Category Archives: Iran

It’s Time for the US to Swap Carrots for Sticks in the Middle East

America’s choices in the Middle East continue to challenge the best of our foreign policy experts. There are no easy answers in a region with ever-changing interests and alliances, but one tool to consider for advancing American interests is the use of “consequences” against those who deliberately stick a finger in our eye. This is necessary with four regional players: Iran, Turkey, the Palestinians and Qatar.

Iran

The case of Iran is instructive in the power of consequences, and it is a timely assessment since America must plan for the day when President Trump truly decertifies the Iran nuclear agreement. Supporters of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action believe new sanctions on Iran, even for non-nuclear transgressions, will destroy the deal. In the carrot-and-stick approach, they would continue to try to tame the Islamic Republic of Iran with more carrots.

But the JCPOA is not a treaty; we can amend it. Those who disagree with the idea of placating the Iranian government instead favor imposing sanctions for ballistic missile development, terrorism, human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing under the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria and Iraq.

When serious economic sanctions were placed on the revolutionary regime before 2015, to punish Iran for its nuclear program, Iran’s economy and its currency dose-dived. Those sanctions brought Iran to the table, and the removal of those economic consequences with the front-ended largesse of tens of billions of dollars, brought the opposite response: an emboldened Iran.

We also should consider consequences for European allies, such as Germany, who refuse to help the United States because they profit from new Iranian business ventures. Such consequences could begin with a public campaign to embarrass Germany for cavorting with a regime that has been complicit in helping Syria President Bashar al-Assad commit genocide. When push comes to shove, I bet Germany chooses the $17 trillion American economy over the third-rate Iranian economy.

Turkey

Once a rock-solid NATO ally, Turkey has become, at best, a “frenemy.” NATO’s former supreme commander, Adm. James Stavridis, writing in Time, suggests a cooperative relationship to advance our interests in Syria: “U.S. policy in Syria rests on the U.S. and Turkey working together. The problem is that the U.S. relied on the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces. … We need to consider a Turkish security zone. … This is a NATO border that we are sworn by treaty to protect.”

But Stavridis is advocating for a secular Turkish ally that doesn’t exist anymore. Over the past 14 years, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has transformed his nation, replacing its secular military and judiciary with Islamists while imprisoning or exiling moderates and pro-Western democrats. So we must ask: is Turkey in 2018 a reliable and indispensable NATO ally?

Repairing U.S. relations with Turkey is important, but it needs to be on our terms, not those that Erdoğan dictates. Adversaries such as Iran, Syria, Russia and China are closely watching how we respond to his provocations. No doubt America would like to keep its air base in Incirlik, but even here Turkey has threatened America. Last year, says former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman, there were “several attempts to impress upon the United States that Incirlik could be cut off at any time.”

As Washington continues to try to reconcile the American-Turkish relationship with carrots, not sticks, I am reminded of an old friend’s words: “In this part of the world, you cannot placate your enemies.” Critics believe that consequences will just push Turkey closer to Iran and Russia. But Turkey knows that both these countries, in the long term, are adversaries and, prodded with sticks, Erdoğan might turn back toward the West.

Palestinian Authority

The United States is trying such consequences in another part of the Levant. After years of offering carrots to the Palestinians, Congress and the Trump administration have decided to decrease financial aid to the Palestinian Authority unless it stops rewarding terrorists and suicide bombers’ families with American taxpayer dollars.

President Trump also imposed consequences by decreasing funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, a humanitarian organization for Palestinian refugees that has allowed Hamas to work from its facilities. Congress, under the leadership of Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), has been advancing the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, legislation that will have consequences on those who boycott our ally Israel.

Qatar

Another supporter of American adversaries, Qatar deserves consequences for associating with Iran, harboring terrorist entities, and supporting radical jihadists. Qatar’s defenders claim the American air base Udeid in Qatar is irreplaceable, but that is not necessarily true; there is an advanced base in Saudi Arabia that was used in the early 2000s.

Some believe that if America offers enough incentives to problematic Middle East states such as these four, they will reciprocate. But typically, they perceive our concessions as weakness. The better tool to reduce the chances of war is to impose economic consequences through sanctions, and to target the finances of people, companies, banks or states that support terrorism.

Offering carrots has failed, so why not try brandishing some sticks?

Eric R. Mandel is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network. He regularly briefs members of Congress and policy groups on the Middle East and is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.

A Year Later, Failure of Iran Nuclear Deal is Clearer Than Ever

(Previously published on Forward.com)

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN™. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East and is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post.

Last summer, a fierce debate in the pro-Israel community over how to best curtail the Iranian nuclear program took place. On July 14, 2015, after 20 months of arduous talks, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran, the P5+1 countries, and the EU was announced. On the deal’s anniversary, we asked two pro-Israel leaders, one on the right and one on the left, to share their thoughts on how the deal is working one year later. To read the other perspective, click here.

President Obama “has bet global security and his own legacy that one of the world’s leading state sponsors of terrorism will adhere to an agreement to curtail its nuclear program.”

~Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic

“In the United States, support is growing for the notion that (President Obama) has failed to hold Tehran accountable for nuclear violations, downplayed Iran’s economic windfall from sanctions relief, and ignored the deal’s negative regional implications for state sponsorship of terrorism.”

~Raymond Tanter, Foreign Policy Magazine

The one-year anniversary of the JCPOA is an important, yet premature time to reflect on the accomplishments and failures of the nuclear agreement.

I was privileged to work with members of Congress, and their foreign policy and national security advisors who were grappling over many years with the challenges and ambitions of the revolutionary Iranian theocracy.

During the contentious debate over the merits of the JCPOA, a false choice was offered, either accept this agreement or you are a warmonger, willing to drag America into another Middle East quagmire. Yet almost everyone I spoke with in Congress preferred a negotiated settlement, just not a bad one that would weaken American national security interests. A new relationship with Iran was desired, just not one based on empowering the misogynist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-American, Islamic Republic of Iran, without significant security concessions.

So where did we begin.

In 2012 the President said, “The deal we’ll accept…is that they end their nuclear program.” The administration told Congress that it would not sign an agreement that did not require Iran to forsake its nuclear weapons capability. The President claimed that the JCPOA indeed ended every pathway to a nuclear weapons capability through plutonium and uranium enrichment.

In April 2015 when the “Key parameters” of the deal were released, the Washington Post’s Editorial Board wrote, “Obama’s Deal Falls Far Short of His Own Goals.” They complained that none of Iran’s nuclear facilities will be closed, not one of its 19,000 centrifuges will be dismantled, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain “intact”, and in ten years Iran “instantly” becomes nuclear state.

President Obama’s first Iran advisor Ambassador Dennis Ross said, “The agreement…does not reflect the objective we had hoped to achieve.”

The administration said their deal would empower the moderates and reign in Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and domestic human rights abuses. When this clearly became untrue, they backtracked and claimed the deal was never about reigning in the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, but was exclusively about nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. Even that limited goal needed to be amended when Iranian missiles capable of delivering a nuclear weapon were tested, violating a number of UN Security Council resolutions. German Chancellor Merkel recently told Parliament, “Iran (has) continued unabated to develop its rocket program in conflict with the relevant provisions of the UN Security Council.”

The administration also choose to ignore Iran’s more dangerous regional ambitions threatening American allies, and shut its eyes on Iran’s direct role in the genocide in Syria, fighting arm and arm with Hezbollah and Assad. Obama’s own State Department still lists Iran as the leading state sponsor of terror, while this agreement provides hundreds of millions of dollars in sanctions relief and new trade deals, strengthening the Iranian regime.

As for the agreement itself, a partial list of what was allowed contradicts the assurances the administration gave to Congress.

  • Allows Iran in ten years to build an unlimited numbers of heavy water nuclear reactors
  • Conduct advanced centrifuge R&D immediately
  • Denies immediate anytime, anywhere access to check for violations of the agreement. Considering that Iran’s whole nuclear program was clandestine, this concession was particularly egregious.
  • At year 15, allows Iran to become a nuclear weapons power with unlimited uranium production, and unlimited number of centrifuges.

In the Middle East, 15 years is a blink of the eye.

To evaluate where this deal is going you need to understand the reality of the Islamic Republic. Iran today is motivated by a combination of Persian nationalism, Islamic revolutionary ambition, and the desire for Shiite control of Mecca and Medina. Anti-Americanism and the destruction of Israel are not rhetoric, but part of its core DNA, foundational principles of the Republic. Iranian diplomacy practices taqiyah, an Islamic doctrine that permits Iran to deceive its enemies, signing agreements with no intention of being faithful to them.

As for the deal itself, did you know that the JCPOA and its companion the UNSC Resolution 2231 are different documents? UNSC Res. 2231 was sold to the American people as the UN version of the JCPOA. Wrong!

Why is this so important? Because the more restrictive aspects of the Iran deal that Iran refused to agree to, were put only into UNSC 2231 but are not in the JCPOA. Iran now claims that 2231 is not legally binding on them!

Here is another shocker. Did you know that the JCPOA is not an agreement or a binding contract? It is simply a set of understandings that remain unsigned by the Ayatollah. What should have been a negotiated treaty, the most important American foreign policy agreement of the early 21st century, intentionally bypassed the Senate with Presidential prerogative because the President knew that the majority of the American people and Congress were against the concessions in the deal. Mind you not against a deal, just against this deal.

As for a partial but growing list of its faults, we conceded finding out the past military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program, and then delinked sanctions relief from PMD.

Did you know that the sanctions relief’s main beneficiaries are the Ayatollah’s 100 billion dollar Setad conglomerate, and his Iranian Revolutionary Guard storm troopers, both who control much of the Iranian economy.

So what has happened since the agreement went into effect.

  • This month Germany’s FBI said Iran has a “clandestine” effort seeking illicit nuclear technology
  • Iran violated UNSC 2231 which compelled it to stop ballistic missile work for 8 years.
  • Iran fired live missiles within 1500 yards from an American aircraft carrier and humiliated American sailors
  • Multi-billion dollar sales to Iran of Russian arms including the advanced Sukhol super jets, and the S300 surface to air missile system.

So why did we sign this deal?

I have written for the last eight years that the administration’s goal was to develop a new U.S.-Iranian relationship at the expense of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and America’s traditional Sunni allies. The President told Jeffery Goldberg that the Saudis have to learn to share the Middle East with Iran.

This deal is the culmination of that dream; it is about the President’s foreign policy legacy. The writing was on the wall way back in 2009 when the President mystifyingly abandoned the Iranian people during their Green Revolution, siding with the Ayatollah.

The agreement not only reinforced the regime’s hold on domestic power, but also fundamentally reversed the regime’s decline caused by the 2009 protests, the international unity against Iran’s nuclear program after 2011 IAEA report, the Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions laws in late 2011 and 2012 that isolated and contracted Iran’s economy and obliterated the rial’s value.

We now know with certainty that in ten to fifteen years Iran will be a nuclear weapons power at any time of its choosing, with complete international legitimacy, memorialized in the President’s JCPOA.

This totally contradicts the Presidents stated goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, as with time, more and more nations will fear an unrestrained hegemonic nuclear Iran, developing their own nuclear weapons capabilities, and dramatically increasing the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Islamist non-state actors. God help us!

As for the President’s promise of snap-back sanctions if Iran fails to comply with the JCPOA that is not happening. Iran has already crossed a number of redlines that should have prompted American action but have instead been excused and rationalized. No matter what, nothing is to sabotage the President’s legacy.

As former Iran expert at the Pentagon and Georgetown Professor Matthew Kroenig said,

“Iran would like to build nuclear weapons. The only people Tehran is fooling at this point are people who want to be fooled.”

When the Iran deal eventually implodes, the current administration ‎will be long gone. But the President and his inner circle will blame whoever is in power in the White House for the failure of an agreement that was destined to fail in the first place.

Legitimizing Iran: The US Administration’s Middle East Agenda

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post.)

The time is now for Congress to act, to assert its constitutional responsibility regarding foreign policy in the name of American national security interests.

 ‘There’s a reason Tehran is under financial quarantine. The intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering…. said it was ‘exceptionally concerned about Iran’s failure to address the risk of terrorist financing.’”
– Wall Street Journal editorial

Last year, while lobbying the American people to support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, President Barack Obama repeatedly reassured undecided members of Congress that the deal was only about ending the Iranian nuclear program.

Current sanctions for Iranian human rights abuses and support of terrorism, i.e. Hezbollah and Hamas, would not only remain in place, but be strictly adhered to, as new sanctions would be considered without regard to the JCPOA.

The president’s overarching strategy since 2009 has been trying to find ways to strengthen Iran, legitimize the revolutionary republic, and bring it into the family of nations. To fit this square Iranian peg in the round hole of nations that abide by civilized norms, the administration ignored the relentless attacks of Ayatollah Khamenei, such as, “The power-hungry order led by the United States of America is the perfectly clear embodiment of ‘the concept of the enemy.’ America has no human morality.” The White House TV was off the day of Iran’s “End of America” week, featuring cries of “Death to America.”

The president has said “Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism,” and then acts as though it weren’t true.

Talking the talk on Iran but never walking the walk, never putting teeth to his rhetorical flourishes. It must be remembered that the president was against implementing congressional sanctions on Iran back in 2010, but only embraced them when he realized he couldn’t overrule them with executive action. He then got the last laugh, when he waived many of the important sanction provisions.

Now an even more dangerous violation of the administration’s commitments on Iran is taking place behind closed doors and at breakneck speed, to purposely bypass congressional oversight. The president and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew are preparing to contradict the secretary’s 2015 testimony to Congress during the debate on the JCPOA, when he told the Corker/Cardin Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “Iranian banks will not be able to clear US dollars through New York,” or “hold correspondent account relationships with US financial institutions, or enter into financing arrangements with US banks.”

The Treasury’s chief of sanctions, Adam Szubin, told Congress Iran will not “even [be able] to execute a dollarized transaction where a split second’s worth of business is done in a New York clearing bank.”

As Mark Dubowitz and Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies wrote, “the Obama administration vowed that the Islamic Republic would never get the ultimate prize: access to the US financial system or dollar transactions.”

The administration is trying to get around the current US Treasury restrictions and avoid congressional oversight by creating “offshore dollar clearing houses for Iranian financial institutions,” this according to The Wall Street Journal. How can this be when at the present time, “The Treasury Department designates Iran’s entire financial system as a ‘primary money laundering concern’”? Why is the administration doing this? According to the Wall Street Journal, “Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has stressed in recent weeks the need for the U.S. to comply with the ‘letter and spirit’ of the nuclear agreement and help Iran gain economic relief.”

The most likely explanation is that the ayatollah threatened to walk away from the nuclear agreement if Iran didn’t receive access to the American financial system. It has a willing accomplice in Secretary of State John Kerry, who seems blinded by his own dreams of legacy and desire for a Nobel peace prize.

Just as the administration has rationalized Iranian transgressions of the JCPOA and UNSC 2231, its supposed companion document, it is expected that the administration will come up with a new list of reasons why Iran deserves this financial access. It will begin by telling the American people that this is actually a way for America to better monitor Iran’s financial transgressions.

Nonsense.

This is not naiveté, but a carefully thought-out strategy to legitimize Iran, as a counterbalance to the Sunni world. Unfortunately these acts of appeasement have had the opposite effect, emboldening Iran to ask for more and more concessions, even as the ink is not still dry on the JCPOA. Well, not literally – there is no ink; this agreement was never signed by Iran.

The administration has shown a complete lack of understanding of the nature of the Iranian Revolutionary Regime, and how this regime negotiates.

Iran has correctly interpreted the administration’s zero response to its recent in-your-face violations as one party, Obama, wanting to sustain the JCPOA more than the other, Iran. It has made Iran more intransigent, and just increased their demands. That is how we come to be discussing letting the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism into the American financial system.

Just to review, below is a small sampling of what the administration has ignored just since last summer, so as not to endanger the JCPOA:
• Ignoring UNSC 2231, forbidding Iran to work on ballistic missile development for eight years
• Ignoring UNSC 1929, banning Iran from conducting ballistic missile tests
• Allowing the Parchin military site to be sanitized
• Ignoring Iranian missiles fired within 1,400 meters of a US aircraft carrier
• Ignoring Iran publicizing photos of American sailors being humiliated following capture
• Ignoring the proposed Russian sale to Iran of Sukhoi Su-30s, MIG-35s, T-90 battle tanks, S-300 surface to air missiles, and amphibious vehicles
• Allowing the release of Hamid Arabnejad, who supplied weapons to Hezbollah and the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad Congress has to act fast if there is to be any chance of slowing or thwarting the president’s unilateral actions on allowing Iran into our financial system.

One of the most principled members of Congress, Democratic Representative Grace Meng of New York, who was one of the first Democrats to come out against the JCPOA, was troubled by the news stories of the new Iranian access to the American financial system.

She wrote to Secretary Kerry, asking, “Is the administration considering permitting Iranian banks to clear financial transactions by utilizing US dollars?
1. Is this true?
2. In the past year, how many Iranian banks have offered financial support of any kind to Hamas?
3. To Hezbollah?
4. To any other designated terrorist organization?
5. What is the name of each bank covered by your response to questions two through four?” Hopefully other Democratic and Republican members of Congress will follow the lead of Congresswoman Meng and Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer who is also troubled by this dangerous revelation.

As a Wall Street Journal editorial stated, “[E]ven in the post-nuclear deal world, Iran continues to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars and arms to Hezbollah, Hamas, the Afghan Taliban and other groups with American blood on their hands… President Obama insisted that he would ‘vigorously’ enforce sanctions on Iran for supporting terrorism.”

The time is now for Congress to act, to assert its constitutional responsibility regarding foreign policy in the name of American national security interests. Keep Iran out of the American financial system.

The author is the director of MEPIN™. MEPIN™ (mepinanalysis.org) is read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists.

He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

Will Senate Democrats take Violations of the Iran Deal Seriously?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Will Democratic senators and members of the House follow their consciences and defend American national security interests, or will they march in step with Obama?

The contentious debate over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has not ended, but simply moved into its next predictable phase: dealing with Iranian violations of the JCPOA and UNSC Resolution 2231.

Back in the summer of 2015, Democratic Senators wrestled over the difficult choice of trusting the president on Iran or risking the wrath of the administration and the Democratic leadership by opposing the deal because it would weaken American national security interests. In the end, most begrudgingly choose political allegiance over principle, but publicly promised disappointed constituents that they would meticulously monitor for Iranian violations, and be quick to respond with “snapback” sanctions if Iran reneged on the deal.

Fast-forward to Spring 2016, and the Iranian transgressions of both the JCPOA and UNSC resolutions on missile tests are clear to everyone.

Furthermore, Iran’s continued support of the genocidal Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, with Iranian- backed Hezbollah shock troops, has unquestionably broken all human rights standards, being the very definition of state-sponsored terrorism. Just ask the tens of thousands of Syrian civilians Syria has tried to starve to death with Iranian financial support.

During my briefings on Capitol Hill in March, I reviewed two pieces of new Senate legislation, The Iran Ballistic Missile Sanctions Act of 2016 and the Iran Terrorism and Human Rights Sanctions Act of 2016 (S. 2726). Both called for tangible consequences for Iranian missile tests, human rights abuses and support of terrorism. They simply follow the president’s promises that there would be “snapback sanctions” if Iran violates the deal, as it obviously is, flagrantly violating UNSC Resolution 2231 and the JCPOA . The most recent missile tested by Iran can carry a nuclear payload and is capable of reaching both Israel and Europe. President Barack Obama and his administration are pressuring Democrats to forget about the “snapback sanctions.” The legacy deal is more important than the truth.

The administration, with the good graces of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and “Shomer of the Senate” Chuck Schumer have told fellow Democrats that all of this is a “Republican” ruse to destroy the president’s legacy, leaving the world in a dangerous predicament without the deal in place. They tell fellow Democrats not to vote for this “Republican legislation,” as it would be a political win for them, and that’s what counts.

Instead the administration is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people by trying to extend the toothless Iran Sanctions Act, which will allow the president to continue to waive any meaningful sanctions on Iran.

Even more troubling is that the administration never told the American public that the Iranian Parliament never actually approved the American version of the JCPOA given to Congress. The Majlis (Iranian Parliament) only approved an amended Iranian version that among other things disallows snapback provisions.

Yet Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate on July 23, 2015, ‘‘We will not violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action if we use our authorities to impose sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights, missiles… the JCPOA does not provide Iran any relief from United States sanctions under any of those authorities or other authorities.”

Over the past four months Iran has launched multiple banned missile tests, all of missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload, in breach of the JCPOA .

UNSC Resolution 2231 was sold to Congress as an endorsement of the JCPOA , both touted as major achievements to stop Iran’s quest to build and deliver a nuclear bomb. Unfortunately, Iran never accepted UNSC Resolution 2231 as valid or enforceable.

When the administration realized during the negotiation last year that Iran would not allow any teeth to be attached to the JCPOA for future violations of the agreement, the administration pulled a fast one on Congress and the American public by moving anything objectionable to the Iranians, i.e. banning missile tests, to an obscure Annex B in UNSC Resolution 2231, but absent from the JCPOA .

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi made it clear that they viewed the two documents as different from the start.

In July 2015, according to a MEMRI translation Araghchi said, “We told them [the Americans] explicitly [that if you insist on including these articles on the arms and missile embargoes in the JCPOA , then], ‘There is no agreement,’ and we will not accept an agreement in which embargoes on weapons and missiles continue….”

As reported in MEMRI, “The Iranian perspective regarding UNSCR 2231 hinges entirely on its non-binding nature. Iran deems only the JCPOA to be binding… Iran insisted on relegating disputed issues (arms embargo, ballistic missiles) to UNSCR 2231 with the clear intent of violating it.”

2231 “calls upon” Iran to refrain for up to eight years from activity, including launches, related to ballistic missiles designed with the capability of delivering nuclear weapons. But Russia, as should have been expected, has defended its Iranian client and said the wording on Iranian missile tests is not legally binding. Putin 1, Obama 0.

Senator Mark Kirk, who has been insisting on Iranian accountability while defending American national security interests in regard to Iran’s quest for nuclear capability, said, “I reject our current posture of willful ignorance and inaction towards Iran’s terrorist activities, illegal missile testing, funding Assad’s war, and human rights abuses. The administration’s response cannot once again be it’s ‘not supposed to be doing that’ as Iran continues to walk all over US foreign policy and the international community.”

Democratic senators who reluctantly voted for the JCPOA claimed the Obama administration would hold tough and respond to violations immediately if the Iranians pulled any shenanigans. In addition, the president promised that the JCPOA and UNSC 2231 were in no way going to stop sanctions on Iran for its state sponsorship of terrorism or human rights abuses.

So much for the president’s promises.

Missile tests breaking UNSC resolutions evoke only rhetorical grumbles and shrugged shoulders from the administration, like what-can-we-do parents whose kids are misbehaving.

Which brings us to Congress’ foreign policy obligations to impose sanctions on Iran for breaking the JCPOA and UNSC 2231.

Will Democratic senators and members of the House follow their consciences and defend American national security interests, or will they march in step with Obama? The key is Democratic ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee Ben Cardin of Maryland.

Cardin, to his credit, voted against the JCPOA , but has received the runaround from the administration on consequences for Iran’s transgressions.

Ben, do the right thing.

Also calling senators Gillibrand, Coons, Booker, Wyden, Cantwell, Blumenthal, Schumer, Murphy and Peters.

The author is the director of MEPIN™.

Iranian Transgressions and Ongoing Palestinian Terrorism

Today’s VLOG asks two questions:

The first: Is there any Iranian violation or transgression of the JCPOA or of long-standing sanctions that would cause this administration to consider imposing a tangible consequence?

According to news sources, the White House said it had “strong indications” that Iran violated UN Security Council resolutions with a ballistic missile test this week. Yet White House press secretary Josh Earnest said it wouldn’t affect implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran. “Iran has demonstrated a track record of abiding by the commitments that they made in the context of the nuclear talks.”

A factually inaccurate, and a troubling response.

The second question deals with the ongoing Palestinian terrorism.  Is this the beginning of a third intifada?

Watch the VLOG below:

Here is a related article I wrote for the Jerusalem Post 6 months ago: Does Mahmoud Abbas Want His Legacy to be the Third Intifada?” 

As always, please share your thoughts. 

Dr. Eric R. Mandel
Director, MEPIN

If Iran Cheats can Israel Still Strike?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

An Israeli pre-emptive attack against Iranian nuclear facilities is theoretically still a reality.

Will President Barack Obama again say to Israel “atem lo levad” (“you are not alone”), if Israel strikes Iran? Will the American administration commit to approve an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities if Iran violates the agreement? In April, opposition leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union proposed just that in a position paper, according to Yediot Aharonot.

Despite the recent revelation by former defense minister Ehud Barak that both he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu favored an Iranian strike, but were stymied by Yuval Steinitz, Moshe Ya’alon, Meir Dagan and Gabi Ashkenazi, an Israeli pre-emptive attack against Iranian nuclear facilities is theoretically still a reality.

(The rationale, of course, is that the Iranian leadership repeatedly calls for Israel to be “annihilated” or “wiped off the map.”) Whether this is wise or unwise in the post-Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action world is another story.

According to Norman Podhoretz writing in The Wall Street Journal: “With hardly an exception, all of Israel believes that the Iranians are deadly serious… to wipe the Jewish state off the map… once Iran acquires the means to make good on this genocidal commitment, each side will be faced with only two choices: …rely on the fear of a retaliatory strike… or… launch a pre-emptive strike of its own.”

In light of this overwhelming Israeli sentiment, here are four questions: • If Israel decides, for self-preservation, to strike Iran after a deal is in place, what happens to the US-Israel relationship? • Would Israel choose not to strike to preserve that relationship, which in the eyes of many is of existential importance to Israel? • Are you confident that Iran won’t give Hezbollah a nuclear device? If not, are you confident Hezbollah would not put it on a missile headed for Tel Aviv? • Would the world be safer if Israel did strike, upending conventional wisdom? Just as the pre-emptive Israeli strikes on the Iraqi reactor in 1981 and (allegedly) the Syrian reactor in 2009 made the world a less dangerous place, a strike against Iran, even post-agreement, has the potential for many unintended consequences, not all of them necessarily bad. Imagine the apocalyptic scenarios we could be facing today if the Syrian reactor had not been struck in 2009. A nuclear weapon might now be in the hands of the Syrian regime or Islamic State – both of which have already used chemical weapons. When the US president tells Israeli supporters that he has Israel’s back, they should look at how he turned his back on the Kurds.

This may all be moot as it assumes Israel still has the capability to deliver a meaningful strike, setting the Iranian nuclear program back many years. But the recent Russian announcement that it will sell the advanced S-300 anti-missile system to Iran in defiance of existing sanctions may close Israel’s window of opportunity.

Those Russian missiles could actually force Israel to strike sooner rather than later.

President Obama believes American interests are best served by the nuclear deal. Yet the American people and an overwhelming majority of Israelis, from the Right to Left, think the nuclear deal is dangerous. This is because the agreement spared Iran the need to choose between its nuclear program and economic prosperity. Iran received both in the deal.

Four more questions to ponder: • Could Israel, against the wishes of every nation on the planet, pre-emptively attack Iran to save itself? • What would follow an Israeli strike? • Will international terrorism rise; will the Iranian proxy Hezbollah and Iranian ally Hamas coordinate a conventional attack against Israel? • Would Iranian hegemonic ambitions be dampened or accelerated? With the conclusion of the deal, Iranian proxies and allies may feel freer to ramp up terrorism against Jews in Europe and South America again, testing Israel and the American response. There is no doubt that the administration would condemn such actions, but then rationalize that no military response should be allowed to threaten the greater benefits of the deal.

Netanyahu and the Israeli public may not be so forgiving if Hezbollah emerges from underground tunnels in the north, Hamas joins them via tunnels dug with Iranian largesse, missiles fly from the south or north to the heartland, or Jewish civilians are killed on a tourist bus in Prague, London, or Nairobi.

Perhaps the greatest damage caused by an Israeli strike would be to the US-Israeli relationship. Could it mean a permanent end to the special relationship? Would the president allow UN Security Council sanctions against Israel? American military support might be suspended or could end during this administration. The president might even welcome the opportunity as part of his long-term goal of realigning American interests to the Muslim world.

AT THE same time, allies of Israel in Congress will worry that the most important US ally in the region will be weakened and isolated, hurting US national security and surveillance interests. On the other hand, there is a potential backlash of anti-Semitism if Israel is perceived as drawing the US into another Middle East war.

When the deal becomes effective, most pro-Israel members of Congress and Jewish organizational leaders will have a two-fold strategy: increase US military aid to Israel to compensate for the deal’s devastating impact on Israeli security interests, and lobby the Israeli government not to strike Iran – even if the US imposes no consequences when Iran cheats.

If Israel strikes Iran before President Obama’s term ends, the president will likely stand aside as the European nations and the international community lead the charge to make Israel a pariah nation. But what would the next American president do? It is likely he or she will try to bridge the divide between the countries.

However, if the world is significantly destabilized by Iranian retaliations either in the form of terrorism or economic blockades of the Straits of Hormuz and Bab el Mandeb, then many on the Democratic side of the aisle will demand that the US remain permanently distanced from Israel.

The fraying of the US-Israel relationship as we know it is real – especially if the United States does not impose consequences for Iranian cheating. Congress, the American people, the American Jewish community and, most importantly, the next American president must anticipate this eventuality and act to prevent it.

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

He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

 

The Iran Debate: The View from Congress

Last week I was privileged to speak with members of Congress and the their foreign policy experts as the deliberations and votes on The Iran Deal were taking place.  My objective was to explain that despite the manipulative political machinations that deprived the American people of an up or down vote on the agreement, there was much that can be done.

The emphasis needs to change from the focus of sanctions on nuclear weapons that the president will waive, to enacting new sanctions on the Islamic Republic for its egregious support of terrorism and human rights abuses, which threaten both our allies and our national security interests.

Watch my latest vlog to learn more about The Iran Debate:

 

 

 

The Price President Obama Will Demand from Israel for Increased Military Aid After the JCPOA

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

To the president, this deal is not so much about nuclear weapons. It’s about the president’s outreach to the Muslim people as articulated in both his Cairo speech of 2009 and in other statements.

There may be a threatening quid pro quo on the horizon for Israel, namely that the truly consequential armaments it needs to defend itself will be withheld unless Israel concedes to a Palestinian state.

There has been an unexamined consensus in Congress that Israel will automatically be given a dramatic increase in both the quantity and quality of military aid to make up for the dangers the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has created for it. Those dangers include a strengthened Hamas and Hezbollah, the increasing presence of more dangerous conventional missiles and the looming threat of an Iranian nuclear-tipped missile directed toward the Jewish state.

There is no doubt more aid is forthcoming, if for no other reason than to give cover to Democratic members of Congress who will vote with the president on the deal, but will soon be seeking campaign donations from concerned pro-Israel political donors.

But what is not appreciated is that there will likely be a huge price Israel will be asked to pay to receive what it needs to survive.

Pundits following the Iran deal have misunderstood what the deal is really about. Almost everyone has been focused on the nuclear weapons aspect of the deal, but that is not primarily what this agreement (JCPOA) is all about. If it were, we would have negotiated a much better deal.

This deal is just the first step in President Barack Obama’s vision for creating a new Middle East. It began with Iranian rapprochement, but it will not end until a Palestinian state is created, a passionately held desire of the president, his advisors and his progressive supporters. The president and his allies, for example J Street, still believe that the Israeli- Palestinian conflict is the Middle East’s primary problem. Israel to them is the linchpin, and Israel remains to its critics the intransigent and immoral party in the dispute.

There is little doubt that resolving the conflict in some way that secures Israel would have positive consequences.

But to focus attention here is to miss the point that almost all of the problems of the Middle East, from Islamic State (IS) to the Sunni- Shi’ite divide, have nothing to do with Israel, except for Israel’s role as a convenient scapegoat.

For all of the administration’s condemnations of the Bush administration agenda – trying to bring democracy to the region with American hubris and exceptionalism – this president’s plan is in actuality much more ambitious: to transform the region with an American progressive footprint. The more the president protests that this deal is just about nuclear weapons, the less you should believe it. You just have to look at the dramatic concessions made on conventional and ballistic missiles.

The Iran deal is less about nuclear weapons and more about strengthening Shi’ite Iran as a counterweight to balance the power of the Sunni Gulf states before moving on to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the same progressive footprint. If the president thinks his pivot to Iran reassures the other regional players, he is dangerously mistaken. The half a trillion dollars in money freed up with sanctions relief over the next five years will ignite the Sunni-Shi’ite world, not quiet it. American aid to the Sunni world in turn is simply kerosene being thrown in the Sunni-Shi’ite fire, with American soldiers likely to end up being killed as a result. The president’s wishful thinking is that Iran will work with the US against IS, help resolve the genocidal Syrian civil war, and with billions in economic relief choose butter over guns to revitalize its domestic economy, rather than beef up its military and that of its proxies. Good luck with that.

To the president, this deal is not so much about nuclear weapons. It’s about the president’s outreach to the Muslim people as articulated in both his Cairo speech of 2009 and in other statements.

So after Congress fails to override the president’s veto, he will turn to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is directly related to the Iran deal as part of an overall strategic vision.

It will next be about pressuring Israel to accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, which until the Obama administration was the Palestinian starting point for negotiations.

The Israeli view is secure and defensible borders. The American stick to Israel will be the threat to abstain from vetoing an expected French proposal in the UN Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state. The carrot is the advanced military aid Israel needs in response to the concessions the JCPOA created.

For the real consequential military “goodies” that Israel needs, there will be a quid pro quo: bend to our vision of resolving the conflict or pay the price.

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

The Speech Jack Lew Should Have Given

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Lew should have offered comments that conform with a realistic view of Iran and the Middle East.

The simple fact is this: No administration has done more for Israel’s security than this one

– US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew

Netanyahu and the president both made mistakes, but only one purposely damaged US-Israel relations

– Former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren

On June 13, 2015, Treasury Secretary Jacob (Jack) Lew spoke before an overflow crowd of 1,500 people at the New York City Jerusalem Post Annual Conference. What was Lew thinking as he delivered his carefully crafted speech? As I listened, it seemed designed more to provoke rather than reassure an audience already highly skeptical of the US administration’s outreach to an anti-Semitic Iran that threatens Israel’s existence.

As Elie Wiesel said: “History has taught us to trust the threats of our enemies more than the promises of our friends. Our enemies are making serious threats. It is time to take them seriously. It is time for our friends to keep their promises.”

Jack Lew is a good man who worked with Natan Sharansky during the struggle for Soviet Jewry, and has helped the State of Israel. Former finance minister Yuval Steinitz praised Lew for helping Israel join the Organization of Economic Development (OECD) in 2010. However, Lew is not part of Obama’s inner security cabinet. Why was he chosen as the administration’s point person for the conference, acting more like a presidential propagandist than head of the Treasury? The wrong speech was delivered to the wrong audience.

How do we reconcile his comment that “we are… effectively guarantee[ing] that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon” with the president’s concession of a sunset provision that allows Iran legally to have a nuclear weapon in 10 to 15 years? Does Lew honestly believe that billions of dollars in sanctions relief will be distributed to the Iranian people, as if it were a Western democracy and not a state sponsor of terrorism with the blood of American soldiers on its hands? Iran has increased its military budget over 30 percent despite the economic suffering of its populace. Logic dictates that sanctions relief will increase funding of anti-American proxies.

Lew began his address by reminding the audience of the administration’s strong military cooperation with Israel, and support for the Iron Dome missile defense system. This should be acknowledged and the administration should be thanked for its cooperation. But then he should have followed that defense of the president by acknowledging fact over fiction and recognizing the elephant in the room – the troubled relationship between the two leaders with different visions of the Middle East.

When he said, “The simple fact is this: No administration has done more for Israel’s security than this one,” his audience knew this was beyond the pale. As former ambassador Michael Oren wrote about Obama in The Wall Street Journal:

  • He reneged on President G. W. Bush’s pledge to “include the major settlement blocs and Jewish Jerusalem within Israel’s borders in any peace agreement.”
  • He made “no substantive demands of the Palestinians.”
  • He created “daylight in public undermining Israel.”
  • He abandoned a “core principle” of “no surprises” to Israel.
  • He endorsed the Palestinian position on “the 1967 lines with land swaps.”

Lew should have offered comments that conform with a realistic view of Iran and the Middle East. His speech should have been an explanation of the advantages of the president’s diplomatic engagement, as opposed to a containment strategy advocated by many members of Congress. Lew should have answered these questions:

  • How can President Obama call Iran a state sponsor of terrorism, yet seek to realign our relationship from Israel and the Sunni states to the theocratic Shi’ite regime?
  • Why will sanctions relief not empower Iranian hegemonic ambitions?
  • How will “snap back” sanctions actually work, without the support of the P5+1?
  • Why did the administration abandon its red line with full knowledge of past weaponization?
  • Why would the administration trust a government with a 25-year history of developing illicit weapons?
  • How will the administration separate the nuclear deal from Iranian support of terrorists like Syria and Hezbollah?
  • What gives the administration confidence that its outreach and compromises will be reciprocated without any documentation to that effect?
  • What will the administration do when billions of dollars in sanctions relief is funneled directly or indirectly to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard?

Engagement vs. Containment vs. War

Diplomatic engagement works only if your adversary is willing to compromise and to uphold the ultimate agreement or, at the very least, willing to submit to transparent verification. Not one of these conditions is present with Iran. Lew should have addressed Iran’s recent belligerent statements, its worsening human rights record under a “moderate” president, and the lack of a legitimate mechanism to verify breaches or impose consequences. He chose to ignore them.

Our options are not only President Obama’s version of engagement vs. pre-emptive action, but also include containment. Containing Iran, as we contained the Soviet Union during the Cold War, is a legitimate option. In a Wall Street Journal essay, Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister, explained containment.

“[Y]ou isolate a country, and you contain it, diminish it, internally divide it, and sabotage its political leadership.”

Since many experts suggest this alternative as the best chance for success with an unrepentant, aggressive, totalitarian and anti-American Iran, Lew could have said the administration seriously considered that option. He also could have said that containment of Iran through tough diplomacy and further sanctions will be needed if Iran reneges on the deal based on definable metrics.

Some claim that if we do not concede a sunset provision, if we do not allow continued R&D of advanced centrifuges, or insist on unfettered inspections of military bases, the Iranians will walk away and develop a nuclear bomb in short order. But Lew should have explained how allowing advanced centrifuge research, which dramatically shortens the period of nuclear enrichment, is an acceptable concession.

Actually, I wish someone would acknowledge that, like North Korea, India and Pakistan, we know Iran will develop a bomb at any time of its choosing – deal or no deal. As Michael Oren wrote in his new book, “The summer of 2012 indeed seemed the last opportunity to attack [Iran].”

The key difference today is that if the United States signs an unenforceable deal without the will to impose consequences for non-compliance, we will legitimize 25 years of illicit behavior. We also take responsibility for massive nuclear proliferation in the region that will endanger Israel and our Arab allies, and our own long-term strategic interests.

I wish Lew had reassured the audience that we could count on him as the person in charge of enforcing sanctions and that he would lobby the president to re-impose sanctions if Iran reneged on the deal.

One can only hope.

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

Is there Anything the Iranians Could Do that Would Upset President Obama?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post.)

The administration’s fear of provoking actions while the nuclear negotiations are ongoing is interpreted by Iran not as pragmatism, but as an invitation to cheat on any future deal.

‘It is probably time for those of us who have strenuously opposed acquiescing in Iran’s development of nuclear weapons to throw in the towel… Mr. Obama’s definition of a satisfactory outcome has evolved… from the complete abandonment… of the Iranian nuclear program to an honor-system reliance on the Iranians.” – Conrad Black, National Review.

What stands out in the following bullets?

• Iran is increasing its financial and military support for the genocidal Syrian ophthalmologist President Bashir Assad.

• The Iranian proxy Hezbollah is helping to prop up the Assad government with its armed forces in Syrian territory.

• US President Barack Obama has stopped supporting Hayya Bina, a “civil society program in Lebanon that seeks to develop alternative Shi’ite political voices to Hezbollah” (The Wall Street Journal).

Reminiscent of the president’s abandonment of the Iranian people during the 2009 Green Revolution, when he sided with the radical mullahs over Iranians seeking a democratic government, the US has decided to leave Lebanese Shi’ites with little choice but the repressive fundamentalist Hezbollah government.

But shouldn’t it be in America’s foreign policy interests to help Iranian and Lebanese Shi’ites break free from the repressive shackles of these anti-Western terrorists and help create the conditions for a peaceful and non-threatening Islam? Anyone paying attention to Iran’s behavior since the Revolution knows that the ayatollah does not reciprocate appeasement. You would have thought after six years of a failed Middle East policy that the president would have learned that unilateral concessions are pocketed, and only encourage more demands and intransigent behavior.

The administration’s fear of provoking actions while the nuclear negotiations are ongoing is interpreted by Iran not as pragmatism, but as an invitation to cheat on any future deal.

The Iranians have been testing the Obama administration with transgressions of the Joint Plan of Action, and their escalating support of the Yemini Houthis, Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and the Iraqi Shi’ite government. Iran has learned that this American administration would rather bury its head in the sand than act upon almost any transgression.

Iran can be confident that the Obama administration will be the loudest public defender of the deal, knowing it is the president’s foreign policy legacy. Future transgressions will be swept under the table to avoid anything that might unsettle the Iranian regime. Just this week, Iran tested advanced satellite missile launchers, which could be used to deliver nuclear warheads.

Although they contradict current UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions, the Obama administration has remained silent, claiming the Iranians are complying with their commitments because the Joint Plan of Action does not address missile systems. The administration conveniently fails to acknowledge is that the JPA does not abrogate the UNSC sanctions.

The president’s outreach to the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Houthis in Yemin, while simultaneously defending the Iranian narrative that it does not support the Shi’ite fighters, fuels the fire that the White House will defend the Iranian narrative after the deal is concluded. Nothing must get in the way of threatening the “success” of the deal.

Even more egregious is the White House’s silence on the blatant violation of a UNSC blacklist. Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, is barred from traveling to UN member states like Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, yet he travels freely to these nations. For the past eight years, the American government has listed the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist-supporting entity. The Quds Force reports directly to the supreme leader.

The history of the Quds Force’s terrorist activity is well known.

Ahmad Vahidi, who directed the Quds Force at the time, allegedly planned the infamous bombing of the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires in 1994. According to the Obama administration, in 2011 it attempted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US in Washington. No wonder America’s Gulf allies are less than enthusiastic about the US cozying up to the mullahs.

Israel and the Sunni Arab world see the president’s desire to align with Iran as both incomprehensible and inevitable. With little chance of the Senate having the votes to override the president’s almost certain veto this summer, the president is a step closer to his grand plan, in place since his first day in office – to distance America from Israel and the Gulf States, and create a new relationship with the world’s capital for terrorism, Tehran.

The head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, went to Israel last week and bluntly told the Israelis that the US expects sanctions relief to increase Iranian support of its proxies, including State Department-designated terrorists Hezbollah and Hamas. The Quds Force can expect a virtual windfall for its overseas terrorist activities. Iran is expected to receive at least $150 billion in sanctions relief, and Dempsey said it would not all be staying in Iran to help its people and economy. Is this administration acting as an indirect supporter of terrorist entities by facilitating their financing? You be the judge.

To deflect charges that the White House is in bed with the Iranians, the administration has allowed the Treasury Department to continue to place some sanctions on Hezbollah members. Like the blacklisting of Quds leader Qassem Suleimani, however, sanctions or blacklisting are one thing, enforcement is another.

This schizophrenic foreign policy is not fooling anyone. At best, it is naïve; at worst, it threatens longterm American national security and foreign interests, to say nothing of Israel’s existence.

Nuclear weapons in the hands of a terrorist state in a decade’s time. That’s a perplexing goal for the leader of the free world.

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.