July 2018, Week 4


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 		 [ There is a new ménage-à-quatre in the region, bringing Israel,
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the United States
ever closer. And...an unexpected fifth player lurking in the shadows:
Russia.] [https://portside.org/] 



 Rebecca Gordon 
 July 19, 2018
Tom Dispatch [http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176449/] 

	* [https://portside.org/node/17769/printable/print]

 _ There is a new ménage-à-quatre in the region, bringing Israel,
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the United States
ever closer. And...an unexpected fifth player lurking in the shadows:
Russia. _ 



My father and I always had a tacit agreement: “We will never speak
of That Part of the World.” He’d grown up in an Orthodox Jewish
family in Norfolk, Virginia. His own father, a refugee from
early-twentieth-century pogroms in what is now Ukraine, had been the
president of his local Zionist organization. A liberal in most things
(including his ardent opposition to both of the U.S. wars against
Iraq), my father remained a Zionist to his dying day. We both knew
that if we were ever to have a real conversation about
Israel/Palestine, unforgivable things would be said.

As a child in the 1950s, I absorbed the ambient belief that the state
of Israel had been created after World War II as an apology gift from
the rest of the world to European Jews who had survived the Holocaust.
I was raised to think that if the worst were to happen and Jews were
once again to become targets of genocidal rage, my family could always
emigrate to Israel, where we would be safe. As a young woman, I
developed a different (and, in retrospect, silly) line on That Part of
the World: there’s entirely too much sun there, and it’s made them
all crazy.

It wasn’t until I'd reached my thirties that I began to pay serious
attention to the region that is variously known as the Middle East,
the Arab world, or the Greater Middle East and North Africa. And when
I did, I discovered how deep my ignorance (like that of so many fellow
Americans) really was and how much history, geography, and politics
there is to try to understand. What follows is my attempt to get a
handle on how the Trump presidency has affected U.S. policy and
actions in That Part of the World.


The United States has a long-standing and deep alliance with Israel.
During the Cold War, Washington viewed that country as its bulwark in
the oil-rich region against both a rising pan-Arab nationalism and
real or imagined Soviet encroachments. In fact, according
[https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf] to the Library of
Congress’s Congressional Research Service, “Israel is the largest
cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. To
date, the United States has provided Israel $134.7 billion current, or
non-inflation-adjusted, dollars in bilateral assistance and missile
defense funding.”

The vast majority of this largesse has been in military aid, which has
allowed Israel, a country of a little more than eight million people,
to become the 14th
[http://www.businessinsider.com/most-powerful-militaries-in-the-world-ranked-2018-2#24-saudi-arabia-2]or 15th
[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Military_Strength_Index] strongest
military power on the planet. It is also the only nuclear power in the
region with an arsenal of at least 80 weapons
[https://www.sipri.org/research/armaments-and-disarmament/nuclear-weapons/world-nuclear-forces/israel] (even
if its government has never officially acknowledged
[http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3640613.stm] this reality).
By comparison, Iran, its present archenemy, ranks 21st, despite having
a population 10 times greater.

The history of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip,
and the Golan Heights -- territories it captured in the 1967 war -- is
too long and complex for even a brief recap here. Suffice it to say
that the United States has often been Israel’s sole ally as, in
direct contravention of international law, that country has used its
own settlements to carve Palestinian territory into a jigsaw puzzle of
disparate pieces, making a contiguous Palestinian state a near

Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon explained Israel’s plan for the
Palestinian people in 1973 when he said
“We'll make a pastrami sandwich of them." Promising to insert “a
strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians and then
another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank,” he
insisted that “in 25 years' time, neither the United Nations nor the
United States, nobody, will be able to tear it apart.”

Forty-five years later, his strategy has been fully implemented, as
Barack Obama reportedly learned to his shock when, in 2015, he saw
a State Department map
[https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-map-of-israeli-settlements-that-shocked-barack-obama?mbid=nl_Daily%20070918&CNDID=22635370&spMailingID=13839651&spUserID=MTMzMTc5ODM4MzU1S0&spJobID=1440729206&spReportId=MTQ0MDcyOTIwNgS2] of
the shredded remains of the land on which Palestinians are allowed to
exist on the West Bank.

The “pastrami sandwich” strategy has effectively killed any hope
for a two-state solution. Now, as the number of non-Jews begins to
of Jews in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, that country once again
confronts the inherent contradiction of a state that aims to be both
democratic and, in some sense, Jewish. If everyone living in
Israel/Palestine today had equal political and economic rights,
majority rule would no longer be Jewish rule. In effect, as some
Israelis argue, Israel can be Jewish or democratic, but not both.

A solution to this demographic dilemma -- one supported by present
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- is to legislate
[https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-nation-state-bill-heralds-israel-s-end-as-a-jewish-democratic-state-1.6265674] permanent
inequality through what’s called
[https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-explained-the-bill-that-would-allow-jewish-only-towns-in-israel-1.6265091] “the
basic law on Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” which
is now being debated in the country’s parliament, the Knesset. Among
other provisions, that “basic” law (which, if passed, would have
the equivalent of constitutional status) will allow citizens “to
establish ‘pure’ communities on the basis of religion or
ethnicity.” In other words, it will put in place an official
framework of legalized segregation.

In the Trump era, Washington’s alliance with Israel has only grown
tighter. After recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital -- despite
almost universal international objections -- Trump sealed the deal in
May, traveling to Jerusalem with a coterie of Zionist evangelical
Christians and, on Israeli Independence Day, opening
[https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/05/14/610944471/u-s-dedicates-new-embassy-in-jerusalem] a
new U.S. embassy there. That day, May 14th, was the eve of the 70th
anniversary of what Palestinians call the _nakba_ (the catastrophe
of Israel’s seizure of Palestinian homes and lands in 1948).

Donald Trump could not have sent a clearer signal to the world about
exactly where the United States stands on the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. That same day, as _Time_ reported
[http://time.com/longform/gaza-border-killings-photos/], “cameras
captured the chaos as Israeli soldiers methodically cut down some
2,700 Palestinians, 60 fatally, as they marched toward the fence that
separates Israel from the Gaza Strip.” Gazans, in case you’ve
forgotten, have been subject for years to a vicious blockade
both literal and economic, that has turned their homes into what has
been called
world’s largest open-air prison. And keep in mind that Israel also
launched major military operations against that tiny territory in
2008-2009, 2012, and 2014, and appears to be ramping up for a new one

It’s unlikely, to say the least, that the new “peace deal
that the world awaits from President Trump’s son-in-law Jared
Kushner will offer Palestinians much more than another bite of that
pastrami sandwich.


Geopolitics (and a common enemy) can make strange bedfellows. In a
recent _New Yorker_ article, Adam Entous suggests
[https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/israeli-saudi-and-emirati-officials-privately-pushed-for-trump-to-strike-a-grand-bargain-with-putin?mbid=nl_Daily%20071018&CNDID=22635370&spMailingID=13847355&spUserID=MTMzMTc5ODM4MzU1S0&spJobID=1440826404&spReportId=MTQ0MDgyNjQwNAS2] that
a new ménage-à-quatre was formed in the region in the run-up to
Donald Trump’s election, bringing Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United
Arab Emirates (UAE), and the United States ever closer. As it
happened, there was even an unexpected fifth player lurking in the
shadows: Russia. Entous reports that Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown
prince of Abu Dhabi and one of UAE's most powerful men, suggested to
an American friend that Russian President Vladimir Putin “might be
interested in resolving the conflict in Syria in exchange for the
lifting of sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s actions in

The goal of this new alliance was not so much an end to the brutal
Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad as an end to the Iranian military
presence in Syria. The unofficial alliance of the Saudis, the UAE, and
the Israelis was, above all, meant to push back or even bring an end
to the present government of Iran. This seems to have been the genesis
of a 2016 meeting in the Seychelles Islands between Erik Prince, the
founder of the notorious hire-a-mercenary company, Blackwater
and a confidant of then-Trump adviser Steve Bannon as well as the
brother of present Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and a figure
who might serve as a Russian-UAE go-between. Endous indicates that the
deal then proved “unworkable,” because Russia had neither the
desire nor the capacity to evict Iran from Syria.

Nevertheless, this July 10th, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu flew
to Moscow
[https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/07/putin-hold-separate-talks-netanyahu-khamenei-top-adviser-180711101053643.html] to
meet with Putin for a discussion of the Syrian situation in which the
Russians are now, of course, deeply enmeshed. At the same time, a top
foreign policy adviser to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei was also on his way to Russia to speak with Putin. Netanyahu
returned from Moscow with less than he’d hoped for, but at least
with “a commitment to keep Iranian forces tens of kilometers from
Israel,” according
[https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/12/world/middleeast/syria-israel-putin-netanyahu.html] to
the _New York Times._ The fact that these meetings were happening
the week before presidents Trump and Putin were to sit down together
in Helsinki and discuss Syria, among other topics, is, however,
suggestive. Bloomberg News reported
Putin has “stepped up efforts to broker a deal on the pullback of
pro-Iranian militias from Syria’s border with Israel" as he prepared
for his summit with Trump.

The American president has already backed away from his
predecessor’s insistence that the departure of Syrian leader Assad
be a precondition for a peace settlement in that country. For his
part, Netanyahu has made it clear that Israel can accept Assad in
power as long as the Iranian military units in that country are
withdrawn. Before leaving for Moscow, he told
[https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/netanyahu-israel-has-no-problem-with-assad-agreements-must-be-upheld-1.6268158] reporters,
“We haven't had a problem with the Assad regime; for 40 years not a
single bullet was fired on the Golan Heights.” Presumably, Trump and
his feckless son-in-law feel the same way.

In the end, the target of all these machinations remains Iran. The
dangers represented by a conflict between the Trump administration and
Iran (with the Israelis, the Saudis, and the UAE all potentially
involved) threaten to make the invasion of Iraq and ensuing events
there look mild by comparison. And it’s hardly out of the question.
As University of Michigan history professor and Middle East expert
Juan Cole notes
overshadowed by other absurdities
Trump’s bombastic post-NATO-summit news conference was this warning:
“I would say there might be an escalation between us and the


Meanwhile, if it weren’t for Yemen (see below), it might be hard to
imagine a more miserable place in 2018 than Syria. Since 2011, when a
nonviolent movement to unseat Assad devolved into a vicious civil war,
more than half the country’s pre-war population of 22 million has
become internally displaced or refugees, according to numbers
[http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/syria-emergency.html] from the U.N. High
Commission on Refugees. Actual casualty figures are impossible to pin
down with any exactitude. In April 2018, however, the _New York
Times_ reported
[https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/13/world/middleeast/syria-death-toll.html] that
the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put
[http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=86573] the number of directly caused
deaths at 511,000, including fighters and civilians.

Death and destruction have come from all sides: al-Qaeda-linked terror
groups and the Islamic State killing civilians; the Syrian military,
which is presently driving opposition forces out of the southern city
of Dara’a
where the original uprising began (creating a quarter-million refugees
with literally no place to go); and U.S. bombs and other munitions
-- 20,000
[https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/23/us-air-wars-trump] of
them -- reducing the city of Raqqa to rubble
a campaign to liberate it from ISIS militants. Add it all up and the
war, still ongoing, has destroyed millions of homes and businesses,
along with crucial infrastructure throughout an increasingly
impoverished country.

So many military forces -- foreign and domestic -- are contending in
Syria that it’s difficult to keep track. Wikipedia’s list of those
fighting fills screen after screen. On the side of Assad’s
government are the Syrian military, elements of the militia of the
Iranian-supported Lebanese party Hezbollah
[https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/06/hezbollah-iran-stay-syria-liberated-180606162339625.html] (part
of the government in that country), some Iranian Revolutionary Guard
[https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-civil-war-on-the-front-line-with-the-iranian-revolutionary-guards-battling-outside-aleppo-a6891891.html] forces,
and of course the Russian military. On the other side are various
militant terror groups, including what’s left of the Islamic State,
and a wide variety of U.S.-supported anti-Assad groups, including
those hailing from the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria
a semi-autonomous, multi-ethnic area in the country’s northeast.
Throw in Kurdish
[https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/world/middleeast/turkey-kurds-syria.html] fighters,
including Syrian natives and Kurds from Turkey, and the Turkish
military [https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-42818353] itself
(in its bid to tamp down any errant Kurdish nationalism), at
least 2,000
[https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/04/04/u-s-troops-syria-and-what-they-doing-there/486763002/] U.S.
military personnel, and the Israeli air force, striking
[https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-44080460] at Iranian
targets in the country, and even with an eventual peace settlement,
Syria, the birthplace of the alphabet
will be a desperate nation for decades to come.

Whose fault was all of this? There’s plenty of blame to go around
and plenty of actors to shoulder that blame. But when you begin to
make that list, make sure to include Washington’s so-called
neoconservatives who, as far back as 1996, offered Benjamin Netanyahu
(Israel’s prime minister then, too) their “Clean Break”
[http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article1438.htm] strategy
to rebuild the Middle East. That plan started with unseating Iraqi
autocrat Saddam Hussein and went on to destabilize Syria. A number of
these neocons, including Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, then became
top officials in George W. Bush’s administration, invading Iraq
themselves to make sure their dream for the Israelis came true. And
what a nightmare it proved to be. Nor should we forget that one of
that plan’s loudest advocates
[https://truthout.org/articles/the-last-person-in-the-room-john-bolton-pnac-and-the-end-of-the-world/] during
the Bush administration -- John Bolton -- is now Trump’s national
security advisor. In other words, there’s plenty of blame to go
around and plenty to worry about.


If there is a place in the greater Middle East even more desperate
than Syria, it has to be Yemen
With U.S. logistical and financial support
Saudi Arabia has waged a cruel air war against the Houthis, a
home-grown movement that in 2015 overthrew the government
[https://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/middleeast/2014/02/98466.html] of
president Ali Abdullah Saleh. What is the Saudi interest in Yemen? As
in their support for a potential UAE-Israel-Russia-U.S. alliance in
Syria, they’re intent on fighting a proxy war -- and someday perhaps
via the U.S. and Israel, a real war -- with Iran.

In this case, however, it seems that the other side in that war
hasn’t shown up. Although, like the Iranian government and most
Iranians, the Houthi are Shi’a Muslims, there is little evidence
[https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/05/16/contrary-to-popular-belief-houthis-arent-iranian-proxies/?utm_term=.926448d2954d] of
Iranian involvement in Yemen. That hasn’t stopped the Saudis (with
American support) from turning
[https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/is-yemen-intentional-starvation-the-future-of-war?mbid=nl_Daily%20071118&CNDID=22635370&spMailingID=13855012&spUserID=MTMzMTc5ODM4MzU1S0&spJobID=1440931679&spReportId=MTQ0MDkzMTY3OQS2] that
country into “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.” Their
destruction of infrastructure in rebel-held areas has collapsed a
once-functioning public health system, touching off a cholera
epidemic, with the World Health Organization reporting
[http://www.emro.who.int/images/stories/yemen/week_22.pdf?ua=1] a
total of 1,105,371 suspected cases between April 2017 and June 2018.
The infection rate now stands at 934 per 10,000 people.

Even worse than the largely unchecked spread of cholera, however, is
Yemen’s man-made famine
Photographs from the country display the familiar iconography of
widespread hunger: children with stick-like limbs and blank, sunken
eyes. As it happens, though, this famine was not caused by drought or
any other natural disaster. It’s a direct result of a brutal Saudi
air campaign and a naval blockade aimed directly at the country’s
economic life.

Before the war, Yemen imported 80% of its food and even today, despite
a disastrous ongoing Saudi/UAE campaign
[https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/ramadan-yemen-war-latest-hodeidah-port-famine-houthi-imports-un-a8374811.html] to
blockade and take the port of Hodeidah, Yemen’s main economic
center, there is actually plenty of food in the country. It now simply
costs more than most Yemenis can pay. Because the war has destroyed
almost all economic activity in Houthi-controlled areas, people there
have no money with which to buy food. In other words, the Saudi
offensive against Hodeidah is starving people in two ways: directly by
preventing the delivery of international food aid and indirectly by
making the food in Yemen unaffordable for ordinary people.


With President Trump and his secretary of state now talking openly
[https://www.juancole.com/2018/07/threatens-escalation-control.html] about
a possible “escalation between us and the Iranians,” there is a
real risk that some combination of the United States, Israel, and
Saudi Arabia could initiate a war with Iran. If there’s one lesson
to be learned from U.S. wars since 9/11, it’s “don’t start
another one.”

For more than 70 years, Americans have largely ignored the effects of
U.S. foreign policy in the rest of the world. Rubble in Syria? Famine
in Yemen? It’s terribly sad, yes, but what, we still wonder, does it
have to do with us? 

That Part of the World doesn’t wonder about how U.S. actions and
policies affect them. That Part of the World knows -- and what it
knows is devastating. It’s time that real debate about future U.S.
policy there becomes part of our world, too./


Click here
[http://www.tomdispatch.com/images/managed/gordonnuremberg.jpg] to
order book.

_[Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular
teaches at the University of San Francisco. She is the author
of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for
Post-9/11 War Crimes
Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches
in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.]_

_Follow TomDispatch on Twitter
[https://twitter.com/TomDispatch] and join us on Facebook
[http://www.facebook.com/tomdispatch]. Check out the newest Dispatch
Books, Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story
Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War
as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The
Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power
John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World
War II
and John Feffer's dystopian novel Splinterlands

_Copyright 2018 Rebecca Gordon. Reprinted with permission. May not be
reprinted without permission from TomDispatch

	* [https://portside.org/node/17769/printable/print]







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