Most Americans are unaware of the phrase “War Between the Wars.” It describes Israel’s low-grade war with Iran, Hezbollah and Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria to stop Iran from transforming “Syria and Iraq into missile-launching pads,” as it has in Lebanon. The goal is to prevent a permanent Iranian presence on Israel’s doorstep with advanced weaponry that could tip the scales against Israel’s qualitative military edge.
First, a belated happy and healthy New Year to my Jewish readers. In past years, far too many congregants worshipping in the more pluralistic branches of Judaism were subjected to sermons on the High Holidays that emphasized criticism of Israel without enough context or appreciation for the security challenges of the Jewish state. Being tough on Israel and soft on the PA was too often the script. This brings us to the issue of the Palestinian Authority’s long-standing anti-Semitism, most egregiously evidenced in their textbooks. Many of these sermonizers subscribe to the J Street talking points regarding criticism of Israel and defense of the Palestinian Arabs.
In recent weeks “Members of the European Parliament…were unanimous in condemning incitement and anti-Semitic content found by a recent study of Palestinian Authority textbooks, in what one nonprofit called a “watershed moment” in the campaign to reform the curricula.”
Overwhelming evidence of Palestinian Authority anti-Semitism has been documented for many years by organizations such as Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) that has been ignored or minimized by groups like J Street. A few years ago, I brought the head of PMW to meet leaders of J Street in New York. Itamar Marcus shared evidence of PA support for anti-Semitism in schools. Promisingly, the J Street leaders said the information was new to them and disturbing. They said that despite it being uncomfortable to a J Street audience, they would recommend to their national leadership to bring Mr. Marcus to speak at the national J Street conference. Unfortunately, Itamar never received an invitation from J Street, despite contacting them again. Diversity of thought was not on the agenda.
The last time J Street strongly condemned the PA was over three years ago when PA President Abbas’ blatantly anti-Semitic speech couldn’t be ignored. It may be long in coming, but it is time for J Street to step up to the plate and strongly condemn the PA for decades of anti-Semitism in their textbooks, official media, and mosques. Since the PA has not prepared their young people to accept their Jewish neighbors to have their own nation, J Street should be faithful to its mandate for two states for two-peoples and call out the PA’s actions as an impediment to peace, equal to their demand to end settlements. If settlements and territory were the primary reason for this dispute, it would have ended many years ago after Israeli offers in 1949, 1967, 2000, 2001, and 2008 for two states for two peoples.
Suppose J Street ignores, rationalizes, or defends the PA, even after the usually unsympathetic EU has denounced PA indoctrinated anti-Semitism. In that case, they should consider changing their moniker from pro-Israel to pro-Palestine.
EU Budgetary Committee Chair Monika Hohlmeier — who hails from Munich, where Palestinian gunmen killed members of the Israeli Olympic team in 1972 — called the offending (Palestinian textbook) content unacceptable. “The Munich massacre is portrayed as a justified attack. We cannot accept that young people are taught that terrorist attacks are acceptable.”
The Director of the mainstream American Jewish Committee’s Brussels-based EU Office said it is “difficult to imagine a policy more at odds with EU values and the stated goals of working toward peace and the creation of a democratic Palestinian state than indoctrinating schoolchildren to hate. The European Commission must act decisively to help preserve both the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution and its own standing as an honest broker.”
Published in The Jerusalem Report on September 13, 2021.
Score one for Sunni Jihadism. Twenty years after 9/11 and two years after America’s victory over ISIS, another Islamist caliphate has returned to the scene, this time in Afghanistan, where scores of Muslim terror organizations will reconstitute under the umbrella of the new Islamic emirate.
Shi’ite jihadism in the Islamic Republic of Iran is also in ascendancy with the withdrawal of America from the Middle East. There is likely to be a lull in any overseas terror operations with a patient Taliban and al Qaeda, but what about the future?
Will Americans forgive their leadership, if terror strikes the homeland or if the US is forced to return to the Middle East as it did after the Iraq withdrawal to confront ISIS? ISIS and the Taliban are two sides of the same coin.
Was the withdrawal a wise and courageous decision, as US President Joe Biden’s defenders claim, or was it foreign policy malpractice? The administration is trying to make the case that the choice was a renewed war with many more troops on the ground or a complete withdrawal.
This was and is a straw-man argument to cover a blunder that will undermine US and allied security interests for years to come. More mistakes are on the horizon as Biden is an enthusiastic supporter of returning to the ill-conceived Iran nuclear deal, another foreign policy catastrophe he would add to his repertoire.
Just days before the chaos at the Kabul airport with Afghanis storming the airport in total panic, Biden said, “The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese army. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan.”
Yes, the Taliban are not the North Vietnamese. They are more akin to ISIS and al Qaeda, jihadists who use religion to rationalize taking young women as sex slaves, living in the dark ages.
Let us remember who the Taliban are. They are one of the world’s great drug dealers, ruining countless people’s lives. According to an article in Foreign Policy by the Bureau Chief for AFP and AP from 2009-2017, the Taliban were first the opium kings, but recently their insurgency runs on the sale of billions of dollars in methamphetamine made from the ephedra plant, a cheaper and more profitable business.
Its product ends up on the shores of the US, just as their jihadist cousin Hezbollah sends its additive drugs from South America to poison young Americans, both fueling an opioid epidemic while bankrolling terror. Who said Sunni and Shi’ite jihadists didn’t have anything in common?
You know that something is amiss when CNN, a reliably pro-Biden media outlet, has wall-to-wall coverage eviscerating the president’s judgment on Afghanistan. Showing videos of streets without women who are too afraid to leave their homes, chaos at the Kabul airport with desperate people falling from the sky as they cling onto the fuselage of American planes as they departed Afghanistan, the public relations nightmare makes Joe Biden look like Jimmy Carter during the Iran hostage crisis. No one can say that Biden was not warned of what could occur.
In an NBC News interview, the head of US forces in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie said, “What we’re here for is to prevent al Qaeda and ISIS from being able to reconstitute in the ungoverned spaces, generally of eastern Afghanistan, and be able to plot attacks against our homeland… That threat is still here today.”
McKenzie said US counterterrorism forces had made it impossible for al Qaeda to regenerate and carry out its plans against the West. “If that pressure comes off, I believe they’re going to regenerate… and I think it’s only a matter of time before we see them assert themselves and begin to plan attacks against our homeland.”
Axios reported that chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told senators on the day Kabul fell that terrorists will reconstitute in Afghanistan sooner than expected. Ryan Crocker, Obama’s ambassador to Afghanistan, said I think it is damning for him (Biden) to have created this situation…It’s an unforced error.”
Biden should have learned how a premature withdrawal can go profoundly wrong after he witnessed this firsthand as Obama’s VP, Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 that created the conditions for the rise of the Islamic State, only to have America pulled back into another war under much worse circumstances. As politics, not American security interests, obscure an honest debate of what went wrong in Afghanistan, it is worth pausing and remembering America’s original goal for Afghanistan.
Our original goal was not nation-building but to take the fight to the terrorists, giving them no safe haven, so there would be no more attacks on the American homeland. There has not been an attack on American soil from Sunni terrorists given safe harbor in Afghanistan for twenty years. That mission was accomplished and could have continued with a small American footprint, but Biden thought he knew better.
A Wall Street Journal editorial pulled no punches, hitting the nail on the head. “President Biden’s statement (during the fall of Kabul) washing his hands of Afghanistan deserves to go down as one of the most shameful in history by a Commander in Chief at such a moment of American retreat.” Biden refused to listen to his advisors or the Afghanistan Study Group. “Mr. Biden, as always too assured of his own foreign-policy acumen, refused to listen.”
The US’s small presence gave it disproportionate leverage to keep the status quo. Biden was untruthful when he said the 3,500 US troops were doing the brunt of the fighting for the Afghani soldiers. The mission could have continued if Biden hadn’t removed the very small contingent of soldiers. America has not lost a single soldier in Afghanistan in the last 18 months. Although the nation-building experiment was at best a mixed result, there is no question that millions of women’s lives in Afghanistan changed for the better, and yes, the US did have that objective in mind while it was there.
Kimberley Motley, a human rights attorney who worked in Afghanistan for 13 years, called the current situation a “human rights nightmare.” The administration may still try to put lipstick on this generational foreign policy humiliation, but it still will stink like ten-dayold fish.
As chaos reigned in Kabul, Biden “warned the Taliban that any action on their part on the ground in Afghanistan that puts US personnel or its mission at risk there will be met with a swift and strong US military response.” Who was he kidding?
Biden was disingenuous when he said he inherited Trump’s deal with the Taliban and couldn’t have done anything about it. Just as Trump reversed Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, and Biden is trying to re-enter that same agreement, Biden could have easily bypassed the Trump agreement with the Taliban mainly because the Taliban had already reneged on its obligations. Trump was wrong on Afghanistan as he was about the Kurds, but Biden uses him as a fall guy for his own incompetence. It’s even unfair to Trump to presume to know what he would have done, as circumstances evolved; he changed course on many things in his tenure; that’s for sure.
During the August weekend of the fall of Kabul, the Democratic leadership paraded Jake Auchincloss, a progressive Massachusetts Congressman who was an Afghan war veteran, on all of the Sunday talk shows. He said, “This president inherited a decision that was wrenching – it was not status quo or withdraw, it was to ramp up American forces in Afghanistan to hold the Taliban at bay… or it was to end a failed forever war finally.” Or was it?
With many more Congressional war veterans excoriating the Biden administration for gross negligence and mismanagement, Mr. Auchincloss was sent out as a sacrificial lamb against the tide of evidence showing America as an unreliable ally, a paper tiger, bungling its withdrawal, looking more like the Keystone Cops than the world’s superpower.
Revealingly, the congressman misspoke when he said that if we stayed for 20 years, “we would keep the wolves at bay.” That is precisely the point. The US could have kept Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist nation for years to come with a minimal American commitment. We just needed to maintain the status quo and control the Bagram airbase to back up an Afghani army that could hold off those wolves enough for years to come.
So who are the winners and losers? In the region, American allies are the big losers. Israel, Jordan, what is left of pro-America Iraq, Egypt, and the Gulf states now realize that America can make profound decisions undermining their interests at a moment’s notice, leaving them to bear the consequences alone. Iran and Israel’s jihadist neighbors in Gaza and Lebanon have been filled with more self-confidence.
The Taliban can thank Pakistan for refuge and support. But will the Pakistani Taliban rise and try to establish a caliphate in Islamabad? Qatar may be prescient, knowing that the US has foreign policy ADHD, attention deficit disorder. Qatar for years hosted Sunni Islamist extremists like Hamas, the Taliban, and the Muslim Brotherhood, as an insurance policy against American impatience with the region.
It is a two-way street for the Taliban’s superpower neighbors. On the one hand, the hated Americans are humiliated. On the other, there is a concern in Russia and China that the Islamist victory will inspire their repressed Muslim populations to agitate for change. Russia has terrible memories of Afghanistan; its invasion was in part responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union.
As Victor Davis Hansen says, “China, Russia, and Iran surely interpret this shambolic performance as a sign of exploitable weakness and poor judgment. From the peaks of Pakistan to the sands of the Sahel, fanatical jihadists discouraged by the failure of ISIS sense a fresh and favorable turn of events with the arrival of their greatest victory since 9/11.” Russia will realize that it can take more risks in Ukraine and with its former satellites.
As for the Far East nations, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, etc, will they trust America to keep its word and help them defend themselves from a predatory China? At the very least, it will be a more challenging lift for the US to convince them.
As Noah Rothman writes in Commentary, “It is unnervingly obvious what we’ve lost: national prestige, vast sums of political capital, credibility on the world stage and, most tangibly, our security. The world is much more dangerous today.”
The 24/7 coverage of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan has neglected to focus on four key points that will have lasting consequences and need to be addressed.
The first is the arsenal of weapons left behind for the Taliban and other jihadist organizations by America’s hasty exit and the disintegration of the Afghan armed forces.
The second is the underreported danger from releasing five thousand “high-value” al-Qaeda, ISIS and Taliban terrorists into the hands of the Taliban from Bagram prison.
The third is America’s mistaken notion that American itself can decide to end its forever wars on terror simply by leaving Afghanistan. They should ask the Israelis how well unilateral disengagements worked for them in Gaza and Lebanon.
Finally, is the need to recognize how compromised American intelligence will be going forward to prevent another major terror attack. There will be no human intelligence or any ally left in Afghanistan going forward.
Not only have we given the terrorists another failed state to plan regional and international attacks, but we have armed them too. According to an article in Forbes magazine, the US left behind a massive treasure trove of weapons that could sustain not just a terrorist force but even a real army for a decade.
“America left behind 75,000 war vehicles… Humvees, mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles and armored personnel carriers… 1,000 mine-resistant vehicles cost up to $767,000 each – 208 airplanes and helicopters, including 20 A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft. The A-29’s cost $21.3 million each. Black Hawk helicopters… costing up to $21m. Six hundred thousand rifles, machine guns…25,000 grenade launchers and 2,500 howitzers – the modern-day canon.”
The war on terror is not over just because President Biden says it is. According to Matthew Continetti, writing in the National Review, “Afghanistan is just one front in a global conflict that the United States did not initiate and cannot wish away… When participants in the worldwide Salafist-jihadist movement look at the developments of the last week, they don’t see reasons to quit their mayhem. They see the chaos, panic, violence, disorder and American retreat as a vindication of their ideology and a spur to further action.”
With the American withdrawal, American intelligence is blind, lacking HUMINT, human intelligence, a key component of effective prevention against terrorist attacks. The newly created Afghan terror sanctuary will challenge our analysts to get ahead of any new terror threats emanating from the region.
Unless you are an isolationist, American security interests extend worldwide. Our careful surveillance has prevented attacks on our friends and homeland for the last 20 years, something underappreciated, as preventing attacks receives much less news coverage than successful terror attacks.
Today’s al-Qaeda, Islamic State and every jihadist non-state terror variant are all transnational groups who have mastered social media for recruitment and planning. They will move wherever states fail, to plot their next attack. All these Islamist groups hate the US and want to bring medieval Islamic rule in one form or another everywhere.
International terrorist organizations will continue to probe and poke at the lion to see just how far they can go. The terrorists are counting on the lack of America reacting to attacks on regional allies like India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Israel is the only player in the region that acts effectively and repeatedly against jihadists, whether in Syria, Iran or Lebanon. When Israel strikes Islamists, whether Sunni or Shi’ite, Hamas or Hezbollah, the moderate Sunni states quietly cheer.
The administration needs to learn quickly that jihadists are now empowered to act against what they perceive to be a weak American President who talks but won’t act against terrorism. His choice not to respond to Iran’s recent confirmed terror attacks in international waters has only reinforced their case.
In his press conferences, Joe Biden has doubled down that America has no national security interest in remaining in Afghanistan. But Islamists, whether of the Sunni or Shi’ite variety, will have the last say. They have been reenergized and given a significant morale boost knowing America is in retreat and won’t act in response. Terrorism is alive and well throughout the Middle East.
Is President Biden up to the task?
Tevi Troy points out in a Wall Street Journal article, that President Biden seems to have surrounded himself with yes men. If Troy is correct, his remedy is for Biden to act like JFK after the Bay of Pigs disaster to create a mechanism within his policy teams that encourages dissenting opinions.
Biden needs to listen, because his instincts on foreign policy have been more wrong than right despite decades on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. Even back in 1992, according to The New York Times, Senator Joe Biden wanted to outsource American security to the United Nations. The United States should pursue “the next big advance in civilization… collective power through the United Nations.” You can imagine how that would have worked out.
It is challenging for any president to realize that there have been profound mistakes. The great ones like Abraham Lincoln had humility and were open to new ideas, even if they were not popular. That is what a President is supposed to do. His predecessor was rightly criticized for not listening to his advisers or contrary opinions. Will Biden continue to make the same mistake?
What a difference a month makes. In July, Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, met with his military, security and intelligence advisers to plan for his Aug. 26 summit with President Biden. Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid were considering a less confrontational approach than the previous Israeli administration, trying to work more closely with the United States regarding Iran’s aggression while not raising the ire of the Biden administration about Israel’s actions in the West Bank. National security advisers from both countries also met to lay the groundwork for the summit.
Now, the Biden administration is dealing with the repercussions to America’s reputation from its Afghanistan withdrawal, and allies including Israel are uncertain about trusting U.S. assurances going forward.
I had already started writing this article when I stumbled upon an article in The Atlantic, “The Week the Left Stopped Caring About Human Rights. It’s remarkable how quickly liberals abandoned the women of Afghanistan.” The initial impetus was U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s remarks earlier this year when he said the “administration will stand against human-rights abuses wherever they occur, regardless of whether the perpetrators are adversaries or partners.”
It needs to be pointed out that The Atlantic is not some right-wing outlet but is a leading light for the Democrat Party. So kudos to them for publishing this article.
“Get the hell out has … been the liberal position for two decades, until about 72 hours ago, when Democrats suddenly became so concerned about the fate of Afghanistan. … You can call for American troop withdrawal for 20 years. … But you need to be ready to take it on the chin when you get what you ask for, and the inevitable happens: girls being forced into child marriage and forbidden to go to school or to leave the house without a male relative. Is your conscience prickling. … It’s remarkable how quickly the left took up the cold calculus of realpolitik. How quickly it forgot its love for Malala, the young Pakistani girl who survived a Taliban bullet to the head, her only crime getting an education and trying to help other girls get one too. The White House must have known she’d give Biden a bad news cycle or two, and indeed, she appealed to the president to take ‘a bold step’ to stave off disaster.”
Anyone who has paid attention to Afghanistan over the last 20 years knows that the Taliban are horrific abusers of women, minorities and anyone else who stands in their way. They also knew that millions of those people’s lives were profoundly changed for the better after the Taliban were supposedly defeated by the United States 20 years ago.
Yet the leading proponents of the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan were liberals and progressives, including supposed interventionists like Joe Biden.
Republican isolationists like Rand Paul also represent a minority viewpoint to end all American entanglements, caring little for the well-being of anyone beyond American borders. I wish my fellow ophthalmologist had a bit of compassion for the other and realized that history proves more times than not that American withdrawals lead to harmful consequences at home as well as abroad. America’s retreat after World War I was one of the reasons for World War II and the rise of fascism.
But liberal Democrats, unlike many non-isolationist Republicans, have championed the complete American withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan while paying lip service condemning human-rights abuses. They didn’t want to have any more skin in the game but still wanted to virtue signal their fight against misogyny and genocide.
Biden’s old boss also talked the talk on human rights but often didn’t walk the walk. One example was when his Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power revealed in her 2019 memoir that she defied his orders and blocked Russia from joining the U.N. human rights council. Power, who made a name for herself with her book on genocide, couldn’t stomach voting for a regime that directly helped Syria’s genocidal dictator Bashar Assad.
So let’s be honest: Biden helped cause a human-rights disaster in Afghanistan, weakened America’s ability to prevent the next 9/11 and feels little regret about the move. As a candidate in 2020, when asked whether the United States had a responsibility to Afghan women and girls in light of a possible Taliban takeover, he said: “No, I don’t!” So much for his trumpeted empathy. The emperor has no clothes and makes no bones about it.
As Peter Baker of The New York Times wrote: “The president who won the White House on a promise of competence and compassion has had trouble demonstrating much of either … seemingly more intent on washing his hands of Afghanistan than expressing concern over the humanitarian tragedy unfolding on the ground.”
This brings us to Biden’s next Middle East foreign-policy decision, involving human rights and realpolitik. The decision to appease Iranian misogynists, terrorists and human-rights abuses with enough cash so they will want to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.
Biden is still gung-ho and happy to engage the revolutionary anti-Western despots in Iran, despite ignoring that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has nominated former Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi to become Iran’s next interior minister. Vahidi has an outstanding warrant for his arrest by Interpol for his role in bombing the AMIA Jewish Center in Argentina in 1994. Not a peep of condemnation from the administration, yet they rightly condemned former President Donald Trump for engaging with the Taliban two years ago in its negotiations in Doha.
The Iranian apologists from pro-peace organizations remain mute on calling out the actual war crimes committed by Iranians. There has been no public censure from the administration about Iran’s new president—a man responsible for the deaths of thousands. Not even a call to demand that a killer president elected in a rigged election be denied a visa to attend the United Nations General Assembly. Raisi’s previous position was as the head of Iran’s judiciary; it’s not every day that do you see a war criminal as a nation’s chief justice.
Yet Biden was willing to meet with Raisi, which would have offered a form of legitimization. Raisi saved Biden when he refused to meet with him. According to White House spokesperson Jen Psaki, “The president’s view … is that the decision leader is the Supreme Leader.” Memo to the White House: Khamenei oversees the apparatus that tortures, imprisons and kills gays, journalists, minorities and opposition members.
As for Afghanistan, Michael O’Hanlon, writing for the Brookings Institute, said: “The decision to leave when we had a reasonably stable if indefinite presence of only 3,000 or so U.S. troops was a poor strategic calculation. … The uncertain status of so many friends of the United States who are still stuck in Afghanistan brings a poignant human-rights dimension to the miscalculation as well.”
America cannot intervene in every humanitarian crisis, but this was one of our making, and we should be ashamed of how we left.
Ten years ago, the Arab Spring gave hope to people of the Middle East that they could take more control of their lives away from repressive regimes. Those in the West hoped that new governments would be more aligned with their interests, even without adopting Western-style democracy. Such dreams were dashed when Islamists and new authoritarians took advantage of the moment to seize control. The prospects of that “spring” turned into a lasting “Middle East Winter.” The one glimmer of hope was Tunisia, and that fragile democracy now also has turned authoritarian.
Lebanon is on the verge of collapse. There is little reason to believe the latest attempt to form a government will be different from past failures. The harsh reality is that no political or military decision in Lebanon can be made without Hezbollah’s approval.
Yet media reports have indicated that the US and France are considering expanding their military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces to counter Hezbollah’s ever-growing grip on the nation. The warnings of the commander of the LAF, claiming their soldiers have nothing to eat, did not fall upon deaf ears, and it seems that there is a desire to assist them.
This brings us to the question, should the US and France support a weakened LAF as a counterweight to Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah?
A July article in The Hill tried to make a case for continued American military assistance to the LAF, claiming that Hezbollah does not influence the LAF and the LAF command structure and special forces remain Western-oriented. The first claim is untrue, and the second may be more wishful thinking than reality.
In 2016, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah stated the LAF is a partner with the resistance (Hezbollah). In 2017, it was revealed that Yahya Husseini, a commanding officer in the LAF, was also a member of Hezbollah. Israel spotlighted this officer to highlight the widespread exploitation of Shi’ite LAF personal as Hezbollah operatives. In southern Lebanon today, there are joint patrols between the LAF and Hezbollah. Hezbollah members use LAF uniforms to disguise their activities, and the LAF allows Hezbollah to use their observation towers into Israel.
Over the past 15 years, there have been many instances of cooperation between the LAF and Hezbollah. These include assisting with the concealment of Hezbollah’s weapons from UNIFIL in southern Lebanon and collaboration between the two armies’ intelligence units.
Despite its relative weakness and the severe economic and political difficulties the LAF and the Lebanese people have faced, the LAF is still one of the last remaining institutions in Lebanon that the Lebanese people still support.
To understand the LAF, one needs to know that this multi-religious country with long-standing internal rivalries is supposed to be reflected in the demographics of its army. Unfortunately, there has been a decline in the number of Christian members in the military compared to Muslims (Shi’ites and Sunnis), with a shift towards Shi’ites, the religion of Hezbollah. Most LAF soldiers in southern Lebanon facing Israel are Shi’ites with likely sympathies for Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Christian and Sunni soldiers are sent to central and northern Lebanon, where there is less Hezbollah control.
So why should the West support the LAF? There is a case to be made for some assistance, but it is not clear-cut or compelling, one of those choices between the lesser of the two evils.
One answer is that ending financial support to the Lebanese Army would likely lead to its collapse and bring on civil war. That alone is a reason to keep the LAF intact, as the chaos that would follow would destabilize an already volatile region.
However, if you expect the LAF to be a counterweight to Hezbollah, you will be sorely disappointed. It would be a mistake to overestimate the strength of the LAF. It is unable and unwilling to confront Hezbollah. It will not fulfill its mandate to disarm Hezbollah or demilitarize the southern Lebanese border with Israel, a constant source of tension and potential for a major regional war.
UN Security Council Resolution 1701 explicitly states that the area adjacent to Lebanon’s border with Israel must be “free of any army personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL… requiring the disarmament of all armed groups (Hezbollah)… no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.” The LAF is supposed to be responsible for enforcing this, but since the end of the Second Lebanon War between Israel and Lebanon in 2006, the LAF has done nothing to resist Hezbollah’s militarization of southern Lebanon.
In response to what is perceived as squandered American aid to the LAF, a bipartisan resolution in the US House of Representatives is being circulated that demands Lebanon’s adherence to UNSC 1701. The resolution calls for a report to demonstrate how American national security interests are advanced by assistance to the LAF and “how such assistance contributes to stability in the Middle East.”
For those advocating some assistance, they must not overstate their goals, which should be:
1. Keep the LAF from being completely turned into a vassal of Iran’s Hezbollah
2. Prevent the collapse of the Lebanese state by keeping the LAF functional
3. Keep America on the doorstep of Lebanon by supporting the LAF in case things change over time
4. Ensure LAF’s ethnic makeup (percentage of Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Christians) be honored
5. Verifiable mechanism to prevent LAF weapons from being transferred to Hezbollah
The reality is that Hezbollah is stronger than the state of Lebanon, both militarily and politically; taking advantage of the nation’s dysfunction to commandeer its financial resources, Hezbollah uses intimidation and violence to exert its power. It has a worldwide money laundering and drug network, extending from South America to Europe to support its terrorist infrastructure, not to mention its financial support from its patron, Iran.
Hezbollah will only grow in influence if the US ends sanctions on Iran as part of rejoining the Iran nuclear deal. Hezbollah uses its comprehensive civilian social services to replace Lebanon’s non-functioning services in a nation with massive debt and poverty, forcing Lebanese civilians to be indebted to Hezbollah.
If America and France choose to end military aid, Iran and Russia will fill the vacuum the West leaves behind. It is undoubtedly not optimal, but the assistance allows the West to stay in the game, especially with the future unpredictable and the possibility for some leverage down the road.
But the US must get more bang for its buck without expecting more than is possible at this time. The LAF cannot be an alternative to Hezbollah unless the Lebanese people rise and demand a change. It is impossible to expect the LAF to end its cooperation with Hezbollah completely or significantly slow the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah from Iran.
What types of aid will be helpful?
With chaos everywhere in Lebanon, providing riot-control armaments that cannot be used offensively against Israel should be considered. It must be assumed that every weapon given to the LAF can fall into the hands of Hezbollah or be used against the IDF if there will be war between Israel and Lebanon. US military and police trainers could work with the LAF to teach them how to protect protesters from agitators.
Humanitarian aid is needed, but it cannot be funneled through Hezbollah intermediaries. Since corruption is endemic in Lebanon, America and France should demand the right to monitor all monies transferred and verify the location of all weapons given. No compromises whatsoever should be made on this.
Managing expectations is the only way to justify American support to the LAF. Lebanon is a “state within the State of Hezbollah.” It is evident that even though there are areas in Lebanon in which Hezbollah is less present, no political or economic decision in Lebanon can be made without Hezbollah’s consent. So the aid given to the LAF must not be passed onto other parties. The US and France need to ensure that the LAF does not become an Iranian or Russian puppet or provide it with weapons.
But the choice to end support at this time will only strengthen Iran’s hold on the country. A good compromise would be to offer humanitarian aid but withhold any dual-purpose military assistance until the LAF delivers on some very modest demands.
Published in the August 19, 2021 issue of The Jerusalem Report.
Israel has a national security blind spot. It is called effective public relations or, in Hebrew, hasbara. Israel does it really badly. I say this as an American who listens to other Americans, American politicians and the American media. American politicians who support Israel have confided their utter frustration with the lack of Israel’s public relations savoir-faire. It makes advocating for the US-Israel relationship much harder, especially against a coordinated anti-Israel apparatus that speaks on message and has mastered social media.
Israel’s enemies know that they cannot defeat the Jewish state militarily, so they have turned to influence the public with a straightforward one-sided narrative that plays fast and loose with facts and context. Taking control of the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is happening right now, and Israel’s enemies are winning. A recent poll by the Jewish Electorate Institute revealed that 38% of American Jews under 40 think Israel is an apartheid state, 33% think it is committing genocide against the Palestinian people and 20% think Israel doesn’t have a right to exist!
The first thing Israel needs to do is to acknowledge the problem and admit the image has been handled poorly. Then it needs to raise public relations importance to the level of a national security priority of the first order. Without a coordinated public relations strategy with the financial resources to make a difference, Israel’s ability to educate and influence the American public with its compelling case will continually be undermined. Winning this is essential not only for Israel. America needs a strong Israel as it pivots its efforts to the Far East to confront China.
But just reacting to propaganda attacks, being on the defensive is a guaranteed losing hand for Israeli hasbara. The mantra for Israeli public relations is to go on the offensive continually. Use personal narratives to illustrate Israel’s human tragedies because of Palestinian terrorism, inspired by blatant Jew-hatred thinly veiled behind anti-Zionism. An example of what it means to go on the offensive against the false charge of Israeli apartheid would be to publicize the Palestinian law that forbids selling land to Jews, a much more appropriate analogy to South African apartheid.
As a BESA public paper said, “The systemic failure of Israeli public diplomacy is a longstanding open secret. Because the country’s diplomatic bodies are dispersed among an assortment of ministerial and security frameworks, it is highly unlikely that the system as a whole will ever be strengthened and revitalized… a formula to establish a central and synchronized public diplomacy body has not yet been found. It appears that Israel has still not internalized the full value of either dynamic public diplomacy or sophisticated psychological warfare.”
Things may be changing. Israel’s new government brought not only a new prime minister and foreign minister but ended the 12-year reign of Benjamin Netanyahu, who downgraded the foreign service budget, and with it, a potent tool to improve its public diplomacy and get it’s narrative a fairer hearing. Bibi thought he did hasbara better than anyone, and perhaps he did. But relying on one person for effective PR, especially one so divisive in America, was a self-inflicted wound, especially with so many English-speaking orators who could have amplified his message. According to Gary Rosenblatt, the former editor and publisher of Jewish Week, Netanyahu was incomprehensibly rude to American Jewish journalists, antagonizing pro-Israel friends and writers. Bennett is fluent in English, the son of American immigrants, so he should not be shy about being out front in the PR wars.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid seems to get it, too. In a news conference at the Foreign Ministry on July 25, Lapid lamented that failed Israeli PR is partially to blame for the current peak in antisemitism and Israel-bashing. “The State of Israel is in trouble,” Lapid said, adding that “the time has come to tell Israel’s story differently.”
He said the Strategic Affairs Ministry had been folded into the Foreign Ministry in an effort to concentrate and improve Israel’s PR, and the ministry’s budget was being boosted significantly. “Restoring the status of the Foreign Ministry is a goal that both I and Prime Minister Bennett share.”
In Lapid’s words, “in the past years, Israel has abandoned its foreign service, abandoned the international arena, and then we woke up one morning to find that our international standing has been weakened. The management of the relationship with the Democratic Party in the United States was careless and dangerous. The Republicans are important to us; their friendship is important to us, but not only the friendship of the Republican Party. We find ourselves with a Democratic White House, Senate, and House, and they are angry. We need to change the way we work with them.”
This will be an uphill battle with the rise of the anti-Israel progressive wing. Hopefully, Lapid’s perception as a moderate may give the cowered mainstream pro-Israel Democrats like US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer some courage to speak up.
Will this government, like almost all before it, relegate the issue of Israel’s public relations at both times of war and peace to second or third-tier priorities? The damage done by Israel’s mixed messaging during the most recent Gaza war may have created a tipping point against Israel in America and Congress, with the anti-Israel pro-Palestinian voice moving to center stage.
For the first time, too many pro-Israel Democrats remained on the sidelines, not openly defending Israel during Operation Guardian of the Walls. They allowed a moral equivalence narrative to take hold, doing a wholly inadequate job of defending Israel from the malicious charge of indiscriminate attacks on Palestinian civilians or explaining the importance Israel plays in advancing American national security interests. Democrats told me that Israel’s PR was abysmal, making them less willing to take the risk of supporting Israel. There was also the legitimate fear from the ascendant anti-Israel members of their party that if they defended Israel, they could endanger their re-election.
Israel’s governing coalition of just 61 MKs hangs by a thread and has so much on its plate. It is tasked with advancing the nation’s interests at home and abroad while not losing even a single vote of a member along the way. Their first priority is to pass a two-year budget so the nation can finally plan for the future and create some stability. Making the case to prioritize PR will be a hard sell.
The Palestinians and their supporters speak with one message of victim and victimizer, occupier and occupied, that resonates in an American nation that is increasingly ignorant of the history of the Middle East. Out of context heart-wrenching narratives followed by charges of apartheid and war crimes are given unrefuted coverage. Especially when they come from progressive Jewish organizations like J Street that seem more pro-Palestinian than their self-designation as pro-Israel, pro-peace. Photos of children killed in war are reflexively blamed on Israel, even when it’s from a misfired Hamas rocket shot from a Palestinian civilian area. Israeli spokespeople have done a poor job publicizing the cynical use of Arab children as human shields.
Israel’s best English-language spokesperson, Netanyahu, was too involved in managing the war and chose not to deputize articulate English-speakers to go on the air and write columns throughout the US. The playing field was left almost entirely in the court of the anti-Zionists. Yes, it is an uphill fight, but its management has been a failure for decades. The inability to get all branches of government on the same message is not just poor public relations but a national security nightmare that is ignored at the nation’s peril. America needs Israel to do a better job, as it is in its interest for Israel to be strong and not become a pariah in the US.
An indication of the dysfunctional Israeli PR was the recent closure of its Strategic Affairs Ministry, transferring its mission to the underfunded Foreign Ministry. Outgoing director-general Tzahi Gavriel’s job was to brand Israel positively and fight the growing BDS movement. He told Lahav Harkov of The Jerusalem Post, “If we go back to a situation where this important issue is scattered between different ministries, we’ll deteriorate. This is about Israel as a brand. PR and hasbara were not enough anymore. We needed technology, data, a civil society engine, and digital assets. We needed infrastructure and a coordinated plan.”
Since the beginning of the Second Intifada, American supporters of Israel have been banging their heads against the walls of the Knesset and Prime Minister’s Office, trying to alert the Israeli government that it is losing the battle for the court of public opinion. The victim/victimizer approach advanced by mainstream media sympathetic to the underdog Palestinian cause could have been better managed. But getting the Israeli government to realize this as a national security priority fell on deaf ears repeatedly.
Often I heard from Israeli officials that they know what they were doing. Other times I heard that it doesn’t make a difference, and we have given up trying to convince an international community or mainstream media of Israel’s case. Arrogance and surrender is not a strategy. Especially for a country forging new relations from the Far East, the Asian subcontinent, and the Arab world. Not adequately prioritizing its public relations with its most important friend, ally, and benefactor, the United States, is just a self-inflicted wound. Israel is losing the American public.
Israel’s ability to prosecute the inevitable next war in the north or south may be limited by poor public relations. Suppose the American public is not convinced of Israel’s case during a war. In that case, the president and Congress will be less willing to give Israel leeway to continue fighting, forcing a premature ceasefire before Israel accomplishes its military goals. That alone could bring the following war sooner rather than later.
Going forward, what should the new government do regarding public diplomacy? Let’s start with a well-funded initiative to prioritize public relations in the English-speaking world. Here is a perfect example. Instead of marching out an older male Israeli spokesman speaking English in harsh accented Hebrew, Israel puts its best foot forward with a young female person of color with perfect English. The pro-Palestinian world has been using young relatable English speakers for years. You would never know that these Palestinian apologists represent a misogynistic, homophobic, authoritarian regime that wants to end Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation. Their weapons are the words of the intersectional Left of America, using their own set of facts and narratives to elicit an emotional response. That is the winning hand in this PR war.
What is needed is an entirely new and well-financed Israeli-based English training media center. Its goal would be to train Israel’s diplomats, politicians, ministers, spokespeople of government ministries, military, police force, civil society leaders and key Israeli influencers in practical communication skills to boost Israel’s image. If created in partnership between government and private donors, like Birthright, it could forge a path toward public relations effectiveness.
The media center would include practical training for TV, print, radio and social media. This would cover everything from learning how to develop talking points, writing op-eds and learning how to avoid getting trapped by questions of an interviewer hostile to Israel. Learning to be effective in social media platforms used in English is an absolute must. A real media studio with a mock TV and radio studio would allow those trained to feel comfortable in front of the camera. And yes, every politician, diplomat and person qualified for the English-speaking world would need to consider him or herself a student, requiring humility to improve.