Author Archives: mepin

Trump Has Changed the Landscape of the Middle East

Love him or hate him, President Donald Trump has defied conventional wisdom in the Middle East, and yet the Sun still rises every day. Trump has shattered the long-standing myths of the Middle East that allowed the Palestinians to veto every proposal for the last 100 years. They remain the only “stateless” people who have rejected multiple offers of a state.

From the Soleimani assassination to the embassy move, to the recognition of the Golan and Jordan River Valley as Israeli security imperatives, to stopping American financial support of the Palestinian Authority which rewards terrorism in its “pay for slay” terrorism scheme, the Washington pundits and the mainstream media haven’t offered a single mea culpa for how wrong they have been so far in projecting dire consequences of these policy initiatives. They predicted catastrophe, and while violence will raise its ugly head in the unstable Middle East, the outcomes have not matched their predictions.

Naysayers who claim that the deal is unrealistic, too pro-Israel, and undermines Palestinian aspirations, totally miss the point of the importance of the Trump peace plan, whether or not its particulars are realized.


The initial support of Arab nations for the plan as a basis for negotiations is groundbreaking. Even Qatar, a refuge for the Muslim Brotherhood, didn’t reject the deal outright.

The comments of the two most important Sunni nations, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are encouraging. According to the Saudi Foreign Ministry, “In light of the announcement, the kingdom reiterates its support for all efforts aimed at reaching a just and comprehensive resolution to the Palestinian cause.”

According to the Federalist website, the “Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs applaud[ed] the US contribution ‘to the stability and security of the Middle East, ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.’”

Oman, Bahrain and the UAE even went so far in their support as to send delegates to the White House ceremony where Trump unveiled the plan with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side.

The Trump plan offers a map that shows exactly how the US administration envisions Israel’s final boundaries. This marks the first time any American Mideast plan has come with a map which pre-tackles some of the thorniest issues – including Jerusalem. And yet many of these Arab states did not immediately reject it or condemn it. On the contrary, their initial reaction was to urge the Palestinians to negotiate.

With the exception of Egypt, these Arab states do not officially recognize the State of Israel. Their first reaction was to support the plan which is tacit acceptance of the Jewish homeland.

It came as no surprise that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressed strong opposition and that the Arab League placated the outraged Abbas by seemingly back-peddling and officially rejecting the Trump plan. But it’s the first reaction that is more telling, and this move by the Arab League simply pays lip service to the Palestinians.


It’s an obligatory nod to those on the Arab street that may still support the cause. The theatrics will continue at the United Nations later next week when the United States will veto the perfunctory anti-Israel resolution.

BUT THE CRACKS are showing, and with time the Sunni Gulf states – which are fast losing patience with their Palestinian Arab brethren – will choose what is in their best interest to counter Iran. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

As expected, the king of Jordan, whose stability teeters on the edge of a cliff, needed to be critical of the plan to continue to survive. Privately he is ecstatic that the Jordan River Valley will be in Israeli hands, and that a Palestinian state won’t be on his border. No surprise that the anti-American, anti-Israel president of Turkey was against the deal.

The plan not only states the obvious – that Israel must control the Jordan River Valley, especially in light of Iranian expansionism – but furthermore that Israel must have military control of a Palestinian state, the lesson learned from the 2005 Israeli disengagement from Gaza, where the ceded territory became the terrorist enclave of Hamas. A Palestinian state in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) cannot be allowed to become a base for Iranian terrorism.

The pundits didn’t see the “Arab Winter” coming, and they didn’t foresee the possibility that Arab nations would not automatically take the Palestinian position on the Trump plan. Arab nations want to do business with Israel for their own self-interests, and need Israel as the most important regional ally against their most feared enemy, Iran. They are sick of Palestinian rejectionism, and know that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not what’s going to save them from Iran’s plans to overrun and control the region.

The onus to make peace is now on the Palestinians, whereas in the past peace deal attempts Israel was always the one pressured to concede more, in the vain hope the Palestinians would reciprocate.

Supporters of the Palestinians such as J Street, now appear much more pro-Palestinian than the Arab states, as they had nothing positive to say about the obvious essential Israeli security needs that were addressed by the Trump peace plan. While adhering to the Palestinian narrative, they continue to ignore decades of Palestinian rejectionism and statements of the illegitimacy of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, best expressed in their #PeaceSham campaign. They support and encourage the Palestinian counteroffer of “a thousand nos”.

If carefully handled, the administration’s out-of-the-box thinking may bear fruit in new opportunities that didn’t exist just a couple of years ago between Israel and Sunni Muslim States. Although the Middle East is still incredibly complex and problematic, and America cannot control the millennia-long tribal and religious hatreds, US and Israeli national security interests could be advanced in ways unimaginable until today. If this plan becomes a basis for negotiation, or more likely, the Palestinians reject the plan, they make themselves more irrelevant to their Sunni Arab brethren.

Too bad the Europeans with the exception of Boris Johnson of the UK are still delusional and allow the Palestinians Authority tail to wag the European Union dog, as they have now become the chief enabler of the corrupt Palestinian Authority to the enduring detriment of the Palestinian people.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, and the senior editor for security for the Jerusalem Report. Michelle Makori is the lead anchor and editor-in-chief at i24News in New York. She has worked as an anchor, reporter and producer for Bloomberg, CNN Money, CGTN, and SABC.

Where Do We Go from Here with Iran?

{Previously published in the JNS}

We need to look at the new possibilities and perils in the post-Soleimani era.

The assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the longtime commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has profoundly changed the playing field between the United States and Iran. For the first time since 1988—when U.S. President Ronald Reagan responded to Iranian provocations in the Straits of Hormuz by sinking Iranian warships and destroying two oil platforms—tangible consequences were imposed on the regime. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini and the IRGC are now forced to revisit their decades-long assumption that America would not respond militarily to its nefarious behavior, and the United States needs to develop a strategy to take advantage of its newfound leverage.

As former Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman and former director at the National Security Council Franklin Miller wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “deterrence works only if the threats are credible … his death is the first time the regime has lost something of value in its conflict with the United States.”

We cannot let the proportional response of Iran fool us. The foundational core of the regime remains revolutionary and expansionistic: Their goal remains ejecting the United States from the region and acquiring nuclear-weapons capabilities to become immune to regime change and dominate the region.

What is still open for debate and in American hands is how to manage this unrepentant tiger going forward, especially with all Democratic candidates pledging to return to 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) and remove U.S. President Donald Trump’s sanctions, while the president might decide to remove all troops from Iraq.

Critics are focused on the constitutionality of the targeted assassination. Yet they seem to have forgotten that the recent Iranian attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad itself was an act of war, directed by Soleimani. It can be argued the killing was or wasn’t strategically wise, but that Trump was well within his rights to make that decision.

As international-law expert Alan Baker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs said, “at any given moment, Soleimani was heavily involved in the planning and execution of massive acts of terror,” making him a legitimate target under international law

Trump used his post-assassination speech to emphasize that the Iranian nuclear program is still foremost in his mind. With foreign policy now at the center of partisan debates, how we deal with that reality going forward moves to the top of the list.

Steve Rabinowitz and Aaron Keyak, consultants to President Barack Obama in support of the nuclear deal, write “Obama’s will to reach across divides and engage with Iran also emboldened its moderates.”

Was Soleimani, the chief architect of Iran’s expansionist ambitions, more or less aggressive after the JCPOA, or did he perceive the president’s sanctions relief as appeasement, something to be taken advantage of? Let’s look at the facts.

Start with the claim that the JCPOA “emboldened its moderates,” i.e., to be more moderate. What is the definition of a moderate in Iran?

It must be remembered that the “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani was one of only six hard-line candidates out of more than 600 presidential aspirants to be allowed by Khameini to run in the “election.” So the definition of a moderate for the last administration was a hardline Islamist who appointed a smooth-talking English-speaking foreign minister who manipulated and charmed his way into the heart of former Secretary of State John Kerry. Worse, the Obama administration never imposed any of the promised consequences after the nuclear deal in regard to its missile development, expansionism, human-rights abuses or terrorism.

Soleimani and Khameini looked at the deal as a pathway to remove America from the region, and solidify their control of the Shi’ite Crescent from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon. Just 10 days after the deal was agreed to, Soleimani was in Moscow meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where they agreed to save Syrian President Bashar Assad. One of the sad legacies of the Obama administration was indirectly funding the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Syria by empowering Soleimani with billions in new financial resources.

Most importantly, it must be remembered that the JCPOA gave Iran—a terror state—the right to enrich uranium, which was completely unnecessary and unprecedented if they only wanted nuclear energy. They could do what every other non-nuclear state that uses nuclear energy does: import low-enriched uranium from the United States, China or Russia, under strict controls.

Going forward with Iran requires a re-evaluation of what was conceded. A new agreement must fix the “no inspections at military sites” provision, the most likely place for clandestine nuclear R&D that, according to my sources, became even more relevant after the Israelis stole Iran’s nuclear archive in Tehran, documenting previously unknown nuclear military sites that are still being studied as possible future targets.

We need to look at the new possibilities and perils in the post Soleimani era. Trump’s seemingly red line—the death of American—may have boxed him in. What happens if Iran mines the Strait of Hormuz, but no Americans are killed? It remains to be seen what the rules are to be.

The way forward—short of regime change by the Iranian people, which should be an American goal—is to lower the flames of confrontation in Iraq. Iran won’t stop making trouble in Iraq, as it wants it to become a vassal like Lebanon. American interests require a presence in Iraq with a small footprint, while reassuring the Iraqi Kurds that they don’t have to make a deal with Iran for survival.

Israel will continue to hit Iranian precision-guided missiles in Iraq being transited to militias in Syria and Lebanon. Will Iran use Israeli strikes that kill Iranians in Iraq as a pretext to attack American interests in Iraq?

If Trump has a second term, will he be comfortable with a small but effective American presence in the Middle East? And if a Democrat is our next president, will that administration move beyond the campaign rhetoric, and realize the JCPOA is comatose and unrevivable in its current form? Will they come to realize that a new Iran nuclear agreement that forever ends their nuclear-weapons program and incorporates constraints on their nefarious activities throughout the region is the only realistic choice for American security interests?

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

Unity Missing Ingredient for Success

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

I have come away convinced that whether by design or accident, sooner rather than later, Israel could be faced with its most significant war since 1973, whether on its own terms or not.

When I arrived in Israel this month for meetings with thought leaders in intelligence, politics, history and security, I thought I knew most of the logistical and strategic challenges they would face in the near future. But I had a blind spot for the challenge of keeping the nation unified.

Depending on how the next election cycle is handled, Israel’s esprit de corps could be its most important asset, or its Achilles’ heel.

I have come away convinced that whether by design or accident, sooner rather than later, Israel could be faced with its most significant war since 1973, whether on its own terms or not.

Israel has an incredibly strong and well-prepared military that is light years ahead in preparation, munitions, technology, and capabilities compared to previous wars.Iran’s race toward nuclear arms and its desire to turn Syria into a second Hezbollah are serious challenges facing Israel. The possible use of Iraqi and Yemini launching pads for precision-guided long-range missiles aimed at Israel adds to the menace of the Iranian threat.

The urgency for Israeli national solidarity for the success of the next war has moved into the top tier of my list. A war with Iran will likely be on three fronts, with unprecedented missile attacks throughout the whole country. Even a small number of terrorists on land or through tunnels who kill or kidnap civilians or soldiers would raise the nation’s anxiety to unprecedented levels.

The best way for Israel to deal with those challenges is for the next government to be one of national unity. No matter how capable Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is, or what he has accomplished both diplomatically and militarily, it is unlikely that he could form a national-unity government after the March election, the third in less than a year. His path to power is most likely a razor-thin majority right-wing coalition government, a poor choice when the nation needs as much as ever to have its sense of purpose.

Bibi will be prime minister through March and perhaps much longer, if there is a fourth election and his trial drags on until 2021 – a crazy scenario for a nation that could be in an unprecedented war for its survival against an Iranian regime whose Shi’ite revolutionary Islamism demands the annihilation of the Jewish state as its raison d’etre.

Let’s hope that if the next election ends in another coalition paralysis, Bibi allows a unity government to form whether or not he is to be its prime minister.

No one leader is indispensable for a nation’s survival, but unity of the nation is required if Israel is to win its next war and deal with its repercussions. It is hard for any nation to imagine being led by someone else after so many years, but even the United States during World War II survived and thrived after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and an untested president Harry S. Truman took the reins of government.

According to the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security’s National Security Policy for Israel, “The most important challenge facing any government in Israel is nurturing cohesion in Israeli society; ensuring unity in the face of tests that may be posed to Israel by the violent Mideast environment…. Deterrence is based not only on sheer military might… [but] above all on the capacity to bear loss and pain both at the front lines and on the home front.”

With so many potential threats looming against Israel even beyond Iran, including the possible fall of the Jordanian monarchy, a Russia that does not give Israel the freedom of the skies to strike Iranian targets in Syria, a civil war in the post-Abbas era with the emergence of Hamastan on the Jordan, a national-unity coalition government may be the secret sauce Israel needs.

The writer is the director of the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the Senate, House, and their foreign policy advisers, as well White House advisers.        

Examining Israel’s Security Challenges with Blue and White’s Ya’alon

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

How will Israel know when Iran will cross the threshold for nuclear weapons, and will it act?

One casualty of Israel’s electoral deadlock is the absence of a budget for the Israeli military. The current five-year plan, Gideon, negotiated by former defense minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon almost five years ago is ending without a new military plan to replace it. Although the IDF can continue to act against imminent threats, it is dangerous to hamper long-range planning.

So I decided to speak with Israel’s former defense minister, who presided over the last five-year plan when things in the government were more normal, to see how he analyzes Israel’s current security challenges. His perspective should be seen not only through his years of military service culminating as the IDF chief of staff, but as a leader of Israel’s Blue and White Party that may lead the next coalition government. I thought it would be instructive to ask Ya’alon to comment on some of the topics I discuss in Washington with foreign policy experts and members of Congress.

First, I wanted to know how Israel will fight a multi-front war with thousands of missiles aimed at Israeli communities and strategic locations, some with precision guidance that could overwhelm its current missile defenses.

Ya’alon said that it must be remembered that the strategy of Israel’s enemies like Hezbollah and Hamas is to use missile attacks to target and terrorize Israeli civilians. They know Israel is militarily superior and cannot be defeated conventionally, so their strategy is to break the will of the Israeli people. He said Israelis have repeatedly stood the test of time under threat, revealing Israel’s true strength, combining the Jewish heart with Jewish values, intelligence and the spirit of Zionism.

However, the best defense is still a good offense provided by Israel’s superior intelligence gathering, which is also an indispensable American security asset. For Israel, this allows missiles, as well as precision-guided missile factories to be precisely targeted.

I asked whether Israel needs more anti-missile systems like Iron Dome. He said Israel could certainly use more anti-missile systems, but without an approved military plan and budget, it cannot happen.

I moved onto Israel’s northern Iranian border with Syria and Lebanon, and wanted to know if it is possible, short of a massive ground invasion, to diminish the Iranian presence.

Ya’alon said you need to begin by thinking of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Iranian controlled Shi’ite militias in Syria not as independent entities, but as parts of a whole entity, with its brain center for all of its nefarious activities located in Tehran. The supreme leader has not changed his spots, and when the West claims Iran has become more moderate under its current President Rouhani compared to his predecessor, Ahmadinejad, it’s like thinking Jack the Ripper is more moderate than the Boston Strangler.

I told him that there is a debate in the US whether it is wise to publicly support the protesters in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, as some say overt US support would allow the Iranian regime to claim this is all an American plot to overthrow the regime, which would resonate with the Iranian people. He answered that supporting the protesters is the right thing to do for both of our countries’ interests, and America shouldn’t fail the Iranian people again as they did 10 years ago during the Green Revolution.

Ya’alon added that regime change by the people of Iran would create more stability in the region. However, economic pressure via sanctions is not enough to stop Iran; they need to be politically isolated. Unfortunately, Europe is reluctant, but must be convinced that this is in their interest, as they did before agreeing to the flawed Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA), to reinstate political isolation.

It should be noted that no one I spoke to throughout the Israeli security or political establishment ever even hinted that America should consider boots on the ground to cause regime change, something that is disingenuously alleged by many of the supporters of the JCPOA.

Ya’alon said Iran’s leaders ultimately want to survive, and even if there is not a popularly inspired regime change, the regime can feel enough economic and political pressure to halt some of their expansionist activities, but only if both political isolation and hard-hitting sanctions are combined.

I ASKED if Israel is forced into a large-scale war with Iran from Syria and Lebanon, would Israel consider attacking Iran proper. Ya’alon didn’t answer directly but said it is counterproductive to speak openly about Israeli strikes against Iranian interests, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does now, finding it counterproductive, as ambiguity about military options better serves Israeli interests.

So how will Israel know when Iran will cross the threshold for nuclear weapons, and will it act?

Israel leaves all options on the table, and only a credible military threat will dissuade Iran. America, by not responding to the Iranian downing of its $100-million drone, or the unreciprocated attacks by Iran on international shipping in international waterways, or the lack of response to the Iranian attack on the Saudi oil facilities, has invited further Iranian aggression and increased instability in the region, undermining both American and Israeli interests.

The best way to decrease Iran’s threats is to respond with consequences when Iran acts. He wants America not to forget that it still has interests in the Middle East and that if it creates vacuums, it will eventually endanger America itself. America must remember that 9/11 came from the Middle East and that many attacks against American interests have come from the region.

Taking a step back to view the situation on a macro level, Ya’alon said there are three great threats in the Middle East: Iran; the Muslim Brotherhood, best exemplified by Turkish President Recep Erdogan; and Sunni Wahhabi radicalism in the form of al-Qaeda or Daesh (ISIS) that are both now somewhat in retreat. The only way America can counter these threats without sending in troops is to be supportive of Israel, which holds the front line against all the forms of radical Islam, from Shi’ite to Sunni jihadism.

Ya’alon is the number three in the Blue and White Party and is reportedly its choice for education minister. After his time as defense minister, he emphasized Israel’s internal challenges, so I asked him, if he became education minister, how he would approach the subject of Zionism in the secular Jewish school system.

As chief of staff of the IDF, Ya’alon made it a priority to teach young soldiers about the foundational core values of Zionism, defining Judaism as a religion, a national aspiration, a civilization and a people. He said these core values must be part of the educational system, as the nation must be rooted in a solid foundation to withstand its challenges. Israel’s four school systems: secular Jewish, religious Zionist, Arab and haredi (ultra-Orthodox), also need to be more integrated for both their benefit as well as the country’s. He emphasized the importance of avoiding confrontational coercion of the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs, but his party is in favor of some form of mandatory civil service.

Let’s hope Israel’s politicians will put the people’s interest ahead of their own and finally form a government after this unprecedented third election. Everyone I spoke to, Right and Left, agreed that having to endure a third election is unfortunate, and Israelis need to agree to disagree where necessary, maintain their sense of unity and move forward, as a genuine, vibrant democracy requires. 

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the Senate, House and their foreign policy advisers, as well as White House advisers. He is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to The Hill, i24TV, JTA, TheDefensePost.com, JNS, The Forward and has appeared on RealClearWorld.com.

It’s Time for Europe to Stand With the Iranian People

{Previously published in The JNS}

What will it take for the international community to realize that no amount of money, accommodation or deference will change the DNA of Iran’s leaders, who are bent on eradicating Israel, and the ascendency of Shi’ism over Sunnis and minority populations living in the Mideast?

In Tehran, the mullahs have blamed the recent protests in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon not on their own repressive regimes and proxies, but on foreign and Zionist interference.

The Iranian Supreme Leader speaking to his Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Basij henchmen, blamed the Iranian people’s protests on foreign interference, thanking the Iranian people for the “hard blow to global arrogance and Zionism, forcing them to retreat.”

How long will the Iranian scapegoating against the West and Zionists work, when their economy is in shambles and the people yearn for freedoms that are an anathema to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s revolutionary agenda?

Repressive regimes have long used scapegoating as the preferred method to blame anyone but themselves for their violence, lack of human rights and economic failures.

The revolutionary Islamist Iranian theocracy shares elements with every authoritarian regime that imprisons and kills its own people, deflecting attention with scapegoating, but unique to Iran is its religiously sanctioned dissimulation—i.e., taqiyya, a precautionary dissimulation or denial of religious belief and practice in the face of persecution.

You would think that Europeans who supposedly learned the lessons of fascism in the 20th century would be particularly sensitive to a vicious state-controlled secret police—in this case directly controlled by the Iranian Mullahs, the IRGC and the corrupt Iranian government.

Like the Nazis who diverted resources even during militarily challenging times in 1944 when they choose to ramp up their master plan to kill all the Jews of Europe, the Iranian regime today chooses to divert its resources to surround Israel and support its proxies for the destruction of the Jewish state, instead of economically helping their people. You can understand this only if you realize how central a foundational pillar of the Iranian revolution is the destruction of Israel.

Yet Western Europe, including France, England and Germany, which tout their humanitarian records, have supported and treated the Iranian regime as a legitimate government—not as the world’s leading state sponsor of terror—and have even enabled the world’s foremost Jew-haters a path to nuclear weapons.

The European Union recently rejected by vote a “Made in Israel” label for every Israeli good produced over the 1967 Green Line, much like Jewish products were labeled in the 1930s by Germany. The Irish are even in the process of criminalizing anyone who economically profits from goods made in Judea and Samaria (West Bank). Yet an additional six E.U. nations this week joined the INSTEX bartering system to bypass American sanctions on Iran.

When did it become the policy of European Western democracies to be on the side of suppression, jihadism and illiberalism, and against the yearning of a people for liberation from their authoritarian suppressors, or perversely favoring Iran economically over Israel, the only democracy in the region?

According to The New York Times, Iraqi protesters screaming “Out Iran” have burned the Iranian consulate in the holy city of Najaf Iraq “in an outburst of anger at Iran.”

The best way to support Iranian protesters is not only to support their legitimate protests, but also the protests of the Lebanese and Iraqi people against their governments, who are in large part controlled by Tehran. If the Lebanese and Iraqi people can effectively challenge their Iranian-controlled political parties and governments, then it would encourage the Iranian people to continue to demand a change of their government.

Now is the time to state the obvious: It would be in American and allied interests for the Iranian people to be in charge of their own destiny.

That will not happen until there is a change of regime in Tehran—something that is a dirty word in the international community. But regime change will come not from American boots on the ground, as the critics contend is the real goal, but from the Iranian people themselves, who need and deserve our public and vocal support to take control of their lives both for their benefit and ours.

Unlike Europe, the Trump administration has not taken the easy path of accommodation, appeasement and willful avoidance of facts, but has provided tangible consequences to the Iranian Republic. Not only has it withdrawn from the tragically flawed 2015 nuclear deal that guaranteed an Iranian pathway to nuclear weapons in the future, but has rhetorically stood side by side with today’s Iranian protesters in profound contra-distinction to the last administration’s policy of silence during the Iranian Green Revolution of 2009, when the regime seemed vulnerable.

What will it take for Europe to wake up and realize that no amount of money, accommodation or deference will change the structural DNA of Iran’s leaders, who are bent on the eradication of Israel, and the ascendency of Shi’ism over Sunnis and minority populations living in the Middle East?

Since the 100,000-plus missiles of Iranian-controlled Hezbollah in Lebanon do not threaten Paris, Berlin or London, they rationalize away the true nature of the regime. It helps that they, too, habitually see Israel in a negative light.

Iran is not a rational state actor in the Western sense. It is, however, an Islamist rational actor with a well-thought-out hegemonic agenda to destroy the Jewish state and dominate the Middle East as in the long-ago days of Persian imperialism. Iran is a dangerous combination of longing for the glory days of Persian domination of its neighbors, married to a unique Twelver Shi’ite Jihadist desire to capture Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.

Once the obvious conclusion is drawn that Iran cannot be changed or turned into a member of the international community in good standing, then strategies to deal with this reality can be created. The Iranian economy is on the ropes, and if only the Europeans would join the American sanction regime, the Iranian people could possibly take control of their destiny.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

Two States for Two Peoples Requires Recognizing Israel’s Legal Rights

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Ten years ago, I was briefing a senator and her chief of staff about the complex nature of international law regarding the building of Israeli communities, i.e., settlements over the 1949 Armistice line (1967 Line or Green Line), in land claimed by the Palestinian Arab people as their future national home. They thanked me for new information, which surprised me, telling me that the leading pro-Israel groups almost never mention anything about settlements, not even the militarily essential ones in the Jordan River Valley that are supported by many Israelis. So I filled in the blanks.

Does Israel have any legal rights over the 1967 Line?

Is every Israeli settlement over the 1967 line a violation of the international law, including Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall?

What does international law say about settlement in non-populated areas of disputed territory acquired in a defensive war?

When I was a guest lecturer in a Middle East Studies class at a major university and when I began explaining what I thought was a straight-forward explanation of UNSC Resolution 242, the basis for all international agreements and negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, the Lebanese professor who invited me to speak told me that I mistranslated the text. I said the text said Israel was to withdraw from “territories” it captured during the 1967 Six Day War, the authors specifically leaving out the indefinite article “the” to imply it didn’t have to return from 100% of the occupied area.

The professor said the correct translation in Arabic was “the territories” meaning Israel must completely withdraw, so I retorted that it was written in English, citing the words of the authors of the resolution who explained that it was written purposely without “the,” as they never expected or required Israel to return to the indefensible borders of 1967. He was unpersuaded, but students who came up to me afterward thanked me for adding some gray to the black or white picture the professor had painted regarding Israel and the territories in question.

When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently announced that Israeli settlements are not per se illegal, it touched off a political firestorm with partisans going into their corners citing international law without actually looking at the complexities of the issue or what a non-politicized version of international law actually says.

Whether it is wise for Israel to have their current settlement policy is a different question. But not differentiating between settlements based on security issues like the Jordan River Valley, or rather, as defined by the professor as any Jewish presence over the ‘67 line, which would include the Western Wall of the old Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, makes an eventual resolution of the conflict almost impossible.

Adding to the complexity was President Barack Obama’s parting shot at the end of his term to Prime Minister Netanyahu, with the American orchestration of UNSC Resolution 2334, which declared an Israeli presence of one centimeter over the 1967 line as a “flagrant violation of international law,” contradicting UNSC 242, and hardening the Palestinian position.

SO WHAT does international law actually say about the issue? A recent Democrat-penned letter that garnered more than 100 signatures cited a 1978 opinion by State Department legal counsel Herbert Hansell that said Israel’s settlements violate Article 49 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibiting the deportation of its civilian population into the disputed area.

What he chooses to ignore is that this prohibition was specifically written because of what the Nazis did during World War II, where they forcibly transferred their populations into occupied lands that they ethnically cleansed of Jews for colonization and for racial reasons. Comparing Israel’s settlement policy to a policy designed to prevent a recurrence of Nazi fascism is not only inaccurate but obscene.

According to Alan Baker, defenders of Israel’s settlement policy have international law on their side, citing Article 80 of the UN Charter, which memorialized the Balfour Declaration, the San Remo Declaration and the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, granting Israel rights in today’s contested territories over the 1967 Line (West Bank or Judea and Samaria).

In addition, from 1949 to 1967, the area was claimed by Jordan, but the international community, with the exception of Pakistan and Britain, did not recognize that claim. Since the last legal stakeholder of the land was the Ottoman Empire, which had dissolved after World War I, the land was best described as disputed after Israel captured the territory during the Six Day War.

Why is this important even if you believe the eventual resolution of the conflict is two states for two peoples and an Israeli return to the 1967 lines with land swaps, which is what many of those who signed Congressional letter believe?

Because if Israel in a negotiated settlement with the Palestinian Authority is ceded any territory over the 1967 line, whether for defensive reasons or part of a land swap, it will always be viewed as a burglar returning only part of his ill-gotten gains, setting up a pretext for future generations of Palestinians to undermine any settlement in the future.

Israel’s legal rights over the 1967 line must be recognized for there to be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Counterintuitive, yes, but considering the failures of all previous negotiations, it is something that should be championed for those who want both a Jewish state and an Arab state.The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. Dr. Mandel regularly briefs members of the Senate, House, and their foreign policy advisers, as well White House advisers. He is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to The Hill, i24TV, JTA, Defense Post, JNS, The Forward and has appeared in RealClearWorld.

Turkish and Iranian Ambitions Rise While US Loses its Influence

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Andrew McCarthy, writing in National Review, said US President Donald Trump “has a cogent position… He wants US forces out of a conflict in which America’s interests have never been clear, and for which Congress has never approved military intervention… [he] has an exit strategy, which is to exit.”

Ronen Itsik, writing in Israel Hayom, said Trump’s withdrawal of American forces was “neither impulsive nor unreasonable.” He claims this is all part of a well-planned strategy to put pressure on Iran. Yet, during my briefings in Washington, I couldn’t find a single Congressional office, Democratic or Republican, which was aware of any comprehensive White House strategy for the Middle East.

I guess the new definition of an American victory is that you allow an Islamist NATO member to conquer your most important partner who helped you defeat ISIS, and after it has achieved all of its military goals in a campaign of aggression, suspend sanctions, impose no consequences, and declare it a “breakthrough.” Is Isolationism and abandoning your allies the new American face to the world?

American influence as a superpower still relies on it respecting a value-based foreign policy, even if we often defer to pragmatism and realpolitik. It is an American ideal we should always aspire towards, or we look and are no better than the Russians or Chinese.

Turkey is, at best, a frenemy, and helping them ethnically cleanse our Syrian Kurdish ally supposedly to create a deterrence to Iranian expansionism, as Trump’s defenders claim, makes no sense. Turkey has been undermining American security interests for the last two decades under Erdogan. That list includes everything from helping Iran evade American sanctions on its nuclear activity, to looking the other way when ISIS sold oil on Turkey’s black market, to most recently buying the Russian advanced S-400 anti-missile system, something that should have been seen as crossing a bright red line redefining what constitutes a NATO ally.

Erdogan outplayed Trump by threatening to invade Syria even if US forces were not withdrawn. Trump blinked and laid out the red carpet by withdrawing the US-controlled no-fly zone, allowing Turkey to bomb at will the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), clearing a path for their Islamist militias to follow. Trump should have told Erdogan, that we would stop anyone flying in the no-fly zone, no questions asked.

Iran and Turkey are not natural allies, but at the present time they work along with Russia for a common interest, undermining America. Russia has already worked out a deal with Turkey to divide northern Syria into spheres of influence, allowing Iran a clear path for their long-sought corridor to the Mediterranean Sea, solidifying their permanent presence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Turkish ethnic cleansing of the Kurds cannot be considered a surprise, as Turkey did exactly that to the Kurds of northwest Syria last year in Afrin.

For Turkey, destroying the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) American ally is a step towards destroying its archenemy, the Turkish Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). Erdogan’s goal of repopulating the Kurdish region with Sunni Syrian refugees, while expanding his neo-Ottoman land grab into Syria is much like Turkey’s invasion, ethnic cleansing and occupation of Northern Cyprus 40 years ago. His Islamist ideology allows him to work with Sunni Salafists in Syria, who are helping him attack the Kurds. Those radical Islamists include al-Qaeda, no friends of America.

Even if Congress reimposes sanctions on Turkey now after withdrawing our small contingent of soldiers that held disproportionate leverage in northeast Syria, it is way too late in the game to make a difference. It showed a lack of any forethought, with consequences that were easily foreseeable to almost everyone who studies the region.

Claiming President Trump has a master plan to restrain Iran by empowering Turkey is farfetched at best. The real end result is Iran wins, Turkey wins, Russia wins, Syria wins, and the US loses.

Iranian and Turkish hegemonic ambitions may one day cause them to come into conflict with one another. That day seems far off, and the unintended consequences of that scenario could lead to a rise of sectarian violence, once again drawing America into the region, this time without any cards to play to influence the situation.

The writer is the director of the Middle East Political Information Network, and regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House, and their foreign policy advisers.

Progressive Jewish Americans and the Legitimacy of Zionism

{Previously published by the JNS}

Will they ever feel comfortable with a powerful and self-confident Israel? Can they see beyond Israel’s occupation of the disputed territories as defining the legitimacy of the state?

In a column titled, “I Was Protested at Bard College for Being a Jew,” Batya Ungar-Sargan, a liberal Zionist and the Opinion Editor of The Forward, a paper that is decidedly to the left, was targeted by progressive anti-Zionists because the panel was comprised of three Jews, including the esteemed Ruth Wisse of Harvard University.

She said the university had no plans to stop “what was fixing to become an ugly disruption of Jews trying to discuss anti-Semitism.” What shocked her more was the support of the academics and intellectuals in the audience who “applauded” the blatantly anti-Semitic disruption. “These vaunted intellectuals, flown in from across the country … were commending a display of racism against Jews.”

Welcome to a world where far-left progressives find commonality with far-right fascists.

Unlike liberal Zionists of the 20th century, many 21st-century progressives attending our leading universities learned that Israel’s founding was the original sin of the Middle East, the ethnic-cleansing of the indigenous Arab minority by the interloping Jewish Zionist.

As New York Times columnist and author of How to Fight Anti-Semitism Bari Weiss wrote, “Where once only Israel’s government was demonized, now it is the Jewish movement for self-determination itself” that is delegitimized.

Israel, a nation whose existence is dedicated to a particular people, is an anathema to the universalism of the progressive intellectual, whose dream is a globalized world of universal values, and a distorted understanding of human rights and social justice.

Why Israel is singled out to be the only country whose very existence offends progressives—who seem to ignore other religiously or ethnically dominated states whose actions are far more egregious than Israel’s imperfect democracy—raises troubling questions.

Is it even possible that the next generation of American Jewish progressives can find commonality or respect for their Israeli Jewish brethren, or are Israelis marked like Cain, permanently branded as illegitimate occupiers who deserve to perish in the dustpan of history?

This all came into focus in reading two new books, Weiss’s and Daniel Gordis’s We Are Divided. The latter speaks of the different paths American and Israeli Jews have taken that led to their different perspectives of what it means to be a Jew in the 21st century.

Most Israelis—whether secular, traditional or national religious—are unapologetically proud to be Jewish, in large part based on their understanding of 3,000 years’ continuous narrative of a people who decided to take charge of their lives and re-enter history by living in a nation among nations in their ancestral homeland.

There is profound discomfort among American progressive Jews regarding their Jewish cousins and the choice they have made that Judaism can be fully expressed as a combination of civilizational aspirations, a multi-ethnic tradition, a religion, and yes, a legitimate national movement called Zionism.

Many American progressive groups see Judaism as Palestinian Arabs define it: as a religion without legitimate national rights. American progressive readers of The New York Times are comfortable with stories of powerless and persecuted Jews, especially from the Holocaust, but if Jews successfully defend themselves and prosper, then they are found to be guilty of colonialism, war crimes and a failure to honor the demands of diversity.

Will the next generation of American Jews follow many of today’s progressives and deny that Israel has any right to exist, or could they come to find this denial specious and become liberal Zionists?

Respect for Zionism is becoming weaker among progressive and even liberal Diaspora Jews. There is no doubt that some of this can be blamed on Israel for continuing to allow Israel’s ultra-Orthodox to delegitimize non-Orthodox branches of the religion.

Not acknowledging that until 30 years ago, when the ultra-Orthodox took over control of the rabbinate, Israeli Orthodox Judaism was more tolerant, especially when one thinks of Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, Israel’s first chief rabbi who saw Judaism and Zionism of non-observant Jews as complementary and necessary for Jewish survival.

There are some challenging questions that need to be addressed and discussed within American synagogues, organizations, and yes, progressive forums, if Diaspora Judaism wants to survive.Can progressive Jews see Israel as legitimate in its own right as both democratic and Jewish, and not compare it to American democracy, which is a different democratic experiment? Can they see the importance of a nation-state of the Jews as essential for the survival of Diaspora Judaism in America? Can they ever feel comfortable with a powerful and self-confident Israel? Can they see beyond Israel’s occupation of the disputed territories as defining the legitimacy of the state?

If a progressive American Jew cannot acknowledge that Zionism is a valid way of expressing one’s Judaism, then are progressive Jews any different from ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionists who think Israel has no right to exist until the coming of the Messiah?

Weiss writes that anti-Semitism of the left is more insidious and potentially more existentially dangerous than Jew-hatred from the right. “Leftist anti-Semitism like communism pretends to be something that it’s not that has been smuggled into the mainstream to manipulate us, in the name of human rights and universal rights of man.” As an example, she tells us to look across the pond at British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to see where progressivism may be headed in America.When Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speak at J Street’s national convention, will they be 100 percent clear that Israel’s right to exist is not up for discussion? Will they tell the audience, as they have said before, that they will remain unequivocally pro-Israel until this conflict becomes a negotiation about boundary lines, rather than a debate whether Israel has a right to exist? The survival of the liberal Jewish Diaspora, whether acknowledged or not, is dependent on Israel’s survival. Let the discussion begin.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

What Congress Can Do for An America Without a Coherent Middle East Policy

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Our boots on the ground have left in the aftermath of the infamous Trump-Erdogan phone call, turning 100,000 American trained allied SDF troops into part of the Syrian army.

Two days of briefings on both sides of the aisle revealed an overwhelming consensus within Congress that America is hampered by not having a coherent Middle East strategic policy.

During my meetings in Congress, what struck a chord but was not yet on their legislative radar, as Congress is usually more reactive than proactive on foreign policy, was the escalating control of Iraq by Iranian controlled militias (PMU or PMF), and the fate of the Kurds in northern Iraq.

In the aftermath of the Syrian withdrawal, almost everyone expressed the desire to remain engaged in the region with as small a presence as possible to advance our goals, similar to the small footprint we had in northern Syria that blocked the Iranian land bridge to the Mediterranean. Now our boots on the ground have left in the aftermath of the infamous Trump-Erdogan phone call, turning 100,000 American trained allied SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces opposed to Assad) troops into part of the Syrian army.

Now that the damage of the Syrian withdrawal is a fait accompli, can Congress move the needle and make a difference in American policy?

Foreign policy is primarily the purview of the President; however, Congress does have the power to impose sanctions, control American taxpayer money, and voice its strong opinions for Americans and the world to hear.

A bipartisan letter of support to our Kurdish allies in northern Iraq is needed to calm their jittery nerves. Kurdistan in northern Iraq is a zone of pro-American stability, borders Iran and Turkey, and is vital to American interests. We need to preclude the possibility that the President could sell them out and force them to make a deal for survival with Iran, much like the Syrian Kurds were forced to do with the Syrian regime.

A primary American goal to advance our foreign policy interests should be to bring to light Iran’s growing entrenchment in Iraq using its Hezbollah model of marrying Iranian controlled militias (PMU or PMF) with members of Parliament who are under their control.  In Iraq this has been implemented through the Badr organization which controls the largest militia, al-Hashd al-Shabi, and second largest Iraqi political party Fatah.

According to the Washington Institute’s Phillip Smyth the ‘militia/party model that Hezbollah has long used in Lebanon… function(s) as the most powerful element of direct Iranian influence in the Iraqi political sphere.” They are dominant players in Iraqi foreign and domestic policy. 

As George Friedman of Geopolitical Futures wrote, “pro-Iran groups advocate and fight to further Iran’s interests regardless of whether they conflict with the interests of Iraq.“

How would Americans feel if they knew that directly or indirectly our taxpayer monies allocated to the Iraqi government may be ending up in the hands of Iranian controlled Iraqi militias with more blood on their hands than the US sanctioned Hezbollah terrorist entity.  

According to George Friedman, former Prime Minister al-Maliki legislated “the formation of the PMF Commission, which administers Iraqi state funds for PMF groups (Iranian controlled Iraqi militias). Iran also discreetly funds some of these groups, and many pro-Iran militia leaders today occupy important positions within the Iraqi government, giving them substantial control over funding decisions… and even battle plans.”

The Council on Foreign Relations reported that as of October 2018, the US was providing 5.3 billion dollars to Iraq. We need to know, how much of our money is going to Iranian controlled Iraqi militias?   

In the past, Congress passed legislation through the defense authorization bill imposing sanctions on some of the most notorious Iranian controlled militias, like Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH).

However, the largest militias are controlled by the Badr organization which is not sanctioned.

How can we square the circle that Iranian controlled militias have been legally integrated within the Iraqi military for the past two years without any of the hoped for moderation that was supposed to happen?

Without sanctioning all of the Iranian controlled militias, we have no hope of loosening the grip of the Iranian octopus in Iraq, where we have lost so much blood and treasure over the last 16 years.

However, some Senate offices worry that the leader of Badr could become the next Iraqi PM and rationalize that it would be counterproductive to sanction him now. Yet today Congress is willing to personally sanction Erdogan after the attack in Syrian Kurdistan.

If we want to advance US interests we should sanction the whole Badr organization, which would focus American money to truly moderate Shiite Iraqi groups, or at least ones not directly controlled by Iran.

If Hezbollah, an Iranian controlled proxy, became part of the Lebanese armed forces would we continue to fund the Lebanese Armed Forces. In Iraq, we fund the Iraqi government where both Iraqi members of Parliament and militias are controlled by Iran, and we don’t know where our taxpayer dollars really go.

On a humanitarian level, displaced Iraqi minorities cannot return to their homes because the Iranian controlled militias are in control of their former homes. Empowering the Iraqi government means funding the parts of the Iraqi government and military that are not associated in any way shape or form with Iran.

The President has said that Iran is our primary enemy in the region. This would be a time for him to act as a fiscal watchdog, and work with Congress on sanctions against all Iranian controlled militias in Iraq.

According to Reuters, Iranian backed militias deployed snipers in Iraq killing scores of protestors this month. How would the President respond to the question, why is America funding Iran’s militias in Iraq who are shooting Iraqi civilians, and preventing Christian and Yazidi minorities from returning to their homes?

It is time for Congress to be pro-active and not wait for the President to make the next foreign policy faux pas. A return to Senator Rand Paul isolationism in a fortress America with no physical presence in the Middle East is not a realistic strategy to keep radical Islam away from our homeland. We haven’t had any significant Islamist terrorism here, because we are still engaged over there.

It is incumbent for Congress to step up and get ahead of an impulsive President before the next self-inflicted calamity occurs in the Middle East.

The author is the founder and director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political and Information Network.

After Syria Debacle, Congress Must Act for Kurdish Region of Iraq

After Syria Debacle, Congress Must Act for Kurdish Region of Iraq

{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

After training almost 100,000 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces in eastern Syria the US suddenly announced a withdrawal, without a road map to stability.

In 2016, Donald Trump excoriated the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq in 2011 after the successful American surge in Iraq under President George W. Bush had stabilized the country. He blamed the US withdrawal for the rise of Islamic State (ISIS). His analysis was correct, that the American withdrawal led to the rise of sectarian violence, particularly at the hands of Iraqi Shi’ite strongman Nouri al-Maliki. ISIS was able to gain a greater foothold as a result.

The October 6 decision by the White House to abandon and betray America’s partners in northern Syria, our best fighting partner against ISIS, is inappropriate on so many levels. When was it ever in American interests to empower Iran, Russia, Syria’s regime, or Turkish-backed extremists, leaving America looking like a paper tiger, and an unreliable ally? After training almost 100,000 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces in eastern Syria the US suddenly announced a withdrawal, without a road map to stability or even acknowledgement of the important the SDF played in the defeat of ISIS. The SDF, being bombed by Turkey which accused them of being linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and suffering attacks from extremists, signed a deal with the Syrian regime on October 13.

Now, while Syrian Kurds fear ethnic cleansing and the loss of their freedom, pushed through no fault of their own into the arms of the Syrians, Russians and Iranian militias, Congress has to act now to protect our even more important Kurdish allies in norther Iraq, or Iran will sense weakness and seek to exploit America’s perceived retreat.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is an autonomous region under Iraq’s 2005 constitution that the US supported after the 2003 defeat of Saddam Hussein. For decades the Kurdish leadership in the Kurdistan Regional Government capital of Erbil has been close to the US and has created a region that is stable and prosperous. They were key allies against ISIS and the US has supported their armed forces, called Peshmerga, through training and budgetary assistance.

However in recent years the Kurdistan region has been sandwiched between a rising Iran and questions about US policy in Iraq and Syria.

When the US decided to leave Syria it became clear that the Kurdistan region of Iraq could also be threatened. Unlike the US partnership with the SDF, the US relationship with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is one of two governments, because the KRG is an autonomous region under the Iraqi constitution, akin to Scotland or Quebec. While there were critics of the US partnership with the SDF, critically Turkey, there is no criticism of the US work with the KRG. That is why it is essential now to shore up support for Kurdish allies in Iraq and make sure they understand that the US is standing behind them. Uncertainty in the Middle East leads to US enemies trying exploit division and pry away US allies.

Washington cannot allow another retreat from the region after the collapse of eastern Syria. Northern Iraq is now the hinge, a strategic key, to the border areas of Iran, Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Iran must not be allowed to consume Iraq and Syria like an octopus. It is time for Congress to move fast and make clear the Kurdistan region is a key ally. That means support for security and the economy of the region. It means supporting the Kurdish region which hosts Yazidis and has large numbers of Christians. It means support for reconstruction and enabling the region to spread its wings at this key moment when US allies and interests appear under siege. An invite to the Kurdistan Regional president Nechirvan Barzani would be a good message from the US that the region is important. Listening to Erbil’s concerns is also important.

In other areas of Iraq protesters are being shot down by Iranian-backed militias. Not so in the Kurdistan region, an island of stability. But as we saw with eastern Syria, an island of stability can be threatened. The US needs to do the right thing and Congress has the tools to make that happen.

Seth J. Frantzman is the author of ‘After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East,’ and Oped Editor of The Jerusalem Post. Eric R Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, and regularly briefs members of the Senate, House and their foreign policy advisers.