All these investments will have a very positive effect on Egypt and it needs them at least until the end of 2016 to evaluate the investments based on how much funds will have been pumped into Egypt, what investments will have been initiated, etc.

After the 2011 turmoil, the economic growth was as low as 1.5 percent and it gradually increased until it reached 4.5 percent in the current fiscal year and is expected to reach 5.5 percent in the coming fiscal year as the government stated, which shows that Egypt is on the rise economically,” the political economy professor illustrated. Over the past five years, Egypt’s foreign currency reserves declined from 36 billion US dollars in 2011 to 16.5 billion dollars as of end of March 2016, and the government is currently struggling to reduce an ongoing budget deficit of about 36 billion dollars.

The Saudi Egypt rivalry manifested itself, for example, when President Barack Obama made a major tour of the Middle East in 2009, soon after assuming power. The Saudis resented Obama’s choice of Cairo as the venue for making a key policy speech, and State Department officials made an effort to mollify the Saudi leadership by following up the Cairo speech with a high-profile Presidential visit to the Saudi capital.

The USA views Mideast with Israel playing the central role. Obama also shamelessly continued the traditional US policy for essentially fascist Israeli, though in a low key. He also visited Israel and enjoyed life with Jewish criminals, invited them to White House for “talks’. The democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is wooing the strong Jewish lobbyists in USA and Israeli regime as well to support her candidature.

Egypt has been facing Western political pressure, particularly from Italy, after the recent death of an Italian young student Giulio Regeni in Cairo and Italy’s suspicion of the involvement of the Egyptian police in the tragedy, to the point that the Western country recalled its ambassador to Cairo for consultations. Saudi King’s visit has a political dimension, as it indicates a sort of support to Egypt amid some political challenges, including the case of Italian Giulio Regeni’s death in Cairo.

Egypt has conducted feasibility studies for these Saudi projects to ensure their benefit to the Egyptian economy. When the Saudi funds are transferred to Egypt, they will positively affect the value of the US dollar compared to the Egyptian pound as they will increase the currency reserves at the Egyptian central bank, and if they do not devaluate the dollar, they will at least stop the current deterioration of the Egyptian pound.

Observation

The just concluded five-day visit of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz to Egypt represents Riyadh’s willingness for political and economic support for Cairo to overcome its current challenges. The visit saw the signing of agreements of Saudi investments in Egypt worth about 25 billion US dollars, and joint projects.

Saudi investments in Egypt may lead to more Gulf investments in Egypt, since the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are greatly interrelated politically and economically. However, Saudi Arabia has to focus on a very important issue- establishment of Palestine in Mideast. True, so long as Israel is in Mideast, it won’t allow Palestine to get UN recognition as a full state, though it has won defacto recognition in the UN general assembly against the will of US-Israeli twins.

Saudi Arabia has been strenuously making efforts to free Palestine from Israeli terror regime but without any success. Israel and Egypt are jointly causing existential problems with terror blockades from both sides for the besieged Palestinians and Gaza Strip where the Hamas rules is the prime target of Israeli military, attacking it regularly on fictitious pretexts. Even turkey’s efforts to breach the blockades to free Gaza Strip have ended in Israeli military attacks on the Turkish aidships.

It is a fact that Israeli aggression on Palestine territories continue with its military using US terror goods and Pentagon services. Israel and its major terror ally USA very conveniently use the Hamas-Fatah conflict to divide the Palestinians and create obstacles for the establishment of much delayed Palestine state.

Saudi kingdom could use its new friendship with Egyptian regime to remove the blockade from its side so that Palestinians could begin to live human life. Giving justice to the Palestinians should be the key objective of new Saudi Egyptian relations.

Saudi-Egyptian ties are bound to grow in strength and depth with increasing number of mutual visits from both sides at high levels. Economic and security ties will gather momentum.

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Shaping Palestinian politics: The UAE has a leg up on Turkey

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The United Arab Emirates may have the upper hand in its competition with Turkey in efforts to shape Palestinian politics. Similarly, the UAE’s recognition of the Jewish state gives it a leg up in ensuring that its voice is heard in Israel and Washington irrespective of who wins the November US election.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t miss a beat during his address to the United Nations General Assembly, insisting that he, unlike the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, would not accept a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is not endorsed by the Palestinians.

Mr. Erdogan’s solemn pledge may earn him brownie points with large segments of Middle Eastern and Muslim public opinion critical of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the two Gulf states but does not strengthen his weak hand.

The UAE, with whom Mr. Erdogan is at loggerheads over Libya, Syria, and the future of political Islam, may have less clout than it thinks in bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but has, for now, more cards to play.

What those cards are worth will only emerge over time.

The UAE is betting that a combination of soft power garnered through recognition of Israel and close security, economic and technological cooperation will enable it to convince the Israeli government that an independent Palestinian state is in Israel’s interest.

While there is little reason to believe that the UAE will succeed where others have failed in recent decades, Emirati leaders, in contrast to Turkey, potentially could in cooperation with Israel also try to impose an unpopular Palestinian figure who has close ties to the US, Emirati and Israeli leadership.

The move would be designed to install a leader who would be  more conducive to engaging in peace talks on terms that hold out little hope of meeting long-standing Palestinian aspirations.

It is a scenario that 84-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appears to be taking seriously and appears to be trying to pre-empt.

The Democratic Reform Bloc, a political group headed by Mohammed Dahlan, a controversial Abu Dhabi-based former Palestinian security chief believed to be close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE’s de facto ruler, said dozens of his supporters had been arrested or summoned for questioning by Palestinian security forces in recent days.

Mr. Dahlan appeared to be walking a fine line when he recently denied any role in mediating relations between the UAE and Israel.

Mr. Abbas’ suspicions stem from an unsuccessful effort last year by the UAE to engineer a deal in which Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, would share power with Mr. Dahlan.

Mr. Dahlan went into exile in the UAE in 2007 after Hamas defeated his US-backed efforts to thwart the group’s control of Gaza. US President George W. Bush described Mr. Dahlan at the time as “our boy.”

He has since been indicted by Mr. Abbas’ Palestine Authority on corruption charges.

UAE recognition of Israel constituted an acknowledgment that the 18-year old Arab peace plan that offered Israel diplomatic relations in exchange for land and a Palestinian state had produced naught.

In its rivalry with Turkey, whose assertive support for the Palestinian cause has likewise failed to produce results so far, the UAE is banking on the expectation that it has the upper hand in getting not only Israeli but also the attention of Washington that under US President Donald J. Trump has disregarded Palestinian rights.

The UAE assumes that it will be able to capitalize on the fact that Emirati recognition of Israel has further complicated Turkey’s relations with its NATO ally, the United States.

Turkey’s relations with the US are already troubled by US support for Syrian Kurds; Turkish military backing of the Libyan government in Tripoli; tensions between Turkey and Greece, another NATO ally, in the Eastern Mediterranean; and Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 anti-missile defense system.

The Trump administration hopes to finalize by December the sale of F-35 fighter planes to the UAE in the wake of the deal with Israel.  Earlier, it cancelled Turkey’s acquisition of the same plane in response to the country’s S-400 deal with Russia.

For now, Turkey can look at appreciation by important segments of Arab and Muslim public opinion as an upside of its  strident support for the Palestinians.

Seeking to capitalize on its Palestinian goodwill, Turkey has been attempting to end the rift between Mr. Abbas’ Al Fatah movement and Hamas in a bid to get the Palestinians to agree on elections and the formation of a joint government.

The two groups, agreed during  talks in Istanbul this week to work together and hold long overdue elections in the next six months.

The joker in Turkish-Emirati differences over Israel and Palestine is the upcoming US presidential election in November.

Irrespective of who wins, Turkey has lost to the UAE the beneficial mantle of being Israel’s best Muslim friend.

Nonetheless, an electoral victory by Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who is expected to be more critical of arms purchases by the UAE and other Gulf states and take them to task on human rights issues, could put both Turkey and the Emirates on the back foot.

A Biden victory would be for Turkey a lost opportunity. The very issues that are at the core of its strained relations with the UAE are likely to complicate its relations with a Democratic administration.

Recent media reports reminded Mr. Erdogan that Mr. Biden had described him in a conversation with The New York Times early this year as an “autocrat.” The Democratic candidate suggested that the US. should “embolden” his opponents to defeat him in elections.

In the conversation, Mr. Biden mentioned other issues, including the Kurds, Syria, and tension in the Eastern Mediterranean that do not bode well for US-Turkish relations should the Democrat occupy the White House. Mr. Biden is expected to be also critical of the UAE’s interventions in Yemen and Libya.

Nonetheless, the UAE, despite its own issues with the US, is likely to still find itself in a better place in Washington no matter who emerges victorious from the November election.

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Arabs-Israeli Peace must be Well-Anchored, not Neatly Fantasized

Mohammed Nosseir

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Watching a few Emirati and Israeli citizens dance in Chabad House, Dubai to celebrate normalization may give the impression that these nations have realized a genuine peace; a false assumption that disregards the facts that the peace treaty between Israel and two Arab Nations is meant to serve Donald Trump in his upcoming presidential election, values the “ground reality” that clearly favors Israel over United Nations resolutions upholding the “land for peace” principle, and advances western politicians’ view that peace can be imposed top-down, seconded by autocratic Arab rulers.

As an Egyptian, I highly value the peace treaty between my country and Israel that was based on regaining occupied Egyptian land, the Sinai Peninsula. The treaty has helped to alter Egyptians’ views of Israel fundamentally; no longer seen as a permanent enemy, Israel is presently perceived as a “cooperative” neighbor that has offered us millions of tourists and a few sound investments – solid pillars for normalization. Meanwhile, the clear majority of Egyptians, Arabs and Muslims continue to sympathize with the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation – a crisis that can only be resolved by pursuing the same path towards peace as that of Egypt.

For years, the United States has been trying to impose a peace treaty between the Arab nations and Israel based on the concept that Arabs should accept Israeli territorial expansion in return for the injection of substantial U.S.  funds to boost the Palestinian economy, a proposition strengthened by Israel’s military power and Arab rulers’ injudicious, hasty attitude towards the crisis. Underneath this reality lurks the further empowerment of the political Islamist proposition that places Israel as a permanent enemy, which could easily drag our region into additional, unpredicted violence. 

Arabs societies generally appear to lead a “double life”. On the one hand is the reality that 60% are either poor citizens or citizens who are vulnerable to poverty, an unemployment rate of roughly 11%, the lack of basic freedoms and living under autocratic rule; a sad status that has become even more dramatic with the advent of Covid-19. These factors combined intensify Arab youth’s anger and frustration towards their rulers and towards the United States, seen as a solid supporter of those rulers. Obviously, Palestinians living under Israeli occupation rule have an extra challenge to deal with.

On the other hand is the fantasy life constituted of GDP growth and the implementation of a few mega projects that Arab rulers like to exhibit and that western politicians and scholars tend to recognize as a sign of success – completely overlooking the fact that these projects are often awarded to the rulers’ cronies and that the unequal distribution of wealth will keep large portions of Arabs living in poverty for generations to come, making them more vulnerable to violence. Likewise, expanding trade deals between Arab nations and Israel or receiving economic incentives from the United States have proven to benefit only the same cronies.

Moreover, the present rumour that the United States is building a block of Arab nations and Israel meant to potentially engage in a war with Iran is a catastrophic approach. Should it happen, it will thrust the entire region into a state of intense violence and enduring war that could well lead to the collapse of many of the signed treaties. Furthermore, a peace treaty between Israel and two Arab nations, who are not in conflict with Israel, will not help to resolve either the Palestinian crisis or the Iranian conflict – Bahraini and the Emirati citizens will never validate such a treaty, if it is presented to them fairly.

There is a huge difference between a peace treaty concluded between two mature, democratic nations whose respective governments truly represent their citizens, and an agreement that is imposed on nations whose citizens are – to put it mildly – in disharmony with their rulers. Arab citizens, often accused of engaging in violence and declining to peacefully settle with Israel, are in fact caught between two fires: their autocratic rulers, who deliberately offer them undignified living conditions and Islamic extremists, who promise them eternal salvation as a reward for engaging in violence and terrorism.

Permanent Arab-Israeli peace can only be achieved through a bottom-up approach that is designed to last, which entails keeping away from western pragmatism and enforcement, both of no value to this crisis. Israel is continually working to enhance its security, an absolute necessity for its citizens. It needs to offer Palestinians the opportunity to live a dignified life based, first, on regaining their occupied land and establishing a state of their own, followed by advancing their economic status. Offering the later at the expense of the former will keep us in this vicious circle of violence for decades to come.

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Untangling Survival Intersections: Israel, Chaos and the Pandemic

Prof. Louis René Beres

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MUNCH, Edvard The Scream (detail) 1893 Oil, tempera & pastel on cardboard, 91 × 73.5 cm The National Gallery, Oslo

Is it an end that draws near, or a beginning?”-Karl Jaspers, Man in the Modern Age (1951)

INTRODUCTION TO THE ANALYSIS:  Day by day, traditional global anarchy (with discernible roots in the seventeenth century Peace of Westphalia) is being supplanted by chaos. This exponential replacement has very substantial implications for (1) comprehensive global stability; (2) regional stability in the Middle East; and (3) Israeli national stability. Because the replacement  is taking place alongside a still-expanding global pandemic, variously resultant forms of chaos must be considered as multi-layered, tangled and synergistic.

 What next? Among others, Israel’s senior strategists and policy-makers will have to examine these dissembling expressions of chaos by proceeding with continuously capable scholarship.  Accordingly apt emphases in  Jerusalem and Tel Aviv should soon be placed upon plausible alterations to decisional rationality (both Israeli and adversarial) and on prospective nuclear competitions oriented to achieving intra-crisis “escalation dominance.” In the worst case scenario, such analyses would pertain to certain potential instances of nuclear war-fighting, a sobering narrative that reinforces Israel’s unceasing imperative to seek nuclear deterrence ex ante, and not revenge ex post.

There is more. The article that follows is self-consciously conceptual/theoretical. By design, it is unlike other more usual essays that concern global/ regional stability in world politics.

This article can be useful to military practitioners and national security planners because it could lead them well beyond any orthodox or narrowly “current events” focus on applicable strategic thought. By explaining this historically unprecedented transition from anarchy to chaos, it can also point serious readers toward a new corpus of pertinent strategic theory. “Theory is a net,” we all learned earlier from Karl Popper’s classic The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959), “only those who cast, can catch.”

—————–

As Chair of “Project Daniel,” a special policy task force assembled to analyze the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel two decades ago,[1] the author is not new to analytic assessments of complex geo-strategic hazards, including existential ones. Still, twenty years back, when Daniel sprang from a private conversation he was having in Tel-Aviv with two-time Israeli Ambassador to the United States Zalman Shoval,[2] overriding security perils were being examined as part of some presumptively coherent world order. This is not meant to suggest that the post-Westphalia[3] order was ever reassuringly stable or satisfactory, but only that the classical  balance-of-power regime had not yet become entirely unpredictable.

               That was then. Today, all serious scholarly assessments, irrespective of  specific country particularity, must be undertaken with a starkly different view. This updated perspective assumes, inter alia, that the world order system is no longer “merely” anarchic,[4] but is also chaotic. Now, a crucial part of this dissembling context is worldwide disease pandemic, a devastating plague that only renders an already unstable global structure even worse.[5]

               In essence, an incremental metamorphosis of system-wide anarchy into chaos has been underway for some time, but the sudden and sweeping comprehensiveness of Covid19 has produced a quantum jump in this already-significant transformation.

               Though a decidedly  global issue, some states will be affected more than others by any spreading chaos. In the specific case of Israel, our focus here, the prospective impacts of certain ongoing change patterns are apt to be considerable. This is because of that country’s conspicuously small size, its still-multiple enemies and its correspondingly unique dependence (for deterrence,[6] not war-fighting)[7] upon nuclear weapons and strategy.[8]

               Looking ahead, the challenging security tasks for Israel need not be regrettable or without any tangible benefits. There do exist sound and science-based reasons to acknowledge advancing chaos as a  security positive for Israel, at least in part. While distinctly counter-intuitive, such compelling reasons ought now be more closely and capably examined.

               These reasons should not be casually minimized or disregarded.

                As drawn from its core meanings in classical philosophy and mythology, chaos represents the literal beginning of everything, the good as well as the bad.

               This “positive”  concept of chaos now warrants very serious and meticulous scholarly assessment. This is not the same thing as suggesting, more prosaically, that scholars and policy makers should try to make better analytic sense of assorted security threats and circumstances, e.g., the Iran nuclear threat or the Palestinian terror threat (neither of which has in any way been diminished by the new Israel-UAE agreement). What is being urged here is the more self-conscious construction of pertinent theories, a painstaking process that must inevitably be contingent upon an antecedent and more refined conceptual understanding.

               Analysts may begin such epistemological processes at their most proverbial beginnings. To wit, Jewish theology discovers its primal roots in Genesis, an observation to be generally viewed with favor in a Jewish State. Whether in the Old Testament or in more-or-less synchronous Greek and Roman thought, chaos can be understood as an intellectual tabula rasa, a blank slate which, when thoughtfully completed, can best prepare the world for all things, both sacred and profane.

               Most significantly, chaos can represent that inchoate place from which absolutely all civilizational opportunitymust credibly originate.

                With such unorthodox thinking, chaos is never just a repellant “predator” that swallows everything whole; callously, indiscriminately, and without purpose. Here, instead, it is more usefully considered as an auspicious “openness,” that is, as a protean realm within which entirely new kinds of human opportunity may be suitably revealed or gleaned.  For Israel, this means that any advancing chaos in the Middle East need not necessarily be interpreted by the country’s senior military planners as a portentous harbinger of regional violence and instability, but rather, in at least some respects, as a potentially gainful condition for critically improving national security.

                There is more. By extrapolation, this same caveat should be extended to include any discernible elements of chaos in certain other regions of the world, though the intellectual or analytic arguments would then be based upon determinably other underlying conditions or outcomes.

               The next question arises. How best to harness such a radical re-conceptualization of chaos in Jerusalem (politics) and Tel Aviv (military strategy)? This is a manifestly difficult, subtle and many-sided question. Still, it would be better answered imperfectly than be wholly disregarded. Such an answer should suggest the following: Israel’s authoritative decision-makers must more intentionally stray beyond ordinary or usual national security assessments,[9] and then venture more wittingly in the direction of illuminating avant garde analyses.[10]

               To be sure, any such venture would have its detractors. “Whenever the new muses present themselves,” warned Spanish existentialist philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset in The Dehumanization of Art, “the masses bristle.

               Among these studies would be scholarly examinations that hypothesize various radical redistributions of power in the Middle East, including some never-before considered alignments. Such unexpected alignments, born of a now palpably expanding regional chaos, could include not only assorted state-state relationships (e.g., Israel-Egypt; Israel-Jordan; Israel-Saudi Arabia; Israel-UAE; Israel-Russia), but also state-sub state or “hybrid” connections (e.g., Hezbollah-Iran; Hezbollah-Russia). Just as with certain state-state relationships, relevant intersections could sometime be synergistic. In these potentially most worrisome cases, the “whole” of any specific intersection would exceed the simple sum of its constituent “parts.” Of course, for Israel, not every expected synergy would necessarily be harmful or “bad.” Some of these intersections could be determinably auspicious or “good.”

               As an example of positive synergistic outcome for Israel, scholars and planners could consider alignments that would favor directly Israeli goals or objectives, and alignments that would be presumptively harmful or injurious to that country’s acknowledged foes.

               Similarly unprecedented but also worth considering would be steps taken toward alleviating the more expressly structural conditions of chaos in the Middle East region, including certain specific forms of cooperation that could move incrementally toward assorted forms of regional governance. Such  forms would have to be tentative, and also very partial, but they could nonetheless provide a generally welcome start toward greater area order than area chaos.[11] In specifically Hobbesian terms, these forms of governance would be intended to supplant the generally corrosive “war of all against all”[12] in the Middle East with some designated “common power.”[13]

                Recalling English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the core objective here would be to keep all state and sub-state parties “in awe.”[14]

               Ironically, a unique opportunity for regional movements toward greater area collective security would have been made possible by decision-maker perceptions of a more general revulsion with anarchy or chaos. This opportunity will have been born of a growing existential desperation, that is, of a sense that “business as usual” in Middle East peacemaking can no longer suffice. Of course, it is altogether possible that this particular sense of opportunity could sometime be mistaken or misunderstood, in which case any presumed benefits of chaos might turn out to be a double-edged sword.

               There is more. With regard to any such injurious inversions of opportunity for Israel, Jerusalem need only be reminded of its unchanging obligation to avoid taking existential risks wherever possible.[15] Ultimately, this fixed and immutable obligation can be fulfilled only by assessing all risks and opportunities according to well-established and optimally rigorous intellectual standards. Among other things, even when chaos might beckon seductively to Israel as an unanticipated font of future strategic opportunity, there could be no adequate substitute for capable scholarly or intellectual analysis.

               Reciprocally, however, any such diligent analysis must eschew “seat of the pants” determinations, and rely instead upon an amply-refined strategic theory. Always, theory is a “net.” Only those who “cast” such an indispensable net can ever expect to “catch.”

               What else? When “casting,” Israel’s strategic planners should pay especially rapt attention to any discernible links between a prevailing or still-anticipated chaos, and the expected rationality of its relevant adversaries.[16] What might first appear as an unwittingly promising source of improved national safety could be reversed promptly by those enemies who would value certain normally subsidiary preferences in world politics more highly than national or collective survival.

               Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher Tertullian. “I believe because it is absurd.”

               Such “absurd” enemies are not historically unknown in world politics.[17]

               Not at all.

               At this moment, the most compelling threat of such enemy irrationality appears to come from a seemingly still-nuclearzing Iran. Significantly, there is no way for Israel’s decision makers to systematically or scientifically evaluate the authentic probabilities of any such uniquely formidable threat.[18] This is because (a) any truly accurate assessments of event probability must be based upon the determinable frequency of pertinent past events; and (b) there have been no pertinent past events (i.e., no nuclear war).

               All the same, an eventual Iranian nuclear threat to Israel remains plausible; it should thus suggest certain worrisome prospects for a “final” sort of regional chaos. To make reassuringly positive or at least gainful use of this vision, Israel ought soon to focus explicitly and meticulously on its still-tacit “bomb in the basement” nuclear strategy.  Preparing to move beyond the prospectively lethal limits of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity,” Jerusalem would need to (1) rank-order identifiable thresholds of enemy nuclear peril as tangible “triggers” for its incremental nuclear disclosures; and (2) prepare for rank-ordered release some very specifically limited sets of information concerning the invulnerability and penetration-capability of its own nuclear forces.

               These sets would include selected facts on nuclear targeting doctrine; number; range; and yield.

               As Israel can learn from certain intimations of some impending chaos, the country’s national security might be better served by reduced nuclear ambiguity than by any more traditional commitments to complete strategic secrecy. This seemingly counter-intuitive argument is rooted in the altogether reasonable presumption that Israel’s continued survival must depend very considerably on successfully sustained nuclear deterrence.

               When 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche initially explained chaos as something contained deeply within each individual human being,[19] he did not intend this to represent a distressingly negative portent. On the contrary, like the German poet Hölderlin,[20] with whose work he was intimately familiar, Nietzsche understood that even from apparent formlessness can emerge things of great or even inestimable value. Accordingly, at this currently precarious moment in its contemporary history, Israel’s leadership would be well advised (a) to think seriously and inventively about such challenging conceptual opportunities; and (b) to fashion strategic theories that begin but do not end with conspicuous portents of the apocalyptic  “abyss.”

               This would not be a task for the intellectually faint-hearted, or for those who are constitutionally unable to recognize promising strategic “muses”[21] But the security payoff for Israel’s national defense could still prove overwhelmingly gainful. It follows that such a task would be determinably “cost-effective.”

               One last point in this broad argument now bears repeating. It is that Israel has absolutely no choice about either welcoming or rejecting chaos. Incontestably, this condition is not something that Israel can in any way push aside, negotiate, forestall or prevent. Because chaos in some form will inexorably emerge from a traditional global anarchy, Jerusalem must do whatever it can (as soon as it can) to reconcile and optimize its pertinent security strategies with chaos. A full acknowledgment of this unavoidable imperative could represent the acme of Israel’s decisional acumen and decisional rationality.[22]

               In the months and years ahead, Israel’s overriding obligation remains plain and obvious. To best meet this evident security imperative of collective survival, that nation’s strategic analysts and planners will first have to better understand the relevant policy correlates of any expanding chaos, and to accomplish this goal by means of a markedly advanced conceptual scholarship. At a particularly fragile moment in contemporary history when biology could prove even more fundamentally worrisome than capable enemy armies, this scholarship will need to take special note of our current and still-expanding Corona virus pandemic. 

               This “plague,” though “merely” biological, will likely produce certain unanticipated and hard to remediate forms of  social and political disintegration, both expressly regional (Middle East) and worldwide. At the same time, should Israel and its relevant area foes sometime recognize this viral pandemic as an exceptional menace that is nonetheless common to all –  one best diminished by some generally shared strategies of cooperation –  it could conceivably become a welcome agent of a more genuine Middle East peace.[23] Though ironic and more-or-less implausible,  microbial assault could represent just the right agent for enhanced geopolitical vision, for shaping a tabula rasa from which more promisingly audacious national security opportunities could sometime be born.

               If this novel opportunity for embracing chaos were sufficiently acknowledged, it could be a “beginning” that “draws near,” not an “end.”


[1] Our formal report, “Israel’s Strategic Future,” was discussed widely in global media and delivered by hand to PM Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem on January 16, 2003. http://www.acpr.org.il/ENGLISH-NATIV/03-ISSUE/daniel-3.htm

[2] Ambassador Shoval has been Professor Beres’ several times co-author on vital matters of Israeli security and international law. Most recently, see Louis René Beres and Zalman Shoval, West Point (Pentagon) https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/

[3] The historic Peace of Westphalia (1648) concluded the Thirty Years War and created the still-existing state system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119. Together, these two treaties comprise the “Peace of Westphalia.”

[4] Hobbes, the 17th- century English philosopher, argues that anarchy in the “state of nations” is the only true “state of nature.” In Chapter XIII of Leviathan (“Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery”),  Hobbes explains famously: “But though there had never been any time, wherein particular men were in a condition of war, one against the other, yet in all times, kings and persons of sovereign authority, because of their independence, are in continual jealousies, and in the state and posture of gladiators; having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is their forts, garrisons, and guns upon the frontiers of their kingdoms, and continual spies upon their neighbors, which is a posture of war.”

[5] With chaos, but not anarchy, even the usual mainstays of decentralized world politics (e.g., deterrence and balance of power processes) are replaced by more eccentric or idiosyncratic factors of national decision  making.

[6] As emphasized at Israel’s Strategic Future: The Final Report of Project Daniel (Israel, 2003): “The primary point of Israel’s nuclear forces must always be deterrence ex ante, not revenge ex post.”

[7]See, for example: Louis René Beres, https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2018/5/29/israels-nuclear-strategy-enhancing-deterrence-in-the-new-cold-war-part-i; Louis René Beres, INSS Israel, https://www.inss.org.il/publication/changing-direction-updating-israels-nuclear-doctrine/

and, at Harvard Law School, Louis René Beres: https://harvardnsj.org/2014/06/staying-strong-enhancing-israels-essential-strategic-options-2/

[8] See,  by Professor Beres, https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy

[9] Such proposed “straying,” which might range anywhere from an eleventh-hour preemption to much greater commitments to regional collective security, could still be in more-or-less complete accord with pertinent international law. In this connection, a core or jus cogens principle of international law remains the unambiguous imperative: “Where the ordinary remedy fails, recourse must be had to an extraordinary one.” (Ubi cessat remedium ordinarium, ibi decurritur ad extraordinarium.” (Black’s Law Dictionary, 1520 – 6th ed., 1990).

[10] In his 1927 preface to Oxford Poetry, W.H. Auden wrote: “All genuine poetry is in a sense the formation of private spheres out of public chaos….” Looking ahead with an appropriately avant-garde orientation, Israeli strategists must essentially seek to carve out livable national spheres from a steadily expanding global chaos. Ultimately, of course, following Nietzsche, they must understand that such chaos originally lies within each individual human being, but – at least for the moment of their present strategic deliberations – they must focus upon collective survival in a true Hobbesian “state of nature.” This is a condition wherein “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest,” normally possible only where individual human beings coexist in nature, but possible also in world politics wherever there exists nuclear proliferation. Accordingly, the German legal philosopher Samuel Pufendorf reasoned, like Hobbes, that the state of nations “lacks those inconveniences which are attendant upon a pure state of nature….” Similarly, said Baruch Spinoza: “A commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” (See: A.G. Wernham, ed., The Political Works: Tractatus Politicus, iii, II; Clarendon Press, 1958, p. 295).

[11] Back at Princeton in the late 1960s, I spent two full years in the University library, reading everything available about world order. The initial result was published in my early book The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (University of Denver, 1973) and two years later, in Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (University of Denver, 1975).

[12] This Hobbes-described orientation represents the explicit underpinning of US President Donald Trump’s announced foreign policy, and stands in direct opposition to the core jurisprudential assumption (i.e., international law) of imperative solidarity between all states. This immutable or jus cogens assumption was already mentioned in Justinian’s Digest (533 CE); Hugo Grotius’ Law of War and Peace (1625); and Vattel’s The Law of Nations, or the Principles of Natural Law (1758). According to General McMaster, Mr. Trump’s earlier National Security Advisor, this policy is an expression of “pragmatic realism.” Historically, this term is essentially a self-reinforcing falsehood, as no forms of “realism” or “Realpolitik” have ever worked for long. For Israel, the best “lesson” to be extracted from this egregious US policy error is to think of the erroneous Trump-era posture as one of “naive realism,” and to draw upon certain expectations of advancing chaos to inspire more promising forms of both national strategy and international cooperation.

[13] Following the recently negotiated Israel-UAE and Israel-Bahrain agreements, it could be assumed or alleged that this “corrosive” condition has been correspondingly modified or reduced. Nonetheless, Israel’s principal security challenges have never come from these Gulf states; it is also arguable that the threat of renewed Palestinian terrorism has actually been increased by these US-brokered pacts.

[14] See Hobbes, Leviathan, especially Chapter XVII, “Of Commonwealth.” More generally, the presumed obligation to use force in a world of international anarchy forms the central argument of Realpolitik from the Melian Dialogues of Thucydides and the Letters of Cicero to Machiavelli, Locke, Spykman and Kissinger. “For what can be done against force without force?’ inquires Cicero. Nonetheless, the sort of chaos that Israel could confront shortly is much different from traditional anarchy or simply decentralized global authority. In essence, it is conceivably more primordial, more primal, self-propelled and potentially even self-rewarding.

[15] Such a primary warning is the central motif of Yehoshafat Harkabi’s The Bar Kokhba Syndrome: Risk and Realism in International Politics,” (New York: Rossel Books, 1983).

[16] See, by Professor Beres: https://besacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/516-Israeli-Security-and-Enemy-Rationality-Beres-Author-approved-version.pdf

[17] See Sigmund Freud in Civilization and its Discontents: “Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind….usually they have wreaked havoc.”

[18] Regarding also the expected consequences or “disutilites” of a nuclear war, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, SURVIVING AMID CHAOS: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016/2018); Louis René Beres,  APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres,  MIMICKING SISYPHUS: AMERICA’S COUNTERVAILING NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1983);  Louis René Beres, REASON AND REALPOLITIK: U S FOREIGN POLICY AND WORLD ORDER (Lexington MA;  Lexington Books, 1984);  and Louis René Beres, ed.,  SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[19] “I tell you,” says Friedrich Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “ye have still chaos in you.”

[20] In philosophy, Hölderin, Nietzsche and Heidegger struggled with the fundamentally same ontological problems of existence, or “being,”

[21] Once again, “Whenever the new muses present themselves,” cautions Spanish existentialist José Ortega y’ Gassett in The Dehumanization of Art, “the masses bristle.”

[22] Reciprocally, a rational state enemy of Israel will always accept or reject a particular option by comparing the costs and benefits of each alternative. Wherever the expected costs of striking first are taken to exceed expected gains, this enemy will be deterred. But where these expected costs are believed to be exceeded by expected gains, deterrence will fail. Here, whatever the prevailing levels of order or chaos, Israel would be faced with an enemy attack, either as a “bolt-from-the-blue” or as an outcome of anticipated or unanticipated crisis-escalation. In this connection, too, Israeli planners will want to stay abreast of each side’s ongoing search for “escalation dominance.”

[23] More generally, see by this writer, Louis René Beres, at Jurist:  https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/04/louis-beres-trump-empathy/ To be sure, the recent US-brokered Israel agreements with UAE and Bahrain are actually net-negative for Middle East Peace because they provide no per se Israeli advantages with these Gulf states, and because they exacerbate Israel’s much more essential relationships with Iran, the Palestinians and Hezbollah.

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