After a brief focus on the Middle East, note the emerging trends in today's news:
Netanyahu’s understandings with Egyptian, Saudi and UAE rulers – a potential campaign weapon
The six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) rulers meet in the Qatari capital of Doha next week amid high suspense across the Arab world. Its agenda is topped by moves to finally unravel the 2010 Arab Spring policy championed by US President Barack Obama, moves that also bear the imprint of extensive cooperation maintained on the quiet between Israel and key Arab rulers.
Doha parley is designed to restore Egypt under the rule of President Abdel Fatteh El-Sisi to the lead role it occupied before the decline of Hosni Mubarak. Another is to root out the Muslim Brotherhood by inducing their champion, the young Qatari ruler, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to drop his government’s support.
At talks taking place in Riyadh ahead of the summit, Qatari officials appeared ready to discontinue the flow of weapons, funds and intelligence maintained since 2011 to the Brothers and their affiliates across the Arab world (Libya, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Hamas-ruled Gaza), as well shutting down the El Jazeera TV network – or at least stopping the channel’s use as the Brotherhood’s main propaganda platform.
The Doha summit is designed to crown a historic effort led by Saudi King Abdullah, UAE ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and President El-Sisi to undo the effects of the Obama administration’s support for elements dedicated to the removal of conservative Arab rulers, such as the Brotherhood.
They have found a key ally in this drive in Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who took advantage of the chance of an epic breakthrough in relations with the leading bloc of Arab nations, with immediate and far-reaching effect on Israeli security and its standing in the region.
This Arab-Israeli collaboration encompasses too many areas to keep completely hidden. Its fruits have begun breaking surface in a string of events.
A joint Saudi-Israeli diplomatic operation was instrumental in obstructing a US-Iran deal on Tehran’s nuclear program.
Another key arena of cooperation is Jerusalem.
Another key arena of cooperation is Jerusalem.
The Moslem attacks from the Mount on Jewish worshippers praying at the Western Wall below and Israeli police have accordingly ceased in the two weeks since Israel lifted its age restrictions on Muslim worshippers attending Friday prayers at Al Aqsa. Israel groups advocating the right to Jewish prayer on Temple Mount were discreetly advised to cool their public campaign.
Netanyahu may or may not opt to brandish Israel’s diplomatic breakthrough to the Arab world as campaign fodder to boost his run for re-election. Whatever he decides, the rulers of Saudi Arabia, the Arab emirates and Egypt are turning out to have acquired an interest in maintaining him in office as head of the Israeli government, in direct opposition to President Obama’s ambition to unseat him.
Israeli campaign season was in full swing at the Brookings Institution’s 2014 Saban Forum over the weekend, with politicians focused on rumors that a last-minute deal could reconfigure the coalition and stave off elections. While this annual meeting usually serves as a three-day discussion on regional politics and US-Israel relations, the mood during this year’s DC confab has so far been distinctively different, and considering the mid- to long-term future of the Middle East seemed nearly inconceivable during the marathon panels and keynotes on Saturday.
In a departure from recent years, there was little prognostication regarding the twice-prolonged comprehensive nuclear talks with Iran. And if last year’s forum found attendees almost exactly in the middle of the nine-month framework for renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks, this year, the best speculations peaked at considering the negotiating terms under which any sort of talks could even occur.
Mostly, however, speakers acknowledged that everything was up in the air – and would remain so – until after the elections in March. The Americans seemed eager to take a wait-and-see approach, not resuming stalled processes until a new coalition stabilizes. At the same time, the Israeli politicians seemed focused on campaigning and speculating as to who else might join the fray.
With senior members of the Israeli press corps publicly pressing him as to whether he saw himself as running for prime minister in the coming campaign, Bennett ducked the question, saying that he wanted to do what was good for Israel, but that he was not “obsessed” with the premiership.
Bennett denied knowledge of any last-minute plan to shuffle the coalition in order to avert elections, but added that he would be willing to coalesce with members of the ultra-Orthodox parties. At the same time, he distanced himself from recently fired finance minister Yair Lapid...allowing that the “experiment” with Lapid “did not succeed.” Lapid said last week that their alliance fell apart because Bennett’s party became more hawkish and Orthodox.
By the time the election hype is over in March, the US is likely to be loping toward its own presidential primaries. With only 20 months left for the Obama administration following the Israeli elections, it might be wise to get attuned to a period in which the face of US-Israel policy is a dangling maybe.
South Stream, the $45 billion project to deliver Russian natural gas via underwater pipeline through the Black Sea to Bulgaria and on to other Balkan and southern European markets, is dead. Russian President Vladimir Putin made the death pronouncement on December 1, during a trip to Turkey to meet Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It has major geopolitical and economic consequences for the EU.
As Putin explained, “If Europe doesn’t want to realize this, then it means it won’t be realized. We will redirect the flow of our energy resources to other regions of the world. We couldn’t get necessary permissions from Bulgaria, so we cannot continue with the project. We can’t make all the investment just to be stopped at the Bulgarian border,” Putin said. “Of course, this is the choice of our friends inEurope.”
The Russian President didn’t waste a minute to show how he plans that redirection. The real loser is not Russia, but the EU who managed yet again to shoot themselves in the foot by their buckling under to Washington pressure from Victoria Nuland’s State Department and the Obama Administration hawks. The South Stream would have provided secure delivery to southern EU countries including Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Italy, Croatia and also Serbia. It would avoid the current transit pipelines running through Ukraine. Similarly, to avoid a repeat of the US-induced Ukrainian disruptions of Russian gas to the EU in 2009, Russia and Germany agreed the construction of Nord Stream, also avoiding Ukraine
Now, by forcing Bulgaria, an EU member, to halt South Stream, using blackmail of a Bulgarian bank bailout last June, the EU has made itself dependent on gas security via Ukraine, a country the EU’s own political spinelessness has helped turn into a failed state ruled by a cabal of Brussels-and-Washington backed gangsters and oligarchs. We might use the term “stupid” to describe EU policy on South Stream, were it not for the fact at the end of the day Washington blackmail on the EU caused the South Stream blockage policy to be implemented, just as the economically devastating EU Russia sanctions were imposed only after extreme pressure on Berlin and Paris by Washington.