Sorry professors, but BDS and double standards for Israel are anti-Semitism

Where are their voices for freedom of speech when their pro-Israel students and their speakers are screamed down in the name of racism, apartheid and colonialism?

The growing acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism by scores of nations, including the European Union, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and our own country, have made critics of Israel apoplectic. This is because the IHRA asserts that many forms of anti-Zionism rise to the threshold of anti-Semitism. This has driven both anti-Zionists and harsh critics of Israel to find ways to undermine the legitimacy of IHRA. The most recent attempt is to create new definitions of anti-Semitism that minimize or eliminate any association between anti-Semitism and delegitimizing Israel’s existence.

Recently, a group of 200 university professors has taken up the mantle against the IHRA with their Jerusalem Declaration of Anti-Semitism (JDA). It states that opposing Zionism or Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state doesn’t necessarily constitute anti-Semitism. It defines anti-Semitism as discrimination, prejudice or violence against individual Jews or Jewish institutions, but eliminates any association between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
It is as if they are living in a time warp, damning old-time anti-Semitism while ignoring the most recent and virulent strain of anti-Semitism emanating mainly from the hard left. That virus has mutated from the politically incorrect prejudice against the Jewish religion into the new anti-Semitism, hatred of the Jewish nation. As one of the signatories said, “The Israeli government and its supporters have a keen interest in blurring the distinction between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism to paint any substantive, harsh criticism of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians as anti-Semitic.”

Photo credit: Stand with US

According to the JDA definition of anti-Semitism, “hatred of Israel” is not anti-Semitism. Boycotting, demonizing and sanctioning Israel is not anti-Semitism. Mind you, this is not just BDS of products from the West Bank, but boycotting all of Israel because it does not have a right to exist, as their Palestinian supporters allege. Sorry professors, this is anti-Semitism in its most blatant form. One doesn’t even need the IHRA definition to know it.

Harsh critics of Israel are alarmed that the IHRA definition is gaining more legitimacy, adding more national governments, colleges, organizations, and local and state governments to the list of supporters. And they worry for a good reason. IHRA explicitly targets all forms of anti-Semitism—from old-time right-wing hatred of Jews to today’s progressive anti-Semitism. Right-wing anti-Semitism gets all the notoriety because it is often manifested as local violence against Jewish people or their property. Left-wing anti-Semitism is ubiquitous on college campuses among academics and pro-Palestinian students, and of more significant consequence, advocating policies that threaten an entire country’s safety. And being Jewish does not mean that someone who supports reprehensible anti-Jewish policies gets a pass.

Signers of the JDA twist themselves in knots claiming that anti-Israel actions don’t have much to do with anti-Semitism. Yet many of them are invested in Palestinian “rights” and disregard Palestinian society’s pervasive advocacy of hatred and violence, from their mosques to media to schools and government, which is blatantly anti-Semitic. When these professors next go to Ramallah, they should notice that the word “Jew” and “Israeli” are interchangeable. Palestinian calls for two states—one binational and the other Arab—are just fine with them, knowing that this would mean Israel’s demographic destruction.

Many of these professors who rightly claim love for the freedom of speech are mute about today’s campus environment, where pro-Israel students are demonized, intimidated and restrained from their First Amendment rights by Palestinian supporters. Protecting students who disagree with your perspective used to be a pillar of academic freedom, but too many professors are activists first, not academics. Silence makes one complicit in stigmatizing Zionist students and pro-Israel professors. This is the very definition of illiberalism. Where are their voices for freedom of speech when their pro-Israel students and their speakers are screamed down in the name of racism, apartheid and colonialism? Is that not anti-Semitism?

One signer of the JDA claimed the IHRA had reached a “point where Palestinian students feel threatened on campus.” This is Orwellian. A primary reason for the need for the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism was the threats and intimidation to Jewish students on campus by Palestinians and their supporters. A 2015 Brandeis University poll of North American colleges’ Jewish students found “nearly three-quarters of the respondents reported having been exposed … during the past year to a least one anti-Semitic statement.” There is little evidence of any concerted intimidation against Palestinian students. Still, they and their progressive supporters are often the perpetrators of anti-Semitism against Jewish students who are pro-Israel.

True academic integrity should demand that many of these professors define themselves as pro-Palestinian or anti-Zionist and not hide behind the pro-peace, pro-Israel moniker. Who are some of the signatories? City University of New York professor and New York Times writer Peter Beinart wrote an article in July 2020 titled “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State.” In response, the ADL’s deputy director said “such calls are themselves anti-Semitic, or at the very least, as in the case of Mr. Beinart, play into the hands of the anti-Semites.”

Another endorser of the JDA definition is the anti-Zionist Richard Falk. Former President Barack Obama’s representative to the Human Rights Council, Eileen Donahoe, called his comments on Israel “deeply offensive,” condemning them in the “strongest terms.” She charged that Falk had a “one-sided and politicized view of Israel’s situation and the Palestinian Territories.” No wonder he signed a definition of anti-Semitism that minimized equating anti-Zionism with Jew-hatred.

So kudos to those professors who fight against right-wing anti-Semitism; we should all join them. But shame on them for claiming that it’s not anti-Semitism to back the BDS movement, to deny the Jewish people a right to self-determination, to allow Israel to be judged by a double standard and to intimidate Jewish students on campus because they are pro-Israel.

Before the next war: Israel and the US should articulate a policy on proportionality

How can a democratic nation fight and defeat asymmetric enemies in the 21st century?

Previously published in the Jerusalem Report.

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel

The recent International Criminal Court decision to investigate Israel for “war crimes” in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) highlights not only the hypocrisy of the international community’s anti-Israel bias but the difficulty of militarily responding to terrorists who play by no rules.

Can America and Israel ever receive a fair hearing in analyzing the complexity and legality of their military actions against asymmetric actors? Especially when international bodies like the UN Human Rights Council are dominated by some of the worst human rights abusers in the world. These anti-American and anti-Zionist organizations have become weaponized political instruments in a war of lawfare against the US and the Jewish nation.

Israel faces asymmetric threats from Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iranian-controlled militias in Syria and Iraq. America has at least a 40-year history of fighting non-state actors in the Middle East – from the Iranian-orchestrated bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut to one of the worst asymmetric actors, Islamic State.

Israel’s dilemma is that what the US did to ISIS, with civilians embedded within its terrorist network, would not be tolerated by a world with double standards for the Jewish state. Israel will continually be delegitimized
for its response to attacks from civilian areas, where its enemy cynically uses civilians as human shields.

Proportional responses are a matter of ongoing debate in this murky environment. Let’s be clear: “Proportionate” does not mean that if Hezbollah or Hamas sends 100 missiles indiscriminately into Israeli civilian communities, Israel should be expected to send 100 missiles into Palestinian or Lebanese communities. That is immoral and would never even be considered by any democracy, especially Israel or the US.

Articulating a policy on what constitutes a proportional response in asymmetric warfare is both in American and Israeli interests. This past February, the US struck Iranian-controlled weapons depots in Syria in retaliation for an attack on American soldiers at a US base near the Erbil international airport. One American soldier was injured, but 22 Iranian militiamen of the terrorist organizations Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada were killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Is that proportionate or disproportionate?

According to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, “The strikes were necessary to address the threat and proportionate to the prior attacks.”

What is not acknowledged by critics is that it is well within the bounds of international law to retaliate even if the number of casual ties turns out to be more than were incurred, especially if the enemy deliberately uses civilians’ lives for propaganda purposes.

When civilians are inadvertently killed in homes where missiles are stored or whose living room is used as an entrance for an attack tunnel, is it still legal to attack those homes as long as you try to minimize civilian casualties? How do you cope when your intelligence finds kindergartens or hospitals used by terrorist organizations to store weapons or mount operations against your civilians? Israel has called off many operations, walking the fine line between a nation’s obligation to protect its civilians and its moral responsibility to minimize danger to the enemy’s non-combatants.

What is a proportionate response? It behooves Israel, the US and all Western nations not to wait until after civilians are killed in confronting an enemy, but to clearly state what proportionality is, and in a very public way.

Proportionality is wholly misunderstood by democratic governments, the press and the public. It is not the number of causalities that determines proportionality but the necessity of the military action balanced against the potential civilian loss.

Source: Alma Research and Education Center

As Victor Davis Hanson said, “Every Hamas unguided rocket is launched in hopes of hitting an Israeli home and killing men, women, and children. Every guided Israeli air-launched missile is targeted at Hamas operatives, who deliberately work in the closest vicinity to women and children.”

According to Human Rights Watch, no fan of Israel, for a specific attack on a military objective to be lawful, it must discriminate between combatants and civilians. The expected loss of civilian life or property cannot be disproportionate to the attack’s anticipated military gain.

Does Israel take care to avoid civilian casualties, even when they are purposely placed in harm’s way?

Asa Kasher, the co-author of the first IDF Code of Ethics, said, “We can’t separate the terrorist from his neighbors. The terrorists have erased the difference between combatants and non-combatants. They operate from within residential areas. They attack civilians. The world doesn’t have a clue what proportionality is. Proportionality is not about numbers.”

According to international law, the question of proportionality is whether the military benefit justifies the collateral damage. As for B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, all have double standards. For them, there is the poor, pitiful side and the strong side. Testimony that comes from the pitiful side is taken at face value. They think it is immoral to give priority to the defense of the citizens of your state over the protection of the lives of the neighbors of the terrorists.”

The number of casualties, civilian or combatant, is not a determinate for proportionality. War crimes and proportionality are for those who target civilians, are indiscriminate in their attacks, or cause disproportionate civilian loss. Israel does not target civilians, but you would not know that from reading European newspapers or reports from so-called human rights organizations in which body counts determine proportionality.

Jeffery Goldberg, writing in 2014, hit the nail on the head in describing terrorist actors. “Hamas is trying to get Israel to kill as many Palestinians as possible. Dead Palestinians represent a crucial propaganda victory for the nihilists of Hamas. It is perverse but true. It is also the best possible explanation for Hamas’s behavior because Hamas has no other plausible strategic goal here.” This is the strategy of Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah and ISIS.

As Middle East analyst, British Col. (ret) Richard Kemp said, “Of course innocent civilians are killed in every war; war is chaotic and confusing, and mistakes are frequent, but mistakes are not war crimes.”

The problem is that the international community judges a disproportionate response by a body count. A democracy like Israel will always lose because its asymmetric enemy uses its citizens as human shields, hoping to
demonize Israel and deter legitimate use of force.

A few years ago, I spoke to the international medical director for Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, who told me that in the 300 villages he had visited in southern Lebanon, there was not one where missiles were not placed in civilian homes. This man was no Zionist.

All of this came to the fore in February when the ICC ruled that it is under its jurisdiction to investigate Israel for war crimes for its past military activity in the Gaza Strip. Also, it wants to determine if settlements in Judea and Samaria also constitute war crimes against the Palestinians.

The ICC is also supposedly looking into the potential war crimes of Hamas. Yet, it seems morally perverse to equate Hamas, a designated terrorist entity that indiscriminately targets Israeli civilians while using human shields to induce Israeli retaliation, with a democratic nation that tries as much as any other military on earth to minimize enemy civilian causalities. I have witnessed this firsthand along the Gaza border.

The three-judge panel ruling in favor of investigating Israel in 2021 is a far cry from former chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who said in 2006 that the ICC’s Rome Statute “permits belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks against military objectives, even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur.”

The goal of Hamas and Hezbollah is to induce Israel to kill their civilians for political and diplomatic gain. Knowing international arbiters act only as bean counters plays right into their hands.

Whether from the north or south, Israel’s next war will again feature the use of human shields. This time it will be on a massive scale, with the inevitable international condemnation. Lt.-Col. Sarit Zehavi’s ALMA think tank, with the best expertise on Israel’s northern border, has documented many precision-guided missile factories purposely placed in civilian neighborhoods, next to schools, gas companies, and recreational facilities. It takes a herculean effort to fight UN officials and progressive media outlets who don’t hide their bias against Israel, choosing civilian body counts as their weapon to delegitimize Israel, knowing full well that Israel goes to extraordinary lengths to minimize civilians’ causalities.

Since the term “disproportionate” has been politicized and misused, it is appropriate to ask if an overwhelming response can be legal and justified if it acts as a deterrent to further attacks against your civilian population? What if it is the only effective deterrent against an asymmetric enemy that doesn’t play by international conflict rules, strategizing that it will not be on the receiving end of more missiles than it sends?

Can a case be made for a disproportionate response? Yes, it is called the Powell Doctrine and, in the long run, can decrease casualties by deterring the enemy. According to the late Charles Krauthammer’s interpretation of the
doctrine: “The key to success in a military conflict is the use of overwhelming force. For decades the US had followed a policy of proportionality: restraint because of fear of escalation. If you respond proportionately, you allow the enemy to set the parameters… you grant him the initiative.”

In 2006’s Second Lebanon War, Israel’s alleged use of disproportionate force deterred Hezbollah for nearly 16 years. Yet just two year later, the international community ganged up on Israel after Operation Cast Lead in 2008, alleging excessive force constituting war crimes that culminated in the infamous but now discredited and retracted Goldstone Report. The current ICC investigation against Israel for war crimes in 2014 is a continuation of the diplomatic war to discredit Israel and undermine its right to exist like every other nation in the world.

So what can US President Joe Biden’s administration do? It is in America’s interest to protect Israel and itself, so it shouldn’t wait until missiles fly in the next inevitable war. Being proactive before the next war, articulating an American policy on proportionality, would protect both your ally and yourself.

Sooner or later, the US will also be on the docket of the ICC for war crimes. In any war, bad things happen, and yes, war crimes occur. The difference is that for America and Israel, they are far and few between, are legitimately investigated, and punishment is meted out when warranted. Just ask the soldiers in Israeli or American military prisons.

The international community’s goal is to redefine proportionality and tar Israel and America by isolated incidents for political gain. Don’t be misled. Both nations follow the rule of law that is guided by their democratic values.

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

End the ‘conventional wisdom’ of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to advance peace

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel

Image Source: Getty Images

{Previously published in The Hill}

For the first time in 16 years, Palestinians will go to the polls for a parliamentary and presidential election. The elections in May will gain legitimacy for the Palestinians with the Biden administration, who, like many before it, may be tempted to re-engage in brokering a final resolution of the conflict — the holy grail of foreign policy.

For most American administrations, the conventional wisdom for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is based primarily upon a territorial compromise, allowing for two states for two peoples to live in harmony. Unfortunately, this has never panned out. Without a profound update to this American “wisdom,” the result inevitably will be another failure. So, before dipping their toes into the frigid waters of peacemaking, President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others on the team should rethink this. Absent a miraculous 180-degree change in Palestinian ideology, any venture into final status talks will be DOA. 

The Biden team got off to a good start when Blinken said, “The United States firmly opposes an @IntlCrimCourt investigation into the Palestinian Situation. …We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.” This was in response to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to investigate Israel for war crimes, including Israelis living anywhere within the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). However, when asked about resolving the conflict, Blinken returned to the mainstream mantra that the best way to achieve peace is to aim for a two-state solution.  

For any chance of success, two states for two peoples must be supplemented with new requirements. The new narrative should be informed by learning the lessons of past failures of final-status negotiations. Israel’s unrequited offers of the West Bank and East Jerusalem for a Palestinian state and capital in 2001 and 2008 made clear that fulfilling the Palestinians’ territorial demands was not the answer; something else was in play. The Biden team needs to acknowledge that the Palestinian demand for an unconditional right of return of descendants of Palestinian refugees is the primary impediment to resolving the conflict.

America also can judge the parties’ sincerity by demanding before entering talks that the outcome of any negotiation will be an end-of-conflict agreement, with all claims resolved. The U.S. should simply walk away if this is not accepted. To begin to change the accepted narrative of the conflict, the administration needs to step back and ask, “How did we get here?”

Until 1967, the conventional wisdom for the failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lay squarely on the Arabs’ shoulders. After the 1967 War (Six-Day War), when Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza, it offered Gaza and the West Bank back in return for permanent peace. They instead received the infamous “three Nos” — no peace, no recognition and no negotiation. 

As years passed and there was no sign that Arabs would accept Israel’s right to exist in their midst, the left reframed the conflict’s etiology. They blamed Israel as the intransigent party. Israel was transformed into a victimizer, despite the terrorism it sustained, and settlements in the disputed territories became the primary impediment. It didn’t matter that peace did not reign before a single settlement existed. Israel’s legal international rights in the West Bank were ignored. Even Palestinian terrorism was rationalized as the natural outgrowth of a people denied their dignity and land. If only Israel would give the Palestinians a state in the West Bank and Gaza, they surely would accept it.

In 1993, Yitzhak Rabin reluctantly reached across former President Clinton at a Rose Garden ceremony on the White House lawn to shake hands with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat, whose signature had been terrorist attacks on civilians. After the Oslo Accords, Palestinian terrorism not only did not diminish, but it grew. In 2000 and 2001, Clinton and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a final push at Camp David and Taba. 

Barak offered far-reaching concessions that surprised Clinton to their extent: almost all of the West Bank, 100 percent of Gaza, a recognized Palestinian State, East Jerusalem as their capital, and control of the Temple Mount, Judaism holiest site. The Palestinian answer was the Second Intifada, an unrelenting spasm of violence that continued for years. In 2007, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an even more generous offer than Barak. Arafat’s successor, current President Mahmoud Abbas, didn’t even bother to respond. 

Palestinian intransigence was because of the irreconcilable demand for an unconditional right of return of descendants of Palestinian refugees to Israel. One would have thought that Oslo’s failure and the terrorism that followed would have disabused the left of the notion that this was simply a territorial conflict. Peace advocates tie themselves up in knots claiming the right of return is just a bargaining position.

The Obama administration subscribed to the conventional wisdom narrative, only more so. In their eyes, the primary fault for the conflict lay squarely with the Israeli government. The administration’s disdain for Israel culminated in United Nations Security Council Resolution (No. 2334) that made any Israeli presence in the West Bank a war crime. Who knew Jewish control of the Western Wall was a crime! This resolution enshrined a perpetual prejudice against Israel within the international community. It became crucial in this year’s ICC decision to investigate whether Israel’s very presence in the West Bank is a war crime. 

Former President Trump decided that sticks, not conventional-wisdom carrots, were needed, that the Palestinian Authority was incentivizing terrorism with American taxpayer dollars. Hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars were transferred every year to the families of martyred terrorists, as well as jailed terrorists and their families. A bipartisan law named for a former American West Point graduate, Taylor Force, killed by a Palestinian terrorist in Israel, ended the practice for the time being.   

Now comes President Biden, who reflexively is undoing anything associated with his predecessor. Biden has restored funding to the Palestinian Authority without asking for anything in return. So, if the Biden administration wants to accomplish anything in the Levant, a good place to begin is by ending the ambiguity of what “two states” means. It should mean a Jewish state and an Arab state — the Palestinian one demilitarized. It means acknowledging that the Palestinian goal for two states — an Arab state in the West Bank and a binational state in Israel with a right of return — is entirely off the table.

Peace will be possible only when the conventional wisdom of the conflict is updated. Then it is up to new Palestinian leadership to convince the United States and Israel that it is ready for substantive negotiations. The Palestinian people deserve leadership that prioritizes them.

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

Does the Biden administration believe Iran is behind most Shia militias?

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel

{Previously published in JNS}

A controversy that occurred during a recent question-and-answer session for reporters by Pentagon press secretary John Kirby may have revealed a troubling insight into the Biden administration’s approach in rebranding Iran’s problematic image. He claimed that Shia militias that are causing so much trouble in the Middle East are not Iranian-controlled. After criticism made its way into the public arena, Kirby partially walked back his statement in a subsequent press conference, agreeing that some Shia militias are Iranian-backed. Was this a Freudian slip, a trial balloon or a real insight into administration thinking?

There is a well-documented history of the Obama-Biden administration misleading the public about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Therefore, it is prudent to ask if Kirby’s first answer to a softball question that should not have flustered an experienced spokesperson was an accurate representation of the administration’s thinking. It’s all part of a strategy to create the illusion that the Islamic Republic is not responsible for supporting the majority of Shia militias throughout the Middle East in the hopes that in preparing the ground to rejoin JCPOA, Iran will be more palatable to the U.S. public.

So a primer on Iranian-controlled Shi’ite militias and what the administration is doing is in order.

What Kirby may have been attempting to do is frame the situation as an internal ethnic conflict between Shi’ite groups who are independent of Iranian influence. However, the overwhelming evidence is that Iran’s strategy is to create Iranian-controlled militias in the region’s crumbling nations to exert control and undermine U.S. interests while threatening American allies.

Statements like Kirby’s intensify Israel’s well-founded fears that America wants to pretend it doesn’t see Iran’s malign activity. Instead, the administration chooses to put all of its eggs in the JCPOA basket, focusing on the nuclear issue while ignoring Islamic imperialism. Almost no serious military or intelligence analyst believes the Islamic Republic of Iran does not control Shia militias, such as the Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq or Syria (local militias). Iran’s hegemonic ambitions carried out through its proxy network are a threat to be taken seriously.

A not-so-subtle warning for Israel not to attack Iran was posted by the White House in its Interim National Security Guidelines. The administration stated, “We do not believe that military force is the answer. … We will not give our partners in the Middle East a blank check to pursue policies at odds with American interests.” Is that a warning not to attack Iran in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon?

As in Lebanon, Iran is slowly swallowing Syria and Iraq. Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah is the dominant military force while effectively controlling its parliament. Iranian symbols appear everywhere, as though you were walking in Tehran. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) martyr Gen. Qassem Soleimani was commemorated this year throughout the country with a massive statue placed in the center of the Lebanese capital Beirut. At rallies, Lebanese citizens under Hezbollah’s thumb wave the Iranian flag, not the Lebanese one.

What is groundbreaking in Syria is that Iran not only sent its IRGC troops with its Hezbollah proxy but has now recruited former Syrian rebels of local Sunni militias to create a permanent Iranian presence. The blueprint is the Hezbollah model in Lebanon. Iran’s goal is to surround Israel with its militias, proxies and allies, including Sunnis who are easily bought for money, bread or ammunition. Just think of the Sunni Arab Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip working with Persian Shi’ite Iran.

Alma, Israel’s best source for independent research on its northern border, has documented Iran’s support and control of Hezbollah, Shia militias, and now Iranian-controlled former rebel Sunni militias. This is groundbreaking information. The militias receive orders and salaries from Iran in conjunction with a well-thought-out civilian investment to support a long-term Iranian military entrenchment. In this way, Iran effectively takes control of weak nation-states like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. For example, Iran is heavily involved in Syria’s post-war reconstruction, buying agricultural land, establishing community and educational centers to promote the Islamic Revolution’s values among the local Sunni population.

One should bear in mind that the IRGC’s Quds force’s raison d’être since the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s is to spread the Iranian revolution throughout the Middle East while backing almost every terrorist Shia militia to further its goal. Thousands of IRCG soldiers and commanders operate beyond Iran’s borders, leading and strategizing on how to get the United States out of the Middle East and put Israel out of existence.

This is based on the concept of velayat-e faqih, or “guardianship of the jurist,” which gives absolute religious authority to the Iranian Supreme Leader, who is in charge of the world’s Shi’ites. Shias are thereby obligated to support the Islamic revolution everywhere in the world. The Biden administration should be cautious replacing radical Sunnis like ISIS and Al-Qaeda with extremist Iranian Shi’ism.

More than half of the pieces are in place to surround Israel. Next on the target list is the West Bank and Jordan to surround Israel with the threat of missiles and militias under Iranian control. All in preparation for a day when Islamist Iran unleashes its proxies to devastate Israeli civilians and destroy Israel’s infrastructure, with the hope that Israelis will abandon the Zionist experiment.

Going forward, U.S President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin should make clear the obvious. Iran is responsible for Shia militias’ creation and actions that threaten Middle East stability and American soldiers’ lives, and that rejoining the JCPOA should not obscure that fact.

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

The Senate’s Role in Military and International Affairs

{Previously published by the JNS}

U.S. President Joe Biden ordered airstrikes late last week in eastern Syria against the Iranian-controlled militias, Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada. This was in retaliation for their most recent attack against an American base in northern Iraq (Kurdistan) that injured an American soldier and killed allied personnel.

According to Politico, “The Biden administration is taking heat from fellow Democrats as lawmakers pressure the White House to provide a legal justification for (the) airstrike…giv(ing) new ammunition to lawmakers who want to roll back broad presidential war powers (claiming) offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional.”

For years, I have written and urged members of Congress to exert their constitutional role in foreign affairs and not be a rubber stamp for executive actions, whether they are kinetic or diplomatic. Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Tim Kaine of Virginia—members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations—claim that Congress must be consulted according to the War Powers Act (2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq) for military actions. Their goal is transparent: extricate America from its forever wars in the Middle East. Last year, the Democratic-controlled House voted to end military actions against Iran after the U.S. strike against Iranian terror mastermind Gen. Qassem Soleimani for directing strikes against the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and bases in Iraq.

Although I disagree that the president has to clear all military actions with Congress, Congress does have a right to demand that they be briefed on significant engagements. Their opinion is to be taken seriously. However, the final decision is still with the president. Senators have many ways of punishing a sitting president if he/she does not take their advice with the proper respect it deserves.

Yet such punctilious study of the Constitution, as the senators claim, regarding the controversial use of war powers by this president is absent in their support of Biden’s desire to rejoin America’s most consequential treaty in 50 years without a Senate vote as proscribed by the Constitution.

The importance of the Iran nuclear deal—or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—and its binding consequences demand the Senate’s deliberation and approval. Murphy and Kaine were against using the constitutional standard for treaties in 2015 and remain curiously silent today for members who demand that America follow the rule of law regarding the War Powers Act, which is legislative but doesn’t have the gravitas of the Constitution itself.

The Constitution demands that the president make treaties with the Senate’s advice and consent, providing two-thirds of the Senate vote in favor (Article II, section 2). Murphy and Kaine want to check presidential power concerning military actions, which is their prerogative. However, abandoning the demand that the Senate be presented with the JCPOA as a treaty smacks of politicization that undermines American national security interests and the American people’s will.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Texas), a longtime anti-war advocate who also favors limiting presidential military actions, should be applauded for honesty. She makes it clear that military action should be stopped so as not to handicap America’s return to the Iran nuclear deal. This is something most advocates of the JCPOA choose not to articulate, hoping that the American people will not catch on. This is the same logic used by the Obama administration in not adding sanctions for Iran’s malevolent behavior after 2015, lest it cause Iran to walk away from its legacy foreign-policy achievement.

Lee’s wing of the party wants to give Iran a pass on attacking Americans and American bases. To say nothing of attacking its own people, being complicit in the Syrian genocide and its role in the humanitarian disaster in Yemen—all to rejoin a nuclear deal that guarantees a revolutionary Islamist Republic nuclear weapons while it vows to destroy the State of Israel and burn effigies of the Great Satan.

Unfortunately, advocates like Murphy, Kaine and Lee subscribe to the discredited idea that the nuclear agreement ends Iran’s ability to have a nuclear weapon. Although former President Barack Obama said the JCPOA “cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to the bomb,” he also said that in 2028, just seven years from now, “breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.”

So is a temporary pause in its nuclear program, which would end sanctions and empower this malign regime, something any president should be able to do of his or her own accord? The financial rewards of sanctions relief should be reserved for an indefinite end of their nuclear program, the end of the sunset provisions, and nothing less, something the current JCPOA does not do.

So which is it: Senators and the Constitution only when it is politically convenient, or doing what the Senate is supposed to do and look beyond the political fray and prioritize the Constitution and American national security interests?

As former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren and Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in Jan. 21 article “The Case Against the Iran Deal” in The Atlantic: “Reviving the JCPOA will ensure either the emergence of a nuclear Iran or a desperate war to stop it.” It is hard to believe that Kaine and Murphy would want that.

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

A Cold Egyptian-Israeli Peace Undermines Both Culture and Security

by Marwa Maziad and Eric Mandel

{Previously published in The National Security Magazine}

Recently, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet in Egypt for the first time in a decade to discuss their shared interests. This includes the growing threat of their political Islamist adversaries, Iran, Qatar, and Turkey. The agenda consists of improving economic ties, finding new opportunities created by Israel’s normalization with Arab Gulf nations, and exploring ways that Egypt could facilitate talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. What is missing is the desire to restart a people-to-people exchange to strengthen the peace accord, arguably essential for long-term regional integration and stability.

President Sisi sees the handwriting on the wall. He knows the Biden administration will be more critical of Egypt than previous ones. Sisi sees Egypt as part of a coalition of Arab states and Israel, strategizing together to mitigate the consequences of Biden’s plan to turn back towards Iran, as he rebalances American relationships in the Middle East away from the Arab Quartet (Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain) by rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran nuclear agreement).

American sanctions relief will inevitably be part of rejoining the nuclear deal. It will embolden Iran and be taken as a sign by its Islamist partners to challenge Egypt and its allies. Turkey wants sovereignty in the Eastern Mediterranean energy corridor, while Iran desires a Mediterranean naval base on the Syrian coast. Qatar, the political Islamists’ banker, believes it has the upper hand over the United States because it hosts America’s Central Command and U.S. Air Force Command headquarters at its al Udeid air base. How the new rapprochement between Qatar and the Gulf States will translate into any Islamist moderation or cooperation against Iran is a big unknown.

According to the American Security Council Foundation, “For ordinary Egyptians, a combination of opposition to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, lingering hostility from when the countries were at war and antipathy from some officials means that contact with Israelis is rare. The ties that do exist are often secret… The so-called cold peace is the result of a dual approach by Cairo in which it engages in a warm relationship at the top, but still limits social and institutional ties, in part due to fear of losing public legitimacy.”

But does this strategy of maintaining a cold peace between the peoples help long-term Egyptian security interests, especially in light of a new Middle East where political Islamism is an ascending threat?

President Sisi should consider that one possible strategy to indirectly strengthen Egypt’s relationship with America is to draw closer to America’s closest friend in the Middle East, Israel. The Biden administration and the majority of Congress will favorably view an opportunity to warm the relationship between the two American allies through economic and personal interactions.

The choice is not clear cut. Some might argue that it is in Egypt’s interest to not only preserve the treaty but to strengthen it, as political Islamists want nothing better than to undermine the accord, create distrust in the Egyptian public, and threaten Sisi’s political legitimacy. But Egypt doesn’t want Israel taking it for granted, especially as the most populous Arab nation of over one hundred million people that took the risk to sign a peace agreement.

Both Egypt and Israel know they need their peace treaty to endure. Political Islamism’s goal is to weaken that treaty and eventually take over Egypt. The treaty’s Achilles heel is the lack of human interaction between the two peoples. Although the cold peace has survived for over forty years, there is nothing inevitable about it lasting for another forty years. According to Ephraim Inbar, director of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), the distrust is “rooted [in] cultural and religious barriers” with the Arab world viewing Israel as an “alien body.” Although Morocco’s, Bahrain’s, and the United Arab Emirates’ relationship with Israel is new, the level of interaction between their peoples has already surpassed Egyptian and Israeli exchanges over the last thirty years.

Why should this matter? Some experts will say that as long as their respective military and intelligence services’ cooperation is strong, the soft power of people-to-people interactions is of minor consequence. With the common enemy of political Islamism threatening both nations, this should be enough, and taking the risks of changing the Egyptian people’s perception of Israelis is a bridge too far to cross.

Unfortunately, as evident from the Arab uprisings of the past decade, political discontent can rise anew over time. In a world controlled by malign social media forces, Islamists have become experts not only in riling up discontented populaces but can coordinate uprisings by merely pressing a few keystrokes on a computer, instantaneously sending their rallying messages of destabilization to millions. The Brotherhood and Salafists brought the Islamist President Mohamed Morsi to Egypt’s presidency in 2012. There is no guarantee that next time the Egyptian people will be able to throw off the yoke of political Islamism as they did with the Egyptian military’s help, one year after Morsi’s rise to power.

Egypt needs stability, intelligence, economic security for its people, and military prowess to survive in a world where its rivals, Turkey, Qatar, and Iran, are looking to destabilize it. The Turkish-Qatari alliance would like a compliant and like-minded Egyptian leader like Morsi. This is not a war between Sunnis and Shiites, but a confrontation between moderate Sunni Arab states and ideological political pan-Islamists.

Real stability would need a new approach. It is crucial that Egypt’s people self-examine their beliefs about who their friends and enemies are. Today the Egyptian people still see the Jewish state more as an enemy than a friend. The memory of four wars, 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, still resonates strongly with them. During the Mubarak era, contrary to the state’s official stance of peace, the media, schools, and mosques at the societal level portrayed Israel as a perpetual enemy. To President Sisi’s credit, he has hesitantly begun to change this dynamic, and his invitation to Netanyahu is a good first step.

Things may be looking up for the relationship. According to a report in the Times of Israel, Israel’s new Ambassador to Egypt Amira Oron believes relations are already improving. Oron says that new possibilities for cooperation are emerging in Mediterranean energy development.

For their part, Israelis have not been able to find common ground with the Palestinian Arabs, who have the sympathy of their fellow Arabs. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, what matters is the Egyptian people see Israel as victimizing their brethren. Arab nations making peace with Israel today had become frustrated with Palestinian intransigence, that the Palestinian Authority chose not to negotiate with Israel when it offered East Jerusalem as their capital and 100 percent of the West Bank with land swaps in 2008.

Political Islamism has weaponized the Palestinian issue. Egypt need not double down by placating their populace with more criticism of Israel but begin the complicated process of changing the way the Egyptian people view Israel. An excellent place for Egypt to start would be to offer to broker negotiations with Israel based on two states for two peoples, a Palestinian Arab state and a Jewish state, with Palestinian refugees welcomed by the Palestinian entity.

Egypt has joined moderate Arab states, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Morocco, and Bahrain, in opposing the rise of the political Islamists. Morocco cut off relations with Iran two years ago because it supported insurgents in Western Sahara, and the Gulf States fear that Iran will try to reduce them to satraps, as they have done to Lebanon. With the United States as a less reliable ally, as it turns away from the Middle East and focuses on its greatest threat, China, the moderate Arab states, and Israel will need to work together as never before.

A new Egyptian initiative that would change the messaging about Israel, as it appears in their government communications, national media, schools, and mosques, would help strengthen the treaty. If there is an end to Covid-19 travel restrictions, encouraging the Egyptian people to visit Israel and welcoming Israelis to Egypt would begin to break down barriers of suspicion. Egyptians already have business partnerships with Israelis through the QIZ arrangements that allow both to export to the United States.

Inviting more Egyptian businesses to partner in the Israeli economy in shared enterprises would be a winning proposition. This can come in baby steps and follow the path of their Emirati cousins. Reconciliation of the peoples would set an example to Palestinians to create a new playing field to resolve the conflict once there will be a younger generation of Palestinian leadership, allowing both the Israelis and Palestinians to find a compromise.

A year ago, no one predicted 50,000 Israelis would be visiting Dubai in a month’s time, and many Arabs are coming to Israel to investigate business opportunities. Thinking out of the box means recognizing that the old paradigm of scapegoating Israel undermines Egyptian national security interests. President Sisi is on the right road; now, he needs the support of like-minded moderate Arab leaders, journalists, and academics, to secure Egypt’s future.

Marwa Maziad is a Non-Resident Scholar at the Middle East Institute.

Eric Mandel is a Jerusalem Post columnist and the founder of the Middle East Political and Information Network.

A Return to the Iran Nuclear Deal Would Increase the Chances of War

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Report}

For the third time in 2021, the US recently flew B-52 bombers along the Iranian coast, in what The Wall Street Journal called “a show of the deterrence (to) reassure allies in the region.”

Unfortunately, both the supreme leader of Iran and America’s regional allies know this is more show than a serious threat. They know US military options under Biden are far off the table, as his administration has repeatedly telegraphed its intention to allow Iran to rejoin the nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by merely returning to compliance with the flawed 2015 deal, without demanding any significant changes, despite Iran’s egregious behavior over the last five years.

The administration refuses to acknowledge that Iran desperately wants to rejoin a deal that was skewed in its favor. It will relieve the Iranians’ financial predicament, solidify the regime’s repressive grip on its people, while allowing the pathway to nuclear weapons capabilities the JCPOA granted over time. The administration’s analysis is that unless America enables Iran to return to the original deal, hardliners may be victorious in this year’s Iranian election, marching more quickly to a nuclear weapon. This completely misreads the situation. As Alexander Grinberg of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security wrote, there is no difference between so called “moderates” and hardliners; both want to return to the deal. The only difference is their tactics to do it.

If you want to understand how Israel views the threat of an Iranian return to the JCPOA, just listen to the recent words of the IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Aviv Kochavi. In unprecedented public remarks, he said that if the US returns to the JCPOA, it will be considered an “intolerable threat… we cannot allow it.” He went on to state that he is ordering new operational plans to confront Iran this year. This is not bravado. After years of speaking to experts, military officials, politicians, and intelligence experts, I have concluded that a return to the original JCPOA means a likely regional war.

The only question is tactics. Mossad director Yossi Cohen, a hard-liner on the nuclear agreement and who has had an amicable relationship with Biden, recommends quiet behind-the-scenes lobbying in contrast to the more public approach of Kochavi. Yet both are close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is no wallflower in letting the world know that the current JCPOA is a deal breaker.

No nation, especially the US, should be surprised if Israel decides to act if the “new” version of the JCPOA does not indefinitely end Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon. JCPOA opponents’ greatest fear is that Iran will return to the deal, knowing that it will become immune to a future attack from its enemies once it becomes a nuclear power. If the Biden team does not want the region to spiral out of control, they would be wise to listen to the words of one of Israel’s most astute military and intelligence experts, retired Maj.-Gen. Yaakov Amidror, Israel’s former national security adviser, “In a situation where the United States returns to the old nuclear agreement with Iran, Israel will have no choice but to act militarily against Iran to prevent it from manufacturing a nuclear weapon,” he says.

It is that simple, and Amidror also has Netanyahu’s ear. Israel takes Iran’s supreme leader at his word. His goal is the “elimination” of the Zionist entity that must “be uprooted and destroyed.” To Western sensibilities, this seems just incendiary rhetoric. US President Joe Biden must think again about how his decision about how to reenter the JCPOA can make all the difference in the world. No one wants a regional war, least of all Israel. But when faced with the potential for another Holocaust, Israel will not shy away from preemptively acting. To avoid conflict, Biden should not dismiss Israel’s red lines like US president Barack Obama did, paying lip service to their legitimate security concerns.

In 1981, Israel struck the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osirak. In 2007 Israel struck the North Korean-built Syrian reactor that was undetected by America. Today, Iran can enrich uranium to 90%, deliver a nuclear warhead on its advanced missile system, and is working on compartmentalizing the core of a nuclear warhead. Today America has little idea how far along Iran’s weaponization program is, as the JCPOA didn’t allow intrusive inspections in its military facilities. In fact, the JCPOA didn’t require a single centrifuge or nuclear facility to be destroyed, something JCPOA advocates fail to acknowledge but which Israel is well aware of.

If Biden signs onto a JCPOA agreement that does not significantly change the agreement’s sunset provisions, it will tie Israel’s hands. It will then be forced to make a fateful decision to either live with a nuclear weapons-capable Iran, hoping mutually assured destruction will be a deterrent, or preemptively attack Iran and bear all the risks of retaliatory attacks. The international diplomatic fallout resulting from a preemptive attack will be led by the West, sanctioning Israel for its aggression.

The refrain of the Obama-Biden administration officials is the choice is binary: return to the JCPOA or you are asking for war. They have it backward; returning to this deal without significant improvement means war. They just don’t get it. As Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in The Atlantic, “Reviving the JCPOA will ensure either the emergence of a nuclear Iran or a desperate war to stop it.”

During the years after the agreement went into effect in 2015, the same team that is now in place in the Biden administration did not enact a single new sanction for their miserable human rights record, growing missile development, support of terrorism, or support of Islamists, despite promises to the contrary. Sanctions relief today will support clandestine nuclear work in uninspected military sites and support Hezbollah and Iranian controlled militias throughout the Middle East. Billions of dollars will return to the coffers of the supreme leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Is there a plan to deal with this beyond the hope for diplomatic engagement where the US would have lost its leverage?

Let’s take the Biden administration at its word – that it will rejoin the JCPOA. What does that mean?

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that there will be “no significant amendments added before rejoining the agreement.” Translation: the old deal is back with the hope that someday the Iranians may grace the Biden administration with another negotiation to address the failings of the JCPOA and their bad behavior. If you have seen the North Korean-American nuclear negotiations, don’t watch this sequel, it will be the same sad story, undermining American interests and increasing the chance that Israel will preemptively attack Iranian nuclear facilities.

Israel has contemplated preemptive attacks against Iranian nuclear facilities many times over many years. Some thought it would act in 2007 when a politically manipulated American National Intelligence Estimate claimed Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program, something disproved when Israel stole the Iranian secret atomic archive in 2018. As Oren and Halevi wrote, “The archive confirmed that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program did not stop in 2003 but was merely split into overt and covert channels.” Netanyahu and his former defense minister Ehud Barak were reportedly in favor of an attack in 2012 but were thwarted by their security cabinet.

There should be little doubt that no matter who is prime minister after Israel’s fourth election in two years, the decision on a pre-emption strike will rise to the top of the agenda if the US returns to the deal it struck in 2015. That deal was not popular with Israelis, the American people, or Congress at the time, as evidenced by the fact that Obama never submitted it to the Senate as a treaty, knowing he was 24 senate votes short of approval. So it remains an unsigned document, not a treaty, to this day.

Fast forward to 2021’s hyper-polarization. You may find some Democrats in the Senate who were against the JCPOA in 2015 but may now be more likely to find some rationale to favor the JCPOA, even though its flaws remain while Iran has become an even more dangerous and authoritarian state. Will Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who voted against the original deal, claim in 2021 that some minor reform by the Biden team that does not substantially change the agreement’s essence allow him to vote in favor of a “new” JCPOA agreement? In 2015, he chose not to lobby a single senator against voting in favor of the deal despite speaking an excellent game to anti-JCPOA constituent groups. Will he choose politics over principle this time?

Iran is a revolutionary Islamist country whose core beliefs demand the extermination of the Jewish state. To western ears, this is unfathomable, but it is nevertheless true. Failing to understand the foundational core of Iran’s regime’s founding and beliefs dramatically increases the chance that Israel will need to strike Iran with all of the profound and dangerous consequences it will produce for the region and the world.

So will Israel strike? When will it strike? How will it strike?

Israel knows it will face a multi-front war and need to figure out how to survive a conventional missile onslaught from Hezbollah, Hamas, Iranian controlled Syria and Iraqi militias, and from Iran itself. We saw how devastating the Iranian cruise missile attack on Saudi oil facilities was last year, and Israel fears these capabilities even with its multitiered anti-missile defenses.

How would the Biden administration respond to a preemptive Israeli attack? Would they act like Henry Kissinger in 1973, telling associates to let Israel get a bloody nose before resupplying to gain leverage for the future?

Israel’s preemption would not necessarily be immediate as it would need to monitor the Iranian nuclear timeline, but once Iran gets close to that line in the sand, it will act. Cyber and clandestine attacks will continue. But conventional wisdom says Israel will need a kinetic attack in Iran to delay its program and repeat when it again comes close to crossing the nuclear weapons threshold again. The new variable is the Abraham Accords and the open relationship between Israel and Sunni states. Israel would likely coordinate defense and intelligence sharing, as the Gulf states share the same mortal threat, but Israel will fear its plans could be leaked and will keep its timing close to the vest.

Administration officials claim that the maximum pressure campaign has failed because Tehran has not rolled back its nefarious activity. The problem with this logic is that for the two and a half years Obama remained in office after the JCPOA went into effect, none of the moderation Obama anticipated happened. Iran became an emboldened hegemon. Today Iran deserves maximum sanctions for its clandestine nuclear work, to keep maximum leverage to negotiate a better deal, and impose a cost on their worsening human rights abuses and their support of terrorism.

Biden has the power to set the region on its course. What will he choose?

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

Will Riyadh, Manama be Iran’s next targets?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

It has been seven years since an Iranian member of parliament, who reportedly was close to the Supreme Leader, claimed Iran already controlled four Arab capitals. This occurred after Iranian supported Shia rebels, the Houthis, conquered the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. So what are Iran’s next targeted Arab capitals? 

Iran is more patient than the West, willing to wait years for the right opportunity to pounce. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the capital of the desert Kingdom, is undoubtedly high on the theocratic Islamist Republic’s list, especially as the holiest cities in the Islamic world, Mecca and Medina, are ruled by their rival, the Sunni Saudis. American policy makers underestimate Iran’s desire to export its revolutionary message; rejoining the JCPOA will do nothing to moderate their determination to change the face of the Islamic world by in effect conquering the region.

Today, Iran effectively controls Beirut, Lebanon through its Hezbollah division. Baghdad, Iraq is under Iranian influence through control of the Iraqi Parliament’s pro-Iranian majority, and their affiliated Iraqi militias under the Iranian Republican Guards Corps’ authority. Damascus, Syria is in the Iranian camp because Syrian President Assad acquiesces in Iranian control throughout southern Syria being grateful for them saving his despicable regime, and also powerless to resist their entrenchment there anyway. 

And in Sanaa, Yemen, the Iranian proxy Houthis are on the march again, looking to permanently control the vital Bab El Mandeb passage between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. This strategic choke point connects the Mediterranean Sea with South Asia and the Far East through the Suez Canal. 

The Iranians next Arab capital to target could be Manama, Bahrain. Iran considers Shiite majority Bahrain its own. If the Iranians feel empowered by American weakness over time, Bahrain may be targeted by Iran to test America’s resolve to curb Iran’s imperialist ambitions. If this occurred and America did not back Saudi efforts to fight an Iranian incursion on the western bank of the Persian Gulf, a stone’s throw from Saudi territory, it would be a major destabilizing development for the region. The JCPOA’s sanction relief fuels the fire.

The Biden administration is gaining a reputation for itself in the Middle East as willing to talk the tough talk against adversaries, but America’s Sunni Arab allies don’t believe Biden’s crew are willing to walk the walk of tangible actions that match their rhetoric. Timothy Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen said the US is “not going to allow Saudi Arabia to be target practice,” reacting to the recent increase in missile and drone attacks against the kingdom. Yet White House spokesperson Jen Psaki undermined the credibility of that support by saying, “We’ve made clear from the beginning that we are going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia.” The Iranians are loving it.

Noting more contradictory messages, according to AP, the State Department warned Houthi rebels to stop killing civilians, “just 48 hours after moving to strike the group from a terrorism blacklist.” State Department spokesman Ned Price said, We urge the Houthis to refrain from destabilizing actions.” I am sure they and their Iranian patrons are shaking in their boots. 

The message is clear to Iran: rejoin the JCPOA, and we will only challenge you rhetorically. In reality, we will turn a blind eye on your missile development, attacks on US allies, undermining Iraq, and your human rights behavior, from targeting gays and women who don’t toe the line, to assassinating your political opponents. Empty rhetorical warnings. Sounds like the Obama administration all over again. 

Just think of the chemical weapons red-line that Syria crossed and Obama blinked, undermining American credibility throughout the world. Biden’s resurrection of the Obama administration’s Middle East team sends at best mixed signals to Israel, while making our Gulf allies feel more vulnerable to abandonment. 

As the former director general of the Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs General Yossi Kuperwasser said, Iran doesn’t believe President Biden would put all military operations on the table. Iran is a good poker player and they know the current administration is bluffing.

BUT THE most prized Iranian Arab capital is Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Supreme Leader and his Shiite revolutionary regime’s primary desire is the Arabian peninsula where Mecca and Medina, the holiest cities in Islam are located, and it galls them that are under Sunni control. Shiite Iran believes, and with some justification, that Shiism has been delegitimized by Sunnis over the centuries. The Islamic Republic of Iran believes its destiny is to control the Middle East and beyond, based on a dangerous mix of modern political Islamism with ancient Persian imperialism.

Last year’s devastating cruise missile attacks against Saudi Arabia, emanating from Iranian-controlled proxies in Iraq and Yemen, exposed the soft underbelly of Saudi defenses. Despite its size and strategic depth, Saudi Arabia’s vastness is also a vulnerability where anti-missile and drone defense is a more complex challenge than in Israel, whose Achilles heel is the opposite, having too little strategic depth. 

The message Iran hears from America is that the US is distancing if not abandoning Saudi Arabia. Based on this assessment Iran is going to test American limits to see how far it can go before the US is forced to act and support its Sunni allies. Nothing makes this more explicit then when the administration repeatedly says the nuclear agreement is entirely separate from all of Iran’s other malevolent activity, and sanctions will be rescinded by simply returning to the JCPOA. 

Iran’s strategy is to increase their provocative behavior as a bargaining chip to gain leverage in negotiations with America. For example, Iran will be rewarded in negotiations for stopping Iranian-controlled attacks against Saudi Arabia, knowing that billions of dollars are on their way into the Supreme Leader’s and the Republican Guards’ coffers. They can always return to their aggressive behavior at a more opportune time when America is distracted with other foreign policy challenges. 

Saudi Arabia is a flawed ally seen by the Biden administration as murderers in light of the Khashoggi assassination. In the words of President Biden, it is a “pariah” nation. Yet its strategic location and the free flow of oil is still a Western priority for the stability of the world economy. 

The best way to change the Saudis’ human rights behavior and curb its nuclear ambitions in response to the JCPOA is to quietly pressure the Kingdom behind the scenes, with an implied threat of a distancing of relations if it doesn’t improve its behavior. However, the Biden administration’s public chastisements and public abandonment threats only embolden the Iranians, destabilizing the region by inviting Iran to take more risks against Saudi Arabia through their proxy network. And it will force Saudi Arabia to turn to China as their superpower friend, something not in America’s national security interest. The Chinese are already binding many of the region’s players through their Belt and Road economic initiative.                                                                                                                                                 
It was music to the Iranian Supreme Leaders’ ears when Biden said he “would make it very clear we were not going to … sell more weapons” to Saudi Arabia.” 

Biden has already snubbed the Crown Prince (MbS), stating that he will not speak with him directly, only his ailing father. But MbS is the de facto leader and will likely control Saudi Arabia for the next 50 years.  

But just as I would recommend that Biden speak to MbS, I even more strongly recommend that he talk directly to the only real power in Iran, the Supreme Leader. The claim that the Iranian President has independent decision-making power is ludicrous. It plays into their negotiating strategy, which they used brilliantly to their advantage from 2012-2015 with John Kerry, Robert Malley and Wendy Sherman. 

America’s goal for the Middle East is stability, not the virtually impossible resolution of it many age-old conflicts. The best path for American, Israeli, and allied national security interests is to encourage and nurture the Abraham Accords, which are the most effective non-kinetic counterweight to Iran at this time. 

Desperately trying to revive the current form of the JCPOA without concurrently prioritizing the normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia sends the wrong message to Iran. American weakness increases the chance for Iran to take aggressive actions and the possibility of Shiite control of Saudi Arabia in this generation. That is something not in American national security interests, unless we want to be pulled back into another Middle Eastern conflict.

The writer is the senior editor for security at The Jerusalem Report. He is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House of Representatives, and their foreign policy advisers. His work appears in The Hill, RealClearWorld, Defense News, JNS, Thinc., JTA, the Forward, Israel-Gulf Report, and Israel Hayom among others.

Republicans Should Insist Biden Submit the JCPOA as a Treaty to the Senate

{Previously published by the JNS}

The Obama-Biden administration claimed in 2015 that the Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA—was a non-binding agreement requiring only executive action. Critics claimed that it was consequential enough that the U.S. Constitution required that it be submitted to the U.S Senate as a treaty. A CNN politics article at the time asked, “If it looks like a treaty, walks like a treaty, and talks like a treaty, is it a treaty? According to the White House, only if the president of the United States says it is.” The late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was blunter: “This is clearly a treaty. They can call it a banana, but it’s a treaty.”

So does it still matter that political sleight of hand was needed because the Obama-Biden White House was more than 20 Senate votes short of being able to pass it as a treaty in 2015? The answer is yes. Joe Biden, now U.S. president, intends to fast-track rejoining the JCPOA as one of his major foreign-policy priorities, only requiring Iran to return to compliance with the agreement, acting under the same executive prerogative that former President Barack Obama used.

What is not reported but must not be forgotten is that if Iran re-enters the JCPOA in 2021, it will have no limitations on uranium centrifuge use in just five years’ time (2026). It will have the ability to enrich uranium to 90 percent weapons-grade with international approval in just 10 years’ time (2031). And the pièce de résistance for the Supreme Leader is not a single U.N. nuclear inspector will be allowed at an Iranian undeclared nuclear site in just nine years’ time (2030).

That’s a far cry from the Obama-Biden administration’s promise when they said repeatedly, emphatically, they would not sign a deal that would allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Let’s leave aside the elephant in the room: that the Obama team chose not to address development of nuclear-capable missiles—one of the three pillars of a nuclear-weapons program.

Just because Republicans don’t have a majority in the Senate in 2021 and failed to stop Obama from implementing the 2015 deal by executive action doesn’t mean they should be mute. They need to follow their constitutional responsibility and point out to an uninformed American public that constitutional issues were sidestepped six years ago and are even more relevant today for our nation’s security, as we are that much closer to the dates the agreement permits the Iranian regime to become a nuclear-armed bully, immune to attack.

Republicans should ask Biden to follow the Constitution’s intent and finally submit the JCPOA for Senate ratification as a treaty. It should not outsource American security interests to the United Nations as was done in 2015, when the Obama White House used a U.N. Security Council Resolution (2231) to bind America to the agreement, which the legislative branch of the American people had not been given its proper opportunity to consider. It may not make a difference, but it will make an important point.

This is not about politics; it is about the rule of law. According to the U.S. Senate website, “the Constitution provides that the president “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur” (Article II, section 2). The Constitution’s framers gave the Senate a share of the treaty power in order to give the president the benefit of the Senate’s advice and counsel, check presidential power, safeguard the sovereignty of the states by giving each state an equal vote in the treaty-making process,” ensuring that the arguments pro and con would be made openly.

Two wrongs never make a right. Like Obama, Biden is subverting the intent of the Constitution by not submitting the most critical American international agreement of the 21st century to the Senate as required.

So why did Obama not submit the JCPOA to the Senate? According to former Secretary of State John Kerry, answering a congressional question under oath, said that the administration did not do so because, “I spent quite a few years ago trying to get a lot of treaties through the United States Senate. … And frankly, it’s become physically impossible. That’s why. … So we thought that the easiest way to get something that … could achieve our goal was through a political agreement.”

According to Kerry, “We’ve been clear from the beginning. We’re not negotiating a ‘legally binding plan.’ ” This was outrageous then, and it still has relevance today as the Biden administration has said it will return to the same JCPOA without any plans to amend the profound flaws that have become self-evident in the past several years. Republicans should take the constitutional high road and again demand the president submit the JCPOA to the Senate. There should be no political loophole for something so crucial to American national security.

In 2021, much like as in 2015, the mainstream news media has not done their job, educating the public about the constitutional implications of the approach both administrations have chosen. Instead, they have obscured the constitutional argument because of their political sympathy for the merits of the nuclear deal.

As David Rivkin, a constitutional law expert who worked for former President George H.W. Bush, said: “Any international agreement requiring major undertakings on the part of the United States, such as the proposed Iran deal, must be sent to the Senate for advice and consent. …The Constitution is quite clear.”

In 2015, the administration outplayed the Senate leadership in not demanding a treaty vote, turning the “legislation treaty ratification process under the Constitution upside-down. Instead of 67 Senate votes to ratify a treaty, the bill would require 67 votes to block Obama from carrying out any agreement.”

That’s impressive on a political level, but at the very least, constitutionally challenged. Presidents of both parties over the years have on occasion been autocratic on foreign affairs, asking Congress to give a rubber stamp to the executive branch. However, when something as important and controversial as a nuclear agreement with a leading state sponsor of terror comes to the fore, the correct choice then and the correct choice now is submitting it to the Senate as a treaty, even if the chance to convince Biden is remote.

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

After Abbas; The Coming War of Palestinian Succession

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Report, the magazine of The Jerusalem Post}

The advantage of a new year is that it offers us an opportunity to understand better the previous year, especially one like 2020 with such extreme highs and lows. For Israel and the world, the pandemic represented a low point that we are all still trying to navigate. In contrast, the normalization agreements with Arab states represented a groundbreaking high to build upon in the new year. Israel’s third and hopefully last lockdown and its stellar vaccine program mean the light at the end of the tunnel to end their pandemic nightmare. Going forward, the new diplomatic agreements have the possibility of reshaping the Middle East for generations, leading to prosperity and stability for Israel and its Arab neighbors in the years to come.

For all of its possibilities, 2021 may still hold even more uncertainty and potential risks than 2020. The most significant security threat for Israel is President Biden’s promise to rejoin the Iranian nuclear agreement (JCPOA). The risk that a northern war with Iran could begin with the killing of an Israeli soldier by Hezbollah, or an over-zealous Iranian-directed response to an Israeli pre-emptive attack, is always on the minds of Israeli security and military strategists.

But Israel’s next major security crisis that seems to fly under the radar of American Middle East analysts is the possibility of the quick and unexpected demise of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The handwriting has been on the wall for some time with lots of false calls that the ailing octogenarian President has one foot in the grave. Abbas is a chain-smoking 83-year-old with significant heart disease who always has a doctor at his side, hidden as a security team member.

Even if Abbas lives on and runs for re-election, the result could favor his nemesis Hamas, as it did in the last election nearly sixteen years ago. The Biden administration should remember that an election alone does not make for democracy, certainly not without the rule of law, freedom of the press and speech, and tolerance for other people and their religions. According to the NY Times, the announcement of elections is “viewed by analysts as a bid to lift his standing with the (incoming) Biden administration.” That could backfire if the results don’t go his way.

A December 2020 Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research Center poll revealed that most Palestinians do not believe Hamas or Fatah would accept the results of an election this spring if they were on the losing side. Over half of Palestinians do not believe the election would a fair or free. A prescription for a civil war whether President Abbas runs again or not.

Suppose tomorrow Abu Mazen passes or there is a contested election. In that case, the potential fight for Palestinian leadership succession could ignite a war between rival Fatah factions that could spill over into Israeli settlements and the nation’s heartland. Not only will factions of Fatah clash, but its bitter Hamas rival will view the chaos as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to overthrow the Fatah led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, as it did in Gaza during the 2007 coup.

Even if Abbas lives on, a Palestinian election this year as planned could again favor Hamas as it did in the last election 15 years ago. In the crazy world of the Middle East, Hamas, a branch of the world’s leading Sunni Islamist organization (Muslim Brotherhood), receives financial support from Iran’s Persian Shiite Islamists. They would love nothing better than to destabilize Israeli security and place a compliant proxy in Ramallah. “My enemy’s enemy is my friend,” is an apropos description.

The Biden administration should remember that an election alone does not make for democracy, certainly not without the rule of law, freedom of the press and speech, and tolerance for other people and their religions.

Just as Israel is planning for the inevitable transition in Iran when the aging Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei passes from the scene, it must also prepare for the consequences of a chaotic transition within the Palestinian Authority with the changing of the guard. It could ignite a Third Intifada (uprising) with its anti-Zionist participants, Fatah, Hamas, or Islamic Jihad, taking advantage of the chaos to attack Israel.

The cast of characters to succeed Abbas is overwhelmingly a roster of former terrorists, corrupt officials, and long-term party hacks, who will be vying with each other to show who can be more extreme in their approach to confronting Israel. Corruption, violence, and maximal demands will almost certainly be part of any Palestinian candidate’s election platform. No one will win by being conciliatory or pragmatic.

Unlike the Gulf states that have come to terms with Israel’s existence, the Palestinian rhetoric will return to the familiar playbook of scapegoating Israel to explain their predicament. The hard work to prepare the Palestinian people for moderation and explaining there will be no right of return to Israel is something no Palestinian leader can ever utter at this time unless he wants to be assassinated.

Will the next Palestinian leader be part of the last generation of Arafat sycophants, a placeholder until a more consequential leader can be found, or will the playing field shift towards Islamist rule and Gaza style radicalization? If Hamas wins a Palestinian election and takes control of the West Bank, it would be a game-changing nightmare for Israeli security services and the nearly half a million Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria (West Bank).

Unfortunately, the pickings are slim. The most likely non-Hamas candidates include Mohamed Dahlen, Mohamed Shtayyeh, Majid Faraj, Jibril Rajoub, and Marwan Barghouti, a convicted murderer.

Mohamed Dahlen is, in many ways, the most interesting. He taps into the anger of the disgruntled and abandoned Palestinians, especially those in the refugee camps. He was thrown out of Fatah and forced into exile by Abbas, seeking refuge in Abu Dhabi. Before that, he was in charge of PA security services in Gaza, when in 2007 Hamas handed Gaza-based PA loyalists a one-way ticket out from Gazan rooftops. After becoming persona non grata in Fatah, he reportedly was close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and was allegedly supportive of facilitating Israel’s normalization agreements with the Gulf state.

A 2020 Haaretz article by Amira Hess asked, “Is Abbas Rival Mohammed Dahlan the Secret Broker of the Israel-UAE Deal? Rumors say Dahlan, adviser to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, acted as middleman. He is also a favorite of the Israelis and the Americans, who are planning to crown him the next Palestinian leader.”

This could also simply be a strategic move on Dahlan’s part, as he knows he will need the financial backing of the UAE to take power and control the Palestinian security forces. According to the Times of Israel, “Dahlan has spun a web of political and financial connections all over the Arab world: Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and most recently Jordan. He owns a great deal of property and also has connections in Gaza and the West Bank (mainly in the refugee camps).” Although no Israeli politician would publicly discuss who their choice for the next PA President would be, Avigdor Lieberman stated his preference for Dahlen a few years ago.

Economist and current Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh is a frontrunner to lead the Palestinian Authority, PLO, and Fatah, the three titles both Arafat and Abbas held. He has the right credentials as a supporter of the BDS movement to delegitimize Israel and was a vocal supporter of ending security coordination with Israel.

Who would Israel want? Many security officials would be satisfied with the 57-year-old Maj.-Gen. Majed Faraj, the Palestinian intelligence service head. He works well coordinating operations against Hamas operatives in the West Bank, making sure the territories continue to be stable. He was allegedly the target of a Hamas assassination attempt a few years back when he traveled with the previous Prime Minister.

In the category of old-time corrupt cronies is Jibril Rajoub, the former head of Palestinian Security Forces and now the head of the Palestinian Football Association, a position he hopes to leverage for support among young Palestinians.

The last time Abbas seemed on death’s doorstep, the presumptive leading candidate was Mahmoud Aloul, Abbas’s Fatah deputy, the “right-hand man of terrorist Abu Jihad.” His strong resume includes Israeli soldiers’ abduction in Lebanon and ransoming them for thousands of Palestinian prisoners.

According to previous polls, the most popular figure among Palestinians is Marwan Barghouti, a terrorist serving five consecutive life sentences. Not only was he the favored candidate to succeed Abu Mazen, but despite being part of Fatah and the PLO, he has allegedly, while in prison reached a meeting of the minds with Hamas, reaffirming that the primary goal is first to destroy the Jewish state.

How will the new Biden administration, sympathetic to Palestinian aspirations for a state, respond to the transition of Palestinian leadership? Will it revert to the see no evil approach of Bill Clinton when he ignored Arafat’s direct involvement in terrorism after the Oslo Accords? Will the Biden administration simply use the Obama template to pressure Israel, viewing Israel as the illegitimate occupier of the rightful Palestinian victims’ land? Or will the new administration judge the new Palestinian leadership by what it says and how it acts, likely corrupt and anti-Semitic? With so many new administrative appointees being former Obama officials, it is a safe bet that their spots will not change, remaining tied to previously failed understandings of Palestinian aspirations.

Israel is already wary because the Biden administration is looking to create a mechanism to bypass Congress’ Taylor force legislation that compels America to stop funding the Palestinian Authority until it ends its support and incentivization of terror. The next Israeli government will be a center-right, perhaps even more to the current government’s right, that will inevitably clash with the new Biden administration. Yet privately, Israeli security officials want the US to find ways to fund the PA security forces as the best choice for continued stability and cooperation.

Will the next Palestinian leader be more radical than Abbas? Abbas was no angel. His doctoral thesis defended Holocaust denial, and at the 2018 Palestinian National Council, he said Jews in Europe were massacred for centuries because of their “social role related to usury and banks.” Even the ordinarily sympathetic New York Times editorial said, “Let Abbas’s vile words be his last as Palestinian leader.” Yet he did work with Israel and avoided starting another Intifada, something not to be minimized.

Israel may not be so lucky with the next Palestinian leader, even if he is from Fatah, not Hamas. America must remember that our national interests require us to do everything we can to keep the Levant quiet while fostering the rapprochement between Arab states and Israel. American support to encourage an early Palestinian election would be the wrong strategic choice for the region.

Still, it may not have a choice, as Abbas’s departure from the scene from natural causes may create an unstable situation in an instant, even without an election. This reality requires prioritizing pre-emptive planning by the Biden administration in conjunction with the Israeli government and Arab states to manage the situation and not be just reactive. Israel’s temptation is to be focused on putting all of its energies into influencing the Biden approach in rejoining the JCPOA. Israel can walk and chew gum at the same time. It can prioritize Iran while also coordinating its response and contingencies if the struggle for Palestinian Supremacy occurs sooner rather than later.

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House of Representatives, and their foreign policy advisers. He is Senior Editor for Security at The Jerusalem Post/The Jerusalem Report. His work appears in The Hill, RealClearWorld, Defense News, JTA, JNS, Thinc., the Forward, and Israel Hayom, among others.