Trump Plans to Move US Embassy to Jerusalem
Max Blumenthal and Paul Jay on Mike Pence’s announcement that Donald Trump is actively planning to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, going against decades of US policy
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I am Paul Jay. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 was passed by Congress on October 23rd, 1995. It was passed for the purposes of funding the relocation of the Embassy of the United States in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and this was supposed to happen no later than May 31st, 1999. The act would also withhold 50% of the funds meant for the State Department specifically for acquisition and maintenance of buildings abroad as allocated in the fiscal year 1999, and they would be withheld until the United States Embassy in Jerusalem had actually opened. The act also called for Jerusalem to be an undivided city and for it to be recognized at the capital of the state of Israel. Israel’s declared capital is Jerusalem, but it’s not internationally recognized.
The proposed law was adopted by the Senate, get this, 93 to 5, and the House 374 to 37. One can see how bipartisan the American attitude towards Israel is. Every president since passing the legislation, however, has refused to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. That is, until now. On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence says that President Trump is going to relocate the embassy at a gathering to mark the 70th anniversary of the UN declaration to establish the state of Israel. Pence said Trump is planning to make the move.
MIKE PENCE: And beyond the walls of the United Nations, our president is working tirelessly to strengthen the historic friendship between the United States and Israel. I’m pleased to report today that America’s support for Israel’s security is at a record level today. And while for the past 20 years, Congress and successive administrations have expressed a willingness to move our embassy, as we speak, President Donald Trump is actively considering when and how to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
PAUL JAY: Actively planning to move and deciding when and how. Well, Trump has said during the election campaign he would do this but the fact that Pence makes such a point of it now, it sounds like they actually are getting ready to do it. So, now joining us to discuss why now and the significance of the move, if in fact it takes place, is Max Blumenthal. Max is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author. He’s the author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel and his latest book is The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza. He’s also co-host of the podcast Moderate Rebels. Thanks for joining us, Max.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Good to be on with you.
PAUL JAY: If in fact they’re really going to do this rather than just talk about it, and one would think maybe they’re getting serious seeing as Pence made such a point of this, if you agree with that assumption, why now and what do you think the significance of this is?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, I think we need to parse Pence’s words carefully. He said, “We’re actively considering when and how to move the embassy to Jerusalem,” and this was something that the Trump administration has said it’s been actively considering since Inauguration Day. Hasn’t happened yet. Trump has kind of reneged on his vow to do so.
This was an event at the UN with Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, who’s an extreme right winger, who has been a supporter of the settlement enterprise throughout his entire career, he represents the far right wing of Likud, and Ron Lauder, who is one of the major financial supporters of the kind of political enterprise that revolves around Benjamin Netanyahu and international Likud. Lauder is a billionaire and a supporter of the Jewish agency the Jewish National Fund and some of the settlement-related activities of the Israeli government.
So, in a lot of ways, this was sort of a sop to the base. I don’t think it signals any active move at all, but it does tell you, and especially when it’s coming from Pence, and Nikki Haley, Trump’s UN Ambassador, who I always say has kind of rented the space in her brain to neo-conservatives in The Heritage Foundation, was praised at this event. So this is not just kind of something coming from Trump and Kushner. It’s a real initiative from the heart of the Trump administration. But at the same time, there’s pressure in the other direction from the Saudis, from the UAE and Trump’s real partners in the Middle East to strike the ultimate deal. What is the ultimate deal? Well, it entails giving at least part of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority, which would receive massive amounts of financial support from the Saudi Arabia and the UAE. So, to actually move the embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv would be an extremely disruptive move and it would destabilize the situation on the ground.
We have to remember that for the past three years, it’s basically extinguished now, there was what’s known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada, which consisted of knife attacks and various attacks with crude weapons on Israeli security personnel, mostly in occupied territory. And it was spawned by attempts by radical movements within the Israeli right wing and the settler movement with links to the government, most notably the Temple Movement to bring Jewish worshipers to the base of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. And this had sparked a massive instability.
So just imagine what would take place if the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem, basically cut the Palestinian Authority off at the knees and said, “Jerusalem is ours forever.” There are 350,000 Palestinians there, and they basically have their national movement and sovereignty completely eradicated by that move.
I think that the Trump administration is really going to have to think twice before doing this and what we might’ve seen is more red meat rhetoric for the right wing, Likudnik oligarchs who have been supporting the Trump administration through super PACs — Sheldon Adelson, Bernard Marcus, Paul Singer, and also Ron Lauder.
PAUL JAY: I agree with you. The consequences, one would think, would be not good for US policy in the region, which is why every president since this act I mentioned in the introduction was passed has not done it. On the other hand, why the heck say it today and kind of raise the bar of the promise if there isn’t a little bit more momentum behind it? And, of course, one of the main issues you mentioned, one of the main reasons why no president has made this move is because it would not only alienate but completely embarrass the Saudis. But is it possible that the convergence of interest between the Saudis and the Israelis now over Iran and various what people consider probable cooperation at the level of the intelligence agencies and otherwise military, is it possible the Saudis would not put up as big a fuss over it now? Do you think anything has changed on that?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: I mean, probably not. I mean, we have to first assume competence on the part of Mohammed Bin Salman and the American Crown Prince Jared Kushner. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority just refused a phone call from Jared Kushner, who’s in charge of striking the ultimate deal. This has to do with the fact that the Trump administration attempted to close the PLO office, they’ve given them a 90-day extension in Washington, DC. They are taking a much harder line against the PA. And the Saudis and their partners in Abu Dhabi are deeply disturbed by developments in the Gaza Strip. They’re not really negotiating or acting with a strong hand. They’re acting very unilaterally towards the Palestinians. They’ve basically offered the ultimate plan via Jared Kushner as a kind of ultimatum. Then you hear this kind of destabilizing rhetoric from the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip you have new leadership under Yahya Sinwar, who is a figure who is much closer to the military wing of Hamas, the Al-Qassam Brigades than his predecessor, Ismail Haniyeh, who has resuscitated support from Iran to Hamas. Then, you have the reconciliation deal between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and Hamas has agreed to allow the PA and a reconciliation government to control the borders of the Gaza Strip, which would be a major step for Hamas, which essentially won legislative elections in 2006 to rescind that much power, allow the PA to come in under the condition that it can maintain militarization. In other words, the Al-Qassam Brigades stay armed and maintain resistance against Israel. So, this complicates things further.
Hamas has agreed to do this under Egyptian pressure. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the President of Egypt, has said that he will open the Rafah Crossing, which would loosen the siege of the Gaza Strip, under the condition that Hamas accepts this reconciliation plan. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas has refused to accept the reconciliation plan because he will not accept any continued militarization in the Gaza Strip. He wants the Al-Qassam Brigades abolished, as does the Saudis and the UAE. However, Abbas is willing to accept that Hamas has restarted its partnership with Iran, which his why he was summoned by the Saudis to Riyadh on November 22nd for an apparently stormy meeting with Mohammed Bin Salman.
And so you take all these developments together, and it’s pretty clear, along with the extreme right wing direction of Israel, that there’s not going to be a plan, that none of this is going to work out. And then you look at what happening in Washington with the closure of the PLO embassy and a new ambassador in Washington, Zomlot, who is much more savvy than his predecessor, who’s engaging with the Palestinian diaspora in a much more organic way. And the whole two-state solution status quo has been blown up, but the Trump administration and the Saudis really have no latitude right now to act in any concrete way with regard to the Palestinian issue.
PAUL JAY: Now, to remind everyone, we are live on YouTube, we’re live on Facebook, we’re live at therealnews.com. If you have any questions, Max has agreed to hang around for a little bit and deal with some viewer questions, so you can put them in the comment section in any of these different platforms we’re on, or you can tweet us. Also, we’re in our winter fundraising campaign. We have a matching grant. We’re trying to raise 400,000 bucks. Every dollar you donate will get matched and every monthly dollar you donate will get matched for 12 months, and monthlies are very important to us.
Max, part of the context for Trump foreign policy towards Israel and towards Iran for that matter, it’s one of the very few issues that the Democrats essentially rally to his cause. When he did the airstrike in Syria, Chuck Schumer was quoted as saying, “He’s finally acting like a president.” I referred to that congressional act calling for the moving of the embassy to Jerusalem and you saw the vote was crazily bipartisan, as almost as many Democrats as Republicans voted for it. How does that affect his moves here, that he can gain some bipartisan-looking support with this kind of rhetoric?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: I mean, AIPAC’s official position is still in support of a two-state solution, and what that means is essentially continuing negotiations that allow Israel to establish new facts on the ground without any real timelines or clear parameters or maps. It’s been a very effective formula for Israel ever since the signing of the Oslo Accords in ’95, so I don’t know if the, and AIPAC kind of determines where the Democrats are going to fall down on any issue, so I mean, it’s unclear to me if the Democrats or even, then you have the issue of the State Department and where Rex Tillerson stands. I mean, I know he’s gutting the State Department, but Rex Tillerson tends to support the status quo on Israel-Palestine. You also have the Jordanians to consider. So, the Democrats on this one particular issue, I don’t know if they’d go along with it, but they also have not put up any obstruction in any meaningful way to Israeli settlement expansion.
Going back to the PLO issue or the closure of the PLO offices, diplomatic consulate in Washington, my friend Ali Abunimah made a good point, which is that this provides actually an opportunity for the Palestinians to reject funding from the US Congress, which comes in bipartisan fashion for the Palestinian Authority and it’s contingent on the PA maintaining its security coordination with Israel in the West Bank. This is the life blood of the occupation. This funding and this security coordination between the Palestinian Authority, which controls Area A, which are the areas in Palestinian cities, and the Israeli military, which controls Areas B and C, the outskirts of the cities and then the kind of hinterlands, is the oil of the occupation machine. And the moment that the Palestinians refuse security coordination, that’s the moment they begin to resist the occupation in earnest.
And you can see all this pressure coming down on them from all sides to essentially take a deal that would reduce them to Bantustans that are even smaller than those proposed in Camp David. This is the ultimate deal I’m referring to through the, that kind of has been negotiated from the Trump-Saudi-Tel Aviv axis. We have an opportunity for actual resistance here.
PAUL JAY: For people that don’t know some of the detail or what it’s like on the ground, explain what that means for the PA to be responsible for security in areas of the West Bank.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, that means that the Palestinian Authority essentially arrests inside cities that are technically controlled by the PA. Their police forces arrest Palestinians on behalf of the Israeli military, so the Israeli Civil Administration, as it’s known, which is actually the military occupation administration of the West Bank, the colonial administration, will give the PA security forces the actual names of people it wants arrested, and they will break into their homes in the middle of the night, I’ve actually seen it happen in downtown Ramallah and take them to prison on behalf of Israel.
This is something that has hardly ever happened in a settler-colonial administration, where the settler-colonial regime has been able to compel these colonized population into policing itself. So, the PA has been transformed into an occupation subcontractor and because of the sectarian nature of the PA, that it is exclusively Fatah, it serves as a convenient means for it to whittle away and marginalize other groups like the PFLP and, particularly, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad that are considered political rivals. And that’s been what has kept Mahmoud Abbas afloat for the better part of the last decade.
PAUL JAY: Then, how do you explain this reconciliation agreement with Hamas, which at least on the face of it, Israel was rather unhappy about?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I mean, Israel’s always kind of contradicting itself. It’s saying it can’t negotiate with a divided Palestinian polity but then whenever the Palestinians sign a reconciliation deal, Netanyahu or pretty much any other prime minister would say that Hamas is a terror group that has ties to Iran and they cannot negotiate with any government that has terrorists in it. So, they’re pretty much opposing any form of negotiations, but especially a reconciliation deal. And it’s the divided Palestinian polity that has really been the greatest boon to the persistence of Israel’s occupation.
PAUL JAY: The questions coming in, we’ve got a question from Ben on YouTube. “How likely is a,” he says, “US invasion of Iran under Trump in your opinion?” I don’t know about invasion, but serious destabilization. I don’t know if they’re a even “military attack.” I don’t know. What is Trump’s, you think, real objective here?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: I don’t think any attack on Iran directly is possible. Israel’s, sorry, Iran’s military deterrence is absolute, and it’s even announced in the past two days that it would extend the range of its ballistic missiles to 2,000 kilometers if Europe participated in any hostile military activity against it. It’s unthinkable. Saudi Arabia’s attempting to create pressure via Lebanon on the Israeli military to attack Hezbollah, which is considered by Saudi Arabia and Israel to be an Iranian proxy, and that would be the key target here.
Can Israel do it? Well, first of all, you have to consider Hezbollah’s military capacity. They’ve been engaged for the last three years in a kind of counterinsurgency campaign along the borders of Syria to clear out al-Qaeda and ISIS-related elements. They succeeded stupendously and developed offensive military capacity. Israeli internal military documents or assessments have warned that in the event of any escalation or all out war with Hezbollah, Hezbollah could actually take towns in the north of Israel. So, this is something for Israel to consider along with the massive stores Hezbollah’s compiled of rockets. We’re not just talking Katyusha rockets or Grad rockets but rockets that might be able to reach beyond Haifa all the way to Tel Aviv, as well as missiles that could sink Israeli destroyers.
Then, you have to consider the domestic situation in Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu remains the most popular political figure in Israel. He is in charge of a coalition that stands to gain, or sorry, a party, the Likud party that stands to gain 24 seats if the, or sorry, 21 seats if the election were held today. However, his popularity is sliding slightly because he’s facing corruption charges that could actually lead to criminal prosecution over gifts he’s taken from American Jewish oligarchs, over deals he’s made for submarines with Germany. It’s coming at him from all different angles and the Israeli Knesset has just agreed to pass a law that would make it harder to prosecute Netanyahu. They’re basically going to insulate him from prosecution, which really shows how far to the right Israel’s gone and how its image of democracy is fading away. But there’s been some speculation that under the right amount of political pressure, Netanyahu would attempt to start a war with an Iranian proxy like Hezbollah.
Then, the third point to make is that Israel, earlier this year, admitted that it had attacked Syria through its air force over 100 times and these attacks continue because of the fear of Iranian proxies, which are just Shia militias, which have substantially replaced ISIS and al-Qaeda, groups that never attacked Israel and in many ways, were tactical allies of the Israeli military in the Golan and areas along Israeli frontiers in Syria. So, there’s this trepidation within the Israeli military intelligence apparatus about what they falsely refer to as Iran replacing ISIS. Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has even admitted that there are no Iranian military units in Syria but there are units of militia groups that are hostile to Israel and that will take the fight to Israel. And so this could lead potentially to an escalation in Syria, but again, at this point, I don’t think if you look at the whole picture from the domestic situation in Israel to the situation on the ground in Syria and Lebanon, I don’t think an escalation in the near future is coming.
PAUL JAY: I’m reading in Haaretz, there was an article recently, the Saudis want Israel to fight Hezbollah to the last Israeli. At the same time, in this article and some others, there’s a sense of inevitability, that it’s only a matter of time until there is an all out war with Hezbollah, that they can’t allow Hezbollah to continue to just gather strength and that the Saudis want it badly as well. As strong as Hezbollah is, do you think this is off the table, that it’s just rhetoric or that they’re getting ready is some way to do this?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: I would say it’s a very grave situation for this Israelis. I mean, you do see op-eds from figures even connected to the Labor Party who are in the military intelligence establishment that are advocating at some point in the future a campaign against Hezbollah because their military capacity has been strengthened and it continues to strengthen because of what’s seen as kind of the Shia land bridge from Tehran through Baghdad, through Damascus, all the way to southern Lebanon. But the land bridge isn’t really needed. The only thing that’s needed is Syria to southern Lebanon. But in any case, there is a definite sense of fear within the Israeli military intelligence establishment about Hezbollah’s capacity.
If we go back to 2006 and remember how that escalation began, that war, a war in which the Israeli military received a bloody nose from Hezbollah, it started with the kidnapping of a group of Israeli soldiers in what is occupied territory in Lebanon by Hezbollah. And Condoleezza Rice called for “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.” This foolish decision on the Bush administration to launch what was really a pilot program for attacking Iran and it went completely awry. It really turned out to be the episiotomy of the new Middle East.
And this is another thing for the US and Israel to consider, but Mohammed Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia has really proven himself to be irrational, foolish and sort of myopic, devoid of any real strategy, so anything could happen. I’m not going to completely rule it out. I just think it would be extremely foolish. It would be extremely foolish for the Israelis and the Saudis, and the US also has an embassy to take care of in Baghdad with a government that is very close to Iran right now so the inspiration is there.
PAUL JAY: I said US invasion of Iraq would be so foolish I could never believe it would happen but foolishness does not seem to be ruled out in these quarters. What’s the significance of the US drone base, which is newly established in Israel? It’s going to focus on anti-missiles coming from Hezbollah. How serious a strategic move is that?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: I don’t know. Israel has its own drones and it actually produces drones. It’s one of the top drone exporters. Israel’s offensive weaponized drones are more significant than anything the US can offer, and the US is constantly cooking up these deals with the Israeli arms industry to produce, like David’s Sling and the Arrow system, which are anti-ballistic missile and anti-rocket systems. The Iron Dome system. So, this is just another added element of the massive US aid package, which increased under Barack Obama to something like $4 billion a year to the Israeli military.
PAUL JAY: It also seems like it might be being hung out there. If there is a conflict with Hezbollah, Hezbollah, in theory, would try to hit the US base.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: It could. The US has not just established a drone base. My understanding is they’ve established a physical base inside Israel and that could create another dangerous dimension in any military conflict. But I would think that, to the extent that Hezbollah’s rockets can be aimed, they’d be aimed at Israeli military installations and entire cities could be engulfed in rocket fire. Haifa, which is one of the three largest cities in Israel is well within striking distance of any Hezbollah rocket system.
PAUL JAY: I think it is important to make clear, as far as I understand Hezbollah, and I’ve interviewed them, I think you have, too. Rocketry and so on of Hezbollah is really defensively positioned. Hezbollah’s not in an offensive mode but that is the way it gets portrayed certainly inside Israel and the Israelis outside, that somehow Hezbollah represents an offensive threat.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, Hezbollah has proven itself to be an extremely rational and patient actor in the current crisis that was created by Mohammed Bin Salman, who’s really this hot-headed millennial who’s in charge of Saudi Arabia at this point. The summoning and de facto basically kidnapping of Saad Hariri, who is the president of Lebanon, a figure who comes from the Future party, a party that had been funded by Saudi Arabia, which was seen as sort of an enemy of Hezbollah and an enemy of Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, Hezbollah’s performance during that crisis, where it was able to mobilize national unity among all factions in the Lebanese political system in support of the return of Hariri to the presidency, really demonstrated that this political movement is very strategic, very calm and that it does not actually seek to dominate all of Lebanon, and it succeeded. The resignation of Hariri has been “suspended” and essentially rescinded and Hamas’ strategy proved very wise.
So, to call them a terrorist group is also something I would consider to be hyperbolic. Hezbollah has no intention of attacking Europe or the US. Maybe in its early inception there were some attacks but in its current incarnation, it is the absolute opposite of the Sunni extremist groups like al-Qaeda, these takfiri groups and particularly the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which maintain an intention to attack soft targets across the West.
And yet, it’s the West, particularly the United States, that’s directing sanctions against Hezbollah’s sponsors and seeking to pardon the Israeli military as it pushes for conflict with Hezbollah. And at the same time, the US has pumped billions and billions of dollars in arms and support through Turkey with the help of Qatar and Saudi Arabia into the arms of takfiri rebels from al-Qaeda and their allies. So, it’s just like the whole understanding of counter-terrorism in the US is upside down.
PAUL JAY: We’ve got a question here from Tucker Allen on Facebook. “Max, do you think that the Saudis might mount a pro-Palestinian PR campaign to regain some legitimacy in the eyes of the Arab street in light of all the miscalculations? For example, Syria, Qatar.”
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, we’ve seen in recent days a top Saudi cleric who is very close to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman announce or proclaim that is forbidden to commit acts of violence against Israelis. And at the same time, Gadi Eizenkot, the chief of staff of the Israeli military, has announced that Israel and Saudi Arabia, their militaries are formerly sharing intelligence. So, any hint of any pro-Palestinian noises from Riyadh to win over the so-called Arab street, that notion is just laughable at this point.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, they don’t seem to care. In fact, wasn’t this Israeli general’s interview on a Saudi news platform?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I think so. I think it was…
PAUL JAY: Which is kind of unheard of, supposedly, for the Saudis to give the Israelis an interview platform.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. Well, we’ve also seen Benjamin Netanyahu announce his desire for direct flights from Israel to Riyadh and the normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia. So, I mean, there’s always been this relationship with Israel and Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia’s always been a kind of an imperial handmaiden throughout its history. That’s why it was established with the help of the British. But now, the mask is off and it’s just completely out in the open. And the question is who’s more anti-Palestinian, Mohammed Bin Salman or Benjamin Netanyahu?
PAUL JAY: A question from Merlin 00:32:26 on YouTube. “Part of the war on Yemen is the Saudi blockade but the blockade is only effective because Western navies assist in the interdiction campaign.” The atrocities taking place in Yemen and the role of the West in collaborating in this is not very much highlighted, let’s put it that way, in mainstream news coverage of the situation.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I mean, 60 minutes produced a special and broadcast a special a week ago on the situation in Yemen and it featured a US aid worker as kind of the savior of the cholera-addled, starving Yemeni people. I forget this name, who the aid worker was but he blamed all sides and said all sides are guilty, and that was kind of the narrative that 60 minutes put forward, was that Iran and the Saudis and the US are equally guilty. But the US role was never discussed.
We’ve reported at AlterNet’s Grayzone Project that Ken Klippenstein reported on how the US helped a Saudi jet refuel so it could attack a funeral parlor in Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, in an attack that killed over 100 civilians. This has been going on consistently. Saudi jets, which are supplied by the US, they’re F-15s, are refueled in air by the US, and that’s the US’ primary role along with target selection. Target selection has not been very accurate. The last month in Yemen has been one of the worst for civilians there. And then you have the British, who are selling arms to Saudi Arabia and also participating in this campaign.
And you’re right, it is not, you’re actually seeing for the first time I think, a flurry of concern within the mainstream media in the US about the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen but there isn’t any accountability or self-reflection. The US has to be identified as the primary culprit and the driver of this campaign.
PAUL JAY: I think the UN is saying, if I remember correctly, the famine developing in Yemen could engulf three to four million people. In other words, a kind of genocide.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. I think the UN has also said that 130 children die per day in Yemen. This is worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world and it started in Washington.
PAUL JAY: All right, two more questions and then we’ll have to call it. How stable is Saudi Arabia? How many failed actions by Bin Salman will the military and the others tolerate before they try to depose him?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, speaking as a non-expert on Saudi Arabia, I can simply note that in Mohammed Bin Salman’s purge, he had the heads of every major Saudi media organization, at least all of the satellite channels like NBS, which are responsible for broadcasting most coverage that people across the Arab world see outside of Al Jazeera, had them arrested. Something like $100 billion in assets has been seized. Waleed bin Talal, one of the wealthiest Saudi princes was arrested.
And these figures are being asked to relinquish 80% of their personal assets under a so-called anti-corruption campaign. There’s no doubt these are corrupt characters, but Mohammed Bin Salman is the owner of, I think, a $500 million yacht. So, this is a power play, and Bin Salman arresting his cousins, he’s walking a fine line. It’s unclear whether he’ll last another year or two, in my view but the question is how deeply he’s willing to purge and to what extent he’s going to take an iron fist, all of the opposition he’s building up.
There was one line from Thomas Friedman’s ridiculous love letter to Mohammed Bin Salman, where he cast him as a kind of small deed democrat who’s carrying out an Arab Spring, where Friedman said he didn’t meet anyone who opposed what Bin Salman did. And you could say that’s ridiculous, Saudi Arabia’s an authoritarian society, people don’t express opposition openly and there really is no political culture or notion of dissent in Saudi Arabia. But a friend of mine recently traveled there and said that many of the youth do support what Mohammed Bin Salman is doing. There is a liberalization process allowing women to attend sports events, for example. We can’t underestimate that there might be some popularity. However, the way he’s targeting Saudi elites, he may have put a target on his back.
PAUL JAY: Okay, final question. Switching topics to some extent. Max Cronenberg on Facebook. “Israel regularly attacks Gaza to ‘renew its deterrence capacity.’ Are there any signs this is going to happen soon?” And we’ve heard Israelis talk about “mowing the lawn,” regularly attacking Gaza. Also, with Netanyahu in political trouble, are there any signs that this might be coming?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: I don’t see any signs of it coming. Mowing the lawn is kind of the grim and even genocidal language that Israel uses to describe its deterrence strategy towards Gaza and it essentially means demoralizing the civilian population and reducing its support for armed resistance by directly attacking the civilian population, referring to civilians as kind of blades of grass who are brought down to size every two to four years.
Hamas is in a process of kind of calm, of breathing. It needs a breath of fresh air after the devastating assault in 2014 which destroyed something like 100,000 homes in the Gaza Strip. It’s engaged in negotiations, as I mentioned before, over the reconciliation deal and it’s unclear how that’s going to shake out. Resistance from Gaza is at a low ebb right now, and when a rocket does fly into Israel, it tends to be from a rogue Salafi faction, one of factions which are openly opposed to Hamas. Meanwhile, the Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, are attempting to keep the peace and abide by the ceasefire. So, I don’t really see that coming.
Then, the final factor which might deter Israel is that an attack on the Gaza Strip might bring in Hezbollah. If you remember from the last Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip in 2014, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, announced that he would not allow Gaza to fall. He would not allow, in other words, Israel to take the Gaza Strip back from Hamas and would have joined in the battle. There is no indication that that was going to…
PAUL JAY: But Israel doesn’t want to do that, do they?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: The defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who actually isn’t really a major player here, he doesn’t have a lot of credibility in the military intelligence establishment, has said he wants to do that. He wants to march on Gaza, Gaza City. But there was an assessment in 2014 that some of the generals put together for the political leadership in Israel that suggested a kind of Stalingrad situation, tens of thousands of deaths. The Israeli public has demonstrated that it can’t withstand lots of casualties within its military. And so, I would say that a campaign like that is pretty much off limits.
PAUL JAY: All right. Well, thanks very much for joining us, Max.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me.
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