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

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

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

Does Israel have any legal rights over the 1967 Line?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turkish and Iranian Ambitions Rise While US Loses its Influence

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Progressive Jewish Americans and the Legitimacy of Zionism

{Previously published by the JNS}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amid Iraqi Protests, Kurdish Region Balances Iran’s IRGC

{article previously published in The Defense Post written by Seth J. Frantzman and Dr. Eric R. Mandel}

At the Black Tiger Base in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq the concerns of Kurdish Peshmerga who have spent five years fighting Islamic State have now turned to the rise of Iran-backed militias.

“ISIS is infiltrating these Sunni Arab areas where locals have a bad relationship with the Hashd al-Shaabi,” a local commander told us last month, referring to the largely Shiite militias who operate checkpoints and control parts of rural Iraq.

In the Kurdish autonomous region, a stable and prosperous part of Iraq that has been a key partner of the United States for decades, the increasing strength of Iran threatens to undermine years of work to support Iraq.

This is now clear amid the crescendo of protests in Baghdad and southern Iraq where protesters have targeted party offices of politicians linked to Iran and a heavy-handed crackdown has left more than 100 dead. Baghdad has followed the Tehran model of cutting of internet and targeting local media, while the autonomous Kurdistan region still has internet access.

This has larger ramifications. Iran increasingly wants to use Iraq as a springboard for regional ambitions. The head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said in early October that destroying Israel was an achievable goal, and Iraq has become a key conduit for Iran’s influence to carry out its plans. Iran’s ambassador to Iraq has threatened the U.S., saying Iran would not hesitate to target American forces in Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Iraqi President Barham Salih on September 23 where he emphasized the sovereignty of Iraq and efforts to increase regional stability. However, that stability is undermined by outside forces.

Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook also spoke at the Asia Society on the same day and warned of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps role in the Middle East. The IRGC’s role in Iraq is creating a carbon copy of itself through a group of paramilitary forces called the Popular Mobilization Units or Hashd al-Shaabi.

The PMU, raised to fight ISIS, has become an official paramilitary force with checkpoints and influence stretching across the country. Its deputy commander, sanctioned by the U.S. as a terrorist, wants the PMU to have his own air force.

In the Nineveh plains its units harass Christians, preventing them from thriving after ISIS. In Sinjar, Yazidis persecuted by ISIS cannot return because of the patchwork of militias. The PMU is likely behind a series of mortar and rocket attacks near U.S. forces that began in May as U.S.-Iran tensions increased. Members of these Iran-backed groups also attacked a Saudi oil field in May.

Two years after the liberation of Mosul and swaths of Iraq from ISIS, the Shiite militias are at a crossroads. They increasingly look like a carbon-copy of the IRGC, more powerful than Lebanon’s Hezbollah. As part of Iran’s network of IRGC-supported groups they are a key funnel for weapons across Iraq to Syria and Lebanon.

Washington has tended to naively confront Iranian influence in Baghdad by sinking funds into various mythological Iraqi nationalist leaders, from Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to Haider Abadi and Muqtada al-Sadr, all of whom ended up being closer to Iran than the U.S.

Maliki’s heavy-handed tactics against minorities fueled ISIS, Abadi called the Iran-backed militias the “hope” of Iraq and Sadr recently was summoned to Tehran to sit with IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.

We went to northern Iraq to speak with Kurdish Regional Government politicians, government ministers, Peshmerga generals and others about their region’s role today. It left a sobering impression.

The 2005 Iraqi Constitution guarantees the Kurdistan region a budget for its Peshmerga and civil servants but Baghdad has systematically cut those funds. The Kurdish fighters who helped defeat ISIS lack basic gear such as body armor, proper barracks, night-vision equipment, anti-armor and anti-drone systems.

We drove out to their front line where ISIS members could be seen with binoculars hiding in caves. The Peshmerga hold the top of Mount Qarachogh, around an hour’s drive southwest from the KRG capital of Erbil. The Iraqi army and PMU hold a line several kilometers away in the plains below, while ISIS still operates in small groups between them.

U.S. interests in Iraq are to keep the country from being a springboard for instability in the region. But those interests are also to keep Iran from swallowing the country as its “near abroad,” perfecting a Hezbollah model for carving out a state-within-a-state.

How do you balance Iraq’s version of the IRGC? The White House has used “maximum pressure” on Iran but wants to avoid war. Iraq is a perfect place to broaden that policy by extending sanctions, imposed in July, to more PMU units. At the same time, Washington should work directly with the KRG, ensuring greater support for the Peshmerga and for other institutions.

There is reticence in the U.S. for open-ended involvement in Iraq. Suppo

rting Kurdistan regional institutions is a force multiplier: They are openly seeking greater partnership with the U.S. and they are a key conduit to security in eastern Syria where the U.S. plays a key role.

Too often U.S. policymakers seem to take allies for granted while imagining that adversaries can be bought off or co-opted by carrots and appeasement. There’s no evidence this has worked.

Baghdad’s response to the protests shows its fragility. It’s time to try a different approach, because Iraq is a linchpin of security in the region. Partnering with the Kurdistan region has the added benefit of showing Baghdad the U.S. is serious about going around it so long as it empowers militias and squeezes Erbil.


Seth J. Frantzman is the author of ‘After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East‘ (Gefen Publishing 2019).

Dr. Eric Mandel is the founder and director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political and Information Network.

America Needs to Impose Consequences for Working with Iran

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel and Seth J. Frantzman

{Previously published in the JNS}

Why do we allow the Iraqi and Lebanese governments to have it both ways, receiving American taxpayer dollars while simultaneously working with Iranian-controlled militias?

Speaking at the summit of United Against Nuclear Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not only outlined all of Iran’s malevolent behaviors—from “murdering and torturing their own people, to killing Americans from Lebanon to Iraq, to harboring Al-Qaeda” while “protecting, hiding and preserving their nuclear know-how”—more consequentially warned nations that we will “sanction every violation of sanctionable activity” when it comes to Iranian trespasses.

So why do we allow the Iraqi and Lebanese governments to have it both ways, receiving American taxpayer dollars while simultaneously working with Iranian-controlled militias?

President Donald Trump has touted his maximum economic pressure campaign against Iran and its main proxy Hezbollah, claiming that it is the best way to undermine Iran. He has also avoided a kinetic military response to Iran’s many provocations against international law, including their attacks against shipping in international waters, the high-jacking of a British oil tanker and the attack against two major Saudi oil facilities, which was called an “act of war” by Pompeo.

Yet when it comes to the Iraqi and Lebanese governments who work with Iranian-controlled militias, consequences are not imposed. The prevailing logic is that these nations are too weak, and if we put pressure on their fragile governments, we will push them into the arms of Iran.

The evidence suggests otherwise, being more akin to a failed strategy that must be re-evaluated if our goal is to create some distance between Iran and those nations for the long term, while making any headway into stopping Iran from completing its land corridor controlling Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, while threatening Jordan, Israel and our Gulf allies. Iran views this American policy towards Iraq and Lebanon as a sign of weakness—something to take advantage of.

So when U.S. Assistant Secretary for Terrorism Financing Marshall Billingslea met with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and told him that according to AFP, increased U.S. sanctions on Hezbollah “will not target groups who are only tied to Hezbollah politically,’ “easing concern that the groups political allies, including [Lebanese] President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and Berri’s Anal Movement could be targeted,” it leaves you scratching your head to understand the logic.

David Schenker, Washington’s Assistant Secretary of Near Eastern Affairs, said “in the future, we will designate … individuals in Lebanon who are aiding and assisting Hezbollah, regardless of what their sect or religion is.”

So why do Aoun’s and Berri’s groups get a pass?

This policy is both contradictory and a counterproductive strategy for America’s stated goal of applying maximum pressure on Iran. It is based on the same failed logic European nations employ that allows Hezbollah’s “political” operatives to fundraise on European soil, knowing full well that the money ends up supporting terror in the treasury of Hezbollah’s military wing, a designated terrorist organization.

Ending this disingenuous legal fiction in Europe should be a priority of American policy. We should not use it to give cover to Lebanese or Iraqi political parties, ending the false distinction between the political and military wings of Hezbollah, or of Iraqi’s Shi’ite militias and Shi’ite political parties.

In Iraq, America has allowed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-controlled Shi’ite militias to be incorporated into the Iraqi military without any protest or consequences. We don’t know if American economic pressure with the threat of withholding aid for the Iraqi government would have worked, but what we do know with certainty is that the Iraqi government and military are dominated by Iran, with those Iranian Shi’ite militias controlling vast swaths of Iraq and Syria, connecting them to the strongest Iranian militia: Hezbollah in Lebanon.

American strategists also know that if U.S. troops leave Iraq, the sectarian war is likely to be reignited sooner than later, which is part of the logic to not make waves with the Iranian entrenchment into the Iraqi military and government.

It should be remembered that Iran controls Hezbollah; they are for practical purposes one and the same. We should not differentiate the political world of the Supreme leader from the IRGC, and we shouldn’t play a game claiming that just because a terrorist organization like Hezbollah provides humanitarian services, you can separate its many tentacles. For a Western mind, separation of church and state is logical. In this part of the world, however, religion and state are intertwined, as are the military and political activates of the revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran, and its proxy Hezbollah.

The AFP said the United States “encourage(s) Lebanon to take the necessary steps to maintain distance” from Hezbollah.

The worst way to help Lebanon create separation from Hezbollah is to facilitate the continued cooperation of Lebanese Sunni, Druze and Christian political leaders, while not penalizing them for working with Hezbollah.

It is certainly true that Hezbollah is in charge of Lebanon with veto power for all important military decisions, despite some members of Congress pretending that the LAF and other political groups are somehow independent of Hezbollah’s heavy hand.

America has a misguided strategy for the Middle East, thinking that if it puts consequences on nations or political organizations that work with Iran or Hezbollah, it will push them into the arms of the Shi’ite theocracy.

It’s time to tell Baghdad that America won’t support your actions if you continue to get in bed with Iran, and in Lebanon, it’s time to do the same—first, by stopping U.S. military aid to the LAF and converting it to humanitarian aid unless they commit to tangibly distance themselves from Hezbollah and Iran. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it must start on that path.

The challenges and risks of this strategy are real, but worth the risk. In Iraq, we should tell Mahdi that America needs a reliable ally, so we are going to independently send weapons to the Kurdistan Peshmegar, who have stood with the United States for more than 25 years, and hold the Iraqi government accountable for not sending money Baghdad is constitutionally obligated to send to the Kurdistan government. In Lebanon, we must lay down a clear marker that working with Iran and Hezbollah in any form crosses the line, and that consequences will follow.

Americans don’t want their taxpayer dollars supporting terror, even indirectly, and aid to Iraq and Lebanon that doesn’t aim to separate those nations from the world’s leading state sponsor of terror is an indirect form of helping Iran.

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.”

Seth J. Frantzman is executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis. A former assistant professor of American Studies at Al-Quds University, he covers the Middle East for “The Jerusalem Post” and is a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of “After ISIS: How Defeating the Caliphate Changed the Middle East Forever.”

Reevaluating America’s Foreign Policy for Iraq, Kurdistan and Syria

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

You can replace Afghanistan with Iraq, Kurdistan or Syria in the title and ask: Can they survive America’s exit, and does it serve America’s interests to hand them over to enemies of the West?

Americans are in no mood for new entanglements in the Middle East. The politically expedient choice for the US Congress and the president is to follow the nation’s mood – by not only avoiding any new potential areas of conflict arising with the aggressions of Iran and its proxies, but maybe by also abandoning allies who have worked side-by-side with American soldiers in Iraq and Syria against ISIS, leaving Afghanistan to the mercy of the Taliban, and forgetting their savage misogyny and its place as a safe haven where al Qaeda brewed its attacks on 9/11.

The Wall Street Journal’s Saturday Essay by Yaroslav Trofimov was titled, “Can the New Afghanistan Survive America’s Exit? An exhausted America, no longer determined to bring democracy to the Muslim world, just wants to leave.”

You can replace Afghanistan with Iraq, Kurdistan or Syria in the title and ask: Can they survive America’s exit, and does it serve America’s interests to hand them over to enemies of the West?

American foreign policy operates under a hundred-year-old construct based on the misguided belief that we must keep artificially constructed Middle East nation-states like Syria and Iraq whole, even when it flies in the face of reality – or of what is best for American interests or the people who live there.

Sixteen years ago, I recommended that Iraq be turned into three states, Sunni, Kurdish and the largest, Shi’ite. I was not alone. This was based on the obvious religious animosity, ethnic divisions and tribal nature of the country that had no historical antecedent, whose people value clan, tribe and religion rather than allegiance to the state itself.

The core American belief that dividing up Iraq or Syria is a bad idea because it will lead to failed states ignores the more plausible concept that, if put back together, it will not only be less sustainable as a whole state but, more consequentially, it may be more dangerous whole than divided – especially if the US abandons the region.

Today, the failed Iraqi state has been taken over by Iran, America’s most dangerous Middle East adversary, which not only has political parties allied with it in the Iraqi government but, more consequentially, controls the nation’s most powerful force: the Shi’ite militia al-Hashd al-Sha’bi, which has ethnically cleansed Sunni areas for an Iranian land corridor to the Mediterranean and answers only to the supreme leader and his Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. How does this serve American interests?

In 2006, Joe Biden, then the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – and Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations – penned an op-ed in The New York Times recommending Iraq be divided into three autonomous regions, “giving each ethno-religious group… room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.”

In 2015, president Barack Obama’s defense secretary Ash Carter, speaking before Congress, said that Iraq is so broken that maybe it shouldn’t be put back together: “The question [is] what if a multi-sectarian Iraq turns out not to be possible?”

In 2016, CIA director John Brennan said: “I don’t know whether or not Syria and Iraq can be put back together again. There’s been so much bloodletting, so much destruction.”

MOST AMERICANS have no knowledge that most of the nations of the Middle East are artificially constructed entities based on the interests of the French and British after the First World War, when they divided the region not according to its natural tribal divisions, but according to their own economic interests, forcing antagonistic groups to live together in authoritarian regimes.

It didn’t work, and we have rarely stopped to ask why we want to keep putting these broken nation-states back together. How does this serve American interests?

Iraq was a dysfunctional nation long before it collapsed after the 2003 US invasion. Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party repressed and terrorized the Sunni majority and the Kurdish North. After US president George H.W. Bush allowed Saddam to remain in power after America’s Gulf War in 1991, he took his vengeance out against the Shi’ites of the South and the Kurds of the North, who deserve as much as anyone to have their own independent state. He may not have had nuclear weapons in 2003, but he did use chemical weapons against his adversaries and still remained in power.

America, with good intentions, thought that all of the world’s people wanted Western style democracy, but soon learned that in the Middle East, other than Israel and the Kurds of northern Iraq, autocracy and Islam rule the day.

We live in a world where politicians are afraid to speak honestly to the American people for fear that they will lose their popularity and their ability to remain in office, especially those who seek our highest office.

Maybe it’s time for our political leaders to explain the world to our nation in something more than sound-bites and tweets that pollsters tell them will raise their numbers.

US President Donald Trump seems to believe that we should return to an isolationist strategy. That, despite his bellicose talk, is not very much different from Obama’s actions not to confront aggression even when justified. Obama’s great foreign policy fault was that he didn’t realize you couldn’t change the spots of the Iranian tiger; abandoning allies to realign with Iran; undermining American foreign policy by making America look unreliable to the world; and let everyone, friend and foe, come to see us as a paper tiger.

WHICH BRINGS US to America’s Kurdish allies in Syria and Iraq. These two Kurdish peoples share the same ethnicity but are very different. What they do share in common is that they were at the front lines of defeating Islamic State, helping the US achieve its primary strategy in the Middle East under both Obama and Trump. They also both live in states that are artificially constructed and, if put back together, will sow the seeds for more sectarian violence, pulling the US back to region it so wants to leave.

Now there is a call to withdraw American forces from both northern Syria and northern Iraq, abandoning important allies and forcing them, for their own survival, to make deals and to ally with America’s enemies. The Kurds of Iraq may have to cut a deal with Iran and the Iranian-controlled Iraqi government in Baghdad to survive, while the Syrian Kurds may have to work with their adversaries – the Syrian regime, Iran and Russia – in order not to be ethnically cleansed by Turkey. Millions of new Sunni refugees may flow from Syria to Turkey into Europe and onto our shores. How is this in America’s interest?

I recently interviewed American soldiers working with the Kurdistan military force, the Peshmerga, who are still fighting ISIS. Their unreserved clarity of purpose and their importance as American allies was striking – something Congress, the State Department and the president need to hear.

America’s chances for a new war in the Middle East are greatly increased by withdrawing from the Middle East; becoming isolationist as we did after the First World War, since we were totally unprepared when we were dragged into the Second World War.

A modest American presence remaining in Afghanistan, Syria, Kurdistan and Iraq creates leverage for American interests far beyond the small number of troops remaining in harm’s way.

We certainly cannot cure the ills of the Middle East, but our goal should be to strengthen our allies and lower the flames that would certainly erupt with an American withdrawal. America’s primary goal is not only to prevent the resurgence of ISIS, but – more importantly – to create a long-term strategy to stop Iranian expansionism that endangers not only our allies, but also the world at large. Sorry, Mr. Obama, the Iranian Islamist regime is a leopard that will not change its spots – no matter how many pallets of cash we give them.

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

Will Territorial Annexation Weaken Support for Israel in Congress?

{Previously published by the JNS}

It certainly could. Timing it to coincide with a Trump second term would be a much better strategy.

There is a solid consensus within Israel that it must continue to control the Jordan River Valley, as it is Israel’s only truly defensible border to the east. According to the Israel Democracy Institute, nearly twice as many Israelis are in favor of annexation of Jordan River Valley than are opposed.

There is little doubt of the necessity of the Jordan River Valley for Israel’s long-term safety, especially with a fragile Jordan controlling the eastern bank of the Jordan River, and both Iran and Sunni jihadists waiting for an opportunity to destabilize the Hashemite Kingdom.

It is not often said, but any Palestinian state that is created in the foreseeable future would destabilize Jordan. Israel’s control of the valley is also in America’s interest, which is served by regional stability.

Critics of continued Israeli control of the Jordan River Valley claim that its annexation is illegal as it is “occupied territory,” according to their definition of international law, and would preclude the creation of a Palestine state.

According to this view, ending the possibility for a Palestinian state is against Israel’s own interests, for it to remain both a democratic and a Jewish state. Others also claim that there is no need for Israeli topographical advantage or controlling the passages through the mountain ranges in Samaria with today’s defensive advanced technologies, which in this view are less dependent on geography.

Countering this view is the reading of international law that would dictate that territory acquired in a defensive war should not be returned unless there is a complete end of conflict agreement, with a demilitarized Palestinian state. In addition, since the territory never had a previous legitimate stakeholder, Israel has at least equal rights to the territories beyond the 1949 armistice line, and so the land should clearly be viewed as disputed, not occupied.

The first duty of any nation is to protect its people, and control of the Jordan River Valley clearly rises to the level of an essential long-term strategic defensive priority, especially in this neighborhood of very bad actors.

But does Israel need to annex the Jordan River Valley now?

Supporters say that there will never be another President Donald Trump in the next 100 years—someone who was willing to recognize the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, when no previous American president, Democrat or Republican has been willing to do so. Those presidents and their “peace teams” not only didn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty in the Golan, but also encouraged Israeli prime ministers to consider a near complete Israeli withdrawal for a “words only” promise of peace with Syria.

Israel doesn’t have to annex the Jordan Valley in order to control it indefinitely. Its choices include leaving the status quo or extending Israeli civilian law to the region without annexation.

According to Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of research for the Israeli Defense forces, and now a security and intelligence expert at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), applying the law “means that the area is still a disputed land that is subject to future negotiations,” whereas annexation is more irreversible.

Annexation at this time would, in my view, be a mistake.

It would be unnecessarily placed on the agenda of the contentious Democratic Party debates, forcing Democratic candidates to criticize Israel to remain relevant in the primaries where progressive anti-Israel forces are likely to hold sway.

The rhetoric and damage will only increase during the 2020 elections between Trump and the Democratic presidential candidate, where Israel will be placed on the docket—the worst place it could be to accelerate the bipartisan divide.

Five years ago, I was asked by a member of Israel’s security cabinet what he should recommend to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in regard to accepting the invitation of Republican House Speaker John Boehner to speak about the upcoming Iran deal. Knowing that I was strongly against the deal that was being negotiated, he was surprised when I told him to tell Netanyahu not to come. The timing was wrong.

I advised him to wait a few weeks until after the Israeli election; it will put Israel in a better position diplomatically with wavering members of the Democratic Party. I said that if he won the election, he would be received with much stronger support from the Democratic side in just a few weeks. But if he came now, he would further polarize bipartisan support and weaken the case, which needs Democratic support.

The annexation story has strong parallels, and the subject should be avoided in American politics as much as possible. If Trump losses the next election, a premature Israeli annexation may force the next Democratic president to impose consequences on Israel, especially if there is Democratic control of both chambers of Congress, a totally unnecessary and self-inflicted wound.

There is no imperative to annex now unless Israel believes that the move cannot be reversed in the future, which is not certain. Timing it to coincide with a Trump second term would be a much better strategy.

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.”

Israel’s Self-Destructive PR Must Change in its Next Government

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Wouldn’t be great if Isrotel worked with StandWithUs like El Al, to empower their employees, helping them to realize they are the face of Israel.

American supporters of Israel have complained for years that Israel’s public relations, hasbara, has been ineffective, counter-productive, and its importance for strengthening the US-Israeli relationship unappreciated by Israelis as a core national security interest.

This all came to mind during a wonderful weekend wedding at one of Israel’s leading hotels, when I went to breakfast and the only newspaper available to read was the Haaretz/New York Times edition. This was not the first time this has happened to me in Israel.
Haaretz’s Hebrew-language readership is dwarfed by other Israeli print dailies, but you would never know that if you were a visiting American tourist or English-speaking journalist staying at some of Israel’s many fine hotels, reading the Haaretz English edition that is combined with The New York Times, another paper that has a long history of harshly critical views of Israeli policy.

Within Israel, the newspaper is widely known as being to the hard-left of the political spectrum, representative of a small segment of the Israeli population, although it is influential within Israeli academia and intelligentsia. It is a legitimate and important viewpoint, but not one representative of the majority of the Israeli people based upon election results and surveys over many years.

When an English-speaking journalist, organizational leader or businessperson visits Israel, if they receive only one critical viewpoint to start their day, does this matter? It does, and it is representative of the greater problem of Israel’s approach and investment in projecting a positive image, and explaining its policies to a world that is increasing hostile to its very right to exist.

There is little doubt that some of the news writers for Haaretz, not only its editorial and opinion-page journalists, are profoundly hostile to Israeli policy. When I brought this up with then chief political columnist, editorial writer and US bureau chief, Akiva Eldar, at his Haaretz office about 10 years ago, complaining that news articles shouldn’t be editorialized and should strive to present a factually balanced news story, he simply told me to go read another paper.

So when a hotel offers only Haaretz to its guests, it’s representative of a pervasive Israeli attitude that stretches from the halls of the Knesset to Israeli companies to the Prime Minister’s Office that they are indifferent or exasperated, that they need to continually plead to the world for understanding of their precarious situation.

But when you are a lonely democracy living in a very bad neighborhood, you’d better start caring.

Haaretz is a legitimate view of Israel but not the only one. If during your time in Israel when impressions are formed and this is the only newspaper you read, as it is for too many foreign journalists, it will present a distorted and biased view. In short, it feeds the echo chamber for those who see Israel responsible for all the problems of the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – a brutal, undemocratic, colonialist occupier.

BUT FOCUSING the blame for bad public relations on Israeli businesses is just the tip of the iceberg, as Israel’s government has slashed its investment into its Foreign Ministry that is tasked with explaining its case to America and to an unsympathetic world. Instead of expanding and increasing consulates in the United States, there are plans to close consulates.

This month Israel ordered most of its overseas embassies to stop work due to a “grave deficit” of its Foreign Ministry budget.
According to the Foreign Ministry, “The main effect is that during this sensitive time, when faced with diplomatic and strategic challenges… foremost among them the threat by Iran… and on the eve of a UN General Assembly – the Foreign Ministry and its missions abroad will be almost entirely paralyzed.”

This is insanity.

PM Netanyahu bears responsibility as he has overshadowed his own foreign ministers, when he has appointed them at all, choosing inexperienced lightweights, the most recent having made too many mistakes since filling the vacancy earlier this year.

Sometimes Israelis do get it, as when StandWithUs partnered with El Al pilots and flight attendants, helping them use their two-to-three day layovers overseas to educate people about the real Israel, sharing their personal stories.

Which brings us back to the wedding at one of Israel‘s best hotels owned by one of Israel’s leading hotel chains, Isrotel. The assistant manager told me that offering Haaretz was the way it has been for years. I explained why multiple viewpoints are important for their guests and for Israel’s hasbara, or public diplomacy.

The guests at the wedding included many distinguished young American and Europeans from the world of governments, business and NGO’S.

When they walked into the dining room and picked up their English-language newspaper, they were presented with a one-sided minority Israeli view, but most were completely unaware of this.

Wouldn’t be great if Isrotel worked with StandWithUs like El Al, to empower their employees, helping them to realize they are the face of Israel.

Israel is about to form a new coalition government. Whether it is led by incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu or Blue and White’s Benny Gantz, both need to realize that Israel’s security is not just in the hands of its very capable defense forces, but needs the help of all of its people, companies and government to present the real Israel in all its beauty and complexities.

It’s about time Israel started putting its best face forward with increased government expenditures for its Foreign Ministry overseas, and work in partnership with Israeli companies and their employees, who very often are the only face that the world sees representing Israel.

Criticism is great for the health of a democracy. Thank you Haaretz. But if you have only criticism reinforced by poor hasbara, then at the end of the day instead of debating Israeli policy with the world, you will continue to simply fight to explain why you have a right to exist at all.

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