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Palestinian Territories

Tag Archives | Palestinian Territories

Hamas and Hezbollah at Loggerheads over Syria

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An elderly woman crosses a street in the Bab el-Adid district of Aleppo. Fabio Bucciarelli/AFP

Born of a common struggle against Israel and nourished by common benefactors in Syria and Iran, Sunni Hamas and Shiite Hezbollah have long been natural allies despite their sectarian differences.

An elderly woman crosses a street in the Bab el-Adid district of Aleppo. Fabio Bucciarelli/AFP

Ever since the early 1990s, when Israel exiled Hamas’ leadership to Lebanon, the two groups have cultivated an alliance that has shaped the Middle East’s balance of power for decades. But the crisis in Syria has ruptured the old “axis of resistance,” with regional forces giving the two organizations opposing stakes in the conflict and bringing unprecedented tension to their relationship. While Hezbollah fighters have fought and died for Bashar al-Assad in some of the civil war’s fiercest battles, Hamas has thrown in its lot with the rebels and retreated deeper into the embrace of Sunni Islamist powers in the region.

For a time, it appeared that the partnership might be over, with Hamas calling on Hezbollah to extricate itself from Syria and Hezbollah accusing Hamas of funneling weapons and technology to Sunni jihadists. Yet the two groups appear to have looked beyond Syria’s civil war and calculated that more is to be lost than gained from a total divorce. Despite outbursts of inflammatory rhetoric, Hamas and Hezbollah have apparently agreed to disagree on Syria while maintaining a strategic partnership against Israel.

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Kasims for Qassams: Interview with Kasim Hafeez

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Kasim Hafeez. Source: Stand With Us

“In hindsight, I never actually gave a real damn about Palestine, I was just obsessed with hating Israel.” – Kasim Hafeez

Kasim Hafeez. Source: Stand With Us

When he’s not contributing articles to The Jerusalem Post or The Wall Street Journal, Danny Ayalon is tweeting updates like “just met with Kasim Hafeez, a great friend of Israel.” The Deputy Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beitenu MK isn’t flattering a zealous UJA-Federation of New York fundraising director, but praising a former Muslim radical from England – an apostate and unapologetic Zionist. You can read about Kasim Hafeez and his personal journey on his blog, or perhaps you caught his lecture over the summer during his tour of the Holy Land, ‘The Day I Stopped Hating Israel - Confessions of an ex-Radical.’

As the narrative goes, his worldviews were first challenged when he read The Case for Israel, and this mental reset eventually compelled him to reach out to Israeli advocacy groups. Where his Pakistani father laments Hitler for failing to exterminate enough Jews, Hafeez has come to appreciate Israel and other historical trivia that seem to escape the cognizance of his community – tidbits, like the revelation that Palestine never was a state or a nation, among other things.

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Turkey’s Unsustainable Middle East Politics

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President Barack Obama participates in a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

President Barack Obama participates in a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

‘Confused’ may be an appropriate term to describe Turkey’s current foreign policy in the Middle East and Israel in particular. The source of that confusion - aside from the appalling violence in Syria and earlier in Libya – is Turkey’s own mistakes. The Turkish government’s inconsistency regarding Israel highlights earlier discrepancy in other political contexts. There was a time when Turkey’s top foreign policy priority included reaching out diplomatically to Arab and Muslim countries. Then, we spoke of a paradigm shift, whereby Ankara was repositioning its political center, reflecting perhaps economic necessity, but also cultural shifts within its own society. It seemed that the East vs. West debate was skillfully being resolved by politicians of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, along with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, appeared to have obtained a magical non-confrontational approach to Turkey’s historic political alignment. ‘The Zero Problems’ policy allowed Turkey to brand itself as a bridge between two worlds. The country’s economic growth and strategic import to various geopolitical spheres allowed it to escape whatever price meted out by Washington and its European allies as a reprimand for its bold political moves – including Erdogan’s unprecedented challenge of Israel.

Indeed, there was a link between the growing influence of Turkey among Arab and Islamic countries and Turkey’s challenge to Israel’s violent behavior in Palestine and Lebanon, and its rattling against Syria and Iran. Turkey’s return to its political roots was unmistakable, yet interestingly, was not met by too strong an American response. Washington couldn’t simply isolate Ankara and the latter shrewdly advanced its own power and influence with that knowledge in mind. Even the bizarre anti-Turkish statements by Israeli officials sounded more like incoherent rants than actual foreign policy.

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Can Erdogan Deliver with Israel?

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Source: Foreign Policy

Although the restoration of ties between Israel and Turkey is welcome news for both countries, it is premature to gauge how close Jerusalem and Ankara will become given their continued conflicts of interest.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Source: Foreign Policy

The ‘thaw’ in bilateral relations is likely to be slow, with the two countries’ divergent objectives in Palestine and Syria remaining an obstacle to significantly warmer relations. Nonetheless, as the Syrian crisis continues to threaten the security of all the Levantine states and the Iranian issue continues its slow boil, greater cooperation should be expected between the two. The rapprochement is real; the question is, does it matter?

From Israel’s perspective, improved ties with Turkey help to alleviate the plethora of security concerns arising events of the past two years – ranging from the change of leadership in Egypt, to the Egyptian/Iranian rapprochement, to growing concern over the stability of the Jordanian Monarchy., to an Iran that is increasingly assertive and defiant of the West, to the consolidation of power by Hamas in Gaza, and the ongoing stalemate in peace talks with the Palestinians. Israel has a full plate of security issues to contend with, none of which either appear to be easing or are likely to dissipate in the near term.

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Netanyahu’s High-Stakes Game in Gaza

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President Barack Obama meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at the White House in Washington. Martin H Simon/EPA

Many key phrases have been presented to explain Israel’s latest military onslaught against Gaza, which left scores dead and wounded.

President Barack Obama meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at the White House in Washington. Martin H Simon/EPA

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is flexing his muscles in preparation for the Israeli general elections in January, suggested some. It is Israel’s way of testing the administration of Egyptian President Mahmoud Morsi, commented others. It was a stern message to Iran, instructed few. Or that Israel is simply assessing its ‘deterrence’ capabilities. And so on. But there is more than those ready-to-serve analyses. It has been four years since Israel mixed up the cards through an unhindered show of force. Last time it did so was in 2008-09, in a 22-day war it termed ‘Operation Cast Lead’. Then, it killed over 1,400 Palestinians and wounded over 5,000 others. Excluding Israel’s diehard supporters, the general consensus was, including that of many UN and international rights organizations: Israel committed war crimes and crimes against humanity deserving of international tribunals and due retribution.

Of course, none took place. The US government and media stood as an impenetrable shield between Israel’s accused war criminals and those daring to level accusations. Four years later little has changed. Then as it is now, Israel was embarking on national elections, and since ‘security’ is Israel’s enduring strategy whether in national or international politics, it was suddenly realized that Gaza posed a ‘security threat’, thus had to be suppressed or at least taught a lesson. Never mind that a truce was in affect and was mostly holding up, that it was Israel that provoked Palestinian factions to retaliate - before the retaliation was itself considered the original act of aggression as willfully validated by mainstream western media.

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The Talented Mr. Morsi

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Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Source: European Union

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Source: European Union

Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, must be feeling rather pleased with himself. Having been instrumental in bringing Hamas and Israel to the bargaining table, he has now issued several decrees that he believes will determine the shape of Egypt’s constitution. Intended to safeguard the country’s ‘revolutionary’ future, two of the decrees provide a good indication of what may be expected from Mr. Morsi and his allies going forward – the Islamist Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt’s parliament) cannot be dissolved by any authority, and none of the decisions he has made since being elected, or until a new constitution and parliament are in place, may be reversed.

Egypt’s new ‘democracy’ is looking increasingly like the dictatorship it was supposed to have replaced, with Mr. Morsi holding unrivaled executive and legislative power. Opposition leader Mohammed El Baradei has rightly accused Mr. Morsi of behaving like a ‘new pharaoh’. The millions of Egyptians who not so long ago held out hope for a genuinely new beginning are undoubtedly wondering how the democracy movement they waited so long for and fought so hard for could have been so easily hijacked.

In spite of the role Mr. Morsi appears to have had in getting Hamas to agree to a cease fire (however temporary it may prove to be), it is important to remember that his government continues to promote the flow of arms along Egypt’s border into Gaza, and has warmly received the embrace of Iran’s Ahmadi-Nejad. It is easier to envision him as a trouble maker than a peacemaker.

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Operation Pillar of Defence: Death via Social Media

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Israel's Merkava Mark-IV main battle tank. Source: Israel Defense Forces

Israel’s Merkava Mark-IV main battle tank. Source: Israel Defense Forces

Social media has become a fixation for those dying the slow lonely life in suburbia to residents of frenetic inner metropolises. It galvanises political movements and enables groups to challenge mummified structures of power. But what is often forgotten is that it can just as well be used by those in power against those out of it.

Nothing has illustrated this better than the Israeli use of social media even as the IDF pummels positions on the Gaza Strip in Operation Pillar of Defence. Peter Kafka of All Things Digital sums up the effect of this strategy. “The idea is familiar to anyone who had a message to push in 2012: Instead of relying on middlemen like the press to convey your story, you can go over their heads, and right to your target audience.”

Soon after the assassination of Hamas’ top military commander in Gaza, Ahmed a-Jabari, the IDF’s media arm announced a “widespread campaign on terror sites & operatives in the (hash) Gaza Strip” on its twitter account. A black-and-white video was posted on its official YouTube page showing the fatal airstrike, prompting Google to remove the video for violating YouTube’s Terms of Service. (Google being the owner of YouTube.) YouTube offers a tip on the subject of community guidelines: “Don’t post videos showing bad stuff like animal abuse, drug abuse, under-age drinking and smoking, or bomb making. Graphic or gratuitous violence is not allowed.”

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