Greg Sheridan: Arab Spring makes Israeli-Palestinian settlement hopeless

Greg has been in Israel for a week, under the auspices of the Australia Israel United Kingdom Leadership Dialogue. His dispatch is among the best Middle East analysis we’ve seen recently: Territorial compromise loses ground in Arab Spring [subscription required]. To over-simplify Greg’s report: the power vacuums created by the Arab Spring have been largely filled by Islamist parties, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are in such conflict that they cannot even travel safely onto each other’s territory. This toxic brew is very unlikely to lead to a permanent settlement. Here’s an excerpt to give you the flavor:

(…) What makes me especially pessimistic about a peace deal at the moment is the interaction of two related dynamics — the unfolding of the Arab Spring and the confused mess of Palestinian politics. The Arab Spring so far has yielded bitter fruit. Across much of North Africa, elections have been held and they have shown us again that elections alone do not make democracy.

Nonetheless, elections have results and these ones have greatly strengthened Islamists and Islamist extremists. In Egypt the biggest vote went to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was backed by some of the small but rich Persian Gulf oil states. Not very far behind the Brotherhood in Egypt was the even more extreme Salafists, who were strongly backed by Saudi Arabia. The Salafists’ electoral success was extraordinary. Five minutes ago it didn’t exist as a political movement, yet it won near enough to a quarter of the votes.

But overall, all across the Middle East, the big winner is the Muslim Brotherhood. Partly as a result, the Brotherhood is in great flux internally. But on one thing the Brotherhood is absolutely clear, its constant and comprehensive demonising and delegitimising of Israel. These newly empowered forces would denounce and fatally undermine any serious Palestinian compromise with Israel.

(…) This all plays into the exceedingly dysfunctional state of Palestinian politics. The Palestinian Authority, dominated by Fatah, rules in the West Bank. Hamas, which is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, rules Gaza. Naturally Hamas is fantastically empowered by the way the Arab Spring is unfolding. Islamism has shown itself to be the most powerful ideological and political force in the Middle East.

Read the whole thing »

Bruce Schneier on Stuxnet

Security guru Bruce Schneier has been offering careful observations on the Windows worm Stuxnet since 7 October. Bruce linked the recent NYT article today. Since Bruce did not make note of any glaring glitches in the article, I recommend reading Bruce’s 7 October article, then the NYT article:

This long New York Times article includes some interesting revelations. The article claims that Stuxnet was a joint Israeli-American project, and that its effectiveness was tested on live equipment: “Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium.”


My two previous Stuxnet posts. And an alternate theory: The Chinese did it.

Bush and the “peace process”

Is there anyone on earth as habitually ill-served by their leadership as the people who inhabit the Arab world? — Andrew J. Bacevich, reviewing Six Days of War for The Financial Times, 2002.

“The United States is the enemy. The United States is the hostile force behind Israel. The United States, O Arabs, is the enemy of all peoples, the killer of life, the shedder of blood, that is preventing you from liquidating Israel.” — Voice of the Arabs radio, 1967.

“O soldiers, 300,000 fighters of the People’s Army are with you in your battle, and behind them, 100 million Arabs. . . . Strike the enemy’s settlements, turn them into dust, pave the Arab roads with the skulls of Jews.” — Hafez al- Assad, dictator of Syria, 1967.

Military historian and CFR fellow Max Boot isn’t optimistic about near-term success of the “peace process”.

…many Americans believe that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which has been raging in one form or another for 60 years, is overdue for resolution.

But if measured by the length of other tribal and territorial disputes throughout history, there is no reason to think that the Arabs and Jews will soon beat their swords into plowshares. Consider just one such conflict, pitting the Scots against the English. The divide between the two nationalities — with similar religions (first Catholic, then Protestant), ethnic origins, languages and political systems — should have been easily bridged. But the Scots and English spent centuries killing one another.

…It is instructive to contemplate the virulence and length of the English struggles with the Scots (and also the similar, more recent battles with the Irish), given that their cultural and religious differences are trivial compared to those separating Israelis and Arabs. Attempts to end such conflicts before both sides are thoroughly exhausted are likely to have no more success than the Treaty of Northampton, which was supposed to end the Anglo-Scottish dispute in 1328. The only exception is if outside powers commit massive military force to bring peace, as happened in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. But that’s unlikely to happen in the Holy Land.

While there is plenty of evidence that most Israelis are tired of today’s war, there is little sign that their enemies are likely to give up anytime soon. Jihadists speak of their struggle to eliminate the “Zionist entity” as the work of centuries. Even if many ordinary Palestinians privately long for peace, their preferences are unlikely to prevail over those of the gunmen. Hard as it may be to accept, we have to confront the possibility that the Arab-Israeli conflict may not have a “solution,” at least not in the foreseeable future, and that trying to create one represents a triumph of hope over experience.

As it happens, I am “reading” Michael Oren’s Six Days of War for the third time [via audiobook]. The review certainly reinforces ones understanding of Arab hate – some of it natural, but much of it stoked and cultivated by Arab potentates for the past 60 years. It is possible that Israel only exists today due to the incompetence of those despots, with the aid of the Soviets. BTW, we consider Oren’s book sufficiently important that we actually keep a copy aboard Adagio.

…It is hard for rational people to understand the origins or cause of the madness of the present-day Palestinian body politic, which prefers the delusionary vision of a world without Israel to the real-world possibility of a nation sitting beside Israel. As Six Days of War demonstrates masterfully, the wellspring of that madness lies very, very deep within Arab political culture. — John Podhoretz, National Review, 2002.

Power, Faith, and Fantasy in the Middle East

Michael Totten interviews Michael B. Oren, author of “Power, Faith, and Fantasy in the Middle East”. This is an excellent introduction to the book [which I’m currently reading]. Like Oren’s “Six Days of War” this will prove to be one of the four or five most important books on the Middle East. .

MJT: When speaking of the Barbary War you used the word “jihad.” I don’t think you used that word in your book, though, did you?

Oren: No, I didn’t really have to. There was the case in 1785 where Thomas Jefferson is sent to negotiate with the envoy of the Pasha of Tripoli. Jefferson says to him that America only wants peace with the Barbary states. And he says to Jefferson “No, we want war with you. We have a holy book called the Koran which says that we have to conquer and enslave all infidel states. And the United States is an infidel state. And moreover our holy book the Koran tells us that if we are killed in the course of carrying out this war that we’ll go directly to Paradise.” So I didn’t think I even had to put the label jihadist on there. I figured that remarkable report of Jefferson’s at the Continental Congress would suffice to alert contemporary readers what Jefferson was dealing with in the Middle East.

MJT: You have taken the long view of American involvement in the Middle East perhaps more than anyone else in the world. Having done that, are you more optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

Oren: As a historian I’m optimistic. Listen, I view the war in Iraq not as a war, but as a battle in a much more protracted war. Iraq is America’s Bull Run in the war in the Middle East. It’s our first losing battle.

It is not Vietnam. You cannot withdraw from Iraq and be confident that the enemy is not going to follow you. Because the enemy is going to follow you. America can’t detach from the Middle East because the Middle East is not going to detach from America. And America’s going to have to learn to fight this fight to win in a much more prudent and effective way. And there are ways America can fight it more effectively.

MJT: What do you suggest?

Oren: I suggest America invest very heavily in intelligence and training an entire generation of service women and men to speak the languages, be conversant in the languages and the cultures of the Middle East. America has to invest much more heavily in intelligence gathering. America has to invest much more heavily in rapid response forces in the Middle East and retain them there.

America has to get involved in theology. We’ve been fighting a theology with an ideology. It doesn’t work. We have to get in the business of promoting a reformist Islam. It’s important. It’s controversial, but important.

MJT: How do we do that? Do you mean by promoting the moderates who already exist?

Oren: Well there are some moderates who exist. They don’t have any places where they can go out and speak and speak free of harm. We can help disseminate their ideas. Right now the extreme Wahhabi interpretation of Islam predominates in schools across Europe. The West has basically given up the field to these people.

Links to numerous reviews of Oren’s latest are here

Iraq: The Belmont Club has a bridge in Brooklyn for you to consider

Richard Fernandez and Mark Steyn – a powerful combination that you definitely do not want to miss:

One of the more interesting articles today is from Mark Steyn who reminds those who object to toppling Saddam Hussein just how much they hated containing him. Bottling up Saddam Hussein required parking most of the carrier fleet in the Persian Gulf and keeping large ground and air forces on his borders. Steyn writes:

“Your president has won,” Jean Chretien told ABC News in early March 2003. So there was no need to have a big ol’ war because, with 250,000 American and British troops on his borders, Saddam was “in a box.” “He won,” said Mr. Chretien of Bush. “He has created a situation where Saddam cannot do anything anymore. He has troops at the door and inspectors on the ground… You’re winning it big.” That’s easy for him to say, and committing other countries’ armies to “contain” Iraq is easy for him to do. A quarter million soldiers cannot sit in the sands of Araby twiddling their thumbs indefinitely. “Containment” is not a strategy but the absence of strategy …

And containment, as Steyn noted, didn’t mean you escaped blame. In fact the policy of containment was often equated with genocide. Yes, you read that right. Not invading Iraq was counted as genocide.

And, in place of congratulations for their brilliant “containment” of Saddam, Washington was blamed for UN sanctions and systematically starving to death a million Iraqi kids – or two million, according to which “humanitarian” agency you believe. The few Iraqi moppets who weren’t deceased suffered, according to the Nobel-winning playwright and thinker Harold Pinter, from missing genitals and/or rectums that leaked blood contaminated by depleted uranium from Anglo-American ordnance.

… The interesting thing about some of the death figures attributed by the antiwar crowd to America is that they are the sum of supposed deaths from invading Iraq and not invading it.



Michael Oren in his account of the Six Day War of 1967 describes the agony of IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin as he watched Arab armies massing at Israel’s borders without the power to strike because the Israeli cabinet was divided over whether to absorb the first blow to prove their innocence in the conflict or strike first to gain the military advantage. It’s a stark illustration that inaction has a price; that when you “give Peace a chance” you give up other chances. The containment strategy followed against Saddam Hussein and Islamic terrorism before September 11 wasn’t cost-free: it gave Saddam and Islamic fundamentalism time to plot, spy and act. It ceded the initiative to them. Mark Steyn’s retrospective and information now emerging from Saddam Hussein’s archives demonstrate that there was never any such as thing as a free lunch. A bill was always in the mail.

Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East

Michael Oren’s history of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war is searchable online at Amazon. This is the probably the best place to begin researching the history of the modern Middle East, as every ensuing crisis is a direct consequence of this short conflict.

Oren’s work is also available in a well-read audiobook version at Following are a few representative short reviews:

Reviewed by Eliot A. Cohen for Foreign Affairs:

This superior work of scholarship is the best account that will exist for some time of one of the pivotal wars of the twentieth century. The author has created a narrative that does its best to be dispassionate about matters that still elicit more passion than analysis, drawing on archival sources and interviews from all sides. (The Arab side, alas, is thinner than the rest, for fewer records are available.) In Oren’s telling, this conflict was produced by blunder and bravado on the Arab side, and fear and apprehension in the Israeli camp. Interested more in the political and diplomatic events than in military or societal ones, Oren nonetheless delivers a rounded tale. He constructs a gripping account that sheds light not only on the tortured politics of the region but on the broader, troubling question of how politicians may find themselves drawn into a conflict that they have neither anticipated nor desired. Other specialized volumes and works of synthesis and interpretation will appear, but this book will stand for many years.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Bacevich:

The modern Middle East emerged out of three great earthquakes that rocked the region over a period of a half century: the final collapse of the old Ottoman Empire as a result of World War I; the creation of the state of Israel in 1948; and the Six Day War of 1967. In his gripping and provocative new study, Michael Oren, an American and longtime resident of Israel, provides a fresh assessment of the last of these three, the event from which so many of today’s problems in the region are derived. The result is a book as timely as it is brilliant.

The 1967 war is an oft-told tale of high drama and great achievement. But Oren’s purpose in Six Days of War is not simply to affirm the heroic narrative to which almost all Israelis and most Americans subscribe. Basing his findings on multi-archival research, enjoying access to recently declassified documents, having himself interviewed many key political and military figures, Oren offers readers an account of the Six Day War and its origins that is rich in detail, unfailingly readable, and surprisingly even-handed. Beyond that, however, to employ a sometimes suspect term, the book qualifies as an exercise in historical revisionism: although by no means overturning the traditional narrative, the author amends our understanding of the war in ways that help illuminate the present.

Reviewed by law professor Stephen Bainbridge:

As an Army brat who spent much of his formative years in the South, I have a natural interest in military history. In our post-9/11 world, moreover, understanding what’s going on in the Middle East has become essential. The thesis of Michael Oren’s Six Days of War is that the 1967 war shaped – and continues to shape – the central problem of our age. Unlike much military history, Oren’s account focuses to a considerable extent on the diplomatic context. Events at the UN, in Washington and Moscow, as well as Tel Aviv and key Arab capitals, play a significant role. Indeed, the chapters and sections focusing on diplomacy are far easier to grasp than the battle sequences, which assume a knowledge of Middle East geography that many general readers will lack. (I found myself referring to the few maps constantly, but with frustration because many locations mentioned in the text appear on none of the maps.) Oren’s ready acceptance of the Israeli version of the USS Liberty incident will also raise some hackles with many US readers. Having said that, however, I strongly recommend this important analysis of a key turning point in recent history.

Reviewed by John Podhoretz:

Guess who spoke these words, and when: “The United States is the enemy. The United States is the hostile force behind Israel. The United States, O Arabs, is the enemy of all peoples, the killer of life, the shedder of blood, that is preventing you from liquidating Israel.”

There is only one possible choice: Osama bin Laden, of course. The hatred of America, the anti-Semitic rage at Israel, and the hortatory purple rhetoric are all typical of bin Laden’s videotaped rants. But bin Laden was actually ten years old when this speech was recited by an anonymous broadcaster on an Egyptian radio station called Voice of the Arabs.

The date was June 5, 1967. Only hours earlier, the Israeli air force had staged a preemptive strike against the Egyptian air force — destroying most of that nation’s planes, anti-aircraft weapons, and stationary missiles in 90 minutes. And yet, as Michael B. Oren relates in his masterful and thrilling new history, Six Days of War, “Egypt’s propaganda organs, radio and press, continued to boast of extraordinary victories, while according to Jordanian communiques, Israeli forces had been repulsed . . . and thirty-one Israeli planes shot down.”

This was neither wishful thinking nor mere propaganda. The problem in Cairo was that nobody dared speak the truth about what had happened. It was not until 4 p.m. that day — a full seven hours after the decimation – – that Gamel Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s dictator, was given an honest accounting. By this point, Egypt’s field marshal (who was Nasser’s oldest friend) was “either drunk or drugged or both” and issuing insanely contradictory orders. The defense minister, meanwhile, “had a bed moved into his office, then sequestered himself inside.” He would take no phone calls, nor would he respond to the knocks of his subordinates.

Reviewed by Michael Rubner:

Aftershocks of the 1967 earthquake still reverberate throughout the region 35 years later. In the absence of peace with Syria, Israel is still holding on to the Golan Heights. While Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt in the wake of the 1979 peace treaty, relations between these erstwhile adversaries have never warmed up. Israel has also annexed East Jerusalem, and remains in effective control of parts of the Gaza Strip and more substantial portions of the West Bank. Although they gained a modicum of political autonomy in the aftermath of the 1993 Oslo accords, the Palestinians who came under Israeli rule in 1967 are still stateless. With accounts of bloody clashes between Israelis and Palestinians dominating the daily headlines, the publication of yet another recounting of the war that reshaped the modern Middle East could not be more timely.