Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Iranians believe that the mastery of [nuclear] science—rather than any other field of science, a bustling economy, and world-renowned industries and export goods, or a first-class educational system—will pave the way for Iran’s triumphant re-entry into the community of nations. Not a new microchip, or the cure for cancer, but a nuclear bomb—a weapon of mass destruction, meant to kill tens of thousands of people.

Turkey Hawks Bird as Israeli Mossad Spy Beacon, Ruffles Feathers

(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photos Shutterstock)

Last week, Turkish authorities released a kestrel after a thorough investigation showed it was not spying for Israel. It’s a good thing the Turks were 100 percent sure because, to hear Israel’s neighbors tell it, the Mossad often employs birds to do its dirty work. One vulture believed to be spying for Israel was detained in Saudi Arabia in 2011, another was apprehended in Sudan in December 2012, and the Turks believed they were also targeted previously, in May 2012, by a European bee-eater.
Like the kestrel, the other birds were all tagged with markers identifying them as research subjects, such as the study of migratory patterns. The very signs then that should have made plain they were part of scientific studies were instead taken as evidence that they had been enchanted by some secret Israeli spell.
The Mossad kestrel is only the latest creature to walk out of the Israeli bestiary, a compendium of God’s creatures lifted from nature and, the story goes, put to work by Jews against Muslims and Arabs. Perhaps the most famous of all Israel’s animal operatives was the shark who attacked German tourists off the coast of Sinai in the winter of 2010, presumably for the purpose of damaging the Egyptian tourism industry—a feat the Egyptians accomplished over the last two and a half years on their own, thanks to the chaos that they’ve unleashed on their now bloody streets, and without any animal collaborators.
If these shaggy dog conspiracy tales are sure to get a laugh from Western readers, it’s worth keeping in mind that magical fantasies seeing Jews as uncanny manipulators of the natural world partake of the same paranoid and sinister narrative structure that authored the blood libel.
There’s nothing funny about it for the Turks, either. Once upon a time, Turkey and Israel enjoyed a strategic relationship. Among other benefits that came from this alliance, Turkey purchased arms from Israel, including drones, of which Israel is the world’s largest exporter. Ankara wanted the unmanned aerial vehicles, among other reasons, to gather intelligence on and then target the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a bloody insurgency against Turkey since 1984. After Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cashiered the alliance as well as the defense contracts with Israel, the Turks turned to their own domestic industry for unmanned aerial vehicles. The problem, however, was that Turkish drones were unable to beat the nasty habit of crashing.
To say that Ankara has failed to master the science of flight is an understatement. The fact that Turkish authorities believed the bird last week was effectively a new kind of Israeli drone and only released it back into the wild after an X-ray showed it was carrying no surveillance equipment suggests that some in Turkey are incapable of distinguishing science from magic.
Of course some commentators reason that, even accounting for the appetite many Arabs and Muslims have for pre-scientific conspiracy theories, Israeli spies really do pull off some fantastic stunts. However, it’s useful to remember that if Israel, for instance, blew up Imad Mughniyeh in the middle of Damascus, the Mossad’s assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was captured on video cameras in Dubai. That is, the Israelis also make mistakes—they’re talented and proficient, but they’re people, not supermen, or warlocks and witches.
Still, hundreds of millions of Middle Eastern, African, and Asian Muslims can only understand the world as a large Harry Potter set in which they will never be among the initiates, the spell-casters. Paradoxically, the reason that this horrifying recognition boils to the surface only occasionally is the stunning success and availability of Western science and technology. It is because cell phones, for instance, are so cheap that even the tens of millions of Egyptians who, without government subsidies and foreign aid, couldn’t afford to put food on their plate can purchase technology designed in Palo Alto and Herzilya. Otherwise, the divide between a society that makes and one that simply consumes would be clear for all to see.
You can say that there is no such thing as Western science and technology, but that’s just a Western perspective based on hard-won Western values, like empiricism—either F=MA or it doesn’t. What is verifiable is true not just for so-called Westerners but is true for all men in all times. But this may not be how the vast majority of the Muslim world understands reality.
The 19th-century Muslim reform movement that arose after Napoleon’s 1798 conquest of Egypt was impressed with Western science—specifically the military technology that allowed French troops to overrun the lands of Islam so easily. The reformers counseled Muslims to make use of the science, medicine, and technology that the Westerners brought—but at all costs to avoid the Western values, like free thought, that had made those technological advances possible. In other words, Muslims were forever condemned to the role of eternal consumer, end-user, and never a producer. Perhaps their consolation is that, like servants, Westerners will make it for them anyway.
Two hundred years later, the United Nations’ 2003 Human Development Report on the Arab World, “Building a Knowledge Society,” delivered the bill. “Despite the presence of significant human capital in the region,” the paper explains, “disabling constraints hamper the acquisition, diffusion, and production of knowledge in Arab societies.”
“Between 1980 and 2000,” writes Hillel Ofek in The New Atlantis, “Korea granted 16,328 patents, while nine Arab countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E., granted a combined total of only 370, many of them registered by foreigners. A study in 1989 found that in one year, the United States published 10,481 scientific papers that were frequently cited, while the entire Arab world published only four.”
According to Pakistani physics professor Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, the 57 Organization of Islamic Congress “countries have 8.5 scientists, engineers, and technicians per 1,000 population, compared with a world average of 40.7, and 139.3 for countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Forty-six Muslim countries contributed 1.17 percent of the world’s science literature, whereas 1.66 percent came from India alone and 1.48 percent from Spain. Twenty Arab countries contributed 0.55 percent, compared with 0.89 percent by Israel alone.”
Typically, commentators note that since the Muslim world used to excel in science and technology, there is no reason that it can’t catch up today. The problem is that it’s slipping further behind—and fast. Fifty years ago the gap was costly, but today the price for not understanding science and innovation has increased exponentially. Consider, for instance, the favorite theme of the 19th-century Muslim reformers and rulers—military might. In June 1967, it took Israel six days to defeat the combined Arab armies, including Egypt’s. Despite more than 30 years and many billions of dollars of U.S. military aid, Egypt has fallen further behind the rest of the world, and even its benighted neighbors. Proof can be found in the country’s decision to buy the defective drones that Turkey can’t keep in the air.
Many commentators explain the popular Arab uprisings over the last two and a half years as a consequence of expectations that exceed conditions. This is what happens, Western journalists and analysts reason, when you have millions of college graduates who can only find jobs driving a taxi or pushing a food cart. The reality is that only the rarest of college graduates in Muslim countries is prepared for a Western-style profession.
Cyber-optimists claim that new information technologies will close the gap. Satellite TV, the Internet, Bluetooth will present Muslims with such a clear alternative to their pre-Copernican worldview that they’ll willingly choose to embrace open societies and free markets and become part of the West. But consider some of the ways in which those technologies are used: The Syrian regime used its cell-phone concession to enrich itself. Jihadis set up Internet websites to disseminate propaganda and plan operations. Gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar use their satellite networks not to promote alternative views of the world but to advance the narrow interests of the ruling family. In Egypt, tele-preachers parse passages of the Quran previously impenetrable to much of a population that has a literacy rate of 60 percent to explain why infidels should be killed.
That is, the technology gap isn’t a problem just for the Muslim world, for as the gap grows so does resentment. Consider the region’s most famous research project—the Iranian nuclear program. For decades now this oil-rich Persian Gulf power has been determined to go nuclear—to have a bomb, or as it claims, to provide nuclear energy for its people. Without taking any credit away from the Western intelligence services that have waged inventive clandestine operations to delay the program, including the alleged assassination of nuclear scientists, the reality is that if Iran hasn’t yet mastered the technology, there is something deeply wrong with the scientific culture of the Islamic Republic.
More important, there’s this: Iranians believe that the mastery of this particular field of science—rather than any other field of science, a bustling economy, and world-renowned industries and export goods, or a first-class educational system—will pave the way for Iran’s triumphant re-entry into the community of nations. Not a new microchip, or the cure for cancer, but a nuclear bomb—a weapon of mass destruction, meant to kill tens of thousands of people. A wise man once said never judge a man by his mistakes, but rather by his dreams. In the case of the Muslim Middle East, it is hard not to shudder.
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Lee Smith is a senior editor at the Weekly Standard and the author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.

Why Anti-Israeli Conspiracy Theories Keep a Foothold in the Arab Mideast – Tablet Magazine

It is still, on occasion, good to be the king.It is not necessarily good to be the king of a Middle Eastern country that is bereft of oil; nor is it necessarily so wonderful to be the king during the turmoil and uncertainty of the Arab Spring. It is certainly not good to be the king when the mystique that once enveloped your throne is evaporating.

Monarch in the Middle – Jeffrey Goldberg – The Atlantic

It is still, on occasion, good to be the king.
It is not necessarily good to be the king of a Middle Eastern country that is bereft of oil; nor is it necessarily so wonderful to be the king during the turmoil and uncertainty of the Arab Spring. It is certainly not good to be the king when the mystique that once enveloped your throne is evaporating.
But when a squadron of Black Hawk helicopters is reserved for your use, and when you are the type of king who finds release from the pressures of monarchy by piloting those Black Hawks up and down the length of your sand-covered kingdom—then it is still good to be the king.
One morning last fall, Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, the fourth Hashemite king of Jordan, rolled up to a helipad situated close to the royal office complex in Al Hummar, on the western edge of the capital, Amman. He stepped out of an armored Mercedes—he drove himself, and drove fast, like he was being chased—and hustled to one of his Black Hawks. The king, who as a young prince served as a commander in the Royal Jordanian special forces, climbed into the pilot’s seat, talked for a moment with his co‑pilot, a trusted member of the Royal Squadron, and lifted off, pointing us in the direction of the rough, unhappy city of Karak, about 80 miles to the south. A second Black Hawk, filled with bodyguards, lifted off a moment later.
The king was flying himself to Karak, which is one of the poorer cities in a distressingly poor country, to have lunch with the leaders of Jordan’s largest tribes, which form the spine of Jordan’s military and political elite. More than half of all Jordanians are of Palestinian origin, with roots on the West Bank of the Jordan River, but the tribal leaders are from the East Bank, and the Hashemite kings have depended on East Bankers to defend the throne since the Hashemites first came to what was then called Transjordan from Mecca almost 100 years ago. This relationship has a coldly transactional quality: in exchange for their support of the royal court, the leaders of the eastern tribes expect the Hashemites to protect their privileges, and to limit the power of the Palestinians. When the Hashemites appear insufficiently attentive, problems inevitably follow.
Earlier that day, in his private office in Al Hummar, which overlooks the wealthy neighborhoods of West Amman, the king had explained to me the reason for the trip to Karak: he was trying, in advance of parliamentary elections in January, to instruct these tribal leaders on the importance of representative democracy. He wanted, he said, to see Jordanians build political parties that would not simply function as patronage mills but would advance ideas from across a broad ideological spectrum, and thus establish for Jordan a mature political culture. He said he would like to see Palestinians more proportionately represented in parliament. And he would like to do all this, he explained, without allowing the Muslim Brotherhood—a “Masonic cult” (as he describes it) that today controls the most formidable political organization in Jordan, the Islamic Action Front—to hijack the cause of democratic reform in the name of Islam. In other words, the king wants to bring political reform to Jordan, and to cede some of his power to the people—but only to the right people.
It was obvious to me that King Abdullah was looking forward to flying his helicopter—but not so much to the meeting that awaited him in Karak. “I’m sitting with the old dinosaurs today,” he told me.
The men he would be meeting—a former prime minister among them—were leaders of the National Current Party, which had the support of many East Bankers of the south, and which would almost certainly control a substantial bloc of seats in the next parliament. What the party stood for, however, beyond patronage and the status quo, was not entirely clear, even to the king. Shortly after the eruption of the Arab Spring, the king told me, he met with Abdul Hadi al-Majali, the leader of the party. “I read your economic and social manifesto, and it scared the crap out of me,” the king said he told Majali. “This makes no sense whatsoever. If you’re going to reach out to the 70 percent of the population that is younger than me, you’ve got to work on this.” The party manifesto, the king told me, “didn’t have anything. It was slogans. There was no program. Nothing.” He went on, “It’s all about ‘I’ll vote for this guy because I’m in his tribe.’ I want this guy to develop a program that at least people will begin to understand.”

A Visit to the Banks of Jordan. by the Ed. of ‘The Parting Gift’. by S (Google Affiliate Ad)

The king landed his helicopter on a soccer field on the outskirts of Karak. The tribal leaders, many of whom had served Abdullah’s father, the late King Hussein, were lined up to greet the king as his motorcade traveled the short distance from the improvised landing pad to a large meeting hall. There were kisses and handshakes and protestations of loyalty to the throne, followed by a lunch of mansaf, lamb cooked in fermented yogurt. Although mansaf is usually eaten with the right hand, the left hand placed behind the back, forks were distributed in a concession to modernity. Still, the meal was eaten standing up around a long, narrow table, in the Bedouin tradition.
Then the business of the afternoon was conducted. The 30 or so men (and one woman, a daughter of one of the tribal leaders) sat on couches against the walls. Tea was served. The king made a short plea for economic reform and for expanding political participation, and then the floor was opened. Leader after leader—many of whom were extremely old, many of whom merely had the appearance of being old—made small-bore requests and complaints. One of the men proposed an idea for the king’s consideration: “In the old days, we had night watchmen in the towns. They would be given sticks. The government should bring this back. It would be for security, and it would create more jobs for the young men.”
I was seated directly across the room from the king, and I caught his attention for a moment; he gave me a brief, wide-eyed look. He was interested in high-tech innovation, and in girls’ education, and in trimming the overstuffed government payroll. A jobs plan focused on men with sticks was not his idea of effective economic reform.
As we were leaving Karak a little while later, I asked him about the men-with-sticks idea. “There’s a lot of work to do,” he said, with fatigue in his voice.
We boarded the Black Hawk and took off. I was seated behind the king. He asked me whether I wanted to make a detour: “Have you ever seen Mount Nebo from the air?” He flew northwest, toward the mountain from which, the Bible tells us, God showed Moses the Land of Israel. The Dead Sea shimmered just beyond. I suggested a quick detour to Jerusalem, which was 30 miles away. “The cousins like to have more warning,” one of his aides said with a smirk. “The cousins” are the Israelis.
The king seemed to be in no rush to return to Amman. As we approached Mount Nebo, we passed over the ruins of the ancient fortress of Machaerus, which was built by the Hasmoneans, and then rebuilt and enlarged by King Herod the Great in 30 B.C. Machaerus is where Herod’s son, Herod Antipas, is said to have delivered to Salome the head of John the Baptist.
“That Herod,” Abdullah said. “Quite a character.” I wasn’t clear on which Herod he meant, father or son, but no matter. Each one had his idiosyncrasies. “Not a role model for you?,” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I have different role models.”

The King’s Palace in Al Hummar is not Herodian in scale, but it is still sizable, expensively decorated, and well shielded from the noise of the city below. The complex is attached to the King Hussein bin Talal Mosque, which can hold 5,500 worshippers. (Abdullah commissioned the mosque to honor his father.) Hummar is guarded by machine guns mounted on jeeps, and by members of the Jordanian Armed Forces Security and Protection Unit of the Supreme Commander. Inside the palace, Circassian guards, who wear black astrakhans and carry silver swords, stand watch outside his office.
Men in Bedouin dress carrying smoking incense burners move quietly from room to room. The many waiting rooms are decorated elegantly, adorned with photographs of the ruins of the ancient Nabataean city of Petra, and with portraits of the past kings of Jordan.
The palace complex is under the unforgiving control of the chief of royal protocol, whose staff works assiduously to maintain an atmosphere of silence and reverence. But the atmosphere inside the king’s private office, where I spent many hours talking with him in recent months, is one of unstudied informality. Abdullah has, in some ways, grown accustomed to the trappings of the throne—when I first met him, not long after he took office more than 14 years ago, he told me that being addressed as “Your Majesty” made him queasy; he seems to have, over the years, adjusted to this aspect of kingship—but he still dislikes ceremony and prefers blunt talk to politesse.
He seems in many ways to be a contradiction—an Arab king who happens to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, evangelizing for liberal, secular, democratic rule. But Abdullah, now nearly a decade and a half into his reign, is, in his own conception, a political and economic reformer. He says he understands that the Hashemite throne, and perhaps Jordan itself, will not survive the coming decades if he does not move his country briskly toward modernity.
It is a small miracle, of course, that he is still in power at all. He has survived the first wave of the Arab Spring revolutions, which have so far claimed the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, and will almost inevitably claim the Syrian president as well. But he has been roughed up in the process.
Geography has cursed Jordan. To Abdullah’s north is the charnel house of Syria, a failed state in the making. To his east is Iraq’s bloody Anbar province. Saudi Arabia, ruled by the superannuated princes of the House of Saud, the ancient rivals of the Hashemites, sits to his southeast. To his west are the obstreperous Israelis, as well as the disputatious Palestinians. Al‑Qaeda wants to kill him. The Iranian regime doesn’t like him very much either, especially since he denounced, in 2004, what he saw as a rising, Iranian-led “Shia crescent” looming over the Middle East. His country is broke, dependent on the United States, the International Monetary Fund, and haughty gulf Arabs to cover its budget. (The IMF recently forced fuel-price hikes that have intensified the domestic resentment directed at the throne.)
Demonstrations in Jordan’s main cities have been modest compared with those that led to regime change in Cairo and Tunis, but they have nevertheless been vociferous. Protesters have denounced the king as “Ali Baba,” and his family as the 40 thieves. They have made a special target of his wife, the stunning—and stunningly modern—Queen Rania, who is considered an icon of fashion and women’s empowerment in the West but is vilified at home. They have, on occasion, touted one of the king’s younger half brothers, Prince Hamzah, as an alternative to Abdullah. At the outset of his rule, Abdullah and Rania were broadly venerated. Not anymore.
Abdullah is a semi-absolute monarch—the country has a prime minister, and an elected lower house of parliament, but he can dismiss the prime minister and dissolve the parliament if he sees fit. Hiring and firing prime ministers has eaten up a lot of his time recently—he’s gone through six in the past five years—and he says he would like to remove himself from the process. “My blood pressure goes highest—my wife knows this—when we have to change governments,” he told me. “Whenever we go through that cycle, nobody is going to be happy.”
Abdullah kept repeating that he wanted to devolve power to an elected parliament, so I finally asked him whether he wanted a purely ceremonial role: “You don’t want to be Queen Elizabeth, do you?”
“Well, where are monarchies in 50 years?” he said. He clearly understands that monarchy is not a growth industry. But does his extended family understand this? The Hashemites are a small family, at least compared with the Saudi family. Still, he has 11 siblings and half siblings, as well as many aunts and uncles and cousins, each one a royal.
“No, members of my family don’t get it,” he said. “They’re not involved day-to-day. The further away you’re removed from this chair, the more of a prince or a princess you are. That happens in all royal families, I think. The further you are from this chair, the more you believe in absolute monarchy. That’s the best way of describing it. And that just doesn’t work.”
When I met King Abdullah, in 1999, shortly after the death of his father, he was new to the throne and filled with reformist zeal. Privatization, modernization, and political liberalization were all high on the agenda. He told me then, with a confidence born of inexperience, “Our country has a lot of challenges, but I think they are all manageable.”
He was already straining against protocol, and he told me that he loathed sycophancy and hated isolation. Early in his reign, he would occasionally dress as a peasant and mix with common people, to learn their desires and frustrations. I accompanied him on one such foray, to Zarqa, a city of disaffected Palestinians and perpetually enraged Islamists situated northeast of Amman.
We visited the local office of the finance ministry, as well as the city’s public hospital, neither of which appeared to be providing anything approaching quality service. The king watched as bloodless bureaucrats ignored reasonable requests by his browbeaten subjects. Eventually, his presence was discovered (the lurking American reporter in khakis made it hard for the king to hide his identity), and a crowd quickly gathered, filled with old women shouting blessings at him. We made a frantic dash to a nearby paratrooper base. I asked him to describe what he thought officials in Zarqa should be feeling at that moment. “Panic,” he said, with a half-smile. He would, he said, be writing a report.
Though he was distressed by what he saw, he seemed buoyed by the visit. In those early days, he imagined that the people of Jordan were ready to be his partners in lifting the country out of its archaic ways. Abdullah’s father, King Hussein, was a shrewd ruler, a skilled survivor, and a heroic peacemaker—but he was not a modern manager, and he bequeathed to his son a sclerotic economy and a political system built on wasta, or favoritism, and the exploitation of tribal rivalries. Abdullah believed he would fix all that.
But the future was lying in ambush. The Palestinian uprising; September 11; the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq—all of this was ahead. Within a few years, Zarqa would become best known as the birthplace of Abu Musab al‑Zarqawi, the master terrorist.
The intervening years have taken their toll. The king has gone decisively gray, and his forehead is lined. I noticed, on a couple of recent occasions, a heaviness about him, and I told him so.
“You know,” the king said, “when I reached my 10-year anniversary, I remember sitting down with members of my family and my close friends and saying, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ ”
“You can’t just quit,” I said.
“That’s what they said,” he responded.
King Abdullah is not only a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad; he is the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Hashemite kings, and he is the great-great-grandson of the last sharif of Mecca. Abdication is not a realistic option. And yet, here he was, admitting that the thought had crossed his mind. “I just said that I was so depressed because of all the forces I was dealing with on the inside,” the king said. “It wasn’t the outside—the outside, I understood. It was inside.”
He had complained before about “inside” political forces, but only elliptically, and I had assumed he was referring to the Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Jordanian branch. But now he identified a different foe.
“Institutions I had trusted were just not on board,” he said. “It was the mukhabarat”—the secret police—“and the others, and the old guard.” The mukhabarat, which is known in English as the General Intelligence Department, or GID, is devoted, in principle, to the protection of the Hashemite crown. Its foreboding headquarters could be mistaken for a shrine to the Hashemites. Oversize portraits of Abdullah and his family, and of the previous kings of Jordan, adorn many of its meeting rooms. The GID is the most respected Arab intelligence service; its agents are known for their ability to penetrate al‑Qaeda and other Islamist groups. (It has also been known to use torture: its headquarters was for a while known in Western diplomatic and intelligence circles as “the fingernail factory.”)
American officials, and political dissidents inside the kingdom, believe that GID officials have inserted themselves into Jordanian politics, for personal financial gain and to advance the agendas of East Bank Jordanians who wish to marginalize both Islamists and Palestinians. The king believes that each time he has tried to make a noteworthy reform—redrawing parliamentary districts to allow Palestinians a greater presence in the lower house of parliament, for instance—the GID, along with reactionaries in the political elite, have subverted his attempts. “I didn’t realize the extent to which the conservative elements had [penetrated] institutions like the GID,” he said. “It became apparent in later years how they were embedded in certain institutions. Two steps forward, one step back.”
GID troublemaking “was something that I inherited from my father,” the king told me. In the 1980s, riots broke out in the southern city of Ma’an, and he said his father suspected that either the Saudis or GID agents were fomenting them. “The GID was always problematic.” The king said one reason his difficulties with the GID have festered so long is his own gullibility. “I was naive enough to think—coming from the army, since in the army they said ‘Yes, sir’—the GID would say ‘Yes, sir.’ ”
Today, he says, he is making progress in reforming the agency. Two recent GID chiefs have gone to jail for corruption. A third died in disgrace. The current head is trying to depoliticize the agency, officials in Jordan say, aided by management advice from the CIA.
Jordan has always been beleaguered by corruption. In the old days, King Hussein was somewhat obvious about it, giving duty-free Mercedeses to loyalists and cronies. Critics say the situation hasn’t much improved since then. King Abdullah, in his early years, tried to bring more transparency to government budgeting, but his reputation for clean living has been damaged by allegations that family members have profited from the sale of government lands, and by charges that various family members and friends have otherwise benefited from their connections to the palace. Walid al‑Kurdi, the husband of Princess Basma, the late King Hussein’s sister, recently fled to London rather than face charges that he embezzled millions from the country’s phosphate industry. The king himself has been subjected to rumors that he is an overenthusiastic gambler.
Abdullah is defensive about charges that his family reaches for special privileges. In our conversations, he lashed out against relatives whose behavior he sees as a liability to Hashemite rule. “Look at some of my brothers. They believe that they’re princes, but my cousins are more princes than my brothers, and their in‑laws are like—oh my God,” he said. “I’m always having to stop members of my family from putting lights on their guard cars. I arrest members of my family and take their cars away from them and cut off their fuel rations and make them stop at traffic lights. I’m trying to be that example.”
Family sensitivities, he went on, “become irrelevant. If you catch my son being corrupt, take him to court. I’ve said that quite clearly from day one. What I’m trying to say is that everybody else is expendable in the royal family. Does that make sense? That’s the reality of the Arab Spring that hit me.” Abdullah does not want corrupt family members or courtiers—or anyone else—to be able to sink him, the way the petty (and grand) corruptions of the Mubaraks, and other ruling families, sunk those leaders.
When I passed along the king’s harsh commentary to a family member, that family member—who did not want to be named—gave an Alice in Wonderland–esque response: “His Majesty is His Majesty, and if His Majesty believes this to be an issue, then His Majesty is correct.”
His Majesty’s wife, the elegant and forthright Rania, has largely been hidden from the international press since the onset of the Arab Spring. Ever since the royal court staged an elaborate birthday party for her in 2010 in Wadi Rum, in the desert of southern Jordan, the woman Oprah Winfrey once described as an “international fashion icon” has been viewed with contempt by many Jordanians. (When she is photographed at all these days, it tends to be in schools and hospitals.)
Vicious gossip, the king says, is part of the capital’s terrain. Take the rumors about his gambling habit. “Look, the issue of gambling came out from West Amman,” he said, referring to the neighborhood that is home to the country’s political and financial elite. “I don’t even play cards, and the reason why I don’t gamble is probably that I just can’t count. When I see a seven, it looks like an eight. I had an American guy come and say, ‘There’s a concern about gambling.’ But with your government and your CIA and everybody, where could a king [with an international] profile go and gamble?”
He went on, “West Amman came out with stories that my son was deaf, my daughter was blind, all of this. They did this with my dad, too. There was a story that my father and I were going out with a stewardess and we killed her and buried her.”
In a conversation I had with the queen—a conversation carefully regulated by royal-court functionaries—she explained the current mood in Jordan this way: “In good times, people are more generous with giving you the benefit of the doubt. In difficult times, you know that people are going to cast doubt even when you are saying the truth. People are not generous. They don’t give you the benefit of the doubt.”
The king says that his inexperience—with governance, with the way he managed perceptions—explains why he hasn’t been more successful in pushing through modernizing political reforms. In the eyes of his critics among Jordanian liberals—including many of the men who worked for him in the first, hopeful years of his reign—he allowed himself to be outmaneuvered. Some of the changes he is trying to make today—building political parties, rewriting the country’s election laws to make parliament more representative—were on the agenda several years ago. In 2005, as pressure mounted on the king to open up society in accordance with his public promises, he appointed Marwan Muasher, one of his reformist aides, to formulate a comprehensive reform program.
The National Agenda, as it came to be known, was an ambitious plan for systemic change in many sectors of national life. One of the agenda items was to increase the number of seats in parliament reserved for candidates affiliated with national parties. Previously, the vast majority of parliamentarians had been elected by district, a system that encouraged voting based on patronage and tribal loyalty. The National Agenda was going to change all that. But before it could, the conservatives rose up and went to the king. According to several people familiar with the fateful meeting, a leading senator said to Abdullah: “This is a leap into the unknown.” The National Agenda was not implemented.
But in the wake of the Arab Spring, which has toppled autocracies around the region, Abdullah has finally managed to engineer a new election system that resembles, in a modest way, the vision of the National Agenda. Twenty-seven of the 150 seats in the lower house of parliament, which was itself expanded, were filled through national voting. Queen Rania told me that her husband was finally able to achieve the electoral reforms because the pressure of the Arab Spring had concentrated the attention of Jordan’s elites. “In a sense, I think the political upheaval of the last two years, it was a different kind of challenge—it brought about an atmosphere of open criticism,” she said. “What’s nice about that is it allowed him”—King Abdullah—“to reciprocate the frankness, to really go out and say what he believes in … I think that’s why, on several occasions, he will say that he saw the Arab Spring as an opportunity. The Arab Spring gave him the opportunity really to go out very candidly and express it in a very open way, and it gave us all the opportunity to really see him for who he is.”
But the Arab Spring may also mean that the king is running out of time. “The luxury of infinite time is no more,” Marwan Muasher told me, “because things have gone to the streets. The level of frustration is elevated to the point where the original slow pace is not adequate. I believe in gradual reform, but I think it must also be sustained with a clear time line. It’s not that the king doesn’t want it, but I believe he must lead a process that would accelerate the current pace. Otherwise it’s going to be 30 years before we reach a parliament that is able to exercise true authority.”
The pace of reform has King Abdullah’s friends, particularly in America, worried that he is going too slow to keep ahead of the revolutionary wave unleashed by the Arab Spring. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed the view, in sometimes withering fashion, that King Abdullah was moving at too leisurely a tempo, and that Jordanians were more capable of building idea-driven political parties than he gave them credit for. (The king argues, not unconvincingly, that holding elections without the necessary preparatory work is counterproductive.) The new secretary of state, John Kerry, is more supportive. Just after taking the reins at the State Department, Kerry said he remembered the king visiting him in 1999 in Boston, where he connected Abdullah with local businesses and universities. “He was forward-looking and economically focused at a time when so many Middle East leaders were moving in a different direction.” Kerry also said that Abdullah “represents the people of the region with dignity and intelligence.”Th
The stability of Jordan, and the king’s continued good health, are, of course, of great importance to the United States. Abdullah is a prime partner (and subcontractor) in the fight against Islamist terror, and he is the ruler of one of the rare more or less stable, pro-Western countries in an unhinged region. Senator John McCain, one of the king’s closest allies in Congress, told me, “This king and his father have done enormous things for us. Other countries have helped us—but none the way Jordan has.” (When I asked McCain whether he thought Abdullah was in danger of being overthrown like other rulers in the region have been, he said no, but then added: “On the other hand, I didn’t think a lot of those guys were in trouble.”)
To the Israelis, and to the gulf Arabs, he is indispensable as well. The gulf Arabs see him as a bellwether; no monarch has yet fallen in the Arab Spring. If King Abdullah can manage a way through, there is hope for the regimes of the Persian Gulf. “We need to be saying to the Obama administration and the West that if you don’t support Abdullah, you are undermining moderates across the region and you will create a region of extremists,” one gulf-state official told me.
Israel, in some ways, is Jordan’s most important ally. As the guarantor of quiet on Israel’s eastern front, and as the defender of the peace treaty that King Hussein forged with Yitzhak Rabin in 1994, Abdullah’s Jordan is essential to the Israelis. Jordan and Israel are also working together to prevent the chaos of Syria from spilling into their countries. The king would not talk about joint Jordanian-Israeli operations, but several sources in Amman and Tel Aviv told me that Israeli drones are monitoring the Jordan-Syria border on Jordan’s behalf, and that military and intelligence officials from the two countries are in constant contact, planning for post–Bashar al‑Assad chaos.
Even as Abdullah envisions ceding more of his power, he draws one red line: “I don’t want a government to come in and say, ‘We repudiate the peace treaty with Israel.’ ” He is cautious when speaking about the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he is reportedly in regular communication. He would say only that his relationship with Netanyahu is “very strong. Our discussions have really improved.”
Though he acknowledges the role Netanyahu plays in maintaining Jordanian stability, he is not optimistic about Israel’s future. King Abdullah is known as an advocate of two states for two peoples—Israel secure in its pre-1967 borders, Palestine to be established in Gaza and the West Bank—but when I asked him in January how much time he thought was left to implement this idea, his answer surprised me. “It could be too late already for the two-state solution,” he said. “I don’t know. Part of me is worried that is already past us.”
If it were too late, what would that mean?
He responded with a single word: “Isratine.” That’s a neologism popularized by the late Muammar Qaddafi to describe his vision of a joint Arab-Jewish state. If Israel doesn’t agree to a Palestinian state quickly, Abdullah said, “apartheid or democracy” will be its choice. “The practical question is, can Israel exert permanent control over Palestinians who are disenfranchised ad infinitum, or does it eventually become a South Africa, which couldn’t survive as a pariah state?”
There are some Israelis, I said, who value Israel more as a Jewish state than as a democratic state. “The only way you’re going to have a Jewish part is if you have a two-state solution. That’s the Jewish part,” he said.
I asked him whether he believed President Obama wants to work on Middle East peace. “That’s the million-dollar question,” he said. He added that John Kerry clearly does. “We have a second-term president,” Abdullah said, suggesting that only a president in his second term has the maneuverability, and the experience, to oversee an effective peace process. “This is the last moment. Can it be achieved in four years? Are we too late? After four years, it’s over.”
While uncertainty persists across Jordan’s western border, chaos and bloodletting reign across its northern one, in Syria. As we were discussing the situation there, I asked Abdullah this question: If 250,000 Jordanians were to surge into the streets, demanding his downfall, would he order his security services to shoot? Or would he abdicate?
“My character is, I won’t shoot,” the king said. “I don’t think we as Hashemites shoot. If you, as a monarch, have created a situation in which half the population rises up and wants you out, then you’ve done something wrong.” Of course, I hadn’t asked what would happen if half the country rose up (Jordan’s population is 6.5 million), but I took his point.
It is not unfathomable that one day a demonstration of 250,000 could occur in Jordan. Demonstrations have erupted with some regularity there since the opening months of the Arab Spring. Many of the demonstrators are drawn from the Palestinian-dominated Muslim Brotherhood, but many are affiliated with the so-called herak, or “movement,” an amorphous collection of protest groups composed mainly of disaffected East Bankers.
The king insists that he has handled these demonstrations with gentle diplomacy. Queen Rania, he says, suggested he take a lenient approach with the protesters. “I said to take the weapons away. I was coordinating with all the commanders about how the first demonstrations should be handled, and Rania said, ‘You know what you should do? Hand out water and juice to all the demonstrators—have the police hand them water.’ That was a good idea, and I called them and said, ‘Rania’s idea is to do this.’ And the police did it. That was the flavor of the demonstrations.”
Of course, the confrontations between demonstrators and regime defenders were not always as benign as they may have seemed from the palace: security forces—along with mysterious bands of self-described royalists—have confronted demonstrators with beatings and tear gas from time to time. Still, Amman is most definitely not Damascus.
The king noted that Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, had, along with his loyalists, quite obviously made the decision to open fire against demonstrators and rebels. More than 70,000 Syrians have been killed in the uprising against Assad’s rule; forces under his command have committed unspeakable crimes against their countrymen. The danger for the entire region is acute. Jordan is working quietly with Israel and the United States to monitor the whereabouts of Assad’s chemical weapons. And Jordan is already being overrun by Syrian refugees—almost 400,000 as of late February. “The minute you get a Syrian coming across, there’s no way you can turn them back and say our border is closed,” the king told me. So far he has kept his word, maintaining a northern border open to fleeing Syrians.
He has also invited Assad’s family to Jordan, promising them protection. “I had offered a couple of times to get his wife out,” he told me, “and they said, ‘Thank you very much, but why don’t you worry about your country more than you worry about us?’ ”
Not all that long ago, Assad was seen, along with King Abdullah and King Mohammed VI of Morocco, as part of a trio of young, charismatic, and putatively progressive Arab leaders. In October 2000, shortly after the eruption of the second Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza, I attended a meeting of Arab leaders who had gathered in Cairo to ritually excoriate Israel, and to stand publicly (if impotently) with their Palestinian brethren. The meeting was stultifying. (Qaddafi had boycotted the session, so a great source of perverse entertainment was missing.) But the presence of three newly ascended Arab rulers lent interest to the proceedings: Abdullah had inherited the Hashemite throne the year before, after the death of his father, King Hussein; Mohammed had recently been crowned king of Morocco, after the death of his father, King Hassan; and Assad had a few months earlier inherited the presidency of Syria from his father, Hafez al‑Assad, in much the same way the Arab royals had inherited their thrones.
When I asked King Abdullah whether he could unravel the enigma of Bashar al‑Assad for me, he replied with an anecdote about the conference in Cairo. At the time, Assad was already controversial; the Syrian parliament had, upon Hafez al‑Assad’s death, voted to lower the minimum age for presidential candidates from 40 to 34—Bashar’s age at the time. Even by the standards of Levantine power grabs, this was considered to be a gauche act. In Syria, murmurs of discontent about the Assad family’s despotic inclinations had become audible. Abdullah says he took it upon himself to try to coach the new Syrian president in the ways of international statecraft. Even before the Arab League Summit, Abdullah says, he had devised a program to help Assad elevate his reputation. “I went to visit him and I said, ‘There’s the opening of the United Nations in September, please come—I can set up lunches and dinners,” the king recounted. “The World Economic Forum was doing something, and I said, ‘You’ll be the belle of the ball: everyone wants to meet you, you’re the new guy, you can have some interviews.’
“And he was like, ‘There’s no need—I have Syrian businessmen who can go on my behalf and get the contracts and investments.’ And I was like, ‘No, when you show up at the UN, everybody will come because you’re the flavor of the month.’ But he said he wouldn’t go.”
So, I asked, Bashar was a bit of a provincial? The king smiled, and told me about a conversation he had at the Arab Summit. “There was a dinner with me and him and the king of Morocco, at the king’s residence in Cairo. And so Bashar at dinner turns to us and says, ‘Can you guys explain to me what jet lag is?’ ”
The king arched an eyebrow at me. “He never heard of jet lag.”
Of course, provincialism alone can’t explain Assad’s behavior. After all, he’s not really that provincial: he’s a physician who trained in London. “He’s a smart guy, he’s married to someone who lived in the West,” the king conceded. But then he contrasted Assad’s upbringing with his own. “The fathers are two very different people,” he said. “The way his father ruled Syria, and the way my father ruled this country, and the relationship between the people and the ruler, were just very different.”
King Hussein, Abdullah’s father, did not always rule with a weightless touch—he used crushing force to put down the 1970 Palestinian revolt that came to be known as Black September—but he was generally known, especially by the standards of Middle Eastern royalty, for large-heartedness, and for a readiness to forgive.
No one would ever accuse an Assad of benevolence. Comparing the ways the Assads and the Hashemites have wrestled with two surpassingly important challenges to Arab leaders—the Muslim Brotherhood, on the one hand, and the existence of Israel, on the other—hints at the chasm of difference between the two families.
The Hashemites have sometimes used the General Intelligence Department to create dissension in the ranks of the Brotherhood; they have bought off some of the group’s leaders; and they have made the case to Jordanians, with intermittent success, that the Muslim Brothers are more interested in imposing the rule of fundamentalist sharia law than in making the country more democratic. The Assads, in contrast, have traditionally taken a more direct approach, killing Muslim Brothers in large numbers when they felt it necessary. In the most notorious instance, in 1982, Hafez al‑Assad’s forces killed between 10,000 and 20,000 people in a successful attempt to put down a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in the city of Hama.
Which is not to say that the Hashemites don’t harbor visceral dislike for the Brotherhood. Abdullah expounds on that dislike to many of the Western visitors he receives—in part because he believes his Western allies are naive about the Brotherhood’s intentions. “When you go to the State Department and talk about this, they’re like, ‘This is just the liberals talking, this is the monarch saying that the Muslim Brotherhood is deep-rooted and sinister.’ ” Some of his Western interlocutors, he told me, argue that “the only way you can have democracy is through the Muslim Brotherhood.” His job, he says, is to point out that the Brotherhood is run by “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and wants to impose its retrograde vision of society and its anti-Western politics on the Muslim Middle East. This, he said, is “our major fight”—to prevent the Muslim Brothers from conniving their way into power across the region.
I’ve met Muslim Brotherhood members in Jordan who speak of Abdullah as something of an infidel—in part because his wife keeps her hair uncovered, wears pants, and speaks in public—but the king bridles at the idea that he is not a believer. I once asked him what it felt like to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. “It gives you a sense of calm,” he said. “Obviously there’s a tremendous sense of responsibility. It makes you feel very sure of yourself. I’m very comfortable in myself. I inherited this from my father, and he inherited it from his father. I pray five times a day—but I don’t have to keep telling everybody that I pray five times a day.” He then made a derisive reference to the zabiba, or “raisin,” the dark spot on the foreheads of some devout Muslim men, created over time by pressing the head firmly into the ground during prayer. “You see that black mark on the forehead—to show off that you pray five times a day?” he asked. “Why do that? That’s complete nonsense. I feel like having a black magic marker just to annoy people, to put a mark on my head.”
He became serious again. “My view of Christians and Jews, because of my father’s teachings and the family teachings—I was always brought up to believe that they are part of the larger family. Does that make sense? I don’t have that extremism.”
Though most of the gulf monarchs remain his allies—because they, too, fear the Muslim Brotherhood—the king’s expansive, moderate understanding of Islam has served to isolate him from the Arab world’s rising rulers. Tunisia is now ruled by Islamists. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, a longtime Jordanian ally, has been replaced by Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood leader. The king argues that a new, radical alliance is emerging—one that both complements and rivals the Iranian-led Shia crescent. “I see a Muslim Brotherhood crescent developing in Egypt and Turkey,” he told me. “The Arab Spring highlighted a new crescent in the process of development.”
Abdullah is wary of Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, whose Justice and Development Party is, he believes, merely promoting a softer-edged version of Islamism. (“Erdogan once said that democracy for him is a bus ride,” Abdullah reports. “ ‘Once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.’ ”) He sees Erdogan as a more restrained and more savvy version of Mohamed Morsi, who set back Muslim Brotherhood’s cause in Egypt by making a premature play for absolute power. “Instead of the Turkish model, taking six or seven years—being an Erdogan—Morsi wanted to do it overnight,” the king said.
If the king is wary of Erdogan, he is decidedly unimpressed with Morsi, whom he recently met in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. The two men were discussing the role of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch. “There is no depth there,” Abdullah told me. “I was trying to explain to him how to deal with Hamas, how to get the peace process moving, and he was like, ‘The Israelis will not move.’ I said, ‘Listen, whether the Israelis move or don’t move, it’s how we get Fatah and Hamas”—the two rival Palestinian factions—“together.” When Morsi remained fixated on the Israelis (“He’s like, ‘The Israelis, the Israelis’ ”), Abdullah said, he tried to reiterate the importance of sorting out “the mess” on the Palestinian side.
“There’s no depth to the guy,” he repeated.
Constrained by morality, disposition, and political reality, the king cannot simply jail or murder the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, but he has done a creditable job of marginalizing them. Both the Hashemites and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic Action Front understood early on that the Arab Spring would pose a sharp challenge to the continuity of Hashemite rule. In the spring of 2011, as the Arab revolutions were beginning to unfold, I met with leaders of the Islamic Action Front at their headquarters in Amman. They were militant—though necessarily somewhat oblique—in their remarks about the future of the monarchy.
Zaki Bani Rashid, the chief of the IAF’s politburo, told me that the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions resembled the French revolution in its viral qualities. “The French revolution caused the end of regimes all through Europe,” he said. “The Arab-world revolutions will have the same effect through our region.” I asked him whether this meant he was calling for the overthrow of the Hashemites. He said, “The regime must understand that we need more democracy and more representative rule. We want a better country.” He said this while seated underneath a portrait of King Abdullah. Hamza Mansour, the IAF’s secretary general, said that if reform did not come quickly, the possibility of “social violence” would grow.
The king, for his part, is certain that the Muslim Brotherhood wants to see him gone. The GID has told him that the Brotherhood high command in Cairo is actively fomenting unrest in Jordan. According to multiple sources, the GID claims to have intercepted communications from Brotherhood leaders in Egypt to their Jordanian affiliates, encouraging them to boycott elections and destabilize the country. Abdullah told me that “behind closed doors, the Muslim Brotherhood here wants to overthrow” the government. I noted that the Brotherhood has his portrait on the walls of their offices. “They don’t believe in the constitution of Jordan,” he replied. “They won’t swear on the constitution. They will only swear on the constitution of the Muslim Brotherhood. Their allegiance is to the murshid,” the supreme guide, or leader, of the Brotherhood, who is based in Cairo. Abdullah said that when Brothers win election to parliament, and swear to follow the text of the Jordanian constitution, they get a fatwa—a religious ruling—stating that “you can put your hand on the Koran but what you swear on the Koran is nonbinding” when you’re declaring fealty to a secular document.
He noted that while he won’t let anyone kiss his hand (“we don’t believe anyone should kiss my hand, we’re all human beings”), “when you see Hamza Mansour, you see that after a speech, they all come kiss his hand.”
Two months after the Arab Spring erupted, the king received the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Jordanian branch in his office. “They were the first people I saw in the Arab Spring,” he told me. “They were the loudest voice, so I brought them in, and they said, ‘Our loyalty is to the Hashemites, and we stood with you in the ’40s and ’50s and ’70s,’ and I said, ‘That is the biggest load of crap I have ever heard.’ And they were like, ‘Aaaargh’—they were shocked.” He recounted that he said to them, “ ‘My father told me that you guys watched the way things were going, and when you saw that my father was winning, you went with him.’ I said, ‘This is complete and utter bullshit, and if we’re going to sit here and bullshit each other, then we might as well have a cup of tea and then say goodbye. If you want to have a serious conversation’—we Arabs like to ass-kiss each other for the first half hour of conversation—‘if you want to have a serious conversation, here’s where we start.’ ”
The king said he outlined for the Brotherhood leaders some areas of common interest, and then told them, “I think you’re part of the Jordanian system, and I think you should be part of the process.” He said he told them, “I think we all leave this meeting feeling really good, but—I’ll be honest with you—there’s 10 percent distrust from me, and 10 percent distrust from you, I’m sure. But we have good vibes here.”
Those Brotherhood leaders went to Cairo to ask the supreme guide and other Brotherhood leaders whether they should participate in the king’s newly established national-dialogue committee, meant to frame a broad civic discussion about political reform. Abdullah said he had told Hamza Mansour and two other Brotherhood leaders that he wanted an answer within a few days. “They were in Cairo to see the murshid, and they saw Tahrir Square and the Muslim Brotherhood. We asked Mansour, ‘Who are the three names you’re going to put on the national-dialogue committee?’ ” No names were ventured. “I think they thought the revolution was going to happen in Jordan, and they didn’t need to be part of the national committee,” the king said. “They thought they’d won. They had decided that they had won.”
The Islamic Action Front has boycotted the political-reform process for the past two years, but the boycott has not worked. In January’s parliamentary elections, voter turnout was comparatively high, and Islamists not affiliated with the Brotherhood won several seats. Political analysts in Amman generally agree that the Brotherhood is, at least for the moment, a more marginal movement than it otherwise would have been. “They’ve shot themselves in the foot a bit,” one of these analysts told me. “The rest of Jordan is moving on.”
King Abdullah is, emotionally and dispositionally, the most pro-American ruler in the Arab world. He and his wife and children—two sons and two daughters—enjoy watching Modern Family together; once, as prince, he made a cameo appearance on Star Trek: Voyager. In my experience, he is happiest when talking about his years in Massachusetts, at Deerfield Academy, the elite boarding school where he studied for several years in the 1970s. Abdullah’s core instincts may or may not be egalitarian, but he did seem to learn something about democracy and political equality at Deerfield, where deference to royalty was generally lacking. Though it was known on campus that he was a prince, he was on the wrestling team, everyone called him “Ab,” and he bused dining-hall tables like every other student.
One of Abdullah’s proudest achievements is the establishment of King’s Academy, a Deerfield-style prep school outside Amman. The school comprises 33 buildings, a nondenominational chapel, vast lawns (it’s the greenest place in Jordan), and a faculty imported mainly from the West. As he flew us from Karak to Amman in his helicopter, we passed near the campus. “It’s a wonderful school,” he said. “Merit-based.”
While Abdullah resists the urge to spend more time than is seemly in the United States, many summers he and a small group of friends (and a detachment of bodyguards) take an unpublicized motorcycle trip along some remote stretch of American highway. Last summer, he and his friends tracked the trans-Alaska pipeline as it winds its way south from Prudhoe Bay. No one at highway truck stops recognized him, of course, which made him happy. When David Petraeus, who was then the director of the CIA, visited him this past fall, King Abdullah mentioned the Alaska trip in order to have some fun at the expense of the American national-security apparatus. “I said, ‘I don’t know who’s the head of Homeland Security, but I have some real concerns for you. There was a whole bunch of AY-rabs’ ”—he stressed the first syllable in the stereotypically redneck way—“ ‘running around your pipeline, and no one stopped us. Nobody asked us any questions at all. Who’s protecting your border?’ ”
Perhaps Abdullah is so taken with the American system that, if anything, he overstates its virtues. In his proselytizing for political reform, he holds up the United States as the Platonic ideal. The paralysis and pettiness of Washington does not seem to have made an impression on him. In January, I talked with him the day after he met with a group of Jordanian “youth activists” at the palace. He explained the message he had given them. “I said, ‘You guys have no concept of left, right, and center. In the American concept, I’m a leftist, or a Democrat, when it comes to health, education, and taxes. I’m a Republican when it comes to … defense, okay? That’s me as Abdullah. How does that fit into the framework of a Jordanian mentality? I want you guys thinking like that. I don’t want you to agree with me. If you agree with me, fantastic, that’s fine.’ In our culture, if you don’t agree with me, you start shooting each other, or at least throwing our shoes at each other.”
Abdullah’s stated mission—when judged not against an ideal but against the pitiless realities of his neighborhood—is of course noble. Cynics argue that he is merely masquerading as a reformer, trying to preserve the monarchy by providing his people with only the facsimile of change. Radicals call him conservative; conservatives call him radical. The truth is that he is both. He is also something else: a Don Quixote. Meritocracy and democratic pluralism are not ideas that his country is prepared to accept. This may be because the culture of Jordan is not so plastic as he would like it to be—but it may also be that the nobility of his intentions is not matched by the quality of his abilities.
Abdullah seems to genuinely want his people to be richer, happier, and more politically empowered than they are now. But he also recognizes that only if Jordanians are content will they readily agree to the perpetuation of Hashemite rule. On visits to Amman in recent months, I noticed something new: photographs of his 18-year-old son, Crown Prince Hussein, have proliferated in the public rooms of the palace, as they have on billboards throughout the kingdom. As the elder of Abdullah’s two sons, Hussein is meant to inherit the throne from his father. Over the course of our conversations, it became obvious to me that King Abdullah has been preoccupied with ensuring a smooth transition to his son’s rule. Abdullah is only 51, but he is not unaware, two people close to him told me, that his father died at the age of 63.
Abdullah has dispatched Hussein to Washington, to be certain that he is thinking about politics in the American manner. After several years of American-style education at King’s Academy, Prince Hussein is now a freshman at Georgetown University.
The king told me he regrets having made Hussein crown prince so early in his life. “When I made him crown prince, I don’t think he was very happy,” the king said. “He was 15, and I don’t think he was happy with me at all.” But in naming Hussein crown prince early, Abdullah had hoped to avoid the confusion and anxiety in the kingdom that marked his father’s last days.
Abdullah himself was made crown prince with very little notice, just two weeks before his father’s death from cancer. Until then, Hussein’s hapless brother, Hassan, had been crown prince, and Abdullah had led a largely anonymous life in the military. “Looking back at my life, I was Forrest Gump,” he told me. “I was with my father in all the crises, but I didn’t have the spotlight on me. I was watching and learning without having the pressures on me.” Knowing the pressure that he imposed on his son by naming him successor to the throne produced “huge turmoil” in Abdullah. The queen, too, says she wasn’t particularly happy about Hussein’s elevation. “It’s a struggle for me,” she told me, “because as a mother, you want your children to have a normal life to the extent possible, an anonymous life that is free from struggle, and we know for sure that is not what we are giving him.”
“I didn’t want to do this to a young boy,” the king said. “He’s matured a lot over the past couple of years. He understands the responsibility. He won’t have the life I had … As a teenager, as a young officer, nobody was looking at me. They didn’t care who I was. I had the ability to develop, and make friends, and see the world without having … people taking pictures of [me] left, right, and center. The title is going to follow him around. So I didn’t do him any favors.”
The biggest favor he could do for his son now, he says, is to de-emphasize the power of the throne. “The monarchy is going to change. When my son becomes of age and becomes king, the system will be stabilized and … it will be a Western democracy with a constitutional monarchy.” But, he says, “even with all the changes I’m doing here, there is still going to be a monarchy.” Abdullah would like to see his son become a symbol of national unification, and a source of moral guidance. He also hopes his son “is not going to have to work his butt off for the rest of his life. I hope he works hard, but not with the same pressures.”
What Abdullah does not want is for his son to take the throne in a situation where he’s “in the position of Bashar today.” Rather, he wants Hussein to become king of a Jordan where “the people are happy, and they love the monarchy, just like you saw with the outpouring toward Queen Elizabeth in England.”

Read the Article online here:
Monarch in the Middle – Jeffrey Goldberg – The Atlantic

Special Report: Hamas In Transition | STRATFOR

After more than five years of existing in political stalemate, Hamas is now trying to manage a worsening relationship with Iran and Syria and exploit the political rise of its Islamist parent organization, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Without a clear vision on how to proceed, Hamas is likely to undergo serious internal strains that could raise the potential for a splintering of the heretofore most tightly run organization of the Palestinian territories.
Six years ago, Hamas unexpectedly swept parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories and won the right to form a government. But the idea of a self-professed Islamist militant organization running the Palestinian government did not sit well with Israel and much of the West or with Hamas’ rival, Fatah. Sanctions on Hamas immediately intensified, and a civil war broke out between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas was driven into political isolation after it forcibly took over the Gaza Strip in mid-2007.
Hamas then entered a long period of political stagnation. As a heavily sanctioned political pariah, the group’s financial stresses rose. This provided Iran an opportunity to deepen its financial links with the Hamas regime. Though weapons and supplies still flowed to Gaza, the Egyptian regime of then-President Hosni Mubarak maintained a tight security grip over the Sinai-Gaza border to keep Hamas under control. When Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, Hamas was able to both resist and garner international sympathy, but the two-month operation still dealt a blow to Hamas militarily and did little to ease the group’s political constraints. Apart from a rampant smuggling trade via Gaza tunnels, Hamas had little space to exercise its political authority.
But regional events in 2011 brought about large changes in the challenges and opportunities faced by Hamas. Political demonstrations in Egypt led to the fall of Mubarak. After decades of being repressed by the Mubarak regime, the Egyptian MB entered the political mainstream. Though the military, which remains Egypt’s ultimate authority, wants to keep Hamas confined in Gaza, the MB’s rise has raised international acceptance of Islamists as political players. When Arab unrest reached Syria, Hamas’ refusal to publicly support the regime of President Bashar al Assad cost its exiled politburo its footing with the regime in Damascus; Hamas had to start seeking an alternative base. Meanwhile, as demonstrations continued to spread throughout the Arab world, Iran’s growing assertiveness in the region put the spotlight on Hamas, a Sunni entity, for its substantial ties with the Shiite Islamic Republic.
The group now finds itself at a turning point. Hamas has to balance deteriorating relationships with longtime patrons Iran and Syria, establish a new political vision, identify proper sources of funding and manage growing internal disagreements.

Picking Sides

When al Assad’s Alawite regime began resorting to more violent crackdowns against a growing, Sunni-dominated opposition, Hamas leaders in Damascus, led by politburo chief Khaled Meshaal, had reason to be nervous. Damascus has served as the exiled leadership’s main hub of operations since 2001, and it is the main channel for funding to reach Hamas. When unrest in Syria began, Hamas’ best option was to try to not appear involved in Syria’s internal affairs; the group could not risk its credibility by standing behind an Iranian-backed Alawite regime against Sunni resistance. Because of the overwhelming support in the Arab world for the Sunni-led uprising, Hamas could no longer ignore, as it did in the past, the al Assad regime’s intolerance of its comrades in Syria’s branch of the MB.
In August and September, Syria and Iran tried to pressure Hamas into organizing pro-Assad demonstrations in the Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. It was time for Hamas to decide whom it would support. Hamas had two choices: It could follow orders and showcase its close alignment with the Iran and Syria, or it could create some distance from the Iranian-led coalition, use that distance to reinforce its relations with its Sunni Arab neighbors and, most critically, seize the opportunity to follow the MB’s lead out of political isolation.
Hamas chose the latter and refused to stage the demonstrations. The group could not afford to side against a wave of Sunni opposition without absorbing a hit to its legitimacy. Yet beyond the ideological discomfort it was experiencing, Hamas had a bigger vision in mind.

Hamas’ Political Vision

Hamas formally was created in 1987, largely as the result of two factors. First was public dissatisfaction with the secularist and corrupt Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The second was an effort by the MB to respond to the first intifada in a way that allowed it to remain politically insulated. The creation of a separate Gaza group that could engage in armed resistance answered the MB’s dilemma. However, Hamas’ original leadership still viewed militancy as a means to a political end. Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the leader of the MB and of the Islamic Center in Gaza, argued that Hamas was basically a political movement: It would fight for the rights of Palestinians, with the objective of eliminating Israel. The violent means Hamas has used make it highly controversial as a political player, but it is important to note that Hamas has held political ambitions since its inception.
Hamas’ core struggle is over how to proceed along that political path while presiding over a stateless entity — especially when its reputation has been primarily built on militant resistance, not on political credentials. As the organization learned after the 2006 election, even a sweeping political victory in the Palestinian territories yields limited results for an organization widely recognized as the premier Palestinian militant group. In other words, if Hamas was not prepared to abandon its militant arm and change its charter to recognize Israel, it needed to undergo a serious rebranding effort.
That opportunity came with the fall of Mubarak. The spread of unrest provided an opening for Islamist groups throughout the region to raise their political voice and force a wider acceptance of their growing role in the political affairs of the Arab world. The rise of the Egyptian MB in particular created an opening for Hamas to publicly reassert itself as a legitimate political player operating in the same league as its parent organization.
However, Hamas must make several difficult political decisions to achieve such a transition.

Coping with Finances

Hamas is highly secretive about its finances, but it has been unable to fully conceal the financial stress it has experienced over the past several months. It has been widely rumored that Iran began curtailing its monthly payments to Hamas after the group’s refusal to demonstrate on behalf of the Syrian regime. According to multiple sources, Iran had directed $25 million per month to Hamas; to put that in perspective, Hamas’ stated annual budget for administering the Gaza Strip is about $700 million.
In addition to the decline in Iranian financing, Hamas may also have reason to be concerned about the status of its investments in Syria. A number of Hamas members have business partnerships with members of the Syrian business community, including those close to the regime. Though the value of these assets is unknown, much of Syrian investment linked to Hamas is in real estate, resorts, food imports and olive oil exports.
Hamas may also be seeing less income from Islamic charities. Though a significant amount of funding is still likely earmarked for Hamas, a Stratfor source linked to the group said the rise of the MB and other regional Islamist opposition groups has attracted a major influx of money from donors looking to sustain the effects of the Arab Spring, making Hamas a lower priority.
These are not the only sources of Hamas funding. Hamas is believed to make about $50 million per year by taxing trade that runs through the Gaza Strip’s extensive tunnel system. The group also reaps an unknown amount of profits from local businesses in which it holds a significant stake, including the Gaza Strip’s only shopping mall and sea resorts and businesses spread throughout the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Central Asia.
Nonetheless, there are indications that Hamas is experiencing significant financial pain because of its worsening relationship with Iran and Syria. Meshaal and Gaza-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh have been taking tours throughout the region in recent weeks to meet with leaders from Jordan, Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Hamas has allegedly sought financing from these states to compensate for the drop in Iranian support. Due to the uncertainty faced by the Syrian regime, Meshaal’s faction also has reportedly been gauging these states’ willingness to provide a new base and office space for the group’s exiled leadership.

The Costs and Benefits of a Relationship with Hamas

Hamas can make a compelling offer to these states. With concern growing in the region over how to check Iran’s power, Hamas’ move to distance itself from Iran and its allies in Syria could significantly undermine Tehran’s influence in the Levant region. Additionally, these countries, particularly Egypt and Jordan, see a strategic interest in bringing Hamas closer. They can build leverage with the group — creating another mechanism to balance Israel’s power — but also use that increased influence to keep Hamas in check. However, the strict condition these states are attaching to any deal are giving Hamas pause.
Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey share an interest in keeping Hamas hemmed in Gaza. These states frequently express their support of the principle of Palestinian statehood, but Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia in particular are most concerned by the idea of a Palestinian polity emerging that could threaten their national security. Egypt, dealing with an emboldened MB, does not want Hamas to break free of its isolation and meddle in Egyptian affairs. The Egyptian military elite is already on alert for Hamas attempts to instigate a crisis between Egypt and Israel; such a crisis could rally Egyptians and Palestinians alike and provide the Islamist opposition with the means to discredit the military’s authority. In Jordan, where Palestinians constitute a majority of the population, the ethnically distinct Hashemite regime is facing a vociferous opposition led by the Jordanian MB and does not want to embolden its Palestinian population. Saudi Arabia has long had a tense relationship with Hamas and remembers well its past brushes with Palestinian militancy.
Building leverage with a militant group comes with risks. If any of these states agreed to start or increase funding for Hamas or host a Hamas office, they would not want to be held accountable for renegade actions by the group, especially by the United States and Israel. At the same time, they know Hamas is not ready to disarm, recognize Israel and make a full political transition.

Sending Mixed Signals to Tehran

These states also understand that Hamas is unlikely to completely sever its ties with Iran. Beyond the money, weapons and training it has received from Iran and its allies, Hamas needs to maintain a decent working relationship with Iran to avoid creating greater complications for itself in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a much smaller militant outfit than Hamas, has had a tight financial, ideological and logistical relationship with the Islamic Republic since the group’s inception in 1980. PIJ is firmly committed to its militant campaign. The group openly rejects building ties with surrounding Arab states due to their perceived hypocrisy toward Palestinian statehood and the Arab states’ alleged collusion with Israel. PIJ is thus the most likely Palestinian recipient of Iranian aid no longer destined for Hamas. PIJ and Hamas have long cooperated. Hamas is even suspected of occasionally relying on PIJ to carry out attacks, in an effort for Hamas to maintain plausible deniability in dealing with Israel. However, Hamas may have a decreased ability to control PIJ actions within Gaza if Hamas is no longer cooperating closely with PIJ’s main backer, Iran. So long as Hamas controls Gaza, Israel will likely hold Hamas accountable for any attacks that emanate from there. A significant loss of control over militancy in Gaza could thus leave Hamas in a much more precarious position with regard to Israel.
Hamas’ leadership seems to have been sending mixed signals to Tehran — rather than running the risks involved in an outright break — while waiting for agreements to come through with the Arab states. However, these states first want real assurances that Hamas will behave according to their standards and fundamentally shift away from the Iran-Syria axis. Indeed, according to the Palestinian Al Quds daily, Haniyeh was allegedly strongly advised by the leaders of Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait to cancel his upcoming visit to Tehran if Hamas is serious about making a deal. Haniyeh’s arrival in Tehran on Feb. 10, despite the demands of the Arab states, shows that Hamas still feels the need to keep its options open with Iran.
Hamas knows the opportunity the MB’s political elevation presents, but several complications apparently are preventing Hamas from making any clear, hard decisions.
While struggling to balance between Sunni states and Iran, Hamas is also trying to find a way to moderate its political position at home. Ongoing Hamas efforts to reconcile with Fatah and become part of the PLO are designed to insulate Hamas from the drawbacks of ruling Gaza alone. Hamas will not capitulate to Fatah for the sake of reverting to a more comfortable opposition posture. The group wants to share enough power – and present itself in enough of a pragmatic light – to resume financial flows and provide Hamas with some plausible deniability in dealing with Israeli military reprisals against the Gaza Strip.
However, this is placing a lot of pressure on the group. In trying to reintegrate itself with Fatah under the PLO umbrella and reinforce its relations with the surrounding Arab states, Hamas risks developing a crisis in legitimacy among Palestinians. The group already has accomplished little during its time in political office. Should a power-sharing government with Fatah fail to yield results, Hamas could be susceptible to the same criticism levied against its secularist rivals. Money is still sorely lacking in the Gaza Strip, and middle class members of Hamas who are making money are increasingly viewed as corrupt in the Palestinian territories. Hamas does not want to risk being put in the same light as Fatah and thereby seeing its credibility erode among its own supporters.

A Hamas Splintering?

Stresses within Hamas are already beginning to manifest in the form of public spats between the group’s Gaza-based leadership and its exiled leadership over which political course to take with Fatah, how to manage the group’s finances and what terms Hamas should agree to in dealing with foreign backers. Deep, personal rivalries have long existed within these factions, but the strains appear to be turning more severe. This dynamic was most recently illustrated the week of Feb. 6, when Meshaal signed a power-sharing agreement with Fatah leader and Palestinian National Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Doha, Qatar. Haniyeh and his deputy Mahmoud Zahar did not attend the Doha summit, and their parliamentary bloc strongly rejected the deal two days later, citing a clause that said Abbas would remain both president and prime minister in a future government. Haniyeh has since denied any rifts within his movement, but the more Hamas insists on its unity, the more doubts are raised regarding its internal coherence.
Aside from questions about how to reconcile with Fatah, there is also the important question of who will handle Hamas’ finances if the exiled leadership moves from its financial base in Damascus. It appears that Hamas is looking to set up multiple offices in countries that agree to host Hamas and help fund the organization. This could see the exiled leadership spread across Cairo, Amman and possibly Doha. Meshaal, who has Jordanian citizenship, is likely to end up in Amman while Mousa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, has already reportedly moved with his family to Cairo. A scattering of Hamas’ exiled leadership to these capitals may serve to enhance the group’s ties with each of these states and encourage them to increase their funding to Hamas, but it also leaves the group beholden to the interests of multiple states that share a desire to keep the group contained. Moreover, the wider Hamas’ exiled leadership is spread, the more difficult these leaders will find it to coordinate and remain relevant compared to the Gaza-based leadership.

\Special Report: Hamas In Transition | STRATFOR

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Under Obama, the US is no longer Israel’s ally

Our World: An ally no more

Instead of warning Egypt against breaking its treaty with the Jewish state, US officials chose to criticize Israel instead.
With vote tallies in for Egypt’s first round of parliamentary elections in it is abundantly clear that Egypt is on the fast track to becoming a totalitarian Islamic state. The first round of voting took place in Egypt’s most liberal, cosmopolitan cities. And still the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists received more than 60 percent of the vote. Run-off elections for 52 seats will by all estimates increase their representation.

And then in the months to come, Egyptian voters in the far more Islamist Nile Delta and Sinai will undoubtedly provide the forces of jihadist Islam with an even greater margin of victory.

Until the US-supported overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt served as the anchor of the US alliance system in the Arab world. The Egyptian military is US-armed, US-trained and US-financed.

The Suez Canal is among the most vital waterways in the world for the US Navy and the global economy.

Due to Mubarak’s commitment to stemming the tide of jihadist forces that threatened his regime, under his rule Egypt served as a major counter-terror hub in the US-led war against international jihad.

GIVEN EGYPT’S singular importance to US strategic interests in the Arab world, the Obama administration’s response to the calamitous election results has been shocking. Rather than sound the alarm bells, US President Barack Obama has celebrated the results as a victory for “democracy.”

Rather than warn Egypt that it will face severe consequences if it completes its Islamist transformation, the Obama administration has turned its guns on the first country that will pay a price for Egypt’s Islamic revolution: Israel.

Speaking at the annual policy conclave in Washington sponsored by the leftist Brookings Institute’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hammered Israel, the only real ally the US has left in the Middle East after Mubarak’s fall. Clinton felt it necessary – in the name of democracy – to embrace the positions of Israel’s radical Left against the majority of Israelis.

The same Secretary of State that has heralded negotiations with the violent, fanatical misogynists of the Taliban; who has extolled Saudi Arabia where women are given ten lashes for driving, and whose State Department trained female-hating Muslim Brotherhood operatives in the lead-up to the current elections in Egypt accused Israel of repressing women’s rights. The only state in the region where women are given full rights and legal protections became the focus of Clinton’s righteous feminist wrath.

In the IDF, as in the rest of the country, religious coercion is forbidden. Jewish law prohibits men from listening to women’s voices in song. And recently, when a group of religious soldiers were presented with an IDF band that featured female vocalists, keeping faith with their Orthodox observance, they walked out of the auditorium. The vocalists were not barred from singing. They were not mistreated. They were simply not listened to.

And as far as Clinton is concerned, this is proof that women in Israel are under attack. Barred by law from forcing their soldiers from spurning their religious obligations, IDF commanders were guilty of crimes against democracy for allowing the troops to exit the hall.

But Clinton didn’t end her diatribe with the IDF’s supposed war against women. She continued her onslaught by proclaiming that Israel is taking a knife to democracy by permitting its legislators to legislate laws that she doesn’t like. The legislative initiatives that provoked the ire of the US Secretary of State are the bills now under discussion which seek to curtail the ability to foreign governments to subvert Israel’s elected government by funding non-representative, anti-Israel political NGOs like B’Tselem and Peace Now.

In attacking Israel in the way she did, Clinton showed that she holds Israel to a unique standard of behavior. Whereas fellow Western democracies are within their rights when they undertake initiatives like banning Islamic headdresses from the public square, Israel is a criminal state for affording Jewish soldiers freedom of religion. Whereas the Taliban, who enslave women and girls in the most unspeakable fashion are worthy interlocutors, and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which supports universal female genital mutilation is moderate, Israel is an enemy of democracy for seeking to preserve the government’s ability to adopt policies that advance the country’s interests.
The unique standard to which Clinton holds the Jewish state is the standard of human perfection.

And as far as she is concerned, if Israel is not perfect, then it is unworthy of support. And since Israel, as a nation of mere mortals can never be perfect, it is necessarily always guilty.

CLINTON’S ASSAULT on Israeli democracy and society came a day after Panetta attacked Israel’s handling of its strategic challenges. Whereas Clinton attacked Israel’s moral fiber, Panetta judged Israel responsible for every negative development in the regional landscape.

Panetta excoriated Israel for not being involved in negotiations with the Palestinians. Israel, he said must make new concessions to the Palestinians in order to convince them of its good faith. If Israel makes such gestures, and the Palestinians and the larger Islamic world spurn them, then Panetta and his friends will side with Israel, he said.

Panetta failed to notice that Israel has already made repeated, unprecedented concessions to the Palestinians and that the Palestinians have pocketed those concessions and refused to negotiate. And he failed to notice that in response to the repeated spurning of its concessions by the Palestinians and the Arab world writ large, rather than stand with Israel, the US and Europe expanded their demands for further Israeli concessions.

Panetta demanded that Israel make renewed gestures as well to appease the Egyptians, Turks and Jordanians. He failed to notice that it was Turkey’s Islamist government, not Israel, that took a knife to the Turkish-Israeli strategic alliance.

As for Egypt, rather than recognize the strategic implications for the US and Israel alike of Egypt’s transformation into an Islamic state, the US Defense Secretary demanded that Israel ingratiate itself with Egypt’s military junta. Thanks in large part to the Obama administration, that junta is now completely beholden to the Muslim Brotherhood.

As for Jordan, again thanks to the US’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its aligned groups in Libya and Tunisia, the Hashemite regime is seeking to cut a deal with the Jordanian branch of the movement in a bid to save itself from Mubarak’s fate. Under these circumstances, there is no gesture that Israel can make to its neighbor to the east that would empower King Abdullah to extol the virtues of peace with the Jewish state.

Then there is Iran, and its nuclear weapons program.

Panetta argued that an Israeli military strike against Iran would lead to regional war. But he failed to mention that a nuclear armed Iran will lead to nuclear proliferation in the Arab world and exponentially increase the prospect of a global nuclear war.

Rather than face the dangers head on, Panetta’s message was that the Obama administration would rather accept a nuclear-armed Iran than support an Israeli military strike on Iran to prevent the mullocracy from becoming a nuclear-armed state.

Clinton’s and Panetta’s virulently anti-Israeli messages resonated in an address about European anti-Semitism given last week by the US Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman. Speaking to a Jewish audience, Gutman effectively denied the existence of anti-Semitism in Europe. While attacks against European Jews and Jewish institutions have become a daily occurrence continent-wide, Gutman claimed that non-Muslim anti- Semites are essentially just all-purpose bigots who hate everyone, not just Jews.

As for the Muslims who carry out the vast majority of anti-Jewish attacks in Europe, Gutman claimed they don’t have a problem with good Jews like him. They are simply angry because Israel isn’t handing over land to the Palestinians quickly enough. If the Jewish state would simply get with Obama’s program, according to the US ambassador, Muslim attacks on Jews in Europe would simply disappear.

Gutman of course is not a policymaker. His job is simply to implement Obama’s policies and voice the president’s beliefs.

But when taken together with Clinton’s and Panetta’s speeches, Gutman’s remarks expose a distressing intellectual and moral trend that clearly dominates the Obama administration’s foreign policy discourse. All three speeches share a common rejection of objective reality in favor of a fantasy.

In the administration’s fantasy universe, Israel is the only actor on the world stage. Its detractors, whether in the Islamic world or Europe, are mere objects. They are bereft of judgment or responsibility for their actions.

There are two possible explanations for this state of affairs – and they are not mutually exclusive. It is possible that the Obama administration is an ideological echo chamber in which only certain positions are permitted. This prospect is likely given the White House’s repeated directives prohibiting government officials from using terms like “jihad,” “Islamic terrorism,” “Islamist,” and “jihadist,” to describe jihad, Islamic terrorism, Islamists and jihadists.

Restrained by ideological thought police that outlaw critical thought about the dominant forces in the Islamic world today, US officials have little choice but to place all the blame for everything that goes wrong on the one society they are free to criticize – Israel.

The second possible explanation for the administration’s treatment of Israel is that it is permeated by anti-Semitism. The outsized responsibility and culpability placed on Israel by the likes of Obama, Clinton, Panetta and Gutman is certainly of a piece with classical anti-Semitic behavior.

There is little qualitative difference between accusing Israeli society of destroying democracy for seeking to defend itself against foreign political subversion, and accusing Jews of destroying morality for failing to embrace foreign religious faiths.

So too, there is little qualitative difference between blaming Israel for its isolation in the face of the Islamist takeover of the Arab world, and blaming the Jews for the rise of anti-Semites to power in places like Russia, Germany and Norway.

In truth, from Israel’s perspective, it really doesn’t make a difference whether these statements and the intellectual climate they represent stem from ideological myopia or from hatred of Jews.

The end result is the same in either case: Under President Obama, the US government has become hostile to Israel’s national rights and strategic imperatives. Under Obama, the US is no longer Israel’s ally.

Our World: An ally no more – JPost – Opinion – Columnists

Posted By Uri Friedman

Yes, it’s Oman to the rescue yet again. Today we’re learning that the Omani government helped negotiate the release of three French aid workers held by al-Qaeda militants in Yemen. A Yemeni tribal mediator tells the Associated Press that Oman and a Yemeni businessman paid an unspecified sum to the militants, who had been demanding $12 million in exchange for the hostages.
The state-run Oman News Agency reports that Oman’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, directed officials to “provide all facilities” to help France in recognition of the “distinguished relations” between the two countries. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for his part, has “warmly” thanked the sultan for his “decisive help.” The aid workers crossed the Yemeni-Omani border by car, flew to Muscat on an Omani military plane, and then left for France.
If this scenario sounds familiar, that’s because it is. In 2010, Omani sources paid $500,000 bail to win the release of American hiker Sarah Shourd, who had been detained by Iran along with her fiancé Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal a year earlier for straying across the Iran-Iraq border. This fall, Oman shelled out close to $1 million for the release of Bauer and Fattal. A diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks indicates that Oman helped secure the release of British sailors captured by Iranian forces in 2007 as well.
How did Oman become the Denzel Washington of Middle East hostage situations? The answer lies in Oman’s pragmatic, Switzerland-esque approach to foreign policy. In 1970, Qaboos — who maintains a tight grip on power and who Robert Kaplan has described as the “most worldly and best-informed leader in the Arab world” — overthrew his father in a palace coup and set about transforming an isolated and unstable country into a nonaligned regional power. In the 1980s, for example, Oman somehow managed to maintain diplomatic relations with both sides in the Iran-Iraq war while backing U.N. Security Council calls to end the conflict.
This diplomatic balancing act has enabled Oman to enjoy good (but not excessively cozy) relations with both Iran and the U.S. and its Western allies. Qaboos, a supporter of the Shah before the Iranian revolution, has eschewed the hostile stance that Gulf neighbors like Saudi Arabia have adopted toward the Islamic regime. Instead, Oman and Iran cooperate to secure the Strait of Hormuz, which divides the two countries and transports 40 percent of the world’s oil and gas.
“Oman views Iran as the strategic threat to the region but has chosen to manage the threat by fostering strong working relations with Tehran,” a 2010 U.S. diplomatic cable explained. Iran, for its part, may not view the small sultanate as much of a threat and may value the alliance as it grows increasingly isolated. Oman has pressed Iran to negotiate with the U.S. over its nuclear program and even offered to facilitate secret talks.
America’s friendly relationship with Oman, meanwhile, dates back to at least 1841, when Oman became the first Arab nation to recognize the U.S. The sultanate has a free trade agreement with the U.S. and has permitted American forces to use its military bases in the past (in 2010, however, Omani officials strongly denied reports that they had discussed deploying U.S. missile defenses in the country). Oman’s role as a key interlocutor between Iran and the U.S. was underscored last month when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Qaboos following the revelation of an alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. “We would expect that Omanis would use their relationship with Iran, as they have in the past, to help the Iranians understand the implications of what they’re doing,” a U.S. State Department official noted during the visit.
The hostage deals, then, may represent just one more weapon in Oman’s arsenal for neutralizing threats to regional stability like the political paralysis in Yemen and deteriorating U.S.-Iranian relations. In a 2009 diplomatic cable, the U.S. ambassador to Oman informed an Omani foreign affairs official that securing the release of the three American hikers in Iran would “remove an unhelpful irritant” between Washington and Tehran. When Bauer and Fattal arrived safely in Muscat two years later, an Omani foreign ministry statement expressed hope that the deal would promote a “rapprochement between both the Americans and the Iranians” and “stability in the region.” Oman’s millions have yet to accomplish those elusive goals, but they have purchased several people their freedom.
Oman: The world’s hostage negotiator | FP Passport

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Excellent article on the vote for a Palestinian state being sought at the UN General Assembly in September. 

The Palestinians’ Imaginary State 
A majority of the world’s countries are gearing up to recognize a Palestinian state in September. But does Palestine really qualify? 
In a few weeks, an overwhelming majority in the United Nations General Assembly will likely vote for collective recognition of a Palestinian state. But which Palestinian state? Of the three Palestinian states the assembly could recognize, two are real and arguably could meet the requirements for statehood. But it is the third, purely imaginary one that the assembly will endorse, one that neither has a functioning government nor meets the requirements of international law.
According to the prevailing legal standard, the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, a “state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a) a permanent population; b) a defined territory; c) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.” Both the Hamas-controlled Palestinian entity in Gaza and the rival Fatah-governed Palestinian entity in the West Bank can be said to meet all four of these criteria of the law of statehood. The one on which the United Nations will vote does not.

In Gaza, Hamas controls a permanent population in a defined territory (i.e., Gaza within the armistice lines of 1949). Gaza has a functioning, if odious, government. And Hamas-controlled Gaza already conducts international relations with a large number of states. From a narrowly legal point of view, the Hamas Gaza entity could become a state, another miserable addition to a very imperfect world.

Of course, a Hamas state in Gaza is not something most of the world wants to see. A Hamas state allied to Iran would be a severe blow to international peace and security, and it would not be a state deserving of recognition by any democracy. It would be a state arising from the military coup of June 2007, a state that engages in large-scale violations of treaty obligations and human rights. Nor does Hamas seek statehood for Gaza alone. Hamas wants eventually to rule the whole of mandatory Palestine, comprising not just the West Bank along with Gaza, but all of today’s Israel too. Gaza alone is too small a prize for so grand an ambition. So this possible state is not on the table.

The Fatah Palestinian entity in the West Bank also could meet the legal requirements for statehood, and it would have more international support. It has a functioning government in the Palestinian Authority (PA), a permanent population, and international relations with a very large number of states. It also controls a defined territory, which comprises what are called areas A and B as defined under the Oslo II agreement of September 1995, plus additional territory subsequently transferred by Israel in agreed further redeployments. (Area A is the zone of full civil and security control by the Palestinian Authority, and Area B is a zone of Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control.) The Fatah West Bank entity within these lines also could be recognized as a state under international law.

But Fatah, the PA, and the broader PLO do not seek statehood for this West Bank entity that arguably could meet the legal requirements. Their minimum demand is a state that includes Gaza along with the West Bank, the eastern part of Jerusalem, and all the other parts of mandatory Palestine that were under Jordanian and Egyptian control before 1967. Fatah, the PA, and the PLO are demanding title to lands and authority over populations they do not control, being as they are under the rule of Hamas and Israel.
Unlike the two Palestinian entities that already exist, either of which could be recognized as a Palestinian state because they seem to fulfill the legal requirements, the Palestinian entity that a General Assembly majority will recognize as a state this September does not actually exist on Earth. It is imaginary and aspirational, not real. And it does not meet the legal requirements.

First, it will have two rival presidents pursuing incompatible policies. Mahmoud Abbas is presenting himself as the president of the Palestine that is pressing the claim in the U.N. General Assembly, but he is not considered to be the president anymore by Hamas, the largest political party in the putative state. And Hamas has Palestine’s own laws on its side in this dispute. Abbas was elected in 2005 to serve until January 2009, so his term has expired. In 2009, he unilaterally extended his term for another year until January 2010 (an extension that also has expired), but that extension did not adhere to Article 65 of the Palestinian constitution, the Basic Law. Hamas, which controls a majority in the now defunct Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), opposed the extension. According to Article 65 of the Basic Law, the legally empowered president of Palestine, since January 2009, has been PLC Speaker Abdel Aziz Dweik, a deputy representing Hamas. Palestine’s ruling party, Hamas, considers Dweik, not Abbas, to be the legal president of Palestine, and it has a strong case.

Second, the Palestine that the General Assembly will recognize also will have two rival prime ministers pursuing incompatible policies. Hamas denies that Abbas has the authority to appoint Salam Fayyad as prime minister, because Abbas is not legally the president of Palestine under Article 65 and because Fayyad has not been empowered as prime minister by the Palestinian Legislative Council as required by Article 66 of the Basic Law. Neither his first appointment, on June 15, 2007, nor his reappointment on May 19, 2009, was confirmed by the PLC as required. Hamas, which controls the majority in the PLC, considers the legal prime minister of the Palestinian Authority to continue to be Ismail Haniyeh, a senior political leader of Hamas. Haniyeh was empowered by the PLC to be prime minister of Palestine in February 2006. Abbas dismissed Haniyeh from the office on June 14, 2007, after the Gaza coup, but Haniyeh counters that this decree violated articles 45, 78, and 83 and that he continues to exercise prime ministerial authority under Article 83. The PLC also continues to recognize Haniyeh’s authority as prime minister. Here again, Hamas has the law on its side.

Third, this putative state of “Palestine” will also have a legislature that never meets. Elected on Jan. 25, 2006, for a term of four years, the PLC has enacted no laws, passed on no ministers, and conducted no meetings since 2007. Instead,Abbas says, “It is my right as a president to legislate laws and decisions that are called decrees. These decrees are legal, as long as the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) is not able to convene.”

It is common for Palestinian observers and their supporters in the West to attribute the PLC’s inaction to the fact that Israel arrested 21 of its more radical members in June 2006 after the abduction of Gilad Shalit, most of whom are still in detention. The Carter Center, for example, states, “With most of its representatives in Israeli prisons, the Palestinian Legislative Council never assembled the required quorum for meetings and hence was unable to carry out legislative functions designated to the PLC.” But the PLC has 132 members, of whom fewer than 20 are detained by Israel, and a quorum of the PLC requires only one more than half the members — 67 — to be present. So it is not Israel that is preventing a quorum.

In fact, neither faction contending to rule Palestine actually wants the PLC to meet, for different reasons. Hamas does not want it brought to session to enact new laws or amendments to existing laws when its majority has been diluted, especially because it fears unfavorable amendments to the election law. And Fatah is only too happy to see the Hamas members in jail, because it too does not want the PLC to meet, lest it enforce the Basic Law by replacing Abbas and Fayyad. PLC Speaker Dweik, whom Hamas considers to be the legally empowered president of Palestine, has said of his own arrest by Israel, “Any action that put an end to our activity in the parliament was welcomed by many, among them the Palestinian Authority.”

Fourth, this Palestine that the General Assembly will recognize will also lack the ability to hold presidential or legislative elections as required by Article 47 of its Basic Law — not because Israel will prevent them, but again because the rival Palestinian rulers will not allow them to happen. Abbas’s constitutionally defined term expired in January 2009, and the terms of the PLC representatives expired on Jan. 25, 2010, so new elections for both are overdue. The 2005 Palestinian Elections Law No. 9, Article 2, which Hamas recognizes as legally binding, and the replacement Elections Lawunilaterally decreed by Abbas on Sept. 2, 2007, Articles 2 to 4, which Hamas considers an unlawful usurpation of power under the constitution, require elections by now, but no such elections are in sight. Neither of the rivals wants an election to be held under the electoral rules recognized as legally binding by the other, and neither will permit the other to compete freely on territories it controls as required by both sets of regulations.

So there you have it. The General Assembly will make a remarkable decision about all this in the next few weeks. Instead of recognizing either of the two state-like entities that already exist, each having many of the attributes of statehood required by international law, the General Assembly will create an imaginary state that has two incompatible presidents, two rival prime ministers, a constitution whose most central provisions are violated by both sides, no functioning legislature, no ability to hold elections, a population mostly not under its control, borders that would annex territory under the control of other powers, and no clear path to resolve any of these conflicts. It is a resolution that plants the seeds for civil and international wars, not one that advances peace. 
Thaer Ganaim/PPO via Getty Images 

Steven J. Rosen served for 23 years as a senior official of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He is now the director of the Washington Project of the Middle East Forum.,2

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