Commentary Magazine


Topic: Eritrea

Can Israel Solve Africa’s Economic Woes?

One of the leading talking points of Israel-bashers these days is the treatment of African economic migrants who have illegally crossed into the Jewish state. Nearly 60,000 of these people who are for the most part from the Sudan or Eritrea and have no ties to the country or claim on its people have made their way to Israel in the last several years. In a nation of only seven million people living in a country the size of New Jersey, that’s the equivalent of about 2.7 million illegal immigrants showing up in the Garden State. As such, a group of this size arriving uninvited present a huge problem for any nation, even one whose entire identity is based on immigration, as is Israel’s.

But instead of sympathy or perhaps a helping hand from an international community that surely bears more responsibility for the plight of people from the Horn of Africa than Israel, its struggles to deal with this insoluble problem have become yet another club with which anti-Zionists seek to delegitimize the Jewish state. This is hypocrisy of the first order and the inordinate attention given these Africans by the Western media—such as the article published today by the New York Times—in a world where tens of millions of refugees and economic migrants are to be found, once again illustrates the double standard by which Israel is judged on any conceivable issue.

It is to be conceded that not everyone in Israel has behaved appropriately toward the migrants. Anger, insults, and threats from people in neighborhoods where illegals have concentrated, as well as from a few rabble-rousing politicians, hasn’t helped the country’s reputation. The plight of people stuck in limbo without legal status where they are and nowhere else to go should arouse the sympathy of any decent person. But the notion that it is somehow Israel’s responsibility to cope with the impact of economic distress in the Horn of Africa is not a defensible or reasonable position to take.

Were that many people to show up in virtually any country in the world, especially all the other countries of the Middle East which are ruled by various kinds of tyrants, it doesn’t take much imagination to consider the kind of treatment they would get. But in democratic Israel where Jewish religious values about welcoming the stranger are part of the culture, these African newcomers have been spared the sort of abuse they would have gotten anywhere else in the region. Indeed that, and the fact that Israel has a booming First World economy, is the only reason why so many have tried to sneak into Israel to find work. Were they just a few, they might well have been allowed to stay. But once the number reached the tens of thousands, with many working illegally and with some committing crimes, that wasn’t an option. Since deportation back to their home countries would likely result in dire consequences for the migrants and no one else wants them, Israel is stuck with them until someone can come up with a solution.

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One of the leading talking points of Israel-bashers these days is the treatment of African economic migrants who have illegally crossed into the Jewish state. Nearly 60,000 of these people who are for the most part from the Sudan or Eritrea and have no ties to the country or claim on its people have made their way to Israel in the last several years. In a nation of only seven million people living in a country the size of New Jersey, that’s the equivalent of about 2.7 million illegal immigrants showing up in the Garden State. As such, a group of this size arriving uninvited present a huge problem for any nation, even one whose entire identity is based on immigration, as is Israel’s.

But instead of sympathy or perhaps a helping hand from an international community that surely bears more responsibility for the plight of people from the Horn of Africa than Israel, its struggles to deal with this insoluble problem have become yet another club with which anti-Zionists seek to delegitimize the Jewish state. This is hypocrisy of the first order and the inordinate attention given these Africans by the Western media—such as the article published today by the New York Times—in a world where tens of millions of refugees and economic migrants are to be found, once again illustrates the double standard by which Israel is judged on any conceivable issue.

It is to be conceded that not everyone in Israel has behaved appropriately toward the migrants. Anger, insults, and threats from people in neighborhoods where illegals have concentrated, as well as from a few rabble-rousing politicians, hasn’t helped the country’s reputation. The plight of people stuck in limbo without legal status where they are and nowhere else to go should arouse the sympathy of any decent person. But the notion that it is somehow Israel’s responsibility to cope with the impact of economic distress in the Horn of Africa is not a defensible or reasonable position to take.

Were that many people to show up in virtually any country in the world, especially all the other countries of the Middle East which are ruled by various kinds of tyrants, it doesn’t take much imagination to consider the kind of treatment they would get. But in democratic Israel where Jewish religious values about welcoming the stranger are part of the culture, these African newcomers have been spared the sort of abuse they would have gotten anywhere else in the region. Indeed that, and the fact that Israel has a booming First World economy, is the only reason why so many have tried to sneak into Israel to find work. Were they just a few, they might well have been allowed to stay. But once the number reached the tens of thousands, with many working illegally and with some committing crimes, that wasn’t an option. Since deportation back to their home countries would likely result in dire consequences for the migrants and no one else wants them, Israel is stuck with them until someone can come up with a solution.

For Israel-haters, the scattered sentiments of some Israelis in South Tel Aviv neighborhoods that found themselves hosting thousands of desperate illegals and suffering the normal increase in crime as a result is proof that racism is normative behavior in the state. But anyone who knows anything about Israel’s history knows that this is bunk. Israel absorbed tens of thousands of black Jews from Ethiopia in the last 30 years. Though their absorption has not been seamless or without incident, they are now part of the fabric of the country, serve in the army, and even in the Knesset.

But under what distorted sense of morality is Israel held to be particularly at fault for treating people who cross its borders illegally as having committed a criminal act and therefore subject to detention? Even if you are deeply sympathetic to the migrants, as many Israelis are, is there a sovereign nation in the world that does not feel entitled to control its borders, especially when those frontiers also need to be defended against terrorists and hostile powers? Do those who protest Israel’s treatment of these people, in which many are kept in open detainment centers think that other democracies, such as the United States, would treat such people any better? Under those circumstances how can any reasonable person criticize Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pledge to defend his country’s borders and to enforce its laws.

Many of the migrants claim they are seeking political asylum rather than just jobs, but this is patently untrue of most of them, as their behavior has suggested. If Westerners would like to help them, they are free to welcome them into their own countries. Failing that, Israel deserves either some constructive help, such as an international diplomatic initiative that would force Sudan and Eritrea to guarantee their safety upon their return home, or be allowed to deal with the situation as best they can. Until they do either of those things or come up with a solution that doesn’t involve Israel being forced to accept economic refugees as legal immigrants in a manner that no other nation on the planet would ever consider, Western critics should pipe down.

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No One Should Mourn Eritrea’s Fall

Last week, chaos enveloped Asmara, Eritrea’s capital as renegade troops tried to overthrow President Isaias Afewerki. It is a pity they did not succeed. Dawit Giorgis, a visiting fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy (FDD), would disagree. In an analysis he penned for FDD, he explained:

Stability in Eritrea is crucial to the region. So far, the government seems to have resisted growing pressure from Islamists in Yemen and Saudi Arabia to radicalize Eritrea, the only non-Arab country along the Red Sea coast. But as the Horn of Africa, Gulf of Guinea and the porous borders of Northern Africa become a preferred routes for arms smuggling, the future of the country remains uncertain. Internal political disarray and tensions with Ethiopia could make Eritrea especially vulnerable to the Islamist influences exerting pressures in an increasing number of African countries. Iran is rumored to have established a military base along the coast, although there has been no confirmation of such reports from Washington, Jerusalem, or Tehran. Eritrea has denied the existence of such a base. 

He is right that Eritrea is increasing strategic, but stability in Eritrea is not something to desire. While two decades ago there was hope that Afewerki might be enlightened if not democratic, he has transformed Eritrea into a prison camp. Eritrea has the dubious honor, for example, of being the only country to score below North Korea in international rankings of press freedom.

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Last week, chaos enveloped Asmara, Eritrea’s capital as renegade troops tried to overthrow President Isaias Afewerki. It is a pity they did not succeed. Dawit Giorgis, a visiting fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy (FDD), would disagree. In an analysis he penned for FDD, he explained:

Stability in Eritrea is crucial to the region. So far, the government seems to have resisted growing pressure from Islamists in Yemen and Saudi Arabia to radicalize Eritrea, the only non-Arab country along the Red Sea coast. But as the Horn of Africa, Gulf of Guinea and the porous borders of Northern Africa become a preferred routes for arms smuggling, the future of the country remains uncertain. Internal political disarray and tensions with Ethiopia could make Eritrea especially vulnerable to the Islamist influences exerting pressures in an increasing number of African countries. Iran is rumored to have established a military base along the coast, although there has been no confirmation of such reports from Washington, Jerusalem, or Tehran. Eritrea has denied the existence of such a base. 

He is right that Eritrea is increasing strategic, but stability in Eritrea is not something to desire. While two decades ago there was hope that Afewerki might be enlightened if not democratic, he has transformed Eritrea into a prison camp. Eritrea has the dubious honor, for example, of being the only country to score below North Korea in international rankings of press freedom.

No effort should be spared to prevent Eritrea’s radicalization, and the extension of Saudi or Iranian influence in the region. But that Cold War should not be an excuse to forgive a regime that might possibly lay claim to be the world’s worst dictatorship.

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The Yemen Project

Frederick Kagan and Christopher Harnisch have a useful think piece in the Wall Street Journal today on applying “smart power” in Yemen. Their series of excellent points culminates in the suggestion of Yemen as the venue in which to test a prototype multiagency task force designed to wield all the elements of national power — diplomatic, informational, military, and economic — in the effort to produce stability in Yemen and immunize it against use by al-Qaeda. “Despite years of talk about the need to develop this kind of capability in the State Department or elsewhere in Washington,” they point out, “it does not exist. It must be built now, and quickly.”

Kagan and Harnisch are right that the question of U.S. involvement in Yemen is not whether we will be involved but how. Their case is strong that our effort should be a multiagency one, rather than expanding from its current minimal level on the traditional model of military intervention. But however we organize it, the key to engaging with Yemen is understanding what we are walking into. Yemen’s internal battle is not being fought in a geopolitical vacuum, and our intervention there has the potential to turn very quickly into a proxy confrontation with other regional actors.

Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is the most obvious one, along with Iran, which arms the Shia “Houthi” rebels against Yemen’s central government. But an increased level of U.S. effort is likely to draw in other actors, like Somalia’s radical al-Shabaab terror group, which promised last week to send fighters to Yemen in support of the Houthi rebels. This is a legitimate threat; Iran and Eritrea keep al-Shabaab armed, and maritime traffic between Somalia and Yemen is routine and very hard to interdict.

Saudi Arabia’s interest in Yemeni stability, meanwhile, is direct and proprietary. Riyadh is concerned about incursions into its territory, of course, but is equally concerned about Iran — or other outside powers — gaining influence over Yemen. Yemen’s location brings the most significant of suitors to its door: Russia and China are the two top suppliers of arms to the Saleh regime, and at the end of December, both of them capped decades of extensive involvement in Yemen with major financial assistance and cooperation agreements. We are not the only great power proposing to influence events in Yemen with monetary aid and military cooperation; in fact, we’re at the back of the line. Russia was reported a year ago to be planning to re-establish its Cold War–era naval base on Yemen’s Socotra Island and will not remain passive in the face of a U.S. policy adopted on the energetic lines proposed by Kagan and Harnisch.

Yemen is more than a poor, unstable nation that makes a natural hideout for al-Qaeda; it is, due to its location, a geostrategic prize. As the Nigerian airplane bomber demonstrated, we must increase our involvement there. This is an opportunity, not just a regrettable necessity, for both Yemen and us — if we approach it with positive objectives in mind. Succeeding there will inevitably have the effect of sidelining Iran and Russia, and we will need to be prepared for their reactions. We might even be able to achieve a limited partnership with the Russians if we avoid harboring illusions about their objectives. As Kagan and Harnisch suggest, a Yemen intervention looks like a natural fit for a high-level multiagency task force, as opposed to one centered mainly on military or intelligence activities. The “measure of effectiveness” for that task force would be its success in defining U.S. interests proactively rather than reactively, and in preparing us to deal with the interests already being actively asserted by third parties.

Frederick Kagan and Christopher Harnisch have a useful think piece in the Wall Street Journal today on applying “smart power” in Yemen. Their series of excellent points culminates in the suggestion of Yemen as the venue in which to test a prototype multiagency task force designed to wield all the elements of national power — diplomatic, informational, military, and economic — in the effort to produce stability in Yemen and immunize it against use by al-Qaeda. “Despite years of talk about the need to develop this kind of capability in the State Department or elsewhere in Washington,” they point out, “it does not exist. It must be built now, and quickly.”

Kagan and Harnisch are right that the question of U.S. involvement in Yemen is not whether we will be involved but how. Their case is strong that our effort should be a multiagency one, rather than expanding from its current minimal level on the traditional model of military intervention. But however we organize it, the key to engaging with Yemen is understanding what we are walking into. Yemen’s internal battle is not being fought in a geopolitical vacuum, and our intervention there has the potential to turn very quickly into a proxy confrontation with other regional actors.

Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is the most obvious one, along with Iran, which arms the Shia “Houthi” rebels against Yemen’s central government. But an increased level of U.S. effort is likely to draw in other actors, like Somalia’s radical al-Shabaab terror group, which promised last week to send fighters to Yemen in support of the Houthi rebels. This is a legitimate threat; Iran and Eritrea keep al-Shabaab armed, and maritime traffic between Somalia and Yemen is routine and very hard to interdict.

Saudi Arabia’s interest in Yemeni stability, meanwhile, is direct and proprietary. Riyadh is concerned about incursions into its territory, of course, but is equally concerned about Iran — or other outside powers — gaining influence over Yemen. Yemen’s location brings the most significant of suitors to its door: Russia and China are the two top suppliers of arms to the Saleh regime, and at the end of December, both of them capped decades of extensive involvement in Yemen with major financial assistance and cooperation agreements. We are not the only great power proposing to influence events in Yemen with monetary aid and military cooperation; in fact, we’re at the back of the line. Russia was reported a year ago to be planning to re-establish its Cold War–era naval base on Yemen’s Socotra Island and will not remain passive in the face of a U.S. policy adopted on the energetic lines proposed by Kagan and Harnisch.

Yemen is more than a poor, unstable nation that makes a natural hideout for al-Qaeda; it is, due to its location, a geostrategic prize. As the Nigerian airplane bomber demonstrated, we must increase our involvement there. This is an opportunity, not just a regrettable necessity, for both Yemen and us — if we approach it with positive objectives in mind. Succeeding there will inevitably have the effect of sidelining Iran and Russia, and we will need to be prepared for their reactions. We might even be able to achieve a limited partnership with the Russians if we avoid harboring illusions about their objectives. As Kagan and Harnisch suggest, a Yemen intervention looks like a natural fit for a high-level multiagency task force, as opposed to one centered mainly on military or intelligence activities. The “measure of effectiveness” for that task force would be its success in defining U.S. interests proactively rather than reactively, and in preparing us to deal with the interests already being actively asserted by third parties.

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Fresh Outreach

Iran this week has thrown a one-two diplomatic punch in the matter of Yemen’s insurgency problem. It remains to be seen if the Islamic revolutionary state is punching above its weight; that may depend on what, if anything, the U.S. does. But Arabs in the region have taken Iran’s initiative badly, seeing it as the continuation of a trend toward Iranian meddling in Arab nations’ affairs.

On November 5, Saudi Arabia launched a counteroffensive against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Shias with Iranian backing who have violated the Saudi border in the course of their fight against the central government in Sana’a. A Saudi officer was reportedly killed by the Houthis last week, and the Saudis are losing confidence in the ability of the Saleh government to quell the insurgency. On November 10, Iran — the Houthis’ supplier — warned “Yemen’s neighbors” against meddling in Yemeni affairs. Since “Yemen’s neighbors” amount to Saudi Arabia and Oman, this warning was quite pointed.

Today Al Jazeera reports that Iran has offered to “aid Yemeni security,” proclaiming Tehran ready to help restore peace to the insurgency-torn nation. Al Jazeera’s hostile view of this disingenuous initiative is a reliable reflection of sentiment in Arab capitals. The proposal is also a direct challenge to America’s network of partnerships in the region. Iran advancing itself as a moderator of an Arab nation’s internal affairs is, in fact, a power play, one that would not be mounted in an environment of American alertness and determination.

Iran has conducted its foreign policy for years through the sponsorship of terrorism against Israel and Lebanon. It’s through gaining an insidious foothold in other nations, through coming in the back door, that Iran has sought regional influence. Now the mullahs propose to be admitted through the front door in Yemen, and have their support to the Houthi guerrillas validated by a recognized diplomatic process.

With Iran already an established presence in Eritrea, Sudan, and Somalia, will the Obama administration discourage this fresh initiative with any level of firmness? Or will it leave the Saudis and Yemenis to make their own arrangements for resistance to Iran’s outreach? See what you think (from the Huffington Post piece linked above):

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters [on November 5] he had no information about whether the conflict had spread across the border but expressed Washington’s concern over the situation.

“It’s our view that there can be no long-term military solution to the conflict between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels,” Kelly said. “We call on all parties to the conflict to make every effort to protect civilian populations and limit damage to civilian infrastructure.”

That doesn’t sound to me like a posture Iran would have to worry about colliding with. It probably didn’t sound like one to Iran either.

Iran this week has thrown a one-two diplomatic punch in the matter of Yemen’s insurgency problem. It remains to be seen if the Islamic revolutionary state is punching above its weight; that may depend on what, if anything, the U.S. does. But Arabs in the region have taken Iran’s initiative badly, seeing it as the continuation of a trend toward Iranian meddling in Arab nations’ affairs.

On November 5, Saudi Arabia launched a counteroffensive against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Shias with Iranian backing who have violated the Saudi border in the course of their fight against the central government in Sana’a. A Saudi officer was reportedly killed by the Houthis last week, and the Saudis are losing confidence in the ability of the Saleh government to quell the insurgency. On November 10, Iran — the Houthis’ supplier — warned “Yemen’s neighbors” against meddling in Yemeni affairs. Since “Yemen’s neighbors” amount to Saudi Arabia and Oman, this warning was quite pointed.

Today Al Jazeera reports that Iran has offered to “aid Yemeni security,” proclaiming Tehran ready to help restore peace to the insurgency-torn nation. Al Jazeera’s hostile view of this disingenuous initiative is a reliable reflection of sentiment in Arab capitals. The proposal is also a direct challenge to America’s network of partnerships in the region. Iran advancing itself as a moderator of an Arab nation’s internal affairs is, in fact, a power play, one that would not be mounted in an environment of American alertness and determination.

Iran has conducted its foreign policy for years through the sponsorship of terrorism against Israel and Lebanon. It’s through gaining an insidious foothold in other nations, through coming in the back door, that Iran has sought regional influence. Now the mullahs propose to be admitted through the front door in Yemen, and have their support to the Houthi guerrillas validated by a recognized diplomatic process.

With Iran already an established presence in Eritrea, Sudan, and Somalia, will the Obama administration discourage this fresh initiative with any level of firmness? Or will it leave the Saudis and Yemenis to make their own arrangements for resistance to Iran’s outreach? See what you think (from the Huffington Post piece linked above):

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters [on November 5] he had no information about whether the conflict had spread across the border but expressed Washington’s concern over the situation.

“It’s our view that there can be no long-term military solution to the conflict between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels,” Kelly said. “We call on all parties to the conflict to make every effort to protect civilian populations and limit damage to civilian infrastructure.”

That doesn’t sound to me like a posture Iran would have to worry about colliding with. It probably didn’t sound like one to Iran either.

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