Will Netanyahu Seize the Chance for Peace?

The product of this sad history is today’s three-way division of the Israeli public. An increasingly fervent right rejects a two-state solution in theory (as a violation of God’s plan for Judea and Samaria) and in practice (as a mortal threat to Israel’s security). An enlarged, more skeptical center accepts it in theory but not in practice. A much-diminished left continues to believe in the two-state solution, in theory and in practice.

In the eyes of most Israelis, events have discredited the left’s noble dreams. If centrist politicians offer no alternative—and most have been reluctant—the right will retain the initiative.

.. Yet if Mr. Netanyahu is serious—and not just playing rope-a-dope until the Trump administration exhausts itself in the Middle East—he will do his utmost to broaden the talks by bringing the Saudis, and the Sunni coalition they lead, into the process.

..  If Mr. Netanyahu is skillful and determined, he will seize on the newly strengthened ties between Washington and Riyadh to engineer a similar invitation from the Saudis to meet face-to-face. To make this happen, the Israeli prime minister would have to utter some encouraging words about the Arab Peace Plan, a 15-year-old Saudi initiative, which he did as recently as 2015.

Two parties in the current coalition— Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu—would leave. The leaders of the Zionist Union, Ms. Livni and Mr. Herzog, almost certainly would be willing to join. There is a potential majority coalition for new and broadened negotiations, which only Mr. Netanyahu has the hard-line credibility to lead.

This would be the moment of truth for Mr. Netanyahu’s leadership. Does he want to use his mastery of coalition tactics to maintain himself in power indefinitely, or does he want to be remembered as a man who gambled on changing the course of history for his country?

President Trump’s Arab Alliance Is a Mirage

the Trump administration says it wants to create a military coalition of Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, to fight Islamist terrorism. It was as if Mr. Trump was trying to break his own alliance, described as an “Arab NATO,” before it had even formed.

.. where Mr. Trump sees an alliance united against extremism, the Saudis see a Sunni coalition that will roll back Iran.

.. Saudi-exported, ultra-conservative Wahhabism, which breeds intolerance around the world, is no less dangerous to Western interests than Iran’s support for radicalism, regional meddling and expansionism.

.. our Arab partners could use the anti-Islamic State coalition to go on the offensive, dragging the United States into new misadventures in the Middle East.

.. while Mr. Trump expects a Middle Eastern coalition to leverage the Arabs to do more, they will want to use it to deepen United States military engagement in the Middle East, while doing as little as possible themselves.

.. NATO itself is more than a coalition of common interests — it’s an alliance of shared values.

.. Mr. Trump seems more at home with Middle Eastern autocrats than he does with European democrats.

.. In their absence, an “Arab NATO” will prove to be a hollow enterprise.

Trump wants to push back against Iran, but Iran is now more powerful than ever

Except that now the United States will be facing down a far stronger Iran, one that has taken advantage of the past six years of turmoil in the Arab world to steadily expand its reach and military capabilities.

 .. “In order to confront Iran or push back more fiercely against it, you may find you’re in a conflict far more far-reaching and more destructive to the global economy than many of our allies or American public are willing to bear,”
.. Iran’s alleged quest to produce a nuclear weapon — which Tehran has always denied — has been curbed by the nuclear accord signed in 2015. But in the meantime it has developed missiles capable of hitting U.S. bases and allies across the Middle East and a network of alliances that have turned it into the most powerful regional player.
.. For the first time in its history, the Institute for the Study of War noted in a report last week, Iran has developed the capacity to project conventional military force for hundreds of miles beyond its borders. “This capability, which very few states in the world have, will fundamentally alter the strategic calculus and balance of power within the Middle East,” the Institute said.
.. America’s Sunni Arab allies, who blame the Obama administration’s hesitancy for Iran’s expanded powers, are relishing the prospect of a more confrontational U.S. approach. Any misgivings they may have had about Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric have been dwarfed by their enthusiasm for an American president they believe will push back against Iran.
.. But those familiar with Iran’s behavior in the region have said that they do not believe it will readily surrender its gains.“Any pushing back, the Iranians won’t take it lying down,”

.. “We look at America as our first enemy, the source of all evil on the Earth,” he said. “American interests in Iraq are within our sights and our fire range. If they act foolishly, their interests will be wiped out . . . and we can target their bases whenever we want.”

.. Russia controls the skies over Syria, and Turkey wields influence over the rebels, but Iran holds sway on the ground, through its extensive network of Shiite militias drawn from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have provided the manpower for front lines from the northern countryside of Aleppo, near the Turkish border, to the Golan Heights bordering Israel in the south.

.. Trump’s promises to curb Iranian influence are at odds with his stated desire to pursue closer cooperation with Russia in Syria and also to support Assad, because Iran is allied with both Assad and Russia

.. Alani sees no reason Trump should not easily be able to contain Iranian influence.

“It is a myth that Iran is strong. The only reason Iran is strong is because of U.S. weakness,” he said. “Iran is very thinly stretched. It will not take a lot to contain Iran.”

Turkey’s Erdogan Is Turning Into a Strongman

Country’s president, strongly supported by conservatives, Islamists and nationalists, is accumulating authority, purging thousands accused of involvement in a failed July coup, and ruling by decree

.. A song titled the “Erdogan March” lauds what it calls the lion-hearted protector of the global Muslim community, and became aTwitter top trend in Turkey.

.. Mr. Erdogan delivers daily hourlong speeches, which television stations that haven’t been shut down uniformly broadcast live

..The murder of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey on Dec. 19 capped 10 days of violence, including bombings that killed at least 58 people—volatility that only strengthens Mr. Erdogan’s push for expanded powers.

.. His unfolding efforts to reshape Turkey place Mr. Erdogan in the vanguard of illiberal populism personified by leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.

.. Mr. Erdogan’s movement has been a long campaign against a secular elite installed early last century by Turkish independence hero Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and kept in power by the military.

.. His movement, sometimes called Erdoganismo, is an Islamist-infused cocktail of winner-take-all democracy, nationalism and nostalgia for the past glories of this onetime center of the Ottoman Empire. Those sidelined include the once-dominant secular and West-leaning intelligentsia, along with ethnic and religious minorities.

.. The secret to the power grab is a political base of religious Sunni Muslims who have seen their incomes rise, their formerly circumscribed rights restored, and their pride enhanced by Mr. Erdogan’s policies.

.. Supporters say Mr. Erdogan, who has marshaled nine AKP election victories since 2002, has shown himself a benevolent and capable leader. Dismissing the idea he is autocratic, they credit his skill at developing trust and credibility across society.

.. The narrative is transparent—Erdogan is on a constant march toward absolute power

.. Then his government ousted scores of pro-Kurdish mayors on terrorism charges.

.. Party co-founders have been sidelined or silenced, their names erased from AKP literature.

.. His party swept to power in 2002 after courting European and U.S. policy makers enamored by the thought of an Islamist democratic party in the mold of Christian Democrats like Germany’s.

.. He framed protesters as elitists or foreign agents.

.. He should be handed as much power as he needs, Mr. Toraman in Sivas said, because “he’s restoring Turkey’s historic greatness.”

.. Heartland supporters say outsiders can’t imagine how dramatically Mr. Erdogan’s rule has improved life for Turks once limited by an immutable class system. Seeking treatment for illness was a challenge. Families couldn’t afford to send children to school. Conservative men tell of being ousted from the staunchly secularist military because of their piety.

.. Mr. Erdogan’s party revoked the headscarf law, and her future widened. Now, as she finishes a master’s degree in optical engineering, Ms. Subutay is angling for a coveted job with a defense contractor, Aselsan, which has opened an optics factory in Sivas. Until recently, it would have been impossible for a headscarfed woman.

.. Mr. Erdogan’s appeal also owes in part to a Teflon ability to deflect bad press.

.. The president’s lifestyle has moved beyond comfortable to opulent. He lives in an 1,100-room palace with 1,800 employees.

.. Mr. Erdogan started invoking the phrase “national will” to defend his policies, which primarily cater to his Islamist supporters. Mr. Erdogan has ignored pleas from minorities in favor of rhetoric that galvanizes nationalist feeling and the Sunni majority.

..

In last year’s elections, however, the HDP doubled its previous showing and won 13%. That was enough to deny Mr. Erdogan’s party a ruling majority in parliament.

Mr. Erdogan then accused the HDP of supporting terrorism. He revived scorched-earth tactics against Kurdish insurgents. He froze the peace talks and called snap elections. With voters spooked by rising violence and insecurity, the AKP was propelled back to majority control of parliament.