Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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Showing posts for "Israel"

Weekend Reading: Middle Eastern Comic Art, Relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel, and Egypt’s IMF Deal

by Steven A. Cook
A man browses a selection of Islamic books at a shop in the old city of Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters). A man browses a selection of Islamic books at a shop in the old city of Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

Jonathan Guyer explores the history of comic and caricature art in the Arab world and its role in Middle Eastern society.

Michael Koplow examines the costly nuances of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Read more »

The Misplaced Optimism of the Two-State Solution

by Steven A. Cook
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on Middle East peace at the Department of State in Washington (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on Middle East peace at the Department of State in Washington (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters).

In the spring of 1991, when I was a research assistant for the director of studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, I met Joseph J. Sisco. Long-since retired, he had been the assistant secretary of state for the Near East and South Asia and undersecretary of state for political affairs. Among other things, Mr. Sisco (as I called him, even though he told me to use “Joe”) played an important role in Middle East diplomacy in the late 1960s and the first half of the 1970s. I was fortunate that Mr. Sisco took an interest in me. He was generous with his time, and on the few occasions that I published op-eds, he was gracious enough to offer his comments and encouragement. I remember some years later I ran into him on the DC Metro. This was just about the time when the Oslo process was starting to come undone by waves of suicide bombers attacking buses in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other Israeli cities. After greeting each other, I asked Mr. Sisco what he thought about the prospects for continued progress in the context of such gruesome bloodshed. He replied, “Steven, you always have to be optimistic.” That was the last time I saw him in person; he died in late 2004. I am afraid if Mr. Sisco were still alive, his perspective would likely be darker than it was that day aboard the Red Line, especially after the spectacle of this past week. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Shimon Peres, Egypt’s Ultras, and the Kurds of Iran

by Steven A. Cook
Israeli President Shimon Peres reads a newspaper during the Ambrosetti workshop in Cernobbio, next to Como (Paolo Bona/Reuters). Israeli President Shimon Peres reads a newspaper during the Ambrosetti workshop in Cernobbio, next to Como (Paolo Bona/Reuters).

Michael Koplow contemplates the legacy of Israeli founding father and politician Shimon Peres, who died earlier this week.

Karim Zidan takes a look at the Ultras of Egypt, die-hard fans of the soccer club Al-Ahly, exploring the role they play in Egyptian politics and society. Read more »

Israel and Turkey: No Big Deal

by Steven A. Cook
Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (L) shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan at the Elysee Palace July 13, 2008, in this picture released by the Israeli Government Press Office (Avi Ohayon/Reuters). Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (L) shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan at the Elysee Palace July 13, 2008, in this picture released by the Israeli Government Press Office (Avi Ohayon/Reuters).

Many thanks to Brad Rothschild for his help with the Hebrew.

News came over the weekend that Israel and Turkey are making up. There have been on and off rumors to this effect over the last three or four years, but the expected rapprochement never came. There was some hope that Jerusalem and Ankara would patch things up quickly after President Barack Obama visited Israel in March 2013, and as a party favor—a “deliverable,” as it is known in the awful jargon of Washington wonkery—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was Turkey’s prime minister at the time before ascending to the presidency in August 2014, to apologize for the infamous 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. It was not to be, however. Negotiations dragged on with varying degrees of intensity between Turkish and Israeli diplomats in the ensuing years with episodic rumors and press report of imminent breakthroughs. Yet because the foreign ministries in both countries actually have limited influence on foreign policy, it was up to the leaders, and neither Netanyahu nor Erdogan seemed all that interested in a rapprochement. All that said, today’s official announcement that Israel and Turkey are restoring full diplomatic relations was not that much of a surprise. But as important a development as the deal may be, this is unlikely to be the dawn of a new day in Israeli-Turkish relations. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Sarona Attacks, the Islamic State’s Factions, and What Is Ahrar al-Sham?

by Steven A. Cook
Relatives and friends mourn during the funeral of Ido Ben Ari, one of four Israelis who was killed in an Palestinian shooting attack in Tel Aviv, at a cemetery in Yavne, Israel (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters). Relatives and friends mourn during the funeral of Ido Ben Ari, one of four Israelis who was killed in an Palestinian shooting attack in Tel Aviv, at a cemetery in Yavne, Israel (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters).

J. J. Goldberg dissects the nature of the recent terrorist attack in Tel Aviv that killed four.

Tore Hamming examines the different ideological strains within the Islamic State group, focusing on its “extremist” wing. Read more »

On the Road in Israel

by Steven A. Cook
(Photo by Steven A. Cook). (Photo by Steven A. Cook).

When I was twenty-four years old, I moved to Jerusalem. It was basically my junior year abroad, only three years after my actual junior year. I took some Hebrew, began Arabic lessons, and enrolled in a few graduate level classes at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but I did not take these studies very seriously. I spent weekends in Tel Aviv, south Sinai, and the Galilee. I also hung out in East Jerusalem—where I discovered what real hummus tastes like; sorry, Israelis—and ventured into the West Bank any number of times. By the standards set by the second intifada, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians at the time was fairly tame. The first Palestinian uprising was winding down before I even arrived in Israel. Once I got to know the city pretty well, I would walk from the university through Sheikh Jarrah and from there to Damascus Gate for the above referenced hummus. I’d ride the 29 (or was it the 23?) Aleph bus through East Jerusalem just to see if it would get stoned—this was a few years before Palestinian suicide-bombers began blowing up buses. I do not actually remember much in the way of bloodshed during my year living on French Hill, though I am sure there was violence. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Ramlat Bulaq, Bedouin Poetry, and the Islamic State vs. Israel

by Steven A. Cook
A small cruise boat passes Nile City Towers, which is owned by Naguib Sawiris the owner of Orascom Telecom, overlooking the river Nile in Cairo June 7, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters). A small cruise boat passes Nile City Towers, which is owned by Naguib Sawiris the owner of Orascom Telecom, overlooking the river Nile in Cairo June 7, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters).

Omnia Khalil reviews the struggles of everyday life in the Cairene neighborhood of Ramlat Bulaq.

William Tamplin takes a look at Jordan’s most popular Bedouin poet and his use of verse to express Arab political arguments. Read more »

Israelis and Palestinians: And Then What?

by Steven A. Cook
A pedestrian walks in the centre of Jerusalem (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters). A pedestrian walks in the centre of Jerusalem (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters).

In December 1987 the first intifada began after a traffic accident involving an Israeli truck and a Palestinian pedestrian outside the Jabaliya refugee camp set off a wave of demonstrations against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The sudden volleys of rocks pelting Israeli soldiers and the tear gas and rubber bullets in response changed the complexion of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians almost overnight, likely forever. The mighty Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were not traversing the Sinai Peninsula in three days, rescuing hostages in Entebbe, or spending two daring minutes over Baghdad, but breaking teenagers’ bones on the streets of Nablus, Hebron, Ramallah, and Gaza City. David had become Goliath and had no answer for Daoud’s slingshot. The Israelis must have been rattled by the images on television and pictures published in the press because, a few months after it all began, the Israeli consul general started doing the rounds of universities and colleges in the New York area to provide Jerusalem’s perspective on the unrest. I remember attending one such event on a chilly evening in a half-empty room at Vassar’s College Center. During the Q&A a member of the audience recalled an encounter with someone he identified as an “Arab friend in Israel.” He alleged that during a debate over politics his friend relayed that, despite their relationship, he would kill him if and when communal violence erupted. It was an odd non sequitur to what had, until that moment, been an interesting discussion thankfully lacking the overwrought theatrics of more recent conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on America’s campuses. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Syrian Opposition, Iraq’s Identity, and Hamas Holds Back…For Now

by Steven A. Cook
Free Syrian Army fighters, part of the Suqour al-Jabal (Mountain Hawks) brigade, rest with their weapons at their headquarters building in Aleppo, Syria, July 30, 2015 (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters). Free Syrian Army fighters, part of the Suqour al-Jabal (Mountain Hawks) brigade, rest with their weapons at their headquarters building in Aleppo, Syria, July 30, 2015 (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters).

Aymenn al-Tamimi examines the potential for a unified Syrian opposition as a result of Russian intervention.

Harith Hasan al-Qarawee and Matthew Schweitzer outline a strategy to rebuild Iraq’s cultural and historical identity. Read more »

Michael Oren’s Myths

by Steven A. Cook
Israeli schoolchildren hold the Israeli and American flags during a rehearsal for U.S. President Barack Obama's visit at his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres' residence tomorrow, in Jerusalem March 19, 2013 (Baz Ratner/Reuters). Israeli schoolchildren hold the Israeli and American flags during a rehearsal for U.S. President Barack Obama's visit at his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres' residence tomorrow, in Jerusalem March 19, 2013 (Baz Ratner/Reuters).

Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, Michael B. Oren, has been all over the papers, online magazines, and blogs in the last week. He has had opeds in the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Foreign Policy.com, and gave a two part interview to Shmuel Rosner, the political editor of the Jewish Journal. Most of what has appeared are excerpts from Oren’s new book, Ally, in which he recounts his time in Washington. Oren has stirred passions among Israel’s supporters, its detractors, defenders of the Obama administration, and its harshest critics. This is all because Oren’s depiction of President Obama, his worldview, and his administration’s approach to the Middle East is not generous, to put it diplomatically. Read more »