Category Archives: Israel

Anything to do with Israel

Decapitation At Home & Abroad

Classic counter-insurgency strategy involves identifying and neutralizing leadership of insurgent groups. Syria has failed disastrously in this and we’ll have to watch another six months to see how Russia and the Ukraine fare. The United States and Egypt are both engaged in similar exercises and are having some success.

Presaged by the January 13th arrest of girlfriend Diana Durand on election fraud charges, Congressman Michael Grimm was taken into custody April 28th. Not long after Durand’s arrest Dinesh D’Souza was indicted on similar charges.

Removing a best selling author and a sitting Congressman who retired from the FBI sends a high level message that the lawlessness that characterized the initial Tea Party ventures into U.S. politics will not be tolerated. Well connected players such as Jenny Beth Martin and Tea Party Patriots, sensing which way the wind is blowing, are looking more and more like the expensive yet ineffective firms that crowd inside the beltway.

The recent dust up between free range freeloader Cliven Bundy and the U.S. government, which led to a rally of armed ‘patriots’ sharpened the divide in what seems a very final fashion. The corporate friendly core of the GOP has no patience for a fringe that wants to crash the global banking system or engage in gunfights with federal agents.

Things are much more serious in Egypt, per the April 28th NightWatch:

Egypt: A court in Minya, in Upper Egypt, passed death sentences on 683 supporters of former president Mohamed Mursi, including leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Comment: These sentences ensure the decapitation of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership for a generation. Their severity will have a chilling effect on future demonstrations by any party.

Arab Spring: Revolutions & Reform

Arab Spring: Revolutions & Reform

Arab Spring roiled all of North Africa and the Mideast, but the hopeful days of the crowds in Tahrir chasing away army helicopters with hundreds of laser pointers have given way to Libya pumping out weapons rather than oil and foreign fighters flocking to Syria. Nobody wants to see this happen in Egypt. Nobody.

Ten months ago I wrote about The Sinai Peninsula, noting the closure of the Suez Canal due to the 1973 Yom Kippur war. If this happens again the lower capacity shallow draft crude carriers that travel the Persian Gulf to Mediterranean route will be forced to compete with VLCC/ULCC tankers and round Cape Horn.

Chaos in Egypt would exacerbate an already troubling situation for Israel and Jordan. Eastern Mediterranean Gas Fields & Pipelines provides some detail on the production and transport of natural gas in the region. The cross-Sinai pipelines have been popular bombing targets.

Much like what is happening in the Ukraine, there is an underlying energy stability concern that is a component of Egypt’s move against their radicals. The U.S. moves in this area are curious to observe, because it’s the continuity and stability oriented center moving against radicals that were stirred up by the very largest of the players in the gas and oil industry. A mismatch like this will always lead to a realignment, but it’s difficult to see from where we stand today what form this might take.

“AIPAC May Have Overreached”

Potent Pro-Israel Group Finds Its Momentum Blunted

Officials at the group insist it never called for an immediate vote and say the legislation may yet pass if Mr. Obama’s effort to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Iran fails or if Iran reneges on its interim deal with the West. But for the moment, Mr. Obama has successfully made the case that passing new sanctions against Tehran now could scuttle the nuclear talks and put America on the road to another war.

In doing so, the president has raised questions about the effectiveness of Aipac’s tactics and even its role as the unchallenged voice of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Jewish leaders say that pro-Israel groups disagreed on how aggressively to push the legislation, even if all the groups favor additional sanctions.

I am not in the habit of lazy blogging with a spin off a mainstream news story, but this is fairly extraordinary, as big a deal as the nuclear option in the Senate last year, as big a deal as the debt limit showdown.

Those are the deeds and needs of men who wish to retain political power. Greater Iran’s Greatest Problem (11/6/2013) and Why Gaza Is Screwed are about Mother Nature’s take. The Iranian plateau is ‘becoming uninhabitable’ due to drying and closer to home 10,880 acre Gaza is taking on 12,000 acre feet of salt water a year due to ground water pumping.

Israel Aquifers

Israeli hawks have been agitating for a strike on Iran for years. Our sanctions regime is ineffective, as we have no ability to back down no matter what Iran does or does not do. The first sign of this impasse clearing was the deal for the Russians to handle the Syrian chemical weapons problem.

Look at the two posts I mentioned, then add Monitoring The Golan Heights and Israel: No Claim On Litani Waters to your reading list. Israel’s security is going to decline in parallel with water security issues in the region.

We can’t drill or desalinate our way out of this. One consumes fossil water, the other consumes fossil fuel using current methods. Conservation comes to mind – the irrigation systems in the region date back to the first half of the Cold War and figures I’ve seen quoted indicate they are losing two gallons for every three that get delivered. Concentrated solar driven desalination might work in coastal areas but moving water inland means moving uphill everywhere except the Dead Sea, and that takes a lot of electricity.

AIPAC might have overreached. But if you look at the maps of drying lakes, declining aquifers, and compare it to young and still rapidly growing populations you will soon come to the realization that we, as a species, have absolutely overshot our planet’s carrying capacity.

I saw a paper last year on the resettlement of the entire Jewish Israeli population of six million to the American southwest. The two million non-Jews in the country would be joined by 1.6 million Gaza residents and the 2.4 million from the West Bank, who would presumably erase the name Israel from world maps. I’m not sure such a scheme is operationally workable given the overload on America’s Colorado river basin. Politically the idea of a voluntary second diaspora due to climate change is loaded with so much baggage from so many different directions that we won’t be able to broach the topic until it’s too late.

There is no long term path for the region that does not end in bloodshed. But the Israeli hawks will not succeed in triggering a reverse proxy war involving the U.S. this year in the face of America’s periodic isolationist tendencies resurfacing.

Eastern Mediterranean Gas Fields & Pipelines

Eastern Mediterranean Gas Fields

Eastern Mediterranean Gas Fields

The eastern Mediterranean has natural gas resources but with the exception of Egyptian production this is rarely mentioned, almost never in the geopolitical press and only rarely in the energy specific trade press. The Oil Drum offers an excellent series of detailed articles tagged with ‘Israel’, but the style is dense and high context – you have to know the business to be able to interpret the content.

Eastern Mediterranean Gas Corridor

Eastern Mediterranean Gas Corridor

A third gas corridor: prospects for the East Med offers details on the construction of a pipeline from Israel to the European gas market.

The construction of this ‘East Med Pipeline’, which would connect Israel, Cyprus and Greece to Italy and the rest of Europe, is feasible but it will be costly, and can only be justly assessed when further exploration is concluded and additional gas deposits are confirmed. If, however, the scientifically estimated deposits are proven to exist, it is undoubtedly the best long-term option and solution, not only for the countries involved, but for the EU as well

The red lines in the first map denote the Arab Gas Pipeline. Here’s a more detailed view of it.

Arab Gas Pipeline

Arab Gas Pipeline

We find in the Wikipedia article an example of what The Oil Drum would call “above ground issues”:

The Egyptian pipeline carrying natural gas to Israel and Jordan, has been attacked 15 times since the start of the uprising in early 2011 and 21 July 2012. On November 13, Jordan Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said that “In the past 18 months of the Arab Spring, Jordan has lost between $4-5 billion at least as a result of oil stoppage, especially the Egyptian gas supplies”.

Turkey Pipeline Network

Turkey Pipeline Network

Russia is currently the dominant natural gas provider to Europe. The network of pipelines from the Caspian basin are theirs or European investments passing through Turkey. The European/Turkish facilities transit the perpetually simmering Caucasus and Kurdish eastern Turkey.

Some months ago I wrote The Only Red Line That Matters, which fitted together thoughts on the Russian naval supply station at the Syrian port of Tartus, the Cypriot bank collapse, the Syrian civil war, and other regional issues. The conclusion was that Russia would not permit another intervention like the one in Libya. Four months later the U.S. and Russia reached an agreement regarding handling of Syria’s chemical weapons.

Today, six months after publication, Syrian & Iraqi Conflict Merging, Possibly Spreading is a sadly accurate statement about Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle. Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are the regional powers and it is their opinions and moves that matter.

Where is Israel in all of this? Their most vocal supporters here in the U.S., The Militarist Galaxy, are attempting to stir trouble on the international front by whipping up domestic furor over the Benghazi nontroversy, while simultaneously attempting to crash the entire U.S. government with their ill considered shutdown.

The Groundswell members have been seen for what they are – a disloyal minority with an apocalyptic world view. The Democrats were already opposed and GOP strategists made things painfully clear, indicating they would no longer tolerate ‘stupid candidates’, and this was served up on Christmas day. The message to religiously motivated fringe right actors couldn’t be more clear. Most notable of all is this: Israel approves of this move.

A political splinter group that will risk demolishing the U.S. economy with one hand while promoting some “end times” battle in their backyard with the other isn’t very useful to a pragmatic Israeli administration trying to navigate choppy diplomatic seas. Those people are cut off from their former international support and the effects are visible on the domestic front, too. We’re seeing more talk of the suffering of minority Christian groups in the Mideast, and Egyptian Copts have become the cause of the moment for last year’s Israel Firsters.

This has interesting domestic implications. We already know how adept the Saudi and Qatari money men are at fomenting trouble in an arc from Mali to Pakistan. Given that Citizens United threw open U.S. elections to ‘dark money’, and the FEC already approved bitcoin as a funding method for PACs. Unsophisticated actors here are liable to end up pawns in games that conclude with them in federal custody, offering agents phone numbers that are disconnected, apartment addresses that have been abandoned, and names of individuals that simply don’t exist.

Syrian & Iraqi Conflict Merging, Possibly Spreading

UN envoy: Iraq and Syrian conflicts are merging

That headline appeared in my inbox earlier and I have been dreading it. The Syrian civil war has spilled over into Lebanon, it’s encroaching on Turkey’s territory, and it’s set off troubles in neighboring Iraq, which are now merging into an end to end regional threat.

Let’s take a look at how things got this way. The Ottoman empire laid claim to Syria and Iraq between 1512 and 1566.

Ottoman Empire 1300 1683

And they lost control of the area as a result of picking the wrong side during World War I.

Ottoman Losses 1807-1924

The territory was divided between the English and French via the Sykes-Picot Agreement, with approval from the Russians.

Sykes Picot Partition Of The Mideast 1916

Sykes Picot Partition Of The Mideast 1916

The French Syrian Mandate broke up with the loss of the Sanjak of Alexandretta back to Turkey in 1939 and the independence of Lebanon in 1943.

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

The British Mandate of Mesopotamia became Iraq, an independent monarchy in 1932 and a republic in 1958. Today’s ethnic map is consistent with the boundaries of the original territory. Yellow is for Sunni Arabs, green is Shia Arabs, and the Kurds are in blue.

Iraq Ethnic Groups

Iraq Ethnic Groups

I have written quite a bit about Syria’s patchwork of ethnic and religious groups. Summarizing – yellow are Sunni Arabs in the interior the dun colored areas are Kurds. The coastal region of Syria and Lebanon are very diverse and intermingled.

Syrian Ethnic Groups - Detailed Map

Syrian Ethnic Groups – Detailed Map

The Syrian conflict triggered the troubles in Iraq and the U.N. envoy now reports the two conflicts are merging. I noted that this conflict was also Spilling Into Lebanon. Refugee flows are a big part of that, as they put a support load on their neighbors.

Syrian Refugee Flows

Syrian Refugee Flows

Immediately outside the troubled trio of Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, are three regional powers vying for influence – Turkey, Iran, and the money men of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. I wrote about the underlying details in Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle.

Perians, Saudis/Qataris & Turks

Perians, Saudis/Qataris & Turks

Beyond the bounds of the regional players there are global concerns which include:

  • Israel’s ill advised obsession with Iran, somewhat backed by the U.S.
  • Russia’s longstanding relationship with Syria
  • Turkey’s membership in both the European Union and NATO
  • China and Russia’s disapproval of extreme sanctions against Iran
Mideast Regional Map

Mideast Regional Map

Let’s take stock of troubles in the region:

  • Egypt – military coup against Muslim Brotherhood, supported by democratic forces
  • Yemen – outright civil war
  • Bahrain – simmering discontent, sometimes violent
  • Syria – outright civil war
  • Lebanon – being sucked into Syria’s civil war
  • Iraq – being sucked into Syria’s civil war
  • Turkey – massive protests
  • Greece – bank crash, economic implosion
  • Cyprus – bank crash, U.N. brokered peace between Greeks & Turks
  • North Caucasus – long running insurgency, Chechen jihadis turning up in Syria
  • Iran – brand new government, same ol’ impossible sanctions

What, if anything, will the United States do about this?

The U.S. left Patriot missile batteries, F-16s, and 700 troops behind in Jordan this year after the annual Eager Lion exercise.

We seem to have just one aircraft carrier with its attendant carrier strike group in the region.

Information on the disposition of Expeditionary Strike Groups, which contain helicopter carriers, amphibious assault craft, and marines are not as readily available. I believe there is one on station at or near the 5th Fleet HQ in Bahrain and another active in the Mediterranean due to threats to diplomatic posts across North Africa.

We already have Bipartisan Opposition To Syrian Intervention. Today I saw further news to the effect that even the belated announcement we were going to arm the rebels faces Congressional disapproval.

President Obama is facing criticism for having an unclear strategy to resolve the Syrian conflict. Having spent the last ten years field testing neoconservative theories in the Mideast rather than applying pragmatic diplomacy, the White House’s apparent lack of strategy may be in and of itself a strategy. That last map and conflict list looks a bit like the Balkans a century ago, right before World War I engulfed Europe. Given our history in the region anything we attempt is liable to backfire badly.

The three regional powers I described in Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle each have a vision of what qualifies as good governance and only Turkey’s thinking would be vaguely familiar to American voters. “Bringing Democracy To Country X” sounds just grand, but in this part of the world we might want to substitute “a majoritarian blood bath” for the word democracy, and then see how palatable our plans sound. It’s time we listened to those who are there regarding what will and will not work.

The Sinai Peninsula

The Sinai Peninsula, a West Virginia sized triangle of desert with a population of just 400,000 that connects Africa to the Mideast has been a scene of many conflicts through the ages, most recently the Israeli conquest in 1967, followed by a slow return to Egypt between 1975 and 1982.

Israel Conquers The Sinai Peninsula 1967

Israel Conquers The Sinai Peninsula 1967

Sinai Peninsula Withdrawal 1975 - 1982

Sinai Peninsula Withdrawal 1975 – 1982

Peace is maintained in the region by dividing it into four regions which are monitored by the Multinational Force & Observers. This is similar to Monitoring The Golan Heights, except that it’s governed by a separate treaty instead of the United Nations. This happened due to the Soviet Union’s indication they would veto such a force on behalf of their client state Syria.

Zone A is basically treated as part of Egypt and they can station up to a division of mechanized infantry there. Zone B has up to four battalions of Egyptian troops, Zone D has up to four battalions of Israeli troops, and a similar size force from the MFO is responsible for Zone C.

Sinai Security Zones

Sinai Security Zones

The Yom Kippur war in 1973, an Egyptian and Syrian attempt to reclaim the Sinai and the Golan Heights, ended badly for both aggressors. This war was a turning point in Egyptian/Israeli operations and a year later the ships of the Yellow Fleet, trapped in the Suez Canal‘s Great Bitter Lake since the Six Day War, were freed by Operation Nimbus Moon, which reopened the canal.

The Pirates Of Somalia are busy in the Gulf of Aden, the entry to the Red Sea, and tankers from Saudi Arabia have been taking the additional 2,700 mile jaunt around Africa to avoid the troubles. This has resulted in a 10% loss of total revenue for the Suez Canal Authority.

Indian Ocean Piracy

The Sinai is a sometimes contentious land bridge crossed by a globally important waterway that bears 8% of world trade including two thirds of Europe’s oil. The Rafah Crossing is the scene border closing/border crossing drama at times, and smuggling of weapons and other contraband into Gaza is a constant concern. Sinai has been simmering since the fall of Mubarak and Egypt‘s recent coup has heightened concerns.

I have some thoughts on what the troubles in the Sinai mean for the new Egyptian government, but this issue isn’t going to go away overnight, and I want to double check against other sources before I say anything.

Israel: No Claim On Litani Waters

Jordan & Litani River Basins

Jordan & Litani River Basins

Quality information on the Rivers Of The Fertile Cresent tends to be dense and technical, but there are occasional bits of political dynamite, such as this quote. The Fig. 1 mentioned is the above map of the Jordan & Litani river basins.

On the other hand, it is worthy to note that while analyzing the Lebanese part of the Jordan River Basin, no connection between the Litani River Basin and the Jordan River Basin was found in terms of surface flow, even though both basins lie close to each other (Fig. 1). The Litani basin was found to lie entirely in Lebanon. This result removes any ambiguity pertaining to the inclusion of the waters of the Litani River in any future water allocation scheme for the Jordan River Basin. As it was mentioned in the Johnston Plan and the Israeli “Cotton Plan”, some Israeli negotiators wished to include the Litani River in the Jordan River Basin plan (Amery 1998). Today, the inclusion of the Litani River is still present in the opinion of some politicians but these arguments are not credible since hydrological connections between the Litani and Jordan River Basin have not been proven (Medzini and Wolf 2004; Zeitoun et al. 2012).

Water has been a pressing concern for the region, driving the dispute between Arabs and Jews since Israel’s inception. This quote from a 1982 Christian Science monitor article reveals the entanglement of aquifers and state boundaries.

Two aquifers provide almost all of the groundwater for Northern and Central Israel, both arising in the West Bank. The shallower sandstone aquifer is recharged partly from runoff and percolation of rainwater falling on the former Jordanian lands. The deeper and more copious limestone aquifer is recharged largely or, possibly, entirely by rainwater from the West Bank.

The Litani River of Lebanon from 1993 is the best overview I have found regarding this situation and it notes interest in transferring a portion of the flow of the Litani to the south has existed for over a century. The web page looks to be the sort of thing that might vanish, so I preserved a copy of the content in Scribd.

Prestatehood Jewish interests in the Litani River were made explicit in letters from Chaim Weizmann, head of the World Zionist Organization (wzo), to various British governmental officials in 1919 and 1920 (Weisgal 1977). In a letter to Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Weizmann argued that Lebanon was “well watered” and that the river was “valueless to the territory north of the proposed frontiers. They can be used beneficially in the country much further south.” Weizmann concluded that the WZO considered the Litani valley “for a distance of 25 miles above the bend” of the river essential to the future of the Jewish “national home” (Weisgal 1977, 267). Nevertheless, the British and the French mandate powers retained the Litani basin entirely in Lebanon. David Ben-Gurion, a leading Zionist and the first prime minister of Israel, suggested to a 1941 international commission on the question of Palestine that the Litani be included in the borders of the future Jewish state. The commission recommended that seven-eighths of the river’s waters be leased to Israel (Saleh 1988).

The instability in Syria is already spilling over into its neighbors to the south, as we saw in Monitoring The Golan Heights. Both Israel and Syria have fueled conflict in Lebanon over the last forty years, including a nearly twenty year Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory south of the Litani.

South Lebanon Security Zone

South Lebanon Security Zone

The Syrian civil war is complex and the removal of Assad will change the character of the fighting, rather than eliminating it. Lebanon’s Hezbollah is sending fighters to support the Assad regime and violence has been spilling back into Lebanon for the last year. Israel has no legitimate claim on the waters of the Litani based on current boundaries. If the Syrian civil war triggers serious disorder in Lebanon Israel could obtain de facto control by restoring the South Lebanon Security Zone.

It is not my intent to provide an implicit suggestion that Israel will seek to regain access to the Litani by encroaching on Lebanon. While there is historical precedent for this, the situation is simply too complex from my current level of knowledge for me to make anything other than a haphazard guess.

Monitoring The Golan Heights

The Golan Heights are a volcanic plateau bordered by Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. Geologically the territory is about seven hundred square miles, but the term is more often used politically, and in such cases it applies to the western two thirds, which have been occupied by Israel since the Six Day War in 1967.

Golan Heights Topography

Golan Heights Topography

As you can see from the this topographical projection map, the Golan Heights are a natural fortress that provides a commanding view of either Israel’s or Syria’s territory, depending on who holds it. I just finished Golan Heights Security Considerations, a detailed report of Israel’s position on the area, and I found an unusual bright spot. The inhabitants here are not restive like those in Gaza or the West Bank – they are primarily Druze Muslim and Israel occupation may be seen as a safer bet than whatever Sunni dominated government replaces the Assad regime.

Even with this seeming advantage, the U.N. Golan Heights monitoring force that has been present since 1973 is in flux. Austrian soldiers are being pulled out by their government, a hundred Crotians finished their rotation earlier this year, and Sweden may provide replacements but they want overall strength increased from 900 to 1,250.

News sources aren’t clear but it appears that the U.N. force only has small arms and they are missing some RG-31 Nyala MRAP vehicles due to a simultaneous theft of two of them and kidnapping of 21 Filipino troops. U.N. troops would have Egytian built Fahd armored personnel carriers available, which are similar to the U.S. Stryker.

Russia has dispatched naval forces to the region due to concerns over the fate of their supply station at the Syrian port of Tartus and they presumably have some troops on the assault ships that are part of this force, but they were rebuffed. I have seen a number of interpretations of this move on the part of the U.N. but this one is the least reactive:

Russian President Vladimir Putin last week offered to send Russian troops to the Golan Heights to replace the Austrians, but this was quickly shot down by Josephine Guerrero, a spokeswoman for the U.N. peacekeeping department. She said that the disengagement agreement does not allow the participation of troops from a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

The strategic importance of the commanding view provided by the Golan Heights is the immediate concern, but longer term this Jordan River Hydrology Report outlines the issues facing this river and its users, which include all four nations that border the Golan Heights.

The Jordan River begins in the Golan Heights and terminates in the Dead Sea. Where it once delivered 1.3 billion cubic meters of water annually flows are now down to 20 to 30 million cubic meters. The river is 90% used by Israel, Syria, and Jordan, and the Dead Sea is losing a meter of depth per year due to reduced inflow.

There are two potential capital investments that can alleviate the water shortages. I have done similar reading on the condition of the nearby Euphrates, in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. Irrigation systems there are described as being in poor repair and leaking some 40% of the water they carry. I have not yet seen similar data on the Jordan but I suspect infrastructure for it is equally sketchy.

The other is an ambitious game changer – the Dead Sea Power Project. This 72 kilometer long 10 meter in diameter tunnel and associated infrastructure will six billion dollars, will produce $500 million a year in electricity, and a billion cubic meters of desalinated water. Putting that in perspective, Israel’s current desalination is just half the capacity of this system.

This is not just some blogger with a curious idea; there are several professionals involved both here in the U.S. and in the Mideast. The governments of Israel and Jordan are aware of this project. A civil engineering effort like this would create many jobs, address electricity generation in a way that produces rather than consumes water, and it would take pressure off the upstream users of the the Jordan, especially the country which takes its name from this river.

Hydroelectric turbines can last for generations and a conduit such as is envisioned would still be in place a millennium from now. The dollars required are equal to just three weeks of our costs for maintaining forces in Afghanistan and the investment would play a role in defusing a conflict even more grim than our occupation of Iraq or Syria’s civil war.

You are asking yourself the same question I am. Why aren’t we already doing this?