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Iran's Nukes

Understanding the Current State of the Iranian Nuclear Challenge

March 24th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

Over the last decade, a clear international consensus has slowly emerged that Iran was not just pursuing a civilian nuclear program, as Tehran argued, but rather was seeking nuclear weapons. True, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees the right of signatories, like Iran, to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but that did not include a right to enrich uranium in order to produce indigenous nuclear fuels that could be employed for nuclear weapons.

Many countries with nuclear power infrastructures, like South Korea, Finland, Spain, and Sweden, actually received their nuclear fuels from abroad. Even in the U.S., 92 percent of the uranium used in 2010 by nuclear power plants was of foreign origin. But unlike these other cases, Iran chose to establish its own uranium enrichment infrastructure at Natanz and suspiciously kept it totally secret from the world until 2002, when it was revealed by the Iranian opposition. A second secret enrichment facility, near Qom, buried deep inside a mountain, was disclosed in 2009. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

From Ramallah to Cairo, The Winds of Change and Tension Are Blowing

March 23rd 2013

Obama, Bibi, Peres chat walking away

Barack Obama has traveled a long way over the past four years in his Middle East policy. In other words: the Mideast has traveled a long way since the President took office.

The tête-à-tête vis-à-vis Israel has now become hugs and kisses, and Obama is gradually bidding adieu to his landmark Cairo address in favor of his new address in Jerusalem.

The President’s remarks at a joint press conference Thursday with Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah underscore just how wide the gap is between the President Obama of 2009 and the reality of today.  Rather than counterproductive unilateral calls for Israel to stop building, an implied censure of Abbas for insisting on preconditions for negotiations – like that very same freeze. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

The Bias Against Working Women

March 22nd 2013

Working Women

In proclaiming March as Women's History Month, President Obama stated that "too many women feel the weight of discrimination on their shoulders." Liberals often make this claim, citing the fact that women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and call for stronger protection against gender-based discrimination by employers.

Conservatives typically respond by pointing out that men and women tend to make different choices about occupation, working hours and whether to take time off from the labor force. They cite studies showing that, after controlling for these choices, the gender wage gap falls to only a few cents.

Unfortunately, both sides are missing an important point. Our society does indeed discriminate against working women. But the main culprit isn't employers. It's the government. Fortunately, some simple policy fixes can help create real fairness for women. But these reforms will require liberals to accept tax and entitlement changes and conservatives to accept more mothers working outside the home. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Cyprus, Terrorism & Drugs

March 19th 2013

International Currency 3

For the first time during the Euro crisis, depositors will contribute to the cost of recapitalizing banks. But Cyprus's bailout precedent may end up affecting bank depositors elsewhere in Europe and even in the U.S. 

This bailout scheme was initiated by Germany, and agreed upon by the Cypriot government, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Union. Here's how it works: Nicosia will find 5.8 billion euro from a 9.9 percent "stability levy" on deposits larger than 100,000 euro and a 6.75 percent levy on smaller deposits.  The IMF will throw in a billion euro and the rest will come from the European Stability Mechanism. While the benefit would be limited the potential risks of destabilizing the whole banking system of Southern European eurozone countries, and beyond, are high. 

Cyprus has become a major money-laundering destination for Russians even before the fall of the Soviet Union. They were joined oligarchs who found safe haven in the Cypriot banks. Not surprisingly, the Cypriot government doesn't wish to push them away. Instead, it works to minimize the burdens on the large depositors (Russians) so as not to "derail progress on renegotiating a 2.5 billion euro loan from Moscow."  Read more ..


Egypt and Israel

Egyptian Security Officials In Israel To Discuss Security and Diplomacy

March 18th 2013

Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

The Tower has learned that just days before President Barack Obama arrives in Israel for discussions on sensitive regional issues, a high-ranking group of Egyptian army intelligence officers has made a quiet trip to Israel to meet counterparts.

The discussions this week come at a time of increasing strain between Hamas, the Iran-backed terror group based in the Gaza Strip, and Egypt’s military and security forces, and as dire economic issues, as well as spreading riots, are straining the country. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has repeatedly overreached in pursuit of consolidated Islamist rule, deepening widespread public unrest that was already growing due to massive economic pressure.

The Egyptian army – the country’s most popular institution, which is still seen as a guarantor of social stability and public safety – has been making increasingly firm moves against Hamas, and as The Tower reported exclusively last week, each side has taken to waging a media-driven “cold war” against the other. Read more ..


The Eurozone on Edge

The Eurozone's Gambling Problem: Rolling the Dice on Cyprus

March 18th 2013

Euro Bills

In Cyprus, the eurozone’s leaders are yet again gambling the future of the currency zone through an excessively risky move. As is too frequent in the euro crisis, cruelly binding political constraints blocked the most sensible approach. Instead, they have chosen a path that may get them through the next period while laying the seeds of a worse trouble down the line. They may get lucky, but they are increasing the vulnerability of the currency zone to a future wave of crisis. (In due humility, we must note that U.S. politicians are not strikingly better at these types of decisions.)

The Cypriot government was about to run out of money and the banking system needs a bailout that is too large for the state to support in the long run, even if it could borrow the cash now. The best solution would have been a eurozone rescue on fairly lenient terms, as an interim solution if not a longer-term one. The country is very small; its economy is only about one half a percent of the total in the eurozone. A pragmatic rescue would have paid dividends in increasing the zone’s stability at a critical time when problems in Greece, Italy, Spain and elsewhere are worsened by political constraints created by the run-up to Germany’s September federal elections. Read more ..


Iran Nuclear Cheats Caught

Covert Iranian Nuclear Dealings via Turkey Revealed

March 17th 2013

Ahmadinejad triumphant

An investigation conducted by the federal prosecutor's office of Germany has revealed that Iranian front companies based in İstanbul transported 941 items with nuclear applications through Turkey, the Bugün daily reported on Tuesday.
According to the report, in 2012 German police detected that materials with nuclear applications obtained in Germany and India were transported to the Mitech company in Iran through Turkey by an Iranian national, Hossein Tanideh. Mitech is under US and European Union-imposed sanctions.

Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office, which is also the German branch of Interpol, informed its counterpart in Turkey about Tanideh's dealings, and Tanideh was arrested after being referred to the Küçükçekmece Court in İstanbul on Jan. 19, 2013. As part of the investigation, Mesut Atasoy, who is the owner of one the front companies implicated in Turkey, was also taken into custody, while three other Iranian nationals are still on the run. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

How Revolutions Work: Turkey, America, and the Arab World

March 15th 2013

Haghia Sophia

A fascinating article on Islamism in Turkey that also reflects on the situation in Arabic-speaking countries has been written by Soner Cagaptay, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Turkish research program. I’m a fan of his analysis so nothing in the following article should be taken as criticism but rather as an exploration of his article’s themes.

There’s also a very interesting parallel here with domestic events in the United States. But first, Cagaptay’s theme us as follows:  There are strong limits on how far Islamism can go in Turkey; and, the Arabic-speaking states are very different from Turkey in lacking a strong secularist (or at least anti-Islamist) sector that is deeply embedded in the country’s culture and history. I think he is right on both points but let’s look more into the details. First, on Turkey itself. Cagaptay’s article was prompted by a personal experience in Istanbul. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Global Jihad? Al Qaeda Expands to Africa, Beyond

March 15th 2013

NYPD and flag

A recent study found American citizens make up more than half of those convicted for involvement with al Qaeda. Many converted from Christianity to Islam. The stunning statistic is another sign that the face of al Qaeda is changing -- in more ways than one. "They have these aspirations essentially to use Mali as a base to expand jihad across the entire part of Africa: North Africa, West Africa. And also from there, they can franchise into Europe," said Rudy Atallah, CEO of White Mountain Research and a former counterterrorism director for the Pentagon.

Atallah said al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, poses a growing danger to Africa and beyond. "It's the wealthiest AQ affiliate in the world," he told CBN News. "They've made so much money -- I've heard quotes as much $90 million to $120 million -- between ransoms and drugs. "So they're flush with cash," Atallah said. "They have a lot of weapons and they have recruits everywhere." Read more ..


Greece on Edge

Greek's Radical Left: The Dangers of the Disaffected and the Unemployed

March 14th 2013

Greek Protesters

In last week's Geopolitical Weekly, George Friedman discussed how the global financial crisis has caused a global unemployment crisis and how Europe has become the epicenter of that crisis. He also noted that rampant unemployment will give way to a political crisis as austerity measures galvanize radical political parties opposed to the status quo.

Because unemployment is so pervasive, jobless, disenchanted people are joining radical parties espousing a wide variety of ideologies. Examples include populist euroskeptic parties, such as Italy's Five Star movement; far-right parties, such as Greece's Golden Dawn party; and anti-austerity leftist groups, such as Greece's Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza. With unemployment in Greece at 27 percent, it is not surprising to see both radical right-wing and radical left-wing groups gaining support from those who have become deeply disaffected by the crises.  Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

The Ryan Budget: DOA But Driving Fiscal Debate

March 13th 2013

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan, the chair of the House Budget Committee, has just released Republicans' version of the Budget Resolution for fiscal year 2014.  It promises to balance the budget by 2023 and to eliminate the entire national debt shortly after 2050.  Between 2014 and 2023, spending would be reduced by $4.6 trillion.  All of the deficit reductions are to be achieved through spending cuts; changes to the tax code will be revenue-neutral.

Let's begin with the basics.  According to CBO's baseline budget projections, spending in 2023 will be $5.94 billion, while revenues will be only $4.96 billion.  Reaching balance in 2023 would imply spending cuts totaling nearly $1 trillion in that year alone—a reduction of more than 16 percent, fully 3.8 percent of the GDP. Not every category of spending is cut.  Defense spending would be increased by more than $500 billion above the baseline during the next decade, and spending for veterans would also rise.  That means that non-defense cuts would have to total more than $5.1 trillion. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Israel Likely to Be Next Target of Syrian Rebels, General Says

March 12th 2013

Rebel fighters

Israel’s military chief of staff warned that some of the rebel forces trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad may soon turn their attention southward and attack Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights.

“We see terror organizations that are increasingly gaining footholds in the territory and they are fighting against Assad,” Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz said today at a conference in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv. “Guess what? We’ll be next in line.”

Fighting between forces loyal to Assad and rebels who want to end his family’s rule in Syria has left almost 70,000 people dead, according to the United Nations. The U.S. and its allies have sought ways to support Syria’s opposition without allowing arms to reach the hands of rebel groups associated with terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda. Read more ..


Japan on Edge

Earthquake, Tsunami, Meltdown - The Triple Disaster's Impact on Japan, Impact on the World

March 12th 2013

Fukushima damage

Two years ago today, a devastating 9.0 earthquake struck Japan’s east coast, followed minutes later by a massive tsunami with 100 foot waves. Japan’s legendary investment in earthquake-resistant design meant that only about 100 people died in the earthquake itself although almost 20,000 people lost their lives in the tsunami. The economic destruction of the "Triple Disaster" was massive: 138,000 buildings were destroyed and $360 billion in economic losses were incurred. This was the most expensive disaster in human history. Japanese response to the earthquake and tsunami was rapid, effective and life-saving. Some 465,000 people were evacuated after the disaster. But it was the meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant – the world’s worst global nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986 – which caused the most fear and provoked the greatest criticism of the Japanese government’s response. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Hezbollah's European Enablers

March 12th 2013

Given Hezbollah's long and sordid history in Europe, and the fact that it has now resumed violent operations there, what will it take to get EU member states to ban the group?

This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will welcome his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, who is making his first official visit to Canada since taking office last May. Their meeting provides a timely opportunity for Ottawa to teach Paris a thing or two about how to deal with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has long sought to engage in financial and logistical support activities in Canada. Thankfully, Canadian law enforcement investigators and intelligence agencies have taken the threat seriously. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Bundlers Closely Tied to Influence Industry

March 11th 2013

Obama-Limo

President Barack Obama prides himself on rejecting donations from registered lobbyists, but a newly released list of campaign fundraisers is peppered with leaders from companies and law firms that lobby the federal government.

New bundlers, whose names were released this week, include Anthony Welters, executive vice president of UnitedHealth Group, and Qualcomm co-founder and former chairman Irwin Jacobs and his wife Joan.

Each raised at least $500,000 for the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that includes Obama’s presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee and party committees in several battleground states.

The exact amounts are unknown. The campaign only divulges bundlers’ fundraising activity in broad ranges, with a top category of “more than $500,000.” Qualcomm has spent at least $6 million each year since 2007 on federally reportable lobbying efforts, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. UnitedHealth spent at least $2.5 million annually in the same period. Read more ..


The New Egypt

U.S. Betting on the Wrong Egyptian Horse

March 11th 2013

Cairo embassy protest Sep 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood continues the process of destroying Egypt with one ideologically driven catastrophic error in judgment after another. This weekend's involves yet more violence in Port Said. Riots there have been going on for months now and the latest episode is detailed below by James Dorsey.  As has been the case, the riots are not about football, but the Egyptian regime's character and policies.

Mohamed Morsi et al. have mishandled the protest over soccer riot convictions so badly that now the police are on strike in more than a third of Egyptian provinces, including not only Port Said, where they've abandoned their posts, but also parts of Cairo.  More than 50 people have died in Port Said in the past month.

According to the Guardian UK,"Police have also refused to protect President Mohamed Morsi's home in the Nile delta province of Sharqiya. Among several seemingly contradictory grievances, police demand better weapons. But conversely, they also claim the Morsi regime is using them as unwilling pawns in the suppression of protesters who demand the regime's downfall."

The Guardian also reports that the government is trying to "Ikhwanise" the police according to junior police officers who don't approve of that. Read more ..


Inside the Catholic Church

Cardinals Debate Qualifications for Pope

March 10th 2013

Vatican-Palazzo Apostolico

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who resigned as pontiff last month, has pledged his “unconditional reverence and obedience” to whomever succeeds him to guide the 1.2-billion-member Roman Catholic Church. As cardinals continue their discussions, Vatican experts ask what kind of pope do they believe will be best suited to lead the church?

The Rev. Thomas Reece, at Georgetown University, said the cardinals will be looking for someone who can best convey the Catholic message.

“The most important thing is to figure out how to preach the gospel in a way that is attractive and understandable to people in the 21st century - especially young people,” said Reece. “Certainly in the north, in Europe and the United States, we see young people leaving religion, not just Catholicism, but Christianity and other religions. So, how to make the message of Jesus, which I think is very attractive and challenging, get it across to young people so that it doesn’t turn them away. That is the real challenge.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria's Unseen Crisis: Displaced Women Face Rape, Insecurity, Poverty

March 9th 2013

Syrian refugees

In the past week, the Syrian refugee crisis has grabbed headlines around the world as the number of Syrians who have had to seek asylum abroad reached one million. But there is another, less-discussed displacement crisis unfolding inside Syria. Syria’s internally displaced population passed the two million-mark months ago – by some estimates, there are more than three million Syrians uprooted within their country, most out of reach of international aid and media attention. The consequences of this crisis have been catastrophic for all displaced persons, but particularly for women and girls. International Women’s Day is a chance to give these consequences the attention they deserve, but have lacked so far. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Sizable Job Gains, but a Long Way from Good Health

March 9th 2013

Employee applications

Employers added 238,000 workers to their payrolls in February, the 29th consecutive month of job gains. Over the past six months employers have added 187,000 jobs a month, a rate of gain that is fast enough to reduce the ranks of the unemployed. The unemployment rate, which is calculated using a different survey, dropped to 7.7 percent in the month, its lowest level since December 2008.

As has been the case for most of the past year, the employer survey offers a brighter picture of progress than the Labor Department’s household survey. Reported job gains in the household survey were only 170,000 in February. An important reason the unemployment rate fell 0.2 percentage points in the month is that the number of adults who are employed or looking for work fell 130,000. Over the past year, the household survey shows that the labor force participation rate has declined 0.4 percentage points. Part of the decline is traceable to the aging of the population. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Current Limits of U.S.-Israel Security Cooperation

March 8th 2013

Obama Pentagon

Shared values and democratic systems count for a lot in the political world -- and they can advance military cooperation -- but national security interests can evolve without them. No one would mistake Saudi Arabia or Bahrain for a country that shares American values, yet the U.S. Central Command works closely and cooperatively with both.

Israel shares American values in many ways, but a shared security outlook is something else, hinging on threat perceptions that may no longer be coincident.

Vice President Biden took to the stage at AIPAC this week to promote U.S.-Israel security relations. His emphasis on American support for Israel's missile defense program is the coin of the realm – first because it is true and second because Israel's enemies have missiles. But security relations have undergone a subtle, negative change in the past four years. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Drone strikes in the U.S. unconstitutional, say lawmakers

March 7th 2013

 The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said on Wednesday that any suggestion of drone strikes in America “detracts attention from the real threats facing the country.” Rogers, who serves as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was responding to statements made by the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday regarding the killing of American Islamists overseas and stateside

Holder claimed on Wednesday that using lethal force, such as an unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) strike against an American citizen within the borders of the United States is legal and justifiable in "extraordinary circumstances" comparable to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "The president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland," Holder said to lawmakers during hearings aired on C-Span TV. Read more ..


Transportation on Edge

New Partnerships for American Rail

March 4th 2013

Amtrak high speed

American passenger rail is in the midst of a renaissance. Ridership grew by 55 percent since 1997 and is now at record levels, with over 31 million travelers annually. That's faster than other travel modes like aviation and far outpaces the growth in population and economic output during that time. Travel corridors like New York to Washington, Seattle to Portland, and Chicago to Milwaukee all boast higher shares of riders on rails than in the air.

Painting such a rosy picture of American rail may seem incongruous to those that like to chastise its beleaguered carrier, Amtrak, for transgressions related to food service, timeliness, and subsistence on federal subsidies. But in a new report, my colleagues Adie Tomer, Joseph Kane, and I find that Amtrak is actually finding itself well-positioned for the future. Part of this was initiated by federal lawmakers who, in 2008, gave Amtrak the kick-in-the-pants it needed by ordering the establishment of metrics and benchmarking for performance.  Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran in the Balkans--a History and a Forecast

March 2nd 2013

Iranian clerics

As the possibility of an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities continues to loom over the strategic horizon, despite continued claims by the US that sanctions are weakening the mullahs' regime, there is increased speculation among security analysts about collateral damage from such an action. One scenario in particular that has caused concern involves a counterstrike by Iran or its allies such as Hezbollah against targets outside the Middle East. In this regard, when a suspected Hezbollah suicide bomber killed six Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, in July, it confirmed that the Balkans were a potential front for terrorism in any future conflict.

A recent flurry of diplomatic activity confirms the extent of Western government concern over the possibility that pro-Iranian Islamist factions in southeastern Europe could cause serious problems for Western interests if Israel or the US attacks Tehran. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

The Great Cyber Smackdown

March 1st 2013

Shadowy Computer User

The Internet is now a battlefield. China is not only militarizing cyberspace -- it is also deploying its cyberwarriors against the United States and other countries to conduct corporate espionage, hack think tanks, and engage in retaliatory harassment of news organizations.

These attacks are another dimension of the ongoing strategic competition between the United States and China -- a competition playing out in the waters of the East and South China seas, in Iran and Syria, across the Taiwan Strait, and in outer space. With a number of recent high-profile attacks in cyberspace traced to the Chinese government, the cybercompetition seems particularly pressing. It is time for Washington to develop a clear, concerted strategy to deter cyberwar, theft of intellectual property, espionage, and digital harassment. Simply put, the United States must make China pay for conducting these activities, in addition to defending cybernetworks and critical infrastructure such as power stations and cell towers. The U.S. government needs to go on the offensive and enact a set of diplomatic, security, and legal measures designed to impose serious costs on China for its flagrant violations of the law and to deter a conflict in the cybersphere. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The Real Meaning of the Argentina-Iran Agreement

February 28th 2013

Iran centrifuges

There is a new deal brewing between Argentina and Iran in order to improve relations between the two counties which have been on shaky ground ever since the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and the Jewish community headquarters (AMIA) in 1994. Though Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, was widely believed to have perpetrated these two attacks no individual has ever been brought to justice. However, Argentina issued arrest warrants and orders of extradition for several high officers in the Iranian government given their involvement in the attacks.

In January 2013, Argentina reversed course and signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran that deals directly with the terrorist attack on the Jewish headquarters but omits the attack on the Israeli Embassy. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran’s Attempted Rapprochement with Egypt: Implications for Sunni-Shiite Relations

February 27th 2013

Ahmadinejad triumphant

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt on February 5, 2013, was the first by an Iranian president since the Islamic Revolution. Occurring in the context of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he intended the visit as a step toward improving Iran’s relations with Egypt in the aftermath of its revolution and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the visit exposed the tensions between two countries that are vying for regional leadership and, more generally, the deepening rift along Sunni-Shiite lines.

Ahmadinejad’s visit was not an official one in the context of Iranian-Egyptian bilateral relations. It resulted from Iran’s membership in the OIC, with similar invitations having been sent to other Islamic leaders. The meetings that Ahmadinejad, along with his accompanying senior delegation, held with the Egyptian political and religious leadership (including the sheikh of Al-Azhar University) were part of this protocol and did not indicate any warming of ties between the two states. The efforts by the Iranian president and his staff, along with the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to portray the visit as an achievement and a step toward enhancing bilateral relations did not succeed; the visit itself did not bring about a breakthrough.

Moreover, during the visit the Iranian president was publicly humiliated both during the press conference he held with senior Al-Azhar officials (in which Iran was called on to put a stop to Shiite subversion in Arab countries) and by the throwing of a shoe at him (an act of debasement in Arab culture). At home, too, the visit was sharply criticized; it was claimed, among other things, that Iran had again been humiliated by Egypt, its policy of flattering Cairo exposed as futile. Moreover, no representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei showed up at the airport before Ahmadinejad embarked, and on that day one of the president’s associates was detained (and later released).

The failure of Ahmadinejad’s attempt to depict the visit as a success, as part of the emergence of a new Islamic axis in the context of the “Islamic Awakening” (as Iran calls the Arab Spring), has to do with the many residues in the two states’ relations since they were severed at the behest of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1981. Those residues continue to diminish the possibility of any substantial improvement of relations in the foreseeable future.

Egypt’s “Primal Sin” in Iranian Eyes

Iran continues to view Egypt as the party that paved the way to the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, and indeed committed treason against the Arab/Muslim world. From the standpoint of revolutionary Iran, until the revolution that led to the ouster of Mubarak (the “Western ruler),” Egypt was preparing the ground for other Arab states to recognize Israel. Tehran, for its part, severed diplomatic relations with Cairo after it signed the peace treaty with Israel and gave political asylum to the deposed Iranian ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Certain developments in recent years have given the impression that Egyptian-Iranian relations were on the verge of a breakthrough. In each case, conservative circles in Iran have made certain to raise the factors that soured those relations – the murder of Anwar Sadat and the glorification of his assassin, Khalid Islambouli, for whom a street was named in Tehran – while emphasizing “Egypt’s betrayal of the Muslims and the Arabs.” In 1982, Iran also issued a stamp to commemorate the assassin.

Shiite Subversion in Egypt

Furthermore, Iran carried out subversive activity in Egypt itself in an attempt to export the Shiite revolutionary model1 to the country. It used Lebanese Hizbullah to coordinate both this activity and its military and financial assistance to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Mubarak’s Egypt monitored these activities and harshly cracked down on them (also preventing Iran’s participation in the Cairo International Book Fair out of fear of Shiite propaganda). In 2009, a network of Hizbullah operatives was arrested who were planning terrorist attacks and the spread of Shiism in Egypt, and constraints were imposed on the activity of the Shiites in the country.

Previously, in 2008, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, had warned against the “Shiite wave” in the Sunni Arab world, and against Shiite attempts to “infiltrate the Sunni community,” which, he said, lacked “cultural immunity” to protect it from the campaign. In an interview with Asharq Alawsat at the end of September 2008, Qaradawi said that “in the Egypt that I have known well for twenty years there was not a single Shiite since the days of Saladin; today the Shiites have managed to infiltrate Egypt….Today they have people who write in the newspapers…write books.”2

Qaradawi’s warning reverberated during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt – as in the scathing words that the sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayyib, and other Egyptian elements (the Salafis were even harsher in condemning Ahmadinejad and Iran) hurled at Ahmadinejad. The difference between Egypt in 2008 and Egypt since the revolution is that Al-Azhar is now stronger in status and more independent in decision-making than it was under the secular Egyptian government in the Mubarak period. It has no sense of inferiority toward the Iranian Shiite religious establishment, acts out of a sense of political-religious power, does not intend to let the Iranian “Shiite wave” gain any significant foothold in Egypt or in Arab countries in general, and, of course, does not “buy” Iran’s efforts and sweet talk about bringing the two states closer.

That stance emerged in no uncertain terms during Ahmadinejad’s meetings with the heads of Al-Azhar (who, in the past, took a more cautious position toward Shiite efforts in Iran). After the pleasantries and Ahmadinejad’s emphasis on what was common between Iran and Egypt (culture, history, aid to the Palestinians, the need to fight Israel), al-Tayyib sternly told his guest that Iran should not try to influence the believers in the Sunni countries, including Egypt and its youth, or interfere in the affairs of its neighboring countries in an attempt to infuse them with the Shiite faith. It should not interfere in the Gulf States, and particularly not in Bahrain’s affairs. Al-Tayyib also demanded that Ahmadinejad respect the Sunnis and the Arab minority in the Iranian region of Ahvaz, where in recent months Iran had taken severe measures and even executed some members of the Arab minority.3

“You Are Slaughtering Our People”

The state-run Iranian media portrayed the visit in a positive light. It described the “warm reception” Ahmadinejad received, his meetings with the president, the religious establishment, and the editors of the Egyptian media, as well as his visit to the Shiite Al-Hussain Mosque in Cairo (which the Salafis opposed).4 As Ahmadinejad was leaving the Shiite mosque, a shoe was thrown at him – an act expressing profound contempt in Arab culture – by an opponent of the Syrian regime who called out, “You are slaughtering our people.” The shoe missed Ahmadinejad, who looked a bit frightened, and hit one of his bodyguards. The attacker was arrested.5

Egypt Still Undecided

While Ahmadinejad was trying to emphasize what the two countries have in common, what actually stood out were their deep-seated political and religious disputes, particularly regarding Iran’s strong backing for Syria and its subversion in Bahrain. Indeed, within Iran, Ahmadinejad and his government are becoming a punching bag, and his stance is not necessarily in line with the basic revolutionary foreign policy. From Iran’s standpoint, post-Mubarak Egypt has not yet decided whether it stands in the Arab-Western camp or in the revolutionary Islamic camp. Many in Iran suspect that Egypt, even having undergone its revolution, has not changed its policy, that its statements against the West and Israel are mere lip service, and that it is still oriented to the West and the moderate Arab states with their “Western Islam.”

No Stamp of Approval

The Egyptians have by no means given Ahmadinejad or Iran a stamp of approval for their policy in the Arab world – let alone for their ongoing support for Syrian president Bashar Assad who continues to slaughter his people. Instea the Egyptians have highlighted the regional conflicts in the whole Muslim world, presenting Iran as an isolated actor, particularly in its continued backing of the Syrian regime. Egyptian president Morsi conveyed a similar message when he visited Tehran to take part in the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), during which he handed over the movement’s presidency to Iran. Thus, the Egyptians, despite the rise of their new government, continue to obstruct Iran’s regional ambitions. Iran, for its part, is trying to exploit the Arab world’s instability, economic crises, and growing Islamic orientation, along with the West’s confusion in the face of these developments, to leverage its status – so far with only partial success.

Unity within Division

The conduct of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt, and the media coverage of it in the Arab world and in Iran itself, provided a glimpse into the reemergence and institutionalization of the camps and alliances in the Arab and Islamic world. For now there is no significant movement between the different camps, and the “resistance camp,” which Iran presumes to lead, remains limited to its components – Syria and Hizbullah – with Hamas lukewarm since its senior officials left Damascus after Assad began cracking down and Hamas did not want to be perceived as cooperating with him. Despite the “Islamic awakening,” then, no new members have joined the camp.

Indeed, Arab states – some of which are still undergoing change while others (especially the Gulf states) are waging a fierce struggle to maintain their stability – have taken a uniform stance toward Iran’s attempts to further undermine the old Arab order and, amid the regional turmoil, create a new Iranian order in its stead. This trend has further highlighted the widening gap between Sunnis and Shiites (despite ostensible calls to bridge it during the OIC conference). The vigor and boldness of Iran’s attempts to export the Shiite revolutionary model, reflecting its growing confidence since the Arab Spring broke out and the progress in its nuclear program despite Western pressures, have further stoked fears in the Sunni Arab camp.

The stabilization of an Egyptian regime that is in fact run by the Muslim Brotherhood adds a Sunni, religious-ideological element to the familiar Egyptian quest for hegemony in the Arab world (while Saudi Arabia continues, as in the past, to keep a low profile and, behind the scenes, focus its activities both on the Arab world and the United States). This situation only amplifies the differences between Egypt and Iran. Moreover, these developments bring home the fact that the historical Sunni-Shiite struggle is very much alive, further heating up all the arenas of confrontation between Iran and the Sunni Arab world: Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, North Africa and, of course, Egypt. In some of these arenas a struggle is being waged, sometimes covert and sometimes overt, between Iranian subversion (Bahrain) and the Sunni Arab protective mantle, and in some Iran continues to act clandestinely (eastern Saudi Arabia with its large Shiite minority, Egypt, Morocco, and others). Should Iran choose to ramp up its subversive efforts and activate secret cells in different Arab countries, possibly in response to the pressures on Iran, the covert power struggles could escalate into open conflicts.

The Arab Spring Reinforced the Conflict with Iran

The bottom line is that it is precisely the series of upheavals in the Arab world in the context of the Arab Spring, which Iran continues to see as an opportunity to promote its Islamic hegemonic aims, that has widened the gaps between Iran and the Arab states. This is mainly due to Iran’s unequivocal backing of Syria, where Assad keeps trying to crush the opposition, and Iran’s support for the Shiite opposition in Bahrain.

Beyond the heightened tensions between Iran and the Sunni Arab world, Ahmadinejad’s visit also revealed the problems he is having at home as his status erodes toward the end of his eight-year tenure. Even while still in the airport in Iran, his visit began with discordant notes. As noted, no representative of Khamenei showed up (as normally occurs when the president travels abroad), and a short time before his flight took off, his crony Saeed Mortazavi was briefly arrested (as the main suspect in the deaths of prisoners after the protests sparked by the June 2009 presidential elections). Moreover, during Ahmadinejad’s sojourn and meetings in Egypt, the conservative Iranian media along with opposition papers and websites harshly criticized him for what they saw as Iran’s humiliation in Egypt. The visit to Egypt in January by Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was also criticized in the Iranian media, mainly on the grounds that Iran’s eagerness to renew relations contrasted with the passivity displayed by Cairo.

A Needless Humiliation

The website Asr-e Iran, known for its criticism of the government, wrote that, whereas the senior Iranian officials who took part in the visit went out of their way to renew ties with Egypt, the Egyptians showed indifference – and not for the first time – and called on Iran to change its policy toward Syria and the Arab world, thereby humiliating the Iranians. Strong criticism was also leveled at Ahmadinejad’s meeting with the sheikh of Al-Azhar “because despite the smiles the meeting was difficult. The messages that were conveyed [the Shiite subversion] were voiced in the past to the Iranian foreign minister and there was no need for a meeting with the president to voice them again….It did not add to the president’s honor.” Moreover, at the end of the meeting with the sheikh, the president was again humiliated when the former only sent his adviser to the subsequent press conference with Ahmadinejad, a clear violation of all the rules of protocol and diplomacy. “There is no doubt that this meeting totally violated the three pillars of foreign policy (honor, insight, and interests) as defined by the Supreme Leader, and that may be why the president’s website decided to publish photos of the press conference with the sheikh’s adviser under the headline ‘Press Conference with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar!’”6

Regarding the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Egypt, an editorial of the Mehr News Agency asked “How Much Longer Will Diplomacy Demonstrate Carelessness: Relations with Egypt at What Price?” The article claimed that, despite Egypt’s centrality in the Arab and Islamic world, Iran could not afford to pay a heavy price for renewing relations with a state that was still economically dependent on the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. At the same time, Egypt was still displaying suspicion toward Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar were urging Morsi not to warm ties with Tehran. Moreover, during the foreign minister’s visit Egypt hosted an “anti-Iranian” conference where support was expressed for the rights of the Arab minority in Iran’s Khuzestan province, with official Egyptian representatives participating.

The article went on to call the Egyptian position on Syria “illogical,” and criticized Egypt’s support for the United Arab Emirates’ stance regarding the islands in dispute with Iran, as well as Egypt’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given the “lack of clarity” in Egyptian foreign policy, the editorial called on senior Iranian officials to show restraint, not enthusiasm, when it came to renewing ties with Egypt; otherwise Iran’s national interests stood to be harmed. “If the Egyptian politicians have to go to the gates of Washington, Doha, and Riyadh to get into Iran, Iranian diplomacy has to redefine and carefully consider the approach to any future relations with Egypt.” The article’s author recommends curtailing the overt diplomatic activity and focusing on the cultural-media level in order to prepare the ground for any diplomatic activity in the future. The implication is that subversive activity should be stepped up, thereby influencing the population and creating a better basis for diplomatic activity. The article ends by accusing a lobby in Iran of working for relations with Egypt “at any price” (a hint at the president and his delegation) while ignoring Iran’s interests and national pride.7

The Baztab website, for its part, criticized a proposal by Iranian foreign minister Salehi before Ahmadinejad’s visit that the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 countries be held in Egypt. It asked why, amid the tensions with Turkey over the crisis in Syria, with Ankara moving away from a mediatory role in these talks, the talks should be held precisely in Egypt when its position was similar to, indeed more emphatic than, Turkey’s. The site wondered whether the Iranian leaders were really trying to solve the nuclear problem, which poses numerous problems for Iran, or if it was just a public relations exercise aimed at promoting ties with Egypt.8

Morsi in Mubarak’s Footsteps?

The conservative paper Jomhouri-e Eslami, which is associated with former president Rafsanjani and consistently takes a critical line on Iranian-Egyptian relations and on Cairo’s role in the struggle with Israel and the West, pilloried Morsi for his conduct after being elected president and particularly the extensive powers he arrogated to himself, for his mediatory role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian outbreak of hostilities (Operation Pillar of Defense), and for the praises lavished on him by former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Jomhouri-e Eslami assessed in November 2012 that it was still too early to judge whether Morsi would follow in Mubarak’s footsteps and become a sort of pharaoh; but the blood of the demonstrators already spilled under his rule could indicate that he was moving in that direction.9

A Growing Space for Shiite-Sunni Friction

In sum, Iranian-Egyptian relations have remained tense. Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt in the OIC framework not only did not contribute to reconciling positions and renewing ties between the two states, it revealed the wide gap between the Shiite-Iranian and Sunni Arab camps, as the latter is undergoing a process of consolidation. This closing of ranks in the Arab world, in the wake of the Arab Spring, along Sunni Islamic and less Arab-nationalist lines further augments the conflicts between the Arab states and Iran, which center on Iran’s interventions in their internal affairs with the aim of fomenting further instability and Islamic revolutions.

The rift between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab camp is particularly evident along the seam lines, the sensitive and problematic meeting points of Sunni and Shia in a Middle East that is in a process of change. The hottest and most problematic locus of all is Syria, where Iran (with Hizbullah) is indeed confronting the entire Sunni Arab camp (as well as Turkey, whose relations with Iran have greatly deteriorated) and the Western states by backing Assad, which includes assisting him with weapons, manpower (including Hizbullah fighters), and an international hinterland (Russia and China). Another point of active confrontation is Bahrain, where Iran is supporting (through subversion and propaganda) the Shiite opposition as it continues its struggle against the Bahraini royal house – to which Egypt, and particularly Saudi Arabia, give their backing. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are anchors that continue to bind Egypt to the Arab camp, ensuring that it does not move into Iran’s embrace. 

In Iran, which is awaiting elections that will determine its future course, the still undecided debate over the future of relations with Egypt continues. Those favoring enhanced ties – Ahmadinejad and his government – are trying to take steps in that direction but are encountering fierce domestic criticism. The difficult and tense history of relations between these two states keeps hindering the possibility of improved relations, a possibility that remains as distant as ever.

Iran is realizing that, even though Egypt is undergoing a still-unfinished revolution and has assumed a more Islamic coloration, it is still under the influence of the “moderate” Arab states – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – and is sustaining its relations with both the United States and Israel. It was in that context, Iran believes, that a supportive visit to Gaza by an Iranian delegation was blocked by Egypt during the November 2012 fighting. Moreover, Egypt has openly exposed Iran’s subversive activity in Egypt and other Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, and its efforts for the Shiazation of Sunni populations as a means of implanting the revolutionary Shiite Islamic model.

No breakthrough in Iranian-Egyptian relations, then, appears likely in the near future, despite Morsi’s visit to Tehran and Ahmadinejad’s historic visit to Cairo. Both visits were unofficial and conducted in the context of participation in broader forums (NAM, OIC). They do not indicate any significant change in the basic Iranian hostility toward Egypt, which it still regards as part of the Western camp along with its Arab partners in the region, or in the Egyptian distrust of the real intentions of revolutionary Iran.

Iran’s progress in its nuclear program is intensifying fears among the Arab states. In their view, Iran’s nuclearization would create greater space for its political subversion, terror, and the export of its radical brand of Shiite revolution. These perceptions are likely to enhance the unity of the Arab camp – even if it assumes a more Islamic and less Arab-nationalist character – in its confrontation with Iran.

- See more at: http://jcpa.org/article/irans-attempted-rapprochement-with-egypt-implications-for-sunni-shiite-relations/#sthash.nZMNvQ7T.dpuf

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt on February 5, 2013, was the first by an Iranian president since the Islamic Revolution. Occurring in the context of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he intended the visit as a step toward improving Iran’s relations with Egypt in the aftermath of its revolution and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the visit exposed the tensions between two countries that are vying for regional leadership and, more generally, the deepening rift along Sunni-Shiite lines.

Ahmadinejad’s visit was not an official one in the context of Iranian-Egyptian bilateral relations. It resulted from Iran’s membership in the OIC, with similar invitations having been sent to other Islamic leaders. The meetings that Ahmadinejad, along with his accompanying senior delegation, held with the Egyptian political and religious leadership (including the sheikh of Al-Azhar University) were part of this protocol and did not indicate any warming of ties between the two states. The efforts by the Iranian president and his staff, along with the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to portray the visit as an achievement and a step toward enhancing bilateral relations did not succeed; the visit itself did not bring about a breakthrough.

Moreover, during the visit the Iranian president was publicly humiliated both during the press conference he held with senior Al-Azhar officials (in which Iran was called on to put a stop to Shiite subversion in Arab countries) and by the throwing of a shoe at him (an act of debasement in Arab culture). At home, too, the visit was sharply criticized; it was claimed, among other things, that Iran had again been humiliated by Egypt, its policy of flattering Cairo exposed as futile. Moreover, no representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei showed up at the airport before Ahmadinejad embarked, and on that day one of the president’s associates was detained (and later released).

The failure of Ahmadinejad’s attempt to depict the visit as a success, as part of the emergence of a new Islamic axis in the context of the “Islamic Awakening” (as Iran calls the Arab Spring), has to do with the many residues in the two states’ relations since they were severed at the behest of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1981. Those residues continue to diminish the possibility of any substantial improvement of relations in the foreseeable future.

Egypt’s “Primal Sin” in Iranian Eyes

Iran continues to view Egypt as the party that paved the way to the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, and indeed committed treason against the Arab/Muslim world. From the standpoint of revolutionary Iran, until the revolution that led to the ouster of Mubarak (the “Western ruler),” Egypt was preparing the ground for other Arab states to recognize Israel. Tehran, for its part, severed diplomatic relations with Cairo after it signed the peace treaty with Israel and gave political asylum to the deposed Iranian ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Certain developments in recent years have given the impression that Egyptian-Iranian relations were on the verge of a breakthrough. In each case, conservative circles in Iran have made certain to raise the factors that soured those relations – the murder of Anwar Sadat and the glorification of his assassin, Khalid Islambouli, for whom a street was named in Tehran – while emphasizing “Egypt’s betrayal of the Muslims and the Arabs.” In 1982, Iran also issued a stamp to commemorate the assassin.

Shiite Subversion in Egypt

Furthermore, Iran carried out subversive activity in Egypt itself in an attempt to export the Shiite revolutionary model1 to the country. It used Lebanese Hizbullah to coordinate both this activity and its military and financial assistance to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Mubarak’s Egypt monitored these activities and harshly cracked down on them (also preventing Iran’s participation in the Cairo International Book Fair out of fear of Shiite propaganda). In 2009, a network of Hizbullah operatives was arrested who were planning terrorist attacks and the spread of Shiism in Egypt, and constraints were imposed on the activity of the Shiites in the country.

Previously, in 2008, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, had warned against the “Shiite wave” in the Sunni Arab world, and against Shiite attempts to “infiltrate the Sunni community,” which, he said, lacked “cultural immunity” to protect it from the campaign. In an interview with Asharq Alawsat at the end of September 2008, Qaradawi said that “in the Egypt that I have known well for twenty years there was not a single Shiite since the days of Saladin; today the Shiites have managed to infiltrate Egypt….Today they have people who write in the newspapers…write books.”2

Qaradawi’s warning reverberated during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt – as in the scathing words that the sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayyib, and other Egyptian elements (the Salafis were even harsher in condemning Ahmadinejad and Iran) hurled at Ahmadinejad. The difference between Egypt in 2008 and Egypt since the revolution is that Al-Azhar is now stronger in status and more independent in decision-making than it was under the secular Egyptian government in the Mubarak period. It has no sense of inferiority toward the Iranian Shiite religious establishment, acts out of a sense of political-religious power, does not intend to let the Iranian “Shiite wave” gain any significant foothold in Egypt or in Arab countries in general, and, of course, does not “buy” Iran’s efforts and sweet talk about bringing the two states closer.

That stance emerged in no uncertain terms during Ahmadinejad’s meetings with the heads of Al-Azhar (who, in the past, took a more cautious position toward Shiite efforts in Iran). After the pleasantries and Ahmadinejad’s emphasis on what was common between Iran and Egypt (culture, history, aid to the Palestinians, the need to fight Israel), al-Tayyib sternly told his guest that Iran should not try to influence the believers in the Sunni countries, including Egypt and its youth, or interfere in the affairs of its neighboring countries in an attempt to infuse them with the Shiite faith. It should not interfere in the Gulf States, and particularly not in Bahrain’s affairs. Al-Tayyib also demanded that Ahmadinejad respect the Sunnis and the Arab minority in the Iranian region of Ahvaz, where in recent months Iran had taken severe measures and even executed some members of the Arab minority.3

“You Are Slaughtering Our People”

The state-run Iranian media portrayed the visit in a positive light. It described the “warm reception” Ahmadinejad received, his meetings with the president, the religious establishment, and the editors of the Egyptian media, as well as his visit to the Shiite Al-Hussain Mosque in Cairo (which the Salafis opposed).4 As Ahmadinejad was leaving the Shiite mosque, a shoe was thrown at him – an act expressing profound contempt in Arab culture – by an opponent of the Syrian regime who called out, “You are slaughtering our people.” The shoe missed Ahmadinejad, who looked a bit frightened, and hit one of his bodyguards. The attacker was arrested.5

Egypt Still Undecided

While Ahmadinejad was trying to emphasize what the two countries have in common, what actually stood out were their deep-seated political and religious disputes, particularly regarding Iran’s strong backing for Syria and its subversion in Bahrain. Indeed, within Iran, Ahmadinejad and his government are becoming a punching bag, and his stance is not necessarily in line with the basic revolutionary foreign policy. From Iran’s standpoint, post-Mubarak Egypt has not yet decided whether it stands in the Arab-Western camp or in the revolutionary Islamic camp. Many in Iran suspect that Egypt, even having undergone its revolution, has not changed its policy, that its statements against the West and Israel are mere lip service, and that it is still oriented to the West and the moderate Arab states with their “Western Islam.”

No Stamp of Approval

The Egyptians have by no means given Ahmadinejad or Iran a stamp of approval for their policy in the Arab world – let alone for their ongoing support for Syrian president Bashar Assad who continues to slaughter his people. Instea the Egyptians have highlighted the regional conflicts in the whole Muslim world, presenting Iran as an isolated actor, particularly in its continued backing of the Syrian regime. Egyptian president Morsi conveyed a similar message when he visited Tehran to take part in the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), during which he handed over the movement’s presidency to Iran. Thus, the Egyptians, despite the rise of their new government, continue to obstruct Iran’s regional ambitions. Iran, for its part, is trying to exploit the Arab world’s instability, economic crises, and growing Islamic orientation, along with the West’s confusion in the face of these developments, to leverage its status – so far with only partial success.

Unity within Division

The conduct of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt, and the media coverage of it in the Arab world and in Iran itself, provided a glimpse into the reemergence and institutionalization of the camps and alliances in the Arab and Islamic world. For now there is no significant movement between the different camps, and the “resistance camp,” which Iran presumes to lead, remains limited to its components – Syria and Hizbullah – with Hamas lukewarm since its senior officials left Damascus after Assad began cracking down and Hamas did not want to be perceived as cooperating with him. Despite the “Islamic awakening,” then, no new members have joined the camp.

Indeed, Arab states – some of which are still undergoing change while others (especially the Gulf states) are waging a fierce struggle to maintain their stability – have taken a uniform stance toward Iran’s attempts to further undermine the old Arab order and, amid the regional turmoil, create a new Iranian order in its stead. This trend has further highlighted the widening gap between Sunnis and Shiites (despite ostensible calls to bridge it during the OIC conference). The vigor and boldness of Iran’s attempts to export the Shiite revolutionary model, reflecting its growing confidence since the Arab Spring broke out and the progress in its nuclear program despite Western pressures, have further stoked fears in the Sunni Arab camp.

The stabilization of an Egyptian regime that is in fact run by the Muslim Brotherhood adds a Sunni, religious-ideological element to the familiar Egyptian quest for hegemony in the Arab world (while Saudi Arabia continues, as in the past, to keep a low profile and, behind the scenes, focus its activities both on the Arab world and the United States). This situation only amplifies the differences between Egypt and Iran. Moreover, these developments bring home the fact that the historical Sunni-Shiite struggle is very much alive, further heating up all the arenas of confrontation between Iran and the Sunni Arab world: Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, North Africa and, of course, Egypt. In some of these arenas a struggle is being waged, sometimes covert and sometimes overt, between Iranian subversion (Bahrain) and the Sunni Arab protective mantle, and in some Iran continues to act clandestinely (eastern Saudi Arabia with its large Shiite minority, Egypt, Morocco, and others). Should Iran choose to ramp up its subversive efforts and activate secret cells in different Arab countries, possibly in response to the pressures on Iran, the covert power struggles could escalate into open conflicts.

The Arab Spring Reinforced the Conflict with Iran

The bottom line is that it is precisely the series of upheavals in the Arab world in the context of the Arab Spring, which Iran continues to see as an opportunity to promote its Islamic hegemonic aims, that has widened the gaps between Iran and the Arab states. This is mainly due to Iran’s unequivocal backing of Syria, where Assad keeps trying to crush the opposition, and Iran’s support for the Shiite opposition in Bahrain.

Beyond the heightened tensions between Iran and the Sunni Arab world, Ahmadinejad’s visit also revealed the problems he is having at home as his status erodes toward the end of his eight-year tenure. Even while still in the airport in Iran, his visit began with discordant notes. As noted, no representative of Khamenei showed up (as normally occurs when the president travels abroad), and a short time before his flight took off, his crony Saeed Mortazavi was briefly arrested (as the main suspect in the deaths of prisoners after the protests sparked by the June 2009 presidential elections). Moreover, during Ahmadinejad’s sojourn and meetings in Egypt, the conservative Iranian media along with opposition papers and websites harshly criticized him for what they saw as Iran’s humiliation in Egypt. The visit to Egypt in January by Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was also criticized in the Iranian media, mainly on the grounds that Iran’s eagerness to renew relations contrasted with the passivity displayed by Cairo.

A Needless Humiliation

The website Asr-e Iran, known for its criticism of the government, wrote that, whereas the senior Iranian officials who took part in the visit went out of their way to renew ties with Egypt, the Egyptians showed indifference – and not for the first time – and called on Iran to change its policy toward Syria and the Arab world, thereby humiliating the Iranians. Strong criticism was also leveled at Ahmadinejad’s meeting with the sheikh of Al-Azhar “because despite the smiles the meeting was difficult. The messages that were conveyed [the Shiite subversion] were voiced in the past to the Iranian foreign minister and there was no need for a meeting with the president to voice them again….It did not add to the president’s honor.” Moreover, at the end of the meeting with the sheikh, the president was again humiliated when the former only sent his adviser to the subsequent press conference with Ahmadinejad, a clear violation of all the rules of protocol and diplomacy. “There is no doubt that this meeting totally violated the three pillars of foreign policy (honor, insight, and interests) as defined by the Supreme Leader, and that may be why the president’s website decided to publish photos of the press conference with the sheikh’s adviser under the headline ‘Press Conference with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar!’”6

Regarding the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Egypt, an editorial of the Mehr News Agency asked “How Much Longer Will Diplomacy Demonstrate Carelessness: Relations with Egypt at What Price?” The article claimed that, despite Egypt’s centrality in the Arab and Islamic world, Iran could not afford to pay a heavy price for renewing relations with a state that was still economically dependent on the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. At the same time, Egypt was still displaying suspicion toward Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar were urging Morsi not to warm ties with Tehran. Moreover, during the foreign minister’s visit Egypt hosted an “anti-Iranian” conference where support was expressed for the rights of the Arab minority in Iran’s Khuzestan province, with official Egyptian representatives participating.

The article went on to call the Egyptian position on Syria “illogical,” and criticized Egypt’s support for the United Arab Emirates’ stance regarding the islands in dispute with Iran, as well as Egypt’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given the “lack of clarity” in Egyptian foreign policy, the editorial called on senior Iranian officials to show restraint, not enthusiasm, when it came to renewing ties with Egypt; otherwise Iran’s national interests stood to be harmed. “If the Egyptian politicians have to go to the gates of Washington, Doha, and Riyadh to get into Iran, Iranian diplomacy has to redefine and carefully consider the approach to any future relations with Egypt.” The article’s author recommends curtailing the overt diplomatic activity and focusing on the cultural-media level in order to prepare the ground for any diplomatic activity in the future. The implication is that subversive activity should be stepped up, thereby influencing the population and creating a better basis for diplomatic activity. The article ends by accusing a lobby in Iran of working for relations with Egypt “at any price” (a hint at the president and his delegation) while ignoring Iran’s interests and national pride.7

The Baztab website, for its part, criticized a proposal by Iranian foreign minister Salehi before Ahmadinejad’s visit that the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 countries be held in Egypt. It asked why, amid the tensions with Turkey over the crisis in Syria, with Ankara moving away from a mediatory role in these talks, the talks should be held precisely in Egypt when its position was similar to, indeed more emphatic than, Turkey’s. The site wondered whether the Iranian leaders were really trying to solve the nuclear problem, which poses numerous problems for Iran, or if it was just a public relations exercise aimed at promoting ties with Egypt.8

Morsi in Mubarak’s Footsteps?

The conservative paper Jomhouri-e Eslami, which is associated with former president Rafsanjani and consistently takes a critical line on Iranian-Egyptian relations and on Cairo’s role in the struggle with Israel and the West, pilloried Morsi for his conduct after being elected president and particularly the extensive powers he arrogated to himself, for his mediatory role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian outbreak of hostilities (Operation Pillar of Defense), and for the praises lavished on him by former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Jomhouri-e Eslami assessed in November 2012 that it was still too early to judge whether Morsi would follow in Mubarak’s footsteps and become a sort of pharaoh; but the blood of the demonstrators already spilled under his rule could indicate that he was moving in that direction.9

A Growing Space for Shiite-Sunni Friction

In sum, Iranian-Egyptian relations have remained tense. Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt in the OIC framework not only did not contribute to reconciling positions and renewing ties between the two states, it revealed the wide gap between the Shiite-Iranian and Sunni Arab camps, as the latter is undergoing a process of consolidation. This closing of ranks in the Arab world, in the wake of the Arab Spring, along Sunni Islamic and less Arab-nationalist lines further augments the conflicts between the Arab states and Iran, which center on Iran’s interventions in their internal affairs with the aim of fomenting further instability and Islamic revolutions.

The rift between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab camp is particularly evident along the seam lines, the sensitive and problematic meeting points of Sunni and Shia in a Middle East that is in a process of change. The hottest and most problematic locus of all is Syria, where Iran (with Hizbullah) is indeed confronting the entire Sunni Arab camp (as well as Turkey, whose relations with Iran have greatly deteriorated) and the Western states by backing Assad, which includes assisting him with weapons, manpower (including Hizbullah fighters), and an international hinterland (Russia and China). Another point of active confrontation is Bahrain, where Iran is supporting (through subversion and propaganda) the Shiite opposition as it continues its struggle against the Bahraini royal house – to which Egypt, and particularly Saudi Arabia, give their backing. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are anchors that continue to bind Egypt to the Arab camp, ensuring that it does not move into Iran’s embrace. 

In Iran, which is awaiting elections that will determine its future course, the still undecided debate over the future of relations with Egypt continues. Those favoring enhanced ties – Ahmadinejad and his government – are trying to take steps in that direction but are encountering fierce domestic criticism. The difficult and tense history of relations between these two states keeps hindering the possibility of improved relations, a possibility that remains as distant as ever.

Iran is realizing that, even though Egypt is undergoing a still-unfinished revolution and has assumed a more Islamic coloration, it is still under the influence of the “moderate” Arab states – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – and is sustaining its relations with both the United States and Israel. It was in that context, Iran believes, that a supportive visit to Gaza by an Iranian delegation was blocked by Egypt during the November 2012 fighting. Moreover, Egypt has openly exposed Iran’s subversive activity in Egypt and other Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, and its efforts for the Shiazation of Sunni populations as a means of implanting the revolutionary Shiite Islamic model.

No breakthrough in Iranian-Egyptian relations, then, appears likely in the near future, despite Morsi’s visit to Tehran and Ahmadinejad’s historic visit to Cairo. Both visits were unofficial and conducted in the context of participation in broader forums (NAM, OIC). They do not indicate any significant change in the basic Iranian hostility toward Egypt, which it still regards as part of the Western camp along with its Arab partners in the region, or in the Egyptian distrust of the real intentions of revolutionary Iran.

Iran’s progress in its nuclear program is intensifying fears among the Arab states. In their view, Iran’s nuclearization would create greater space for its political subversion, terror, and the export of its radical brand of Shiite revolution. These perceptions are likely to enhance the unity of the Arab camp – even if it assumes a more Islamic and less Arab-nationalist character – in its confrontation with Iran.

- See more at: http://jcpa.org/article/irans-attempted-rapprochement-with-egypt-implications-for-sunni-shiite-relations/#sthash.nZMNvQ7T.dpuf

ranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt on February 5, 2013, was the first by an Iranian president since the Islamic Revolution. Occurring in the context of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he intended the visit as a step toward improving Iran’s relations with Egypt in the aftermath of its revolution and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the visit exposed the tensions between two countries that are vying for regional leadership and, more generally, the deepening rift along Sunni-Shiite lines.

Ahmadinejad’s visit was not an official one in the context of Iranian-Egyptian bilateral relations. It resulted from Iran’s membership in the OIC, with similar invitations having been sent to other Islamic leaders. The meetings that Ahmadinejad, along with his accompanying senior delegation, held with the Egyptian political and religious leadership (including the sheikh of Al-Azhar University) were part of this protocol and did not indicate any warming of ties between the two states. The efforts by the Iranian president and his staff, along with the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to portray the visit as an achievement and a step toward enhancing bilateral relations did not succeed; the visit itself did not bring about a breakthrough.

Moreover, during the visit the Iranian president was publicly humiliated both during the press conference he held with senior Al-Azhar officials (in which Iran was called on to put a stop to Shiite subversion in Arab countries) and by the throwing of a shoe at him (an act of debasement in Arab culture). At home, too, the visit was sharply criticized; it was claimed, among other things, that Iran had again been humiliated by Egypt, its policy of flattering Cairo exposed as futile. Moreover, no representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei showed up at the airport before Ahmadinejad embarked, and on that day one of the president’s associates was detained (and later released).

The failure of Ahmadinejad’s attempt to depict the visit as a success, as part of the emergence of a new Islamic axis in the context of the “Islamic Awakening” (as Iran calls the Arab Spring), has to do with the many residues in the two states’ relations since they were severed at the behest of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1981. Those residues continue to diminish the possibility of any substantial improvement of relations in the foreseeable future.

Egypt’s “Primal Sin” in Iranian Eyes

Iran continues to view Egypt as the party that paved the way to the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, and indeed committed treason against the Arab/Muslim world. From the standpoint of revolutionary Iran, until the revolution that led to the ouster of Mubarak (the “Western ruler),” Egypt was preparing the ground for other Arab states to recognize Israel. Tehran, for its part, severed diplomatic relations with Cairo after it signed the peace treaty with Israel and gave political asylum to the deposed Iranian ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Certain developments in recent years have given the impression that Egyptian-Iranian relations were on the verge of a breakthrough. In each case, conservative circles in Iran have made certain to raise the factors that soured those relations – the murder of Anwar Sadat and the glorification of his assassin, Khalid Islambouli, for whom a street was named in Tehran – while emphasizing “Egypt’s betrayal of the Muslims and the Arabs.” In 1982, Iran also issued a stamp to commemorate the assassin.

Shiite Subversion in Egypt

Furthermore, Iran carried out subversive activity in Egypt itself in an attempt to export the Shiite revolutionary model1 to the country. It used Lebanese Hizbullah to coordinate both this activity and its military and financial assistance to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Mubarak’s Egypt monitored these activities and harshly cracked down on them (also preventing Iran’s participation in the Cairo International Book Fair out of fear of Shiite propaganda). In 2009, a network of Hizbullah operatives was arrested who were planning terrorist attacks and the spread of Shiism in Egypt, and constraints were imposed on the activity of the Shiites in the country.

Previously, in 2008, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, had warned against the “Shiite wave” in the Sunni Arab world, and against Shiite attempts to “infiltrate the Sunni community,” which, he said, lacked “cultural immunity” to protect it from the campaign. In an interview with Asharq Alawsat at the end of September 2008, Qaradawi said that “in the Egypt that I have known well for twenty years there was not a single Shiite since the days of Saladin; today the Shiites have managed to infiltrate Egypt….Today they have people who write in the newspapers…write books.”2

Qaradawi’s warning reverberated during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt – as in the scathing words that the sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayyib, and other Egyptian elements (the Salafis were even harsher in condemning Ahmadinejad and Iran) hurled at Ahmadinejad. The difference between Egypt in 2008 and Egypt since the revolution is that Al-Azhar is now stronger in status and more independent in decision-making than it was under the secular Egyptian government in the Mubarak period. It has no sense of inferiority toward the Iranian Shiite religious establishment, acts out of a sense of political-religious power, does not intend to let the Iranian “Shiite wave” gain any significant foothold in Egypt or in Arab countries in general, and, of course, does not “buy” Iran’s efforts and sweet talk about bringing the two states closer.

That stance emerged in no uncertain terms during Ahmadinejad’s meetings with the heads of Al-Azhar (who, in the past, took a more cautious position toward Shiite efforts in Iran). After the pleasantries and Ahmadinejad’s emphasis on what was common between Iran and Egypt (culture, history, aid to the Palestinians, the need to fight Israel), al-Tayyib sternly told his guest that Iran should not try to influence the believers in the Sunni countries, including Egypt and its youth, or interfere in the affairs of its neighboring countries in an attempt to infuse them with the Shiite faith. It should not interfere in the Gulf States, and particularly not in Bahrain’s affairs. Al-Tayyib also demanded that Ahmadinejad respect the Sunnis and the Arab minority in the Iranian region of Ahvaz, where in recent months Iran had taken severe measures and even executed some members of the Arab minority.3

“You Are Slaughtering Our People”

The state-run Iranian media portrayed the visit in a positive light. It described the “warm reception” Ahmadinejad received, his meetings with the president, the religious establishment, and the editors of the Egyptian media, as well as his visit to the Shiite Al-Hussain Mosque in Cairo (which the Salafis opposed).4 As Ahmadinejad was leaving the Shiite mosque, a shoe was thrown at him – an act expressing profound contempt in Arab culture – by an opponent of the Syrian regime who called out, “You are slaughtering our people.” The shoe missed Ahmadinejad, who looked a bit frightened, and hit one of his bodyguards. The attacker was arrested.5

Egypt Still Undecided

While Ahmadinejad was trying to emphasize what the two countries have in common, what actually stood out were their deep-seated political and religious disputes, particularly regarding Iran’s strong backing for Syria and its subversion in Bahrain. Indeed, within Iran, Ahmadinejad and his government are becoming a punching bag, and his stance is not necessarily in line with the basic revolutionary foreign policy. From Iran’s standpoint, post-Mubarak Egypt has not yet decided whether it stands in the Arab-Western camp or in the revolutionary Islamic camp. Many in Iran suspect that Egypt, even having undergone its revolution, has not changed its policy, that its statements against the West and Israel are mere lip service, and that it is still oriented to the West and the moderate Arab states with their “Western Islam.”

No Stamp of Approval

The Egyptians have by no means given Ahmadinejad or Iran a stamp of approval for their policy in the Arab world – let alone for their ongoing support for Syrian president Bashar Assad who continues to slaughter his people. Instea the Egyptians have highlighted the regional conflicts in the whole Muslim world, presenting Iran as an isolated actor, particularly in its continued backing of the Syrian regime. Egyptian president Morsi conveyed a similar message when he visited Tehran to take part in the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), during which he handed over the movement’s presidency to Iran. Thus, the Egyptians, despite the rise of their new government, continue to obstruct Iran’s regional ambitions. Iran, for its part, is trying to exploit the Arab world’s instability, economic crises, and growing Islamic orientation, along with the West’s confusion in the face of these developments, to leverage its status – so far with only partial success.

Unity within Division

The conduct of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt, and the media coverage of it in the Arab world and in Iran itself, provided a glimpse into the reemergence and institutionalization of the camps and alliances in the Arab and Islamic world. For now there is no significant movement between the different camps, and the “resistance camp,” which Iran presumes to lead, remains limited to its components – Syria and Hizbullah – with Hamas lukewarm since its senior officials left Damascus after Assad began cracking down and Hamas did not want to be perceived as cooperating with him. Despite the “Islamic awakening,” then, no new members have joined the camp.

Indeed, Arab states – some of which are still undergoing change while others (especially the Gulf states) are waging a fierce struggle to maintain their stability – have taken a uniform stance toward Iran’s attempts to further undermine the old Arab order and, amid the regional turmoil, create a new Iranian order in its stead. This trend has further highlighted the widening gap between Sunnis and Shiites (despite ostensible calls to bridge it during the OIC conference). The vigor and boldness of Iran’s attempts to export the Shiite revolutionary model, reflecting its growing confidence since the Arab Spring broke out and the progress in its nuclear program despite Western pressures, have further stoked fears in the Sunni Arab camp.

The stabilization of an Egyptian regime that is in fact run by the Muslim Brotherhood adds a Sunni, religious-ideological element to the familiar Egyptian quest for hegemony in the Arab world (while Saudi Arabia continues, as in the past, to keep a low profile and, behind the scenes, focus its activities both on the Arab world and the United States). This situation only amplifies the differences between Egypt and Iran. Moreover, these developments bring home the fact that the historical Sunni-Shiite struggle is very much alive, further heating up all the arenas of confrontation between Iran and the Sunni Arab world: Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, North Africa and, of course, Egypt. In some of these arenas a struggle is being waged, sometimes covert and sometimes overt, between Iranian subversion (Bahrain) and the Sunni Arab protective mantle, and in some Iran continues to act clandestinely (eastern Saudi Arabia with its large Shiite minority, Egypt, Morocco, and others). Should Iran choose to ramp up its subversive efforts and activate secret cells in different Arab countries, possibly in response to the pressures on Iran, the covert power struggles could escalate into open conflicts.

The Arab Spring Reinforced the Conflict with Iran

The bottom line is that it is precisely the series of upheavals in the Arab world in the context of the Arab Spring, which Iran continues to see as an opportunity to promote its Islamic hegemonic aims, that has widened the gaps between Iran and the Arab states. This is mainly due to Iran’s unequivocal backing of Syria, where Assad keeps trying to crush the opposition, and Iran’s support for the Shiite opposition in Bahrain.

Beyond the heightened tensions between Iran and the Sunni Arab world, Ahmadinejad’s visit also revealed the problems he is having at home as his status erodes toward the end of his eight-year tenure. Even while still in the airport in Iran, his visit began with discordant notes. As noted, no representative of Khamenei showed up (as normally occurs when the president travels abroad), and a short time before his flight took off, his crony Saeed Mortazavi was briefly arrested (as the main suspect in the deaths of prisoners after the protests sparked by the June 2009 presidential elections). Moreover, during Ahmadinejad’s sojourn and meetings in Egypt, the conservative Iranian media along with opposition papers and websites harshly criticized him for what they saw as Iran’s humiliation in Egypt. The visit to Egypt in January by Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was also criticized in the Iranian media, mainly on the grounds that Iran’s eagerness to renew relations contrasted with the passivity displayed by Cairo.

A Needless Humiliation

The website Asr-e Iran, known for its criticism of the government, wrote that, whereas the senior Iranian officials who took part in the visit went out of their way to renew ties with Egypt, the Egyptians showed indifference – and not for the first time – and called on Iran to change its policy toward Syria and the Arab world, thereby humiliating the Iranians. Strong criticism was also leveled at Ahmadinejad’s meeting with the sheikh of Al-Azhar “because despite the smiles the meeting was difficult. The messages that were conveyed [the Shiite subversion] were voiced in the past to the Iranian foreign minister and there was no need for a meeting with the president to voice them again….It did not add to the president’s honor.” Moreover, at the end of the meeting with the sheikh, the president was again humiliated when the former only sent his adviser to the subsequent press conference with Ahmadinejad, a clear violation of all the rules of protocol and diplomacy. “There is no doubt that this meeting totally violated the three pillars of foreign policy (honor, insight, and interests) as defined by the Supreme Leader, and that may be why the president’s website decided to publish photos of the press conference with the sheikh’s adviser under the headline ‘Press Conference with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar!’”6

Regarding the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Egypt, an editorial of the Mehr News Agency asked “How Much Longer Will Diplomacy Demonstrate Carelessness: Relations with Egypt at What Price?” The article claimed that, despite Egypt’s centrality in the Arab and Islamic world, Iran could not afford to pay a heavy price for renewing relations with a state that was still economically dependent on the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. At the same time, Egypt was still displaying suspicion toward Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar were urging Morsi not to warm ties with Tehran. Moreover, during the foreign minister’s visit Egypt hosted an “anti-Iranian” conference where support was expressed for the rights of the Arab minority in Iran’s Khuzestan province, with official Egyptian representatives participating.

The article went on to call the Egyptian position on Syria “illogical,” and criticized Egypt’s support for the United Arab Emirates’ stance regarding the islands in dispute with Iran, as well as Egypt’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given the “lack of clarity” in Egyptian foreign policy, the editorial called on senior Iranian officials to show restraint, not enthusiasm, when it came to renewing ties with Egypt; otherwise Iran’s national interests stood to be harmed. “If the Egyptian politicians have to go to the gates of Washington, Doha, and Riyadh to get into Iran, Iranian diplomacy has to redefine and carefully consider the approach to any future relations with Egypt.” The article’s author recommends curtailing the overt diplomatic activity and focusing on the cultural-media level in order to prepare the ground for any diplomatic activity in the future. The implication is that subversive activity should be stepped up, thereby influencing the population and creating a better basis for diplomatic activity. The article ends by accusing a lobby in Iran of working for relations with Egypt “at any price” (a hint at the president and his delegation) while ignoring Iran’s interests and national pride.7

The Baztab website, for its part, criticized a proposal by Iranian foreign minister Salehi before Ahmadinejad’s visit that the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 countries be held in Egypt. It asked why, amid the tensions with Turkey over the crisis in Syria, with Ankara moving away from a mediatory role in these talks, the talks should be held precisely in Egypt when its position was similar to, indeed more emphatic than, Turkey’s. The site wondered whether the Iranian leaders were really trying to solve the nuclear problem, which poses numerous problems for Iran, or if it was just a public relations exercise aimed at promoting ties with Egypt.8

Morsi in Mubarak’s Footsteps?

The conservative paper Jomhouri-e Eslami, which is associated with former president Rafsanjani and consistently takes a critical line on Iranian-Egyptian relations and on Cairo’s role in the struggle with Israel and the West, pilloried Morsi for his conduct after being elected president and particularly the extensive powers he arrogated to himself, for his mediatory role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian outbreak of hostilities (Operation Pillar of Defense), and for the praises lavished on him by former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Jomhouri-e Eslami assessed in November 2012 that it was still too early to judge whether Morsi would follow in Mubarak’s footsteps and become a sort of pharaoh; but the blood of the demonstrators already spilled under his rule could indicate that he was moving in that direction.9

A Growing Space for Shiite-Sunni Friction

In sum, Iranian-Egyptian relations have remained tense. Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt in the OIC framework not only did not contribute to reconciling positions and renewing ties between the two states, it revealed the wide gap between the Shiite-Iranian and Sunni Arab camps, as the latter is undergoing a process of consolidation. This closing of ranks in the Arab world, in the wake of the Arab Spring, along Sunni Islamic and less Arab-nationalist lines further augments the conflicts between the Arab states and Iran, which center on Iran’s interventions in their internal affairs with the aim of fomenting further instability and Islamic revolutions.

The rift between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab camp is particularly evident along the seam lines, the sensitive and problematic meeting points of Sunni and Shia in a Middle East that is in a process of change. The hottest and most problematic locus of all is Syria, where Iran (with Hizbullah) is indeed confronting the entire Sunni Arab camp (as well as Turkey, whose relations with Iran have greatly deteriorated) and the Western states by backing Assad, which includes assisting him with weapons, manpower (including Hizbullah fighters), and an international hinterland (Russia and China). Another point of active confrontation is Bahrain, where Iran is supporting (through subversion and propaganda) the Shiite opposition as it continues its struggle against the Bahraini royal house – to which Egypt, and particularly Saudi Arabia, give their backing. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are anchors that continue to bind Egypt to the Arab camp, ensuring that it does not move into Iran’s embrace. 

In Iran, which is awaiting elections that will determine its future course, the still undecided debate over the future of relations with Egypt continues. Those favoring enhanced ties – Ahmadinejad and his government – are trying to take steps in that direction but are encountering fierce domestic criticism. The difficult and tense history of relations between these two states keeps hindering the possibility of improved relations, a possibility that remains as distant as ever.

Iran is realizing that, even though Egypt is undergoing a still-unfinished revolution and has assumed a more Islamic coloration, it is still under the influence of the “moderate” Arab states – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – and is sustaining its relations with both the United States and Israel. It was in that context, Iran believes, that a supportive visit to Gaza by an Iranian delegation was blocked by Egypt during the November 2012 fighting. Moreover, Egypt has openly exposed Iran’s subversive activity in Egypt and other Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, and its efforts for the Shiazation of Sunni populations as a means of implanting the revolutionary Shiite Islamic model.

No breakthrough in Iranian-Egyptian relations, then, appears likely in the near future, despite Morsi’s visit to Tehran and Ahmadinejad’s historic visit to Cairo. Both visits were unofficial and conducted in the context of participation in broader forums (NAM, OIC). They do not indicate any significant change in the basic Iranian hostility toward Egypt, which it still regards as part of the Western camp along with its Arab partners in the region, or in the Egyptian distrust of the real intentions of revolutionary Iran.

Iran’s progress in its nuclear program is intensifying fears among the Arab states. In their view, Iran’s nuclearization would create greater space for its political subversion, terror, and the export of its radical brand of Shiite revolution. These perceptions are likely to enhance the unity of the Arab camp – even if it assumes a more Islamic and less Arab-nationalist character – in its confrontation with Iran.

- See more at: http://jcpa.org/article/irans-attempted-rapprochement-with-egypt-implications-for-sunni-shiite-relations/#sthash.nZMNvQ7T.dpuf

ranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt on February 5, 2013, was the first by an Iranian president since the Islamic Revolution. Occurring in the context of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he intended the visit as a step toward improving Iran’s relations with Egypt in the aftermath of its revolution and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the visit exposed the tensions between two countries that are vying for regional leadership and, more generally, the deepening rift along Sunni-Shiite lines.

Ahmadinejad’s visit was not an official one in the context of Iranian-Egyptian bilateral relations. It resulted from Iran’s membership in the OIC, with similar invitations having been sent to other Islamic leaders. The meetings that Ahmadinejad, along with his accompanying senior delegation, held with the Egyptian political and religious leadership (including the sheikh of Al-Azhar University) were part of this protocol and did not indicate any warming of ties between the two states. The efforts by the Iranian president and his staff, along with the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to portray the visit as an achievement and a step toward enhancing bilateral relations did not succeed; the visit itself did not bring about a breakthrough.

Moreover, during the visit the Iranian president was publicly humiliated both during the press conference he held with senior Al-Azhar officials (in which Iran was called on to put a stop to Shiite subversion in Arab countries) and by the throwing of a shoe at him (an act of debasement in Arab culture). At home, too, the visit was sharply criticized; it was claimed, among other things, that Iran had again been humiliated by Egypt, its policy of flattering Cairo exposed as futile. Moreover, no representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei showed up at the airport before Ahmadinejad embarked, and on that day one of the president’s associates was detained (and later released).

The failure of Ahmadinejad’s attempt to depict the visit as a success, as part of the emergence of a new Islamic axis in the context of the “Islamic Awakening” (as Iran calls the Arab Spring), has to do with the many residues in the two states’ relations since they were severed at the behest of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1981. Those residues continue to diminish the possibility of any substantial improvement of relations in the foreseeable future.

Egypt’s “Primal Sin” in Iranian Eyes

Iran continues to view Egypt as the party that paved the way to the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, and indeed committed treason against the Arab/Muslim world. From the standpoint of revolutionary Iran, until the revolution that led to the ouster of Mubarak (the “Western ruler),” Egypt was preparing the ground for other Arab states to recognize Israel. Tehran, for its part, severed diplomatic relations with Cairo after it signed the peace treaty with Israel and gave political asylum to the deposed Iranian ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Certain developments in recent years have given the impression that Egyptian-Iranian relations were on the verge of a breakthrough. In each case, conservative circles in Iran have made certain to raise the factors that soured those relations – the murder of Anwar Sadat and the glorification of his assassin, Khalid Islambouli, for whom a street was named in Tehran – while emphasizing “Egypt’s betrayal of the Muslims and the Arabs.” In 1982, Iran also issued a stamp to commemorate the assassin.

Shiite Subversion in Egypt

Furthermore, Iran carried out subversive activity in Egypt itself in an attempt to export the Shiite revolutionary model1 to the country. It used Lebanese Hizbullah to coordinate both this activity and its military and financial assistance to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Mubarak’s Egypt monitored these activities and harshly cracked down on them (also preventing Iran’s participation in the Cairo International Book Fair out of fear of Shiite propaganda). In 2009, a network of Hizbullah operatives was arrested who were planning terrorist attacks and the spread of Shiism in Egypt, and constraints were imposed on the activity of the Shiites in the country.

Previously, in 2008, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, had warned against the “Shiite wave” in the Sunni Arab world, and against Shiite attempts to “infiltrate the Sunni community,” which, he said, lacked “cultural immunity” to protect it from the campaign. In an interview with Asharq Alawsat at the end of September 2008, Qaradawi said that “in the Egypt that I have known well for twenty years there was not a single Shiite since the days of Saladin; today the Shiites have managed to infiltrate Egypt….Today they have people who write in the newspapers…write books.”2

Qaradawi’s warning reverberated during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt – as in the scathing words that the sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayyib, and other Egyptian elements (the Salafis were even harsher in condemning Ahmadinejad and Iran) hurled at Ahmadinejad. The difference between Egypt in 2008 and Egypt since the revolution is that Al-Azhar is now stronger in status and more independent in decision-making than it was under the secular Egyptian government in the Mubarak period. It has no sense of inferiority toward the Iranian Shiite religious establishment, acts out of a sense of political-religious power, does not intend to let the Iranian “Shiite wave” gain any significant foothold in Egypt or in Arab countries in general, and, of course, does not “buy” Iran’s efforts and sweet talk about bringing the two states closer.

That stance emerged in no uncertain terms during Ahmadinejad’s meetings with the heads of Al-Azhar (who, in the past, took a more cautious position toward Shiite efforts in Iran). After the pleasantries and Ahmadinejad’s emphasis on what was common between Iran and Egypt (culture, history, aid to the Palestinians, the need to fight Israel), al-Tayyib sternly told his guest that Iran should not try to influence the believers in the Sunni countries, including Egypt and its youth, or interfere in the affairs of its neighboring countries in an attempt to infuse them with the Shiite faith. It should not interfere in the Gulf States, and particularly not in Bahrain’s affairs. Al-Tayyib also demanded that Ahmadinejad respect the Sunnis and the Arab minority in the Iranian region of Ahvaz, where in recent months Iran had taken severe measures and even executed some members of the Arab minority.3

“You Are Slaughtering Our People”

The state-run Iranian media portrayed the visit in a positive light. It described the “warm reception” Ahmadinejad received, his meetings with the president, the religious establishment, and the editors of the Egyptian media, as well as his visit to the Shiite Al-Hussain Mosque in Cairo (which the Salafis opposed).4 As Ahmadinejad was leaving the Shiite mosque, a shoe was thrown at him – an act expressing profound contempt in Arab culture – by an opponent of the Syrian regime who called out, “You are slaughtering our people.” The shoe missed Ahmadinejad, who looked a bit frightened, and hit one of his bodyguards. The attacker was arrested.5

Egypt Still Undecided

While Ahmadinejad was trying to emphasize what the two countries have in common, what actually stood out were their deep-seated political and religious disputes, particularly regarding Iran’s strong backing for Syria and its subversion in Bahrain. Indeed, within Iran, Ahmadinejad and his government are becoming a punching bag, and his stance is not necessarily in line with the basic revolutionary foreign policy. From Iran’s standpoint, post-Mubarak Egypt has not yet decided whether it stands in the Arab-Western camp or in the revolutionary Islamic camp. Many in Iran suspect that Egypt, even having undergone its revolution, has not changed its policy, that its statements against the West and Israel are mere lip service, and that it is still oriented to the West and the moderate Arab states with their “Western Islam.”

No Stamp of Approval

The Egyptians have by no means given Ahmadinejad or Iran a stamp of approval for their policy in the Arab world – let alone for their ongoing support for Syrian president Bashar Assad who continues to slaughter his people. Instea the Egyptians have highlighted the regional conflicts in the whole Muslim world, presenting Iran as an isolated actor, particularly in its continued backing of the Syrian regime. Egyptian president Morsi conveyed a similar message when he visited Tehran to take part in the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), during which he handed over the movement’s presidency to Iran. Thus, the Egyptians, despite the rise of their new government, continue to obstruct Iran’s regional ambitions. Iran, for its part, is trying to exploit the Arab world’s instability, economic crises, and growing Islamic orientation, along with the West’s confusion in the face of these developments, to leverage its status – so far with only partial success.

Unity within Division

The conduct of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt, and the media coverage of it in the Arab world and in Iran itself, provided a glimpse into the reemergence and institutionalization of the camps and alliances in the Arab and Islamic world. For now there is no significant movement between the different camps, and the “resistance camp,” which Iran presumes to lead, remains limited to its components – Syria and Hizbullah – with Hamas lukewarm since its senior officials left Damascus after Assad began cracking down and Hamas did not want to be perceived as cooperating with him. Despite the “Islamic awakening,” then, no new members have joined the camp.

Indeed, Arab states – some of which are still undergoing change while others (especially the Gulf states) are waging a fierce struggle to maintain their stability – have taken a uniform stance toward Iran’s attempts to further undermine the old Arab order and, amid the regional turmoil, create a new Iranian order in its stead. This trend has further highlighted the widening gap between Sunnis and Shiites (despite ostensible calls to bridge it during the OIC conference). The vigor and boldness of Iran’s attempts to export the Shiite revolutionary model, reflecting its growing confidence since the Arab Spring broke out and the progress in its nuclear program despite Western pressures, have further stoked fears in the Sunni Arab camp.

The stabilization of an Egyptian regime that is in fact run by the Muslim Brotherhood adds a Sunni, religious-ideological element to the familiar Egyptian quest for hegemony in the Arab world (while Saudi Arabia continues, as in the past, to keep a low profile and, behind the scenes, focus its activities both on the Arab world and the United States). This situation only amplifies the differences between Egypt and Iran. Moreover, these developments bring home the fact that the historical Sunni-Shiite struggle is very much alive, further heating up all the arenas of confrontation between Iran and the Sunni Arab world: Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, North Africa and, of course, Egypt. In some of these arenas a struggle is being waged, sometimes covert and sometimes overt, between Iranian subversion (Bahrain) and the Sunni Arab protective mantle, and in some Iran continues to act clandestinely (eastern Saudi Arabia with its large Shiite minority, Egypt, Morocco, and others). Should Iran choose to ramp up its subversive efforts and activate secret cells in different Arab countries, possibly in response to the pressures on Iran, the covert power struggles could escalate into open conflicts.

The Arab Spring Reinforced the Conflict with Iran

The bottom line is that it is precisely the series of upheavals in the Arab world in the context of the Arab Spring, which Iran continues to see as an opportunity to promote its Islamic hegemonic aims, that has widened the gaps between Iran and the Arab states. This is mainly due to Iran’s unequivocal backing of Syria, where Assad keeps trying to crush the opposition, and Iran’s support for the Shiite opposition in Bahrain.

Beyond the heightened tensions between Iran and the Sunni Arab world, Ahmadinejad’s visit also revealed the problems he is having at home as his status erodes toward the end of his eight-year tenure. Even while still in the airport in Iran, his visit began with discordant notes. As noted, no representative of Khamenei showed up (as normally occurs when the president travels abroad), and a short time before his flight took off, his crony Saeed Mortazavi was briefly arrested (as the main suspect in the deaths of prisoners after the protests sparked by the June 2009 presidential elections). Moreover, during Ahmadinejad’s sojourn and meetings in Egypt, the conservative Iranian media along with opposition papers and websites harshly criticized him for what they saw as Iran’s humiliation in Egypt. The visit to Egypt in January by Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was also criticized in the Iranian media, mainly on the grounds that Iran’s eagerness to renew relations contrasted with the passivity displayed by Cairo.

A Needless Humiliation

The website Asr-e Iran, known for its criticism of the government, wrote that, whereas the senior Iranian officials who took part in the visit went out of their way to renew ties with Egypt, the Egyptians showed indifference – and not for the first time – and called on Iran to change its policy toward Syria and the Arab world, thereby humiliating the Iranians. Strong criticism was also leveled at Ahmadinejad’s meeting with the sheikh of Al-Azhar “because despite the smiles the meeting was difficult. The messages that were conveyed [the Shiite subversion] were voiced in the past to the Iranian foreign minister and there was no need for a meeting with the president to voice them again….It did not add to the president’s honor.” Moreover, at the end of the meeting with the sheikh, the president was again humiliated when the former only sent his adviser to the subsequent press conference with Ahmadinejad, a clear violation of all the rules of protocol and diplomacy. “There is no doubt that this meeting totally violated the three pillars of foreign policy (honor, insight, and interests) as defined by the Supreme Leader, and that may be why the president’s website decided to publish photos of the press conference with the sheikh’s adviser under the headline ‘Press Conference with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar!’”6

Regarding the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Egypt, an editorial of the Mehr News Agency asked “How Much Longer Will Diplomacy Demonstrate Carelessness: Relations with Egypt at What Price?” The article claimed that, despite Egypt’s centrality in the Arab and Islamic world, Iran could not afford to pay a heavy price for renewing relations with a state that was still economically dependent on the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. At the same time, Egypt was still displaying suspicion toward Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar were urging Morsi not to warm ties with Tehran. Moreover, during the foreign minister’s visit Egypt hosted an “anti-Iranian” conference where support was expressed for the rights of the Arab minority in Iran’s Khuzestan province, with official Egyptian representatives participating.

The article went on to call the Egyptian position on Syria “illogical,” and criticized Egypt’s support for the United Arab Emirates’ stance regarding the islands in dispute with Iran, as well as Egypt’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given the “lack of clarity” in Egyptian foreign policy, the editorial called on senior Iranian officials to show restraint, not enthusiasm, when it came to renewing ties with Egypt; otherwise Iran’s national interests stood to be harmed. “If the Egyptian politicians have to go to the gates of Washington, Doha, and Riyadh to get into Iran, Iranian diplomacy has to redefine and carefully consider the approach to any future relations with Egypt.” The article’s author recommends curtailing the overt diplomatic activity and focusing on the cultural-media level in order to prepare the ground for any diplomatic activity in the future. The implication is that subversive activity should be stepped up, thereby influencing the population and creating a better basis for diplomatic activity. The article ends by accusing a lobby in Iran of working for relations with Egypt “at any price” (a hint at the president and his delegation) while ignoring Iran’s interests and national pride.7

The Baztab website, for its part, criticized a proposal by Iranian foreign minister Salehi before Ahmadinejad’s visit that the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 countries be held in Egypt. It asked why, amid the tensions with Turkey over the crisis in Syria, with Ankara moving away from a mediatory role in these talks, the talks should be held precisely in Egypt when its position was similar to, indeed more emphatic than, Turkey’s. The site wondered whether the Iranian leaders were really trying to solve the nuclear problem, which poses numerous problems for Iran, or if it was just a public relations exercise aimed at promoting ties with Egypt.8

Morsi in Mubarak’s Footsteps?

The conservative paper Jomhouri-e Eslami, which is associated with former president Rafsanjani and consistently takes a critical line on Iranian-Egyptian relations and on Cairo’s role in the struggle with Israel and the West, pilloried Morsi for his conduct after being elected president and particularly the extensive powers he arrogated to himself, for his mediatory role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian outbreak of hostilities (Operation Pillar of Defense), and for the praises lavished on him by former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Jomhouri-e Eslami assessed in November 2012 that it was still too early to judge whether Morsi would follow in Mubarak’s footsteps and become a sort of pharaoh; but the blood of the demonstrators already spilled under his rule could indicate that he was moving in that direction.9

A Growing Space for Shiite-Sunni Friction

In sum, Iranian-Egyptian relations have remained tense. Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt in the OIC framework not only did not contribute to reconciling positions and renewing ties between the two states, it revealed the wide gap between the Shiite-Iranian and Sunni Arab camps, as the latter is undergoing a process of consolidation. This closing of ranks in the Arab world, in the wake of the Arab Spring, along Sunni Islamic and less Arab-nationalist lines further augments the conflicts between the Arab states and Iran, which center on Iran’s interventions in their internal affairs with the aim of fomenting further instability and Islamic revolutions.

The rift between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab camp is particularly evident along the seam lines, the sensitive and problematic meeting points of Sunni and Shia in a Middle East that is in a process of change. The hottest and most problematic locus of all is Syria, where Iran (with Hizbullah) is indeed confronting the entire Sunni Arab camp (as well as Turkey, whose relations with Iran have greatly deteriorated) and the Western states by backing Assad, which includes assisting him with weapons, manpower (including Hizbullah fighters), and an international hinterland (Russia and China). Another point of active confrontation is Bahrain, where Iran is supporting (through subversion and propaganda) the Shiite opposition as it continues its struggle against the Bahraini royal house – to which Egypt, and particularly Saudi Arabia, give their backing. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are anchors that continue to bind Egypt to the Arab camp, ensuring that it does not move into Iran’s embrace. 

In Iran, which is awaiting elections that will determine its future course, the still undecided debate over the future of relations with Egypt continues. Those favoring enhanced ties – Ahmadinejad and his government – are trying to take steps in that direction but are encountering fierce domestic criticism. The difficult and tense history of relations between these two states keeps hindering the possibility of improved relations, a possibility that remains as distant as ever.

Iran is realizing that, even though Egypt is undergoing a still-unfinished revolution and has assumed a more Islamic coloration, it is still under the influence of the “moderate” Arab states – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – and is sustaining its relations with both the United States and Israel. It was in that context, Iran believes, that a supportive visit to Gaza by an Iranian delegation was blocked by Egypt during the November 2012 fighting. Moreover, Egypt has openly exposed Iran’s subversive activity in Egypt and other Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, and its efforts for the Shiazation of Sunni populations as a means of implanting the revolutionary Shiite Islamic model.

No breakthrough in Iranian-Egyptian relations, then, appears likely in the near future, despite Morsi’s visit to Tehran and Ahmadinejad’s historic visit to Cairo. Both visits were unofficial and conducted in the context of participation in broader forums (NAM, OIC). They do not indicate any significant change in the basic Iranian hostility toward Egypt, which it still regards as part of the Western camp along with its Arab partners in the region, or in the Egyptian distrust of the real intentions of revolutionary Iran.

Iran’s progress in its nuclear program is intensifying fears among the Arab states. In their view, Iran’s nuclearization would create greater space for its political subversion, terror, and the export of its radical brand of Shiite revolution. These perceptions are likely to enhance the unity of the Arab camp – even if it assumes a more Islamic and less Arab-nationalist character – in its confrontation with Iran.

- See more at: http://jcpa.org/article/irans-attempted-rapprochement-with-egypt-implications-for-sunni-shiite-relations/#sthash.nZMNvQ7T.dpuf

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt on February 5, 2013, was the first by an Iranian president since the Islamic Revolution. Occurring in the context of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he intended the visit as a step toward improving Iran’s relations with Egypt in the aftermath of its revolution and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the visit exposed the tensions between two countries that are vying for regional leadership and, more generally, the deepening rift along Sunni-Shiite lines.

Ahmadinejad’s visit was not an official one in the context of Iranian-Egyptian bilateral relations. It resulted from Iran’s membership in the OIC, with similar invitations having been sent to other Islamic leaders. The meetings that Ahmadinejad, along with his accompanying senior delegation, held with the Egyptian political and religious leadership (including the sheikh of Al-Azhar University) were part of this protocol and did not indicate any warming of ties between the two states. The efforts by the Iranian president and his staff, along with the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to portray the visit as an achievement and a step toward enhancing bilateral relations did not succeed; the visit itself did not bring about a breakthrough. Read more ..


China and Japan

China Tests Japanese and U.S. Patience

February 26th 2013

Soldiers

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has warned Beijing that Tokyo is losing patience with China's assertive maritime behavior in the East and South China seas, suggesting China consider the economic and military consequences of its actions. His warning followed similar statements from Washington that its patience with China is wearing thin, in this case over continued Chinese cyberespionage and the likelihood that Beijing is developing and testing cybersabotage and cyberwarfare capabilities. Together, the warnings are meant to signal to China that the thus-far relatively passive response to China's military actions may be nearing an end.

In an interview The Washington Post published just prior to Abe's meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, Abe said China's actions around the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and its overall increasing military assertiveness have already resulted in a major increase in funding for the Japan Self-Defense Forces and coast guard. He also reiterated the centrality of the Japan-U.S. alliance for Asian security and warned that China could lose Japanese and other foreign investment if it continued to use "coercion or intimidation" toward its neighbors along the East and South China seas. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

The Palestinian Authority’s Responsibility for the Outbreak of the Second Intifada: Its Own Damning Testimony

February 26th 2013

Bethelem Protestors

On February 11, 2013, on Israel’s Channel 10 television program “The Source,” it was claimed that there was not even an “iota of evidence” that the Palestinian Authority leadership, and Yasser Arafat in particular, planned and initiated the Second Intifada, which began in September 2000 and resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 Israelis by 2005.

Rather, it was claimed that this was a spontaneous popular uprising that ran counter to the interests of the Palestinian leadership. As a consequence, Arafat appears to be exonerated by the narrative presented. The program also reopened the old debate over whether the Second Intifada was ignited by Ariel Sharon’s September 2000 visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Yet, extensive testimony at the time and in retrospect demonstrates the Palestinian Authority’s role in initiating and managing the Second Intifada as an extensive terror onslaught, designed to impose a unilateral, unconditional withdrawal upon Israel, and improve conditions in anticipation of the battle for realizing Palestinian demands for the return of the refugees. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Primed for Controversy

February 25th 2013

Elderly couple

In 2005, the writer Malcolm Gladwell introduced readers to the phenomenon of “thinking without thinking” — the mental work we all do automatically — in his blockbuster book “Blink.” Since then, the unconscious has been on a roll. Scores of popular books and articles have chronicled the power of subtle cues to influence our attitudes and actions.

Typical of the genre is a reliance on the “goal-priming effect,” in which study subjects automatically and unintentionally alter their thoughts or behavior when prompted by various kinds of information.

But now, goal-priming experiments are coming under scrutiny — and in the process, revealing a problem at the heart of psychological research itself. In a classic experiment conducted in 1996, a team of psychologists at New York University “primed” students to walk more slowly by exposing them to words typically associated with older people, like “Florida,” “bingo” and “gray.” Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Chuck Hagel and the Jewish Leadership Crisis

February 24th 2013

Chuck Hagel

Jewish groups are seconding the call of Senate Republicans for further review of defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel before a final vote is held on his confirmation. A 58-40 Senate vote on Feb. 14 delayed a final yes or no vote on the former Nebraska senator’s appointment. Sixty votes were needed to proceed.

“Chuck Hagel has served this country, and his state, with distinction, as we have had the privilege to tell him in person,” American Jewish Committee (AJC) Executive Director David Harris said in a statement Feb. 15. “But in light of his complex record in the Senate and controversial statements he has made since his public service on strategic and political affairs— notably grappling with the range of pressing Middle East issues—AJC believes that further Senate deliberation is called for before any final vote is taken.” Read more ..


The Diplomatic Edge

Secretary of State John Kerry Is Visiting Nine Countries but Not Israel. What’s Up?

February 23rd 2013

John Kerry

On February 24, 2013, the new secretary of state, John Kerry, leaves on his first trip abroad. He will visit nine countries, four in Western Europe and five in what is loosely defined as the Muslim, Arab world.  But he will not visit Israel, even after intense speculation in Washington that Israel was a certain stop on his itinerary. What’s up?

The question is relevant, because it immediately stirs memories of what happened in 2009. In June of that year, just a few months into his historic presidency, Barack Obama visited Cairo for good and important reasons but then refused to take advantage of geography and make the short hop to Jerusalem. He might at the time have been angry about Israel’s settlements policy. The upshot was that Obama got off on the wrong foot in his dealings with Israel, and nothing much happened in U.S.-Israel relations for the next four years, even as the Mideast neighborhood itself became engulfed in uncertain democracy-building, violent upheavals and what looked like a determined Iranian move toward nuclear weapons. Read more ..


The Political Edge

GOP Super Donor's Foundation Leans Left

February 22nd 2013

Money Money Money

Republican mega-donor Harold Simmons considers President Barack Obama to be “the most dangerous man in America,” and in a bid to unseat him, fueled conservative political groups with tens of millions of dollars. The Harold Simmons Foundation in 2011 most notably contributed a combined $600,000 to an arch political foe of Republicans, Planned Parenthood, and its North Texas affiliate, IRS records show.

Simmons’ foundation also bolstered several other organizations rarely associated with political conservatives or partisan Republicans, including public television, the League of Women Voters and even a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to curbing the influence of big money in elections. The foundation’s 2011 funding came exclusively from the billionaire’s personal fortune and that of his holding company, Contran Corp. Together, they contributed more than $9.8 million in 2011 — the foundation’s only income aside from $5.6 million in investment and capital gains income. The foundation ended 2011 with nearly $52 million in reserve after distributing about $17.4 million during the year, IRS records show. Read more ..


Inside Islam

The Saudis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Islamic Banking

February 20th 2013

Rials

The early successes of Arab/Muslim-owned banking in Europe and the Arabian Peninsula, and the establishment of an economic foundation that modernized the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, were both the work of Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud (1906-1975). Prince Faisal served as Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler during the last years of King Saud's reign, and then as King Faisal he led Saudi Arabia from 1964 until his assassination by a family member in March 1975.

As king, Faisal rescued the country from bankruptcy. He instituted banking reforms and helped modernize and expand the nation's economy by opening commerce to Saudi families outside the Royal family. During Faisal's lifetime, both the incipient Arab banking sector and the international Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al Muslimun) benefitted immeasurably from his patronage Read more ..


The Defence Edge

The Morality, Strategy and Danger of Drone Strikes

February 19th 2013

Click to select Image

Airstrikes by unmanned aerial vehicles have become a matter of serious dispute lately. The controversy focuses on the United States, which has the biggest fleet of these weapons and which employs them more frequently than any other country. On one side of this dispute are those who regard them simply as another weapon of war whose virtue is the precision with which they strike targets. On the other side are those who argue that in general, unmanned aerial vehicles are used to kill specific individuals, frequently civilians, thus denying the targeted individuals their basic right to some form of legal due process.

Let's begin with the weapons systems, the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper. The media call them drones, but they are actually remotely piloted aircraft. Rather than being in the cockpit, the pilot is at a ground station, receiving flight data and visual images from the aircraft and sending command signals back to it via a satellite data link. Read more ..


Colombia on Edge

Issues Facing Colombia's Negotiations with FARC Narco-Terrorists

February 18th 2013

Colombia FARC leadership

“We didn’t come here to waste time.” A defensive Iván Márquez, spokesman of the decades-old Colombian FARC revolutionary group uttered these words on January 31, during the latest round of peace talks between Bogotá and the insurgent movement. Now, some media outlets routinely have latched onto the automatic narrative that the negotiations are floundering in Havana. As such, a general cynicism surrounds the latest attempt at peace, as well as the likelihood of a substantial agreement before the November deadline of this year. Despite the formidable odds that are at stake, Márquez has insisted that the guerilla movement remains committed “toward ending the conflict and reaching peace.” Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The Sources of Iranian Negotiating Behavior

February 16th 2013

Iranian clerics

This analysis identifies patterns exhibited by the Iranian government and the Iranian people since ancient times. Most importantly, it identifies critical elements of Iranian culture that have been systematically ignored by policymakers for decades. It is a precise understanding of these cultural cues that should guide policy objectives toward the Iranian government.

Iranians expect a ruler to demonstrate resolve and strength, and do whatever it takes to remain in power. The Western concept of demanding that a leader subscribe to a moral and ethical code does not resonate with Iranians. Telling Iranians that their ruler is cruel will not convince the public that they need a new leader. To the contrary, this will reinforce the idea that their ruler is strong. It is only when Iranians become convinced that either their rulers lack the resolve to do what is necessary to remain in power or that a stronger power will protect them against their current tyrannical rulers, that they will speak out and try to overthrow leaders. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

How US Military Aid to Fatah Actually Bolsters the Hamas

February 15th 2013

Hamas Terrorist with Rocket

On February 5, 2013, the reconstituted US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa held a subcommittee hearing on the subject of "Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation: Threatening Peace Prospects”.

Two senior expert witnesses from The Washington Institute for Near East Policy testified and expressed optimism that US trained Palestinian Security Forces, affiliated with the Fatah, will combat the Hamas terror group which competes for power in the nascent Palestinian Arab entity. Such optimisim defies reality.

Let us take a dispassionate look at the past and present reality of the Fatah- dominated Palestinian Authority armed forces, known as the PSF, the Palestinian Security Forces When the Palestinian Authority was founded in 1994, President Yasser Arafat, by design, established a multiplicity of security forces with overlapping authority and in competition with one another. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

In Undisclosed Speech, Hagel Said State Department Is Controlled by Israel

February 15th 2013

Chuck Hagel

Chuck Hagel, whose nomination is currently being filibustered by Republicans, reportedly argued in a previously unknown speech that the U.S. State Department is controlled by the Israeli foreign ministry. In documents he delivered to Senate investigators as a part of his confirmation process, Hagel was required to inform the Senate Armed Services Committee of any formal speech he had delivered since January 1, 2008. Though Fox News reported that Hagel failed to disclose two speeches, the remarks in question, which were delivered in March 2007, preceded that time period. 

Republican political consultant George Ajjan wrote about the 2007 speech — delivered at Rutgers University’s Center for Middle East Studies and cosponsored by the American Iranian Council — on his website the following day. Ajjan told the Washington Free Beacon that he was taking notes as Hagel was speaking. “If I wrote it, that’s what happened at the time,” he said.

Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Details Emerge on Obama's Drone Doctrine

February 14th 2013

John Brennan (Counterterrorism)

Last week John Brennan testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee as President Obama's nominee for CIA director and was repeatedly questioned about the White House's use of drone strikes. Brennan's testimony and a policy memo recently obtained by NBC News highlight how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are an increasingly important, if not controversial, weapon of war for the White House.

Brennan, who has been central in counterterror operations using drones, took criticism from both sides of the aisle during his testimony. Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss questioned the Obama Administration's use of drone strikes over capturing terrorist suspects and asked why only one high value al-Qaeda target has been detained since Obama became president. California Senator Dianne Feinstein challenged Brennan about the killing of Americans abroad in U.S. drone strikes, asking how such behavior could be justified. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

A North Korean Nuclear Test for Iran?

February 13th 2013

Iran centrifuges

Might Iran simply buy nuclear technology from North Korea, thereby bypassing their own strained efforts to build a nuclear weapon? At least one expert believes North Korea's recent nuclear test, its third since 2006, may have in part benefited Iran, a terror-sponsoring state that has worked for years to build a nuclear device.

 Dr. Alon Levkowitz, coordinator of Bar-Ilan University’s Asian Studies Program and a member of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, said Tuesday's N. Korean nuclear test may have been carried out in the presence of Iranian nuclear scientists.

“The most disturbing question is whether the Iranians are using North Korea as a backdoor plan for their own nuclear program. The Iranians didn’t carry out a nuclear test in Iran, but they may have done so in North Korea,” Levkowitz said. “There is no official information on this... but Iran may have bypassed inspections via North Korea. If true, this is a very worrying development.”  Read more ..



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