The Question Israel’s Leaders Ask Every Day: Will Tomorrow be Too Late?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Critics of any pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities rightly claim that Israel cannot totally destroy the Iranian nuclear program. But that misses the point.

How far away is the day when Israelis and Americans will wake up and realize that it is too late to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program? This is not a new question. Seven years ago Jonathan Tobin writing in Commentary also asked, “Is it already too late to stop Iran?

Last week, I met with Israeli military, security and intelligence experts, and I asked if it is already too late to significantly affect the progress of the Iranian nuclear program with a pre-emptive strike, and the answer was always that it is not too late. But the caveat that followed was, the Americans can do it much more effectively than we can.

Critics of any pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities rightly claim that Israel cannot totally destroy the Iranian nuclear program. But that misses the point.

Delaying the program five or 10 years, which would be the case with an Israeli strike, could be game changing, especially in conjunction with continued cyberattacks and escalating American sanctions that undermine the support for the regime by the Iranian people, who are increasingly becoming economically harmed and blaming it on the Mullahs and their corrupt cronies.

We know that before the 2015 JCPOA deal, Iran was already technically capable of reaching the crucial 20% uranium enrichment level, and was within a just a few months of amassing enough 90% uranium for a nuclear weapon, even using obsolete and unpredictable IR-1 centrifuges.

So the question to ask now is, how much have Iran’s nuclear capabilities advanced over the last four years since the beginning of the JCPOA? How much closer are they to a nuclear breakout?

We know that the agreement allowed Iran to continue to develop advanced centrifuges that can enrich weapons-grade material in a significantly shorter amount of time than the older IR-1 centrifuges, reducing the critical time to produce enough fissile material to just a few months. These advanced centrifuges are also much smaller and harder to detect.

Additionally, Iran never accepted the Additional Protocol, a nuclear addendum that allowed international inspectors to visit military sites where they would likely be developing nuclear missile warhead production.

Already last year, David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, estimated that Iran could enrich enough material for a bomb in eight to 10 months. The deal’s supporters claimed that the agreement would not allow Iran to enrich enough uranium for a nuclear weapon for one year during the length of the agreement, something that is already probably untrue.

After Israel’s revelation of Iran’s nuclear archive, we now know without doubt that Iran planned to build a nuclear weapon, and still has the information and capabilities to accomplish this. This is not Saddam Hussein all over again.

Even if international inspectors wanted to visit a military faculty, the JCPOA gives them a month’s time to comply, more than enough time to clear away any evidence.

THE DAY Iran passes the threshold for creating a nuclear weapon, everything will change for Israel, the Sunni Gulf states, Turkey, the US and Europe, and the world will be a much more dangerous place. A nuclear arms race will begin in the Sunni world, dramatically increasing the potential dangers of a nuclear conflict in the future.

So can Israel, this late in the game, still effectively strike the Iranian program? The answer is yes – but again, the US can do it better.

Iran has a plan to make Israel think twice before attacking. According to former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror, now a Senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and a distinguished fellow at JINSA, Iran’s strategic plan – which is well underway – is to create a deterrence barrier around Israel, stretching from Lebanon to Syria to Iraq to the Gaza Strip, in order to threaten Israel with an overwhelming and devastating strike on its homeland, should Israel attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Is delaying their program five years worth the price Israel will pay if tens of thousands of missiles are unleashed, capable of hitting everywhere in the country, while the negative diplomatic fallout will be enormous, especially if Donald Trump is not US president?

Hillel Frisch of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies wrote “In both word and deed, Israel is firmly committed to its redlines. The reddest of all is that Israel will not permit Syria to be turned into a forward base for direct Iranian operations and a manufacturing center for precision-guided missiles.”

Which means the noose will only tighten around Israel, as the Iranian operating bases in Syria over time will eventually look more like Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Yet when I ask the Israeli experts if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the paper tiger that the Obama administration portrayed when a senior official called him chickens**t, the response was clear. If Bibi is convinced tomorrow is too late to stop a functioning Iranian nuclear weapon, he will indeed act today.

What will an Israeli attack on Iran look like?

Think out of the box. Not only cyberattacks and sophisticated strikes against known and presumed nuclear sites like Natanz, Fordow and the unnamed military sites conducting nuclear work, but targeting the lifeline of the Iranian economy – the port of Bandar Abbas, where almost all of Iranian commercial shipping trade transits, and Kharg Island, the location where Iran exports most of its fossil fuels.

An Israeli attack at Kharg or Bandar Abbas would make the impact of the current sanctions look like a popgun, and the survival of the regime would hang in the balance, as an economically devastated Iran will be imperiled from within.

If Israel does launch an attack on Iran, what would Israel look like the day after?

I remember visiting the North after the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Hospitals hit, hundreds of thousands of residents displaced to the South or living in steaming hot underground shelters and millions of Israelis throughout the country feeling vulnerable and angry.

Now imagine a hundred times worse, with the Dimona nuclear faculty in the South and Azrieli towers in central Tel Aviv in the crosshairs of Iran. The layers of Israel’s missile defense are remarkable but are incapable of stopping all the missiles heading for Israeli cities.

Time is not on Israel’s side, but when will tomorrow be too late?

The writer is the Director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, and regularly briefs members of the 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.


{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

Iran has invested tens of billions of dollars in Syria, and is not about to readily abandon this investment to Russian pressure.

 The national security advisers of Russia, the United States, and Israel are scheduled to meet in Jerusalem later this month for what former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro called a potential “game changer on pushing Iran’s military out of Syria.”

Russia has, with Iranian assistance, gained everything it set out to accomplish in Syria. It expanded its naval and air bases and elevated its international status, while diminishing and marginalizing America.

However, Russia, Israel and the United States may now share some common interest in keeping the Iranian regime from getting what it wants – a permanent presence in Syria. Moving forward, Iran may be more a headache than an asset for Russian interests. This month Russia expelled Iranian allied militia from the Russian naval base in Tartus on the Mediterranean coast of Syria.

Anyone who understands Iranian intentions and regime ideology knows Iran will not voluntarily leave Syria or Lebanon. Its desire to destroy Israel remains a foundational pillar of their version of Twelver Shi’ism, and their land bridge to the Mediterranean
accomplishes both their hegemonic ambitions and represents a major step in their strategy to threaten Israel from the north.

What would be the price Russia will demand to rein in or oust Iran from Syria, assuming they have enough leverage with Iran to do either?

According Yediot Aharonot, the Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat quoted “Western sources” claiming a quid pro quo is being discussed whereby the US and Israel would recognize the legitimacy of the Assad regime, and the US would remove some economic sanctions on Russia – and “in return, Russia will limit Iranian activity in Syria.”

The key word is “limit.” What does “limit” mean, and how enforceable would it be? And what would Russia expect in return?

Would they demand relaxation of the sanctions applied to Russia in response to their illegal occupation of Crimea and Ukraine, or would they require becoming a full partner in any new negotiations regarding Iran’s development of nuclear weapons? If it is the latter, then you may have the makings of a deal. In any case, Iran won’t be happy and will resist, and make the usual false promises and demands.

America should not consider waiving Russian sanctions unless every Iranian proxy is permanently removed from Syria. Last year the Russians promised to move Iran and its allies 50 miles from the Israeli border, and that Iran and its proxies would not be in the Quneitra and Daraa provinces bordering the Israeli side of the Golan. But as last week’s rocket attack on the Golan proves, the Russian promise was worthless.

Since at least 2017, Iran has helped Syria ethnically cleanse the country of its Sunnis, re-populating non-indigenous Shi’ites into southern Syria, providing them with Syrian citizenship and Syrian uniforms, and making them a stealth Iranian militia that may be impossible to remove.

According to Raja Abdulrahim and Benoit Faucon writing in the Wall Street Journal, for those Sunnis remaining in Syria, Iran is using “cash, food and public services in a hearts and minds campaign to cultivate loyalty, draw military recruits and win converts to the Shi’ite Muslim sect… to cement its influence in Syria.”

Iran has invested tens of billions of dollars in Syria, and is not about to readily abandon this investment to Russian pressure. Russia and Iran are not natural allies, and can easily become estranged as Iran’s Islamic fervor could encourage Muslims in the Caucuses to make problems for Russian rule.

AMERICA AND Israel should not fall for the deceptive maneuver of Iranian Revolutionary Guards withdrawing from Syria to Lebanon and Iraq. So long as the Shi’ite militias remain under the control of Iran, Hezbollah holds sway in Lebanon and Bashir Assad remains a puppet of the Iranians, Iran will effectively be in control on Israel’s doorstep to the north, with Iran eyeing when to destabilize Jordan and the territories.

Iran is clever and knows it can con the Europeans into believing that a token Syrian withdrawal is real. The Europeans eat up this nonsense of Iranian plausible deniability, just as they say with a straight face that they believe the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Agreement) will permanently end the Iranian nuclear program.

But is it realistic to aim to get Iran and all of its proxies completely out of Syria, short of a massive ground operation?

Probably not.

Should America and Israel take half a loaf and be happy if they can, with Russian help, remove the Iranian Revolutionary Guards from Syria, leaving the PMU (Popular Mobilization Units) and Hezbollah untouched?

What if the Russians could really enforce the 50-mile zone on the border, as they originally promised?

These half-measures would kick the can down the road, the easiest option for any politician and the most likely, but that would almost guarantee that Iran would never leave Syria under the current regime. That is why the ultimate answer short of a massive ground assault is regime change, preferably peaceful, by supporting the Iranian people’s inevitable next insurrection.

Israel has been mowing the grass in Syria for the last few years, targeting transfers of game-changing weaponry to Hezbollah, and more recently attacking Iranian weapons and drone factories. But just as in Gaza, it is unlikely to dislodge Iran and its proxies from the region unless one considers a massive ground operation and occupying territory for the long haul.

Israelis think of the Second Lebanon War and the divisive 18-year occupation of Lebanon and pause, just as Israelis have no desire to reoccupy Gaza again.

So, what are Israel’s options?

The easiest option is to just keep hitting Iranian targets while keeping the Russians in the loop. But this falls far short of the Israeli stated goal of having no Iranian or Iranian proxy presence in Syria.

With Israel in electoral chaos, putting off any significant action unless a critical mass of missiles starts flying from Syria is what is most likely to happen. Israel with the full support of its populace and the United States will strike Iran again and again in Syria, hoping that the unprecedented trilateral meeting of the United States, Russia, and Israel can at least rein in some Iranian gains, and buy more time.

Except that time is on Iran’s side.

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), and is a regular contributor to ‘The Jerusalem Post’ and i24 TV. MEPIN is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists, and organizational leaders.

Is Peaceful Regime Change in Iran Possible?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

According to the research of Harvard’s Erica Chenoweth, more than half of nonviolent revolutions are successful, as long as more than 3.5% of the population participates to ensure regime change, whereas less than 25% of violent uprisings succeed.

Is the hostile behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran just a mild thorn in the United States’ side, or is it a direct and growing danger to American and allied security interests?

With the exception of those married to preserving the Iran nuclear agreement at any cost, the idea of a nonviolent regime change in Iran is a very appealing notion. In theory, it would serve American interests by removing a dangerous nemesis with American blood on its hands, and it could also create the possibility of turning a malignant enemy into a potential ally in the Muslim world, while freeing the Iranian people from 40 years of terror, repression and hardship.

But does regime change always mean kinetic military action, or is it possible to change a malevolent regime without force?

According to the research of Harvard’s Erica Chenoweth, more than half of nonviolent revolutions are successful, as long as more than 3.5% of the population participates to ensure regime change, whereas less than 25% of violent uprisings succeed.

So why not Iran?

Just think about how many nations challenged their authoritarian rulers, without violence, successfully overthrowing their governments. 

From the nonviolent overthrow of Communist governments in Poland, East Germany, the Baltic states and Czechoslovakia, to the peaceful overthrow of apartheid South Africa, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, the 1986 People Power Movement in the Philippines and the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia, regime change without violence is possible.

Even in the Muslim world, peaceful change occurred in Tunisia after the Arab Winter – and this year, authoritarian leaders in Sudan and Algeria were removed in peaceful movements.

We missed the boat in 2009 when, in the name of pursuing the Iranian nuclear deal, our last administration chose to side with Ayatollah Khamenei, abandoning the Iranian people’s Green Revolution when millions of Iranians went into the streets to protest against their authoritarian government.

As Eli Lake wrote in a 2006 Bloomberg article titled “Why Obama Let Iran’s Green Revolution Fail,” the president “wanted a nuclear deal, not regime change.”

Since the US reimposed and increased sanctions, anti-regime protests have increased due to rising unemployment, a collapse of the Iranian currency, pervasive regime corruption and a dramatic decrease in the average Iranian’s quality of life.

Sanctions have hurt the average Iranian, but they have also motivated their desire for political action and change. Is there anything else America can do to support the Iranian protester?
Are there risks in supporting nonviolent regime change in Iran?

Critics of sanctions and regime change like New York magazine and The Intelligencer said “Iranians may want change, but the collapse of their economy, society and state is surely not the kind of change they have in mind… there is no better way to discredit a legitimate protest movement than by linking it to a nefarious foreign enemy.”

What might start off nonviolently could spiral out of control, dragging America and its allies into a war without clear goals – other than replacing the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. They point to America’s recent failures in Iraq and its unpreparedness for nation-building in the aftermath of the Iraq victory in 2003.

The recent escalating tensions and rhetoric between Tehran and Washington have highlighted these choices and the dangers that might lie ahead. 

What 21st-century Westerners never seem to have learned is that military strength combined with diplomacy is the best way to avoid war in the Middle East. As evidence, when President Donald Trump indicated his intention to withdraw troops from Syria, this was perceived as weakness, which emboldened America’s enemies.

Let’s be clear: The Iranian regime is indeed an enemy of America. Too many pundits and politicians cannot differentiate between the Iranian regime and the Iranian people. The Iranian people are not the same as the Islamist revolutionary mullahcracy. In fact, only 55% of the Iranian population is Persian. The overall population is widely believed to be, given the chance, the most Westernized and potentially politically West-aligned populace in the Muslim Middle East.

However, the nature of this regime has not changed since day one, and its goal is still to export, with its proxies, its Islamist revolution throughout the world. In the Western hemisphere, they have engaged in money laundering, drugs, terrorism and support for like-minded regimes in Venezuela and Cuba. 

Iran does not want war now, hoping that the next presidential election will bring a Democratic candidate pledging to rejoin the JCPOA and offering Iran hundreds of billions of dollars in potential sanctions relief without ever having to change their spots or actions.

There is plenty of regret and blame about US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the formula of robust diplomacy backed by credible military force remains the best way to avoid wars in the volatile Middle East. A strong US stance is also to be seen as tacit support for Iranians who crave change and want to politically challenge the regime in the streets.

Which brings us back to the question: can regime change in Iran be encouraged without starting a kinetic war? 

Nobody knows for sure. But if Iran were a medical patient, then the benefit is greater than the risk to American interests in supporting the Iranian protests that are bound to come. Once we accept this choice, the next question is how to hasten the journey of this repressive, fanatical, violent, anti-American regime to – as Ronald Reagan put it – the “ash heap of history.”

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the Senate and House, and their foreign policy advisers. A regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post and i24TV international, he is a contributor to The Hill, JTA, JNS and The Forward.

Reclaiming the Language of Human Rights to Advance Peace in the Middle East

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

While speaking in Europe last week on political Islamism, the Iran agreement, and American national security interests in the Middle East, I continually emphasized the importance of reading multiple points of view to combat today’s editorialization of the news. 

To do this effectively, you must literally examine the “accepted” meaning of words used to describe Israel’s behavior in the Palestinian conflict. Far too often, benign sounding words like “human rights” have been transformed into rhetorical weapons to advance a political agenda – in academia, the media, or in Congress – whose goal is to undermine America’s relationship with Israel, and Israel’s very legitimacy as a nation-state.

When I am in meetings at US congressional offices or when I lecture, I assume everyone does not share the same understanding of “international law, occupation, war crimes, Zionism, two states and human rights,” and I take pains to clarify their meanings in context.

This was highlighted by two articles I read this week while in Europe: one by Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Israel and Palestine, and the other an academic analysis by Dr. Donna Robinson Divine, titled “Word Crimes: Reclaiming the Language of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” published by Indiana University Press.

Shakir used the accepted politicized language of Middle East NGO’s – while Divine examined and challenged the current use of these words as they have come to be understood in the halls of academia, where the fashion is to bad-mouth Israel and give a nod to the BDS movement.

Two generations of American college students are now in positions of influence across the spectrum of American society, government and business, who were raised on a terminology of the Middle East that has become the default starting point for international discourse, but is in fact a cleverly transformed lexicon to undermine Israel’s right to exist, advancing a political agenda where various aggrieved peoples must join forces (intersectionality) to undermine the racist Western civilization and its Jewish outpost in the Middle East.

To argue or challenge the meaning of these words labels you as a racist, immoral or beyond the pale of worthy discourse. You don’t even have the right to free speech, as evidenced by speaker after speaker being disinvited or screamed down in the halls of universities. I know first hand.

Divine says that: “Much of the academic discourse on the Middle East conflict has distorted the truth by transforming even the very idea of what constitutes a “fact”… How the change took hold in academia is best understood by focusing on the vocabulary that purports to show why the establishment of a Jewish State was an international crime… Students learning only this language graduate with a vocabulary that identifies Israel not simply as a force hostile to Palestinian interests, but also as a major source of evil for the world.”

For the vast majority of people who are unaware that the vocabulary of human rights has been co-opted to demonize Israel, you fall right into the hands of organizations like Human Rights Watch.

Shakir claims that Human Rights Watch takes no position on BDS, an international movement whose goal is the delegitimization of Israel through an economic boycott.

Yet he sees no contradiction in using the benign sounding words of human rights advocacy to claim HRW’s mission is “to defend the right of people to boycott… [that] telling businesses to stop engaging in activities that abuse rights in the occupied territories, is neither a call for a consumer boycott nor a boycott of Israel itself.”

Leaves you scratching your head.

“Human rights” organizations operating in Israel and funded by European governments accuse Israel of some of the worst abuses in the world, while using moral equivalence to claim impartiality by equating the actions of terrorist groups – like Hamas that target civilians or the Palestinian Authority that financially supports convicted terrorists – with Israel, which takes pains to avoid civilian casualties.

Ten years ago, HRW founder Robert Bernstein took to task the transformation of his organization from an unbiased sword to one where “Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of Human Rights Watch’s criticism.” Nothing has changed for the better since he wrote those words, except that both the United States and Israel now identify BDS and its defenders for what it is: antisemitism hiding in the clothes of anti-Zionism.

It is time to realize that language matters for those who care about the US-Israel relationship and its importance to American national security interests. Semantics is the coin of the realm in diplomacy, and words are the ammunition of the lawfare campaign to destroy Israel.

A number of years ago, I sat with a senator and her chief of staff (COS) describing the complexities and conflicting narratives of what the occupation of a disputed territory means according to a non-politicized definition of international law. The COS thanked me, and I asked why.

What I learned was that many pro-Israel organizations have adopted the words of their adversaries, undermining their case to present a contextually correct understanding of the complexities of the conflict. Terms such as occupation, 1967 border, war crimes, collateral damage, disproportionate force and settlements need more than a 280 character tweet.

Organizations that are trying to advance peace in the region need to think about reclaiming the language of human rights, and learn to explain how it is used today as a weapon against Israel. Otherwise, those peace advocates will be fighting a continually uphill battle in Congress, on college campuses and with the American public, against an adversary with a decided advantage that has won the tools of debate.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the Senate and House, and their foreign policy advisers. A regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post and i24TV international, he is a contributor to The Hill, JTA, JNS and The Forward.

Will Trump’s Peace Plan Learn the Lessons of Oslo?

How specific will they be in their suggestions?

Yossi Beilin deserves credit for the great idea of Birthright trips for young Jewish-American adults. However, despite his good intentions, his Oslo dream of the same era has not had the same success, with Israel still dealing with many of its less desirable consequences.

In an article this month in Israel Hayom, “When has the two-state solution been tried?”, Beilin still remains married to the failed core concept of the Oslo Accords – that a peace agreement comes before the details have been spelled out.

According to Beilin, because Israelis and Palestinians cannot agree on even what the word peace means, or how differently Israelis and Palestinians define a demilitarized Palestinian state, it is better to remain ambiguous in terminology, avoiding specifics that will sink a deal from the start.

From Beilin’s perspective, even the word peace is a “loaded” word for both parties. I would suggest using the term “end of conflict agreement” in its place, where all claims are clearly specified and resolved, to minimize what’s left up for grabs when Israel’s existence is on the line.

Former Labor MK Einat Wilf, who worked with both Beilin and Shimon Peres, wrote in The Atlantic last year, “What doomed the Oslo Accords is also what made them possible… constructive ambiguity.” 

According to Wilf, the paradigm of Oslo was that “an interim period of trust-building was required


remain[ing] ambiguous about the core issues… rather than force the sides to adopt positions and make concessions… this constructive ambiguity, imbued in each element of the accords, proved to be utterly destructive.”

For those who believe the only way for Israel to remain both democratic and Jewish is through the two-states-for-two-peoples solution, ignoring this core failure of the Oslo Accords without proposing and publicizing a security-centric alternative – which takes into account the painful experiences of Israel’s last 25 years – would be the best way to lose the support of the majority of the Israeli public and many pro-Israel Americans.

Since Oslo, Israelis have lived under the siege of the Second Intifada, witnessed the results of the failed Gaza Disengagement and today are experiencing the aftermath of the Arab Winter, which transformed the Middle East into a much more dangerous and unpredictable place, with Iran on its doorstep.

Would Beilin leave the definition of two states ambiguous, too?

Not a good idea, as two states to the Palestinians means an Arab state and a binational state, without a Jewish state. Can any Israeli leader today from the Right or Left sign a peace agreement that doesn’t spell out what two states specifically means?

According to Wilf, the parties should “approach the negotiations not as a marriage, but as a divorce… spell out every detail. In place of destructive ambiguity, we need constructive specificity.”

Beilin uses the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan as a precedent for a future Palestinian agreement, claiming that those treaties succeeded because their wording was ambiguous, lacking specifics.

However, making peace treaties with nations like Jordan or Egypt is very different from dealing with a Palestinian Authority that has failed to create the foundations of a future state, despite being the highest per capita recipient of aid in the world. Their continued demand for a right of return to Israel and willingness to pay terrorists and their families at the expense of their law abiding citizens, while never preparing their populace for any of the compromises that peace will require, make specifics an imperative, and ambiguity a liability.

When the Palestinian narrative is primarily based on grievance and dispossession, without a positive vision for the future, this is a prescription to doom even the best of plans. Hopefully the plan addresses this conundrum.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat recently said Israel offered more that 100% of the disputed territory with land swaps and east Jerusalem as its capital 11 years ago, during negotiations with prime minister Ehud Olmert. The Palestinian answer was not yes. Yet, this is what the Palestinians have been telling the world that they want. Here, specifics exposed the issue as not territorial, but as intransigently ideological.

The problem is that after years of telling your people that Israel has no right to exist and that Jews are occupiers of your land, that when you are offered what you have demanded and reject the offer, you expose your real goal, which is not an end of conflict agreement.

With the Trump peace plan just around the corner, this is a good time to ask if Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt’s plan has learned the lessons of Oslo.

How specific will they be in their suggestions?

Will specificity without ambiguity suffocate the process before it begins? If individual issues of the plan are not an existential threat to Israel, then a level of flexibility is warranted.

Perhaps the best we can hope for at this time is to empower the Palestinian people economically, with the hope that the years of incitement could be overcome with Palestinian prosperity that will lead them to demand that their leadership evolve to obey the rule of law – offering freedom of speech and press, none of which has been present since Oslo. Only then could an election be contemplated, as a premature election could lead to an Islamist takeover in short order.

If the Palestinian Authority were to transform into a responsible organization, then a peace agreement could be presented with an end of conflict agreement, addressing every issue with as little ambiguity as possible. It would use the wording of UN General Assembly Resolution 181 that acknowledges both an Arab and a Jewish state. Perhaps then, this conflict would reach the level of the cold peace Israel enjoys with Egypt and Jordan today.

The Trump plan might be dead on arrival for this Palestinian leadership, but if it garners some Arab support from Egypt and the Gulf states, it might become a foundational block for the future – a path if not toward full peace, at least to a very long-term ceasefire. It isn’t sexy, and it doesn’t satisfy those who blame Israel’s occupation of the disputed territory as the core problem, but the status quo plus Palestinian economic empowerment may be the only path available at this time.

Whatever the “deal of the century” is, let’s hope that the plan is long on specifics, and short on ambiguity.

The writer is director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the Senate, House and their foreign policy advisers. He is a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to i24TV, The Hill, JTA and The Forward.

Defining Israel’s Security Parameters: Debating the Wisdom or Harm of Annexation

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

The debate ignited by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call to extend sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria (West Bank), coming on the eve of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, may have created a window of opportunity to discuss something that needs to be addressed first – what does Israel need to control east of the 1949 Armistice line in order to have a defensible border?

In an ideal world, the results of the election would have allowed the Blue and White Party – led by three former Israeli chiefs of staff – to join a unity government with Netanyahu, which would form a clear majority consensus on Israeli national strategic redlines in the West Bank. To supporters of a “two states for two peoples” resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the most damaging consequence of the Israeli election was that it opened up an unnecessary debate over extending Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank before an agreement is reached by the parties.

Four leading pro-Israel Democrats – including the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee Eliot Engel and the House chairwomen of the Appropriations Committee Nita Lowey – warned Israel not to take any unilateral actions, as it would profoundly damage support for Israel within the Democratic Party, especially with the ascendancy of members who support the Palestinian narrative of the illegitimacy of the Jewish presence in the Levant.

The statement said that “Two states for two peoples, negotiated directly by the two sides with mutually agreed upon land swaps, is the best option to achieve a Jewish, democratic, secure Israel living side-by-side with a democratic, demilitarized Palestinian.”

They went on to place much of the blame on a “Palestinian leadership [that] has been unwilling to accept any reasonable peace proposal or even to negotiate seriously toward a solution.”

If Israel can present a strong and balanced consensus of its security and political establishment, it would strengthen its case with the United States and other international players, and thwart those who claim Israel has no strategic interests east of the Green Line.

Any annexation at this time – without first explaining Israel’s essential security imperatives – would be seen by many as a land-grab. Now is the time to also enlist American help in laying out the case why Israel has legal rights in the disputed territory – something that is essential for those who believe the path is through a two-state solution – or else land swaps will always be perceived as stolen territory.

WITH IRAN now implanted in both Lebanon and Syria and its militia integrated within the Iraqi army, protecting Israel’s eastern flank has never been more important. The eastern border of the West Bank is the Jordan River Valley, bordering on Jordan.

From a security standpoint, this is where any future extension of sovereignty or two-state debate should begin, using much of the same logic as Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights as an indispensable strategic barrier.

Jordan is a fragile state threatened from within by the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda, destabilized by millions of refugees with no good prospects from Syria and Iraq, threatened by Iran from its east and north from Syria, and distrusted by its Palestinian majority citizenry who resent the Hashemite monarchy that allies with America.

What you have is a recipe for a failed state in the not-too-distant future, making Israel’s claim to this strategic area even more urgent.

So can Israel ever give up the Jordan River Valley?

Previous two-state peace plans that put an end-date on Israeli control of the Jordan River Valley seem unrealistic, knowing that an Arab Winter could return at any time to the region and leave Jordan ripe for an Islamist or Iranian takeover. With no Israeli control of the Jordan River Valley, Iran or Sunni jihadists could be in Tulkarm or Kalkilya – a stone’s throw from the Azrieli Sarona Tower in Tel Aviv.

Previous US plans called for NATO, American or international peacekeeping forces in place of Israeli soldiers as a more palatable alternative to Palestinians.

Can you trust an international force to ensure Israel’s security in the Jordan Valley?

You need to only look at the failure of the international UNIFIL force in Lebanon that has failed to identify or stop a single one of Hezbollah’s 150,000 rockets. 

Trusting security to NATO? NATO’s second largest army is Turkey, now transformed into a Muslim Brotherhood antisemitic entity.

Israel should never outsource its security – not even to the US, as Israel never wants any American soldier placed in harm’s way to protect them.

Trusting Europeans? They have been supporting Palestinian organizations that have been illegally making land-grabs in Area C in defiance of the Oslo Accords.

ANOTHER STRATEGIC scenario to review is to ask what would happen if Israel and the PA come to an agreement, and then Hamas overthrows the PA as they did in Gaza in 2007. The new Palestinian state would become Hamastan, just a few miles from Ben-Gurion Airport and within easy low-cost rocket range of 80% of the Israeli population within the Tel Aviv bubble. Imagine Tel Aviv as Sderot.

If Israeli military experts deem strategic depth an imperative, is it wiser to annex territory now, or do nothing and wait for the Palestinians to come to the table in good faith?

The best but highly unlikely way to forestall any Israeli preemptive moves would be for those with influence on the Palestinians to tell them to clearly state in Arabic that they are for two states for two peoples, not the preposterous two-state solution where two states means one completely Arab state in the West Bank, and a binational state in Israel with an unlimited right of return of overwhelming numbers of Arabs.

Every two-state peace deal has acknowledged the reality of Israel keeping settlement blocs as part of any final outcome. So, would it be so unreasonable for Israel to annex them in the future if the Palestinians never return to genuine negotiations?

UNSC Resolution 242, after the Six Day War, acknowledged that Israel has legitimate rights over the 1949 armistice line in the disputed territory.

Returning to the indefensible 1967 lines would be strategic suicide for Israel.

As Ambassador Abba Eban – who was no right-wing figure – said after the 1967 war, “We have openly said that the map will never again be the same as on June 4, 1967… The June map [1967 before the Six Day War] is – for us – equivalent to insecurity and danger.”

Which brings us back to risks of unilateral Israeli action to extend sovereignty to the major settlement blocks, the Jordan River Valley or to the heights of the Samaria hills.

Netanyahu is smart enough to know that the answer for Israel at this time is to avoid unilateral actions, rhetoric aside. The diplomatic risks outweigh the benefits, which the status quo already affords.

However, beginning a public debate to develop a majority national consensus on Israel’s strategic and territorial requirements in the West Bank would be a good start for his legacy.

If only he were not under threat of indictment, then Blue and White could join him for the public good.

The writer is director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. Mandel regularly briefs members of the Senate, House and their foreign policy advisers. He is a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to i24TV, The Hill, JTA and The Forward.

In Re-electing Netanyahu, Israelis Chose Stability

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Telegraphic Agency}

(JTA) — After the smoke clears from this contentious Israeli election, which amounted to a referendum on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure, it appears that Netanyahu will again be asked by Israeli President Rivlin to form the next government.

How did he win again?

As Israel’s former U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren said, “Our economy is excellent, our foreign relations were never better, and we’re secure … we know him, the world knows him – even our enemies know him.”

Unlike American voters, most Israelis choose security and stability over the unknown. In this election that was Gen. Benny Gantz and his new Blue and White party, which featured sterling security credentials among those headlining the ticket.

Gantz’s strategy highlighted Netanyahu’s corruption scandals, which apparently resonated with enough voters that his party received over 1 million votes, the most ever by a Israeli political party — except for Likud, also in this election.

However, the nation – and particularly its youngest voters – have moved sharply to the right following the second intifada in the early to mid-2000s, prioritizing security over domestic concerns. Paradoxically, compared to Americans, young Israelis lean more to the right than older generations because they came of age during and after the violent Palestinian uprising.

This is what enabled Netanyahu to keep his job. The prime minister is perceived as a steady hand in turbulent waters: Israel is surrounded on all sides by growing threats of radical jihadism – Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. Netanyahu is trusted on what he considers the No. 1 threat to the survival of Israel, the revolutionary theocracy of Iran.

Netanyahu has also been a very pragmatic leader, successfully managing Israel’s many conflicts. He has skillfully avoided a war with Hezbollah and Iran despite targeting hundreds of Iranian and Hezbollah positions in Syria and Lebanon over the past few years.

And even with pressure from his own base to be more aggressive with Hamas, Netanyahu has avoided undertaking a major operation to overthrow the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip. He knows it would be a disaster if Israel conquered the coastal strip and became responsible for the lives of its 2 million residents.

Under his unprecedentedly long tenure, Israel has become more secure, with significant economic advancements and diplomatic achievements, especially in forging relations with the Arab world and Africa. Many observers said that couldn’t happen unless there was peace first between the Palestinians and Israel.

Netanyahu was the first Israeli prime minister in 24 years to visit Oman. Last year he met with an Emirati ambassador – a meeting that Business Insider said “sheds light on one of the worst-kept secrets in the Arab world: the quiet ties between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors that are increasingly coming out in the open as they find common cause against mutual foe Iran.”

But what may be the most important legacy of this election may be the annexation debate over the West Bank. Will Netanyahu really annex some or all of the disputed territories? Was his promise to the faithful just more hyperbole, or was it a signal that the window of opportunity to act is now, as President Donald Trump may be gone from the scene in less than two years?

The annexation debate is complex, and it is legitimate for Israel’s security establishment to discuss which disputed territory beyond the Green Line is indispensable for Israel’s security interests. Proponents of the status quo and those for disengagement should join the debate.

American Jewry, which is as liberal as Israeli Jewry is conservative, has legitimate criticisms of Netanyahu. He reneged on his promise to expand the egalitarian space at Robinson’s Arch next to the Western Wall, and the Israeli government has failed to recognize Conservative and Reform Judaism – the movements that the majority of American Jews belong to – as equally legitimate to Orthodoxy.

However, the hyperpolarized politics of America have blinded many American Jews, who don’t realize the real harm they do to Israel and themselves in siding with those whose criticism veers into delegitimization of the state.

After the euphoria and depression of the 2019 Israeli election results subside, we’ll be left with something extraordinary to be celebrated by all Israelis and Americans: Israel’s vibrant democracy again elected new national leadership in a peaceful vote. Israel is a beacon of Western democratic and Jewish values — and whether you love or hate Bibi Netanyahu, Israel is still a miracle at 71.

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

Israel in the Crosshairs of 2020 U.S. Presidential Election

{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

This year’s AIPAC convention faced the growing divide between the traditional pro-Israel Democratic base, which is still in the majority, and its growing anti-Israel wing.

Just as the upcoming Israeli election has shined a spotlight on the growing rift between segments of American and Israeli Jewry, the 2020 US Presidential election has highlighted the profound differences between some progressive and many mainstream Democratic members, especially those who see the Middle East as an essential American interest, and the security of Israel as a primary concern.

If you thought the divisive battle between Republicans and Democrats over the JCPOA (Iran nuclear agreement) was over, think again. Democrats and Republicans are about to go at it again over Obama’s foreign policy legacy, concluded in 2015, and withdrawn by Trump three years later.

According to Al Monitor, “Re-entry into the nuclear deal with Iran is fast becoming a litmus test for Democrats” in 2020. “No fewer than five declared candidates said they would rejoin the deal without preconditions.”

Where will Democrats who voted against the JCPOA stand, going forward? Will they be cowed by the rising anti-Israel base into choices of political expediency? Remember, in 2015, only 42 Senators were in favor of the Iran deal, which was never ratified by the Senate as a treaty.

Since politics is going to force us to consider the merits and failings of the JCPOA again, it’s time for a refresher course in what makes the JCPOA so contentious.

• Despite President Barack Obama’s assurances that the JCPOA would only be about Iran’s nuclear aspirations – while sanctions for Iran’s missiles development, human rights abuses, and its state support of terrorism would be pursued independent of the nuclear deal – the administration chose not to pursue any new sanctions or hold Iran accountable for its continued malevolent behavior, especially as the primary patron of the genocidal regime in Syria.

• The JCPOA outsourced compliance of the deal to the IAEA without any American inspectors, who unsurprisingly, never inspected a single Iranian military base, which is of course where the Iranian military performs its R&D for nuclear weapons.

• Despite assurances that the JCPOA would end Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons, the deal’s restrictions sunset over the next one to 15 years, literally guaranteeing Iran can become a nuclear power with international legitimacy at any time of its choosing.

• The deal actually allows Iran to continue advanced centrifuge research that even now could process enough uranium for a nuclear weapon in less than a year.

Senator Cory Booker, speaking in favor of the JCPOA, said the deal would be a “denuclearization of Iran,” while Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s spokesperson said the JCPOA was necessary “to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” These characterizations of the agreement were and are just plain false.

The other great divide between some progressive and pro-Israel Democrats revolves around the disputed Jewish communities in Area C, where 100% of Jews on the West Bank live, while 90% of Palestinian Arabs have lived in Areas A and B under Palestinian Authority control for 25 years.

THIS YEAR’S AIPAC convention faces the growing divide between the traditional pro-Israel Democratic base, which is still in the majority, and its growing anti-Israel wing, whose vocal opinions on Israel range from legitimate criticism to unapologetic BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) advocates, who challenge Israel’s very right to exist.

According to an editorial in the now-defunct New York Sun, “On Israel, the party leadership – Speaker Pelosi, Senator Schumer, the Clintons, Vice President Biden – have become trapped like deer in the headlights of the rising left-wing factions.”

Yet progressives like Mayor Bill De Blasio didn’t heed the calls of progressive groups like IfNotNow, which wants to destroy the highly popular Birthright trips for millennial Jews.

Anti-Israel animus would be a little less disgraceful if the same people also called for boycotts against the world’s true human rights abusers – Iran, China, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the Palestinian Authority – but instead focus exclusively on Israel, revealing something more sinister.

Many progressive members see any Israeli settlement over the Green Line as illegal. President Obama, just as he was leaving office, abstained from voting on one of the long line of anti-Israel UN resolutions, UNSC Resolution 2334, insinuating that he didn’t object to the proposition that any Jewish presence over the 1949 Armistice line is illegal, including the Western Wall, which the PA claims has no Jewish roots.

A non-politicized reading of international law that usually doesn’t see the light of day in our hyper-polarized climate, gives Israel a strong claim to legal rights over the Green Line. UNSC Resolution 242 made clear that Israel was never supposed to return to its indefensible ‘67 lines, as the territory acquired was in defensive wars, without a legal stakeholder.

Prof. Ruth Lapidoth, an expert in international law, said the “legislative history (of UNSC Res.242) calling for the complete withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from all the territories occupied in 1967 were rejected.”

Many members of the Progressive Caucus choose to ignore that Israel has offered multiple times between 92%-100% of the disputed territory to the Palestinians with land swaps. This was never accepted for the simple reason that most Palestinians think Israel has no right to exist in any entity as a non-indigenous people, while the PA never prepared its people for the hard choices for peace. It has chosen the path of all authoritarian regimes, scapegoating to deflect attention away from its own incompetence and corruption.

J Street, a Jewish progressive organization along with anti-Israel organizations like Code Pink and MoveOn took on the centrist AIPAC pro-Israel organization, demanding Democratic candidates not share a stage on which Netanyahu stood. It is one thing to profoundly disagree with his views, but the condemnation bordered on delegitimization of him, as the democratically elected leader of an ally, not a disagreement with his policies.

It is not too late to stem the tide. Going forward toward 2020, Democratic candidates who previously supported Israel need to step up and say unequivocally that Israel’s right to exist is not up for discussion, and America not only shares values with Israel, but American interests require a strong and secure Israel.

The writer is director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™), and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN™ is Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, MKs, journalists, and organizational leaders.


{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

I was particularly struck by the profound concern and fear expressed by the high school-parents group, who shared with me a number of troubling incidents.

I recently gave a series of talks on BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), anti-Zionism, and antisemitism. I first spoke at a leading synagogue in Manhattan, then to a group of parents of high school and college students with children applying or already in college, and then to students at a local high school.

At the high school, I was confronted after my lecture by one of the teachers. He first told me, disingenuously, that he was “right-wing” on Israel. Then he proceeded to tell me that Israel ethnically wiped out all of the Palestinians, and Jews have no right to be there just because a few thousand years ago they lived there. Fortunately the majority of students were engaged and asked important questions. One young man couldn’t understand why it is antisemitic to be against Israel.

I was particularly struck by the profound concern and fear expressed by the high school-parents group, who shared with me a number of troubling incidents.

An Israel club was denied permission to form at a high school with a large Jewish population. Another parent told me that her son, who was attending one of New York’s most prestigious private schools, was given as an example during a writing exercise, of someone representing Israel’s supposedly egregious human rights abuses in Gaza. Other high school parents told me that when visiting prospective campuses, they were horrified to see the presence of BDS and an intimidating environment for Jewish students on campus.

I remember watching a UCLA non-Jewish college student, Lauren Rogers. She told her harrowing story about intimidation and administrative indifference after she was forced to defend herself before a university judicial committee. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) charged Rogers with bias because she did not to vote to divest from Israel while on the UCLA student council. Her crime was visiting Israel with AJC’s educational program. This is BDS in action. A hostile climate toward Jewish students goes hand-in-hand with the level of SJP activity on campus.

There are plenty of safe spaces for every ethnic group on today’s college campus, with administrators bending over backwards to thwart every alleged micro-aggression there is – unless you are a Jewish student.

Prof. Deborah Lipstadt has said that people know antisemitism when they see it.

Let’s do an instructive exercise. Imagine what would have happened to a white male Congressman if he said everything Rep. Ilhan Omar said about Jews and Israel. He would definitely not have been treated with kid gloves. If he had, there would have been an uproar, with rallies in Washington. And all the cable news talking heads would be beside themselves with righteous indignation against right-wing antisemitism.

Fighting antisemitism would be politically correct for the moment, a weapon for political gain.

Let’s be clear, repeated antisemitic statements – ranging from dual loyalty to Jewish power to Jewish money to legitimizing a debate over Israel’s right to exist – are antisemitism.

Clouding the debate on antisemitism are the moral-equivalence arguments used by groups like J Street, which are blind to left-wing and Islamic antisemitism, and use a double standard for bigots from the Right than they do from the Left.

Illustrating the point, J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami said, “[We] made clear to lawmakers our concern that the timing of the resolution could be seen as singling out and focusing special condemnation on a Muslim woman of color, Rep. Ilhan Omar – implying that her insensitive comments somehow posed a greater threat than the torrent of hatred that the white-nationalist Right continues to level against Jews, Muslims, people of color and other vulnerable minorities.”

ALLOWING DEFENDERS of an antisemite to change the narrative by transforming an antisemite into a victim, simply because she is considered part of a minority or persecuted group, is unhealthy for our democracy. And by the way, if a Jewish person said the same things Ilhan Omar said, they too would be antisemitic. Antisemitism is not about being a Semite, it is about what you say about Jews and Israel.

Falsely claiming, as Elizabeth Warren did, that “branding criticism of Israel as automatically antisemitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse,” is not only blatantly untrue, but dangerous for our melting-pot society.

Bashing Israeli policies is a national sport for Israelis, as well as for American Jews, making a mockery of those who claim all defenders of Israel cry antisemitism for every criticism of Israeli policy. However, claiming Israel has no right to exist because it is a colonialist, apartheid, human-rights abuser crosses a line from legitimate criticism into antisemitism.

Boycotting all of Israel and having a double standard that you don’t apply to other nations is antisemitism. BDS is an antisemitic movement. Representatives Omar and Rashida Tlaib support BDS.

As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “Denial of Israel’s right to exist is antisemitism.”

And as the late Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking antisemitism.”

French President Macron said, “Anti-Zionism is one of the modern forms of antisemitism, behind the negation of Israel’s existence, what is hiding is hatred of Jews.”

In the Arab world, Israelis are simply called Jews.

Are you listening congresswomen?

A strong predictor for antisemitism on a college campus is the presence of BDS. The international definition of antisemitism adopted by the US, UK, Germany and many other countries, says delegitimizing, demonizing and having double standards targeting Israel are antisemitism.

Unfortunately, on our college campuses, supporters of Israel are told that they are not welcome to be part of the social justice movement, as it is completely incompatible with Zionism, a racist ideology. Israel is an oppressor and so it must be dehumanized.

BDS is the sword against the oppressor, so we must stand with the most victimized people on earth, the Palestinians. Ask a BDS supporter why Palestinians could have turned down having their own state five times over the last 70 years, and you will be screamed down on today’s college campus. BDS advocates claim it is their First Amendment right to scream so loud and so long to silence you, because any opinion other than theirs is evil by definition, especially the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.

Just ask Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid, who was chased off the stage at the University of Chicago last year by SJP. His great offense was saying that we need to reconcile with our Israeli neighbors.

BDS is not about two states for two peoples. It is about the demographic destruction of Israel through the right of return, ending the colonization of Arab land (Dar el Islam).

Did you know that the Palestinian BDS national committee based in Ramallah coordinates BDS worldwide, and that it includes designated terrorist organizations?

Jonathan Schanzer, a former US Treasury official and a contributing expert for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, explained during congressional testimony last year that former employees of Hamas-linked charities now work for the American Muslims for Palestine. It is the key sponsor for Students for Justice in Palestine, creating a toxic environment for Jewish students through talk of apartheid walls, intimidation of speakers, divestment resolutions, academic indifference, and professors refusing to write recommendations for students studying in Israel.

BDS is an antisemitic movement by its words and actions. Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib support BDS.

Antisemitism, now you know it when you see it.

The writer is the director of Middle East Political and Information Network (MEPIN), and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post and i24TV.


{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Some claim that this is finally the time to extricate the US from the Persian Gulf, as it is now oil independent and the region is not vital to US national security interests anymore.

There is a new reality in the Persian Gulf, which we ignore at our peril: the ascendancy of China and Russia, happily taking advantage of America’s withdrawal from the Middle East.

The long awaited American pivot to China may well begin in the Gulf, as the Chinese Belt and Road initiative is a significant challenge to America for global economic influence and dominance, and is a threat to the longstanding US international order.

Just this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that “Saudi Arabia is positioning itself as a partner in China’s massive Belt and Road initiative [as] Prince Mohammed signs [a] raft of deals.”

According to William C. Pacatte III writing in Defense 360, President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) “poses a significant long-term strategic threat to US interests… there is enough evidence to suggest that BRI is… more analogous to a neo-colonialist and imperialistic China, under the guise of an economic plan.”

Some claim that this is finally the time to extricate the US from the Persian Gulf, as it is now oil independent and the region is not vital to US national security interests anymore.

After speaking with US officials in the Gulf, I believe that when cooler heads prevail, those sitting 7,000 miles away in Washington will understand that America must stay engaged in the Gulf for our security interests by ensuring the continued stability of its Gulf allies, while securing the world’s energy supply. Instability in the energy supply chain could cause a profound economic reaction in the US economy.

The address for stability in the Middle East in not in Cairo, Damascus, or Baghdad anymore: it is in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai, with their outsized political as well as economic influence.

Chinese and Russian political and economic efforts in the region threaten to pull our Gulf friends, in spite of their sharing our most important interests against Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, into the arms of our Chinese and Russian adversaries.

Last fall, I spoke to the point person for the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, who led a bipartisan effort to pass the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act, a direct response to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative which offers Asian and African countries loans and guarantees to slow down Chinese economic gains. Those senators should be credited with understanding the importance of counteracting Chinese entrenchment into vital zones of US influence.

Like their ways or not, the Saudi regime is the keystone of stability for the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and even Qatar. If we were to abandon US commitments which support that stability, there would be an upheaval destabilizing the whole Middle East. To resist Iran’s ambitions, the US needs the cooperation of the Gulf States.

For the time being, China is interested in economic advantages, but you don’t need to look into the future to understand that their new naval base in Djibouti, near the vital Bab-el-Mandeb strait on the road to the Suez Canal, is the forerunner of their global ambitions, causing much concern for US military planners.

Russia for its part has been pursuing a strategy to create daylight between Saudi Arabia and the other GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) members, undermining America’s interest in a strong GCC.

Unfortunately the US initiative for a Gulf NATO has been a failure, with a watered down version of shared military exercises taking its place.

Visiting the region, one finds that the tension between the Gulf states and Iran is at an all time high, while Trump’s decision to leave Syria, despite later backtracking, confirmed to the Gulf nations that America is a fickle friend.

The conservative Gulf is a riddle in transition, especially after the 2019 break between Qatar and its fellow Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain. Oman and Kuwait, the other members of the GCC, would prefer reconciliation for their own interests, which the US administration would like to see.

Qatar is the one outlier, using its hosting of America’s Al Udeid Air Base as a hostage against being pushed by the US to distance itself from Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the Qatar air station is an important but not an indispensable base. The UAE can build an equally vital base on its own dime that would force Qatar to choose sides, or be devoured by its Iranian and Salafist friends.

THE CHINESE are moving into the region, and this can be witnessed by the UAE literally rolling out the red carpet for the visit of Chinese President Xi. Xi’s absolute control of China makes dealing with him much easier for the authoritarian GCC nations, than having to deal with the messy US political scene. The same can be said of Russian relations with the Gulf.

China is already Iran’s number one trading partner, and has signed tens of billion of dollars in deals from Saudi Arabia to Jordan and Oman. Russia has become the address for dealing with much of the Middle East and has relationships with every player.

None of this is in America’s interest, unless you are a Rand Paul isolationist.

The US must realize that the Gulf states are in a time of change, feeling more vulnerable due to the dangers of another Arab Winter, with the Muslim Brotherhood destabilizing their regimes.

Yet the US is still their preferred choice as a friend.

For the good news, the Gulf states are talking to the Israelis. These nations are traders, and they see Israel as a good partner, even now visiting Israel to scout out possibilities.

But in order for true change to occur, they must begin the hard process of changing the mindset of their citizens to begin a process of acceptance of the Jewish state. Small steps, like playing the Israeli national anthem at a Judo tournament in the Gulf, are a start.

Going forward, it is important for Congress to figure out how to influence Gulf state human rights abuses without destroying our vital relationship.

As a side benefit, this could also hold the key to improving Israel’s relationship with the Arab world, an important American interest, and forcing the next generation of Palestinians to choose economic advancement over their desire to destroy the Jewish state.

The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™), and is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post and i24TV. MEPIN™ is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.