The Tangled Mess In The Persian Gulf Echoes 1914

The current situation in the Persian Gulf is all too similar to Europe in 1914, according to a new report by the International Crisis Group (ICG). In “Averting the Middle East’s 1914 Moment,” the ICG makes the case that the situation in the Persian Gulf has gotten so complicated and volatile that, as ICG’s Iran Project Director, Ali Vaez. put it, “Just as in Europe in 1914, a single incident has the potential of sparking a military confrontation that could, in turn, engulf the entire region.”

The comparison to 1914 is obviously chilling, but the sheer number of actors connected to the U.S.-Iran standoff and the unmanageable array of potential trigger points in the region make it apt. Tightening U.S. sanctions, as part of the Trump administration’s so-called “maximum pressure campaign,” and the response they force from Iran means steadily rising tensions and raises the possibility that at some point, Iran could take a step to which the U.S. or Israel feels it must respond militarily. Read more at LobeLog

Avoiding Another Mistake In Lebanon

No one has ever complained that the United States doesn’t pay enough attention to the Middle East. In recent years, however, one country that hasn’t gotten much attention in Washington is Lebanon. But on Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee’s Sub Committee On Near East, South, and Central Asian Affairs and Counterterrorism held a hearing on Lebanon. The hearing focused on US aid to Lebanon, and whether the outsized presence of Hezbollah in the Lebanese government meant that aid should be cut.

Elliott Abrams, a leading neoconservative ideologue and senior fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations, spoke in favor of reducing aid to Lebanon. Rob Malley, president of the International Crisis Group and former lead diplomat in the Clinton and Obama administrations, spoke against such measures. Read more at LobeLog

Regime Change in Iran By Other Means

While the Iran nuclear agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) is far from safe from attacks by Donald Trump, it is becoming clear that a Plan B is being put in motion. The United States is clearly a part of it, but this time Saudi Arabia is driving the agenda.

The events of the past week – the sudden resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the massive purge of key political, security, and business figures in Saudi Arabia, a missile heading toward Riyadh from Yemen which the Saudis called an act of war – are all part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MbS) drive to consolidate power. His radical grab, which started in the spring, has dramatically altered the nature of Saudi politics, alienating many in the ruling family, breaking with established norms of quietly dealing with political rivalries within that family, and removing a system of checks on autocratic power that, though weak, were not meaningless.

It is impossible to know how all of this will end, but here are some initial thoughts: Read more at LobeLog

Israel-Palestine: Correcting Some Faulty Ideas on Both Sides

An edited version of this article originally appeared at LobeLog.

Like many of us, I’ve been very busy on social media since this started. I see a lot of ignorant nonsense there, and it’s not limited to Used to be our housethe pro-Israel side. I also see a lot of shoddy thinking and ignorance of the facts. Since I had to study up on a lot of this for my job as the Director of the US Office of B’Tselem, I thought I might clear a few of those up.

“War crimes”

Various memes make the rounds in discussions of war crimes. One that I found particularly laughable was “Even the UN says Hamas is committing war crimes but they say Israel only might be.” I’ve also seen defenses of Hamas’ firing of missiles at civilian targets at Israel based on Palestinians’ right of self-defense.

Here is the long and short of it: War crimes are defined as “Serious violations of international humanitarian law constitute war crimes.” That’s going to encompass pretty much every violation that might become a public issue in any conflict. Continue reading

Israel Unlikely to Stay on Syrian Sidelines for Much Longer

While all eyes are on Obama as he walks the tightrope between his foolishly drawn “red line” and the lack of good options for intervention in Syria, it’s worth examining the predicament Israel finds itself in with regard to the ongoing Syrian civil war. I do so at LobeLog today.

Imaginary Syria

It seems there’s an awful lot of surety around when it comes to action, or non-action, on Syria. But a deeper look at what is happening there does not lead to simple solutions, or even to a whole lot of clarity on the nature of who the “good guys” are. I examine the dynamics in this week’s column at Souciant.

Obama’s Subtle Message To Israel: You’re Not My Top Priority

Another piece of mine on Obama’s Mideast trip. This one, at LobeLog, digs down a bit deeper in the events and speeches to explain why I think this is just a part of the broader process of the US stepping away from the Middle East in general.