Hard Questions, Tough Answers (April 1, 2019) - April Fools everywhere around us


Yossi Alpher is an independent security analyst. He is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former senior official with the Mossad, and a former IDF intelligence officer. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

Q. Writing on April 1, are you suggesting that some of the policy initiatives in and around Israel qualify as foolish?

A. Definitely.

Q. Let’s take President Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights. It won’t promote peace in the region?

A. No. It has been roundly condemned by every one of Israel’s neighbors as well as Russia and the European Union. No other country has followed the Trump initiative. US recognition was meant only to boost Prime Minister Netanyahu’s electoral fortunes. After all, it has no international legal validity and it came at a time when, due to the Assad regime’s fragility, its alliances with Russia and Iran and its barbarity toward its own people, no one would in any case challenge Israel’s right to hold onto the Golan.

But Trump’s recognition does egg on Israeli right-religious ultra-nationalists to push for annexation of all or part of the West Bank by the next governing coalition, on the assumption that the Trump administration will condone this too. This points to the deeper negative ramification of Golan annexation recognition for the future of Israeli-Palestinian peace. The lesson was highlighted last week by Lebanese-French analyst Joseph Bahout of The Carnegie Endowment and Sciences-Po: “They are burying a long-dead cadaver. This is the end of the ‘territories for peace’ equation, which was the foundation of the peace process.” (“On enterre un cadaver qui etait mort depuis deja longtemps. C’est la fin de l’equation ‘la terre contre la paix’ qui etait au fondement du processus de paix.”)

At least on the Golan there is no significant demographic issue (20,000 Druze, 30,000 Jews). In contrast, West Bank annexation would move Israel a significant step further away from a negotiated two-state solution and closer to becoming a bi-national state. It would mean, possibly with Trump’s blessing, either the end of the Zionist dream or the end of Israeli democracy, or both.

Q. But isn’t there a bright side to this dilemma? Last week, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash stated that the Arab decision not to have contact with Israel was a historic mistake. He recommended, instead, “keeping your lines of communications open”.

A. Keep reading the Gargash statement in the Abu Dhabi-based daily The National: “What we are facing, if we continue on the current trajectory, I think the conversation in 15 years’ time will really be about equal rights in one state. . . . A two-state solution will no longer be feasible because a sort of reduced rump (Palestinian) state will no longer be practical.” It’s quite understandable that Gargash recommends talking to Israel to facilitate this development since he assesses that Israel will eventually cease to be a Jewish state.

Q. Well, at least Gaza doesn’t pose a demographic issue because no one in Israel wants it. Netanyahu just beat it into temporary submission and is apparently planning after the election, together with the Arab world and the US, to shower a lot of development investment on the Strip. Aren’t these the best default solutions?

A. We Israelis are veteran fools when it comes to Gaza. As Nachum Barnea put it today in Yediot Aharonot, “Rabin dreamed of drowning Gaza in the sea; Peres dreamed that Gaza would be the Singapore of the Middle East; Sharon dreamed that if he withdrew down to the last meter, Gaza would become Egypt’s problem.”

To be fair, Netanyahu (and Trump) are neither more nor less foolish. Use force? In the space of a day or two the Israel Air Force just dropped a thousand times more ordnance on the Strip than the explosives in Hamas’s rockets fired into Israel. The end product is a tentative and undeclared ceasefire in which Hamas, or someone else in the Strip, still fires a rocket a day and demonstrates at the fence.

Throw money at Gaza? Bring in Qatari money to build sewage disposal plants, provide more electricity, expand Gaza’s Mediterranean fishing zone? Have we forgotten that this is not an economic conflict and it will not be solved with money? This is an ideological conflict, one so strong that Gaza’s Hamas leadership spends every spare dollar it gets not on desalination and electricity but on digging more tunnels and building more rockets. So dominant is the ideological component of the conflict that the Hamas leadership considers its 290 dead in the course of the past year’s fence demonstrations an achievement to be trumpeted, rather than a disaster.

Indeed, again to be fair, Israel’s leaders are not the biggest fools when it comes to Gaza. That prize goes to the Strip’s militant Islamists and their leaders.

Q. Let’s look at the region. Back to Gargash: he’s not the only Arab leader now prepared to work with Israel. Surely there is more than Israeli foolishness at work here . . .

A. Our Arab neighbors are fed up with Palestinian foolishness and in need of Israel’s hi-tech and intelligence cooperation in dealing with militant Islam--whether of the Islamic State variety as in Egypt or the Iranian variety, as with the Gulf states. Obviously, it’s important to be talking to our neighbors and even cooperating with them at the strategic level. Cooperation with Egypt and Jordan contribute directly to Israeli security needs against militant Islam.

The foolishness begins when these ties are portrayed by Israel (and the Trump administration) as somehow pointing the way toward a Palestinian solution or as strengthening Israel’s hand against Iran. All these Arab leaders have made clear that they will not sacrifice the Palestinians to their ties with Israel and the US. As for helping combat Iran, the Egyptians and Jordanians have their hands full at home and fear to antagonize Tehran, while Saudi Arabia and the UAE have demonstrated in Yemen that militarily they are paper tigers.

Not to mention that the Saudi regime is in the hands of a vicious and irresponsible fool, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan. With friends like these . . .

Q. But won’t US-led sanctions against Iran soon bring that regime to its knees?

A. Washington’s strategies for dealing with Iran have been foolhardy for the past two decades. The Bush administration accepted Iran as a legitimate partner against ISIS and its precursors in Iraq; now Iran calls the shots in Iraq. The Obama administration believed that if it accepted Iran as a legitimate player in the Arab Middle East, Tehran would freeze its nuclear program and “play nice” there. The Iran nuclear deal made sense, but not the second part of the equation, which has enabled Iranian military involvement in Syria all the way up to Israel’s border.

Now the Trump administration thinks economic sanctions will force moderation on the Tehran regime or even topple it. That works about the way Gaza’s economic crisis generates moderation on the part of Hamas. For the record: the Iranian regime is more democratic and more stable than nearly all Arab regimes. It is not going away. The sanctions won’t work.

Q. Well, at least the “Arab Spring” revolutions are over . . .

A. Really? Phase one of chaos, fragmentation and misery is still going strong in Yemen and Libya. The Palestinian Authority is still fragmented between the stagnant West Bank and violent Gaza. Even Syria is not out of the woods: in the Idlib enclave in the country’s northwest we find Russia, Turkey, the Assad regime and al-Qaeda still fighting, not to mention Assad’s ongoing brutality toward his own refugee population and the Iran/Hezbollah build-up in Syria against Israel.

And there appear to be the beginnings of a phase two of revolution in Algeria and Sudan, where protesters have been in the streets for months and the Bouteflika and Bashir regimes are tottering. Don’t expect a stable democratic outcome in either country. All this represents Arab foolishness at its worst.

Q. At least Israel is safe, thriving, and holding democratic elections . . .

A. Ah, yes. We’ll find out next week how much April foolishness those elections produce. To be discussed in the next Q & A. Meanwhile, happy April Fools Day.