From the transcript of a 20 March 2017 BICOM briefing with Moshe Ya’alon*:
The Middle East is going through the greatest crisis since the days of Muhammad. We’ve seen the Arab Spring become the Islamic Winter. We have witnessed ongoing internal conflicts, including the Syrian civil war, which has produced more than half a million casualties and has resulted in the majority of the Syrian population becoming refugees, some within the country, others in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Europe.
I don’t see an end to this crisis. There will be chronic instability for a long period of time. I don’t see stable transition from the tyrannical regimes which have been removed. I don’t see a return of the old ideologies of Nasserism and Pan-Arabism. And those who believe that ‘Islam is the solution’ are frustrated.
Three radical Islamist movements
What we see today is a conflict between three different radical Islamist movements each seeking hegemony in the Middle East and beyond.
First, there is the Iranian ideology that seeks to export the “Islamic revolution”. They have reason to feel they have been successful so far. As well as Tehran, the Iranian regime is dominant in Baghdad through the Shi’a government, in Damascus by supporting President Bashar al-Assad, in Beirut through Hezbollah, and in Sana’a [in Yemen] through the Houthis. Iran is challenging the US in the region; we see them firing at American vessels. A grave concern for the region is Iran’s aspiration to develop a military nuclear capability. There will be a delay for about a decade as a result of the 2015 nuclear deal, but Iran will remain a serious challenge for Israel, for the Sunni Arab regimes and for the Western world. Iran’s belligerency is the result of the vacuum created by the former US administration. At present we have little idea of the current US administration’s policy, so Iran will see what it can get away with in the meantime.
The second radical Islamic movement seeking hegemony in the region is the Sunni jihadists; whether it is ISIS or Al-Qaeda, their aim is to impose an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East and beyond. ISIS succeeded in establishing Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, Syria, Sinai and Libya. The Sunni jihadists – especially ISIS – have too many enemies in the region. However, the fight against ISIS continues.
The third element is Turkey. President Recep Erdoğan is the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, and seeks to create a neo-Ottoman empire based on the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. He has acted with this goal in mind for a long time. He supported ISIS economically by buying oil because they were willing to kill the Kurds. He allowed trained and experienced jihadists to come from all over the world to join ISIS to fight in Syria and Iraq, and to go back to their own countries, especially to Europe, and we have witnessed the consequences of this.
For a very long time, Erdoğan didn’t just allow illegal immigration, he facilitated it. We are not only talking about refugees. I went to Greece in February 2016 and was briefed on illegal immigration from Turkey to the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. There were more than 800,000 illegal immigrants coming from Turkey to the Greek islands. Most were illegal immigrants from Morocco and Pakistan. There was no war in those places. The Greeks also claimed that Turkey subsidised flights from Marrakech to Istanbul for US$50. My conclusion is that Erdoğan aims to Islamise Europe.
These developments are consequences of the vacuum created by the US. I’m not sure what will come now with the current administration. We must wait and see....
*Ya’alon is a former IDF Chief of Staff, and served as Israel’s Defence Minister from 2013 to 2016 until disagreements with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led to his resignation. Ya’alon has announced the formation of a new political party and his intention to run for Prime Minister. He is likely to have a major role in determining the composition of the next government in Israel. In this briefing he discusses the security challenges facing Israel and the wider region and the prospects for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.