tirsdag den 11. november 2008

Security Outlook for the Middle East – some Comments

A part of our study tour to Dubai with the Danish Press Association described in my former blog, also dealt with security and peace related issues; as we met with the top editors from Gulf News, Emirates Business 24x7, Al Arabya TV and in this respect central observers, Ed O’Sullivan from
MEED – Middle East Business Intelligence and Dr. Mustafa Alani from the Gulf Research Center, we got a very interesting insight into the thinking and current issues in the area.

As the trip took place in the week of the US election, it was of course of particular interest to discuss which influence the new president was expected to have on the situation in the Middle East.
Ed O’Sullivan had a very straightforward view on this: He stated that in his opinion US had never had any proactive strategy for the Middle East – Neither when the state of Israel was created in 1948, when France and Britain tried to overthrow the Egyptian ruler in 1956, when the war broke out between the Arab states and Israel in 1967, nor in the 1990’s. US always seemed to be reacting to some events, only George W. Bush during his second term seemed to have some sort of strategy, but again, he was forced to it because of earlier events.

During the presidential campaign, Obama had been surprisingly silent about the Middle East, probably backed by Clinto experts and former staff. This also explained, why7 Obama suddenly this summer declared that Jerusalem in his opinion should be the undivided capital for Israel! No other president or Western leader had said this, and is was remarked in the Middle East. As the Palestine/Israeli conflict is very close to the minds of all arabs in the Middle East, it wasn’t really a smart draw to name the new staff manager Emanuel Rahm as his Chief of Staff. Except being described by some of his opponents as aggressive and a ‘Cross between a haemorrhoid and a toothache’, seen in a Middle East context his problem is that his father was an active member of the notorious Israeli group, the Irgun before 1948. Also Emanuel volunteered as a soldier in the Israeli army during the first Gulf war in 1991. So no wonder the Israeli papers were full of praise.
The moderate Arabs hope that Obama’s middle name – Hussein – and his last name – Barack, the blessed one – will balance this out, but the fear is that US as always are heavily influenced by the Jewish lobby.

One of the scenarios we discussed was if the conflict between Israel and Iran could result in a situation where Israel actually tried to bomb the Iranian Nuclear plants in a preventive attack.
Ed O’Sullivan’s remark to this was that even if Netanyahu won the Israeli Election, both he and
Rafsanjani need each other as an external enemy picture to keep internal stability; the more pressure on Rafsanjani from the students, and the more instable political situation in Israel, the less likelihood of a real conflict, but the more the 2 leaders needed to expose each other verbally.
One of the more serious, yet mostly unnoticed events in this respect goes back to 2006. At that time, the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, announced the intention of the six members states to establish a joint nuclear research project. Until then all of these states has been firm opponents of nuclear energy and all are signatories to the IAEA safeguard agreement. This act can only be seen as a warning to the international community that something should be done to prevent Iran from producingnuclear weapons. This si one of the issues inherited by Obama.

Another of the real threats to stability in the area of course is the future of Iraq. As Dr. Mustafa Alani pointed out, the current vacuum between the fighting minorities inside of Iraq – Sunnis, Shias, Kurds – and between the Arab world and the Shia-led Iranians – is in fact a Coalition Army of 100.000 top trained soldiers, mostly US. As US has failed to put an Iraqi army together that could be trusted by6 all parties and first and foremost trained, not even an army of 300.000 could prevent a bloodbath is the US troops withdraw too quickly. The various minorities are intermixed, and an ethical cleansing like in the former Yugoslavia could be terrible. The risk of the Iranian Shias teaming up with the Basra Shias could impact the stability of OPEC and indeed the region as such.

One of the questions we had to the Dubai editors and specialists was related to the suspicion, that the enormous wealth in the UAE and the openness of the Dubai Society might attract all sorts of organized crime that could use the financial facilities for laundering and the free port facilities for smuggling – drugs, weapons.
The response we got from almost all of the specialists was that the border control is strict, the police force equipped with up-to-date IT tools and cooperating with the outside World to prevent this, but of course the possibility still existed that the facilities could be misused. The Secure Trade Lane concept is bei8ng installed in the container areas, and financial investigation into fraud seems to be working. As Dr. Mustafa Asani pointed out, none of the bad guys – Al Quaeda and similar – dared to use the banking system any longer, so couriers would be used travelling with large amounts of cash.

Dr. Asani got the question why Dubai didn’t arrest Osama Bin Laden in 1996 when he was thrown out of Sudan and in transit to Pakistan/Afghanistan. He answered that Al Quaeda as such was not really on the top of the list at that time. Although – like CIA – Bin Laden was ‘being followed’. Former events was a partly successful bombing in Aden, Yemen in 1991, but it wasn’t until the bombings of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that Bin Laden was put on the WANTED-list. And in 1996 CIA agents weren’t allowed to kill anybody abroad. That restriction was only lifted after the 9.11 events.

The final major possible threat we discussed was whether or not the Saudi rulers could be counted on to stay in power. Dr. Asani stressed that no real opposition exists in Saudi, and that an internal fight between members of the ruling class is highly unlikely, as everybody in this class has an extraordinary wealth at his disposal. So in his eyes, there is no threat to the Saudi throne. The last person to suggest otherwise, Fred Halliday in his 1971-book ‘Arabia without Sultans’ tried to peddle some Yemenite Marxist visions, but it seems to be extremely far out

The specific Danish issue on the reactions in the Arab World on the printing of the so-called ‘Danish Cartoons’ was a point of discussion with all the editors and specialists, we met.
The issue of course is that it may be hard for a man on the street in an Arabic country to understand why not our Prime Minister could have stepped in, forbidden the printing – or at least have made an excuse. As the Danish press by law is COMPLETELY outside the control of any Government, we sort of expected that this would be the hard thing to bring across. But the editors in Al Arabya seemed to be extremely well informed of the legal situation in Denmark and stated that the reactions had to be seen as a very natural reaction from a lot of Arabs that had felt they were all being accused on being terrorists after 9.11, and that the whole World was against them. These drawings then made the fuse go off. Also the Gulf News team said that they understood the freedom of the press principle, but simply could not understand why these drawings were being produced in a paper, that should have as it’s primary objective to get people of all sorts to work together and not to fight each other. And all editors were likewise puzzled by the necessity to re-print the drawings a second time. There is no reason to doubt, that for most Arabs, Denmark’s reputation have suffered. But for most educated and balanced news people, this is now a past story, and the security level for Danes in the Middle East and in the UAE is unshaken. We are still allowed to enter UAE without Visa.

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