Two Turkish pilots kidnapped: Ankara is losing its influence in Lebanon

After months of delay in the case of the Lebanese hostages in Syria, an agreement was reached to resolve this issue. But the kidnappers, handled by Turkey, have not fulfilled their commitment despite the release of 43 prisoners from Damascus. The response was quick: two Turkish pilots were kidnapped in Lebanon. Turkey has decided to withdraw its contingent of UNIFIL and urged its citizens to leave Lebanon. It has lost its influence in Lebanon.
Gunman kidnapped two Turkish pilots early Friday as they traveled in a shuttle with fellow crew members from Beirut’s international airport to their hotel, state news reported.
The National News Agency said eight gunmen cut off Beirut’s airport road in the southern suburbs of the capital to intercept a minibus carrying a Turkish flight crew The gunmen kidnapped captain Murat Aktumer and his co-pilot Murat Agca, but left four other crew members in the shuttle, the NNA said.
It is clear that the incident is linked to the abduction of 11 Lebanese pilgrims in Syria, whose families have urged Turkey to use its influence to secure their release. Speaking to Turkish television, Ankara’s ambassador to Beirut Inan Ozyildiz said "the case is being followed closely" and that he was working with "Lebanese forces to free the two pilots."
Eleven Lebanese Shia pilgrims were abducted by a rebel group in Syria in May 2012.
Two men have since been released, but nine others are still missing. The families of those kidnapped have staged protests outside Turkish Airlines offices in Beirut, arguing that Ankara – a strong backer of the Syria rebels – should use its influence to secure the release of their relatives.
There have been several failed rounds of negotiations to free the pilgrims. A representative for the families of the kidnapped Lebanese in a statement denied any involvement in Friday’s abduction of the Turkish pilots.


Beshara Raï, maronite patriarch
«The West supports politically, financially and militarily fundamentalism which undermine the culture of Muslim-Christian moderation that is 1400 years old. If the western support of these fundamentalism continues, Muslims will be pushed extremism. It’s scary and we keep repeating it to diplomats and visiting officials we meet. Lebanon, Syria and Iraq are hostages of a rivalry between Sunnis and Shiites. This adversity is the source of all our crises. In Iraq, there is a Sunni-Shiite conflict. In Syria, there is a conflict. This is what has amplified the conflict in Lebanon

Michel Aoun, Change and Reform bloc leader
«The bloc of Change and Reform will propose a draft law to deal with the issue of Syrian refugees on Lebanese soil. I have contacted the Syrian National Reconciliation Minister who revealed that there is an initiative for allowing these refugees to return to their towns and villages in Syria. Political adventures should not be taken, such as forming a technocrat cabinet or a de facto cabinet, which will take the country to destruction and will not be able to rule the country in case of an incident. Who are the neutral? The neutral people are not concerned with their country’s issues, otherwise they would be activists in a certain direction. You can lift the table with one finger, what can a politically independent person do on their own?»

Samir Geagea, Lebanese Forces leader
«Michel Sleiman is the only remaining symbol of legality. 14-March can only support the legality and stands with the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister-designated Tammam Salam to achieve a neutral government, when Hezbollah involves the country and its future. We know that Sleiman and Salam believe the country cannot remain without a government. We feel that Mr. Salam has changed nothing in his convictions. He did not intend to give up.»

Jean Kahwaji, Lebanese Army Forces chief
«The political contradictions in Lebanon, in addition to the attempts seeking to criticize or support the army for reasons pertaining to politics or elections, will not affect the unison of the military institution at all. The army leadership has always worked in silence and it is keen not to drag the institution to futile arguments. However, due to campaigns against army officers and personnel, the military will not remain silent from now on because some groups have understood the army’s silence as weakness.»

Mohammad Raad, Hezbollah MP
«The cabinet formation process is still unripe. The prime minister-designate Tammam Salam was the first to suggest forming a de facto government which was encouraged by President Michel Suleiman on Army Day. As for the Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, we do not know how ready he is to agree to this proposal because nowadays he is proposing solutions without guaranteeing that the majority of parties would approve of them


• Unidentified gunmen kidnapped Friday evening three members of a Lebanese clan in the east of the country, security sources told The Daily Star. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said gunmen shot at four people from the Ismail family, who were on the outskirts of Britel, and then kidnapped three of them. The fourth member of the clan was able to flee the area and reported the abduction to the police. Local media said the Free Syrian Army was behind the kidnapping.

• The Lebanese Army has arrested two militia affiliated with extremist Sheikh Ahmad al-Asir in the town of Abra, east of Sidon. The security forces arrested late July the personal bodyguard of Sheikh to Beirut airport.

• Security sources quoted by the newspaper Al Akhbar reported that weapons belonging to Syrian workers were discovered in a house under construction in the area Keserwan.

Press review

As Safir (Lebanese daily, Arab nationalist, August 7, 2013)
A source close to Michel Sleiman said that "nobody is so insistent that the President if the Republic for the participation of Hezbollah in the next government and that’s what he personally told the French President Francois Hollande." The same source added that "there is no animosity between President Sleiman and Hezbollah as some try to believe, or between the president and any Lebanese party, except that if a protagonists has an independent project that of the Lebanese state, in this case, it will be in a state of hostility with the entire nation."
The source states that "the philosophy of President Sleiman’s speech on the army anniversary is based on the defense strategy and how to leverage the capabilities of the Resistance." And the source adds: "The President made ​​the distinction between resistance and terrorism, as it is not true that his remarks were directed exclusively against Hezbollah. Any weapon that is going to fight in Syria is illegal and any weapon used inside the nation is illegal. While the weapons are pointed against the Israeli enemy are legal in the context of a strategic system of national defense that it is time to agree on every detail. "

As Safir (August 5, 2013)
It is a divine intervention that allowed Lebanon to avoid a disaster. A bomb exploded in the hands of three individuals who were making a explosive charge at the home of the Imam of Daraya Mosque in Iqlim al-Kharroub, Sheikh Ahmad Abdel Latif Dakhakhni. This town is located near the coastal road in southern Lebanon. According to a security source, It’s not excluded that UNIFIL, a security official or a political party leader were targeted. Available information indicate that Abdel Latif Dakhakhni, who died in the blast, was a close associate of Ahmad al-Asir. The same source reports that police seized maps were potential targets were marked, as well as flags of Jabhat Al-Nosra and a quantity of explosives. Sheikh Ahmad used to recruit fighters to Iraq.

An Nahar (Lebanese daily close to March-14 coalition)
Sarkis Naoum (August 8, 2013)
The circumstances surrounding the formation of the government have become more difficult four months after the appointment of Tammam Salam. Hezbollah and its allies are still at odds with Prime Minister-designate, while enjoying its transparency and honesty. They want guarantees in the new Cabinet. Salam has failed to convince them that he will guarantee. Therefore, informed sources state that Salam resigned at the end of September, resulting in a new round of consultations that might not lead to the appointment of a new prime minister.

An Nahar (August 7, 2013)
Ibrahim Bayram
March 8 circles analyze statements of Walid Jumblatt whether it is a repositioning in the governmental issue. The recent statements of the druze leader show a "constructive ambiguity", considering that these words have several interpretations. March 8 circles responsible for communicating with Jumblatt assistants have not heard, directly or indirectly, information that the Druze leader would consider changing his position.

Al Akhbar (Lebanese Daily close to the Lebanese Resistance)
Ibrahim al-Amine (August 8, 2013)
Near midnight on Tuesday, August 6, an Israeli commando unit began to move from the Palestinian side toward Lebanon’s northern frontier. The unit deployed to several points along the fence before starting to cross into Lebanon nearly 20 minutes later.
The unit followed a path that is in the line of sight of both Labbouna and Jall al-Alam, the two largest Israeli outposts in the western area near the southern Lebanese village of Alma al-Shaab. In the area, there is a narrow footpath that Israeli soldiers have been caught using before, carrying out activities of a security nature.
To cross further into Lebanese territory, the Israeli soldiers had almost no choice but to take a road that bypasses the UNIFIL outpost, while also allowing them to go undetected by the Lebanese army post nearby. This road is nearly 1 km. The soldiers took a few minutes to cross it, moving toward another area containing what resembles a ditch, which the soldiers crossed before arriving at slightly higher ground.
At 40 minutes past midnight, an explosive device containing four smaller devices filled with ball bearings exploded. Exactly 20 seconds later, a similar device was detonated. The two explosions had a blast radius of about 15 meters, enough to hit everything and everyone that moved within the blast zone.
The well-trained Israeli soldiers, as they appeared to be, had been deployed in formations that seemed to anticipate an ambush. They kept a certain distance from one another, while some took cover behind the hills of the same ditch mentioned earlier, and others moved to higher ground. Nevertheless, the intruding unit was dispersed in a matter of minutes.
A firefight ensued, but news of it was suppressed until yesterday evening. A rescue force intervened soon after, along with soldiers from the Labbouna and Jall al-Alam outposts, firing flares in the sky, while moving to evacuate the casualties.
Although the Israeli army needed quite some time to complete the evacuation, it is clear that the Israeli army was also keen to remove, as much as possible, all traces of events. However, the injuries of the soldiers and fear of new attacks, forced the Israelis to withdraw quickly, leaving traces of blood behind. After about four and a half hours, the site of the confrontation was completely deserted.
Meanwhile, and unsurprisingly, UNIFIL stood idly by, doing nothing to investigate the incident. According to a senior officer in the UN peacekeeping force, his soldiers made quick contacts with the Israeli side, which claimed that nothing significant had taken place, and that the two explosions were probably caused by fireworks.
When the Lebanese army detachment in the area received orders to go to the location of the incident, the UNIFIL soldiers tried to go with them. But the Lebanese army asked them to stand by, before asking them later to join the Lebanese soldiers at the site.
At any rate, no one was going to find anything there. Lebanese and international soldiers examined the scene of the confrontation, and all they saw were traces of ball bearings in the trees, and a blood trail marking the Israeli line of withdrawal. The distance by which the Israelis breached the border was determined by measuring the distance between the farthest blood spatter and the Blue Line, and was found to be around 400 meters into Lebanese territory.
It seems that the Israeli unit was tasked to carry out a military operation rather than reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. It is not yet known what exactly the soldiers intended to do during their incursion in one of the last nights of Ramadan, but informed observers believe it likely that the Israelis were preparing for some kind of a military-intelligence operation.
Details remain elusive, but it might be worthwhile to note that the incident took place around the same time as the last few days of the famous July war, when the Israeli army moved its armored divisions and infantry only to be dealt the harshest defeat in its history.
Israel announced that four of its soldiers were wounded in the incident, including three who suffered moderate wounds and a fourth who had minor injuries. Israeli military censors, however, prevented doctors, journalists, and mayors in the northern settlements from disclosing any further details.
Nevertheless, the statements made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon in the aftermath of the incident are sufficient to confirm that the Israeli army was about to carry out some kind of operation inside Lebanese territory. All hints made by the Israelis about “defending the border” practically mean that the Israeli side is admitting to committing the folly of violating the border with Lebanon, before encountering an ambush that only the Resistance could have set up, with explosive devices meant only for the Israelis.
The military analysis and the lessons of the 10-minute encounter have put the Israelis face to face with some embarrassing questions. These questions can also be addressed to those who continue to question the worth of the Resistance, its weapons, and its readiness.
 First, after nearly 30 years of an open-ended confrontation between the Resistance and the enemy, the Israelis continue to encounter unpleasant surprises. Sixteen years after the famous ambush in Ansariyeh in September 1997 – when an elite Israeli unit was routed in a Hezbollah ambush – the Resistance can still demonstrate its ability to surprise the enemy. What will be told in detail later is that the Israeli force fell into an airtight ambush this time as well. Despite the many secrets that continue to engulf the incident near Alma al-Shaab, the Israelis face a difficult question: How did Hezbollah know they were coming?
For the enemy, the obvious conclusion will be that the Resistance remains ready and vigilant, fully prepared to face any Israeli incursion. This readiness means the Resistance still has the element of surprise.
 Second, the ambush demonstrates a serious intelligence failure by the enemy. The ambush was planned in advance, which means that Hezbollah has an intelligence apparatus that allowed the party to learn the time of the Israeli patrol’s incursion, and to subsequently prepare an explosive trap within range from two of the largest Israeli border outposts.
As a result, Israel faces even more embarrassing questions: How did Hezbollah learn about the mission? How was it able – and how did it dare – to set up an ambush in this area without being noticed? How did the Resistance succeed in carrying out its operation and withdraw safely?
 Third, Tuesday night’s incident has revealed not only the readiness of the Resistance along Lebanon’s southern border, but what could be more serious in the eyes of the enemy, namely, that Hezbollah has resolved to counter any Israeli incursion. In other words, Hezbollah has resolved not only to engage Israeli forces breaching the border, but is prepared for any confrontation, including a full-blown war.
Can Benny Gantz, the Israeli army chief of staff, invoke again today his theory of Nasrallah’s “cloak on fire,” which claims that Hezbollah has its hands tied because of its involvement in the Syrian conflict – where it is allegedly losing dozens of its elite fighters, and over which it is coming under immense pressure both at home and abroad?
 Fourth, it appears that Israel has kept a tight lid on the details of the incident, gagging military officials, journalists, and medical staff, and allowing only political officials to speak about the explosion. This could only reflect Israel’s embarrassment and its attempt at damage control.
Indeed, Israel has shot itself in the foot with this incident. After expressing extreme joy for the European Union’s move to designate the Resistance – or what the European fools called the military wing of Hezbollah – as a terror group, what will Lieberman tell EU ambassadors? What will the Europeans themselves say about Israel’s violations? Or will they condemn the Resistance’s ambush because in their own classification Hezbollah is a terrorist organization?
Naturally, none of March 14 leaders will condemn the Israeli violations. They will not go further than issuing meaningless statements that recycle their same old bromides. In fact, it is not far-fetched for those frenzied leaders to complain because entities in Lebanon had violated Resolution 1701, which prohibits the presence of weapons and fighters in UNIFIL’s area of operation.
Only people in the South, who climbed to the roofs of their homes that night to see what was happening, will, on the eve and morning of Eid al-Fitr, remember that while they were staying up after iftar, heroic men slipped silently from amongst them to ensure the integrity of their land and honor, and carry out their duties against an arrogant enemy that never learns from its mistakes. Those men did their job, and returned home before dawn to have the suhur meal with their families, and talk about the celebrations of victory.

Al Akhbar (August 6, 2013)
Nicolas Nassif
Four months after he was tapped to form a new government, Prime Minister Tammam Salam remains confident that he can break the deadlock, blaming both March 8 and 14 for undermining his efforts so far.
On Monday, August 5, he met with President Michel Sleiman, who Salam says has supported him from the very beginning. Both agreed that some sort of salvation government is necessary and that time is running out.
“There is a profound need to form a government,” Salam declares, “in order to deal with social and economic problems that citizens must confront in their daily lives, not to mention the political and security problems and the paralysis that both the executive and legislative branches are facing.”
He insists that despite the obstacles that have been placed before him since the time of his appointment, he will not give up because the people are beginning to demand that a government be formed without delay.
“I said that I will not form a government with any party possessing veto power, as I said that I will not form a government of barricades,” Salam explains. “I support rotating the portfolios and a cabinet of 24 ministers, with eight each” for March 8, March 14, and the centrists.
Asked if he felt that a particular side has imposed impossible conditions, he answers, “At first it was one side, then it became both – March 14 refuses to be in a government that includes Hezbollah, while March 8 rejects any formula that doesn’t include Hezbollah.”
He denies rumors of tensions between him and Future Party leaders Saad Hariri and Fouad Siniora, maintaining that they still support his appointment and want him to continue in his efforts, although he does not consider himself prime minister for this side or the other, but for all Lebanese.
To prove his neutrality and persuade March 8 that he will be even-handed despite being named by March 14, he proposed that he is willing to resign as prime minister if all the March 8 ministers leave the government. “I was criticized for putting myself in such a position,” he says, “but I insisted and proposed myself as a guarantee to all.”

Al Akhbar (August 6, 2013)
Hassan Illeik
In theory, Syrian opposition fighters now have one single commander: Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan. The man, who had a failed military adventure in Beirut, is vying today to alter the balance of power in Syria. But his foes say they will not let him win this time either. Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi intelligence chief, is no ordinary policymaker in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom ruled by his family. According to sources familiar with his history, Bandar is “at once the solution and the problem in his country’s diplomatic crisis.”
To be sure, the “legendary” ambassador in Washington has compensated for the total absence of senior decision-makers in the ruling family, who are either passive by nature, or are incapacitated because of their illnesses – from King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, to Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, all the way to Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz and the Second Deputy Prime Minister Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz.
Bandar is essentially the only member of the House of Saud to have a proactive diplomatic approach, with access to the major decision-making capitals of the world, from Washington to Moscow.
Bandar recently visited Moscow to negotiate in his capacity as the “Prince of the Mujahideen” in Syria, including those who hail from Chechnya, Dagestan, and the Caucasus in Russia’s backyard. From Dagestan alone, more than a hundred fighters are enlisted in the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, which is active in northern Syria.
Many of these Russian fighters and their Syrian comrades are (theoretically) under the command of a single man: Bandar bin Sultan. For one thing, the top Saudi security man is their main financier, arms source, and their virtual political spokesperson, whether directly or through his deputy, the head of the Syrian National Coalition Ahmad al-Jarba.
But Bandar himself represents a problem for Saudi. Unlike the calm diplomacy pursued by Riyadh – even if only superficially – Bandar usually has very unrealistic expectations.
His most recent experience of a military nature took place in Lebanon, after 2006, when Bandar convinced the Saudi king to bankroll a militia for Saad Hariri. Some observers familiar with that experience say that Bandar spent more than $200 million to build this paramilitary force, only for the whole plan to meet a catastrophic defeat in less than 20 hours of fighting, in May 2008.
In Syria, Bandar bin Sultan did not deviate from his usual approach. He has set very high expectations, and today, according to some who met him over the past few weeks, he sees no issue more important than Syria. For instance, Bandar rarely mentions Yemen, Iraq, or Lebanon, except from the standpoint of defeating Iran and Hezbollah in the Levant.
Bandar is optimistic about Syria, and has told those who met with him recently that he has been given up to eight months to arm and consolidate the rebel ranks to tip the balance of power on the Syrian battlefield. Bandar did not say that he wants to dramatically reverse this balance of power, but only to alter it to deny the Syrian regime the upper hand in any upcoming political negotiations.
Bandar has purported that the coming two months will see the efforts to train and arm the opposition start to bear fruit. But the Saudi intelligence chief also spoke to his visitors about the difficulties he is facing, including the fragmentation of the fighters and the inability to train more than 300 rebels each month. Concerning arms, Bandar complained about how the weapons he sends often ends up in the hands of al-Qaeda and its ilk.
Nevertheless, these concerns did not prevent Bandar from wagering on his fighters’ achievements over the next few months. For instance, the Saudi prince wants to see breakthroughs by the rebels in northern Syria, starting in Aleppo, and in the south, where he will try to convince the Jordanian regime to allow fighters and weapons to flow into Daraa and the Golan.
Bandar believes that such breakthroughs would prompt Moscow to accept a political solution in which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would have no role to play. However, it seems that Bandar’s plans, as per what has been attributed to him, ignore the fact that the other side is not sitting idly by.
In Damascus, Beirut’s southern suburbs, Tehran, and Moscow, there are those working relentlessly to thwart Bandar’s plans. No efforts are being spared to this end, including weapons, funding, planning, training, and even personnel.
The Syrian regime’s plans “after the liberation of the central region” will receive the full support of all its backers. The latter, who have been apprised of Bandar’s plans, react by saying, “What Damascus’ enemies have done in the past two years at all levels, would have been enough to topple Assad. They did not lack money, weapons, fighters, or plans. Their problem did not lie in this aspect, but in the fact that we resisted and knew how to prevent them from achieving what they wanted.”
The pro-regime camp asserts that the next phase of the Syrian conflict will be just like the previous rounds, stressing that altering the balance of power would be very difficult – if not impossible – and that Bandar bin Sultan will be driven out of Syria just as he was driven out of Beirut in 2008.

Al Akhbar (August 7, 2013)
Nader Heter, Jordan
Saudi Arabia launched the sectarian war in Syria against the Alawi community to hit the core of the Syrian regime and undermine the morale of many of the officers and soldiers of the regular army. The criminal plan of Bandar bin Sultan enjoys the full support of Washington. American politics is devoid of any moral dimension. By launching his war against the Alawites, the boss of Saudi intelligence try to weaken the regime and force it to accept a compromise subject to US-Israeli conditions.

The Wall Street Journal (American Daily, August 7, 2013)
The second-in-command of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) says that the toppling of Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria is the largest threat to United States national security and may help al-Qaeda acquire chemical weapons. CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell said the prospect of the Syrian government being replaced by al-Qaeda his biggest worry.
Morell’s statement is especially surprising considering America’s official position on the Syrian civil war. President Barack Obama and his officials have repeatedly called Assad a "dictator" who is responsible for more than 92,000 lives lost in a bloody conflict between government forces and rebels -some of whom are openly affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Should the current regime collapse without a stable government to step up to the plate, Morell said the warheads being held by Assad may end up in the hands of America’s adversaries.
The US remains embarked on a plan that would aid Syrian rebels by way of supplying them with arms. With al-Qaeda extremists entwined in that same war against Assad, however, one wrong turn could cause the US to accidentally equip its most feared enemy.
According to Morell, the Syrian government’s weapons "are going to be up for grabs and up for sale" if Assad is ousted. Unless the US has a plan of attack ready for that moment, munitions and warheads currently controlled by Assad could end up in the hands of just about anyone. And with al-Qaeda close to the action, Morell warned that they could pounce on the opportunity to gain Assad’s equipment. "Al-Qaeda has had its own victory as well," he said. "The dispersal of al-Qaeda is their victory."
With al-Qaeda increasing the scope of its operation in Syria, the US could have a whole new front in its war on terror. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 brought American troops to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and later to Iraq. In the decade-plus since, the US has launched drones over locales like Yemen and Somalia to take a stab at diminishing al-Qaeda’s presence. As hostilities increase in Syria, a new adversary could worsen the current situation.
Given what the US has reported about the current Syrian government, al-Qaeda stands to collect all sorts of goodies if they can grab hold of Assad’s goods as well. The White House has insisted that Assad deployed chemical weapons on citizens during the civil war, and the opposition and government have both relied on whatever weapons they can collect in order to fight off their foes. That hostile environment is increasingly being populated by al-Qaeda extremists, and Morell says that’s not good for US security.
Syria is “probably the most important issue in the world today because of where it is currently heading," Morell said. He added that Iran, core al-Qaeda, and the North Korean government are following just behind Syria. "I don’t remember a time when there have been so many national security issues on the front burner as there are today," Morell said.

Vedomosti (Russian Daily, August 9, 2013)
According to arms industry sources, Russia has not delivered advanced S-300 missile systems ordered by Syria although several have been built and Damascus has paid a multi-million deposit.
A batch of the systems was due to be sent to Syria this spring, according to the Russian arms export agency’s contract with Damascus, but the systems are now apparently due for delivery no earlier than the summer of 2014.
President Vladimir Putin said in June that Moscow had not yet delivered the sophisticated anti-aircraft missile systems to the Syrian regime for fear of upsetting the balance of power in the region.
Syria ordered four S-300 systems in 2011 at a cost of $1 billion and two sources in the arms industry told Vedomosti that several of the S-300s have already been built, while the production of the others has been postponed. Syria has paid a deposit of several hundred million dollars, the sources said.
The Russian producer of missiles used in the systems said in April that it had received notice of its contract with Syria being postponed until the summer of 2014.
Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said on a visit to Moscow in July that all the contracts to deliver arms from Russia to Syria were still in place.
Damascus is not expected to push for a quicker delivery of the systems or to demand its deposit back due to Assad’s need for Russian support, a source close to Russia’s arms export agency.

The Los Angeles Times (American Daily, August 10, 2013)
Doyle McManus
The "Arab Spring" may not have succeeded in bringing democracy to the Middle East. But it has provided powerful evidence of a different phenomenon: the illusion of U.S. influence over governments we once considered our clients.
Take Egypt. Before 2011, the Bush and Obama administrations tried to nudge the autocratic Hosni Mubarak toward democracy; Mubarak ignored the advice. Last year, the Obama administration pleaded (gently) with the freely electedd Mohammad Morsi to make his Muslim Brotherhood government more inclusive; Morsi ignored the advice. Now Egypt’s armed forces have seized power and the United States is begging Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi to refrain from cracking down too hard. Will he comply? Not likely. Whatever happened to our leverage as a superpower?
If the United States could be expected to have influence over any institution in the Arab world, it would be the government of Egypt, which collects $1.6 billion a year in American aid.
But two factors have diminished the leverage that the United States once gained by doling out foreign aid: less money and more competition.
First, $1.6 billion doesn’t buy what it used to. U.S. aid to Egypt has been shrinking for most of Sisi’s career. Adjusted for inflation, this year’s $1.6 billion is only about one-third as much as the United States spent on Egypt aid in 1986.
The military portion of that annual aid, $1.3 billion, goes mostly to buying aircraft and tanks made in U.S. factories; the non-military portion, $250 million, is little more than a drop in the bucket for Egypt’s sprawling economy. Sisi and other Egyptians know this all too well — but American politicians often sound as if they haven’t noticed.
And other powers have stepped in to fill the breach. Last month, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait announced that they were rushing $12 billion in economic aid to Egypt to help the military regime stabilize the economy. Those gulf monarchies had an agenda too; they fear the Muslim Brotherhood, don’t yearn for the restoration of democracy, and would be perfectly happy if Sisi cracked down hard. If foreign aid creates leverage, the sheikdoms’ $12 billion trumps our $1.6 billion handily.
Besides, foreign influence in countries struggling toward democracy is a double-edged sword. The Obama administration has managed to alienate both sides in Egypt’s political battle; the Muslim Brotherhood thinks the United States plotted to undermine it, and the military and its secular supporters say the United States is being too hard on Sisi now. All sides, including Sisi, cast themselves as nationalists; appearing to bow to U.S. wishes won’t help the general maintain his sky-high popularity.
In any case, the stakes for Egyptians are too high for U.S. advice to count for much. "We’re a sideshow," notes Steven A. Cook, an Egypt scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations. "If you’re an Egyptian leader, one of your best political strategies right now is to stick it to Washington."
And that’s precisely what Sisi is doing. "You turned your backs on the Egyptians, and they can’t forget that," he told the Washington Post last week. "Talking a lot about aid and U.S. assistance really hurts our pride and dignity… [but] if the Americans want to cut assistance, they can."
The general’s prickliness reflected another paradox: As leverage, foreign aid can be hard to use. Threatening to cut military aid may be a useful way to get Egyptian leaders’ attention; but actually reducing military cooperation could hurt U.S. interests as much as Egypt’s — not only in keeping peace with Israel, but also in counter-terrorism efforts across the Arab world. That’s why the Obama White House quickly walked away from the temptation to call Sisi’s takeover a coup and freeze U.S. aid. Instead, it was left to Secretary of State John F. Kerry to categorize the military’s action this way: "In effect, they were restoring democracy."
For Egyptians, the message was familiar, if not entirely clear: For two decades, American politicians have threatened to pull aid if things didn’t change, but they never dared pull the trigger. This time is unlikely to be much different.
The same limits apply, in different proportions, to U.S. policy in other parts of the Arab world. In 2012, Obama proposed major new funding to support nascent Arab democracies; most of the money never came through. "We’re responding to events of historic consequence with the equivalent of the change we can find in the couch cushions," said Tamara Cofman Wittes of the Brookings institution’s Saban Center, who ran democracy aid programs at the State Department.
That doesn’t mean the United States has no influence over events in the Arab world. It just means we have less sway than we often imagine — and the source of our influence may not be the size of the checks we write.
"We do have leverage, but it’s not where we think it is," Wittes said. "What they want is international recognition. They want to be connected to the rest of the world. And they want our blessing. That may be our most effective leverage."

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