x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

America ignores Middle Eastern public opinion

Study based on major survey of Middle Eastern opinion, shows that US government should focus on brokering Arab-Israeli peace if America wants to improve its image in the region. The US believes Israel lacks adequate intelligence on Iran's nuclear programme, suggesting that an attack on its nuclear facilities would fail. While a Pakistani security operation in the north west faces criticism, Islamabad is hit by suicide bombing.

"One of the frightening lessons one learns from spending time in Washington is that most of the men and women who make, or influence, American policy in the Middle East actually have little or no first-hand experience of the region," wrote Rami G Khouri in Lebanon's Daily Star. "They know very little about its people or its political trends at the grassroots level, as the Iraq experience reconfirms so painfully. "American policy-making throughout the Middle East remains defined largely by three principal forces: pro-Israeli interests and lobbies in the United States that pander almost totally to Israeli government positions; an almost genetic, if understandable, need to respond to the 9/11 terror attack against the US by politically and militarily striking against Middle Eastern targets; and a growing determination to confront and contain Iran and its assorted Sunni and Shiite Arab allies. "A significant consequence of Washington's deep pro-Israeli tilt has been to ignore public sentiments throughout the region, which in turn generates greater criticism of the US. It is not clear if American policymakers ignore Middle Eastern public opinion because of ignorance and diplomatic amateurism, or because of the structural dictates of pro-Israeli compliance." Shibley Telhami wrote a paper based on six public opinion surveys conducted in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates between 2002 to 2008. "In 2006, for the first time since we began polling, Arabs were asked what step taken by Washington would most improve their views of the United States. They were asked to choose two steps among the following: Pushing for the spread of democracy in the Middle East even more; providing more economic assistance to the region, stopping economic and military aid to Israel; withdrawing American forces from Iraq; withdrawing American forces from the Arabian peninsula; and brokering comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. More than 60 per cent of respondents chose brokering Arab-Israeli peace as the number one answer, followed by withdrawal from Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula." Mr Telhami's polling data also indicated that the fears expressed by both the US and Israeli governments regarding Iran, were not shared by the public across the region. "The Arab public is not predisposed to have a favourable view of Iran and most Arabs supported Arab Iraq in its war with Tehran. Many still see Iran as something of a threat and many are concerned about the rise of its power in the shadow of a weak and divided Iraq. But polls also indicate that their view of Iran is not the one that shapes their position on the central issues of the day. Asked in the 2006 survey to identify the two states that pose the biggest threats to them (in an open-ended question) the vast majority identified Israel first, followed by the United States, with 11 per cent identifying Iran. Strikingly, in the 2008 poll, only 7 per cent identified Iran as one of their two biggest threats. While a majority of Arabs believe that Iran's nuclear program is intended to develop nuclear weapons, in 2006, an even larger majority believed that the international community should not stop their efforts. This even held in Jordan, which would stand to be devastated in the case of an Israeli-Iranian nuclear war. In 2008, only a minority believed that Iran was trying to develop nuclear weapons, but a full two-thirds did not want the international community to pressure them to curtail their nuclear programme. Even more surprisingly, a plurality of respondents (44 per cent) believed that if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, the result would be more positive for the region. "These findings suggest that while there is a Sunni- Shiite divide and many in the Arab world may be concerned about Iran, these issues are subordinated in their perceptions to their anger with Israel and the United States. In the absence of a breakthrough in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and with the continued crisis between Hamas and Fatah, the Arab public may not be able to determine 'what's good for the Palestinians,' but this will not necessarily reduce the centrality of the issue in public perceptions. For now, the trend is toward slightly more sympathy with Hamas, pessimism about the prospects for peace, and increased anger with the United States and Israel."

"American commanders worry that Israel will feel compelled to act within the next 12 months with no guarantee that they can do more than slow Iran's development of a weapon capable of destroying the Jewish state," The Sunday Telegraph reported. "Gaps in the intelligence on the precise location and vulnerabilities of Iran's facilities emerged during recent talks between Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Israeli generals, according to an official familiar with the discussions who has briefed Iran experts in Washington and London. "The assessment emerged as Iran in effect thumbed its nose at proposals by the West to freeze its uranium enrichment programme in exchange for easing economic sanctions. In its reply, sent to the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, Iran said it was prepared to negotiate but only from a position of equality ñ and made no reference to the specific proposals." In the Financial Times, Anatol Lieven argued that the British government was in a position to prevent an Israeli attack on Iran. "All that it needs to do is make clear to the US administration, initially in private but in public if necessary, that the consequence of an attack would be complete British military withdrawal, not only from Iraq but from Afghanistan as well. "Israel must have US acquiescence to launch an attack since by far the easiest route for one lies over US-controlled Iraq. By starting the withdrawal of most of the Nato forces from Afghanistan, British withdrawal would throw an immense new burden on the US military, strip the Afghan operation of its international legitimacy and almost certainly wreck it altogether. "For these reasons, this is not a step that, as a friend of Afghanistan, I would ever advocate, were it not for one blindingly obvious fact: that a US-backed Israeli attack on Iran will in any case doom our enterprise in Afghanistan to irretrievable failure. From the moment that Israeli munitions fall on Iran, all hope of stabilising Afghanistan on western terms will be lost. From then on, every British soldier who dies in Afghanistan will die for nothing." In The Age, Paul Barratt, a former secretary of Australia's department of defence, said: "Despite its shrill rhetoric, Iran does not look like a country bent on war. As a proportion of GDP, it has the second-lowest military spending in the Middle East - less than half Turkey's, about one-third of Israel's. "Anyone with any knowledge of Iran's history and culture will know that it will not be bribed or bullied into doing what the West wants. It has no reason to trust Western promises, and having endured the suffering of the Iran-Iraq War, is unlikely to buckle under any pressure, military or economic, that the West would be prepared to impose. "Regarding nuclear proliferation, no self-respecting country would accept that its nuclear programme is a problem because that state itself is a problem - that an Indian, Israeli or Pakistani nuclear capability is acceptable because they are the right kind of people, but an Iranian capability would be unacceptable because of the nature of Iran. The only way to establish a manageable relationship with Tehran is to understand its world view, to recognise its legitimate interests, and deal with problematic issues on a basis of equality and mutual respect."

"Several Pakistani politicians and local media outlets have started to sharply criticise the government's new offensive against Islamist insurgents, as paramilitary troops on Wednesday continued to press operations in the country's northwest," The Washington Post reported. "'The action is not very fast, not very effective and not very well-oriented,' said Lateef Afridi, a top member of the Awami National Party, the dominant political party in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. 'People are complaining that such halfhearted measures won't work.' "Troops with the paramilitary Frontier Corps on Friday began streaming into the northwestern city of Peshawar and the nearby tribal region known as Khyber Agency. Government officials have reported capturing several towns since then, and they announced Wednesday that Pakistani security forces had arrested at least 31 people and seized several large weapons caches near Bara, the main town in Khyber." The Associated Press reported: "Pakistani security forces have halted an operation against militants in the country's volatile northwest to try negotiating peace through tribal elders, officials said Saturday. "Tariq Hayat, chief administrator for the Khyber tribal area, said local tribal leaders have agreed in principle to conditions including handing over 16 wanted men and respecting government authority in the region. A tribal council also is mediating between authorities and militant leader Mangal Bagh. "Elders have historically wielded significant influence in the tribal areas, which are considered safe havens for pro-Taliban and al-Qa'eda militants." Reporting for the Globe and Mail, Saed Shah wrote: "In theory, Pakistan's security forces are in opposition to the Taliban, who are linked to al Qa'eda and now firmly entrenched across the country's tribal belt and encroaching on 'settled' areas of the northwest. In reality, large swathes of territory have simply been ceded to them. Many in Darra and across the tribal territory, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), appear to believe that life under the Taliban may be harsh but at least the militants have brought law and order, something the state could not deliver. "Last week, the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force, launched an operation against Islamist warlords based on the outskirts of Peshawar in the Khyber Agency, a part of Fata. Darra, just a 40-minute drive from Peshawar, is a Frontier Region, which means it should not be as wild as Fata. Yet the Taliban, far more extreme than Khyber Agency's militants, operate there with impunity. The rubble of a paramilitary checkpost they bombed marks the edge of town." AFP reported from Islamabad: "A suicide bomber killed 15 people Sunday in an attack on police guarding an Islamist rally to mark the anniversary of an army raid on the radical Red Mosque in Pakistan's capital, officials said. "In the latest apparent act of revenge for the bloody storming of the mosque, the attacker blew himself up in a crowd of policemen just after thousands of hardliners demanded the public hanging of President Pervez Musharraf. "The operation to clear the mosque a year ago left 100 people dead, and unleashed a wave of suicide attacks that pushed the newly-elected government into entering peace talks with Taliban militants."