Mideast Security and Policy Studies

Mideast Security and Policy Studies serve as a forum for publication or re-publication of research conducted by BESA Center research associates.

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Pakistan and Its Militants: Who Is Mainstreaming Whom?

| November 18, 2018

Pakistani militants of various stripes collectively won just under 10% of the vote in the July 2018 parliamentary elections. Some represented longstanding legal Islamist parties, others newly established groups or fronts for  organizations that have been banned as terrorists by Pakistan and/or the United Nations and the United States. The militants failed to secure a single seat in the national assembly but have maintained, if not increased, their ability to shape national debate, mainstream politics, and societal attitudes. Their ability to field candidates in almost all constituencies, and, in many cases, their performance as debutants enhanced their legitimacy.

The 1981 AWACS Deal: AIPAC and Israel Challenge Reagan

| November 8, 2018

In 1981, US President Ronald Reagan’s decision to implement a large arms deal with Saudi Arabia involving aircraft, tanks, and Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) prompted a determined campaign against it spearheaded by the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). AIPAC and the Israeli government found the inclusion of the AWACS in the deal particularly troubling, as they threatened to speed up the regional arms race and erode Israel’s technological edge. President Reagan was equally determined to see the deal go through, as failure to do so would have had a detrimental effect on his authority and international standing. In his first major policy challenge in the White House, Reagan led a no-holds-barred effort to convince Congress to approve the deal.

This conflict between a US president and Israel illustrates the peril into which a small state wades when it asserts its own perceived national interest at the expense of that of a far more powerful ally. This dynamic would come to the fore once again decades later, when Benjamin Netanyahu would openly resist the efforts of President Barack Obama to
reach a nuclear accord with Iran.

The North Korean Air Force: A Declining or Evolving Threat?

and | October 18, 2018

North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests during the Kim Jong-un era have strengthened the country’s military power, deterring South Korea, Japan, and, in particular, the United States. While North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities are rapidly improving, parallel developments are not occurring in the traditionally technical air and air defense forces. Plagued with aging airframes, technical problems, part shortages, and budget shortfalls, the North Korean Air Force no longer challenges the South Korean and American air forces. While North Korea will not be able to build its own state-of-the-art aircraft industry, it will nonetheless find creative ways to strengthen its air force capabilities.

The Oslo Disaster Revisited: How It Happened

| September 13, 2018

Precisely two decades after the failure by the Golda Meir government to identify a willing Arab peace partner triggered the devastating 1973 Yom Kippur war, another Labor government wrought a far worse catastrophe by substituting an unreconstructed terror organization committed to Israel’s destruction for a willing peace partner. Instead of ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the “Oslo peace process” between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) created an ineradicable terror entity on Israel’s doorstep that has murdered some 1,600 Israelis, rained thousands of rockets and missiles on the country’s population centers, and toiled tirelessly to delegitimize the right of the Jewish state to exist.

China’s Military Base in Djibouti

| August 23, 2018

Following decades of non-intervention policy in the MENA region, China is now establishing a permanent military base in Djibouti. This study analyzes the motivation behind China’s decision to establish a permanent naval presence in Djibouti, and whether it reflects a fundamental change in its non-interference policy in the MENA region. The findings show that geo-economic interests are the primary consideration in China’s decision, but there are also strategic military purposes. China’s non-interference policy in the MENA is evolving, and establishing a regional military presence seems to be taking a further significant step, showing a clear departure from its traditional interpretations of non-interference. Consequently, the Djibouti naval base may be just the beginning of China’s military expression of power in the MENA region.

Iran’s President Rouhani: Part of the Problem, Not Part of the Solution

| July 26, 2018

The controversy surrounding the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) epitomizes the ongoing debate between two contending approaches on the best way to bring about a positive change in Tehran’s Islamist regime and its policies.

Many, including in Israel, identify the (supposedly) moderate President Hassan Rouhani as the best hope for such a change, warning that the
collapse of the nuclear agreement and the reintroduction of international sanctions will play into the hands of the hardliners and weaken Rouhani and the “reformist camp” more generally.

While intriguing, such views are not only unfounded but detrimental to the efforts to pressure Iran to end its domestic repression and external aggression. For one thing, it is international sanctions, not friendly persuasion, that brought Tehran to the negotiating table in the first place. For another, as shown by the popular protests across Iran since early 2018, sustained economic pressure does not weaken the internal Iranian demand for change but rather reinforces it.

While Rouhani’s rhetoric may well sound more moderate than that of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his political record, ideological worldview, and actual conduct over the past decades clearly show him to be cut from the same cloth: an unreconstructed revolutionary Islamist. As such, he constitutes a major barrier to real change in both Iran’s domestic situation and its hegemonic foreign policy ambitions.

Worse: due to his seemingly moderate image, Rouhani has succeeded in alleviating international pressure on Tehran at a time when its aggressive activities throughout the region – from terrorism to subversion to military intervention in neighboring states – have only accelerated during his tenure as president.

In Memoriam: Per Ahlmark

| June 25, 2018

Per Ahlmark (January 15, 1939-June 8, 2018), a poet and essayist, was former Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, former President of the Swedish Liberal Party, and founder of the Swedish Committee against anti-Semitism. He was one of the greatest friends of Israel in years when very few European leaders – let alone Scandinavian ones – were willing to identify with the country.

The Israel Defense Forces, 1948-2017

| May 28, 2018

This study explores the evolution of the order of battle, material holdings and capability of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) since their establishment seventy years ago. During this period, the IDF has transitioned from an ill-equipped and low-quality militia to a dominant regional military power. Recent cutbacks in the IDF’s order of battle notwithstanding, Israel can still deploy ground forces equipped with the world’s largest concentration of operational armored vehicles. It has an exceedingly advanced tactical air force capable of generating nearly 2,000 daily fast-jet combat sorties, and is protected by the world’s most advanced and dense national air defense system. It has an effective coastal navy that deploys exceptionally well-armed, advanced small combatants and attack submarines; it has a significant strategic and tactical nuclear capability; and it likely maintains the world’s third-largest inventory of nuclear weapons.

The Privileged Palestinian “Refugees”

| May 15, 2018

The “Palestine refugees” have been exceptionally indulged by the international community for seventy long years. This ranged from their very recognition as refugees though most of them fail to satisfy the basic criteria for such status, to the unprecedented benefit of a relief agency created exclusively for their welfare (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA), to the unique privilege of passing on “refugee” status to future generations.

Sudan’s Policy in the Era of Arab Upheaval: For Good or for Evil?

| April 13, 2018

Starting in the mid-1970s, the Sudanese identity that initially was molded by the ruling elite as an Arab and Middle Eastern one was transformed into a radical Islamic-Sunni one. The attitude towards Israel – as evidenced, for example, in the pan-Arab “three no’s” of the 1967 Khartoum summit conference – evolved into Islamic hostility towards the Jewish state. Along with other major changes, the removal of Hassan al-Turabi from the political arena (and his death) has led the leadership to consider establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.