Breaking of Iran and Arab ties makes chances for youth and Israel

June 20, 2013
Sarah Benton

The article from the Daily Beast is followed by one from Al Arabiya about the weakened link between Hamas and Iran

The new meaning of the Arab Street
“But the winds of change sweeping the region have produced a new understanding of the Arab ‘street’. Today, the street resounds with cries of freedom, demanding the most noble and human values. In this arena, millions call for an end to oppression and corruption. Streets across the Arab world are witnessing a clamor for rebellion against injustice, marginalization, exclusion, tyranny, and dictatorship. The street, in its new incarnation, has become a gateway to the modern state and the rule of law.”[quoted from Al Akhbar.]

Five Arab Spring Opportunities For Israel

By Nimrod Goren, Elie Podeh, Daily Beast
June 20, 2013

The Arab Spring was initially embraced with much enthusiasm and hope in the West. In Israel, however, it has been generally perceived as a threat to national security. Israel’s official policies towards the Arab Spring reflect these concerns. But recent regional developments should not be seen only through a negative lens. They also offer important opportunities for Israel’s foreign policy and for its regional standing, which Israeli decision makers should act upon.

1. Engaging with Political Islam: In contrast to alarming predictions, the new Islamic regimes have thus far been moderate or pragmatic in their policies, including their attitudes to Israel. This opens opportunities for Israel to engage with these new regimes. Egypt, the most important regional country for Israel, has upheld the peace treaty under Muslim Brotherhood leadership; President Mohamed Morsi appointed a new ambassador to Israel, exchanged greetings with President Peres, expressed his interest in assisting Israeli-Palestinian peace-making, and cooperated with Israel in reaching an informal agreement with Hamas, and in his efforts to fight terrorist elements in the Sinai Peninsula.

Interestingly, under an Islamic regime, Egypt has more leverage than did the previous Hosni Mubarak regime, to exert on Hamas in its dealings with Israel. No less important is the fact that a treaty honored by the Brotherhood sends a message across the Muslim world that peace with Israel is not anathema. Though Israeli-Egyptian formal relations will probably remain cold, behind-the-scenes contacts (particularly between the security establishments) will likely continue to flourish.

2. Benefitting from the crisis in Syria: The Syrian enigma can, in the long run, bring to power a Sunni legitimate regime that may be more amenable to peaceful relations to Israel. In the more immediate future, it signals the weakening of the anti-Israeli axis, led by Iran and Syria. Iran’s ability to project power on Israel’s immediate environment has undoubtedly declined. The Syrian crisis also offered Israel opportunities to improve ties with Jordan and Turkey. These opportunities have already been partially exploited over the past months. Israel and Jordan are tacitly coordinating their policy vis-à-vis the Syrian front, while Israel and Turkey are in the midst of mending their relations.

3. A New Sunni Coalition: The Arab Spring has changed the balance of power between the Sunna and Shi’a. The Iranian role in the Middle East has received a blow. Consequently, a new Sunni coalition seems to be emerging in the region, with Turkey and Egypt being central players, backed by the moderate monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco. This Sunni axis and Israel have several common interests in the region: diminishing the Iranian nuclear challenge; containing the looming threats from Syria; and ending the stalemate on the Palestinian front, which might deteriorate into a third Intifada.

Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

4. Engaging with the Arab Street: In the past, Israel has dealt mainly with Arab elites. Yet, the Arab Spring accentuated the role of the masses. Reaching out to them—be they secular or Islamic—is difficult for Israel. Yet, because of their growing importance, Israel should attempt—publicly or behind the scenes—to do just so. The Arab Spring empowered the common people and created an opportunity for self-expression of groups and communities. In this “new” Arab world, there is growing curiosity and readiness to challenge the conventions of the old regimes. These circumstances might just enable a new discourse on Israel and with Israelis. Progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track is a key to making best use of this opportunity.

5. Promoting Peace: The Arab Spring has put on hold the possibility of reaching peace with Syria. The Israeli-Palestinian track remains the only possible track for negotiations. In the absence of a bi-lateral breakthrough, Israel should use the Arab Peace Initiative (API) to break the ice. The allegation that changes of regimes following the Arab Spring has rendered the API meaningless is untrue. The 2013 summit of the Arab League clearly re-affirmed the API, and the results of the meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Arab League leaders in May 2013 have made this even more evident.

The Arab Spring—in contrast to the prevailing Israeli view—does not only offer threats but provides opportunities as well. Israeli decision makers should take advantage of these developments in order to tap into regional processes and introduce a change in the traditional Israeli policy toward the Middle East, which has thus far been characterized by a policy of “prevention” rather than “initiation.”

Ghazi Hamad, Hamas Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs: relations with Iran have been strained by Iran’s support for Assad. Photo by Reuters

Hamas says its Iran ties worsen over Syrian civil war

By Al Arabiya/Reuters, Gaza
June 19, 2013

Hamas said on Wednesday its relations with financial backer Iran have suffered as a result of the Islamist group’s support of rebels battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a long-time Iranian ally.

Hamas was also once an Assad ally but last year endorsed the revolt against him in a shift that deprived the Syrian leader of an important Sunni Muslim supporter in the Arab world.

“Our relations with Iran were affected both on the political and the financial levels,” said Ghazi Hamad, deputy minister of foreign affairs in the Hamas-run government in the Gaza Strip.

Hamad declined to provide any figures for the amount of aid Hamas receives from Iran or give details of any cutbacks, other than to say “it did not get to the point of boycott [from Tehran].”

“We have stood by the Syrian people and we have backed the demands of the revolution,” Hamad told reporters, saying those positions had led to a worsening of ties with Tehran.

A diplomatic source in the region said Iran has provided Hamas with up to $20 million a month to help pay the salaries of nearly half of 50,000 Gaza government employees.

Hamad said Hamas was still meeting its payroll and “had lots of other sources” for money. But he added: “Things are not easy… and we are trying to overcome the problem.”

Iran has also provided Hamas with weapons, including long-range rockets that it has used to strike cities deep inside Israel.

Hamad made no mention of any change in Iranian arms supplies to the group, which is boycotted by the West over its refusal to renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept existing Israeli-Palestinian interim peace deals.

On Monday, Hamas urged the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to withdraw its forces from Syria, where they are battling on Assad’s behalf.

The call marked a further deterioration in relations between Hamas and Hezbollah, two long-time allies who have each fought against Israel and advocate its destruction.

“We are with Hezbollah in their resistance against Israel but we are not in favor of their position in Syria,” Hamad said.

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