SIGNAL Note
SIGNAL Note 58: The Syrian Wars: A New Chapter Opens in the Golan Heights

This article was originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

The sounds of war have again echoed over the Golan Heights this past week. However, the drums of war have changed their course. Until last summer, we could clearly hear and witness the Syrian war with Syrian and Russian planes bombing rebel positions, occasionally “stray mortar” hitting the Israeli Golan.

However, this week those were Israeli tanks allegedly shooting to Quneitra, just across the Alpha Line and last month it was the roar of Iranian surface-to-surface missiles, flying above the heads of Israeli skiers who surprisingly saw the rendezvous of Israeli Iron dome interceptors.

The sounds of Israeli fighter jets – operating to dismantle Iranian positions, ammunition depots and shipments to Hezbollah have replaced the Syrian ones – have added additional drums of war to the northern horizons. The Syrian war episode may have entered its concluding chapter, but the Israeli-Iranian confrontation is opening a new one.

In the summer of 2018, the Assad regime reestablished its control over the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, restoring Syrian sovereignty and redeploying Syrian Army elements to their pre-war positions.

SIGNAL Note 56: A Break in Saudi and Turkish Relations Could Intensify MBS-Bibi Bromance


After the unfortunate killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has relied on leaks and insinuations to pressure and damage Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s international standing. The tactics deployed by Erdogan have proven to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, leading MbS to lose any hope of restoring the already tense relations with Turkey. For MbS, Israel represents the ideal non-Arab state to integrate into his vision for the region.

Saudi Arabia had close relations with Erdogan since his coming to power. The Saudis positively viewed the ascendancy of Sunni Turkey in the Middle East as a balancing act against Shi’ite Iran. Also, the Saudis welcomed the Islamist orientation of the Turkish government, as it furthered their belief in the imminent rise of moderate Sunnis in the Middle East. However, this close relationship frayed as the threat of Iran grew in intensity due to the Obama administration’s accepting attitudes of Iranian dominance of the Gulf and other parts of the Middle East, and Turkey’s willingness to aid Iranian efforts to circumvent international sanctions.

SIGNAL Note 55: U.S.-China Relations: Israel in the Crossfire?


Introduction
Perceptions can have a decisive influence on geopolitics.

For much of the past half-century, the United States viewed China’s economic growth as benign, contributing to global economic well-being. The resulting accumulation of wealth was considered the initial phase of a process leading to a democratization of the world’s most populous nation. In recent years, those perceptions came into question, leading to American distrust of China. Western understanding of China’s words and actions both at home and abroad reaffirmed the fear that China was becoming a threat to international stability.1 While Beijing promotes its Belt and Road Initiative as a means to bring nations closer together through mutual cooperation, some Americans have come to view it as a form of economic colonialism as more and more BRI projects led to crippling debt.2 Closer to home, Americans are distressed that the “Made in China 2025” policy is a state-backed plan to commandeer the advanced technology sector thereby debilitating the U.S. economy in the decades to come. These perceptions are firmly informing American discourse.

  1. Tiezzi, Shannon, Beijing’s China Threat Theory. June, 2014. The Diplomat Retrieved from: http://thediplomat.com/2014/06/beijings-china-threat-theory/
  2. https://www.economist.com/asia/2018/09/06/the-perils-of-chinas-debt-trap-diplomacy

SIGNAL Note 54: The Story of Middle Eastern and North African Jews in the 20th Century


The Middle East has been home to the Jewish People for over 3000 years. The Jews began developing their unique civilization in the Land of Israel around the 11th century, BCE, and they flourished there until they were conquered by the Romans in the first and second centuries of the common era. In 135 CE, the Romans renamed the country “Syria-Palaestina.”

The Jews were twice exiled from their land, which during the course of history has been occupied by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Muslims, Crusaders, Ottomans and British. The exiled Jews established centers throughout the Middle East and North Africa, beginning in Iraq in 586 BCE. But throughout the millennia, Jews always attempted to return and reestablish communities in their ancient country.

In telling the tale of 20th century Jewry, an important story is often overlooked: the return of the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa to their ancient homeland. There were large, rooted and sometimes thriving Jewish communities in every Arab-Islamic country at the beginning of the 20th century. For instance, during the 1920’s Baghdad was 40 percent Jewish. However, these communities no longer exist.

SIGNAL Note 53: Social-Psychological Considerations for a Community with a Shared Future: Implications for Policy and Practice


China aspires to be a promoter of world peace, contribute to global development, and defend the international order. However, creating a harmonious, peaceful international order is no simple task. As President Xi Jinping explained at the National Education Conference held in Beijing during September of 2018; “Peace is the common aspiration and earnest expectation of all mankind, however, security threats that countries are facing today are increasingly complicated, and the threat of wars still remains.”1 For reconciliation amongst rivals to occur, in any context, requires recognizing them as a legitimate partner in the peace process, and deserving of humane treatment. However, the way children are socialized often confounds this vital precondition, hindering prospects for achieving peaceful coexistence. Policies that ensure that the media and education promote tolerance and acceptance is a critical precondition for realizing world peace.

  1. https://www.chinadailyhk.com/articles/131/136/35/1537426921103.html

SIGNAL Note 52: Israel and the Shifting Arab World


In accordance with President Xi Jinping’s vision for well-ordered international relations, China maintains friendly relations with every country in the Middle East, a region at the intersection of Africa, Europe, and Asia. Given its central geostrategic location, the Middle East will necessarily be included in any comprehensive plan to enhance economic connectivity across the three continents. China recognizes the geo-economic importance of this economic corridor 1, one of six of the Belt and Road Initiative. While strong diplomatic ties are important to the success of the BRI, stability in the region of Middle East is also a must. For example, the Maritime Silk Road passes through the Gulf of Aden, where piracy is rampant. The BRI’s proposed high-speed rail projects are intended to pass through Turkish Kurdistan- a politically fragile area due to the presence of Kurdish statist forces in neighboring Syria and Iraq 2. To address such issues and aid in efforts against piracy, China has adopted a number of security measures, including establishing a base in Djibouti.

In addition to the importance of its geographic position, the Middle East holds significant economic importance to China. Close to half of China’s oil imports are from the region 3. Furthermore, Middle East countries present a variety of opportunities for investment.

  1. http://china-trade-research.hktdc.com/business-news/article/The-Belt-and-Road-Initiative/The-Belt-and-Road-Initiative/obor/en/1/1X000000/1X0A36B7.htm
  2. http://www.maritimesilkroad.org.hk/en/quickFacts/mapsOfMaritimeSilkRoad
  3. http://www.worldstopexports.com/top-15-crude-oil-suppliers-to-china/

A China-Israel Study on The attitudes and perceptions of Israelis towards China, its people, and the Belt and Road Initiative

A joint study led in Israel by SIGNAL and conducted by:

Dr. Li Wei – Research Fellow from the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies (IMES) of China’s Northwest University

Kalman Guyer- E.G.P Applied Economics Ltd. Research and Consulting in Economics, Marketing and Social Sciences

Dale Aluf – Director of Research & Strategy at SIGNALSino Israel Global Network & Academic Leadership

Steps toward Warmer Egypt-Israel Relations


As the international community progresses towards a more interconnected world order, Xi Jinping Thought stresses the need for a paradigm shift in the way countries approach state-to-state relations. According to President Xi, estrangement should be replaced with exchange, clashes with mutual learning, and superiority with coexistence. In accordance with this notion, Israel endeavors to redefine its relationship with the Arab World.

In this SIGNAL Note, international scholar from Egypt, Haisam Hassanein explores Israel’s historically complex relationship with Egypt. While Israel and Egypt have had official diplomatic relations since a peace agreement was struck in 1979, full normalization has never been attained. In fact, Egyptian political officials and journalists have been ridiculed for interacting with Israelis. Elements of the Egyptian media, with the backing of fundamentalist Islamic groups have historically portrayed Jews in a racist light on national television there. In spite of this, Israel remains an essential security and trading partner for Egypt, helping it overcome fundamental challenges to its job market and economy.

Middle East’s dull response to US’s Jerusalem decision shouldn’t come as a surprise

On Dec, 6, 2017, President Trump declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. His decision caused an uproar among Arab and international officials, who warned of impending widespread protests and violence all across the Middle East.

However, those pessimistic warnings have mostly been proven to be futile and overblown. There were protests in some Arab capitals, but they lacked the numbers and enthusiasm to sustain themselves. In short, the Arab reaction was dull, aside from several rockets that were launched at Israel from Gaza. The failure to predict this outcome is the result of not realizing that the actors that motivated protests in the past have primarily been weakened.

In the past, three actors- the Iranian-led axis, Sunni political Islamists, and Arab nationalists and leftist- possessed an outstanding ability to mobilize masses into Arab streets to protest for the Palestinian cause. These actors, however, have lost their power and credibility as a result of grave missteps in the last seven years.

China & Israel Cooperation in Central Asia


Introduction
The BRI is an attractive opportunity for Central Asian states along the New Silk Road. Chinese investment can be a key catalyst for development in Eurasia, helping propel it into the first world by fostering trade routes between East and West. Perhaps no country exemplifies this opportunity more than Kazakhstan. Its economic ambitions and geographic location position it well within the context of the BRI.

A more developed Kazakhstan would provide the BRI with an essential launch pad for expanding China’s planned multinational infrastructure network; lessons learned from the China’s efforts there can be instructive for much of Central Asia. At the same time, the Kazakhstani example presents several pertinent obstacles that should be addressed in order for the BRI to move forward across this complex territory most effectively. For one, the Kazakhstani populace and neighboring countries have demonstrated certain hesitations regarding Chinese development assistance, noting concern that foreign investment will connote a sacrifice of autonomy. Other fundamental questions include China’s ability to help diversify Kazakhstan’s extractive oil and gas-based economy, as well as the current viability of Kazakhstan’s high-speed rail system.1 A closer examination indicates that, to an extent, these questions stem from the BRI’s inherently bilateral nature.

  1. Cai, Peter. “Understanding China’s Belt and Road Initiative.” Lowy Institute for International Policy, Mar. 2017.

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The SIGNAL Note is a Chinese-English publication by SIGNAL's analysts exploring Israel’s Perspective on Xi Jinping Thought & its potential impact on the Middle East.