Israel must be wary of those lining up to give advice
October 1st, 2013
12:27 PM ET

Israel must be wary of those lining up to give advice

By Danny Danon, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Danny Danon is Israel’s deputy defense minister and the author of Israel: The Will to Prevail.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States this week has provided yet another reminder of how our country’s “volunteer advisers,” pundits and columnists are always quick to lavish their counsel upon us. Often forgotten once these thoughts of the day are neglected in favor of new topics is how much of this advice is proven by history to be dead wrong.

The Golan Heights and Israel is one such topic worth examining. International focus on Syria today centers on the heinous chemical attacks and its war-torn urban landscapes replete with rubble, bombs and bodies. These are heart wrenching scenes, and in Israel, as everywhere, we pray for a speedy end to this conflict and its wanton destruction. But simmering beneath these tragic headlines has been another key issue that sheds much light on the “value” of the advice Israel’s government receives – the Golan Heights, that slender tract of land along the Israel-Syria border.

The al-Assad regime has withdrawn thousands of its troops from the Syrian side of the Golan, mobilizing them for the defense of Damascus. This has created a power vacuum in the south of the country as the most significant troop redeployment of its kind in 40 years took place from the buffer zone.

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Topics: Israel • Middle East • Syria
Why the 'Netanyahu Doctrine' makes sense
October 1st, 2013
12:18 PM ET

Why the 'Netanyahu Doctrine' makes sense

By Einat Wilf, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Einat Wilf is a former member of the Israeli Knesset and sat on its Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged from his meeting Monday with President Barack Obama, he may have recognized in the president a fellow proponent of the Netanyahu Doctrine: to avoid the use of force, be ready to use it. After all, Obama had just reiterated that he won't take any options off the table on Iran, “including military.”

Of course, the Netanyahu Doctrine is nothing new – the ancient Romans described it as si vis pacem para bellum, “he who wants peace must prepare for war.” Hebrew wisdom extolled self-restraint as the highest form of heroism, and such ancient wisdom has also guided Netanyahu's policies, and not only on Iran. But while this doctrine did not originate with Netanyahu, the prime minister has become closely associated with its application in the region, despite facing significant criticism.

The doctrine is simple to formulate, yet nearly impossible to successfully implement because to be a success, three components must be in place: the capability to use force, projection of a true willingness to use it, and a deep desire to avoid doing so. No one, including the leader, knows what will actually happen at the critical moment of decision regarding the use of force, but the other side should be sufficiently concerned and unsure to consider the threat credible. When done right, the doctrine is a masterful tightrope walk over the twin abyss of Vietnam and Munich: Prepare for war too much and you risk instigating the very war you wish to avoid; prepare too little and you risk encouraging aggression through weakness and appeasement.

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August 16th, 2013
03:49 PM ET

Barak: World should back new Egypt government

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, just days before the latest outbreak of violence, about Egypt’s government and the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi.

Would it be fair to say that Israel is quietly happy with the change of government, which of course many people regard as a coup, in Egypt? The new government has been much tougher on the border in terms of supplying Hamas.

Yes, you know, I don't think that we are really a major player in this. It’s a dramatic development for the Egyptian people and for the whole Middle East, the Arab peoples. Israel is not the center focal point of this.

You have the border with Gaza and this government has been...better than Morsi’s government?

Yes.  But I think that the whole world should support Sisi. I believe that...

…the new Egyptian government?

I think that you have to support him. If we support him, it probably will embarrass him and it probably won't help him. But Sisi and the liberals, ElBaradei and others, they deserve the support of the free world. To whom else can they turn?

Morsi was elected relatively fairly, but he immediately turned to use the very tools...of [being] slightly and quite democratically elected into turning into a totally totalitarian, Sharia-like extreme Islamist system. And his own people rejected it.

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Topics: Arab Spring • Egypt • Israel • Middle East
August 13th, 2013
10:48 PM ET

What I'm reading: The real issue for Palestinians

By Fareed Zakaria

“Israel’s Palestinian citizens don’t want to leave. Over the decades they have developed an identity distinct from their West Bank and Gazan cousins. They appreciate living in a prosperous, democratic country. But—and this is what keeps Netanyahu up at night—they don’t want that country to be a Jewish state,” writes Peter Beinart in the Daily Beast.

“They don’t feel warm and fuzzy about a flag with a Jewish star and a national anthem that talks about the ‘Jewish soul.’ They believe, as a high-profile Israeli government commission acknowledged in 2003, that Israel’s treatment of them ‘has been primarily neglectful and discriminatory.’ Their kids can’t aspire to be prime minister. In ways both deeply symbolic and highly practical, they feel like second-class citizens as non-Jews in a Jewish state.”

“Omission and misdirection is hardly uncommon in domestic Chinese reporting, but the digital age has significantly complicated the process of suppressing information,” writes Jiayang Fan for the New Yorker. “A week ago, the Chinese-language edition of the Wall Street Journal briefly joined the Times and Bloomberg on the wrong side of China’s Great Firewall. Not for the first time, the Journal’s Chinese Web site was blocked without warning or evident provocation, while the English edition was uninterrupted.”

“The tactic is telling of the censors’ strategy: it doesn’t much matter if the barrier is linguistic or digital, as long as the vast majority of readers in China remain unable to surmount the divide. The sleight of hand would remain largely indiscernible if it were not for the emergence of Weibo and a rising class of educated Chinese who, by virtue of being bilingual, are able to monitor the censors.”

Why 'cautious pessimism' prevails in Middle East
July 30th, 2013
09:39 AM ET

Why 'cautious pessimism' prevails in Middle East

By Robert M. Danin, Special to CNN

Editor's Note: Robert M. Danin is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the former director for the Levant and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council. He writes the blog Middle East Matters at CFR.org. The views expressed are his own.

Writing in the Israeli daily Ma’ariv, Nadav Eyal characterized his country’s view of this week’s peace talks with the Palestinians as that of “cautious pessimism.” Palestinian public opinion is even gloomier. Mutual cynicism about the prospects for peace is not surprising, given that the two sides have been unsuccessfully negotiating an end to their conflict intermittently for over two decades. Having seen their hopes and aspirations dashed so many times before, why should this time be any different?

The initial indicators are not overly encouraging: That U.S. Secretary of State Kerry had to invest so much time and effort just to get Israelis and Palestinians to agree to meet suggests that he may want the talks more than them. Ultimately, it was Kerry’s sheer tenacity that made the price of saying no for the parties higher than acceding to the United States chief diplomat. But so far, what the parties have mainly agreed to is a process, not to a deal.

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July 25th, 2013
09:21 AM ET

Israel’s troubling asylum seeker treatment

By Gerry Simpson, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Gerry Simpson is Human Rights Watch’s senior refugee researcher and advocate. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Your government forces you into its army, whose conscripts spend years or decades on starvation wages in barracks and construction sites policed by corrupt and abusive superiors. You escape, creeping at night past border guards with shoot-to-kill orders. You reach a neglected refugee camp in a remote desert region of a neighboring country.

You are kidnapped and sold to traffickers in another country. They brutally torture you to extort thousands of dollars from your relatives, forced to hear your screams on a cell phone. You are released and evade more trigger-happy border guards to cross into another country, where soldiers take you to prison. You ask for asylum but it takes months to register your claim. And then a prison official says, “Write here that you want to go home and sign, or this prison is your new home.”

You wake up.

But for the 1,400 Eritrean asylum seekers detained in Israel’s Negev desert who could tell this story, this is no dream. They are living the nightmare. Having fled Eritrea for Sudan’s refugee camps, most will have faced months of torture and abuse by traffickers in Sudan and Egypt’s Sinai region, and now face a grim “choice” between prolonged detention in Israel or return to Eritrea.  Israel calls it the “procedure for documenting the free will of infiltrators.”

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Topics: Africa • Israel
July 25th, 2013
09:01 AM ET

A fool's errand worth pursuing

By Fareed Zakaria

If you were to ask me what international problem is least likely to be resolved in the next few years, I would probably say the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It takes no special insight to be skeptical on this; no one has ever lost money betting against the Middle East peace process. And yet I find myself cheering on Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to revive talks between the two sides.

The case for realism is obvious. The Palestinians are dysfunctional and divided, with Hamas controlling Gaza and still unwilling to make any kind of deal with Israel. For its part, the Israeli public has largely given up on peace, and new political groups–like those led by Naftali Bennett–flatly oppose a two-state solution.

But the situation on the ground is not quite as stuck as it at first seems.

Read the full column in TIME

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Topics: Israel • Middle East • Palestinian Authority • Time
Why Obama needs to act in Syria
May 22nd, 2013
09:39 AM ET

Why Obama needs to act in Syria

By Mark N. Katz, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mark N. Katz is professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University, and the author of ‘Leaving without Losing:  The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan.’ The views expressed are his own.

The ongoing civil war that is devastating Syria is increasingly threatening to spill over and engulf neighboring countries. Indeed, all the ingredients are there for what would be a disastrous region-wide Sunni-Shiite conflict.

Just look at what has been going on. Turkey is hard pressed to deal with the growing number of Syrian refugees flooding into its territory, while tiny Jordan may soon be overwhelmed by them. In addition, the conflict between Syria’s Alawite minority regime and its Sunni majority opposition is spilling over and re-invigorating Sunni-Shiite conflict both in Iraq to the east and Lebanon to the west. Meanwhile, Shiite-dominated governments in Iran and Iraq, as well as the radical Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement, are all actively assisting Syria’s Alawite regime, while Sunni-dominated governments in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan are helping the Sunni opposition.

And what has been the Obama administration’s response to all this? Surprising – and troubling – restraint.

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Topics: Islam • Israel • Middle East • Syria • Turkey
Why Russia won't cut Syria loose
May 17th, 2013
12:15 PM ET

Why Russia won't cut Syria loose

By Peter Fragiskatos, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Peter Fragiskatos teaches at Western University in London, Canada. You can follow him @pfragiskatos. The views expressed are his own.

Amidst the horror that continues to plague Syria, a glimmer of hope emerged last week as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced they will try to bring together the Syrian state and its opponents by convening an international peace conference.

In principle, negotiations are the right way to go. Had talks taken place earlier, the bloodshed, which has now claimed the lives of more than 70,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more, could have been vastly reduced. The only way it can be stopped is if there are some compromises, and this will only happen when the warring sides start talking in earnest. Yet reports that Russia is sending advanced anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria are a reminder that Moscow's commitment to the process remains an unpredictable wild card.

In preparing for the discussions, a division of labor appears to have been set – the Americans are trying to persuade the rebels to take part, while Russia is pressing the al-Assad regime. And there are some promising signs on both fronts. According to Kerry, Salim Idriss – chief of staff for the main opposition Free Syrian Army – has expressed strong interest in negotiations, while reports suggest Lavrov has received a list of negotiators from the Syrian government.

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Topics: Israel • Russia • Syria
65 years after 'catastrophe,' Palestinians have little to cheer about
May 14th, 2013
11:45 AM ET

65 years after 'catastrophe,' Palestinians have little to cheer about

By Ibrahim Sharqieh, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ibrahim Sharqieh is deputy director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center, and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University in Qatar. You can follow him @sharqieh. The views expressed are his own.

On May 15, the Palestinians will commemorate 65 years of their “Nakba” – “the Catastrophe.” This is how they describe 1948, which saw the destruction of Palestinian society, 750,000 Palestinians forced from their homes, and over 450 Palestinian towns wiped off the map. Today, there are over 5 million Palestinian refugees registered with the United Nations’ UNRWA. But while 1948 was a terrible trauma for the collective Palestinian memory, the reality is that it was only the beginning of a long journey of displacement, dispossession, and exile. The real Nakba is ongoing, and the Palestinian people live it on a daily basis both inside and outside the Palestinian territories. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry throws himself into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, we have to ask: Will his efforts bring this human tragedy a step closer to the end? Or only make it worse?

On a recent trip to Lebanon, I made sure to visit the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. While under control of the Israeli army that occupied Beirut in 1982, approximately 800 to 3,500 Palestinian refugees were massacred at the hands of Christian militias. In the camps today, the bitter reality of the Palestinian refugees’ life in exile is on full display: an enormous mass grave in the camps’ center holds the victims of 1982 massacre. It is a daily reminder to the refugees of their continuing human tragedy.

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March 27th, 2013
08:39 PM ET

Obama appeals to Israel's conscience

By Fareed Zakaria

In a sense, both hard-line supporters of Israel and advocates of peace have clung to the notion of the Jewish state as deeply vulnerable. For Likudniks, this demonstrated that Israel was at risk and needed constant support. For peaceniks, it proved that peace was a vital necessity.

But Israel’s strength and security are changing the country’s outlook. Don’t look only at the tough talk coming from the new right. As columnist and author Ari Shavit notes, the country has turned its attention from survival to social, political and economic justice. (January’s election results confirmed this trend.) And while these seem, at first, domestic affairs, they will ultimately lead to a concern for justice in a broader sense and for the rights of Palestinians.

Read the full column at the Washington Post

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Topics: Israel
Last chance for Obama in Middle East
March 20th, 2013
07:55 AM ET

Last chance for Obama in Middle East

By Mohammed Ayoob, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mohammed Ayoob is a distinguished professor of International Relations at Michigan State University and adjunct scholar at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed are his own.

President Barack Obama is just beginning his first visit to Israel and the West Bank since he assumed the presidency, but skeptics have already been suggesting that those expecting much more than a photo-op are destined for disappointment. Indeed, the reality is that even if there is a desire within the Obama administration to cajole the two sides into resuming an active search for peace, this visit is unlikely to bring the results the president may be hoping for.

Why? The most obvious reason is the inability of President Obama to persuade Prime Minister Netanyahu to stop building settlements on occupied Palestinian lands, making it impossible for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table while preserving credibility among an already highly skeptical constituency. It is ironic that despite U.S. aid to Israel running at about $3 billion a year, Israeli influence in Washington far outstrips American influence in West Jerusalem.

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Topics: Israel • Middle East
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