Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
The New Troika in the Middle East?
Sisi, Saudi King Salman, and Israeli Netanyahu
By Eric Walberg
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, May 3, 2016
|Egyptian President, Sisi, and
Saudi King, Salman, April 2016
||Israeli Prime Minister,
Al-Quds Interview: The new troika in the Middle East?
Sisi, Saudi King Salman, and Netanyahu
Egypt's hand-over of Tiran Island to the Saudis, Saudi flirting with
Israel, Turkish disarray -- all conspire towards an unholy alliance.
Al-Quds 1: What is your opinion about a recent
agreement between Saudi Arabia and Egypt over the Tiran Island?
Do the Israelis gain from the deal?
Tiran is strategically located at
the narrow straits separating the Gulf of Aqaba and Red Sea. It is part of
the Ras Muhammad National Park, set up in 1983 by the Egyptian Environmental
Affairs Agency as a marine reserve for the protection of marine and
terrestrial wildlife, and to protect against urban sprawl from Sharm
el-Sheikh. The Straits of Tiran is Israel's only access from the Gulf of
Aqaba to the Red Sea, and Egypt's blockade of the Straits of Tiran on 22 May
1967 was the casus belli for Israel in the Six Day War.
briefly took over Tiran Island during the Suez Crisis in 1956 and again from
1967 to 1982 following the Six Day War. The island is currently inhabited
only by military personnel from Egypt and the Multinational Force and
Observers. In April, the Egyptian government signed an agreement to give
Tiran and Sanafir Island to Saudi Arabia. The agreement has angered
Egyptians, thousands of whom have been out on the streets to protest,
despite the brutal crackdown on any demonstrations since the military seized
power in 2013.
The handover is part of a plan to build a bridge from
the Saudi mainland to Egypt. The move came during a five-day visit to Cairo
by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, who signed 20 agreements with Egyptian
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, including petroleum supplies over the next
five years to the tune of $23 billion, which Egypt will be able to pay for
over 15 years.
The Egyptian government claims the islands are Saudi
territory that Egypt has administered since the 1950s by agreement with the
Saudi government, but 19th century maps say otherwise, and ownership is
fuzzy in this area, which lacked any borders at all until the British
arrived in the 19th century and began carving the region up into nation
states. 'Possession is nine-tenths of the law' and 'who pays the piper calls
the tune' are more credible as proof of ownership. Protesters insist the
islands are Egyptian, and they have a strong case.
80% of diving
spots are in the Straits of Tiran, a snorkeller's paradise, not something
the Saudis will take advantage of. A bridge supported by piers in the water
will damage coral reefs which are extremely sensitive to pollution and
sediments. Because the objective of the bridge is to increase trade it will
transform Sharm el-Sheikh from a resort that offers snorkelling and
sunbathing into a commercial hub.
This move by Sisi is a gamble on
just how much power he holds. The Arab Spring changed the rules of the game
in Egypt. Egyptians have had a taste of popular will and people are more
openly defiant against injustice. The parliament will probably confirm the
deal, given it represents mostly supporters of Sisi, but Tiran will remain a
bitter pill for restive Egyptians.
Israel's concern is free passage
through the straits, which its peace treaty with Egypt of 1979 guarantees.
Whether the change of ownership is 'good for the Jews' isn't clear. It means
a bit more control in Saudi hands, but Saudi nonrecognition of Israel is
really not such a big deal. If Sisi is happy to barter away sovereignty for
Saudi money, that's fine by Israel. The hand-over has the advantage of
pulling Riyadh unwittingly into the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement,
which the Saudis have loudly boycotted for decades.
Haaretz, Israel was notified of the Egyptian-Saudi maritime agreement two
weeks before it was made public and did not oppose it as long as the
security arrangement in the straits of Tiran, as fixed by the peace treaty,
are honored. This, Riyadh has confirmed, though it continues to maintain the
pretense of nonrecognition of Israel, and insists the Egypt-Israel peace
treaty is not part of the deal.
Al-Quds 2: The
Saudis have been supporting ISIS in Syria, and are also
said to be secretly getting security information from Israel.
How do you put the two facts together and what is the Israeli position in
the regional map concerning the ISIS terror group?
It is hard to know
what is fact vs rumour on the relationship of the Saudis and ISIS. Though
rich Saudis have been channelling funds to ISIS-type groups for years,
officially, the Saudis are fighting ISIS along with the US. In 2014, the
Saudi Interior Ministry formally designated ISIS as a terrorist entity along
with Jabhat al-Nusra, the Muslim Brotherhood, Yemen's Houthi rebels, and
ISIS gets funds primarily from oil smuggling,
extortion of local businesses, and booty (e.g., Mosul's central bank), but
private funds and logistical support still continue to go to them via
Kuwait. Despite its profession of opposition to ISIS, Riyadh has taken
pleasure in its advances against Iraq's Shia government, and in jihadist
gains in Syria at Bashar al-Assad's expense.
As the Saudis and
Israelis don't have direct contacts, any coordination between them is
secret. Israel's objective interests are really in line with Russia, Iran
and now the West -- to stabilize a Syria which is not controlled by
terrorists. The idea of direct US military intervention and a collapse of
the Syrian state, a la Libya, is not on the books. Only Saudis can
contemplate a Wahhabi-led regime in Syria--very foolishly, considering ISIS
plans to dismantle the Saudi state. This makes no sense from Israel's point
of view, either. So I can't take this idea of a Saudi-Israeli conspiracy in
Syria too seriously.
There is a natural alliance between Israel and
the Saudi monarchs, both of whom want the oppressive Saudi system to
continue, though for very different reasons. And both of who want the
destruction of the Iranian state.
“Our relationship with Saudi Arabia
is good, and we hope for more peaceful relations between Israel and Saudi
Arabia,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in December 2013.
Israel's Energy Minister Silvan Shalom led a delegation to the International
Renewable Energy Agency's annual conference in Abu Dhabi in 2013 in the
first such visit since the Israeli assassination of a Hamas commander in
Dubai in 2010.
The Palestinian magazine al-Manar reported that a
delegation from an unnamed Gulf monarchy, assumed to be Saudi Arabia,
visited Israel to discuss Iran with high-level Israeli officials in 2013.
Saudi Arabia agreed to let Israel use its airspace to attack Iran last year,
as talks on Iran's nuclear program were coming to fruition, in exchange for
"some kind of progress" on the Palestinian issue, Israel's Channel 2 TV
station stated, quoting an unnamed European official.
Al-Quds 3: Turkey has repeatedly voiced a willingness to restore
ties with Israel. Is Turkey as an honest agent in its position concerning
the Palestinian issue?
As a devout Muslim, Erdogan is a strong
supporter of the Palestinian cause, but as head of the most powerful Muslim
nation in the region, he must have correct relations with Israel. Erdogan
paid a state visit to Israel in 2005. Israeli President Shimon Peres
addressed the Turkish parliament during a visit in 2007, the first time an
Israeli leader had addressed the legislature of a predominantly Muslim
nation. To Israel's relief, it looked like relations would stay normal under
the Islamist government.
But storm signals soon arose, first at the
2009 World Economic Forum conference, where debate became heated in relation
to the Gaza War. Peres responded to Erdogan, stating that Turkey would have
done the same if rockets had been hitting Istanbul. Erdogan angrily
reminding Peres of "how you killed the children on beaches..." When
interrupted by the moderator, Erdogan left the panel, accusing him of giving
Peres more time than all the other panelists combined.
incident electrified the world and marked Erdogan as a brave opponent of the
persecutors of the Palestinians. An aid flotilla to Gaza the next year with
many Turkish peace activists onboard was attacked by Israeli helicopters,
killing nine Turks, leading Erdogan to condemn the raid as "state
terrorism", cut relations with Israel, and call for Israel's nuclear
facilities to come under IAEA inspection.
Israeli crimes against the
Gazans stepped up, and Erdogan lashed out in 2013, calling Israeli actions a
"genocide" against the Palestinian people, and Zionism a "crime against
humanity", comparing it to Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and fascism.
Erdogan's branding of Zionism as a crime against humanity was condemned by
Europe, the US and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Moon forgot that the UN
itself had 'branded' Zionism as racism in 1975. Erdogan retracted his
statement, mostly certainly under US pressure, which helped elicit a
grudging apology from the Israeli prime minister for the murder of the
Turkish peace activists in 2014.
But there was no sign of more
restraint from Israel. The 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza killing 2,310 Gazans
prompted Erdogan to accuse Israel of being "more barbaric than Hitler". So
he continues to speak bravely and continued to provide material assistance
to Gaza, unlike Sisi, who speaks regularly (though unofficially) with
Israeli leaders, and follows Israeli policy in persecuting Gazans.
Turkey under President Recep Erdogan has burnt many bridges in the past
decade and has few allies. Erdogan's decision to abandon the Syrian
government to the fate of the confusing array of opposition groups created
nothing but problems for him, with Kurds now becoming a force to contend
with in fighting the ISIS terrorists, and bombings in Istanbul and
elsewhere, killing more than a hundred civilians in the past year.
Israel has a pair of new allies -- Egypt's Sisi and Saudi King
Salman. If we add a humbled Turkey back in the list of Israeli
'allies', that makes the troika a quartet ruling the Middle East in an
unholy alliance, though Erdogan is still fence-sitting on who to ally with.
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