Aardvark update

Abu Aardvark has an interesting post on an attempt to pass a law in Jordan that would forbid disrespecting the state. It started as a response to Syrian mockery of the really rather ridiculous "Jordan First" campaign launched by the Hobbit-King Abdullah. Usually when countries adopt a me-first policy, it means that they're about to mess someone else up. Who will it be? And let's not forget that Abu Aardvark's alter ego Marc Lynch has a piece in the National Interest on Al Qaeda's Media Strategies. His trademark interests crop up:
Al-Jazeera is hardly a paragon of Islamist advocacy: Many of its leading news presenters and talk-show hosts are beautiful, unveiled women, and many of its popular figures are determinedly iconoclastic. Its leading Islamist figure, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, is a fierce critic of Bin Laden's form of Islamist extremism (and is regularly castigated in jihadi circles as a dangerous, misguided American dupe). Nor can Al-Jazeera's narrative be reduced to a simple anti-Americanism. It shows the carnage in Iraq, but it also shows democratic elections and gives ample voice to those who condemn Al-Qaeda's Mesopotamian strategy. In its fervent, sustained criticism of the Arab status quo and its advocacy of democratic reforms, Al-Jazeera can sometimes sound surprisingly like an American neoconservative organ.
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Israeli Cassandras?

Yesterday, a senior Israeli military official, Major General Yair Navah, predicted that King Abdullah might be the last Hashemite monarch, causing a stir in Amman:
Naveh noted that at least 80 percent of Jordan's citizens are Palestinian and said that, due to regional threats including Hamas' rise to power, King Abdullah is liable to be the last Hashemite monarch to lead the kingdom. He also warned of the creation of an "Islamist axis" that could topple the regime. These comments, which Naveh made during a lecture in Jerusalem, caused fury in Amman, and Jordan threatened to reduce official ties with Israel. An official in Jordan's embassy in Israel, Omar A-Nadif, said Wednesday that the Jordanian government expects "appropriate measures" to be taken against Naveh. He warned that failing to do so could harm Israel-Jordanian ties.
Today, it was the deputy chief of staff of the Israeli army, who made dire predictions, this time about Egypt. According to Israeli Army Radio, Moshe Kaplinsky told a group of businessmen that "An uncertain situation in Syria is obvious, but even in Egypt we are beginning to see all kinds of first signs of a possible destabilization of the once-solid Mubarak regime." I have no reason to believe that these are just the professional assessments of two senior officers -- not necessarily the hopes or analysis of Israeli intelligence. But knowing that these are issues which are being discussed at that level in the Israeli security establishment is interesting, for two reasons: first, Israeli security assessments have a pretty good track record of accuracy, and second, it raises the question of at what point will Israel decide to intervene, directly or indirectly, to preserve regimes with which it has a long working relationship. Or to put it another way, to what extent is Israel worried about the prospects for Islamists in its neighboring states?
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New "moderate Islamist" paper in Jordan

News from the Hashemite Kingdom of Boredom:
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) - A new Islamist weekly was launched in Jordan on Wednesday aimed at promoting moderation and countering militant "takfiri" ideology, which brands other Muslims as infidels, the chief editor said. The weekly Fact International emerges at a time when Jordan's King Abdullah II has called for a stand against Islamic radicalism, particularly in the wake of a triple suicide attack on Amman hotels in November that killed 60 people. Fact International is an independent weekly, and its chief editor, Hilmi al-Asmar, is a backer of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist opposition movement. The paper aims to "to fight the culture of destruction and militant denunciations of other Muslims as infidels ... to promote a culture of critical thought and awareness opposed to the ideology of 'takfir,'" al-Asmar told The Associated Press. The weekly, whose name is Arabic is Al-Haqeqa Al-Duwalia, has a "modernized Islamic stamp but it does not represent any specific ideology or any political party," said al-Asmar, who is also a well-known columnist for the independent newspaper Ad-Dustour, Jordan's second largest. He said it will "provide alternative and analytical media from an Islamic and Arab perspective." Besides a 20-page weekly in Arabic _ costing about 50 US cents (0.41 Euros), the paper will put out an eight-page English version.
The paper's site is www.factjo.com. A quick glance at the English articles (had problem with the Arabic on browser) showed a paean to King Abdullah and an interview with "sources close to Abu Musab Al Zarqawi" that revealed that he does not like Shias.
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Sussman on Sharon's plans

The second MERIP article I want to link to (here is my post about the first) is by Gary Sussman, a professor at Tel Aviv University. In this important article, Sussman articulates what I've always thought about Sharon's withdrawal plan from Gaza: that it's a sham designed, as Dov Weiglass famously said, to put the peace process "in formaldehyde" and encourage the idea that a Palestinian state already exists in Jordan.
In the long term, the Israeli premier hopes that the Palestinian state will meld with Jordan. His assumption is that unilateral disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, his plan for a carefully managed transition away from direct Israeli rule over the majority of the Palestinians, will set this process in motion. Over time, Sharon calculates, contiguity between “Palestine” and its neighbor to the east, as well as increased trade, cultural ties and the “democratization” championed by the Bush administration, will induce Palestinians on both the West and East Banks of the Jordan to agitate for Palestinian-Jordanian federation themselves. If one assumes that Sharon has quietly held on to his once openly expressed belief that “Jordan is Palestine,” his break with his old supporters among the settler movements and the right becomes easier to understand.
The argument is quite complex and detailed, so it is worth reading the entire article. The article is illustrated by a recent map [PDF, 1.6MB] of Israel and the occupied territories that speaks a thousand words.
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Neighborly relations

Fascinating story in the New York Times today about the Jordanian man allegedly responsible for last week's huge suicide bombing in Hilla in Iraq and the consequences that it is having on Iraqi-Jordanian relations. Raad Mansur al-Banna's family thought he was looking for work abroad until they received a phone call from Iraq last week telling them he had died a "martyr." What I find interesting is that the story was broken by a new Jordanian paper called Al Ghad (no relation to the Egyptian party) and that the reporter has been detained by Jordanian intelligence. One of the details he reported--and which fanned Iraqi outrage and has led to demos and an attack on the Jordanian embassy--was that Al Banna's family took out a large ad calling their son a martyr and inviting others to congratulate them on his death. The article points out that this sort of things enflames Iraqi Shia feeling that their Sunni neighbors are sabotaging them. Anyway, this Al Ghad paper may be worth watching.
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The Middle East's water problem

Chris McGreal of the Guardian has written an interesting analysis of the water problem in the Middle East in light of a recent water deal between Israel and Turkey.
Last week, Turkey agreed an extraordinary plan to ship millions of tons of water in giant tankers to Israel in a deal linked to hi-tech weapons shipments to Ankara. A few years ago the plan was to pump fresh water between the two countries in an undersea pipe, but the project was deemed prohibitively expensive. The tankers will still cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and operate and yet provide less than 3% of Israel's rapidly growing needs, which has led the finance minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to rubbish the scheme as unworkable. Whether or not the deal goes ahead, Israel will continue to lie at the heart of growing competition for limited supplies of water - and disputes about ownership - that underpins the conflict with the Palestinians, afflicts negotiations with Syria and poses some of the hardest challenges to peace in the Middle East.
He also provides some interesting statistics about water usage in Israel/Palestine:
Under the Oslo peace agreement, Israel retained overall control of water from the West Bank. The Palestinians now regret the deal. "The defect is in the Oslo agreement," says Amjad Aleiwi, a hydrologist at the Palestinian Water Authority. "The fact is we can't even drill a well without approval from Israel, while they pump all the water they like into the settlements." More than 80% of water from the West Bank goes to Israel. The Palestinians are allot ted just 18% of the water that is extracted from their own land. Palestinian villages and farmers are monitored by meters fitted to pumps and punished for overuse. Jewish settlers are not so constrained, and permitted to use more advanced pumping equipment that means the settlers use 10 times as much water per capita as each Palestinian. "This has caused us huge problems," says Aleiwi. "Palestinians get less than 60 units a day when the international minimum is 150. The Israeli domestic use alone is 300 to 800 units. It's worse in Gaza. Much of the water is not potable. That's why they have a lot of health problems, a lot of diseases in knees and kidneys. How can it be that Jewish settlers get unlimited amounts of pure water and that just across a fence children have to drink polluted water?"
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