Author Archives: Dr. Eric Mandel

The President’s Speech on The Iran Deal

Reflections on the President’s Speech Defending the Iran Deal

President Obama aggresively challenged critics of his Iran deal in a speech at American University on Wednesday. American University was chosen because of its symbolic association with Democratic President John Kennedy’s address there that advocated a more diplomatic approach with the Soviet Union. President Obama’s speech was notable for its harsh tone, its ad hominem attacks on his critics, and singling out Israel as a war mongering nation. Today’s vlog focuses in on the key points that the President used to defend his legacy agreement.

The Iran Deal

Dr. Eric Mandel, founder and director of MEPIN, discusses the implications of the Iran Deal.  In this vlog, Dr. Mandel discredits these 3 main talking points:

1.  It is this deal or war.
2.  This deal enhances Israeli security.
3.  All paths to Iranian nuclear weapons are blocked for the indefinite future.

For more commentary on the Iran Deal, click here to read Dr. Mandel’s article, previously published in The Jerusalem Post, entitled:  The Iran Deal: A Once-in-a-Generation-Moment.

The Iran deal: A Once-in-a-Generation Moment

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

I woke up on July 14 to a much more dangerous world. The world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, with the support of world’s leading democratic nations, was in ascendancy. Meanwhile, the IDF, the most moral army in the Middle East and probably the world, was placed on the docket of the International Criminal Court for war crimes during the Mavi Marmara incident of 2010. While sanctions on the infamous Iranian al Quds Force were evaporating and Iran’s right to buy and sell all manner of weapons was legitimized, boycotting Israel was becoming part of mainstream EU policy.

Why was this happening? Why had the US president not only acquiesced to end nuclear sanctions, but also incomprehensibly agreed to remove the restrictions on Iran’s ability to buy and sell conventional weapons and ballistic missiles? This, after the president promised that the negotiations were only about nuclear-related activity, and that sanctions relief would not include sanctions imposed for other reasons, i.e. terrorism and human rights abuses.

On the day of the announcement, the president promised to veto any legislation that changed one iota of the deal. Clearly, he is more married to legitimizing Iran than to advancing US interests through congressional recommendations. Is Secretary of State John Kerry infallible? Can there be no improvements to bolster American interests? In the short term, the world is a much more dangerous place. An emboldened Iran will increase support of its terrorist proxies Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and the Houthis.

The Sunnis, who represent 80 percent of the Muslim world, already feel abandoned. They are likely to become more radicalized, and turn to Islamic State (IS) and its allies as the only Sunni army that can confront the Shi’ite terrorist proxies of Iran. The autocratic Sunni monarchies are more likely to become unstable, increasing the chances that extreme Sunni radical groups like IS could take over whole countries.

IS and Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah and the like are two sides of the same coin. America’s goal should be to weaken both, not embolden one over the other. Unfortunately, the president has decided to support a terrorist entity, replicating his misguided support of the Muslim Brotherhood as a “moderating force” in the Islamist world.

Where do we go from here? Does Israel have any choices? The president will continue to insist that this is a good deal. He will point out that the parties agreed to the most intrusive inspection criteria ever. He also will argue that the time required for Iran to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear weapon has been expanded to 12 months. Unfortunately for America, the president abandoned the right to inspect “anytime, anywhere” – despite his promises to the contrary. Top US negotiator Wendy Sherman labeled as “rhetorical flourish” the concept of “anytime, anyplace” access to inspect. Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes had the audacity to tell CNN, “We never sought anytime/anywhere inspections.”

Let’s go to the videotape of Rhodes telling us in April, “We will have anytime, anywhere access to the nuclear facilities.”

This administration will say just about anything to convince lawmakers that this is an incredible deal. According to Politico, Rhodes said that if Iran violates the deal, the “White House was prepared to use force.” Is there anyone who actually believes that? The White House also told Jewish members of Congress that the tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief would be invested in the Iranian economy.

Will Congress buy this, despite overwhelming historical evidence and contradictory promises? The deal allows a full 24 days before Iran can be inspected, more than enough time for the habitual cheaters to move or destroy evidence of non-compliance. The president’s bold assertion that we somehow will know everything rings as hollow as the CIA’s assertion that its was sure about WMDs in Iraq. In fact, we know little about what is going on in Iran. For years, we were clueless about the illicit Iranian nuclear program, including their large underground nuclear facilities in Fordow and Natanz.

Our intelligence assessments need to be tempered with humility.

If Congress derails the agreement, the president will veto that decision.

The chances of overriding the veto are slim. However, if over 60 Senators vote to override (66 are needed), it will send a strong message that a solid majority of the Senate finds this deal to be against American interests. If 60 votes are cast against the deal, it will give a strong hand to the next president to act when Iran inevitably cheats again.

Israel is in an unenviable position.

Once the deal is passed and sanctions relief takes hold, the president and his supporters will offer Israel money for more advanced anti-missile systems, and promise to increase military aid over the next 10 years. But all Iran has to do is sneak one conventional missile through the anti-missile defense system to unnerve Israel, knowing that the next one could be nuclear.

This shifts the burden totally onto Israel for self-defense; increasing the chance Israel will make a calculated decision for a preemptive strike – with war to follow.

Be prepared for the president, J Street and The New York Times to parade a long queue of Jews and non-representative Israeli security figures to laud the deal.

Hold your nose as you hear a litany of the president’s supporters repeat the talking point that there is no alternative to this deal. They will offer more “rhetorical flourishes” in support of Israel. In the end, however, it will be hard not to conclude that the United States sold out Israel, fraying the US-Israel relationship in the process.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment in Middle East history, affecting America’s standing in the world and threatening Israeli security interests on multiple levels.

Tell your Senators and friends in Congress how you feel. Tell them that the day after they vote, your continued support cannot be taken for granted.

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

Does an ‘Ally’ Have the Right to Redefine Zionism?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post.)

The founders of Israel were mostly secular and atheist, seeing themselves as a people, rather than a religion, returning to their homeland.

“The fact Obama linked the State of Israel’s legitimization to the Holocaust in that speech [Cairo 2009] was him adopting the Arab narrative: We’re here because of the Holocaust, not because of Jewish roots and 3,000 years of history.” – Former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, June 27, 2015

Michael Oren’s new book, Ally, has generated lots of attention. The mild mannered historian turned diplomat turned politician is now in the cross-hairs of the Obama administration, his political rivals at home and progressive Jewish figures. What has drawn such animus to Oren from the administration are some unpleasant truths about the US-Israel relationship under President Barack Obama that he reveals. As Newsweek reported, “Oren blames President Barack Obama for the sorry state of US-Israel relations and most of what’s wrong in the Middle East.”

As I have said for several years, I believe the president thinks of Israel as more a strategic liability than a strategic asset, and that his goal since day one of his administration has been to change the relationship with Israel and turn toward the Muslim world, particularly favoring the fundamentalist regime controlling Iran. Or, as Oren put it, to create some daylight between the two long-time allies. The White House has indeed supported some important military aid to Israel during these years, but meanwhile has jeopardized Israel and America’s foreign policy interests in pursuit of a friendship with the reliably unreliable mullahs of Iran.

One revelation that is not entirely new but is essential to address if your vision is a two-state solution based on a respect for both parties’ narratives is Oren’s assertion that the president believes Israel’s raison d’etre is the Holocaust, with only incidental incorporation of other Jewish history. This is very important, because if it becomes part of the mainstream narrative regarding Israel’s founding, Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state can be challenged, making it the only state in the world required to kneel and beg for its right to exist.

The charge that Israel exists only as a consequence of the Shoah has created both a firestorm and confusion among both American Jewry and the wider Jewish Diaspora. This is particularly relevant as the Palestinian Authority is currently attempting to delegitimize Israel by going to the ICC (International Criminal Court) seeking support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to question Israel’s right to exist. Therefore it is imperative to understand and educate America about what Zionism really is, and how the two most pivotal events of the 20th century affecting world Jewry relate to one another. In an era when much of the world, and many on American academic campuses, see Zionism as racism and colonialism it is incumbent upon pro-Israel supporters to communicate the truth clearly.

After President Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech in which he reached out to the Muslim world, his comparison of the plight of Palestinians to the survivors of the Shoah outraged many people.

Anne Bayefsky, who directs the Touro College Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, challenged the president’s assertion that, “The aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied,” for, she said, “around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries. A Jewish homeland in Israel is not rooted in tragedy or in centuries of persecution around the world. It is rooted in a wondrous, unbroken, and spiritual relationship to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem for thousands of years.”

Former ADL leader and Holocaust survivor Abe Foxman responded that the president was implicitly asserting that Israel’s legitimacy is based on the “suffering of the Jewish people’s “tragic history” and not on their historic ties to the Land of Israel. Obama’s choice of words and his decision to mention only the Holocaust as a reason for the creation of the State of Israel “gave fodder to the many in the Arab world who argue against the legitimacy of Israel.”

So if the Holocaust had not occurred, would there be an Israel? According to Tom Segev, a center-left historian and a reliable critic of Israel who has written extensively on the issue, “The State of Israel would have come to being even without the Holocaust. It was a result of 30 years of intensive work by the Zionist movement.”

But rooted in the Muslim world is the irrational contradiction of both denying the Holocaust while perpetuating the narrative that the Arabs were unfairly made to pay the price for the Holocaust in the creation of Israel, with the forced imposition of a non-indigenous Jewish people on the region.

SO DID nations of the UN vote in 1947 to create Israel only out of guilt at their complicity in the genocide of the Shoah? Is Zionism simply a reaction to the Shoah? If, as President Obama and others contend, the creation of Israel is solely due to the Holocaust, then the Palestinians have an argument. It then follows that Zionism is not a many-centuries’ yearning to return to ancient land, but was a simply spur-of-the moment land grab.

Modern Zionism is not a reaction to the Shoah. It began well before WWII and the Holocaust, only partially motivated by the anti-Semitism that preceded the Shoah; recall Herzl’s reactions to the Dreyfus Affair. On the one hand, Zionism is an affirmation of the Jewish people’s 2,000-year-long yearning to return to their ancestral homeland, manifested in the daily prayers of the Jewish people.

On the other hand, the founders of Israel were mostly secular and atheist, seeing themselves as a people, rather than a religion, returning to their homeland.

Jews learned that without a national homeland, nations and communities infected with anti-Semitism offered at best temporary shelter, all too often as tides shifted offering only humiliation, expropriation and expulsion. The horrors experienced over the centuries in the Diaspora, punctuated by pogroms, inquisitions, crusades and culminating in humanity’s descent to its lowest level in the Shoah, made the prayers and hopes for salvation and return to Zion more desperate and poignant, but the yearning to return, “next year in Jerusalem,” was always there, in good times and bad.

Zionism is a modern word to describe an ancient desire to return to the Land of Israel. Necessity and modernity played a part, but the desire for a Jewish homeland started in earnest in the 19th century, and culminated in the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations Mandate for a Jewish national home in Palestine. The European and Russian anti-Semitism of the Kishinev pogroms, the Dreyfus Affair, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and WWI all occurred years before the Shoah.

As Israeli statesman, former defense minister and Haaretz columnist Moshe Arens said, “In the minds of some, the establishment of the State of Israel is linked to the Holocaust, or even seen as a direct result of the Holocaust.” Which is precisely why the writers of Israel’s declaration of Independence purposely omitted any reference to the Shoah.

International organizations and governments did write the international law to help create the modern state of Israel, but shrugged their shoulders when the state was immediately attacked at its birth by five Arab armies. As Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer said, “Israel didn’t come into being because of the Shoah, Israel exists in spite of it.”

It was Israelis who fought back and saved the country from extinction. It was a Jewish desire for millennia to return to the Jewish homeland that preserved the dream.

On the Jewish Agency for Israel’s website they ask the question: “Did the State of Israel come about because of the Holocaust? Imagine the Holocaust happening before a single kibbutz was built, before a flourishing Jewish culture had been reestablished in Israel, and without armed Jews fighting to defend themselves in the Land. Would any one have supported Jewish sovereignty in that situation? Surely not!” The Holocaust was a contributing factor to the timing and circumstances of the struggle for independence. It certainly affected the kind of Jewish state that was created, its population mix, its self-perception and its worldview. But the events that underpin its creation are located elsewhere.

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

 

The Speech Jack Lew Should Have Given

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Lew should have offered comments that conform with a realistic view of Iran and the Middle East.

The simple fact is this: No administration has done more for Israel’s security than this one

– US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew

Netanyahu and the president both made mistakes, but only one purposely damaged US-Israel relations

– Former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren

On June 13, 2015, Treasury Secretary Jacob (Jack) Lew spoke before an overflow crowd of 1,500 people at the New York City Jerusalem Post Annual Conference. What was Lew thinking as he delivered his carefully crafted speech? As I listened, it seemed designed more to provoke rather than reassure an audience already highly skeptical of the US administration’s outreach to an anti-Semitic Iran that threatens Israel’s existence.

As Elie Wiesel said: “History has taught us to trust the threats of our enemies more than the promises of our friends. Our enemies are making serious threats. It is time to take them seriously. It is time for our friends to keep their promises.”

Jack Lew is a good man who worked with Natan Sharansky during the struggle for Soviet Jewry, and has helped the State of Israel. Former finance minister Yuval Steinitz praised Lew for helping Israel join the Organization of Economic Development (OECD) in 2010. However, Lew is not part of Obama’s inner security cabinet. Why was he chosen as the administration’s point person for the conference, acting more like a presidential propagandist than head of the Treasury? The wrong speech was delivered to the wrong audience.

How do we reconcile his comment that “we are… effectively guarantee[ing] that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon” with the president’s concession of a sunset provision that allows Iran legally to have a nuclear weapon in 10 to 15 years? Does Lew honestly believe that billions of dollars in sanctions relief will be distributed to the Iranian people, as if it were a Western democracy and not a state sponsor of terrorism with the blood of American soldiers on its hands? Iran has increased its military budget over 30 percent despite the economic suffering of its populace. Logic dictates that sanctions relief will increase funding of anti-American proxies.

Lew began his address by reminding the audience of the administration’s strong military cooperation with Israel, and support for the Iron Dome missile defense system. This should be acknowledged and the administration should be thanked for its cooperation. But then he should have followed that defense of the president by acknowledging fact over fiction and recognizing the elephant in the room – the troubled relationship between the two leaders with different visions of the Middle East.

When he said, “The simple fact is this: No administration has done more for Israel’s security than this one,” his audience knew this was beyond the pale. As former ambassador Michael Oren wrote about Obama in The Wall Street Journal:

  • He reneged on President G. W. Bush’s pledge to “include the major settlement blocs and Jewish Jerusalem within Israel’s borders in any peace agreement.”
  • He made “no substantive demands of the Palestinians.”
  • He created “daylight in public undermining Israel.”
  • He abandoned a “core principle” of “no surprises” to Israel.
  • He endorsed the Palestinian position on “the 1967 lines with land swaps.”

Lew should have offered comments that conform with a realistic view of Iran and the Middle East. His speech should have been an explanation of the advantages of the president’s diplomatic engagement, as opposed to a containment strategy advocated by many members of Congress. Lew should have answered these questions:

  • How can President Obama call Iran a state sponsor of terrorism, yet seek to realign our relationship from Israel and the Sunni states to the theocratic Shi’ite regime?
  • Why will sanctions relief not empower Iranian hegemonic ambitions?
  • How will “snap back” sanctions actually work, without the support of the P5+1?
  • Why did the administration abandon its red line with full knowledge of past weaponization?
  • Why would the administration trust a government with a 25-year history of developing illicit weapons?
  • How will the administration separate the nuclear deal from Iranian support of terrorists like Syria and Hezbollah?
  • What gives the administration confidence that its outreach and compromises will be reciprocated without any documentation to that effect?
  • What will the administration do when billions of dollars in sanctions relief is funneled directly or indirectly to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard?

Engagement vs. Containment vs. War

Diplomatic engagement works only if your adversary is willing to compromise and to uphold the ultimate agreement or, at the very least, willing to submit to transparent verification. Not one of these conditions is present with Iran. Lew should have addressed Iran’s recent belligerent statements, its worsening human rights record under a “moderate” president, and the lack of a legitimate mechanism to verify breaches or impose consequences. He chose to ignore them.

Our options are not only President Obama’s version of engagement vs. pre-emptive action, but also include containment. Containing Iran, as we contained the Soviet Union during the Cold War, is a legitimate option. In a Wall Street Journal essay, Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister, explained containment.

“[Y]ou isolate a country, and you contain it, diminish it, internally divide it, and sabotage its political leadership.”

Since many experts suggest this alternative as the best chance for success with an unrepentant, aggressive, totalitarian and anti-American Iran, Lew could have said the administration seriously considered that option. He also could have said that containment of Iran through tough diplomacy and further sanctions will be needed if Iran reneges on the deal based on definable metrics.

Some claim that if we do not concede a sunset provision, if we do not allow continued R&D of advanced centrifuges, or insist on unfettered inspections of military bases, the Iranians will walk away and develop a nuclear bomb in short order. But Lew should have explained how allowing advanced centrifuge research, which dramatically shortens the period of nuclear enrichment, is an acceptable concession.

Actually, I wish someone would acknowledge that, like North Korea, India and Pakistan, we know Iran will develop a bomb at any time of its choosing – deal or no deal. As Michael Oren wrote in his new book, “The summer of 2012 indeed seemed the last opportunity to attack [Iran].”

The key difference today is that if the United States signs an unenforceable deal without the will to impose consequences for non-compliance, we will legitimize 25 years of illicit behavior. We also take responsibility for massive nuclear proliferation in the region that will endanger Israel and our Arab allies, and our own long-term strategic interests.

I wish Lew had reassured the audience that we could count on him as the person in charge of enforcing sanctions and that he would lobby the president to re-impose sanctions if Iran reneged on the deal.

One can only hope.

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

Is there Anything the Iranians Could Do that Would Upset President Obama?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post.)

The administration’s fear of provoking actions while the nuclear negotiations are ongoing is interpreted by Iran not as pragmatism, but as an invitation to cheat on any future deal.

‘It is probably time for those of us who have strenuously opposed acquiescing in Iran’s development of nuclear weapons to throw in the towel… Mr. Obama’s definition of a satisfactory outcome has evolved… from the complete abandonment… of the Iranian nuclear program to an honor-system reliance on the Iranians.” – Conrad Black, National Review.

What stands out in the following bullets?

• Iran is increasing its financial and military support for the genocidal Syrian ophthalmologist President Bashir Assad.

• The Iranian proxy Hezbollah is helping to prop up the Assad government with its armed forces in Syrian territory.

• US President Barack Obama has stopped supporting Hayya Bina, a “civil society program in Lebanon that seeks to develop alternative Shi’ite political voices to Hezbollah” (The Wall Street Journal).

Reminiscent of the president’s abandonment of the Iranian people during the 2009 Green Revolution, when he sided with the radical mullahs over Iranians seeking a democratic government, the US has decided to leave Lebanese Shi’ites with little choice but the repressive fundamentalist Hezbollah government.

But shouldn’t it be in America’s foreign policy interests to help Iranian and Lebanese Shi’ites break free from the repressive shackles of these anti-Western terrorists and help create the conditions for a peaceful and non-threatening Islam? Anyone paying attention to Iran’s behavior since the Revolution knows that the ayatollah does not reciprocate appeasement. You would have thought after six years of a failed Middle East policy that the president would have learned that unilateral concessions are pocketed, and only encourage more demands and intransigent behavior.

The administration’s fear of provoking actions while the nuclear negotiations are ongoing is interpreted by Iran not as pragmatism, but as an invitation to cheat on any future deal.

The Iranians have been testing the Obama administration with transgressions of the Joint Plan of Action, and their escalating support of the Yemini Houthis, Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and the Iraqi Shi’ite government. Iran has learned that this American administration would rather bury its head in the sand than act upon almost any transgression.

Iran can be confident that the Obama administration will be the loudest public defender of the deal, knowing it is the president’s foreign policy legacy. Future transgressions will be swept under the table to avoid anything that might unsettle the Iranian regime. Just this week, Iran tested advanced satellite missile launchers, which could be used to deliver nuclear warheads.

Although they contradict current UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions, the Obama administration has remained silent, claiming the Iranians are complying with their commitments because the Joint Plan of Action does not address missile systems. The administration conveniently fails to acknowledge is that the JPA does not abrogate the UNSC sanctions.

The president’s outreach to the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Houthis in Yemin, while simultaneously defending the Iranian narrative that it does not support the Shi’ite fighters, fuels the fire that the White House will defend the Iranian narrative after the deal is concluded. Nothing must get in the way of threatening the “success” of the deal.

Even more egregious is the White House’s silence on the blatant violation of a UNSC blacklist. Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, is barred from traveling to UN member states like Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, yet he travels freely to these nations. For the past eight years, the American government has listed the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist-supporting entity. The Quds Force reports directly to the supreme leader.

The history of the Quds Force’s terrorist activity is well known.

Ahmad Vahidi, who directed the Quds Force at the time, allegedly planned the infamous bombing of the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires in 1994. According to the Obama administration, in 2011 it attempted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US in Washington. No wonder America’s Gulf allies are less than enthusiastic about the US cozying up to the mullahs.

Israel and the Sunni Arab world see the president’s desire to align with Iran as both incomprehensible and inevitable. With little chance of the Senate having the votes to override the president’s almost certain veto this summer, the president is a step closer to his grand plan, in place since his first day in office – to distance America from Israel and the Gulf States, and create a new relationship with the world’s capital for terrorism, Tehran.

The head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, went to Israel last week and bluntly told the Israelis that the US expects sanctions relief to increase Iranian support of its proxies, including State Department-designated terrorists Hezbollah and Hamas. The Quds Force can expect a virtual windfall for its overseas terrorist activities. Iran is expected to receive at least $150 billion in sanctions relief, and Dempsey said it would not all be staying in Iran to help its people and economy. Is this administration acting as an indirect supporter of terrorist entities by facilitating their financing? You be the judge.

To deflect charges that the White House is in bed with the Iranians, the administration has allowed the Treasury Department to continue to place some sanctions on Hezbollah members. Like the blacklisting of Quds leader Qassem Suleimani, however, sanctions or blacklisting are one thing, enforcement is another.

This schizophrenic foreign policy is not fooling anyone. At best, it is naïve; at worst, it threatens longterm American national security and foreign interests, to say nothing of Israel’s existence.

Nuclear weapons in the hands of a terrorist state in a decade’s time. That’s a perplexing goal for the leader of the free world.

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

 

It’s Time for the Sunni World to Come to Terms with Israel

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post.)

If the Arab world could come to terms with the existence of a Jewish state with a Muslim minority in its midst, then it might offer enough cover for the Palestinian Arabs to move forward.

I recently had the privilege of being the keynote speaker for the Defense Industry Offset Association, an organization of American defense contractors doing business in the Middle East. The members were well informed and receptive to a presentation of a multifaceted Middle East that does not fit into a 140-character tweet.

I discussed “Understanding the Complexities of the Middle East: America’s Challenge for the 21st Century.”

I shared my view that American foreign policy experts still seem to be out of step with the reality of a Middle East where American compromise and outreach are perceived as weakness, and are unilateral. One need look no further for evidence of our diplomatic naiveté than Iran’s masterful manipulation of the American negotiators.

My talk was a journey into the ever-changing Middle East, where today’s accurate analysis may become obsolete before the sun sets.

I spoke about:

1. The war between the Sunnis and Shi’ites, led respectively by the Saudis and Iran.

2. The security implications for America and her allies if a final deal with Iran leaves it as a nuclear threshold state.

3. The root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

4. The war for Sunni supremacy between Turkey and Qatar on one side, and the more American-oriented Saudis, Egyptians and Gulf States on the other.

I tried to disabuse them of the simplistic analysis of many “mainstream experts” who think Israel is the primary obstacle, and that Israeli acquiescence is all that is needed for regional stability.

Middle East pundit Fareed Zakaria of CNN is a case in point: “First, there is the disappearance of the Arab threat [to Israel]… it’s gone….Of course, there is Iran’s nuclear program, though it has significantly slowed for now… [Israel] has built a wall that reduced terrorist attacks against Israel to virtually zero… [And] with so many stars aligned in Israel’s favor… it is a golden opportunity…staring Netanyahu in the face.”

Where shall I begin? It is certainly true that some Sunni Arab nations are more preoccupied with killing Shi’ites rather than Jews for the time being. But the “golden opportunity” is a two-way street; the Sunni nations must come to terms with the existence of a Jewish state living securely within the greater Arab and Muslim world.

Israel has been willing to meet with the greater Arab world to negotiate a regional agreement, although not the “take it or leave it” Arab Peace Initiative that would leave Israel with indefensible borders, and would leave unresolved the Palestinian right of return. After years of anti-Jewish incitement, the conservative Gulf States are afraid that a public initiative for normalization of relations with Israel could threaten the stability of their regimes.

Last week, Israel Radio reported that Israeli and Gulf State diplomats met in Jordan to discuss common security interests. This is a golden opportunity for US President Barack Obama to facilitate reconciliation between Israel and the Sunni Arabs, and to encourage them to emerge from the shadows and publicly meet with Israeli officials.

Zakaria ignores the fact that up until now the only thing that has united the Shi’ites and Sunnis is their hatred of Israel. Sunni governments need to distance themselves from Sunni non-state radical actors, and reconcile with Israel for their own long-term economic prosperity.

In Iran, while the ayatollah pragmatically has decided to pause some of the nuclear activity, this cannot blind Zakaria to the fact that Iran has hoodwinked the Obama administration into accepting its right for nuclear enrichment, accepting the buried nuclear enrichment facility of Fordow, and convincing the American negotiators to ignore the continued transgressions of the 2013 Joint Plan of Action.

When the president signs a final agreement with Iran this summer, Israel and the Gulf States will have to deal with a “nuclear threshold” Iran that may or may not be rational. Its supreme leader wants to “raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground” and “annihilate” Israel. He also wants Mecca and Medina in Shi’ite hands. (Even President Obama last week told The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg that the supreme leader is an anti-Semite.) Zakaria also incorrectly believes that Israel’s security fence, which he inaccurately describes as a wall, is the primary reason why Israel has sustained so few terrorist attacks from the West Bank.

In fact, it is Israel’s physical presence within the West Bank and the human intelligence it gathers because it controls the disputed territory that, according to many Israeli military officials with whom I have spoken, explains the decline in terrorist activity.

Zakaria seems oblivious to the fact that Israel has tried multiple times to return the vast majority of the territory to the Palestinian Arabs at great risk to its own security.

But Zakaria is as silent as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was to an Israeli offer in 2008, or to an American initiative in 2013 to restart talks.

Ironically, the last two people who want Israel to withdraw from the territories are President Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan. Both know that without Israel in the West Bank, Hamas will take over the West Bank, and Jordan will likely fall to a terrorist entity. That does not mean Israel cannot withdraw from some territory, but it does mean that any immediate withdrawal will depend on a strong Israeli presence – not only for the Israel’s sake, but also for the survival of the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

There truly is a window of opportunity, but it is not up to Israel alone. Somehow, Zakaria and his ideological fellow travelers must abandon their belief that the tiny state of Israel is all-powerful against 400 million Muslim Arabs, whose landmass and population dwarf the minuscule Jewish state. If, however, the Sunni Arabs conclude that acceptance of a Jewish state in their midst will not crumble the edifice of the 1,400-year history of the Islamic religion, they will receive overwhelming reciprocity from Israel, while immediately advancing their economic vitality by integrating with the advanced Israeli economy.

If the Arab world could come to terms with the existence of a Jewish state with a Muslim minority in its midst, then it might offer enough cover for the Palestinian Arabs to move forward, ending incitement, and actually responding to realistic conflict resolutions.

How’s this for the headline of Zakaria’s next article: “Will the Arab World Miss its Golden Opportunity To Make Peace with Israel?”

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

 

American Pluralism is an Israeli National Security Issue

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post.)

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a new 61-seat coalition government.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a new 61-seat coalition government.

Pundits have emphasized Israel’s move to the political Right, and the likely impact on negotiations with the Palestinians, its relationship with the US government, and an Israeli response if a bad deal is signed with Iran.

My concern is more nuanced. How does the formation of this new coalition government, which empowered Israel’s ultra-Orthodox minority, affect Israel’s relationship with the majority of American Diaspora Jews? Coalition governments in Israel come and go. In the moment, some mistakenly lose perspective, and define the whole Zionist enterprise as less than worthy of support because of rigid or controversial positions taken by haredim (ultra-Orthodox) in positions of religious power. Their choices reverberate throughout the Jewish world because their decisions affect the most sensitive of personal issues, including marriage, conversion, divorce, burials, and, the most basic of all, “Who is a Jew?” The ascendancy of the ultra-Orthodox to control of the Chief Rabbinate in the past 25 years, replacing more mainstream Orthodox leadership, has needlessly strained the relationship of American Jewry with Israel.

This is not just a theological division; it can have profound and long-lasting national security consequences for Israel. Yes, for Israel. If American Jews begin to question their support of Israel because of decisions of the ultra-Orthodox in control of religious issues in Israel and beyond, that breeds a national security problem, not just a religious issue.

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Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of the flagship Conservative Park Avenue Synagogue of New York recently observed that with the return of haredim in control of key Israeli ministries, it is inevitable that friction will be created, while American and Israeli Jewry are heading in opposite directions.

With the ascendancy of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the new coalition, official Israeli Judaism emanating from the ministries under haredi control is moving toward a more centralized, less inclusive form. Meanwhile, organized mainstream American liberal Judaism is moving towards more inclusivity, outreach and pluralism in large part as a response to the PEW survey of American Jews that revealed a 70 percent intermarriage rate within the non-Orthodox community. This is incredibly important for the longevity and sustainability of American Jewry, but its impact on national security also deserves attention.

If the majority of American Jews hear from their rabbis that they are now more marginalized and disenfranchised than ever by those in control of religious issues in the new government, American Diaspora Jewry, who instinctively want to support Israel, may now feel disrespected, or certainly confused.

Israeli leaders who have taken for granted the support of mainstream American Jewry need to understand how their new government’s makeup and shift to religious inflexibility will be perceived in the US. These are the people who elect members of Congress, lobby politicians to support Israel, contribute financially to the Jewish state and send their children on Birthright trips.

Israel has one great friend in the world, the unipolar superpower, the United States of America. American Jewry has been and is still overwhelmingly supportive of the Jewish state; they appreciate the security issues Israel faces daily. However, the durability of that bond will be tested if American Jewry feels the Jewish state has somehow morphed into a state with fundamental values different than theirs.

Anything that diminishes that bond is a security issue for Israel.

I am not speaking about the minority of progressive American Jews and their rabbis who seem to revel in siding with Israel’s enemies, and look for opportunities to justify their support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Without diminishing the influence of those detractors, I am speaking about the majority of American Jews who are affiliated with religious movements, who may view Israel’s new coalition government as a backtrack on prior promises. From the continuing contentious fight of “Who is a Jew?” to who can marry or convert a proselyte, American mainstream Jewry is more liberal and may find it harder to defend the state when they feel its ultra-Orthodox leadership does not respect them. It must be remembered that American Modern Orthodoxy is also at odds with the ultra-Orthodox, whose motto seems to be a “my way or the highway” Judaism.

Israeli leaders must remember that American Jewish support is not God-given, nor is it inevitable. America is not only a supporter of Israel’s military needs, but also is its diplomatic shield at international organizations.

These are core security interests.

As I wrote in my past column, America needs Israel, but Israel also needs a strong relationship with America.

Prime Minister Netanyahu must realize that in 2015 Israeli security interests are intimately involved with the pulse of the American Jewish community.

Groups like AIPAC, the iconic pro-Israel organization, rely on mainstream American Jewry foot soldiers from the liberal American Jewish movements.

Some Jewish philanthropic organizations already have stopped giving funds to Israel because of contentious issues in the past. A hard shift against religious pluralism in Israel can add fuel to this fire.

My advice for the secular leadership of the new Likud government: Find a way to embrace and legitimize the American liberal religious movements.

Do it for your own national security interests.

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

 

Why America Needs Israel

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post.) 

While Israel stays the course, the Obama administration has turned American foreign policy on its head.

“The US-Israeli alliance now contributes more than ever to American security”
– Michael Eisenstadt and David Pollock, The Washington Institute

The Obama Doctrine on foreign affairs is not only to nurture a new relationship with Iran, but also to find opportunities to weaken the longstanding bonds between America and Israel.

For years, Israeli and American interests were virtually identical: stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Muslim world, fighting Iranian hegemonic ambitions and opposing state sponsorship of terror. The president’s new vision for an Iranian-dominated Middle East certainly will come at Israel’s expense.

While Israel stays the course, the Obama administration has turned American foreign policy on its head.

The Obama Doctrine of engaging our enemies and distancing ourselves from reliable allies may defy logic, but does fit with the president’s progressive worldview of an America that has done more harm than good in the world. President Obama offers carefully chosen words of support to those who care about the US-Israel relationship, but his words are constantly betrayed by his policies and actions regarding the Jewish state.

As Sohrab Ahmari, editorial-page writer for The Wall Street Journalin London, opined in Commentary, “The worse the White House’s treatment of Jerusalem gets, the more ardent its pro-Israel rhetoric becomes…The Jewish state now faces a White House that is oblivious to regional realities, is disdainful of the Israeli body politic, and is flirting with the lexicon and tactics of delegitimization…To radically alter the US-Israel relationship, the White House also needed the backing of a domestic lobby (J Street) to counterbalance the pro-Israel establishment…The administration’s bet all along has been that it can degrade the alliance from within while maintaining an outward narrative of stalwart support for Israel.”

The president and his advisers have repeatedly acted as if Israel were the main obstacle to regional stability and American interests. His plan since taking office has been to realign the Middle East with the anti-American Islamic Republic, while treating Israel as a liability, not a strategic security asset.

So the question Americans should ask is, “Is Israel an indispensable national security asset that the president is abandoning, or is it a dispensable ally?”

Let’s start with intelligence sharing. Many American analysts believe that Israel provides significant and vital information to our country, often more than our NATO allies. Turkey is a perfect example. They are the eastern flank of NATO, but are an untrustworthy partner aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, a State Department-designated terrorist organization. In an article titled, “Turkey Breaks From the West on Defense,” the Wall Street Journal last week reported that Ankara chose a Chinese missile defense system which “threatens intelligence cooperation” among the NATO allies.

So who is the reliable intelligence ally, Israel or Turkey? Intelligence is a difficult game. With the American withdrawal from many theaters of operation in the Middle East, Israel’s vital strategic location and human intelligence have become indispensable for our security. We can use all the help we can get.

Our own CIA and National Intelligence Estimates are often flawed or politically manipulated. One only has to look at the CIA’s 1978 analysis before the overthrow of the Shah that stated, “Iran is not in a…pre-revolutionary situation,” or in October 2002 when the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concluded that Iraq “could make a nuclear weapon,” or the 2007 NIE report, which falsely claimed that Iran had stopped its nuclear weaponization program.

According to the Washington Free Beacon, Israel “is providing significant intelligence support in the US-led campaign against…ISIS [Islamic State]. Israeli satellites overfly the battle area at angles and frequencies unavailable to American satellites.”

If Israel did not exist, America would have to create it. That would be nearly impossible; creating a liberal democracy that serves as a fail-safe ally in the region is nearly impossible today. Our history of alignment with Middle Eastern authoritarian regimes, who do not share our values and whose indigenous populations are decidedly anti-American, has at best a checkered history.Israel is a nation surrounded on all sides by enemies who want to annihilate it.

Because of the repeated wars of self-defense, Israel has unfortunately become a test tract for American munitions, and treatment of those wounded in combat. American’s armed services have utilized this live battlefield experience that has saved our soldiers lives, while increasing the chance of success of future American military missions. American anti-missile defense is greatly enhanced by the Israeli experience, and the forward positioning of American arms in a stable nation is vital to American military planning.

According to the Washington Institute, “Israel’s military research and development complex has pioneered many cutting-edge technologies that are transforming the face of modern war, including cyber weapons, unmanned vehicles (land robots and aerial drones, sensors and electronic warfare systems), and advanced defenses for military vehicles.”

The morality and professionalism of the Israel Defense Forces are unique in the Middle East, and are closely aligned with our national values. America has learned from the Israeli military experience how to fight an ethical war against non-state actors that use human shields in urban areas. At home, our homeland security and counter-terrorism efforts would be dramatically weaker in strategy and effectiveness if we did not have the Israeli experience and know-how.

The chaos of today’s Middle East and the threats to American interests would be exponentially greater if Israel hadn’t destroyed the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear reactors. Imagine Islamic State today with captured nuclear material. My meetings with top Israeli defense and political leadership unanimously show a profound appreciation of America’s generosity in supplying military aid. But it is not a one-way street. Most of the military aid allocated to Israel is spent in the United States, creating nearly 70,000 jobs in America.

Americans are overwhelmingly sympathetic to Israel because of our shared values and Western outlook.

Americans know instinctively who our friends are, and whom we should not trust. They know that President Barack Obama’s realignment with the worlds’ leading state sponsor of terrorism at Israel’s expense is against American interests. Just look at the polls.

Americans do not want their country to legitimize a nation (Iran) that a hangs homosexuals and imprisons American journalists and priests. Americans want our country to support Israel, as clearly evidenced by Congress’ bipartisan support for the Jewish state and its people.

Finally, there are the Israeli medical, scientific and innovative breakthroughs that have enriched all of our lives. From voicemail to the USB, American computer and tech companies gravitate to Israel for its research and development. In medicine, from developing devices that enable the paralyzed to walk, to cures for previously untreatable diseases, to cutting edge scientific breakthroughs, Americans are happier and healthier because of Israel. Israel needs America for its friendship, diplomatic protection, shared military development and foreign aid. But America also needs a strong Israel for our own national security interests.

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.

 

The President’s Best Approach with Congress

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post.)

Congress and the American people want reassurance that our negotiators aren’t giving away the store just to get an agreement.

Negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability, albeit short of its full capacity in the first 10 years.” – Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, former US secretaries of state, The Wall Street Journal The president has made it clear that he believes he has the right to negotiate and then commit the US to an agreement, i.e. treaty, without the consent of Congress, although since the unsigned framework was announced he has adopted a more conciliatory tone. His spokesman Josh Earnest said, “On our two principles here, about protecting the presidential prerogative and preventing the implementation of the agreement, we’re going to stand firm.” Finally, a red line this president promises not to cross! As Robert Einhorn, President Obama’s former top nuclear negotiator said, the Iran negotiations are “a major component not just of his foreign policy but of his presidency, and it’s a major battle [with Congress].”

Congress and the American people want reassurance that our negotiators aren’t giving away the store just to get an agreement, especially after the supreme leader of Iran said President Obama’s fact sheet was “mostly against reality.”

An NBC poll found 68 percent of Americans do not believe Iran will uphold the treaty, and a majority said it is a serious threat to American interests.

Adding fuel to the fire of skepticism is the smiling Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who said that there should be no real-time camera monitoring of nuclear sites. And according to Iran’s Mehr media outlet he also said, “I have told the Western diplomats that Iran is capable of making an atom bomb anytime it wills.”

Further complicating the president’s effort to gain trust for his factsheet was the statement of Iranian Defense Minister Brig.-Gen. Hossein Dehgan, who said reports that the deal will allow International Atomic Energy Agency experts to inspect military centers across Iran were “lies” and “deceits,” according to The Times of Israel. What at first looked like a promising English-language factsheet quickly evaporated into an unsigned framework, with a completely different version written in Farsi.

The president didn’t help his case when he contradicted himself, claiming that all paths to a nuclear weapon have been closed but then telling NPR’s Steve Inskeep that the breakout time for a nuclear weapon will go to “zero” soon after the 10 year sunset provision. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf has tried unsuccessfully to walk back this bombshell of a statement.

Instead of treating Congress as an adversary, the president would do better to embrace Congress, not marginalize it, and allow its constitutionally proper and customary role in foreign policy. Achieving an agreement with the consensus of Congress would certainly strengthen Obama’s reputation as a statesman and safeguard his foreign policy legacy, should Iran fails to honor its commitments.

Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is known as a legislator who likes to get things done. If the president met him with enough assurances crafted into the deal, a bipartisan result could be achieved. Contrary to the president’s assertions, most everyone wants a diplomatic deal, not war.

Many people believe that the president is avoiding Congress not out of principle, but because he knows that there are so many loopholes in the deal, that would only come to light years after his presidency ends. If he thinks that history will be kind to him because the collapse of the deal occurs on another president’s watch, he is sadly mistaken.

So how can the president win over Congress? The best approach to get Congress onboard is to reassure the American people that breaches of the accord will be met with automatically imposed consequences, based on Congressional legislation.

Even if verification were good, without automatic sanctions, the Iranians would have no motivation to be faithful to a final signed deal.

The president should end his approach of outsourcing compliance with a final deal to the UN, whose record on enforcing treaties and inspections is scandalous. No serious person really believes that sanctions or consequence will be restarted by the United Nations while China and Russian sit on the Security Council with veto power. Iran knows this and will incrementally cheat on the deal, knowing UNSC consequences will never be forthcoming.

That leaves only American congressionally-imposed sanctions as something real, tangible, and which the Iranians will truly respect and fear. This would require the president’s team to delineate in the final agreement, very specifically, what actions would constitute material breaches of the agreement, and what Iran should expect in response.

Providing this might suffice to get Congress on board.

Congress and the American people are worried that we are about to make it easy for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. We know that Iranian leadership practices taddiyah, religiously sanctioned deception.

We see that even now where the American (English) and Iranian (Farsi) statements about the agreement disagree.

The American statement claims that Iran has agreed not to use advanced centrifuges, while the Iranian text insists “work on advanced centrifuges shall continue.” The FARS Iran news agency quoted senior Iranian officials as saying “Iran will begin using IR-8 centrifuges as soon as its nuclear deal goes into effect.” IR-8’s are 20 times faster than the IR-1’s, which would reduce breakout time to literally weeks.

Concerning the heavy-water reactor at Arak, where plutonium is processed to create weapons-grade nuclear material, the American text says that the core of the plant will be reconfigured. The Iranians disagree. Regarding sanctions, the American text says there would be slow relief of sanctions, but the Iranians say the Americans agreed to “immediately” terminate sanctions.

Instead of automatic sanctions, some supporters of the president are trying to win over our Gulf State allies with a dangerous offer for American interests.

Steven Spiegel of the Israel Policy Forum is proposing, “Alongside the agreement with Tehran, we can offer these [Israel and the Gulf States] a network of formal commitments guaranteeing that an attack by Iran on any of those countries would be considered an attack on the United States.” This is how WWI started. This could easily spin out of control and lead to a massive regional war with American boots on the ground.

The president has also said that he wants this deal not to have any connection to Iran’s support of terror or human rights travesties. But Congress should resist removing at least the provision of the Corker-Menendez bill that would require the executive branch to periodically certify that Iran “has not directly supported or carried out an act of terrorism against the United States.”

According to The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus, a supporter of the deal, this provision is “offensive to the administration…[and] the provision should be gone.” That is a mistake and undermines the credibility of the president.

For Israel’s part, it needs to tell the American people that regarding the threat of Iran to Israel’s security, Likud and Labor, Right and Left stand together in their opposition to the creation of a nuclear-armed enemy who persists in vowing to massacre their citizens. Americans do not in general realize that the vast majority of Israelis are dissatisfied with the current Iran deal.

Going forward won’t be easy. As former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Schultz wrote for the Wall Street Journal, “Negotiating the final agreement will be extremely challenging…Rather than enabling American disengagement from the Middle East, the nuclear framework is more likely to necessitate deepening involvement there.”

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.