The Middle East in Turmoil

by Jerry Gordon and Mike Bates 
NEW ENGLISH REVIEW (December 2012)

November 2012 in the Middle East left the world wondering if the worst was yet to come. Casualties in the Syrian rebellion had reached over 40,000. Syrian opposition forces had taken over missile bases and were in battle with the beleaguered Assad regime’s forces along the demilitarized zone with Israel on the Golan Heights. Exchanges of shelling occurred with IDF units stationed there and cries of “allahu akbar” could plainly be heard. There was a new opposition group largely composed of Sunni Supremacists that was formed in Doha with the backing of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia supported by the newly re-elected Obama Administration. The new group, the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, was formed to back the Free Syrian Army fighting the Assad Regime. Late word came that the opposition forces in Syria were equipped with SA-7 MANPADS and had successfully shot down a Syrian military helicopter. That report set off concerns as to where and how those weapons were obtained and whether they might have come from the Gaddafi armories looted by al Qaeda militias in Libya.

In Jordan on Israel’s eastern flank, a week of protests occurred during which cries of “Down with the Hashemites” could be heard. Meanwhile leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood Islamic Action Front were telling King Abdullah all they wanted were reforms in the upcoming January Parliamentary elections. The Bedouin backers of the Hashemites were increasingly nervous about possible armed resistance from the Palestinian Refugee camps.

Iran had sent aloft two aging SU-29 fighters to intercept an unarmed US spy drone caught monitoring oil shipments from Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf. The Revolutionary Guards viewed  that as sending a message to US forces there that Iran would retaliate in any future incursion of its airspace, a reminder of what set off the 1987-1988 tanker war.  It was disclosed that Iran had in fact accelerated its enrichment virtually crossing the “red line” that Israeli PM Netanyahu had graphically illustrated in his September UN General Assembly talk ramping up concerns about a possible attack in 2013. Sanctions, stringent as some may be, are porous, given reports that Turkey may have paid in gold for delivery of Iranian gas effectively evading them.

In early November, an Israeli simulation of a possible unilateral attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was held at the Tel Aviv University Institute for National Security Studies. The results indicated that the IAF might successfully complete the hypothetical three wave assault which would push back Iran’s nuclear weapons development by three years possibly at the cost of retaliation by Iran  which could hypothetically launch hundreds of Shahab missiles at Israel raising questions about the adequacy of Israel’s missile defenses.

That question of Israel’s ability to withstand a missile onslaught was demonstrated during the eight day rocket war with Iran’s proxies in Gaza, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). That conflict was triggered by a salvo of rockets fired at Israel including a new game changer, Iranian supplied Fajr 5 rockets that threatened  millions Israelis as far north as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. More than 1,100 rockets were fired by Hamas and the PIJ, with over 421 intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system. Israel’s Air Force struck at 1500 targets taking out a number of Iranian supplied Fajr-5’s and  30 top Hamas and PIJ leaders were killed. Palestinian casualties were 167, including  27 children. Israelis sustained six killed including two IDF soldiers, one a reserve officer. The rest were civilians. 40,000 IDF troops mobilized along the Gaza frontier were poised to enter, but stood down upon achievement of a cease fire brokered by Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi with assistance from the US in the person of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The other shock came the day following the cease fire announcement between Hamas and Israel on November 23rd in Cairo when Egypt’s President Morsi issued edicts effectively vanquishing the country’s high courts and prosecutors and thereby obtaining virtual dictatorial powers. That aroused the secular opposition in Egypt that accused Morsi of being the new Pharaoh. The Muslim Brotherhood headquarters and its Freedom and Justice party offices were torched in major Egyptian cities by angry mobs. Thousands gathered in protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, while concerns were voiced in Washington and in the West about this latest development by an Islamist regime in the region’s largest  Arab country.

In Ramallah on the West Bank, the body of the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat was exhumed to extract material for a forensic examination to ascertain whether he was poisoned. As November waned, President Mahmoud Abbas was headed to a session of the UN General Assembly seeking a vote granting the Palestinian Authority observer status, thus angering the US and virtually dashing the hopes of a peace agreement under the failed 1993 Oslo Accords.

Against this background “Your Turn” hosts Mike Bates, of radio station 1330AMWEBY in Pensacola, Florida, Senior Editor Jerry Gordon of the New English Review, Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of Research for the Washington, DC- based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center in Washington held a radio round table discussion.


Mike Bates:  Good afternoon and welcome to Your Turn.  We are having a special international roundtable discussion about the Middle East and I have with me in the studio Jerry Gordon, a Senior Editor of the New English Review and its blog, “the Iconoclast.” Jerry, welcome to Your Turn.



Jerry Gordon:  Glad to be here.



Bates:  Joining us by telephone is  Jonathan Schanzer, V.P. of Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington D.C.  Jonathan, welcome to Your Turn.






Jonathan Schanzer:  Thanks Mike.




Bates:  And Shoshana Bryen, she is the Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center in Washington.  Shoshana, welcome to Your Turn.





Shoshana Bryen:  Thank you, Mike.




Bates:  Let me throw the opening question to you Jonathan. Obviously it’s related to  Israel’s  Operation Pillar of Defense. Why the cease fire? It didn’t appear to me that Israel had accomplished its objectives.

Schanzer:  Mike, it’s actually I think a mystery to a lot of people but not to the IDF. The IDF did accomplish its mission. I think the general public was under the assumption that this was a war between Israel and Hamas where Israel was hoping to wipe out Hamas or to knock out the rockets that they fire into Southern Israel completely. I don’t believe that ever was the case. Based on what I have been able to glean by talking to Israeli intelligence sources, the problem was the long range rockets that Hamas had brought in via Sudan from Iran. These are what we call Fajr-5 rockets. These are long range 50 miles-plus rockets that enable Hamas to hit Tel Aviv and its environs, putting millions of Israelis at risk. The story actually begins in October when the Israelis took out an IRGC Iranian weapons factory in Sudan. When they destroyed that factory no one really reported on it. It was right before the US election. It didn’t get a lot of coverage but what the Israelis took out was a full warehouse of these Fajr-5 rockets. It appears to me that about three weeks later the Israelis realized that some of those Fajr-5’s, about a hundred of them, had made their way to the Gaza Strip. And so Operation Pillar of Defense was not about taking out Hamas or any of its leaders. It was about nailing those hundred or so Fajr-5 rockets. The Israelis did that in about two days. When all was said and done, that was when the Israelis were ready for a cease fire. It just took a few more days for the United States to help broker a cease fire with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. As far as the Israelis are concerned, after about two days of bombing Fajr-5 rocket sites in Gaza its mission was accomplished.

Bates:  Jonathan, was a ground operation never really on the table?

Schanzer:  I think it was on the table if only for the fact that Hamas kept firing. In other words, Hamas also understood what the Israelis were going after and they decided to make it as painful as possible by firing as many rockets as they could, about 1500 of them into Israeli airspace. As long as the rocket firing continued they were tempting the Israelis to make this a bloodier and more painful conflict. I think the Israelis did the right thing by holding back and being smart. What they are going to do now is to watch and wait to see whether Hamas tries to bring in more of those long range rockets. If and when they do, I fully expect the Israelis to launch another air assault. However, I don’t think it makes sense at least for the moment for the Israelis to be going in on the ground.

Gordon:  Jon, you’ve written extensively about the question of the Iran/Sudan pipeline that has brought the Fajr-5’s and other weapons to Gaza and into the hands of Hamas for this latest episode. Just yesterday the Israelis reported that their satellite surveillance indicated that there is another ship sailing towards the Sudan. How can Israel maintain its watch and intercept these shipments?

Schanzer:  The Israelis have done a terrific job of destroying those Iranian weapons convoys inside of Sudan. There have been as far as I can count, four or five interdictions or attacks on Sudanese airspace or on the ground near Port Sudan where a lot of these weapons are then smuggled up into Egypt. The Israelis have done a very good job, they are very watchful. The Sudanese appear to be trying to shift things around a bit. They are talking about creating factories outside of Khartoum, where it doesn’t put as many people at risk. However, the bottom line is that  the Israelis have their number. Sudan really is, the story that no one is talking about. No one talks about the role of Sudan in the Iranian weapons pipeline or in the Hamas weapons pipeline or even in the Arab Israeli Conflict. Sudan was never really a player until now. It is my understanding at this point that, in light of the fact that Syria has become severely weakened and Syria was a significant part of that what we called the Axis of Resistance under Iran, Sudan has taken on greater importance. The Israelis are going to be watching very carefully and I expect more explosions to take place in Sudan with no one taking credit.


December 1, 2012 | Comments »

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