Analyst sees good and grim in Mideast mix
Surrounded by an Arab world in turmoil, faltering peace negotiations with the Palestinians, an Iran continuing full throttle toward nuclear capability, and a war-weary American ally reluctant to take on new battles, there is some good news for Israel.
Less than two years after the Egyptian revolution brought Mohamed Morsi and the radical Muslim Brotherhood to power, a “remarkable” turn of events has occurred, according to an expert in terror financing.
“Hamas is almost bankrupt,” Dr. Jonathan Schanzer told more than 80 people Sept. 30 at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick. Under Egypt’s new leadership, he said, 80 percent of the Gaza tunnels — through which Hamas smuggled arms and which provided a vital economic lifeline to the terrorist organization — have been destroyed.
Moreover, operatives who succeed in getting through are being arrested by the Egyptians, said Schanzer. “I have never seen a situation like this before, where a terrorist organization has become almost bankrupt, and it’s all because of the fall of Mohamed Morsi.”
Schanzer, vice president for research at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is a former terrorism analyst for the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Egyptians across the political and religious spectrum became “so disgusted” with the political and economic incompetence of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Schanzer said, that he was overthrown in July and replaced by Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.
“Now I’m not going to tell you that General Sisi is a wonderful guy for democracy, but since then, relations between Israel and Egypt have become cordial,” said Schanzer.
Schanzer has written two books, Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine and Al-Qaeda’s Armies: Middle East Affiliate Groups and the Next Generation of Terror. A third book, due out in the coming weeks, is State of Failure: Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Unmaking of the Palestinian State.
While Schanzer said he supports American efforts to restart the peace process, he has little optimism because “the Palestinian people are a house divided.”
In addition to there being two separate governments — in the West Bank and Gaza — extremist groups have engaged in a “brutal” infighting in Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas have been “beset by poor leadership” and growing frustration with the government.
‘Up every night’
Meanwhile, Israel is surrounded by hostility, including in Lebanon, where Israel had overwhelming success in taking out missile launch sites in its 2006 war. Several months ago an Israeli official told Schanzer that one of the country’s leading concerns was Hizbullah’s buildup of arms there.
Israeli intelligence has concluded that missile sites are being housed in silos immune to bombing that can be operated remotely through what he called “Hizbulnet,” an Internet system developed by the terrorist organization.
Equally troubling is that the silos have been built next to schools, hospitals, and apartments to ensure mass civilian casualties during strikes, creating a public relations nightmare for Israel, said Schanzer.
In Syria, Israel has been content to watch members of terrorist organizations kill each other. Unfortunately, Schanzer said, “eventually someone has to win, and believe me, Bibi [Netanyahu] is up every night” thinking about the stockpiles of chemical and other weapons supplied by Iran to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad falling into Hizbullah’s hands.
Adding to this “witch’s brew” are the Iranians, who — despite the moderation expressed by its new president, Hassan Rouhani — hope to retain, in Netanyahu’s words, “sufficient nuclear material and sufficient nuclear infrastructure to race to the bomb at a time it chooses to do so.”
Rouhani “says a lot of nice things about wanting to make peace,” said Schanzer, “but the regime he represents is still a state sponsor of terrorism, and he is the vice president of sales and marketing.
“You may have noticed while at the United Nations he promised nothing, got on a plane, called President Obama, and left.”
However, a war-weary American public has demonstrated it “has no appetite” to get involved in another conflict, Schanzer said, leaving Israel no choice but to confront Iran if nothing changes over the next eight months. With a history of successes in rescuing hostages at Entebbe and taking out Iraq’s nuclear reactor, Schanzer said, the Israelis “would rather have it this way” but need certain hardware from the United States.
“It ultimately will be the strength of the U.S.-Israeli relationship that will determine if Israel has the ability and materiel to get the job done,” he said.