Author Archives: mepin

Why should the US care if Hamas moves against Israel from Lebanon?

Source: Getty Images

With Iranian help, Hamas, which controls Gaza, is creating a presence in Hezbollah’s backyard in Lebanon. Should it be of any concern to American security interests that Iran supports both of these terrorist organizations? 

The answer is yes. An emergent and unpredictable Hamas military presence in Lebanon could destabilize the whole region. This is because Hamas may not feel as restrained to act in Lebanon as in Gaza, where it fills the role of being the de facto power. Palestinian Hamas knows it would not primarily bear the consequence of Israeli retaliation for its actions emanating from Lebanon. It does not take much imagination to understand that this could spiral out of control into a regional war — and possibly throw a wrench into America’s pivot toward China.

Read the rest from the Hill.

How the Iraqi Election Affects U.S. National Security Interests

source: Kurdistan 24

Published by Kurdistan 24.

This week’s Iraqi parliamentary election has profound implications for American national security interests. Yet the American people and the Biden administration are either uninterested, weary of regional commitments, or are focused on U.S. domestic concerns on new spending for infrastructure and entitlements. Yet, the Middle East has a peculiar ability to defy America’s quest for withdrawal and isolation, drawing back the U.S. under less than advantageous circumstances. Just ask ISIS.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, this week’s election in Iraq “could shape the future for U.S. forces still based there and indicate how Baghdad will navigate a broader geopolitical power struggle between Washington and Tehran… the ballot was also colored by the struggle between Iran-backed militias and the U.S., which has about 2,500 troops in the country.” The early elections are the result of the anti-government protests, poor economic conditions, and government corruption. According to the New York Times, “the country’s fifth general election highlights a political system dominated by guns and money, and still largely divided along sectarian and ethnic lines.”

President Biden has already called for an end to American combat forces in Iraq but is temporarily committed to leaving support and training staff to help Iraq fight a resurgent ISIS. The Iraqi army is weak and dominated by Iranian-controlled Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) that are integrated into the Iraqi military. We should not be working with Iranian militias as we did during the initial fight against ISIS.

America’s interest in Iraq should not only be about limiting ISIS but not letting Iran dominate another country while abandoning another ally in Kurdistan. Iran is at least if not more of a threat to long-term U.S. interests than the Islamic State. Sunni ISIS jihadists and nuclear-armed Iranian Islamists are both a concern. If the administration genuinely believes that ISIS is the only reason to keep troops there, it is very much mistaken.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein told The Wall Street Journal in July that the Iraqi government needs “cooperation in the field of intelligence. We need help with training. We need troops to help us in the air.” That is everything the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan to our detriment.  In Afghanistan, we got the Taliban; in Iraq, we will get Iran. How can this be good for the US, Israel, Kurdistan, the minority populations of Iraq, American allies in the Gulf, Egypt, or Jordan?

Iraq is a domino in the Iranian vision to dominate the region. The expected result of the Iraqi election is a victory for the anti-US cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Iranian-controlled political groups associated with its militias. They will increase pressure on the next Iraqi prime minister for a complete withdrawal of any U.S. presence from the country. Iranian control of Iraq will be viewed as another American humiliation, leaving another regional country with its tail between its legs.

American allies like the Kurds in the north of Iraq will be left vulnerable to Iranian-controlled militias. They may be forced to deal with the devil in the name of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Having a reliable ally like the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) in the middle of such an important geopolitical area for American security interests is taken for granted.

The Biden administration’s latest foreign policy faux pas, not widely reported in the mainstream media, was its failure to come to the defense of Iraqis who were threatened by Iranian-controlled militias for calling for normalized relations with Israel at a conference in Erbil, Iraq. According to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “It is beyond unexplainable that the Biden administration is distancing America from this noble effort of the Iraqi people to normalize relations with Israel.”

The Biden administration’s foreign policy is simple; whatever Trump did, we will do the opposite. This partly explains why it has suffocated advancing the Abraham Accords, one of the most essential American-led diplomatic efforts of the 21st century. For a President who prides himself on diplomacy instead of war, it is nothing short of self-defeating not to prioritize the Abraham Accords.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken claims he is trying to advance the Accords. Yet even a former Palestinian negotiator Ghaith al-Omari, now Senior fellow at the Washington Institute, said, “It is a fact that the Biden administration has not been, very robustly, involved in building on these accords.”

American interests require some involvement in Iraq. We gain disproportionate influence and leverage in the region with our small footprint. The Iraqi election can upend U.S. interests. It is up to the Biden administration to remember that an Iranian-controlled Iraq is not in our interest, and a cowered Kurdish Regional Government in the north of Iraq is a diminished asset for our security and intelligence interests.

MEPIN Weekend Note: An invitation

Former ambassador Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has graciously offered my readers an invitation to listen to his conversation with President Biden’s special envoy to Iran, Robert Malley. Mr. Malley was the lead negotiator on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Aaron told me this would be Mr. Malley’s first in-depth public interview, so his insights about his negotiations with the Iranians should may offer some insight.

As you may know, I have been critical of the Iran nuclear deal ever since details began leaking out in 2013-2014, especially in my conversations with the foreign policy team of the then Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That was because it didn’t end Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and didn’t deal with its missile arsenal, expansionism, and terrorism.

To my mind, it ensured that Iran could have a nuclear program to develop weapons starting around 2030. Under scrutiny, even those who first claimed it would end their nefarious nuclear activities forever were forced to concede it merely delayed and kicked the can down the road. However, it must also be mentioned that even with these limitations, some in both the United States and Israel still supported the deal, believing the delay was still worthwhile.

Please register below to listen to the other side of the story. Mr. Malley has been tasked with bringing Iran back to the table. The administration has stated that if Iran returns to compliance, America would likewise do, which is a euphemism for ending American sanctions against Iran.

His perspective is especially valuable since Iran has already broken many of its obligations to the nuclear deal. Other requirements, like buying an unlimited amount of conventional weapons have already expired from the original nuclear deal. The Biden administration has promised to lengthen and strengthen the JCPOA. Iranians have said that that’s not on the table. Who will blink first?

Carnegie Connects: A Conversation with Robert Malley
US Special Envoy for Iran
October 13, 2021
10:00 AM-10:45 EFT (UTC-4)
Live Online

Click here to register.

MEPIN Weekend Note: Some thoughts on Bob Woodward’s latest book, Peril

I am finishing Bob Woodward’s new book, Peril. Like his previous books, it has been very insightful and provided details I was unaware of. However, it also reminded me there is no such thing as a completely factual book in context, as it is currently being portrayed in the mainstream media.

If you read the book in September before Defense Secretary Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Milley, and the head of US Central Command General McKenzie testified to Congress, you would have believed they were entirely on board for a complete withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan. 

However, if you read the same passage of the book after they testified, you would have realized that was not true, and Woodward’s book has its share of spin and factual errors. 

According to NBC, “Top military leaders said…they had recommended to President Joe Biden that the U.S. keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan even after the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, contradicting the President’s assertion last month that his advisers did not tell him to leave a small military presence in the country. Gen. Frank McKenzie, who oversaw the withdrawal as head of U.S. Central Command, and Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in testimony before Congress that they had communicated that advice to the President.” 

The point is, whatever you read on almost every topic in today’s media, needs to be read with a jaundiced eye. Politics has always been about spinning the truth and was placed on steroids by our last President, to the nation’s detriment. But too many people believe this administration is the polar opposite, and therefore automatically believe without scrutiny that what it says is accurate.  

If you want to know the truth and the facts in context, assume everything thrown your way is spin and seen through a political lens. It is not just the politicians, but this includes the media who openly side with one political side. Be a sophisticated reader and do your due diligence to try to decipher fiction from facts.

What do triggers, trauma and civil rights have in common?

Published in JNS.


On the third anniversary of his mother’s death, a friend shared the story of her life during the Holocaust. He told us about how she escaped before the Ukrainians and Nazis came for her family, and was saved by a family of righteous gentiles. Next, she hid in the forest with partisan fighters, contracted typhoid fever and was found by an uncle she stayed with in the woods until the war ended. As her son told her story, he said that she always smiled and was pleasant, but no one knew the demons she was suppressing.

As I listened to her story of how she survived the Shoah, I thought of today’s college students and what they claim traumatizes them. I am referring to images, ideas and discussions on topics that are not considered politically correct. Students have been taught to believe that they are triggers for emotional distress, to be carefully avoided.

I think it’s fair game today to contrast real calamities and the psychological trauma they produce with what today’s students describe as traumatization. Suppressing, warning, punishing and canceling triggering content does a disservice to students, trivializes real trauma and is an assault on our Constitution’s First Amendment.

Triggering is not a rare phenomenon. According to an NPR survey, nearly two out of three college professors use trigger warnings whether their students request them or not, in effect editorializing educational material. For the progressive, intersectional crowd, triggers can be either a conscious or unconscious message that ignites what our young people describe as an overwhelming feeling of discomfort that invades their safe spaces.

A trigger can be completely innocent, a micro-aggression. A professor or student might be unaware that their words could offend; still, it is considered a form of violence to contemporary academia and student bodies. For example, saying the word “Zionist” may trigger psychological distress to those who view Israel as a genocidal regime of baby killers. The response to those infractions is more akin to censorship, to a lack of respect for differing views.

Let’s differentiate between legitimate trigger points and what students complain about. A genuine trigger would be something that would elicit a flashback for someone who has experienced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or is suffering from mental-health issues. Real triggers “might cause an extreme and unconscious reaction for people who have experienced trauma, physical or sexual assault, combat or natural disasters.” This is not what we are speaking about.

The University of Chicago in 2016 swam upstream against the politically correct current and wrote a letter to incoming students about trigger warnings. “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’… we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

What is the danger of triggers?

Alan Levinovitz, an assistant professor at James Madison University, wrote in The Atlantic that students’ “ability to speak freely in the classroom is currently endangered. … Whatever their original purpose … trigger warnings are now used to mark discussions of racism, sexism and U.S. imperialism. The logic of this more expansive use is straightforward: Any threat to one’s core identity, especially if that identity is marginalized, is a potential trigger that creates an unsafe space.”

Students, professors and workers of all stripes now self-censure to avoid being accused of micro-aggressions or worse. Loss of friends, being bullied on social media or having lost career advancement opportunities are well-known consequences for those who speak their minds and go against approved speech. Jewish students are especially vulnerable with many not only avoiding talking about Israel but hiding their Judaism for fear of being intimidated by the anti-Israel crowd.

A 2021 Brandeis Center for Human Rights survey revealed that nearly two out of three Jewish students on campus who identify positively with Judaism feel unsafe and half hide their “religious identity to avoid physical or verbal attacks.”

Title VI prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin in any program that receives federal funds. Universities receive federal funding. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights began to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism when examining questions of anti-Semitism on college campuses under Title VI. The executive order that allowed Jewish students to receive the same protection under Title VI as other groups are still in effect but have not been activated for use by the new administration.

We need the Biden administration’s education and justice departments to step up and defend the rights of Jewish students, as well as protect the civil rights for the diversity of thought on college campuses. The more frightening question to ask is why in 2021 should American Jews need any protection at all?

Should the US consider Iran’s ‘deniable’ attacks a significant threat?

Source: Getty

Published in The Hill.

For years, Iranian-directed proxies in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Syria have attacked the Islamic Republic’s enemies. The West has willfully ignored the overwhelming evidence and allowed Iran to continue its violence with impunity.

Today, the Biden administration and the G-5 + 1 fear upsetting Iran’s leaders, hoping to appease them through willful ignorance, and cajole them into rejoining the Iran nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This one-sided “agreement” was never sent for Senate approval as a treaty, and it outsourced American security interests to international actors.

Read the rest from The Hill.

Who is winning the Gaza War of Attrition?

Published in the October 11, 2021 issue of the Jerusalem Report.

Image source: Amir Cohen, Reuters

During a recent presentation, I was asked how Israel could get rid of Hamas from Gaza. My answer surprised and upset her. I said, you can’t. She also was displeased when I described what mowing the grass meant. More on that later.
Welcome to Israel’s unending War of Attrition with the jihadists of Gaza. In 2005, prime minister Ariel Sharon showed a leopard could change its spots. The champion of Israel’s settlement movement in the disputed territories, Sharon, completely withdrew Israel’s military and civilian presence from Gaza, the area Israel captured in its defensive of war of 1967. In one bold stroke, Sharon changed the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict forever.

But was it for the better? Hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20.

The Israeli public was profoundly divided on the wisdom of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Many Israelis thought that the security implications of a complete withdrawal were too risky to take. They remembered just five years earlier, when the Israeli army left Lebanon, it was perceived in the Muslim world as a victory of resistance. Yasser Arafat watched Israel’s retreat from Lebanon, reinforcing the lesson that violent resistance works. Just two months after the Lebanon withdrawal, he started the Second Intifada. A nightmare of homicide bombers terrorized the heart of Israel and permanently transformed an Israeli electorate from Center-Left to Center-Right.

Once the disengagement began, the images of Israeli soldiers removing their fellow countrymen from Gazan settlements, with tears streaming down the soldiers’ and civilians’ faces, left an indelible imprint on the Israeli psyche. At the time of the disengagement (withdrawal), American media outlets and politicians across the political spectrum said that if the Palestinians of Gaza fire even one rocket or send a suicide bomber into Israel, the world will have Israel’s back.

So how would the Palestinian Authority respond to a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005? This was not just a gesture but the whole shebang, 100% of the disputed land in the Gaza Strip. For good measure, Israel withdrew from four settlements in Samaria, a down payment on a future disengagement from the West Bank if they passed the Gaza test. Many believe that if Sharon didn’t suffer a debilitating stroke, he would have implemented a unilateral disengagement from the West Bank.

Within weeks after Israel withdrew from Gaza, the Palestinians destroyed the thousands of greenhouses Israel left for the Palestinians as a goodwill gesture to provide thousands of jobs for the residents of Gaza. Worse, Palestinians dug up many kilometers of piping from those greenhouses and underground civil infrastructure to build improvised missiles to target Israeli communities on the Gaza border, converting plowshares into swords, as it were. It created a state of continual traumatic stress disorder that continues for tens if not hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians, as Hamas’ range and accuracy of the missiles provided to Hamas has improved every year. This is in addition to the innocent Gazans who suffer retaliation on their doorsteps because Palestinian terrorists deliberately fire their rockets from Palestinian neighborhoods, a war crime by anyone’s definition. What about those European nations that said they would have Israel’s back if missiles from Gaza were directed against Israeli civilians?
Over 1,000 missiles were shot from Gaza into Israel within the first six months after disengagement when Gaza was under Palestinian Authority control, the PA being the supposedly moderate peace partner. With the support of American progressives, those nations vociferously condemned Israeli retaliation, ignoring the disgraceful use of human shields.
When Israel tightened the borders into Gaza, not allowing dual-purpose materials to enter, materials that are used to build missiles and underground tunnels, the progressives called Gaza the world’s largest outdoor prison. Leaving out context became a device to advance an anti-Zionism agenda. Using images of injured Palestinian children who were cynically placed in harm’s way for public relations points to demonize Israel became the standard. In 2007, a Hamas coup ended the PA presence in Gaza, and Israel now had an army of terror on its border for the foreseeable future, creating a long War of Attrition.

Fast forward, 15 years – the War of Attrition endured four significant kinetic wars in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2021 fought between Israel and Hamas. That is not counting the continuing incendiary balloon attacks terrorizing Israeli border communities or the accompanying Hamas-controlled riots that feature live fire, Molotov cocktails and rocks, with Palestinian civilians placed between Israeli troops and the terrorists. This month, an Israeli border police officer died of his wounds after Palestinian terrorists targeted him, evoking celebration not only in Gaza but more ominously in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).

So why doesn’t Israel just conquer the West Bank and eliminate Hamas, ending the Gazan War of Attrition?

Some say that is precisely what they should do. But most Israeli security and military experts strongly resist this temptation, saying the result will be a continuing nightmare, even worse than the status quo. Israel does not want to be responsible for the lives of millions of Gazans, most of whom despise Israel and are full of antisemitism. Coexistence is not part of their vocabulary.

What about handing it over to the Palestinian Authority?

Let’s start with the unpopularity of the PA among Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank. Corruption, stealing hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid for their personal benefit, is an excellent place to begin. Despite claiming their pure Islamist virtues, Hamas is a corrupt entity, ruling by fear and intimidation.

Even if Israel gave the keys to Gaza to the PA, the jihadists in their midst would continually undermine their rule, with perpetual civil war a likely result. The unrest would also incite the West Bank to rise up. As it is now, the secret reason that the West Bank remains in PA control is the intelligence and cooperation Israel gives to the PA security forces to suppress Hamas.

So how about giving Gaza back to Egypt, and let them deal with their Arab brethren? Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and any right-thinking Egyptian leader says no-thank-you.

This brings us back to Hamas. Can they change their spots, transforming from jihadists whose charter not only calls for the destruction of Israel but is a blatantly antisemitic manifesto? Like their Iranian patron, their Islamist ideals outweigh the economic benefits of compromise. The carrot and stick approach has not worked. Hamas, if they choose, could transform Gaza into Dubai in a decade, raising all Palestinian economic prospects while having complete autonomy. But they have no interest.

They are willing to wait for as long as it takes to wear out Israel, i.e., attrition, as their best path to conquer and extinguish the Jewish state. The lesson they learned from America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza is that both Israel and America will withdraw or collapse over time. Making the lives of Israelis miserable with repeated wars is their prescription for success. And they know that they have a patron in Iran who can open up a multi-front war against Israel from the north, sending 150,000 missiles throughout the state.

Israel is left with a perpetual, never-ending War of Attrition. There is a continual low-grade conflict terrorizing the Israeli population on the Gaza border with intermittent escalations, sometimes turning into full-scale war. With no other recourse, Israel “mows the grass” every few years to degrade the Gazan arsenal, buying some time before the War of Attrition begins anew. Doing the same thing over and over again is insanity and certainly not sustainable for the long term.

What are the alternatives?
1. A full-scale war to eliminate Hamas with Israel taking over Gaza. Very unlikely.

2. A full-scale war that decimates Hamas but leaves it in power, lengthening the time until the next war.

3. A full-scale war and handing the keys to the current PA. The result may be even more chaotic and destabilize the West Bank.

4. Responding with overwhelming retaliation for every Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad attack rocket attack, using the Powell doctrine of disproportionate use of force. It might work if not for the international community and the current US administration putting Israel upon the ICC docket for war crimes. There is a different standard for Israel and the rest of the world. According to The New York Times, the US mistakenly killed seven civilians to prevent an ISIS bomber from targeting Kabul airport. It turns out there probably wasn’t an ISIS attempt at all. Just imagine the international uproar if Israel killed seven Gazan children and the target wasn’t even real.

5. Waiting for a new and non-corrupt PA leadership to work together to hand Gaza over to their control. That could take generations, if not centuries.

6. Former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy recommends dialogue with Hamas, reaching a long-term ceasefire. That will only happen if the jihadist leopard changes its spots.

7. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid “proposes a new vision for Gaza”: economics for quiet. That has been tried again and again. Hamas has a Sunni Jihadist ideology and economics along won’t change the situation.

8. The default answer is to continue to mow the grass, the status quo. Not very satisfying or perhaps sustainable, but the default position seems to be the only choice.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has energized the Palestinians of all stripes, making them even more resistant to ending the Gazan War of Attrition. Further American withdrawals from Syria and Iraq will only reinforce the Islamist belief that a Western-oriented Israel will also collapse over time.

According to an article by Dan Diker and Khaled Abu Toameh, “The Taliban’s Palestinian Partners: Implications for the Middle East Peace Process”: Following the Taliban takeover, the Palestinian Authority issued a statement that compared the US withdrawal to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict…. Palestinian sympathy and support for the Taliban have far-reaching implications for the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. The Islamists, according to their understanding, have humiliated the Americans, making it impossible for the PA to agree to any US peace proposal that would require any Palestinian concessions. If the PLO’s ruling Fatah faction were to align with moderate Arab regimes that oppose Hamas and Taliban-style Islamism and that have signed peace agreements with Israel, they would be perceived by the Palestinian public as weak, pro-Zionist, and pro-American.”

The American withdrawal will reverberate throughout the Middle East, weakening allies and empowering jihadists who will be the ones who determine how long Israel’s War of Attrition will last. But the American withdrawal’s implications and consequences for how the Palestinians will react are under-appreciated and may not even be on the radar of American foreign policy thinkers. That is a blind spot and a danger to American national security interests going forward, not to mention Israel. But it is Israel that has a front-row seat as Iran tries to encircle Israel and create a ring of deterrence to prevent Israel from striking the Iranian nuclear weapon program. 

Is the Palestinian Authority secular or Islamist?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas adjusts his glasses as he listens during a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (not pictured), in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 25, 2021. (photo credit: ALEX BRANDON/POOL VIA REUTERS)

Published in The Jerusalem Post.

Everyone knows Hamas is part of the Muslim Brotherhood and is a religiously-motivated Islamist organization. But what about the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas? The United States and its European allies continually refer to the PA leadership as secular. Is that true?

This is an important question to ask as American ideas for ending the conflict, as well as the Oslo Accords, are premised on the idea that Palestinians and Israelis will make permanent territorial concessions in a final peace agreement. This would be unlikely if the PA’s decisions are based on an Islamist perspective of land transfers, and would explain in part why the conflict is still ongoing. This is not just a theoretical question, as US President Joe Biden again called for a two-state solution in his first remarks to the UN this week.

So let’s read some of the words of Abbas addressing Palestinian university students. This is not unrepresentative of what he has been saying for a lifetime. Ask yourself; does this sound like a secular or an Islamist leader?

“In the name of Allah, the Merciful and Compassionate… Allah the Supreme spoke the truth. We will continue to stand firm and carry out Ribat [religious war for Muslim control] in Jerusalem and its surroundings until Judgment Day. Then the believers will rejoice in the victory of Allah.”

So it needs to be asked: Do the PA and the PLO – like their Hamas brethren – believe that once an Islamic entity ever controls land, it can never be considered legitimate to cede that land to infidels (even if those Jewish infidels were there first, two millennia before the Islamic conquest)? PA Abbas, PA TV, PA-sponsored mosques and media have repeatedly referred to the conflict in Islamist tones as a basis to eliminate Israel from the Islamic Waqf.

If that is true, then the western foundational principles of two states for two peoples are built on quicksand. At the very least, it is counterproductive, but more likely, it is a prescription for future intifadas. Israeli leaders are well aware of this.

In 2004, I spoke to former US president Bill Clinton about the Camp David and Taba negotiations and the need for an “end of conflict” resolution. That would mean once a document was signed between the parties, neither would have any further legal claims. Clinton said both then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and former prime minister Ehud Barak insisted upon this, but he didn’t understand why it was so important.

It is not surprising that a sophisticated person like Clinton, who was so invested in the Middle East conflict, didn’t understand this Israeli demand. It was because he did not think that the PA could have an Islamic religious basis for its geopolitical decisions. He should have been given a clue when Arafat told him that there was never a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, a fantasy that not only delegitimized Judaism but Christianity too.

For insight into the Islamic religiosity of the PA, listen to the words of Mahmood Al-Habbash. He is the most important religious figure in the PA, who Abbas appointed as his closest adviser on Islam and the PA’s Supreme Sharia (Islamic law) Judge.

According to Palestinian Media Watch, he tells Palestinians of the West Bank under the control of the PA that the conflict with Israel is an uncompromising religious war for Islam against Israel and Jews. Israelis/Jews are the “enemies of Muslims.” The ultimate battle described in the Quran will “lead to great destruction for the ‘Children of Israel.’ The conflict here in Palestine between us and the criminal occupation… between good and evil.” “Normalization means that you agree to natural relations with your brother’s murderers… with the enemies of Prophet Muhammad.”

Sounds pretty jihadist to me. But does the State Department read the transcripts of the PA and their appointed leaders?

This year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “We have to start putting in place the conditions that would allow both sides to engage in a meaningful and positive way toward two states.” It now appears that the Biden administration is pushing Israel to acquiesce to the reopening of the American consulate in East Jerusalem, which it foresees as the future capital for a Palestinian state.

If Blinken and Biden decide to dip their toes in the troubled waters of a negotiated-conflict solution, the PA’s Islamic religious predisposition should not be papered over. The PA should be seen as it is, and anyone in the administration who is genuinely looking for a lasting or sustainable solution should want that as well. Repeating the mantra of two states for two peoples won’t work if one side can never accept a Jewish state on what they perceive as once Islamic-held land.

It should become a standing American prerequisite that before the US enters into any mediation for a negotiation to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; both the Israelis and Palestinians agree that at the end of the talks, both are willing to sign an end of conflict agreement. That would end in perpetuity all claims to the territory from each other, fully accepting the legitimate rights of the other party in an internationally accepted legal document. This is also assuming they can get past the uncompromising PA demand for a “right of return” of everyone who has at least an ancestor considered as a refugee from Palestine.

If the Palestinians refuse, it exposes their genuine desire for all of the Islamic Waqf – the entirety of Israel.

According to Palestinian expert, Khaled Abu Toameh, speaking on an AIJAC webinar, the “PA has never actually looked at the Arab-Israel conflict as a dispute over land, amenable to compromise. However, their embrace of Islamism can only make any prospect of a two-state resolution even more distant and difficult.”

Better to know now than to keep repeating the same mistake again and again. Then negotiations could transition to a long-term ceasefire and focus on economically empowering the Palestinian people.
This week the State Department spokesman said the US seeks to “pave a path to negotiations.” But negotiations with what end? Can any State Department official see outside the box of their long-standing flawed foundational policy and see the PA/PLO as they are, religiously motivated, not as how they wish them to be, Westernized and secular?

The dangerous impotence of UNIFIL’s mission in Lebanon

A picture taken from the southern Lebanese village of Meiss al-Jabal on December 16, 2018, shows a United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) soldier monitoring the border between Lebanon and Israel. On his right is a flag of the Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

Published in the Times of Israel.

Lebanon is in economic freefall, and the sectarian tensions between Shiite, Sunni, Christian, and Druze have paralyzed the government. Lebanon’s true power, Hezbollah is under the direct control of Iran, while Lebanon’s weak and compliant armed forces (LAF) coordinate with Hezbollah.

Both Iran and Hezbollah have ignored UNSC Resolution 1559, calling for “strict respect of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon” while disbanding “all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.”

Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Lebanon is supposed to be monitored by a 10,000 multi-national United Nations force (UNIFIL). Its mandate is to work with the LAF to keep Hezbollah’s unauthorized military out of southern Lebanon, prevent the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah, disarm all militias, and stop attacks against Israel. UNIFIL’s overall mission has been a failure with few exceptions since it began over forty years ago with the Taif Agreement that ended the Lebanese civil war.

Last month the UNSC adopted Resolution 2591, extending UNIFIL’s mandate in southern Lebanon for another year. The resolution urged all parties “to ensure that the freedom of movement of UNIFIL in all its operations and UNIFIL’s access to the Blue Line in all its parts is fully respected and unimpeded….” It condemned “in the strongest terms all attempts to restrict [its] freedom of movement.” And it reaffirmed “the necessity of an effective and durable deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces in southern Lebanon.”

The Security Council was too timid to call out Hezbollah or Iran by name in the resolution. The LAF will continue to facilitate Hezbollah’s wishes, or else it will suffer its wrath. So what have the 10,000 UNIFIL peacekeepers been doing for the last 15 years since the UNSC passed Resolution 1701 after the Second Lebanon War with Israel?

They were supposed to have created a zone south of the Litani River free from Hezbollah and entirely in the control of the LAF. Unfortunately, the LAF, for its survival, has become serf to Hezbollah’s wishes. While Hezbollah continues to intimidate UNIFIL personnel directly, the LAF can’t work with UNIFIL to monitor Hezbollah’s actions that threaten Israel. A recent attempt to upgrade UNIFIL’s monitoring of the Blue Line with new surveillance cameras was vetoed by Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, with the help of the LAF, has created no-go zones for UNIFIL patrols. All patrols must be coordinated with the LAF in advance in conjunction with their Hezbollah overlords, lest UNIFIL finds some of the tens of thousands of missiles, many hidden in civilian homes — which constitute war crimes.

The LAF facilitates freedom of operation for Hezbollah by designating areas off-limits to UNIFIL troops for inspection. The LAF’s intelligence units that liaise with Hezbollah on occasion attempt to intervene to solve minor incidents, but the vast majority of the time, they are simply in lockstep with Hezbollah. The LAF cannot even guarantee that any equipment and weapons that Hezbollah operatives confiscate from UNIFIL personnel will be returned.

The sources reporting on UNIFIL-Hezbollah clashes are primarily from the Lebanese media. You will not find them on the home page of the UNIFIL website because UNIFIL chooses instead to spotlight its aid to the Lebanese people and the LAF, not its impotence to fulfill its mandate. UNIFIL doesn’t want to put targets on their backs for Hezbollah to identify. Since 2006 at the end of the Second Lebanon War, UNIFIL has stopped no missile transfers from Iran to Hezbollah.

UNIFIL was too intimidated to have exposed any of the six border tunnel openings into Israel excavated by Hezbollah, even after Israel had publicly informed UNIFIL of their existence. The latest resolution also failed to mention that six rocket attacks originated from south Lebanon in the past two months.

Hezbollah no longer even tries to conceal its presence on the Blue Line with Israel. Iranian, Hezbollah and Palestinian flags adorn the border fence. Military ceremonies are held overlooking Israeli communities while more fortifications with vantage points overlooking Israel are erected under the pretense of an environmental organization, “Green without Borders.” Daily, we see Hezbollah operatives gathering intelligence and filming Israelis, even with the LAF present.

Where was UNIFIL this entire time? See no evil, speak no evil, report no evil should be the motto of UNIFIL and the LAF.

The real question is what is UNIFIL’s mission in the 21st century. Is it to keep the peace or to enforce it? If it is the former, then UNIFIL’s success is minimal at best, only due to Hezbollah’s patience under the direction of Iran, waiting for an opportune time to open its missile arsenal to strike Israel. But if it is the latter, and south Lebanon “must be free of unauthorized personnel, weapons, and other assets,” then UNIFIL has been a profound failure.

UNIFIL’s presence in Lebanon has lasted decades. That is why it is necessary to end the charade that UNIFIL is fulfilling its mission. It is time to state the obvious, UNIFIL is ineffective and completely cowed by Hezbollah. Can the UNIFIL force’s half a billion dollars a year subsidy be anything more than another international bureaucratic economic boondoggle?

The only choice, short of totally ending UNIFIL’s presence, is to fundamentally change its mission. Since it is nearly impossible for UNIFIL to fulfill its current mission, it would be far wiser to change its mission to simply act as a mediator that can resolve tactical conflicts between the Israelis and the Lebanese on the border, as they have done over the past 15 years.

Since the US is a significant contributor ($145 million per year) to this ineffective force, it should insist on reducing UNIFIL’s mandate to one that it can fulfill and dramatically decrease its funding in proportion to a reduced mission. American administrations of both parties have been willfully blind to the reality in Lebanon. The American taxpayer should not have to finance a mission that has not improved Lebanon’s future or afforded peace to the residents of Israel or Lebanon. They would be better served by funding a more limited mission.

Hezbollah attack tunnel from Lebanon reaching 80 meters below ground and 70 meters into Israeli territory. May 29, 2019 (Avihu Shapira / IDF spokesman office)

i24TV News: One Year of the Abraham Accords

The first anniversary of the Abraham Accords is a time for celebration and concern. The celebration is because the unthinkable happened. Arab states developed warm diplomatic relations with Israel before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved, no longer hostage to Palestinian intransigence. The concern is that the Biden administration is suffocating their further development. This TV interview will:

  • Explain how the Abraham Accords changed the Middle East. 
  • Explain the difference between the cold Jordanian/Egyptian peace and the warm peace with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco. 
  • Why the Accords are essential to American interests but are undervalued by the Biden administration. 
  • What is next for the Abraham Accords. 

As always, your comments are appreciated.