PHILADELPHIA – September 8, 2022 – Middle East Quarterly finishes out its 29th year with the Fall 2022 issue, featuring a selection of fine articles on issues of contemporary concern.
In "When Israel Struck Syria's Reactor: What Really Happened," former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak writes about his experience as defense minister planning the September 2007 airstrike that demolished a clandestine Syrian nuclear reactor. Drawing upon Israel's experience the previous year, when the country's rushed and heavy-handed response to Hezbollah's abduction and killing of several Israeli soldiers led to "a war that the government did not plan, did not want, and did not prepare for," Barak passed over one of the two operational plans under preparation when he arrived in his position as too escalatory, the other as being less certain to completely disable the reactor. Presiding over an "orderly process of considered examination" amid mounting fears that Israel's knowledge of the reactor would be leaked (constraining its freedom of action), Barak approved a "low signature" operation that achieved destruction of the reactor discretely enough that Syrian President Bashar Assad chose to pretend nothing important was hit and avoid escalation. The case underscores that unity and clarity of purpose are the critical ingredients in crafting successful military operations.
In "A Century of the Muslim Brotherhood: Taking Stock," Middle East Forum President Daniel Pipes takes a deep dive into the groundbreaking new book by Middle East Forum writing fellow Cynthia Farahat, The Secret Apparatus: The Muslim Brotherhood's Industry of Death. Contrary to the prevailing view in Washington that the Muslim Brotherhood exerts only peaceful influences outside the Middle East, Farahat makes the case that it is an "existential threat" to the United States. She traces how such major regional and international jihadi groups as Al-Qaeda, Islamic State (ISIS), and Hamas were founded by members of the Brotherhood and adhere to its precepts. Even "more damaging" is the spread of the group's ideology through institutions such as Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Throughout the West, Muslim immigrants subscribing to its hateful ideology have set up charities and interest groups claiming to serve and speak for Muslim minorities. In this capacity, Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers have infiltrated the highest echelons of government and lobbied for policies that serve its agenda. Farahat's solution is bold, but simple: The U.S. government must follow the lead of Saudi Arabia and the UAE and "criminalize the Muslim Brotherhood," by officially designating it as a foreign terrorist organization.
In "Israel's Tightrope between Russia and Ukraine," Johns Hopkins University visiting political science professor Robert O. Freedman examines why Israel "felt compelled to take a relatively neutral stance" in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Israel was reluctant to censure Moscow diplomatically, impose economic sanctions, or provide Ukraine with weapons. While Israel's substantial Russophone population, growing economic ties with Russia, and divisions within the governing coalition played a role in this reluctance, the primary reason for it was the desire to protect Israel's "freedom of action in Syria," where Moscow has maintained a sophisticated air defense system since intervening militarily in 2015. The Russians have tacitly allowed Israel to strike Iranian-backed militia assets with impunity, a campaign known in Israel as the "war between wars." As Ukrainian military successes eliminated prospects of a quick Russian victory in the war, Israeli policy shifted away from Russia, a process accelerated by antisemitic statements from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and others. Freedman argues that it is time for Israel to go further and "place itself squarely in the camp of the Western democracies" backing Ukraine.
In "Erdoğan's Regional Charm Offensive," Burak Bekdil, the Charles Wax Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, assesses the recent push by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to improve relations with his main regional adversaries – Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. He cautions that this "charm offensive" is in keeping with a pattern of "frequent radical shifts between alliance and hostility" that has characterized his rule. Erdoğan's Islamist, neo-Ottoman ideology drives Turkey's adversarial relations with these rivals, but the need to preserve his political power periodically leads his "pragmatic self to prevail over his ideological and imperialist self." With Turkey's economy performing dismally, its regional and international standing at a nadir, and presidential elections coming next year, Erdoğan's priority has shifted from "reigning over a resurgent neo-Ottoman empire to surviving at the ballot box." But the sustainability of this shift "remains doubtful."
The feature book review, by Neil Leadbeater, covers a new edited volume of illustrations, poems, and other art inspired by the August 4, 2020 explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that devastated the port of Beirut and left more than 200 people dead. Other reviews by Clifford Smith, Daniel Pipes, Ashley Perry, Robert O. Freedman, Raymond Ibrahim, and Martha Lee cover a range of important topics.
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