Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gen. `Abdul-`Aziz and Israel

A well-informed reader sent me this about Gen. `Abdul-`Aziz of Mauritania. I wanted to share lest people think that I was defending the general. (The writer does not want to be identified): "General Abdelaziz in Mauritania is no opponent of Israel, and he has not been involved in the anti-normalization camp until he found it politically necessary. For decades, he was a key figure in the regime that first opened ties with Israel to improve ties with the US and Europe (after it first wrongly bet on Saddam Hussein and was punished with aid cuts). After he and his associates overthrew that government in 2005, he did not utter a word of protest against the Israeli embassy, and indeed discouraged campaigns to close it. Coincidentally, the forces most opposed to him in the 2005-2008 period were among those most critical of the ties to Israel: the left (UFP), the Ikhwan (Tawassoul), and other such groups who have always been in opposition to the military and which had allied themselves to the corrupt and flawed but democratically legitimate presidency of Abdellahi. After his coup in 2008, when to his surprise he realized that no one (except the king of Morocco) supported his coup, he tried to get Western support by claiming that he wanted to fight al-Qaida, and by aksing Israel to persuade the US to change its line, but with no success (there was a piece on this in Haaretz). Then when this didn't work, and the West cut all aid to his junta, and the AU expelled him, he switched strategy and made a deal with Libya which included shutting down the Israeli embassy (I have heard it is now a Sayf al-Islam office) in return for Qaddafi's mediation and funding. He also won a supportive visit from Iran at the same time, but I don't imagine there was any money in that. Also, it was of course a popular move in the country, so he won some support when his rule seemed to be in danger. Now, the international circumstances have changed, and it unfortunately seems most of the world are prepared to go along with his electoral "victory", to get out of the deadlock. But that is the background of it. He certainly deepened his crisis with the US and EU by breaking with Israel, but it was not the original cause of it. They essentially didn't want to see Mauritania revert to the era of military coups and destructive Algerian-Moroccan meddling, when it finally seemed to be on the way to liberalization and stabilization. No one has anything to gain from an unstable Mauritania, not even the most cynical Imperialist power: they want it to keep terrorism and smuggling down, sell fish and oil, and otherwise - as the French colonial administrators in Mauritania were instructed in the early 1900s - "not be heard from again". (Ok, maybe Qaddafi sees some way to exploit chaos in Mauritania. He has been interested in the country for a long time but was pushed out of its politics by Algeria and then Iraq in the 80s.)"