Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Logic of the Middle East, a prescient analysis by Prof. Barry Rubin

In light of the current situation in Israel and Gaza, the GLORIA Center is reposting Prof. Rubin's prescient analysis of the likely situation that would emerge in Gaza following the Disengagement.  

This article is, if anything, even more relevant today than when it was first published in 2005:

By Barry Rubin
August 2005

                It cannot be repeated often enough that Middle East politics are not like those of other places. They make sense once one understands the region’s history, politics, and institutions, but they defy the logic that uninformed or semi-informed outsiders expect.
                Consider, as the most recent example, Palestinian politics and the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Here is what might be expected to happen:
                “This is a step forward by Israel showing that this country is ready to make peace,” the Palestinian leader would tell his people. “We must now make the most of this opportunity in two ways.”
“First, we must encourage Israel to agree to a comprehensive deal by proving to its leaders and people that we really do accept their country’s existence and security. The best way to do this is by stopping all incitement to hate Israel and portray it as illegitimate in our media and textbooks, while showing our determination to prevent terror attacks. We will demand all of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip in a Palestinian state but we will simultaneously show we are true nationalists by making it clear that all Palestinian refugees should be resettled in our own state in order to make it prosperous and successful.”
“Second, we must show the world that we are worthy and ready for a state by governing the Gaza Strip well. We will put all security forces under political control and disband the extremist militias. A stable government will be established that will not permit anarchy. We will fight corruption and use the aid money well. And we will show our commitment to democracy. We may not succeed completely but everyone will know that we have done our best and made real progress. ”
“Critical in this effort is to show our people that this great day was brought about not by murdering Israeli civilians but as an outcome of the negotiations process begun with the Oslo agreement.”
Indeed, many people in the West no doubt think that this is what already is happening. But what, in fact, is the most likely course of events in the Palestinian debate and politics?
--There will be no decline in incitement or change in the public rhetoric of Palestinian officials speaking to their own people. Thus, of course, Israeli suspicions regarding their intentions will be reinforced.
--The Palestinian movement will continue to be oriented toward conquest and revenge rather than nation-state nationalism.
--No stable government with real control over the territory will be created in the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority will not even try too hard to do that. On the contrary, it will ignore the Road Map’s provisions about stopping terrorism and disarming radical groups and simply keep insisting on getting a state right away without preconditions or concessions.
--The Israeli withdrawal will be claimed as a victory for terrorism (under the phrase revolutionary violence) thus laying the basis for more of the same.
--Palestinian security forces will stand by most of the time and do nothing as not only Hamas and Islamic Jihad but also Fatah gunmen try to attack Israel. Then the Palestinian leadership will scream when Israel retaliates. The big losers here will be the Palestinians themselves since this continuing war will destroy any chance for development.
--Anti-corruption efforts will remain tiny even in the context of modest expectations. The new aid money being offered by the West will disappear without a trace.
--The Palestinian leadership will do everything possible to avoid power-sharing, wider democracy, or fair elections. There is some good reason for this since Hamas will benefit the most if people are given a choice but a large part of the reason for that situation is precisely the current leadership’s failure to do more for the masses’ welfare.
In short, there is every reason to believe that the Palestinian leadership and movements will throw away this opportunity. If you don’t think so, let’s talk about it again in six months’ time.
Does this analysis mean Israel should not withdraw? Actually, one could argue the exact opposite. For if nothing is going to change any way why should it be bound to the status quo? Take away the excuse of “occupation” and let the world—and far more importantly the Palestinians themselves—see the real cause of their problems. Let Israel determine its best deployments and use of security resources rather than have to be permanently tied down to being in the whole Gaza Strip.
Of course, one should quickly add, that Israel largely withdrew from the territory eleven years ago when it was turned over to the tender mercies of Yasir Arafat. The presence of 7500 settlers and Israeli control over certain roads had very little effect on the Palestinian situation there. On my many trips to the Gaza Strip in the second half of the 1990s, I never saw Israeli settlers, soldiers or road blocks. It was like being in Jordan or Lebanon, a Palestinian state in all but name.
The idea at the time was that he would have to deal with schools and sewage, jobs and housing. The problem was that he and his colleagues had no interest in anything other than fighting Israel. Some of his top successors have better intentions but lack the power or determination to do better.  As a substitute, they will complain about inadequate international support, blame Israel for everything, and urge more militancy. Which side will be better off after the withdrawal? Watch the material realities, not the rhetoric to find out.
Barry Rubin was director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC).  He was the author and co-author of many books on history, politics and the Middle East.  He passed away in 2014.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Washington Institute Memorial Event: Prof. Barry Rubin

3:00 PM

Please join the family, friends, and colleagues of Dr. Barry Rubin as we gather together to celebrate his life, work, and legacy. Dr. Rubin succumbed after a long battle with cancer in February.

Those paying tribute to Dr. Rubin will include Washington Institute director of research Dr. Patrick Clawson, Institute Program on Arab Politics Program director David Schenker, Middle East scholar and coauthor of Barry's final book Dr. Wolfgang Schwanitz, and Lee Smith of the Weekly Standard and the Hudson Institute. The program will include a special written contribution by Professor Walter Laqueur.

A brilliant scholar, prolific author, and fearless advocate for historical accuracy, Dr. Rubin had a long association with The Washington Institute, serving as a senior fellow from 1988-1993 and as a visiting fellow frequently thereafter. He was the author of numerous Institute studies on a broad cross section of subjects including Arab-Israeli relations, Syria, Jordan, and the Gulf.

Dr. Rubin served as director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the journal Middle East Review of International Affairs. His many books include The Truth about Syria (2007), The Long War for Freedom (2006), Hating America: A History (2004), and Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography (2003).
This event will be held in the Stern Library and Conference Room at The Washington Institute, 1828 L Street NW, Suite 1050, Washington, DC, 20036. 
It will also be broadcast live on the Washington Institute website.
To register for this event, please use the
or call 202-452-0677.

Click here to request a broadcast reminder.
Members of the media wishing to cover the event with cameras should call 202-230-9550.

Monday, March 3, 2014

An Invitation: Prof. Rubin's 30-day Memorial

Dear Friends,

Prof. Barry Rubin's 30-day memorial and the unveiling of the gravestone will be held on Thursday, March 6, 2014, 11:00am at the Kiryat Shaul Cemetery in Tel Aviv, Israel. All are welcome to attend. Please notify us at if you plan to come.

The Rubin Family & the GLORIA Center

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu Sends Condolences on Barry Rubin's Passing

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Prof. Rubin's passing, "Barry was a prolific writer, historian and analyst who dedicated both his intellect and his energies to the challenges facing the Middle East... His contribution to the public discourse in both Israel and the United States will serve as a proud legacy...."

To make a tax-deductible contribution in Prof. Barry Rubin’s memory in order to continue his mission and help future research, click the donate button at the top right of this page or visit:

Monday, February 17, 2014

Barry Rubin: An Appreciation

By Jonathan Spyer

Prof. Barry Rubin and Dr. Jonathan Spyer

Barry Rubin was one of the leading Middle East scholars and analysts of his generation.

He was also a patriot of two countries – Israel and the United States – a dissenter, and a moral and intellectual beacon for thousands of people in many lands.

Barry brought to his work a tremendous, searing energy, which made him famously prolific. This energy stayed with him throughout the illness which has now prematurely ended his life. He was still composing articles in the very last days, when his hands could no longer work the keyboard. He stayed with his chosen mission to the end.

What was the source of this extraordinary energy and commitment? It is vital to note that Barry’s work was characterized not only by its analytical depth, but also by a profound sense of moral urgency. This set him apart from the scholarly and academic mainstream. There was always a sense behind his words of some urgent wrong to be righted, or some piece of information which must be revealed and understood, with no time to waste.

There are many examples from his work which demonstrate his prescience, clarity and moral commitment.

And since he believed in backing up claims with empirical evidence, here are a few of these: In Tragedy of the Middle East, Barry expressed a cogent and extremely prescient critique of the prevailing political culture in the Arab world. Many of the points he raised in this seminal work form the basis of the claims that were raised by liberal Arab oppositionists in the first days of the “Arab Spring.”

The closed nature of regional political systems and economies, the cynical misuse of anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric, the vast disparities in access to wealth and power – all are noted here. Barry championed in a practical way the cause of Arab reform and liberalism in the region when it still went largely unnoticed by most analysts.

At the same time, he had no illusions about the balance of political power in the Middle East and was also among the first to predict the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood and the acute dangers inherent therein.

Barry was similarly among the first to detect the anti-Western and anti-democratic tendencies of the Erdogan government and the AKP in Turkey. I remember him issuing a passionate, uncompromising warning in this regard on many platforms, as other scholars sought to outline what they imagined to be more “nuanced” or “measured” positions. Of course, Barry’s assessment of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoganand the nature of his ambitions is now mainstream.

In his book The Truth about Syria, Barry wrote the only serious, book-length treatment of the Assad dictatorship in Syria that sought to issue a clear moral indictment of this brutal and murderous regime. This work is in my estimation the equivalent in the Syrian context of Iraqi dissident Kenan Makiya’s famous Republic of Fear, which revealed to the world the true nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1980s.

Again, at a time when the prevailing wisdom was that Syria was a rather pleasant place, when Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife were received by the Queen of England, when The New York Times was running long segments onDamascus and Aleppo as charming and adventurous tourist destinations, it was Barry Rubin who pulled off the mask and revealed the Assad regime for what it was.

Once again, he incurred the condescension of much of the academic community on Syria for his passionate and strident tone. And once again, events have proved him right. This book, and the moral courage of the man who wrote it, deserve far wider recognition.

Finally, Barry was among the first analysts of US politics to recognize that the Barack Obama presidency would represent a sharp break in American policymaking, rather than a continuum. He noted this when Obama was still a candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2008, and he sought to raise the alarm for what he saw as a danger both to America’s global standing and to its relationship with Israel. Again, his analysis was ahead of its time.

Barry’s writing deserves to be placed high in the canon of contemporary Middle East analysis. But there was another, more private aspect to his work, which involved his consulting with senior figures in the Israeli policymaking world, and advising and mentoring younger scholars, researchers and activists.

Regarding the former, Barry had been acting in the year prior to his death as an unofficial adviser to a senior minister in Israel’s government, a member of the inner security cabinet.

This relationship had great promise, but was sadly cut short by Barry’s illness. In a similar vein, in recent years he had developed a close connection to one of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s closest advisers.

Barry was both discreet and modest about these connections, but he was also aware of their importance.

But it is a mark of Barry’s nature that his network of connections went far beyond the senior reaches of Israel’s establishment.

So on the same day that he might be corresponding with members of the Israeli Cabinet, he would be meeting with visiting Turkish friends to discuss their fears regarding the direction of their country, or having coffee with a member of the Kurdish underground who was passing through Tel Aviv, or speaking with a brilliant young officer of IDF Military Intelligence, or advising an unusually talented young Iraqi Arab scholar concerning the direction of his research.

These are all real examples whose outlines will be instantly recognizable to those who knew Barry well.

None of these people knew each other. They might not have agreed about very much if they had met. But all found it beneficial to communicate with Barry, and all learned and benefited from his knowledge. In turn, their insights helped to give his work the unusual depth and breadth which characterized it.

Barry’s work was a 24-hour-a-day project for him. He was always switched on, reading, speaking, learning, writing, contributing.

He was a fascinating, multi-dimensional man, with many levels to his personality and to his interests. In his youth, he had been a radical, in the ferment of the US campuses of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the second part of his life, Israel and the Jewish People were his abiding passion. Throughout, he was fascinated by the history of the land of his birth, the USA, and by its traditions of liberty and possibility.

As Walt Whitman described America itself, so Barry too “contained multitudes.”

Because of all this, there will be thousands of people, in Israel, in the broader Middle East, in the US and in Europe who will be feeling themselves diminished by his passing.

Barry would have allowed scarce time for lamenting, however. He would have stressed the urgency of the hour, and the need to get organized and back to work.

We will learn from his example.

And despite the grievous loss, it is accurate to say that in a number of ways, he is still with us. Barry liked to split issues up into three components, so here are three of the ways in which his presence will linger and continue to serve as a beacon illuminating the way.

First, in his books and his writings, which are readily available and which together form a monument and a testimony to a life spent learning, studying and analyzing the Middle East and public policy.

Second is the example he set of how to live, in his generosity, staunch integrity, and passion above all for his family, but also for his friends, and for the causes to which he was committed.

And finally, for those of us who were privileged to work closely with him, in the memory of the very dear and wonderful personality that lay behind all of this scholarship and industry, and which will continue to remain beloved in our hearts for as long as we live.

Teacher and mentor, husband and father, scholar and friend and traveling companion, Barry Rubin is gone too soon – far too soon. It remains for those of us who learned from him to continue to walk along the lines he set and thus to honor his memory.

Dr. Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2010) and a columnist at The Jerusalem Post. Spyer holds a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a master’s in Middle East Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

To make a tax-deductible contribution in Barry Rubin's memory in order to continue his mission, click the donate button at the top right of this page or visit: