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U.S. Foreign Policy Threats to Israel’s National Security: Strategic Imperatives for Jerusalem

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“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”-W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming

Though U.S. President Donald Trump describes himself as pro-Israel, any seriously analytic assessment of his foreign policies would point toward a different conclusion. On the surface, of course, Mr. Trump’s earlier transfer of America’s embassy to Jerusalem, his recent acceptance of Israel’s established West Bank settlements and his undiminished rhetorical support of Israel’s overall security posture suggest a sympathetic U.S. administration. Still, however unwitting or unintentional, the actual expected consequences of Trump foreign policies are sorely injurious for Israel, not gainful.

As for the tangible dangers posed by these policies, they could be sudden and immediate or incremental and long-term.

For doubters, core examples are readily available. These include the American president’s strengthening of certain leading Sunni Arab military forces (as a presumptive counter-vailing power to Shiite Iran) and his declared U.S. departure from Syria. Already, this staged withdrawal is emboldening Hezbollah.

At this particular stage, for Israel, the well-organized Shiite militia supervised from Tehran poses a greater overall strategic threat than any traditional Arab army. In specific reference to a commonly perceived threat from Iran, Saudi and Egyptian military objectives are now more closely aligned with Israeli security goals than once might have even been thought possible. Still, in predictably short order, those Sunni Arab states joined together in a common Trump-led struggle against Shiite Iran could falter in their apparent allegiance. Any such substantial weakening could be triggered by altogether reasonable fears that a US-generated war with Iran would produce irrecoverable harms.

 One unintended corollary of any such Sunni-Arab weakening could be a more militarily capable and worrisome regime in Teheran and Moscow.

All things considered, and however one might choose to analyze Israel’s dynamic geopolitical challenges[1] – a task that must inevitably prove both multi-layered and expansively complex[2] – Donald Trump’s foreign policies will remain determinably “net-negative” for the country’s national security.[3] Upon considered reflection, the American president’s conspicuous policy declarations concerning Israel’s “eternal capital,” its West Bank settlements and its enduring access to conventional arms transfers will provide few if any strategic benefits to Israel. Moreover, from an international law perspective, these declarations will prove essentially irrelevant.[4]

In Israel, it is time to inquire: what is the bottom line? The correct response? It is that the Trump presidency, even if well-intentioned toward the Jewish State, lacks sufficient intellectual resources. Longer-term, this seat-of-the-pants or “doctrine-free” American administration is likely to become as darkly injurious for Israel as it has already become for the United States. This U.S. presidency, after all, believes more in “attitude, than preparation;” in virtually all matters of substance, it remains determinedly anti-historical and anti-intellectual. Also, this presidency is glaringly unconcerned about peremptory human rights, as evidenced, inter alia, by Trump’s flagrantly open abandonment of America’s Kurdish allies.

For Israel, the salient message here should be clear. This abandonment should stand as an unambiguous warning against placing too much faith in American security pledges or commitments, especially during the persistently dissembling “Trump Era.”

There is more. From the start, North Korean nuclear negotiations have been mismanaged by Trump; correspondingly, Pyongyang continues to expand and modernize its advanced nuclear weapons missile programs.[5] While the American president has repeatedly drawn false comfort from “falling in love” with Kim Jung Un (a demonstrably unrequited love), the North Korean dictator makes any once-credible hopes for “complete denuclearization” unassailably nonsensical.

Similarly, Mr. Trump’s unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the July 2015 JCPOA pact concerning Iran has accelerated that adversarial state’s worrisome nuclearization. Ominously, too, fearful strategic nuclear/hypervelocity missile developments are expanding in Russia, a superpower foe which sees in this unreflective American president an optimally convenient surrogate for achieving Moscow’s national military goals.

The principal reason for identifying the unreliability/unpredictability of US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy for Israeli security is intellectual. Persistently, wittingly, Donald Trump has revealed a near-total lack of historic or strategic understanding, and a derivative disregard for all constitutive elements of civilized international relations.[6] In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the following  critical question ought soon be posed:

Should those officials responsible for meeting Israel’s security obligations place their existential bets on such evidently fragile analytic foundations?

It’s not a complicated question.

The comprehensive security dilemma for Israel posed by U.S. President Trump is augmented by various similarly serious jurisprudential deficits. These legal shortcomings include an apparent unconcern for certain “peremptory” obligations of national and international law.[7]  Without suitable embarrassment, this president has argued that he maintains a personal right to override US Constitutional expectations concerning birthright and US citizenship, and that the US had properly terminated its codified obligations under the INF Treaty with Russia.

Regarding the specific matter of this president’s INF Treaty termination, which was not ipso facto illegal, the deleterious security outcome could still prove multi-faceted and broadlyoverwhelming.

More concretely, this more-or-less negative outcome could be made manifest in certain measurable or indecipherable increments, or rather in sudden “bolt-from-the-blue” enemy attacks. Often, because the foreign and defense policies of nation-states are not only intersecting, but “synergistic” (situations wherein the “whole” would be greater than the aggregate sum of its “parts”), these attacks would not necessarily stem directly from Russia.[8] Instead, they could represent a derivative but by no means insignificant nuclear involvement of North Korea.

One conceivably plausible outcome of various Trump-induced misunderstandings will be a continuously-expanding nuclear arms race between the superpowers.[9]  For Israel in particular, any such corrosive expansion could spawn serious “spillover” risks for itself and for the wider Middle East.[10] Taken together, these mutually-reinforcing risks would concern incessant destabilization, terror and war, and could present in many possible configurations and/or synergistic interactions.[11]

 President Donald Trump’s earlier “seat-of-the-pants” withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA pleased his political “base” at home, but it also enlarged the overall Iranian nuclear threat to Israel.[12]  Looking back, even if the JCPOA had been a manifestly imperfect agreement – a reasonable judgment – it did not necessarily follow that unilateral abrogation would be in America’s or Israel’s best interest. Once again, the major problem here with Donald Trump’s strategic assessment was that it was wholly devoid of any logical or persuasively analytic underpinnings.

It derived from “attitude, not preparation.”

There is more. For Israel, there is a relevant early history. Then, openly, presidential candidate Donald Trump had advised “killing the families” of terrorists and being less openly concerned about humanitarian international law –  that is, about the civilizing rules of engagement found collectively at the Law of War or the Law of Armed Conflict.[13] In essence, inter alia, heeding this president’s lawless counsel on such a salient matter would have amounted to a US reversal of incontrovertible Nuremberg Principles.[14]

Such a law-violating reversal would carry unforeseeable but still fearful consequences involving nuclear weapons and nuclear war.

All things considered, Israel now faces a unique and markedly complex dilemma. Whatever the logical underpinnings and determined coherence of its own unilateral foreign policies, President Donald Trump’s continuing missteps with Syria,[15] Iran, Russia, China, Yemen, Venezuela, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and certain still-compliant European allies will further destabilize the Middle East – directly or indirectly; and suddenly or incrementally. Whatever Jerusalem should decide to do or not to do about the “big picture” – a security vision that must include the tangible emergence of “Cold War II”[16] – this unsteady region could slip irretrievably into ever-deeper levels of authentic “chaos.”[17]

The most presently meaningful question for Jerusalem should concern whether this slippage is apt to be the immediate result of some Trump-generated catastrophe, or whether it will manifest itself instead in certain calculable and episodic bouts of Trump policy-induced suffering.

With this query in mind, one critical issue must concern imperative re-evaluations of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity.”[18]

To date, the “bomb-in-the-basement” policy has made eminently good sense for Israel.  Presumptively, both friends and foes already recognize that Israel possesses significant nuclear capabilities that are (1) survivable; and (2) capable of penetrating any determined enemy’s active defenses. For these adversaries not to acknowledge these capabilities would require a very hard-to-explain and implausibly generalized intellectual deficit.

Going forward, what should Israel do about its vital nuclear posture? How, exactly, should this traditionally ambiguous stance be adapted to the convergent and inter-penetrating threats of potentially still-impending Middle Eastern/North African revolutions, a nuclear Iran,[19] and Israel’s justifiably constant concern about negotiating useful agreements with various state[20] and sub-state (terrorist) organizations.[21]

The conventional wisdom routinely assumes that credible nuclear deterrence is somehow an automatic consequence of merely holding nuclear weapons. By this argument, removing Israel’s nuclear bomb from the “basement” would only elicit new waves of global condemnation, and would do this without returning any commensurate benefits.

History, however, reveals that the conventional wisdom is often unwise. The pertinent strategic issues for Israel are not at all simple or straightforward.  Instead, in the inherently arcane world of Israel’s nuclear deterrence, it can never be adequate that enemy states merely acknowledge the Jewish State’s nuclear status. Instead, it is important that these states further believe that Israel holds usable nuclear weapons, and that Jerusalem/Tel-Aviv would be willing to employ such weapons in certain definably clear circumstances.[22]

Still to be generated Trump instabilities in the Middle East could create more good reasons to doubt that Israel would benefit from any uninterrupted continuance of deliberate nuclear ambiguity. It would seem, moreover, from certain apparent developments within Israel’s intersecting defense and intelligence communities, that the country’s senior leadership already understands such informed skepticism. To best augment such an understanding, however, Israel’s nuclear strategists should proceed interrogatively – in effect, creating a continuously self-refining “strategic dialectic” from which suitable answers and policies could be incrementally extracted and/or systematically deduced.[23]

This will call for refined “preparation,” not “attitude.”

One basic point now warrants reiteration.  Israel is imperiled by existential threats that fully justify its nuclear weapons and that require a correspondingly purposeful strategic doctrine. This basic need exists beyond any reasonable doubt. After all, without such weapons and doctrine, Israel could not expectedly survive over time, especially if certain neighboring regimes should sometime become still more adversarial, more jihadist and/or less risk-averse.  

Israeli nuclear weapons and purposeful nuclear doctrine could prove vital to those more-or-less predictable scenarios requiring preemptive action or suitable forms of retaliation.

Generically, military doctrine describes how a country’s national forces would fight in various recognizable combat operations. The literal definition of doctrine derives from the Middle English, from the Latin doctrina, meaning teaching, learning, and instruction. Though generally unanticipated, the full importance of doctrine lies not only in ways that it can animate and unify military forces, but also in the particular fashion that it can transmit certain desired “messages.” In other words, doctrine can serve a state (especially an endemically beleaguered state such as Israel) as a critical form of communication, and to its friends and foes alike.

Israel could benefit from any such broadened understandings of doctrine. The principal risks facing Israel are now more specific than broadly general or benignly generic. This is because Israel’s extant adversaries in the region could at some point be joined by: (1) a new Arab state of “Palestine;”[24] and by (2) a newly-nuclear Iran.  In the presumptively worst case,  any such inauspicious “joining” would take place at the same time.[25]

For Israel, merely possessingnuclear weapons, even when fully recognized by pertinent enemy states, could never by itself ensure successful deterrence. In this connection, though starkly counter-intuitive, an appropriately selective and nuanced end to deliberate ambiguity could substantially improve the overall credibility of Israel’s nuclear deterrent.  With this key point prominently in mind, the injurious potential of assorted enemy attacks in the future could be reduced by making selectively available certain additional information.

This additional information would concern the security of Israel’s nuclear weapon response capabilities.

Carefully limited yet helpfully more explicit, it would center on distinctly major and inter-penetrating issues of Israel’s nuclear capability andits decisional willingness.

 Skeptics, no doubt, will disagree. It is, after all, seemingly sensible to assert that nuclear ambiguity has “worked” thus far. Arguably, while Israel’s current nuclear policyhas done little to deter multiple conventional terrorist attacks, it has plainly succeeded in keeping that country’s enemies, whether singly or in collaboration, from mounting any existential aggressions.

Inevitably, as the nineteenth-century Prussian strategic theorist, Karl von Clausewitz, observed in his classic essay, On War, there can come a military tipping point when “mass counts.” Israel, of course, is very small.  Its enemies have always had an undeniable and irreversible advantage in “mass.”   Perhaps even more than any other imperiled state on earth, Israel needs to steer clear of any such tipping point.[26]

For the several reasons already mentioned, this imperative is more compelling in the Trump years than before, even if the American president is more expressly “pro-Israel” in his rhetoric and policy formulations than his predecessor.

 An integral part of Israel’s multi-layered security system lies in effective ballistic missile defenses, primarily, the Arrow or “Hetz.” Yet, even the well-regarded and successfully-tested Arrow, augmented by the newer, shorter-range and systematically-integrated operations of “Iron Dome,” “David’s Sling,” and various related active defenses, could never achieve a sufficiently high probability of intercept to adequately protect Israeli civilians. No system of missile defense can ever be entirely “leak proof,” and even a single incoming nuclear missile that manages to penetrate Arrow or its corollary defenses could conceivably kill tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of Israelis.

Potentially, this fearful reality could prove less consequential if Israel’s continuing reliance on deliberate ambiguity were suitably revised or altered.

 In essence, current Israeli policy of maintaining an undeclared nuclear capacity is unlikely to work indefinitely. Leaving aside a jihadist takeover of nuclear Pakistan,[27] the most obviously unacceptable “leakage” threat would come in the future from a nuclear Iran. To be effectively deterred, any newly-nuclear Iran would then need certain convincing assurances that Israel’s atomic weapons were both invulnerable and penetration-capable.

Any Iranian judgments about Israel’s capability and willingness to retaliate with nuclear weapons would then depend largely upon some prior Iranian knowledge of these weapons, including their perceived degree of protection from surprise attack and their presumed capacity to “punch-through” certain relevant Iranian defenses, both active and passive.

A nuclear weapons-capable Iran may already be a fait accompli. For whatever reasons, neither the “international community” in general nor Israel in particular has managed to create sufficient credibility to undertake timely preemptive action. Plausibly, any such critical defensive action would have required various complex operational capabilities, and could have generated manifestly unacceptable Iranian counter actions.

It is likely that Israel has already undertaken some very impressive and original steps in cyber-defense and cyber-war, but even the most remarkable efforts in this direction would not be enough to stop Iran altogether. The sanctions sequentially leveled at Tehran over the years have had an economic impact, but  they have also had no determinable impact in halting Iranian nuclearization altogether or stopping Tehran’s discernible enhancements of intercontinental ballistic missile potential.

In time, a nuclear Iran could decide to share some of its nuclear components and materials with Hezbollah or with another kindred terrorist group.To prevent this destabilizing sharing, Jerusalem would need to convince Iran, inter alia, that Israel possesses a useful range of distinctly usable nuclear options.  Accordingly, Israeli nuclear ambiguity could be loosened by releasing certain very general information regarding the availability and survivability of appropriately low-yield weapons.

Israel should now be calculating (vis-à-vis a prospectively nuclear Iran) the exact extent of subtlety with which it should consider communicating key portions of its nuclear positions.[28] Naturally, Israel should never reveal any very specific information about its nuclear strategy, hardening or yield-related capabilities.

One more point. An Israeli move from ambiguity to disclosure would not help in the case of an irrational nuclear enemy. It is possible, at least, that certain elements of Iranian leadership might sometime subscribe to certain end-times visions of a Shiite apocalypse. By definition, such an enemy would not value its own continued national survival more highly than every other preference or combination of preferences.           

Were its leaders to be or turn non-rational, Iran could effectively become a nuclear suicide-bomber in macrocosm.  Such a challenging prospect is certainly improbable, perhaps even at the very outer fringes of plausibility. But it is also not inconceivable. A similarly serious prospect obtains in already-nuclear and residually coup-vulnerable Pakistan.  

To protect itself against military strikes from irrational enemies, particularly those attacks that could carry existential costs, Israel will need to reconsider virtually every aspect and function of its nuclear arsenal and doctrine.[29]

Removing the bomb from Israel’s “basement” could enhance Israel’s strategic deterrence to the extent that it would heighten enemy perceptions of the severe and likely risks involved. This would also bring to mind a so-called Samson Option, which could allow various enemy decision-makers to note and underscore that Israel is prepared to do whatever is needed to survive.[30]

 Irrespective of its preferred level of ambiguity, Israel’s nuclear strategy must always remain correctly oriented toward deterrence, and not war-fighting. The Samson Option refers to a policy that would be based in part upon some implicit threat of massive nuclear retaliation for certain specific enemy aggressions.  Israel’s small size means, among other things, that any nuclear attack would threaten Israel’s existence and could never be tolerated.

A Samson Option would make sense only in certain “last-resort” or “near last-resort” circumstances. If the Samson Option is to become part of a genuinely credible national deterrent, an end to Israel’s deliberate ambiguity posture would be essential. The really tough part of this transformational process would be determining the proper timing for any such action vis-à-vis Israel’s core security requirements, and also pertinent expectations of the so-called “international community.”[31]

The Samson Option should never be confused with Israel’s overriding security objective: Always seek stable deterrence at the lowest possible levels of military conflict.

There is more. In our often counter-intuitive strategic world, it could sometimes become rational to pretend irrationality. The nuclear deterrence benefits of pretended irrationality would depend, at least in part, upon a designated enemy state’s awareness of Israel’s intention to apply counter-value targeting when responding to nuclear attack.

But Israeli decision-makers would need to be wary of releasing too-great a level of any specific strategic information. Also worrisome, of course, is that the American president could be perceived as authentically irrational,[32] thereby prodding “anticipatory preemptions”[33] against the US directly, or (depending upon particulars) certain close U.S. allies.  Israel represents a prospectively obvious case in point.[34]

None of this is meant to suggest that an Israeli movement away from deliberate nuclear ambiguity would be prospectively helpful only on matters involving specifically nuclear threats. Plausibly, of course, the credibility and cost-effectiveness of any Israeli nuclear retaliatory threat would be greatest where the expected aggression were similarly nuclear. Still, there are recognizable circumstances in which a determined enemy or coalition of enemies might contemplate launching “only” a devastating conventional first-strike against Israel, and conclude that such an offensive move would be sensible because it would not expectedly elicit an Israeli nuclear retaliation.

In such altogether conceivable circumstances,[35] the enemy state or coalition of enemy states would have concluded that any non-nuclear first strike against a nuclear Israel, however massive, would be perfectly rational. This is because the Jewish State’s anticipated retaliation would presumably stop short of being nuclear.

If, however, the expected aggressor(s) had previously been made aware that Israel was in possession of a wide-array of capable and secure nuclear retaliatory forces, both ion terms of their range and yield, these enemies would more likely be successfully deterred. Here, as a distinctly welcome consequence of various incremental and previously nuanced disclosures, Jerusalem will have signaled its pertinent adversaries that it can and will cross the nuclear retaliatory threshold in order to punish any potentially existential national harms.

In more narrowly military parlance, Israel’s actions here would be designed to better ensure “escalation dominance.” In this scenario, moreover, the relevant nuclear deterrence advantages to Israel of taking certain movements away from “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” would lie in the uniquely compelling signal that it sends. This “signal” is that Israel will not necessarily need to retaliate with massive and conspicuously disproportionate nuclear force.

It will have available certain other more readily believable retaliatory options.

Such tangible advantages could also extend beyond the enhancement of credible threats of Israeli nuclear retaliation to supporting credible threats of Israeli nuclear counter-retaliation. If, for example, Israel should initiate a non-nuclear defensive first-strike against Iran before that state becomes nuclear capable (not an “aggression,”[36]  but an act of “anticipatory self-defense” under international law[37]), the likelihood of any massive Iranian conventional retaliation could best be diminished if there were certain more openly disclosed and prior Israeli threats of aptly measured nuclear counter retaliations. In essence, and in illuminating historical terms, by following an incremental path away from “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” Israel would less likely replicate America’s much earlier nuclear posture vis-à-vis the then Soviet Union, that is a posture of threatening “massive retaliation.”[38]

 In the final analysis, there are various specific and valuable critical security benefits that would likely accrue to Israel as the result of any purposefully selective and incremental end to deliberate nuclear ambiguity. The optimal time to begin such an “end” may not yet have come. But at the moment that Iran or any other obvious foe would have verifiably crossed the nuclear threshold, that critical time will have arrived.  Moreover, should that critical moment come, Israel should already have configured (1) its optimal allocation of nuclear assets; and (2) the precise extent to which this particular configuration should now be disclosed.

 Significantly, such preparation could meaningfully enhance the credibility of Israel’s nuclear deterrence posture.

A fully-recognizablesecond-strike nuclear force should then be revealed. Of necessity, such a robust strategic force – hardened, multiplied, and dispersed – would be fashioned to inflict a decisive retaliatory blow against major enemy cities. Iran or another prospective nuclear adversary, so long as it is led by presumptively rational decision-makers, should be made to understand that the actual costs of any planned aggressions against Israel would always exceed any conceivable gains.

To more comprehensively protect itself against potentially irrational nuclear adversaries, Israel still has no logical alternative to developing an always- problematic conventional preemptionoption.[39] Operationally, especially at this very late date, there could be no reasonable assurances of any success against multiple hardened and dispersed targets. Regarding deterrence, however, it is also noteworthy that “irrational” is not nearly the same as “crazy” or “mad.”[40] An irrational enemy leadership could successfully maintain national preference orderings or hierarchies that are both consistent and transitive.

Even an irrational leadership could sometime be subject to threats of deterrence that credibly threaten certain deeply held religious as well as public values. The principal difficulty, for Israel, is to routinely ascertain the precise nature of these core enemy values. Should it sometime be determined that an Iranian leadership were genuinely “crazy” or “mad,” that is, without any decipherable or predictable ordering of preferences, all usual deterrence “bets” could necessarily give way to preemption.     

By definition, such vital determinations would be strategic, rather than jurisprudential. From the discrete standpoint of international law, and perhaps in view of Iran’s occasionally genocidal threats against Israel, a preemption option could still represent a fully permissible expression of anticipatory self-defense.[41] Again, this purely legal judgment would be separate from any parallel or coincident assessments of operational success. For now, at least, these assessments all point overwhelmingly to the avoidance of any still-residual preemption option.[42]

Whether or not a prompt or incremental shift from deliberate nuclear ambiguity to express nuclear disclosure is indicated will depend upon several very complex and interdependent factors. These factors include the specific types of nuclear weapon involved; the presumed reciprocal calculations of designated enemy leaders (state and sub-state); the expected effects on rational decision-making processes by these enemy leaders; and the expected effects on both Israeli and adversarial command/control;/communication processes. Correspondingly, if bringing Israel’s bomb out of the “basement” were ever expected to produce selected enemy pre-delegations of nuclear launch authority and/or new and seemingly less stable launch-on-warning procedures, the likelihood of certain unauthorized or accidental nuclear wars could be increased.

In many ways, growing instability in the Middle East is the plausible outcome of  US President Donald Trump’s disjointed foreign policies.[43] Such instability, in turn, could heighten the potential for assorted expansive and prospectively unconventional wars. Israel, it follows, must continue to prepare capably to upgrade its strategic posture, especially its national military nuclear strategy and its corollary longstanding policy of deliberate nuclear ambiguity.

 Otherwise, recalling the Irish poet W.B. Yeats, Israel and America could sometime have to bear witness to abundantly measureless lamentations; that is, to the irremediably grievous observation that because of once-avoidable US White House derelictions, “…. the center cannot hold.”


[1] See, for example, latest INSS Strategic Survey (Israel): https://www.inss.org.il/publication/conclusion-strategic-assessment-policy-recommendations/

[2] “Whenever the new Muses present themselves,” says Spanish existentialist philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, “the masses bristle.” See Ortega’s The Dehumanization of Art (1925) (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1948), p. 7.

[3] A 2016 monograph published in Israel examines Israel-American strategic relations from the opposite direction; that is, it considers the impact of Israel’s nuclear strategy on US national security. See Louis René Beres and General (USA/ret.) Barry R. McCaffrey, Israel’s Nuclear Strategy and America’s National Security, Tel-Aviv University, Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, December 2016:  https://sectech.tau.ac.il/sites/sectech.tau.ac.il/files/PalmBeachBook.pdf 

[4] In all such scholarly examinations of any nation-state’s security policy, operational issues must be carefully distinguished from jurisprudential ones. Accordingly, Trump US foreign policy decisions could prove harmful to certain Israeli military operations, but helpful to that country’s legal position in one setting or another, or vice-versa.

[5] Earlier, North Korea had assisted Syria in constructing a nuclear reactor, the same facility that was destroyed by Israel in it Operation Orchard on September 6, 2007. Although operationally unlike Israel’s earlier (June 7, 1981) Operation Opera, this second preemptive attack in the Deir ez-Zor region of Syria was also an expression of the so-called “Begin Doctrine.”

[6] Even in the midst of an historic or “Westphalian” anarchy in international relations, there obtains a dominant jurisprudential assumption of solidarity between states. This fundamental expectation is already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 C.E.); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli Ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey, tr., Clarendon Press, 1925) (1690); and Emmerich De Vattel, 1 Le Droit des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

[7] Under international law, the idea of a Higher Law – drawn originally from the ancient Greeks and ancient Hebrews – is contained, inter alia, within the principle of jus cogens or peremptory norms. In the language of pertinent Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969: “A peremptory norm of general international law….is a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole, as a norm from which no derogation is permitted, and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.” Also worth pointing out here is that international law is always an integral part of US law, an incorporation that can be found both in the US Constitution (especially at Article 6, “The Supremacy Clause”) and at various US Supreme Court decisions, most famously at The Pacquete Habana (1900).

[8] Still, the US force withdrawal from Syria will plausibly exacerbate risks of a direct Israel-Russia confrontation. See, on this scenario:  https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Avoiding-an-Israeli-Russian-conflict-in-Syria-after-US-withdrawal-577015  More generally, this withdrawal will enhance Russian power and influence in the Middle East, a deleterious consequence for Israel that may or may not accurately reflect Trump’s intentions. Though it would first appear prima facie absurd that an American president would actually seek to expand rather than curtail Russian military power, such an expectation would be fully consistent with several other unexpected policy positions taken by Trump vis-à-vis Vladimir Putin.

[9] See Louis René Beres, “Nuclear Treaty Abrogation Imperils Global Security,” Yale Global Online November 1, 2018   https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/nuclear-treaty-abrogation-imperils-global-security

[10] Risks threatening Israel’s security may form an intricately interconnected network. Purposeful assessments of such risk must always include a patient search for possible synergies and for potential cascades of failures that would represent an especially serious iteration of synergy. Other risk properties within this genre that will warrant careful assessment include contagion potential and persistence.

[11] The worst case scenario here brings to mind utterly core queries of the ancient Greek tragedian: “Where will it end? When will it all be lulled back into sleep, and cease, the bloody hatred, the destruction?” (1 The Complete Aeschylus: The Oresteia 146, Peter Burian and Alan Shapiro, eds., 2nd ed., 2011).

[12] Regarding earlier strategic assessments of prospective nuclear threats from Iran, see Louis René Beres and John T. Chain (General/USAF/ret.), “Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran”? The Atlantic, August, 2012; and also: Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012. General Chain was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[13] In large measure, the law of armed conflict is concerned with the principle of proportionality, which has its jurisprudential and philosophic origins in the Biblical Lex Talionis, or the law of exact retaliation. Specifically, the “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” posture can be found in three separate passages of the Jewish Torah or Biblical Pentateuch.

[14] These Principles – like the Nuremberg trial judgment itself – are based fundamentally upon natural law. In turn, the very idea of natural law is based upon the acceptance of certain principles of right and justice that prevail solely because of their own intrinsic merit.  Eternal and immutable, they are external to all acts of human will and interpenetrate all human reason.  This idea and its attendant tradition of human civility runs continuously from Mosaic Law and the ancient Greeks and Romans to the present day.  For a comprehensive and far-reaching assessment of the natural law origins of international law by this writer, see Louis René Beres, “Justice and Realpolitik:  International Law and the Prevention of Genocide,” The American Journal of Jurisprudence, Vol. 33, 1988, pp. 123-159.  (This article was adapted from Professor Beres’ earlier presentation at the International Conference on the Holocaust and Genocide, Tel-Aviv, Israel, June 1982.)

[15] For Israel, Mr. Trump’s disjointed plan to pull US forces from Syria can only be disadvantageous. See, earlier, https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Avoiding-an-Israeli-Russian-conflict-in-Syria-after-US-withdrawal-577015

[16] Hypothesizing the emergence of “Cold War II” means expecting that the world system is becoming increasingly bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of just such an expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[17] See this writer’s latest book, Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed., 2018).

[18] In regard to the core underlying issue –  Israel’s right to develop and deploy nuclear weapons – the following point is worth emphasizing: No state is under any per se legal obligation to renounce its own access to nuclear weapons; under certain markedly residual circumstances, moreover, even an actual resort to such weapons could conceivably be lawful. On July 8, 1996, the International Court of Justice handed down its Advisory Opinion on “The Legality of the threat or Use of Force of Nuclear Weapons.” The closing paragraph of this Opinion concludes, inter alia: “The threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law. However, in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.”

[19] On these core points, see: Israel’s Strategic Future: Project Daniel, The Project Daniel Group (Louis René Beres, Chair), Ariel Center for Policy Research, ACPR Policy Paper No. 155, Israel, May, 2004. This special report was delivered by hand to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on January 16, 2003 by Ambassador Zalman Shoval. The Group’s six members were: Professor Louis René Beres (Chair); Naaman Belkind, former Assistant to the Israeli Deputy Minister of Defense for Special Means; Major-General /Professor Isaac Ben-Israel (IDF/ret.); Dr. Rand Fishbein; Dr. Adir Pridor, Lt. Colonel (ret.), Israel Air Force, and Head of Military Analyses, RAFAEL, Israel; and Colonel (ret.), Israel Air Force and Member of Knesset, Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto.

[20] The agreements that put an end to the first Arab-Israeli War (1947-1949) were general armistice agreements negotiated bilaterally between Israel and Egypt on February 24, 1949 (42 U.N.T.S. 251-70, 1949); Israel and Lebanon on March 23, 1949 (42 U.N.T.S. 287-98. 1949); Israel and Jordan on April 3, 1949 (42 U.N.T.S. 303-20, 1949); and between Israel and Syria on July 20, 1949 (42 U.N.T.S. 327-40, 1949). 

[21] Regarding the antecedent legal obligations of certain sub-state or insurgent surrogates, Israel must remain wary about signing pacts resembling the Oslo Agreements, inter alia, because such agreements can impose unequal obligations. In this connection, several U.S. federal court decisions affirm that legal agreements between sub-state and state parties may even impose asymmetrical compliance expectations. More precisely, in the case of Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, a 1981 civil suit in U.S. federal court wherein the plaintiffs were Israeli survivors and representatives of persons murdered in a terrorist bus attack in Israel in 1978, Circuit Judge Harry T. Edwards opined: “…I do not believe the law of nations imposes the same responsibility or liability on non-state actors, such as the PLO, as it does on states and persons acting under color of state law.”

[22] There are two recorded incidents in which an explicit reference was made to Israel’s “bomb” by a prime minister, but neither of these events went beyond a purely vague and general commentary. On December 22, 1995, then Prime Minister Shimon Peres had declared to the Israeli press that Israel would be willing “to give up the atom” in exchange for peace. Years later, on December 11, 2006, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert uttered a very similar remark.

[23] The base term, “dialectic,” originates from the Greek expression for the art of conversation. A common contemporary meaning is method of seeking truth by correct reasoning. From the standpoint of shaping Israel’s nuclear strategy, the following representative operations could be regarded as essential but nonexclusive components: (1)a method of refutation conducted by examining logical consequences; (2) a method of division or repeated logical analysis of genera into species; (3) logical reasoning using premises that are probable or generally accepted; (4) formal logic; and (5) the logical development of thought through thesis and antithesis to fruitful synthesis of these opposites.

[24] Some Israeli supporters of a Palestinian state argue that its prospective harms to Israel could be reduced or even eliminated by ensuring that new state’s immediate “demilitarization.” But for informed reasoning contra this argument, see: Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why a Demilitarized Palestinian State Would Not Remain Demilitarized: A View Under International Law,” Temple International and Comparative Law Journal, Winter 1998, pp. 347-363; and Louis René Beres and Ambassador Shoval, “On Demilitarizing a Palestinian `Entity’ and the Golan Heights: An International Law Perspective,” Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vo. 28., No.5., November 1995, pp. 959-972.

[25] For much earlier writings by this author concerning the prospective impact of a Palestinian state on Israeli nuclear deterrence and Israeli nuclear strategy, see: Louis René Beres, “Security Threats and Effective Remedies: Israel’s Strategic, Tactical and Legal Options,” Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel), ACPR Policy Paper No. 102, April 2000, 110 pp; Louis René Beres, “After the `Peace Process:’ Israel, Palestine, and Regional Nuclear War,” DICKINSON JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, Vol. 15, No. 2., Winter 1997, pp. 301-335; Louis René Beres, “Limits of Nuclear Deterrence: The Strategic Risks and Dangers to Israel of False Hope,” ARMED FORCES AND SOCIETY, Vol. 23., No. 4., Summer 1997, pp. 539-568; Louis René Beres, “Getting Beyond Nuclear Deterrence: Israel, Intelligence and False Hope,” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE AND COUNTERINTELLIGENCE, Vol. 10., No. 1., Spring 1997, pp. 75-90; Louis René Beres, “On Living in a Bad Neighborhood: The Informed Argument for Israeli Nuclear Weapons,” POLITICAL CROSSROADS, Vol. 5., Nos. 1/2, 1997, pp. 143-157; Louis René Beres, “Facing the Apocalypse: Israel and the `Peace Process,'” BTZEDEK: THE JOURNAL OF RESPONSIBLE JEWISH COMMENTARY (Israel), Vol. 1., No. 3., Fall/Winter 1997, pp. 32-35; Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why Golan Demilitarization Would Not Work,” STRATEGIC REVIEW, Vol. XXIV, No. 1., Winter 1996, pp. 75-76; Louis René Beres, “Implications of a Palestinian State for Israeli Security and Nuclear War: A Jurisprudential Assessment,” DICKINSON JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, Vol. 17., No. 2., 1999, pp. 229-286; Louis René Beres, “A Palestinian State and Israel’s Nuclear Strategy,” CROSSROADS: AN INTERNATIONAL SOCIO-POLITICAL JOURNAL, No. 31, 1991, pp. 97-104; Louis René Beres, “The Question of Palestine and Israel’s Nuclear Strategy,” THE POLITICAL QUARTERLY, Vol. 62, No. 4., October-December 1991, pp. 451-460; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Palestine and Regional Nuclear War,” BULLETIN OF PEACE PROPOSALS, Vol. 22., No. 2., June 1991, pp. 227-234; Louis René Beres, “A Palestinian State: Implications for Israel’s Security and the Possibility of Nuclear War,” BULLETIN OF THE JERUSALEM INSTITUTE FOR WESTERN DEFENCE  (Israel), Vol. 4., Bulletin No, 3., October 1991, pp. 3-10; Louis René Beres, ISRAELI SECURITY AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS, PSIS Occasional Papers, No. 1/1990, Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, Switzerland, 40 pp; and Louis René Beres, “After the Gulf War: Israel, Palestine and the Risk of Nuclear War in the Middle East,” STRATEGIC REVIEW, Vol. XIX, No. 4., Fall 1991, pp. 48-55

[26] Even before the nuclear age, ancient Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu had recognized the importance of strategic depth. Although he did not use such a precisely modern term, Sun-Tzu did note expressly as follows: “If there is no place to go, it is fatal terrain.” See Sun-Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter 11, “Nine Terrains.”

[27] Pakistan has been tilting more recognizably toward small or tactical nuclear weapons, indicating a growing preference for “counterforce” or nuclear war fighting strategies of deterrence.  Since Pakistan announced its first test of the 60-kilometer Nasr ballistic missile back in 2011, that country’s emphasis upon smaller nuclear ordnance has been very conspicuously oriented toward the primary deterrence of conventional war.

[28] This also brings to mind the essential “seamlessness” of Israel’s nuclear deterrent. In this connection, see the recent joint article by Professor Beres and former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Zalman Shoval:  https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/

[29] “Everything is very simple in war,” says Clausewitz, in his classic discussion of “friction” in On War, “but the simplest thing is difficult.”

[30] See recent article by this author at Modern War Institute, West Point:  Louis Rene Beres, https://mwi.usma.edu/israel-samson-option-interconnected-world/

[31] Comments Emmerich de Vattel in his legal classic, The Law of Nations (1758): “The first general law, which is to be found in the very end of the society of nations, is that each nation should contribute as far as it can to the happiness and advancement of the other nations.”

[32] The Israeli nuclear strategist could benefit here from Basque philosopher Miguel de Unamuno’s instructive remark about the German philosopher Hegel: “Hegel made famous his aphorism that all the rational is real, and all the real is rational; but there are many of us who, unconvinced by Hegel, continue to believe that the real, the really real, is irrational – that reason builds upon irrationalities.”

[33] The term “preemption” has strategic but not legal meaning. Usually, it references a defensive military strategy that involves striking a presumed enemy first, with the more-or-less carefully calculated expectation that the only determinable alternative is to be struck first itself. A preemptive attack differs from a preventive attack in that the latter is launched merely out of an ongoing concern (whether correct or incorrect) to halt any longer term deterioration in a particular military balance, and not in response to any precise fear of imminent hostilities. As a preventive strike can never be per se permissible under international law, the distinction between preemptive and preventive war is always jurisprudentially important.

[34] Preemption has figured importantly in previous Israeli strategic calculations.  This was most glaringly apparent in the wars of 1956 and 1967, and also in the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.  Significantly, it was essentially the failure to preempt in October 1973 that contributed to heavy Israeli losses on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts during the Yom Kippur war, and almost brought about an Israeli defeat.  During January, May, and October 2013, Israel, understandably apprehensive about Damascus’ supply of military materials to Syria’s Hezbollah surrogates in Lebanon, preemptively struck pertinent hard targets within Syria itself. For a jurisprudential assessment of these undeclared but still-appropriate expressions of anticipatory self-defense, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, “Striking Hezbollah-Bound Weapons in Syria: Israel’s Actions Under International Law,” Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School, Online, posted August 26, 2013.

[35] Even in such potentially fearsome circumstances, authoritative law stipulates that Israel must first seek to exhaust all peaceful remedies. A similar jurisprudential imperative can be found in Jewish religious law.  “When thou comest near to a city to fight against it,” proclaims Deuteronomy 20:10, “then proclaim peace to it.”  Maimonides also calls for diplomatic solutions before hostilities begin to milhemet mitzvah (a war commanded by the Torah or Pentateuch): “No war is declared against any nation before peace offers are made to it.”  The biblical commentator Abrabanel (1437-1508) argues not to hurry to go to war.  For more complete examinations of war in the Jewish tradition, consult Efraim Inbar, “War in Jewish Tradition,” The Jerusalem Journal of International Relations, Vol. 9, No. 2, June 1987, pp. 83-99.

[36] On the crime of “aggression,” see especially: RESOLUTION ON THE DEFINITION OF AGGRESSION, Dec. 14, 1974, U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 U.N. GAOR, Supp. (No. 31) 142, U.N. Doc. A/9631, 1975, reprinted in 13 I.L.M. 710, 1974; and CHARTER OF THE UNITED NATIONS, Art. 51. Done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945, 59 Stat. 1031, T.S. No. 993, Bevans 1153, 1976, Y.B.U.N. 1043.

[37] For a potentially contra view, see: See Ian Brownlie, International Law and the Use of Force by States, 272-73 (1963) (asserting that the United Nations Charter modified the international custom of anticipatory self-defense and that self-defense is justified only in response to an actual armed attack); Wright, The Cuban Quarantine, 57 AM J. INT’L L. 546, 559-63 (1963) (interpreting Article 51 in conjunction with Article 33 to allow only a “peaceful means” of dispute resolution and a prohibition on the use of unilateral force until an actual armed conflict occurred); L. HENKIN, HOW NATIONS BEHAVE 141-44 (2d ed. 1979) (arguing that the Charter restricts the traditional right of self-defense to those situations where an armed attack has occurred); L. GOODRICH, E. HAMBRO,  A. SIMONS, CHARTER OF THE UNITED NATIONS:  COMMENTARY AND DOCUMENTS 178 (1946) (advocating a restrictive interpretation of Article 51 under which self-defense is only justified in response to an actual armed attack).

[38] Regarding “massive retaliation,” it was followed, in the United States, by the doctrine of “flexible response,” and ultimately evolved into doctrine known as a “countervailing nuclear strategy.”  Codified in Presidential Directive # 59, which was signed on July 25 1980, and later reaffirmed by President Ronald Reagan, this strategy represented the then latest retreat from the core doctrine authoritatively defined by John Foster Dulles on January 13, 1954.  To demonstrate continuing flexibility, the countervailing strategy envisioned a broad array of nuclear retaliatory choices operating within a carefully defined spectrum of deterrence.  See, in this connection, by this author: Louis René Beres, “Presidential Directive 59: A Critical Assessment,” Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College, Vol. XI, No. 1., March 1981, pp. 19-28.

[39] The core point here had already been understood by Israeli strategist and IDF Military Intelligence Head, Yehoshafat Harkabi, back in the mid-1960s. Writing in Nuclear War and Nuclear Peace, Harkabi indicated: “It must be emphasized that the impulse to act first, the competition to preempt, is not a result of aggressive tendencies or bloodlust on either side. It is a defensive action inherent in the very instability of an unfortunate situation, in which survival depends upon opening fire first, or, in other words, upon initiating a surprise attack.” (See Y. Harkabi, Nuclear War and Nuclear Peace, translated from the Hebrew, Israel Program for Scientific Translations, 1966, p. 42).

[40] On madness, see Seneca, 1st Century AD/CE: “We are mad, not only individuals, but nations also. We restrain manslaughter and isolated murders, but what of war, and the so-called glory of killing whole peoples? Man, the gentlest of animals, is not ashamed to glory in blood-shedding, and to wage war when even the beasts are living in peace together.” (Letters, 95).

[41] For the very earliest scholarly commentary by this author on anticipatory self defense under international law, with special reference to Israel, see:  Louis René Beres and (COL./IDF/Res.) Yoash Tsiddon Chatto, “Reconsidering Israel’s Destruction of Iraq’s Osiraq Nuclear Reactor,” TEMPLE INTERNATIONAL AND COMPARATIVE LAW JOURNAL, Vol. 9., No. 2., 1995, pp. 437 – 449; Louis René Beres, “Preserving the Third Temple: Israel’s Right of Anticipatory Self-Defense Under International Law,”  VANDERBILT JOURNAL OF TRANSNATIONAL LAW, Vol. 26, No. 1.,  April 1993, pp. 111- 148;  Louis René Beres,  “After the Gulf War: Israel, Preemption and Anticipatory Self-Defense,”  HOUSTON JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW,  Vol. 13, No. 2.,  Spring 1991,  pp. 259 – 280;  Louis René Beres,  “Striking `First:’  Israel’s Post Gulf War Options Under International Law,”  LOYOLA OF LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL AND COMPARATIVE LAW JOURNAL,  Vol. 14,  Nov. 1991,  No. 1.,  pp. 1 – 24;  Louis René Beres,  “Israel and Anticipatory Self-Defense,”  ARIZONA JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL AND COMPARATIVE LAW,  Vol. 8, 1991,  pp. 89 – 99;  and Louis René Beres,  “After the SCUD Attacks:  Israel, `Palestine,’ and Anticipatory Self-Defense,”  EMORY INTERNATIONAL LAW REVIEW,  Vol. 6,  No. 1.,  Spring 1992,  pp. 71 – 104.  For an examination of assassination as a permissible form of anticipatory self-defense by Israel, see, Louis René Beres, “On Assassination as Anticipatory Self-Defense: The Case of Israel,” HOFSTRA LAW REVIEW, Vol. 20, No. 2., Winter 1991, pp.  321 – 340.  For more general assessments of assassination as anticipatory self-defense under international law by this author, see:  Louis René Beres, “The Permissibility of State-Sponsored Assassination During Peace and War,” TEMPLE INTERNATIONAL AND COMPARATIVE LAW JOURNAL, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1991, pp. 231 – 249;  and  Louis René Beres,  “Victims and Executioners:  Atrocity, Assassination and International Law,”  CAMBRIDGE REVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS,  Winter/Spring, 1993.

[42] A related question concerns legality in any ongoing war begun by another state. Here we may recall the opinion of Grotius in his COMMENTARY ON THE LAW OF PRIZE AND BOOTY:  “…it is obvious that a just war can be waged in return, without recourse to judicial procedure, against an opponent who has begun an unjust war; nor will any declaration of that just war be required….  For as Aelian says, citing Plato as his authority–any war undertaken for the necessary repulsion of injury, is proclaimed not by a crier nor by a herald, but by the voice of Nature herself.”  See H. Grotius, DE IURE PRAEDAE COMMENTARIUS, ed., by James Brown Scott, a translation of the original manuscript of 1604 by Gladys L. Williams, with the collaboration of Walter H. Zeydel, New York: Oceana Publications, Inc., 1964, p. 96.

[43] In this regard, one ought to bear in mind the still-relevant warning of Sigmund Freud: “Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind, and not merely when the accident of birth had bequeathed them sovereignty. Usually, they have wreaked havoc.”

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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The Battle for the Soul of Islam: Will the real reformer of the faith stand up?

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Saudi and Emirati efforts to define ‘moderate’ Islam as socially more liberal while being subservient to an autocratic ruler is as much an endeavour to ensure regime survival and bolster aspirations to lead the Muslim world as it is an attempt to fend off challenges rooted in diverse strands of religious ultra-conservatism.

The Saudi and Emirati efforts to garner religious soft power have much in common even though the kingdom and the United Arab Emirates build their respective campaigns on historically different forms of Islam. The two Gulf states are, moreover, rivals in the battle for the soul of Islam, a struggle to define what strand or strands will dominate the faith in the 21st century.

The battle takes on added significance at a time that Middle Eastern rivals are attempting to dial down regional tensions by managing their disputes and conflicts rather than resolving them. The efforts put a greater emphasis on soft power rivalry rather than hard power confrontation often involving proxies.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE propagate a ‘moderate’ Islam on the back of significant social reforms in recent years that preaches absolute obedience to the ruler and relegates the clergy to the status of the ruler’s clerics.

The reforms include Saudi Arabia’s lifting of a ban on women’s driving, enhancing of women’s professional and personal opportunities, curbing the powers of the religious police and introducing Western-style entertainment.

The UAE last November allowed unmarried couples to cohabitate, loosened alcohol restrictions and criminalised “honour killings,” a widely criticised religiously packaged tribal custom that allows a male relative to kill a woman accused of dishonouring her family.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE compete in the Muslim world with Turkish and Iranian Islamist strands of the faith that are laced with nationalism.

The Gulf states’ state-led moderation of religious practices rather than of theology and Muslim jurisprudence is also challenged by some strands of Wahhabism, the ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam on the basis of which Saudi Arabia was founded.

“Wahhabism has refracted into three broad groups since the early 1990s: a left that has developed a discourse of civic rights, a centre occupying official posts of state (dubbed ‘ulama al-sultan’ or the ruler’s clerics) that has put up some resistance to the loosening of their powers in the social, juridical and media spheres, and a Wahhabi right sympathetic to the jihadist discourse of al-Qaeda and its focus on questions of foreign policy,” said scholar Andrew Hammond.

While Turkey and Iran pose a geopolitical danger, autocratic monarchical rule is more fundamentally threatened by the religious challenge posed by what Mr. Hammond dubs the Wahhabi left and the Wahhabi right as well as Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the only non-state player in the battle for the soul of Islam, that advocates and practices reform of Islamic jurisprudence and unconditionally endorses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The arrests in recent years of Saudi scholars and preachers such as Safar al-HawaliSalman al-Awda, Sulayman al-Duwaish, Ibrahim al-Sakran, and Hasan al-Maliki suggests as much.

Implicitly drawing a distinction with Nahdlatul Ulama, Mr. Hammond argues that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reforms amount to “defanging Wahhabism not dethroning it.”

The crown prince, since coming to office, has radically cut back on the investment of tens of billions of dollars in the propagation of religious ultra-conservatism across the globe, most effectively in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has also sought to balance Wahhabism with Saudi ultra-nationalism and shave off the rough social edges of the kingdom’s austere interpretation of the faith. His subjugation of the clergy, and incarceration of adherents of the Wahhabi left and far-right, put an end to a 73-year long power-sharing agreement between the ruling Al-Saud family and the clergy.

The left has entertained concepts of a constitutional rather than an absolute monarchy, called for political liberalisation and civil rights and in some cases endorsed the 2011 popular Arab revolts that toppled four Arab autocrats.

The Wahhabi left could be joined in challenging the conservative Gulf monarchies and, simultaneously, be challenged by Nahdlatul Ulama once the group expands its activities to target the Muslim world’s grassroots beyond Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country as well as its foremost democracy. In its first outreach to grassroots elsewhere, Nahdlatul Ulama is expected to launch an Arabic-language website before the end of the year that would target the Arab world.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s concept of a humanitarian Islam that embraces principles of tolerance, pluralism, gender equality, secularism and human rights as defined in the Universal Declaration goes considerably further than proposals put forward by Mr. Hammond’s Wahhabi left, perhaps better described as more liberal rather than an ideological left-wing of a fundamentally ultra-conservative movement.

The Indonesian group’s concept of Islam also contrasts starkly with the Saudi and Emirati notion of autocratic religious moderation that involves no theological or jurisprudential reform but uses ‘the ruler’s clergy’ to religiously legitimise repressive rule under which protests, political parties and petitioning of the government are banned and thought is policed.

“The state has strengthened the Wahhabi centre through neutralising the Wahhabi left and right, which have each represented a threat to state authority and legitimacy … As for the civic rights innovations of the Wahhabi left exemplified by al-Awda, it is precisely this discourse that the state wants to shut down,” Mr. Hammond said, referring to the imprisoned cleric.

The track record of proponents of autocratic religious moderation is checkered at best. While the UAE has created a society that is by and large religiously tolerant, neither Saudi Arabia nor Egypt, which doesn’t have the wherewithal to fight a soft power battle in the Muslim world but seeks to project itself as a champion of religious tolerance, can make a similar claim.

Prince Mohammed has met Jewish and Evangelical leaders. Mohammed al-Issa, the head of the Muslim World League, long a major vehicle to promote Saudi religious ultra-conservatism, doesn’t miss an opportunity these days to express his solidarity with other faith groups. Yet, non-Muslims remain barred in the kingdom from worshipping publicly or building their own houses of worship.

In Egypt, Patrick George Zaki, a 27-year-old student, lingers in prison since February 2020 on charges of spreading false news and rumours for publishing an article documenting incidents of discrimination against Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority.

Mr. Zaki was arrested a year after Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Egypt’s citadel of Islamic learning, signed a Declaration of Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together with Pope Francis during the two men’s visit to the UAE. The declaration advocates religious freedom and pluralism.

By contrast, Nahdlatul Ulama secretary general Yahya Staquf recently told the story of Riyanto in a September 11 speech at Regent University, a bulwark of American Evangelical anti-Muslim sentiment founded by televangelist Pat Robertson. A member of Nahdlatul Ulama’s militia, Riyanto died guarding a church in Java on Christmas Eve when a bomb exploded in his arms as he removed it from a pew.

“To us in Nahdlatul Ulama, Riyanto is a martyr, and we honour his memory every Christmas Eve alongside millions of our Indonesian Christian brothers and sisters,” Mr. Staquf said.

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From ‘Decisive Storm’ to Secret Talks: The Journey of Saudi Conquest of Yemen

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In the last days of the spring of 2015, Saudi generals were sitting around a V-shaped table in front of a newly appointed defense minister, dwelling on the answer to the rise of Houthi rebels in Yemen which had critically threatened the security of the southern border. For decades, Saudi Arabia has been known for its wise and cagey foreign policy, often following the lead of Washington, in any regional or global military conflict but this time was different.

When the 29-year-old defense minister, Muhammad bin Salman, ordered, “Send in the F-15s,” it shocked all of them. Despite having spent only eight months heading the armies of the kingdom, he was about to shape an aggressive or rather reckless foreign policy of one of the most resourceful and conservative countries in the world.

The Unresolved Conflict

After six years of war in Yemen, 233,000 lives have been ravaged of which more than 3,000 were children, 3.3 million have been displaced from their homes, 24 million Yemenis are in dire need of humanitarian support, while 16.2 million Yemenis are on the verge of food insecurity. Now, Saudi Arabia is finally looking for a way out.

“We want the guns to fall completely silent,” remarked Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi foreign minister, in March, laying out the Yemen Peace Initiative. The Houthis rejected the plan as it imparted “nothing new” according to them. “We expected that Saudi Arabia would announce an end to the blockade,” stated the Houthis’ chief negotiator, Mohammad Abdulsalam, to Reuters.

Riyadh had severed diplomatic ties with Tehran in January 2016 after the Saudi embassy was stormed by the protestors angry at the execution of Sheikh Nimr, a top Shia cleric from Saudi Arabia’s eastern province—a region known for being marginalized on the sectarian basis.

Saudi Arabia and Iran held the first official talks, brokered by the Iraqi government, in Baghdad on 9th April. The Baghdad talks canvassed the Yemen conflict as well as the political and economical instability of Lebanon to evaluate whether both countries can reach a common understanding of the situation.

The Zaidiyyah Imamate

Coming to the Yemen conflict, the rugged Yemeni mountains known for their finest coffee growing regions have a thousand-year-long history of the rule of Zaidiyyah imamate carved on them.

The Zaydism Shia sect is rooted in the unsuccessful rebellion of Zayd bin Ali, the grandson of Husayn bin Ali – the direct descendent of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – against the Umayyad Caliphate in 740AD. Zaidiyyah’s theology differs from Iran’s Twelver Shiism and Ismaili branches in being far more tolerant towards early Islamic caliphs and in set qualifications for an imam to be a ruler.

The Creation of the Yemen Arab Republic

The imamate resisted the Romans and Ottomans to some extent for centuries but a revolution was brewing and the imams provided the catalyst themselves. Amid 1930’s modernism, Yemeni Imam Yahya Hamid al-Din stepped up from his conservative policy of not allowing foreign travel and authorized around forty boys to study abroad. He envisioned them as his “Famous Forty”—leaders of politics, military, and administration.

Until 1959, several hundred boys had gone through advanced studies from Iraq, Egypt, and Europe but they had envisioned something else. They laid the foundation of a progressive republican movement marked with several attempted coups and the assassination of Imam Yahya (1948) till 1962 when the last imam, al-Badr, was deposed by the revolutionary movement. This led to the emergence of the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) with Abdullah Sallal as its leader and after that, Yemen was never the same.

Tracing the Root of the Saudi-Yemen Conflict

Al Saud had troubling relations with the imamate since Saudi Arabia had emerged as a kingdom in 1932. “Who is this Bedouin coming to challenge my family’s 900-year rule?” stated Imam Yahya once, which erupted the 1934 war between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and ended up in the Treaty of Taif. The treaty demarcated the border and granted Jizan, Asir, and Najran to Saudi Arabia after the kingdom’s victory.

The Saudis then cultivated alliances within the bordering Yemeni tribes to erect a makeshift buffer zone during the 1960s civil war in Zaydi Imamate. Al Saud sided with Yemeni loyalists when the republican government tossed away the Treaty of Taif in 1962 and Egypt lined up 70,000 troops to assist the republic against Imam Badr’s guerrilla opposition.

Throughout the 70s and 80s, North and South Yemen struggled for coexistence and peace with continuous border clashes, including a bloody civil war in the South, which John Kifner aptly referred to as MassacrewithTea, that cost thousands of souls. Eventually, after 20 years of political and military turmoil, South Yemen’s Ali Salim al-Baidh joined with the North’s Ali Abdullah Saleh to sign the unification agreement of the two states on November 30, 1989.

Yet, while Ali Abdullah Salih was being declared as the president of a unified Yemen and the country was facing an economic collapse, something worse was brewing in the heights of northern Yemen.

The Houthis and the Saudi Construct

Feeling his unique sect threatened by the Saudi-funded proselytization through Salafist preachers, Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houthi, a Zaydi scholar from Maran range established a seemingly political and revivalist movement, Ansar Allah (Supporters of God)to preserve the Zaidiyyah sect, followed by 40% of the Yemeni population, which turned into an aggressive armed insurgency in no time.

The point is that the current regional discord has centuries-old bad blood embedded in its roots. The Houthi movement, their substantial public support, and their military successes must be deconstructed from the local perspective, along with the regional one, to reach a better understanding of the conflict.

The Saudi-led coalition has been portraying Houthis just as an Iranian proxy, which is far from reality. In their annual policy paper, the Middle East Institute of Washington D.C stated that the current civil war of Yemen is entrenched in widespread public resentment over political marginalization, a paralyzed economy, and a corrupt and failed state.

Where Saudi Arabia’s policy of sectarian expansionism across the borderlands made the descendants of Zaidiyah Imamate, ousted from a centuries-long rule, feel more vulnerable, discrimination for Shia sects by Abdullah Saleh’s regime and corrupt practices tossed Yemen into a cycle of political upheaval and violence—all of which had nothing to with Iran.

The Houthis took arms against the Yemeni government six times from 2004-2010, a chapter remembered as the Saada Wars, long before Tehran came into the picture.

Civil War in Yemen

In the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring, the Houthi leader, Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, called countrywide demonstrations to end Saleh’s 33-year rule but after Saleh resigned and declared his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, the head of state in exchange of immunity, hopes rose for peace. However, Hadi, shockingly, stepped down in January 2015 and fled the country after the National Dialogue Conference failed to agree on the division of Yemen in the UN-backed transitional process and the Houthis stormed the Presidential Palace.

After the Houthis took over Sanaa in February 2015, Jamal Benomar, the UN special envoy for Yemen, went straight to Riyadh, which highlights Saudis’ concerns over the matter. On March 26, 2015, the Saudi-led coalition launched Operation Decisive Storm, with Saudi jets targeting the military compounds around the capital overnight.

The tactical inabilities of the coalition air force manifested to reality when three days later, Saudi warplanes accidentally bombed a refugee camp killing at least 40 and injuring 200. It was the beginning of one of the most horrible bombing campaigns, a disaster from a civilian and military perspective.

As civilian casualties mounted, the United States, concerned by the human cost of the conflict, urged Saudi Arabia to reach a negotiating position as soon as possible. Riyadh ended Operation Decisive Storm on 21 April, claiming the achievements, and rolled out Operation Renewal of Hope. But the truth was, the Saudis failed to deliver a considerable blow to the Houthis’ hold of the capital.

In May and June, the first reports came of mortar and Scud missile attacks by Houthis across the Saudi border. The Houthis proved tenacious and provoked Riyadh for a ground invasion, which worked out disastrously for the Saudi-led coalition. Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Sudan, and others had deployed hundreds of ground troops by the end of the year.

Although they spawned some temporary gains in forcing the Houthis out of key southern provinces, like the vital Aden seaport in July, Zinjibar, and Al-And Airbase in August, the Houthis also inflicted heavy casualties to the coalition. In just one Houthi missile attack on a weapon depot in Marib in September 2015, 45 Emirati and Five Bahraini troops were killed.

The Kuwait Talks: A Failed Attempt at Resolving the Conflict

After a year into the war with no end in sight, reports came in March 2016 of the first Houthi delegation’s visit to Saudi Arabia, led by Mohammed Abdel-Salam, the Houthis’ senior advisor and spokesperson.

Two weeks later, the UN envoy for Yemen, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed, stated that talks will circumvent the withdrawal and disarmament of militias and inclusive political dialogue. Kuwait’s emir and legendary peacemaker, late Sheikh Sabah, mediated talks between the delegations of the Houthis, Abdullah Saleh, and ousted president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who had returned to coalition controlled Aden in September 2015. Riyadh kept its distance from the Kuwait talks held in April  2016.

“Saudi Arabia seeks through the Kuwait talks to exonerate itself from its aggression against Yemen and to portray said aggression as a civil Yemeni war,” accused Yahya Saleh, a former general and Saleh’s nephew, after the Kuwait talks struck a stalemate over Houthis demanding a new consensual transitional regime while Hadi’s delegation insisted on a return to the current government, an out and out surrender for Houthis.

The peace talks were formally suspended in August 2016 when Houthis announced a new ten-member governing body to replace the interim Supreme Revolutionary Council, which had run the country since February 2015. The unilateral move was immediately denounced by Saudi Arabia and the United Nations. “Houthis, as well as their supporters, are making the search for a peaceful solution more difficult,” declared the statement issued by the group of G18 ambassadors of nations that backed the UN peace talks while tens of thousands of Houthi supporters rallied through Saana to show their support for the Houthis.

In all of this, a frangible ceasefire was held throughout the year with occasional skirmishes. In October 2016, a coalition double airstrike cremated a crowded funeral hall, killing around 140 mourners, adding to the domestic and international pressure on the US to review the billion dollars arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition.

Previously, The Guardian had concluded that each one in three Saudi strikes hit civilian targets but the coalition kept sweeping all of this under the rug. The Houthis also left no stone unturned to kill any hopes of negotiations when in March 2017, a Pro-Houthi court sentenced President Hadi and six other top officials to death in absentia for high treason. This was followed by the Burkan missile attack on Mecca in July 2017, although the Houthis claimed that it was aimed at the King Fahad airbase.

The United States’ Endless Support of Saudi Arabia

In August 2017, the Middle East Eye reported an email leak between UAE’s ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, and a former high-level US diplomat, Martin Indyk, which revealed that the kingdom’s de-facto ruler, Muhammad bin Salman, wanted out of Yemen but Riyadh could not withdraw without ensuring the cross-border security.

On the other hand, in a striking development, the Houthi-Saleh split went real in December 2017 amid Saleh’s attempt to switch sides with the coalition and turned up in Houthis killing the former president of Yemen, who had been the sole ruler for more than three decades.

As 2018 unfolded, the international criticism for Saudi intervention and Washington’s role in the Yemeni chapter of war crimes plummeted. Houthis were no angels either as a UNHCR report published in Aug ‘18 noted coalition hitting civilian targets, it also documented blanket use of force on the civilian population in Houthi controlled areas.

“The group of experts is concerned by the alleged use by the Houthi­-Saleh forces of weapons with wide-area effect in a situation of urban warfare.” stated the report. It also stated that the Houthis were hitting women and children through shelling and snipers in their homes, fetching water at local wells, or traveling to seek medical attention.

On August 18, another coalition strike annihilated 40 boys, aged from six to eleven, in their school bus. As Bellingcat traced back the Mk-82 bomb, approved by the US Department of State, used in the attack to Lockheed Martin, it added to the criticism of the US’s unconditional support to the Saudi regime.

In June 2018, the Yemeni National Army backed by a Saudi-led alliance had launched an offensive to recapture the northwestern port city of Hodeidah, a significant economic hub and fourth-largest city. After six months of intense fighting, both parties agreed to a truce, total withdrawal from Hodeidah, and a “mutual understanding” in Taiz.

Blaming Iran

In January 2019, the Council of Foreign Relations and the Italian Institute of International Political Studies had listed Yemen in the Top Conflict Watch of the year. As Houthis scaled up their military capabilities, shooting down US MQ-9 reaper drone with Iranian assistance—according to CENTCOM—reports came of UAE pulling out from Aden, amid intensified tensions between the US and Iran in the Persian Gulf.

On September 14, 2019, at 3:31 to 3:42 am in morning, the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry and the world’s largest oil processing facilities, Abqaiq and Khurais Oil fields in eastern Saudi Arabia, were attacked by Houthi drones, shutting down half of the kingdom’s crude output.

Despite the Houthis’ taking credit for the attack and the UN’s claims regarding the Houthis acquiring long-range drones (1200-1500km) capable of hitting Riyadh, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, the United States and Saudi Arabia asserted that the attack hadn’t stemmed from Yemen. Instead, Iran was directly behind the “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” tweeted the US Secretary of State at that time, Mike Pompeo.

Tehran immediately refuted all such accusations. Despite this continuous rhetoric, US President Donald Trump’s statements had hinted that Washington would avoid any additional escalation with Iran which would have doomed global energy supplies further down the hill while markets hadn’t recovered from the previous attacks on Saudi facilities.

The Saudi-Emirati Rivalry in Yemen

On the other hand in a dramatic twist, the civil war turned multi-layered when the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) separatists seized Aden’s control from coalition-supported government forces. Few days after a joint statement was released from both Saudi and Emirati foreign ministers urging for peace talks between the Yemeni government and southern separatists, the UAE struck Hadi’s forces to aid southern separatists, killing 30 Yemeni troops as per Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

In November 2019, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia successfully struck the Riyadh agreement, between the southern separatists and the Yemeni government, which entailed power-sharing in cabinet and the military withdrawal of all forces from Aden, Abyan, and Shabwah. The landmark deal granted the absolute authority of southern Yemen to Saudi Arabia. Later in the same month, Reuters reported indirect talks in Oman between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis.

In January 2020, the Houthis claimed to seize 1,500 square miles of territory in Al-Jawf and the Marib governorate, and in March, they successfully captured the strategic city of Al Hazm. “Control of the capital of Al-Jawf could totally change the course of the war. The Houthis are changing the balance in their favor,” Majed al-Madhaji, executive director of Sanaa Centre, deciphered the situation to AFP. 

Bethan McKernan, The Guardian’s Middle East correspondent reported the same that Saudi-Emirati tussle had been dragging the conflict as Riyadh was already back channeling with Houthis through Oman while the UAE was pressing the attacks to keep the Saudi-backed Islah faction in check.

The One-sided Agreement

In April 2020, in light of the proposal sent by UN Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, the coalition announced a unilateral ceasefire amid the globally surging COVID-19 pandemic, although the coalition forces kept violating the ceasefire with at least 106 airstrikes in just a week.

The Houthis had already called it a “ploy”, demanding the lifting of air and naval blockade of Yemen which had been depriving the population of food and medicines. It seemed like the international pressure on the coalition, and the financial strain on Al Saud was dealing with, had not gone unnoticed by those controlling most of northern Yemen.

The Houthis had released their own proposal which Elana DeLozier from the Washington Institute narrated as a “wish list”, as it had thrown all the responsibility of ceasefire on the coalition with demands of demilitarization of borders and above all, war compensations and salaries in northern Yemen for a decade, but all were non-starters for Riyadh.

The Saudis kept extending the one-sided ceasefire but things only got worse. The STC separatists withdrew from the Riyadh agreement six months after signing, announcing the establishment of self-rule in southern Yemen. The Saudi-backed Yemeni government immediately denounced the declaration while the Houthis were claiming to “liberate” 95% of the Al-Jawf governorate; this left only the Marib province in the north under the control of Hadi’s forces.

The Houthis were keenly observing and seizing the fruits of coalition infighting. Separatists moved to redirect the revenues from ports, free zones, and an oil refinery to the STC accounts as reports surfaced of the Yemeni government attacking the separatists in Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province.

A week later, the STC president, Aidarous al-Zubaidi, landed in Riyadh to talk over the deadlock that persisted between supposedly anti-Houthi allies. The Yemeni government and STC separatists agreed to a ceasefire to begin peace talks in June 2020. In December 2020 while a freshly established cabinet of coalition-backed government arrived in Yemen after agreeing to equal power-sharing, two blasts shook Aden International Airport. With cabinet members remaining safe, 22—with most being aid workers—were killed in this fatal attack.

Coalition’s Failure in Yemen

“Incompetence, lack of unified leadership, and the absence of a military strategy by the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition played into the hands of the Houthis,” stated Nadwa Al-Dawsari from the Middle East Institute. Local tribes lacked the medium-range surface-to-air ballistic missiles and other advanced weaponry on which Houthis built their tactical achievements.

The Houthi combat units constituted 20, or even fewer men, and three trucks for higher mobility to counter the constant aerial surveillance by coalition UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and the US satellites. According to Jamestown Foundation, disregard for meritocracy and skills, the weary chain of commands, and persisting corruption in Yemeni government forces due to Saudi black-cheque strategy laid the ground for coalition failures. While perpetual imprecise bombings cost thousands of civilian lives and the worst humanitarian crisis due to the air and naval blockade, the public resentment against the coalition fueled.

In the aftermath of King Abdullah’s death in January 2015, his brother Salman bin Abdulaziz ascended to rule but being 79 with speculations of dementia and Parkinson’s enabled his most ambitious son, Muhammad bin Salman, to rise as a de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Reportedly he is named “little general” behind his back due to his craving for respect from Washington and turning down his advisers who predicted a catastrophic outcome from an all-out Yemeni offensive, including former foreign minister Saud al-Faisal. Saudi military failure in Yemen hatched from a “panicked reaction of an inexperienced prince with too much to prove” rather than from his desire to check Iranian influence and rescue Yemen, wrote Sophia Dingli, a lecturer in international relations from the University of Hull.

Besides all this, Washington has also altered its course with Joe Biden in the Oval Office. “The war in Yemen must end,” stated President Biden in his first significant foreign policy speech. A week later, the state department repealed the Houthis’ status of Specially Designated Global Terrorist Organization(SDGT) and Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) enacted a day before Donald Trump left the Oval Office.

Saltana Begum, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) advocacy manager in Yemen, voiced that at that time “We had famine warnings where 16 million people – that’s one in two Yemenis – were close to starvation.”

Setting Terms for Peace

In June this year, the Saudi-led coalition even ceased the air raids temporarily for “preparing the political ground for a peace process in Yemen,” remarked the coalition spokesperson Turki al-Malki. The gesture came as efforts ramped up for a political settlement. The US Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking had visited Riyadh in the same month where he met several government officials along with UN Envoy Martin Griffiths.

Saudi and Houthi camps have been reportedly close to a ceasefire deal. The Houthis want the end of the blockade “without impossible conditions” before a “comprehensive ceasefire”, stated Houthi’s chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam. As promising as it all might seem, and although Oman has been an excellent mediator with its impartial and carefully measured foreign policy, there are still a lot of bridges to cross and compromises to be made from both sides for a mutually beneficial post-war arrangement.

The Saudis would not just demand guarantees on border security from Oman and Iran but also a check to Iranian influence and even that won’t cater to the grievances of anti-Houthi factions battling alongside coalition forces. So, the peace process has to be inclusive for sustainable accords.

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Middle East

Turkey’s Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Cyprus, Turkey, Artsakh

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The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin of the Armenian Apostolic Church has recently hosted a conference on international religious freedom and peace with the blessings of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.

Tasoula Hadjitofi, the founding president of the Walk of Truth, was one of the invited guests. She spoke about genocide and her own experience in Cyprus, warning of Turkey’s religious freedom violations. Hadjitofi also called for joint legal actions against continued ethnic cleansing and destruction of Christian cultural heritage in Cyprus, Turkey, Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) and other places by the Turkish government and its regional allies including Azerbaijan.

During the two-day conference, access to places of worship in war and conflict zones, the protection of religious and ethnic minorities, and preservation of cultural heritage were among the topics addressed by many distinguished speakers.  The conference paid particular attention to the situation of historic Armenian monasteries, churches, monuments, and archeological sites in parts of Nagorno-Karabakh that have been under Azeri occupation since the 2020 violent war unleashed by Azerbaijan.

Hadjitofi presented about the situation of Cyprus, sharing her recent visit to the Cypriot city of Famagusta (Varoshia), making historic parallels between the de-Christianisation of Asia Minor, Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh by Turkey, and its allies such as Azerbaijan. See Hadjitofi’s full speech here.

Author of the book, The Icon Hunter, Hadjitofi spoke with passion about her recent visit to the ghost city of Famagusta, occupied by Turkey since 1974. Her visit coincided with the 47th anniversary of the occupation. She was accompanied by journalist Tim Neshintov of Spiegel and photographer Julien Busch as she made several attempts to visit her home and pray at her church of Timios Stavrou (Holy Cross).

Hadjitofi explained how her own human rights and religious freedoms, alongside the rights of tens of thousands of Cypriots, were violated when Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan illegally entered her country and prayed at the newly erected mosque in her own occupied town whereas she was kneeling down in the street to pray to her icon in front of her violated Christian church. In comparison, her church was looted, mistreated and vandalized by the occupying forces.  

Hadjitofi reminded the audience of the historic facts concerning Turks discriminating against Christian Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians. They also massacred these communities or expelled them from the Ottoman Empire and the modern Republic of Turkey, a process of widespread persecution which culminated in the 1913-23 Christian genocide. Hadjitofi then linked those genocidal actions with what Erdogan is doing today to the Kurds in Syria, and the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh by supporting Turkey’s wealthy friends such as the government of Azerbaijan.  She also noted that during her recent visit to her hometown of Famagusta, a delegation from Azerbaijan referred to Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus as “Turkish land” and a “part of Greater Turkey”. This is yet another sign of Turkish-Azeri historic revisionism, and their relentless efforts for the Turkification of non-Turkish geography.

Hadjitofi called for a series of legal actions against Turkey and its allies, reminding Armenians that although they signed the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC), they have not ratified it. She noted that it must be the priority of Armenians if they want to seek justice. Azerbaijan and Turkey, however, neither signed or ratified the Rome Statute.

During her speech Hadjitofi also emphasized the need for unity amongst all Christians and other faiths against any evil or criminal act of destroying places of worship or evidence of their historical existence anywhere in the world. 

In line with this call, the Republic of Armenia instituted proceedings against the Republic of Azerbaijan before the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, with regard to violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

In its application, Armenia stated that “[f]or decades, Azerbaijan has subjected Armenians to racial discrimination” and that, “[a]s a result of this State-sponsored policy of Armenian hatred, Armenians have been subjected to systemic discrimination, mass killings, torture and other abuse”.

Hadjitofi said that “Armenia’s lawsuit against the government of Azerbaijan is a positive move in the right direction and more legal actions should be taken against governments that systematically violate human rights and cultural heritage. I’m also in the process of meeting members of the Armenian diaspora in Athens, London, and Nicosia to discuss further joint legal actions. But the most urgent action that Armenia should take is the ratification of Rome Statute of the ICC,” she added.

Other speakers at the conference included representatives of the main Christian denominations, renowned scholars and experts from around the globe, all of whom discussed issues related to international religious freedom and the preservation of the world’s spiritual, cultural and historical heritage.

Baroness Cox, a Member of the UK House of Lords and a prominent human rights advocate, was among the participants. She has actively defended the rights of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia through her parliamentary, charity and advocacy work.

Meanwhile, the organizing committee of the conference adopted a joint communiqué, saying, in part:

” We re-affirm the principles of the right to freedom of religion or belief, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent international and regional human rights treaties. We claim this right, equally, for all people, of any faith or none, and regardless of nation, history or political circumstances – including for those Armenian prisoners of war still illegally held in captivity by Azerbaijan, for whose swift release and repatriation we appeal and pray, and for the people of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh whose rights to free and peaceful assembly and association necessarily implicate the sacred character of human life.”

On September 11, the delegates of the conference were received by the President of Armenia, Armen Sarkissian, in his palace in Yerevan where they were thanked. The guests also visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial-Museum (Tsitsernakaberd), where Hadjitofi was interviewed on Armenian national TV. She said:

“I read about the Armenian Genocide and I am glad that more countries recognize it as such but I am disappointed that politicians do not condemn actions of Turkey and its allies in their anti Christian attitude towards Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh. I see an interconnection between the genocide and the adopted politics of Azerbaijan, when the ethnic cleansing takes place, when cultural heritage is destroyed, gradually the traces of the people once living there are eliminated and that is genocide”. 

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