Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Israel and Turkey: No Big Deal

by Steven A. Cook Monday, June 27, 2016
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: Between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain’s Illusions, and Egypt’s Brexit

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 24, 2016
Human rights activists, Zainab al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab (R) talk during their meeting with activists after al-Khawaja's release from prison, Manama, Bahrain (Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters). Human rights activists, Zainab al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab (R) talk during their meeting with activists after al-Khawaja's release from prison, Manama, Bahrain (Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters).

Giorgio Cafiero and Joshua Hodge explore how the smaller Arab Gulf states perceive Iran in different ways than Saudi Arabia, whose position often dominates Gulf policy on the issue. Read more »

Saudi Arabia’s Gamal Mubarak

by Steven A. Cook Monday, June 20, 2016
Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reacts upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France (Charles Platiau/Reuters). Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reacts upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France (Charles Platiau/Reuters).

The deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, was in Washington last week, arousing all the usual questions about what is going on in his country. Is it stable? Is the crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, in good health? Has the deputy crown prince, who is the son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, already eclipsed the crown prince, the king’s nephew? Nobody knows for sure, of course, but Saudi watchers and other observers keep trying to guess anyway. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Libyan Identity, an Alawite State, and Cairo’s Ramadan Lanterns

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 17, 2016
A woman with her daughter look at a stall selling festival lights and Ramadan lanterns, or "fanoos Ramadan", at Sayida Zienab district market during the first day of Ramadan in old Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters). A woman with her daughter look at a stall selling festival lights and Ramadan lanterns, or "fanoos Ramadan", at Sayida Zienab district market during the first day of Ramadan in old Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

Nada Elfeituri discusses the politics of identity and tribalism in Libya as civil strife continues to unfold.

Stefan Winter examines a 1936 pro–Syrian unity petition by Sulayman al-Asad, grandfather of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who pushed against the creation of an Alawite state. Read more »

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

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 10, 2016
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 »

Weekend Reading: Tunisia’s Beggars, Post-Islamist Islamists, and Assyrians in Syria

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 3, 2016
2016Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (L), talks with Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement, during the congress of the Ennahda Movement in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters). 2016Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (L), talks with Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement, during the congress of the Ennahda Movement in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters).

Inel Tarfa interviews street beggars in Tunis, who express a complete lack of faith in the Tunisian government.

Nervana Mahmoud remains skeptical of Rachid al-Ghannouchi’s plan to divorce political Islam from his Tunisian Islamist party Ennahda. Read more »

On the Road in Israel

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, May 31, 2016
(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 »

Memorial Day Weekend Reading

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 27, 2016
Almost three thousand American soldiers—of whom 287 remain unknown—are buried just outside of Tunis (Photo by Steven A. Cook). Almost three thousand American soldiers—of whom 287 remain unknown—are buried just outside of Tunis (Photo by Steven A. Cook).

In the national collective memory of World War II, the North African campaign is often forgotten. Almost three thousand Americans were killed there in battles that took place between 1941 and 1945. Some of the earliest direct engagements of the war between U.S. and German forces took place in Tunisia, between the cities of Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine. There is no better book about this period than Rick Atkinson’s An Army At Dawn. Enjoy.

Drinking From the Nile

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, May 25, 2016
A view of the Nile from Zamalek (Photo by Steven A. Cook). A view of the Nile from Zamalek (Photo by Steven A. Cook).

There is an Egyptian saying that goes like this: “Once you drink from the Nile, you will come back again.” I first drank from the Nile in June 1993 and I have been coming back ever since. That said, I took an almost two-year hiatus from Egypt that lasted from April 2014 until last week. I stayed away for a variety of reasons, from the general—I was growing weary of airplanes and I ached for my daughters on long trips—to the specific—I needed to actually write the book I had been talking about for the previous few years, but also, quite frankly, out of fear. Read more »