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Iran’s Supreme Leader Weighs in on Root Cause of Ukraine Crisis

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Iran’s Supreme Leader Weighs in on Root Cause of Ukraine Crisis
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the Islamic Republic's second supreme leader. AFP

Ayatollah Khamenei said foreign powers’ influence brought Ukraine to a tragic tipping point.

The supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, claims that Ukraine fell victim to American policies aimed at creating crises around the globe. Khamenei cited Washington’s influence as the “root cause” of the current military conflict in Ukraine.

In a series of statements published on Tuesday both by Iranian media and on the supreme leader’s Twitter page, Khamenei said the “US dragged Ukraine to where it is now.

Among Washington’s actions that he thinks led to the military confrontation with Russia were America’s alleged interference in the Eastern European nation’s “internal affairs” in the form of “creating color revolutions and toppling one government and putting another in power.

Khamenei noted that Iran “supports ending the war in Ukraine.

Iran’s supreme leader also said the latest dramatic events in Ukraine should serve as an important lesson to other countries. One of the two key conclusions that can be drawn according to Khamenei is that America and Europe’s support for other countries is just a “mirage and not real.” The cleric went on to liken “today’s Ukraine” to “yesterday’s Afghanistan,” in that both nations were “left alone” by the US and Western governments.

The other important lesson which Khamenei said could be learned from the Ukrainian crisis is that the “people are governments’ most important support.” He proceeded to claim that the “people of Ukraine” did not really “approve of the government.” According to Iran’s supreme leader, had the Ukrainian government enjoyed popular support, it would not have found itself in the current situation.

For years now, Iran has been languishing under sweeping sanctions imposed by the US and its Western allies, mostly over its nuclear program. Russia has now also been targeted with a raft of unprecedented sanctions by the US, EU, Canada, and several allies in Asia. The punitive measures came in response to Russia launching a military offensive in Ukraine on February 24, which, according to President Vladimir Putin, is not an attempt to occupy the country, but rather to “demilitarize and denazify” it. Ukraine and its allies, however, see these claims as a mere pretext for an “unprovoked” invasion.

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Empowering MENA’s Female Workforce

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Empowering MENA’s Female Workforce
According to a report by McKinsey, if women’s equality is advanced, it could add approximately $12 trillion to GDP by 2025 - KT file

In recent years, a seemingly endless stream of conferences, workshops, and studies have been conducted to answer a key question for countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA): Why do so few women in the region work?

Currently, just 19 percent of MENA’s labor force is female, the lowest worldwide. Despite plans and policies to address the gender gap in employment, women remain sidelined at work, which is hurting families and suppressing GDP growth across the region.

While the situation is not uniform in all Arab countries, the reasons that keep women out of the labor force are endemic.

It’s not that women aren’t eager to work outside the home, but legal discrimination, social norms, the burden of childcare, low wages, harassment, gender-related biases in hiring, and a dearth of safe transportation options are among the many barriers hindering employment ambitions.

And while none of this is new – strengthening female labor force participation has been a global development goal for decades – governments’ efforts to pursue labor market, education, and structural reforms continue to languish. 

Although the region’s women are better educated than ever, educational attainment has not translated into an increase in jobs. In fact, the unemployment rate among young women in Arab countries is 42.5 percent, nearly double that of young men (21.4 percent) and almost three times the global average of 14.9 percent.

In conflict-riddled countries like Yemen and Iraq, female labor force participation is the lowest in the region – 6 percent and 11 percent, respectively. But even in Jordan, a country not at war, only 13 percent of women work outside the home, according to the World Bank.

Jordan’s struggles to close this gap are illustrative. Already burdened with high unemployment – it hit 23 percent last year – the country has faced a confluence of negative economic trends, not to mention disruptions caused by COVID-19. And despite reforms to school curriculum, the education system continues to stereotype and sideline women, depicting them as inferior to men and limiting their role in society.

Given these failings, it’s not surprising that women are underrepresented in politics. There are just 15 women in the 130-member lower house of parliament – the minimum required under a gender quota system. In the cabinet, there are only two women, while 28 other ministerial positions are occupied by men.

In a patriarchal society, social norms are not easy to change. Challenging gender stereotypes and granting women equal rights often raises the ire of conservatives and Islamists, who see progress as an attack on Islamic values or linked to foreign agendas.

Sadly, these are not fringe ideas. A 2019 United Nations study found that in Jordan, weak legal protections and harmful views on gender conspire to keep women out of the labor force. These challenges were found at “every possible level directly and indirectly,” the report said, ranging from “what kind of work and what working hours are considered socially acceptable …to gender assigned roles that limit women’s role to child rearing and housekeeping.”

Three years later, little has changed. Jordan scored 46.9 out of 100 in the Women, Business, and the Law 2022 report, an index covering 190 countries that assesses the laws and regulations that impact women’s economic opportunities. Jordan’s score is lower than the regional average of 53 percent.

It’s inexplicable that women in Jordan, who can receive alimony payments, still need a spouse’s consent to work. It is even more frustrating that a male guardianship system intended to protect women imposes restrictions on their mobility, and even allows a male guardian to report women absent, subjecting them to arrest.

As consumer prices continue to rise, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for families to survive on one income. Many women want to work, but social conditioning has taught men that it’s a wife’s duty to do the household chores and to raise the children. A husband who shares responsibilities with his partner is viewed as doing his wife a favor. 

To be sure, the region has begun to bridge the gender divide with policies, laws, and well-meaning commitments to change. In Saudi Arabia, where the country is undergoing radical economic and social reforms, the rate of employment for women has risen dramatically to more than 30 percent. In other Gulf countries, like the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, the figure is nearly 50 percent.

 Despite these gains, much work remains. Possible steps include protecting women from discrimination during pregnancy and while on maternity leave; establishing workplace nurseries; and penalizing employers that discriminate based on gender.

And yet, lasting improvements in women’s workforce participation – in Jordan and beyond – will require the implementation of laws that empower women in all aspects of life. Social norms and stereotyping must be challenged – in the media, at school, in the home. The women of MENA are not inferior to men; the kitchen is not our kingdom. We have so much more to offer than that.

Syndication Bureau_____________________

Suha Ma’ayeh is a journalist based in Amman, Jordan. Her work has been published in Foreign Policy and CTC Sentinel. She also reports for The Wall Street Journal and other publications on Jordan and southern Syria.

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As Living Costs Surge, Syria’s Civil Servants Head for the Exits

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As Living Costs Surge, Syria’s Civil Servants Head for the Exits
Refugees return to the war-torn city of Aleppo, Syria. Natalia Sancha (EL PAÍS)

Since the start of the year, hundreds of Syrian civil servants have reportedly resigned from their jobs, angered over meager pay that is barely enough to cover the cost of their commute. 

Fearing that the trend could spread, the Syrian regime is using a carrot and stick approach to ensure that public institutions continue to function. In addition to promised salary increases and one-off bonuses, the government is enforcing multiple measures to make the resignation process difficult, and costly.

For now, these tactics appear to have staunched the flow of resignations. But until salaries are brought in line with Syria’s surging cost of living, the success is unlikely to last.

Government jobs in Syria were once highly sought after. They provided people with job security (being fired was almost unheard of), and promotions and salary increases were guaranteed. Most civil servants – such as teachers, doctors, and members of the armed forces – were rarely stressed, working only a few hours a day and having ample public holidays.

The main downside was the pay, equivalent to about $400 per month for most positions. Yet even this was enough to make ends meet.

None of these benefits exist now. The average monthly wage of a civil servant today is less than 100,000 Syrian pounds, or about $23. Put another way, civil servants’ salaries have lost nearly 80 percent of their value since the civil war began in 2011.

Economic and political forces are exacerbating these trends. The devaluation of the Syrian pound, unprecedented levels of inflation, lack of essential commodities, and the global implications of the war in Ukraine have significantly increased the cost of living in Syria and created an unprecedented gap between income and expenditure.

The average cost of living for a Syrian family of five exceeded 2.8 million Syrian pounds in March, more than 28-times the average government salary. Hence, it’s not surprising that many civil servants are trying to find something better, either at home or abroad. 

The Syrian regime doesn’t release reliable figures, so it’s difficult to know how many of Syria’s roughly 700,000 public sector workers have left their jobs. But media reports suggest that hundreds, if not thousands, of government employees in various governorates, including Sweida and Latakia, have quit since the beginning of the year. 

The number of workers whose resignation requests are still pending, or have already been rejected, is believed to be even higher

Over the last decade, tens of thousands of Syrian civil servants have abandoned their posts. According to an April 2021 report by the Danish Immigration Service, an estimated 138,000 cases involving workers leaving a public position without notice were filed with courts between 2011 and 2017. Of the 50,000 verdicts, 38,000 cases were decided in favor of the state and 12,000 in favor of the employee.

Punishments ranged from fines to being charged with terrorism; the Syrian government considers defection from a public sector position to be a political action or an anti-government activity, the report said. 

Punitive measures aren’t the regime’s only course of action. Prime Minister Hussein Arnous, who has conceded that salaries are significantly lower than living costs, raised public sector pay by 30 percent in December 2021. Since then, government officials have promised an additional 25 percent increase, though that raise has yet to be delivered.

The regime has also been providing one-off bonuses. Government employees received an additional 75,000 pounds in April, and another 100,000 pounds in August. The government has even increased the tax-free allowance, to 92,000 pounds from 50,000 pounds, meaning that most civil servants pay little to no income tax.  

 But these measures were too little, too late for many, and the resignations continued. In response, the regime issued a directive last month that ministries must be stricter when reviewing resignation requests, and an application can only be approved if the employee is no longer needed by their department. Even then, decisions to grant separation must be approved by the national intelligence agency. 

Given these added layers of bureaucracy, many employees’ resignation requests are being automatically rejected. Those that aren’t are subject to interrogation by security forces, a clear intimidation tactic designed to keep people in their jobs.

Only a handful of Syrians have successfully turned in their government-issued IDs in recent months. Many civil servants, especially those who have decided to remain in Syria, are likely hanging on out of fear.

But the deteriorating economic situation in Syria means that without stronger intervention, the gap between income and living expenses will continue to widen. The regime’s current policy of providing small salary increases and one-off bonuses is failing to improve morale, and public sector workers are unlikely to be satisfied until they are paid a livable wage.

Otherwise, there will come a time when civil servants have no choice but pursue work that covers more than the commute to the office.

Syndication Bureau_________________

Dr. Haid Haid is Haid Haid is a Syrian columnist and a senior consulting research fellow of the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa Program. Previously, he was a program manager on Syria and Iraq at the Heinrich Böll Foundation Middle East Office in Beirut. He also worked as a senior community services protection assistant at UNHCR’s Damascus office. He has a bachelor’s degree in sociology, a postgraduate diploma in counseling, master’s degrees in social development and conflict resolution as well as a PhD in war studies. His main research interests include security, conflict, governance, non-state actors and preventing and countering violent extremism.

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Iraq is Heading for Civil War, Washington Must Not Take Advantage

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Iraq is Heading for Civil War, Washington Must Not Take Advantage
An Iraqi protester rests in front of a mural in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on November 8, 2019 as the Iraqi capital braces for another day of anti-government demonstrations. - Taking vibrant spray paint to Baghdad's grimy concrete walls, Iraqi artists protesting against the government -- many of them young and female -- are sketching out their vision for a brighter future. Their murals have transformed a monochrome tunnel leading into the main protest camp in Tahrir (Liberation) Square into a revolutionary art gallery. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

Ten months after Iraq’s pro-Iran bloc was soundly defeated in Iraqi parliamentary elections, and less than a week after Shia cleric Muqtada Al Sadr announced his retirement from political life, a stalemate between Shia who oppose Tehran and those who support it seems to be leading the country toward civil war. Yet this is only half the story.

There’s a pattern that connects US policy on Iran and civil wars in the Middle East. Whenever Washington offers Arab countries up as prizes to Iran for the freezing of uranium enrichment, those same Arab countries – usually with significant Shia populations – plunge into conflict. This happened in Lebanon in 2008, in Iraq and Yemen in 2014, and is happening again in Iraq.

Previous civil wars in the Middle East were preceded by allegations in Washington that respecting Iranian interests in the region was key to peace. Today, those same arguments are being made by the same American leaders, only this time they occupy the White House.

In 2012, US forces had just withdrawn from Iraq. At the time, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was serving as the national security advisor to then-Vice President Joe Biden. Blinken oversaw the Obama administration’s Iraq portfolio, making him the top White House official on Iraq. In a March 2012 speech, Blinken argued that “Iraq and Iran will inevitably be more intertwined than we, and many of its neighbors, would like.” While he acknowledged that the majority of its leaders were resistant to outside influence, including from Iran, crucially, he did not say the US would help them resist.

Tehran interpreted that statement as Washington green-lighting its dominance of Iraq. Coming amid a campaign by then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki to purge Sunnis from power, it also coincided with the rise of ISIS and eventual takeover of the northwest in 2014. An inter-Iraqi war ensued, with America leading a global coalition against ISIS.

In both Iraq and Iran, the majority is Shiite, which has prompted Tehran to try to use Shiism to override the national divide, subdue Iraqis, and make them pledge allegiance to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But not so fast. Most Iraqi Shiites have proven to be patriotic, regardless of their religious affiliation, and as such have opposed Tehran’s dominance at home. These Iraqis expressed their sentiment when they roundly defeated Iranian incumbent lawmakers in parliamentary elections in October, leading the pro-Tehran parliamentary bloc to shrink to 15 members from 75.

Losing its majority, the pro-Iran coalition tried to torpedo election results but failed. It then hoped to kill a parliamentary quorum, but an anti-Iran majority formed, and in January, anti-Tehran Speaker Mohammad Al Halbousi was reelected.

Then, just when the anti-Iran majority was about to elect a president and designate a prime minister, the Iran bloc convinced the Iraqi Supreme Court to ignore democratic rules and declare that a supermajority of two-thirds was required for a quorum to elect a president and form a cabinet. In parliamentary systems, like in Britain and Israel, only a simple majority is required to govern. Supermajorities are for big decisions, such as constitutional amendments.

As Iraq’s stalemate persisted, the Iranian bloc caught another break with the clumsiness and inexperience of its opponents. Hoping to make a splash and force the hand of the Iran bloc, Al Sadr instructed his bloc of 73 lawmakers, the biggest in parliament, to resign. But instead of things shaking out Al Sadr’s way, the pro-Iran coalition anointed its losing candidates as replacements, obtaining a majority. Tehran’s allies then changed position – from insisting that anything short of a national unity cabinet would lead to civil war, to speeding up the process of electing a president and forming a cabinet regardless of minority blocs.

To stop Iran’s march toward absolute power in Iraq, Al Sadr was left with one tool: Taking to the streets. On Monday, he announced his “final withdrawal” from politics, which prompted deadly protests by supporters. But by using this card, Al Sadr inadvertently played Tehran’s game of having non-state actors rule using brute force, as in Lebanon and Yemen.

Unlike in Lebanon and Yemen, however, Iran’s partisans have no monopoly over the Shiites. A civil war in Iraq might not go Iran’s way and could even drag on, threatening Iraq and possibly shutting down its export of 4 million barrels of oil a day, thus shaking the global economy that is already starved of energy because of the Russian war in Ukraine.

But then, as a reward for Iran agreeing to the revival of a skewed nuclear deal, Washington might again offer Iraq as a prize to sweeten the pot for Tehran. One way America could do this is by starving Al Sadr’s militias and Iraq’s government forces of arms, while allowing Tehran’s militias to receive all the support they need to win the war.

Iraq is about to plunge into a civil war that could spill beyond its borders. Such a war will shake the region and the world economy. Washington is well advised to think of an unfolding Iraqi civil war as a threat to its national interests and global peace – not as a reward that can entice Iran into signing a nuclear deal.

Syndication Bureau___________________________

Hussain Abdul-Hussain is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. Twitter: @hahussain

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Iraq is Heading for Civil War. Washington Must Not Take Advantage

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Iraq is Heading for Civil War. Washington Must Not Take Advantage
Supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr carry portraits of him as they gather in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah - AFP/Asaad NIAZI

Ten months after Iraq’s pro-Iran bloc was soundly defeated in Iraqi parliamentary elections, and less than a week after Shia cleric Muqtada Al Sadr announced his retirement from political life, a stalemate between Shia who oppose Tehran and those who support it seems to be leading the country toward civil war. Yet this is only half the story.

There’s a pattern that connects US policy on Iran and civil wars in the Middle East. Whenever Washington offers Arab countries up as prizes to Iran for the freezing of uranium enrichment, those same Arab countries – usually with significant Shia populations – plunge into conflict. This happened in Lebanon in 2008, in Iraq and Yemen in 2014, and is happening again in Iraq.

Previous civil wars in the Middle East were preceded by allegations in Washington that respecting Iranian interests in the region was key to peace. Today, those same arguments are being made by the same American leaders, only this time they occupy the White House.

In 2012, US forces had just withdrawn from Iraq. At the time, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was serving as the national security advisor to then-Vice President Joe Biden. Blinken oversaw the Obama administration’s Iraq portfolio, making him the top White House official on Iraq. In a March 2012 speech, Blinken argued that “Iraq and Iran will inevitably be more intertwined than we, and many of its neighbors, would like.” While he acknowledged that the majority of its leaders were resistant to outside influence, including from Iran, crucially, he did not say the US would help them resist.

Tehran interpreted that statement as Washington green-lighting its dominance of Iraq. Coming amid a campaign by then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki to purge Sunnis from power, it also coincided with the rise of ISIS and eventual takeover of the northwest in 2014. An inter-Iraqi war ensued, with America leading a global coalition against ISIS.

In both Iraq and Iran, the majority is Shiite, which has prompted Tehran to try to use Shiism to override the national divide, subdue Iraqis, and make them pledge allegiance to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But not so fast. Most Iraqi Shiites have proven to be patriotic, regardless of their religious affiliation, and as such have opposed Tehran’s dominance at home. These Iraqis expressed their sentiment when they roundly defeated Iranian incumbent lawmakers in parliamentary elections in October, leading the pro-Tehran parliamentary bloc to shrink to 15 members from 75.

Losing its majority, the pro-Iran coalition tried to torpedo election results but failed. It then hoped to kill a parliamentary quorum, but an anti-Iran majority formed, and in January, anti-Tehran Speaker Mohammad Al Halbousi was reelected.

Then, just when the anti-Iran majority was about to elect a president and designate a prime minister, the Iran bloc convinced the Iraqi Supreme Court to ignore democratic rules and declare that a supermajority of two-thirds was required for a quorum to elect a president and form a cabinet. In parliamentary systems, like in Britain and Israel, only a simple majority is required to govern. Supermajorities are for big decisions, such as constitutional amendments.

As Iraq’s stalemate persisted, the Iranian bloc caught another break with the clumsiness and inexperience of its opponents. Hoping to make a splash and force the hand of the Iran bloc, Al Sadr instructed his bloc of 73 lawmakers, the biggest in parliament, to resign. But instead of things shaking out Al Sadr’s way, the pro-Iran coalition anointed its losing candidates as replacements, obtaining a majority. Tehran’s allies then changed position – from insisting that anything short of a national unity cabinet would lead to civil war, to speeding up the process of electing a president and forming a cabinet regardless of minority blocs.

To stop Iran’s march toward absolute power in Iraq, Al Sadr was left with one tool: Taking to the streets. On Monday, he announced his “final withdrawal” from politics, which prompted deadly protests by supporters. But by using this card, Al Sadr inadvertently played Tehran’s game of having non-state actors rule using brute force, as in Lebanon and Yemen. 

Unlike in Lebanon and Yemen, however, Iran’s partisans have no monopoly over the Shiites. A civil war in Iraq might not go Iran’s way and could even drag on, threatening Iraq and possibly shutting down its export of 4 million barrels of oil a day, thus shaking the global economy that is already starved of energy because of the Russian war in Ukraine.

But then, as a reward for Iran agreeing to the revival of a skewed nuclear deal, Washington might again offer Iraq as a prize to sweeten the pot for Tehran. One way America could do this is by starving Al Sadr’s militias and Iraq’s government forces of arms, while allowing Tehran’s militias to receive all the support they need to win the war.

Iraq is about to plunge into a civil war that could spill beyond its borders. Such a war will shake the region and the world economy. Washington is well advised to think of an unfolding Iraqi civil war as a threat to its national interests and global peace – not as a reward that can entice Iran into signing a nuclear deal.

Syndication Burea_______________

Hussain Abdul-Hussain is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. Twitter: @hahussain

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As Israel-Russia Relations Sour, Middle East Braces for the Fallout

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As Israel-Russia Relations Sour, Middle East Braces for the Fallout
Jewish immigrants fleeing from war zones in Ukraine arrive at the Israeli immigration and absorption office at Ben Gurion Airport, March 15, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, Russian Jews have been emigrating to Israel in growing numbers. Angered over the invasion and fearful of persecution, some 20,500 of the estimated 165,000 Jews in Russia have left for Israel, and more are expected to follow.

The departures are part of a larger Russian exodus fueled by opposition to the war, but they are also a sign that tensions between Russia and Israel are mounting. How this relationship evolves will have political and security implications for Israel and the entire Middle East.

Currently, the leadership of Russia’s Jewish community appears divided on how to respond to Russia’s war in Ukraine. On the one hand, Rabbi Berel Lazar, the Chief Rabbi of Russia, has called for peace and offered to mediate but also attended Russia’s Victory Day parade in May – a tacit nod to the Kremlin. On the other hand, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, fled the country after refusing to condone the conflict.

Russia’s Jews are more united in their historical memory. With strong ties to Ukraine (as well as Moldova and Belarus), Russian Jews suffered mightily during previous periods of unrest in the country, and for those who have left now, they feared that history could easily repeat.

While there is no overt state-directed antisemitism in Russia currently, several events have raised concern within the Russian Jewish community. In March, for example, after Russian-Jewish journalist Alexei Venediktov was fined for speaking Ukrainian on a radio show, the entrance to his home was vandalized with antisemitic symbols and a severed pig’s head.

Moscow has also threatened to shut down the local branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel, an organization founded in 1929 to facilitate Jewish immigration to Israel.

Even the invasion of Ukraine was legitimized using an antisemitic subtext. Russian propaganda claimed that war was necessary to “de-Nazify” the country, and it used as evidence the presence of the Azov battalion, a Ukrainian far-right militia with neo-Nazi roots that was involved in the siege of Mariupol.

And yet, the far-right in Ukraine was trounced in the country’s last election, while Ukraine’s elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is himself Jewish. When this was pointed out to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during an interview in May with an Italian news channel, his response – that Hitler had Jewish origins – caused outrage in Israel. “The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews of antisemitism,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid said.

This episode marked a turning point in contemporary RussiaIsrael relations. Whereas the previous prime minister, Naftali Bennett, was restrained in his comments regarding the war, Lapid has been stridently critical. In April, after reports emerged of a massacre of civilians in Bucha, Lapid, who was then foreign minister, accused Russian forces of committing war crimes (Bennett, by contrast, said nothing). IsraelRussia ties deteriorated further after Lapid became prime minister in July.

Amid the heightened tensions, Israel faces new security challenges with regional implications. For instance, if Moscow moved to end a security arrangement that has given Israel relative freedom to attack Iranian and Hezbollah positions in Syria, it could sharpen the proxy war underway between Iran and Israel, which might in turn suck in other states in the region.

Russia also maintains a naval base in the Mediterranean and could use its assets to complicate Israeli plans to export gas to Europe.

Military flare-ups have already occurred. In May, Russia fired S-300 anti-aircraft missiles at an Israeli aircraft in Syria. In June, Russia threatened to refer Israel to the UN Security Council after Israel bombed the Damascus airport, which Israeli officials said was being used by Iranian arms smugglers. Then in July, Russia fired a “warning shot” at an Israeli F-16 fighter jet entering Syrian airspace.

RussiaIsrael relations are also influencing Israel’s domestic politics. As Israelis prepare to head to the polls in November for legislative elections, many are watching to see if Lapid’s tough stance vis-à-vis Russia will pay off at the ballot box. (Israel’s security agency, Shin Bet, has even reportedly asked Russia not to interfere in the balloting, though the Israeli government has denied the report).

For his part, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees Lapid’s hawkish stance on Russia as an opportunity for his own political future. Netanyahu, who prides himself on his close ties to President Vladimir Putin, has accused Lapid of endangering Israel’s “measured, balanced, and responsible friendship” with Russia, and for creating a crisis that has endangered Israel’s national security.

The war in Ukraine has produced a broad geopolitical shift in the region – it’s no coincidence, after all, that when US President Joe Biden visited Israel in July, Putin was meeting with the presidents of Iran and Turkey in Tehran. But as Russian Jews vote with their feet and new alliances are formed amid the backdrop of war, the international community must remind Russia and Israel that their relationship has implications far beyond their own borders.

Syndication Bureau______________________

Dnyanesh Kamat is a political analyst who focuses on the Middle East and South Asia. He also consults on socio-economic development for government and private-sector entities.

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Israel’s Gaza War Shows Lapid’s True Colors

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Israel’s Gaza War Shows Lapid’s True Colors
Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid heads a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, on July 17, 2022. (Photo by Abir SULTAN / POOL / AFP)

The mainstream Israeli media and allies of Yair Lapid, the caretaker prime minister, were quick to declare Israel’s three day asymmetrical war against Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza a resounding success.

But the truth is that this unwarranted round of fighting from August 5 to 7, not only killed dozens of  Palestinians, it left behind dangerous implications for the region as a whole and Israel itself.

Lapid, who took over recently from Naftali Bennet and hopes to be elected premier in November, has for years been criticized by his rival, the former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for lacking the experience needed to manage security threats.

The war, according to Galia Golan, emeritus professor of political science at Hebrew University, allowed Lapid to burnish his security credentials. “There was no reason this war should have taken place except to give Lapid a chance to show he is willing to fight,” Golan said.

Islamic Jihad is a smaller faction than Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip. Both groups believe that all of the area between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea is Islamic territory and that Israel should be destroyed. Israel has fought frequent wars with the Palestinian factions ever since Hamas gained control of Gaza in 2006. Since then, Israel’s devastating bombardments have killed thousands  and reduced large areas to rubble, while a blockade of the territory has crippled its economy. Palestinian rocket attacks have accounted for most of the more than 100 Israeli fatalities. Both sides have drawn criticism from the international community and human rights groups.

The latest three days of fighting killed 49 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including 17 children, according to the Gaza health ministry. Some 360 people were injured. Some of the Palestinian deaths came from Islamic Jihad’s rockets falling short or misfiring. More than 40 Israelis were lightly injured.

In addition to the harrowing human toll, there were three particularly alarming aspects of this war in terms of the direction of the broader conflict. Firstly, to modify the famous adage of German strategist Carl von Clausewitz that war is the continuation of politics by other means, this war was the continuation of Israel’s endless cycle of electoral politics. Secondly, the conflict showed that Lapid, if he is elected, will be no more dovish than his predecessors despite being depicted as a centrist. And thirdly that Israeli society and media, with the notable exception of a vanishing left wing, a handful of pressure groups and Haaretz newspaper, lack the capacity or desire to engage in critical thinking when it comes to military affairs. This is dangerous for the future of one of the world’s longest running conflicts.

“The propaganda machinery worked very well,” said Menachem Klein, emeritus professor of political science at Bar Ilan University. “There was 24/7 coverage. The stations interviewed ex-generals who gave the official line. They were slow to show Palestinian casualties inflicted by the army, but when Islamic Jihad rockets failed and killed Palestinians, they showed them immediately.”

No Israelis were killed, boosting a manufactured sense of victory. Typical of the pro-Lapid and pro-army chorus was a column by Jerusalem Post editor Yaacov Katz, who wrote: “By almost every metric, the three-day operation called Breaking Dawn was a success. Targets were chosen carefully and struck surgically.” He added that the Iron Dome missile shield had intercepted 96 percent of Islamic Jihad’s  rockets.

Moreover, Lapid had been astute in not drawing Hamas into the fighting and stopping the bombardments after three days in contrast to protracted previous rounds, Israeli media outlets stressed. Hamas is believed to have stayed out in part to not jeopardize the measured economic gains for Gaza that came from Israel’s recent decision to allow thousands of Gazan workers into Israel.

Despite the US and Britain proclaiming support for Israeli self defense, the issue of whether there was any legitimate reason for Israel to go to war is very much in the eye of the beholder.

On August 1, Israel arrested West Bank Islamic Jihad leader Bassam Saadi in Jenin. Citing intelligence that the group was planning retaliatory fire at Israeli targets near the Gaza border. Israel, having put border communities under strictures, launched what it termed a “pre-emptive strike” by assassinating Tayseer Jaabari, the commander of Islamic Jihad in the northern Gaza Strip. It did this in the full knowledge this would escalate the conflict into a war and trigger the firing of hundreds of Islamic Jihad rockets toward Israel.

Thus Lapid, counting on the Iron Dome, put Israelis at risk for a limited tactical gain. As Klein notes, assassinated Islamic Jihad and Hamas leaders are replaceable. The scholar does not think that assassinations have much long term impact on these groups.

“There is no strategic thinking, it’s operational and tactical thinking,” Klein said of Israel’s approach.

Those projecting the war as a victory also held up the assassination of Khaled Mansour, Islamic Jihad’s commander in the southern Gaza Strip, as evidence. But Klein differed. “With this round ending, we return to the same situation as before,” he said.

But perhaps we are actually wiser now. Now we know that Lapid appears willing to play with the lives of Arabs and even Israelis (had more Islamic Jihad rockets got through) for political self interest. Furthermore it is now apparent that Israel’s ever increasing technological prowess – as shown in the Iron Dome – makes it more rather than less prone to engage in escalations that in the future may impact more broadly in the region. That could cause a wider spiral of violence with the Palestinians and enflame public opinion in the Arab world.

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Ben Lynfield is the former Middle East affairs correspondent at the Jerusalem Post.

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