By Nicole Dow, CNN
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction – a fact that is just as true for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as it is in physics. Now, as the Sunni militant group continues to try to expand its sphere of influence, its progress threatens to tip the delicate sectarian balance. Indeed, the ripple effects could transform the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East.
To understand why this is the case, it’s essential to understand the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia is an Arab state with a Sunni majority, while Iran is a predominantly Shiite, non-Arab state. Between the two countries is an ongoing tension that has been brewing at least since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.
"This is very much a conflict that is molded and shaped by the geopolitical competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the region," says Harith Al-Qarawee, a fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
"The very idea of having Sunni countries fighting ISIS, and the tendency to exclude Iran from the conferences that occurred in the past…[suggest] Iran is not considered an ally in that conflict," Al-Qarawee says.
Al-Qarawee says one reason is that the United States and its allies believe that a military offensive is best led by Sunni governments as ISIS identifies itself as Sunni. “I think the Obama administration concluded that no one can face ISIS except Sunnis themselves. If you ally with the Shia or a Shia-dominated government, you are deepening the sectarian divide and it is also the case if the arrangements rely only on Sunni allies and exclude Shias.” FULL POST
Fareed speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the prospects for peace and security in the Middle East. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
You’re a student of history. You know that a lot of people look at you and say this man could be the guy, like Richard Nixon, who made the opening to China, because he has the political cover that allows him to do that. Bibi Netanyahu is not going to be accused of being soft. Do you think there is that road for you?
You should come to Israel.
But do you think that there is that role for you?
I hope so. But in order to make it work, you need in the Middle East…I was going to say two to tango. In the Middle East, you probably need at least three.
But I think the United States is indispensable in brokering any type of a final peace deal. But I'm adding a different, a new component, because what I see is so startling and so different, you can see that in Gaza. You know, there were more demonstrations against Israel vis-a-vis Gaza in Paris than there were in the Arab world. That's going to be telling you something.
And I think because many people in the Arab world, it's not that they, you know, we care about every single civilian casualty and we were forced to strike at the rocketeers that embedded themselves – these Hamas people, in hospitals, schools, mosques, firing rockets and using Palestinian children as human shields. And it was horrible. And we regret every single civilian that happened there. FULL POST
Fareed speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Israel’s ties with its neighbors. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
Are you in a tacit alliance with the moderate Arab states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia?
I would say there's a commonality of interests that has crystallized – and I've never seen in my lifetime – because all the Arab states identify, as we do, the supreme challenge is of a nuclear Iran and the radical Sunnis making inroads into Sunni states. And they recognize that it imperils their societies. And, of course, they all want to get rid of Israel on their way to the Great Satan. We're just the little Satan. The Great Satan is the United States. And they all have these mad ideologies.
So we share the common interest to address those dangers.
CNN's New Day speaks with Fareed Zakaria about U.S.-led military strikes against ISIS, the Obama administration's strategy, and why the politics are so complicated. This is an edited version of the transcript.
This morning, a new round of U.S.-led air strikes targeted about a dozen oil refineries to try and cut off the money that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria makes through the black market. But we don't know how successful these bombings will be, and we're not really going to know because the coalition isn't on the ground in a meaningful way. And even if they achieve every objective they want to, it's far from over. Explain the complexity of this situation in terms of how you make real change.
Well, you're exactly right. Think about the initial air campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, brilliantly successful in Iraq, brilliantly successful in Libya. And then what you have is the ground operation, and most importantly the political operation as it were – who is going to govern these areas? Who is going to take charge? And the problem we face in Iraq – we have an answer, and we have a strategy. The Iraqi army tries to move in, the Kurds move in, you're trying to create a more inclusive Iraqi government. Not there yet, but at least that is the strategy.
In Syria, it is a mess because once you start striking at ISIS, who is going to replace it? Well, the al-Assad government, the Syrian government, wants to be that person. We want the Free Syrian Army, the rebels, the moderate rebels as we call them, to take over. And, guess what? This is a 12-cornered contest. It's going to be very messy.
So, imagine the two-step race here. We have a one-step campaign to defeat ISIS. Then we need to, in our minds, help the Free Syrian army defeat the al-Assad government.
Meanwhile, just to complicate things further, the Iranian government, which has been backing the Syrian regime, is going to fight those free Syrian rebels. I had the opportunity to interview President Rouhani of Iran yesterday, and he said flatly, the Free Syrian Army are terrorists. From Iran's point of view, they really don't make that much distinction between ISIS and the Free Syrian Army. They're going to fight both. FULL POST
By Ofer Zalzberg
Editor’s note: Ofer Zalzberg is Senior Analyst for Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
In a few weeks, indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas are to take place in Cairo with the aim of consolidating a durable ceasefire. The problem is that the two sides have two quite different agendas – while Hamas chiefly seeks the removal of the siege over Gaza, the Israeli government is primarily interested in demilitarizing Gaza.
But is pushing for demilitarization of Hamas in Gaza alone really in Israel’s interests?
The government embraced this objective after important Israeli figures, pointing to Syria’s relinquishing of chemical weapons and the PLO’s 1988 adoption of non-violent resistance, put forward proposals aiming to fully demilitarize the Gaza Strip, including its rockets, missiles and offensive tunnels in exchange for massive economic investments in the Strip. FULL POST
Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
By Fareed Zakaria
Watching the gruesome ISIS execution videos, I felt some of the same emotions I did after 9/11. Barbarism, after all, is designed to provoke anger and it succeeded. But in September 2001, it also made me ask a question: "Why Do They Hate Us?"
I tried to answer it in an almost 7,000-word essay for Newsweek that struck a chord with readers. I reread the essay this past week, to see how it might need updating in the 13 years since I wrote it.
I began the piece by noting that Islamic terror is not the isolated behavior of a handful of nihilists. There is a broader culture that has been complicit in it, or at least unwilling to combat it. Now, things have changed on his front but not nearly enough…
…By 2001, when I was writing, almost every part of the world had seen significant political progress - Eastern Europe was free, Asia, Latin America, and even Africa had held many free and fair elections. FULL POST
Fareed speaks with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman about why he disagreed with the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
You have criticized the ceasefire that was established between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Why?
First of all, the real question – how to prevent the next operation. As Protective Edge was the third operation in six years, and the question is if it’s possible to do something and to achieve a stable and sustainable ceasefire or peace agreement. The last speeches that we saw from Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza and Khaled Meshaal in Qatar, they clarified their position. They explained that they will fight Israel and their goal is to wipe out the state of Israel.
And I think that we must deliberate our position regarding Hamas from the beginning, from scratch. And I think that we have enough force to finish this story and to topple this terrorist organization, and I don’t see any differences between Hamas and ISIS and al Qaeda. We saw their executions in the Gaza Strip. It’s exactly like Islamic State’s or al Qaeda.
So if this is your view, this is a fairly major disagreement with the prime minister. This is not a small matter. This is not a domestic matter. How can you continue to stay on as foreign minister of a government where on the principal foreign policy issue that you face, you disagree with the government’s policy?
No, at the end of the day, we have a cabinet and I’m sorry to recognize that I was a minority in our cabinet. But we [are] one part of – very important part of – this coalition, and we will support our government because alternative, new elections, earlier elections – I think it’s a really bad choice for the state of Israel.
For decades, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has been to support “moderates.” The problem is that there are actually very few of them. The Arab world is going through a bitter, sectarian struggle that is “carrying the Islamic world back to the Dark Ages,” said Turkish President Abdullah Gul. In these circumstances, moderates either become extremists or they lose out in the brutal power struggles of the day. Look at Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and the Palestinian territories.
The Middle East has been trapped for decades between repressive dictatorships and illiberal opposition groups — between Hosni Mubarak and al-Qaeda — leaving little space in between. The dictators try to shut down all opposition movements, and the ones that survive are vengeful, religious and violent. There was an opening for moderates after the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012, but it rapidly closed. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood had a chance to govern inclusively, but it refused. Without waiting for vindication at the polls, Egypt’s old dictatorship rose up and banned and jailed the Brotherhood and other opposition forces. In Bahrain, the old ruling class is following the example of the Egyptian regime, while the Saudi monarchy funds the return to repression throughout the region. All of this leads to an underground and violent opposition. “Because of the culture of impunity [from the government], there is a new culture of revenge” on the street, Said Yousif al-Muhafda, head of documentation at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told Al-Monitor, a news and analysis Web site.
Read the Washington Post column
By Sultan Barakat, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Sultan Barakat is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, and Chairman of the Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit, University of York. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Israel’s repeated wars on the Gaza strip have taken a heavy toll on Palestinian civilian infrastructure, and this latest offensive is no different. Israeli shelling first damaged, then destroyed Gaza’s only power plant, while waves of attacks have shredded power lines and ruptured sewage systems. Indeed, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates as much as two-thirds of the enclave’s population of 1.8 million now lacks or has very limited access to potable water or sanitation services.
But such disregard for basic civilian infrastructure will ultimately prove counterproductive – if Israel genuinely wants a lasting solution to the conflict, it must be made to appreciate that the reconstruction and development of Gaza, not its utter destruction, is crucial.
While the death toll in the strip has continued to climb – even if the current cease-fire holds, it has hit more than 1,800, mostly civilians – the most basic requirements for any kind of dignity and quality of life are being destroyed, and more than 425,000 have been left homeless by the actual or threatened demolition of their homes. Yet the destruction of Gazan infrastructure began long before the first airstrikes and rocket launches of the present conflict. The tiny enclave, measuring about 140 square miles, has been under effective siege since 2007, turning it into what is in many respects the world’s largest open-air prison – even construction materials such as the cement, steel and pipes that are needed to expand the enclave’s water treatment system are banned under the embargo. FULL POST
By Leon Aron, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Leon Aron is a resident scholar and the Director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are his own.
Two wars – one in Gaza the other in eastern Ukraine – are unfolding simultaneously. They have nothing in common except this: both should be being seen as unambiguous in terms of which side is right and which wrong. And second, both are likely to end in a strategic (i.e. long-term) defeat for the right side because of the attitudes that shape the approach of Western leaders to both wars.
The facts are not in dispute. In Ukraine, the legitimate government in Kiev is trying to restore Ukrainian sovereignty over its territory, in practical terms seized by Russia in a proxy war using professional special troops, intelligence officers and mercenaries (kontraktniki) to train assorted thugs known collectively as "rebels" or "separatists" who are being armed and supplied by Russia.
In Gaza, Israel is battling a fundamentalist terrorist organization dedicated to killing Jews, Christians and gays and oppressing women. As in Ukraine, they attacked first, by firing hundreds missiles at Israeli cities and towns.
CNN’s New Day speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the roots of the unrest in the Middle East. This is an edited version of the transcript.
Who are the key players, and what are their current positions?
Benjamin Netanyahu is, of course, the prime minister of Israel, a longtime hawk and longtime hardliner on Israeli security issues. John Kerry is the secretary of state who never stops trying which, you know, has caused some controversy. And Khaled Meshaal is a somewhat unknown figure compared to these two. The head of Hamas, he doesn’t live in Gaza because I think he would not stay alive in Gaza, and so he has moved around various places – Qatar and places like that.
Let’s make sure everybody understands what the playing field is, what Israel wants. No more rockets.
You can understand why. The important thing to point out is even though, of course, very few Israelis die because of these rockets because the iron dome air defense system is really quite extraordinary, it still paralyzes the society. Some of these rockets could get through. Everyone is in bomb shelters, and it produces a state of heightened urgency. Imagine any society having to live with that. So that's why the rockets are important, even though they don't…of course, the range and accuracy could keep getting better.
It has kept getting better. You don't want to confuse the success of the defensiveness of Israel with its dome and other defense systems with absence of a threat. So that’s why demilitarizing Gaza is very important.
Right. This is the big demand in a sense – a demilitarized Gaza so that you don't face a constant threat. This is, of course, the hardest one to do, because in today's world it's so easy to get small arms, light ammunition, all kinds of things, and Hamas has been doing it for decades now.
And the tunnels play into that…
Right. And you see that these tunnels are fairly elaborate and well done. As people have pointed out, they are concrete. How do you prevent the building of concrete tunnels? What kind of embargo do you have to put in place? Gaza lives under a very, very tight Israeli embargo. That means you allow people not to get concrete. Concrete is fungible. You can use it for anything, and the problem is, therefore, how do you stop getting concrete in when they may want it to build schools? FULL POST
Fareed speaks with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about unrest in the Middle East. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
Martin Indyk has just resigned as the kind of sherpa of the peace process. And he says that the immediate trigger, in his view – there were many – was the fact that the Palestinians looked at the Israeli continued settlement activity...
…and said these guys are not serious, we're never going to be able to get a state...
…look at what they're doing.
This is my biggest complaint with the Israeli government. I’m a strong supporter of Israel, a strong supporter of their right to defend themselves. But the continuing settlements, which have been denounced by successive American administrations on both sides of the aisle, are clearly a terrible signal to send if, at the same time, you claim you're looking for a two-state solution.
The Global Public Square is where you can make sense of the world every day with insights and explanations from CNN's Fareed Zakaria, leading journalists at CNN, and other international thinkers. Join GPS editor Jason Miks and get informed about global issues, exposed to unique stories, and engaged with diverse and original perspectives.
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Check out all of Fareed's Washington Post columns here:
Obama as a foreign policy president?
Why Snowden should stand trial in U.S.
Hillary Clinton's truly hard choice
China's trapped transition
Obama should rethink Syria strategy
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