Archive for the ‘Topics’ Category


Operation Cast Lead 2.0

Israel and Hamas are battling it out in the Gaza Strip in a conflict no one can win. 

By Hussein Ibish

Israel’s assassination of Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jaabari in a missile attack has shattered the short-lived and fragile calm in the Gaza Strip, and could be another step in the transformation of the basic balance of power within Hamas — and even the broader Palestinian national movement. The attack is the most significant escalation since Operation Cast Lead, the offensive Israel launched in Gaza in December 2008, and which cost an estimated 1,400 Palestinian and 13 Israeli lives.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced that Jaabari’s killing was the first strike in “a widespread campaign” to “protect Israeli civilians and to cripple the terrorist infrastructure” — and indeed, the IDF hit a number of targets across Gaza in the hours that followed, killing at least eight Palestinians. It’s possible that these developments are laying prelude to another Israeli ground intervention in Gaza. On Nov. 11, Israel’s Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter declared, “Israel must perform a reformatting of Gaza, and rearrange it” — but gave no indication of what that dire-sounding phrase might mean in practice.

It is impossible to know how the conflict will unfold in the days ahead, but what is clear is that the outbreak of violence is the result of a swirl of events that are reshaping power structures within Hamas and its relationships with regional forces, including with Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

During most of the period since Cast Lead, the Hamas rulers in Gaza have refrained from attacks against Israel and tried to prevent other militant groups from launching attacks as well. But as 2012 has progressed, that policy has changed — largely due to internal transformations within the group itself.

The internal dynamic of Hamas has traditionally been that leaders in its Politburo, which is based almost entirely in neighboring Arab countries, were more militant than their compatriots inside Gaza. It was the leaders in exile who maintained close relations with the radical regimes in Iran and Syria, while the Hamas government in Gaza was more restrained because it had more to lose from violence with Israel. Read more…

Hussein Ibish is a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine.

As published in on November 14, 2012.


By Sam Sasan Shoamanesh

The only region in the world without a security framework must at long last set about the task of creating one

The Middle East is once again the theatre for one of the world’s major crises – this time in Syria. Sophists and spin doctors are, to be sure, reducing the complexity that is Syria to a good versus evil moral play. This convenient packaging obscures an inconvenient, more fundamental truth – to wit, that it is the existing regional order that is largely responsible for the perpetual insecurity and the endless recurrence of conflict in the Middle East. Confusion about this diagnosis leads to blindness about an obvious remedy – that is, that this outdated order, a colonial concoction of the last century, must be overhauled, indigenously, for the benefit of regional peace and security in this century.

In order to correct the regional order and place it on track toward greater stability, Middle Eastern states must imagine a shared, more prosperous future, and work collectively to establish a long-overdue regional security architecture – recalling that the Middle East today remains the only region in the world without a regional security and cooperation framework. Of course, the question is begged: how is it that a hyper-volatile region like the Middle East does not yet have a regional mechanism for managing and defusing conflict?

To date, with rare exceptions, any meaningful discussion concerning the creation of a security framework in the Middle East has focussed exclusively on the sub-region of the Persian Gulf. More recently, due to the intensifying opposition to Iran’s nuclear programme and rising tensions among Persian Gulf littoral states, a number of American analysts have called for a NATO-style collective defence security regime for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), in sole partnership with the US, in order to address regional threats. Recent US efforts to create a missile defence system for the GCC, as well as increases in US arms sales to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf are manifestations of this same strategic logic in action. Read more…

Sam Sasan Shoamanesh is Managing Editor of Global Brief.

As published by Global Brief on October 4, 2012.


A View from Europe

Written on November 13, 2012 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Americas, Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Foreign Policy, Political Economy

The European Union can play a key role in Obama’s second-term foreign policy agenda.

By Ana Palacio, Member of the IE International Advisor Board

Barack Obama’s sweeping triumph in the presidential elections, including in critical battleground states, prompted a sigh of relief in numerous quarters and most capitals of Europe, where Obama, despite his emphatic orientation away from Europe, is seen as representing more closely the ethos and Weltanschauung of the old continent.

In his victory speech, which described the democratic process as often being “noisy, messy and complicated,” Obama made a token reference to the traditional American principles of self-reliance and individualism. But while he mentioned the importance of personal ambition and self-government, the President focused more closely on the notions of shared destiny and solidarity, on the concepts of family, community and nationhood, and their role in securing the future. These are values that speak loudly to European allies across the ocean, even coming from America’s first “Asian President,” as Obama famously described himself.

With emotions still running high, the focus is now shifting to the second-term agenda and the road ahead. Although the common wisdom is that Obama is liberated from the tyranny of seeking re-election, in two years’ time he will start working on behalf of his party in preparation for the next presidential elections (in which he could be repaying his debt to the Clintons). In the short run Obama is returning to a Congress whose make up will mimic closely that of his first term (a Democratic Senate and a Republican House), posing familiar challenges. He will thus have a mere two uphill years to outline his legacy.

In addition to the long list of issues facing Congress in the lame duck period this winter, including the fiscal cliff, cyber security, and trade relations with Russia, Obama will have to use this narrow window of opportunity to define the goals and priorities that will determine his legacy. In this context, aside from the daunting domestic challenges, three areas emerge as vital in the realm of foreign affairs: Iran, China and the broader Middle East. In these, the European Union, although its present standing is monopolized by bleak news and gloomy forecasts, has a role to play.

During his first term, President Obama bet a lot on the “pivot” to Asia, a strategy that not only entrenched China’s homegrown nationalism and solidified the positions of belligerents within the higher echelons, as reflected in policies towards its neighbors, but also led Beijing to retreat from the strategic engagement with the United States. The so-called “pivot” not only rests on the untenable and short-sighted notion that U.S. time, effort, attention and resources should be relocated east at the expense of other priorities; more critically, it risks putting the United States and China on a collision course that is neither inevitable nor desirable. As China’s leadership transition moves forward and the new leaders settle into power, the United States has an opportunity—namely, a two-year acclimatization period that would allow it to discreetly redefine the relationship with Beijing and raise important issues without any unnecessary fanfare. Read more…

Ana Palacio, a former Spanish Foreign Minister and former senior vice president of the World Bank, is a member of the Spanish Council of State.

As published by The American Interest on November 9, 2012.


Back to Work

By Colum Lynch

If you felt your life was on hold the past week or so, as the U.S. election entered its final stretch, take comfort — so was the rest of the world, at least at the United Nations. The U.S. political campaign placed a number of U.N. foreign-policy priorities, including Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran, on the backburner.

But within hours of President Barack Obama’s reelection, the United States had begun to turn its attention to deferred business, agreeing Wednesday, for instance, to set a date for resumption of negotiations on the establishment of a new arms trade treaty.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, used his congratulatory message to President Obama to draw Washington’s attention to four key priorities — ending the bloodshed in Syria, restarting the Middle East peace process, promoting sustainable development, and tackling climate change — requiring greater American engagement.

There are a number of areas, including arms control and possibly climate change, where the administration may show renewed vigor in a second term, according to U.N. observers. But they cautioned that movement on a second-term agenda would start slow, given the months it will likely take to put a new foreign policy team in place. The king, said one observer, will be the same, but the royal court will be new.

The administration will face the first test of its standing at the United Nations on Monday, when it will participate in its first competitive election for a seat on the Human Rights Council, facing off with Germany, Greece, Ireland, and Sweden for three Western spots on the U.N.’s main rights body. Washington has been aggressively campaigning for the post, seeking to avert an embarrassing loss. “People are nervous about it; they don’t think it in the bag,” said one U.N.-based source.

Observers said they did not foresee the administration pursuing a particularly ambitious agenda at the United Nations. Richard Gowan, an expert on the United Nations at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, said he saw little likelihood that the U.S. would move, for instance, to join the International Criminal Court, push for ratification of the Comprehensive [Nuclear] Test Ban Treaty, or press for expansion of the U.N. Security Council.  “Just as Obama was burdened with excessive expectations at the start of his first term I think quite a lot of leaders may have excessive expectations of what he will do now that he is reelected,” Gowan said.

So, what will a second term Obama administration pull off the backburner and pursue with renewed vigor? Read more…

Colum Lynch has been been reporting on foreign policy and national security for the Washington Post since June 1999. He also writes Foreign Policy’s Turtle Bay blog.

As published in on November 9, 2012.



The Anti-Assad Offensive: Can the West Oust Syria’s Strongman?

By Vivienne Walt

A fighter from the Shohada al-Haq brigade of the Free Syrian Army prepares for a raid to clear a new apartment building in the no-man’s-land area near the Salahudeen district of Aleppo, Nov. 3, 2012

Scarcely hours after his re-election, President Obama was under pressure from U.S. allies to take stronger action on Syria. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters on Nov. 7, during a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, that “one of the first things I want to talk to Barack about is how we must do more to try and solve this crisis.” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius added to the clamor on Nov. 8, telling reporters he planned to call for more urgency from Washington on Syria at a planned meeting later in the day with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, promising that the message would be reinforced by “swift and necessary” talks between President François Hollande and Obama. On Syria, said Fabius, “The Americans have recently been in the background a little.”

Some hope that the Obama Administration may be less risk-averse in the wake of the election and possibly more inclined to arm Syria’s rebels. Until now, the U.S. has offered only nonlethal support to Syria’s disparate rebel groups, largely for fear that weapons could end up in the hands of elements — which make up a substantial part of the Syrian insurgency — hostile to U.S. interests and allies in the region. While such concerns remain, “there is now less risk aversion,” believes Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank in London. “Before, if the weapons got into the wrong hands in October and turned on the Turkish forces, for example, all those things would have been hugely embarrassing for the Administration at a moment when they wanted to avoid all risk,” he says. “It is less important that Obama has won than that someone has won.”

There are still anxieties about arms being turned against U.S. interests, including possibly in future attacks against Israel. And yet the anti-Assad offensive is intensifying. Cameron seemed to move ahead of his more cautious U.S. allies this week, announcing on Nov. 7 that Britain would open direct ties with Syrian rebel leaders, which was interpreted by many as opening the way to more military support for the insurgency. Read more…

Vivienne Walt is an award-winning foreign correspondent, based in Paris, who has written for TIME Magazine since 2003.

As published in on November 8, 2012.

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