Category Archives: Israel

SPOTLIGHT ON MOSHE ‘BOGIE’ YA’ALON

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

I had a long discussion this week with Moshe Ya’alon.

“Bogie” is a self-described defense hawk, whose strategic vision, especially regarding the dangers of Oslo and Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza, was prescient. When asked if he is on the Right or Left politically, he said he is not on either side, but only for what is right for Israel.

In 2015 when Ya’alon was still defense minister, I had the opportunity to speak with some members of the opposition parties, including Yesh Atid and the Zionist Union, about Ya’alon. The consensus said they might agree or disagree with his position on an issue, but they knew they could trust him to keep his word and be an honest partner.

He is not the most charismatic political leader, as he reminded me that modern democratic leaders don’t wear glasses and have much more hair than he does. He said Harry Truman was the last leader he can remember who wore glasses. His self-effacing personal warmth is clearly present in person, but less appreciable by those who have seen him only on TV.

He stands out in one respect that is as rare as hen’s teeth among politicians – honesty and integrity. Add to that a keen insight with a strong Jewish moral compass, and you have an unusual description of a political leader in the 21st century.


I have spoken with Ya’alon at length before, but never when he was the political leader of a party, now a joint party with Benny Gantz. So why did he choose to align himself with Gantz’s party, as there were other suitors for his talents and security credentials?

He said he surveyed the political landscape and was most comfortable with Gantz’s integrity, realizing it is not about who leads the top of the ticket, but what is best for the Israeli people. He said that anyone who challenges Netanyahu’s monarchy is portrayed as a leftist, an epithet he says the prime minister uses to delegitimize his adversaries.

Although senior to Gantz, who served under him in the IDF, Ya’alon has no trouble being No. 2, and would consider becoming defense minister again, if asked. He has publicly called for another popular former IDF chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, to join the team, but when pressed about other politicians joining, such as Yair Lapid, he preferred not to speculate.

It should be remembered that Ya’alon did coauthor an op-ed with Lapid last July titled “Will the West Cede the Golan Heights to a Psychopath?” It called on the US to begin the process of recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Recent polls have shown that if Gantz, Ya’alon, Ashkenazi and Lapid form a coalition, it could oust the long-reigning Likud grip on power, replacing Netanyahu, which up until now seemed unlikely.

Ya’alon came to the conclusion a couple of years ago that Netanyahu should resign, because of his interference in the government’s procurement of submarines and frigates from Germany. At first he didn’t understand why Netanyahu was bypassing the usual process for purchasing billions of dollars in armaments by not bringing it to the cabinet, but when he understood that there were serious conflicts of interests involving his associates, he asked Netanyahu to resign for the good of the country and the rule of law.

Although Netanyahu has a range of alleged corruption charges against him, Ya’alon spoke about the submarine case involving the German manufacturer ThyssenKrupp, and the allegation that Netanyahu’s personal attorney David Shimron used his relationship with the prime minister for financial gain. Police have claimed there is enough evidence to charge Shimron with money laundering. As for Netanyahu, Ya’alon has previously stated that there was no way that Netanyahu didn’t know.

Ya’alon choose to leave the Netanyahu government when he was replaced as defense minister rather than accept the offer to become foreign minister, which would have left him as the likely heir apparent, if the prime minister were to be forced to resign over his alleged corruption.

I asked Ya’alon if Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit would indict Netanyahu before the election; he said doesn’t know, but he did say that he trusts the attorney-general.

WE MOVED on to his true area of expertise, the security of the State of Israel.

When asked who is Israel’s No. 1 threat, he said Iran. On this he agrees with Netanyahu.

We first discussed the proposed American withdrawal from Syria, which he said was a poor decision. It is not so much about boots on the ground as it is the abandonment of the Kurds. He said that the previous American president, Barack Obama, who withdrew from the region (Iraq), was forced to return to fight ISIS, which was a consequence of that poor decision.

He said President Donald Trump should learn a lesson from his predecessor’s mistake. It is important for America to be involved in the region for its own interests. Ya’alon said, just look around: Except in Israel, all the governments in the region are under stress, from Amman to Cairo to Riyadh, and a withdrawal of American forces would destabilize the region.

When asked about the population transfer in southern Syria orchestrated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah, placing a permanent hostile force on Israel’s Syrian border, he responded by saying Israel has a very strong destructive power that has and will keep Iran in check. Up until now, it has not allowed advanced weapons or permanent Iranian bases to remain undamaged. A future defense minister Ya’alon would have to deal with a permanently entrenched Iranian presence in Syria.



Ya’alon took Netanyahu to task for his new strategy to publicly claim every Syrian strike with video as an open provocation that serves no purpose, but in fact removes the helpful façade of plausible deniability that had restrained Iranian and Syrian responses. He said this was done only for Netanyahu’s political advantage, not for Israel’s strategic benefit.

What about the new Russian S-300 antimissile system, which the Russians gave to Syria, after Syria mistakenly shot down a Russian aircraft – will the Russians use this system against Israel?

Ya’alon said the Russians and Israel are not on the same page in Syria; we are not even in the same book. However, they are a dominant power in control, with influence on Israel’s enemies. He said we have open lines of communication with them, and they have worked until now, hopefully also in the future.

So why did they give the S-300 missile system to the Syrians? According to Ya’alon, it is another card that Russia played that could be used against Israel for leverage in any future negotiations.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what about the collapse of security cooperation between Israel and the PA, due to the loss of American funding because of the Taylor Force Act, and the Palestinian fear that accepting American money opens them up to American lawsuits for complicity in terrorism?

According to Ya’alon, it is in the Palestinians’ interest, with or without funding, to continue the security coordination with Israel. If the Palestinians stop coordinating with Israeli security, they know that the likely outcome will be the same as what happened to them in Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal – a total Hamas takeover.

Right now Israel performs 70% of the security operations for the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria (West Bank), while the Palestinian security forces do 30% of the work. He says it is definitely a challenge for the cooperation to continue without funding, but on principle, terrorists and their families cannot be rewarded with funding, as it encourages and promotes more terrorism. He also had harsh words for UNRWA as a corrupt and complicit international organization.

I mentioned that American Jews want to know if he is for a two-state solution. Ya’alon said the two-state solution is something that is not possible at this time, because the Palestinians cannot even accept Israel’s right to exist. In the meantime, he would like to give them more autonomy, separate from them, and would consider giving up some additional territory, if it serves Israel’s purpose for calm, as long as it does not affect Israeli security.

What about the Qatari money to Hamas? He disagrees with Netanyahu’s approach of giving millions in a lump sum and trusting that international organizations will not let Hamas siphon off money for terrorism. Ya’alon says there is experience in transferring funds to banks that can be withdrawn only by noncombat civil servants with proper IDs, which he believes is a better although not perfect option to buy calm in Gaza.

WE NEXT touched on the relations between Israel and its Diaspora Jewish population, many of whom are critical of Israel. Ya’alon said we must be more tolerant of, and sensitive to, our Diaspora brothers’ Jewish religious practice, as Israel is the homeland of all the Jewish people.

What about Israel’s minority population, many whom call themselves Palestinian citizens of Israel, and whose narrative is now aligned with Palestinians of the West Bank?

Regarding Israeli Arabs, Ya’alon wants to integrate them more and says they would like that, but for the malevolent role their political leaders play, which he believes hurts their genuine aspirations to be part of the state. He wants these Palestinian citizens of Israel to be required to do civil service and believes most would want this, despite what their political leaders say.

As for domestic and socioeconomic issues, Ya’alon has previously spoken about leading the fight against racism and sexism in society, and has said the Nation-State Law should be nullified, as it has done damage to the country. 

What you see is what you get with Ya’alon: something refreshing in a world of cynicism, where one expects the worst of elected leaders.


The author is the director of the Middle East Political and Information Network and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.



AMERICAN JEWS AND THE UPCOMING ISRAELI ELECTION

But do American Jews know the difference between Bibi, Bogie, Benny and Bugie?

{Previously published by The Jerusalem Post}

Israelis will go to the polls this spring to cast their ballots for a myriad of competing parties, one of which will then be asked to try to stitch together an unruly coalition, highlighting how very democratic and disorderly Israel’s parliamentary system is. This is not necessarily the best system for a nation that is in a constant state of war.

American Jews of all stripes are also gearing up to support or demonize their preferred or hated candidates and parties. Actually, it is not so different from what Israelis do themselves. But in the age of US President Donald Trump, where Israelis generally appreciate his support if not his style, many American Jews viscerally hate anything he does, even if it’s something in their interest.

But do American Jews know the difference between Bibi, Bogie, Benny and Bugie? 

Leaving aside the funny nicknames, this is a deadly serious question as Americans want to weigh in on this pivotal election, while the growing Iranian menace threatens Israel from three sides, and Trump plans to announce a peace plan right after the election, which some in the know say might involve some difficult or even unacceptable demands on Israel.

What are the effects, in Israel, in the US, and the rest of the world, of the perceived opinions of American Jewry?

What could be worse for Israel’s international reputation than to have it perceived that the Jews of America on the whole believe the nation; the people of Israel are the intransient party and deserve to be punished?

Weighing in on the Israeli election from 8,000 kilometers away highlights the conflicting perspectives of the 21st century’s two largest Jewish populations.

If Israel is the home of the Jewish people, should American Jews deserve a voice, if not a vote, and be taken seriously? If American Jews don’t put their children in harm’s way, how much should their concerns be considered? After all, it is Israelis who have to live with the consequences.

Yossi Klein Halevi, in a Moment Magazine interview, said that the divide between the communities was inevitable. 

”Israelis live in the most dangerous… neighborhood in the world; American Jews live in the most hospitable environment that Jews have ever lived in… Too many American Jews speak of ending the occupation as if Israel were an island in the South Pacific… not a miniscule country surrounded by some of the most lethal terrorist groups in the world… For Israelis, the essential element is Jewish solidarity and self-protection. For American Jewish liberals, it’s empathy for the other, especially the oppressed.”

American Jews are overwhelming liberal, live in economic and physical security, and haven’t changed their political affiliations despite their changing socio-economic status over generations. Israelis, on the other hand, were much more liberal 25 years ago during the euphoric but illusory days after the Oslo Accord.

All that changed for Israelis with the Second Intifada, as they shifted to the center and right. Even after the Intifada subsided, those still hoping for a reasonable Palestinian partner were disabused of the idea when Abbas refused to even respond to Olmert’s offer of 100% of the disputed territory with land swaps.

American Jews who didn’t suffer the physical and emotional consequences of the Second Intifada didn’t shift their perspective, remaining convinced that this conflict is still simply about territory and an occupation, victimizer and victim. Today many still judge Israel as the primary intransient party, as though this is still 1995.

American Jews do not understand that for most Israelis, security will be their primary concern when they go to the ballot box, not pluralism, even if they abhor the disproportionate influence of ultra-Orthodoxy.

As important as socioeconomic issues are to Israelis – and they are – they take second place to life-and-death security concerns in a society where every citizen is supposed to serve in the armed forces. In America, 1.4% of women and 13.4% of men have ever served in the military, a humbling difference.

When Israelis go to vote, they must balance lives that respect their Jewish values, but can never forget they live in a neighborhood where the weak are slaughtered and the world turns a blind eye to genocide. That is the reality they live in, and which too many Americans ignore. It explains to some extent why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endured for so long.

Americans who are interested in the upcoming Israeli election will read about it in their own echo chambers that reinforce their pre-determined points of view, rarely challenging ourselves with different opinions, usually dismissing them because they come from non-trusted sources. 
American liberal Jews will read Haaretz and The New York Times, listen to NPR, watch MSMBC/ CNN and think they know what is really happening in the fistfight of the upcoming April election. Meanwhile, American conservatives will read National Review, the editorials of the Wall Street Journal, watch Fox and think they have all the answers.

From so far away, when American towns and cities are not in the crosshairs of Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah, it is easy to pontificate and give advice to Israelis, claiming your objective perspective and harsh medicine are needed for Israel’s benefit. Some even claim to be pro-Israel, rationalizing that boycotting products from Judea and Samaria (West Bank) is for Israel’s own benefit, while ignoring the incessant and unrelenting Jew hatred from Israel’s erstwhile peace partners.

This is the reality for far too many American Jews, who weigh in and think they know all about the Middle East. They tell me that this is what they have heard from their rabbis, who heard it first hand from Rabbis for Human Rights, or a speaker from J Street, an NGO that claims Israel is not a democracy, or have visited Ramallah with a trip organized by a group like Breaking the Silence, to listen to PA officials who claim it is all the occupation, not their incitement and kleptocracy.

Let’s be clear… Israel has thrown kerosene into the fire of civil relations between the communities by not figuring out some way to respect American Jewish religious denominations, allowing the ultra-Orthodox to disenfranchise the largest Diaspora Jewish community in the world. 

Israelis seem unaware that American Jewish organizations are vital for their security interests by educating members of Congress about the role of Israel as a bulwark of American national security.

Which brings us to the upcoming Israeli election.

Too many American Jews cannot differentiate between Netanyahu, his policies and the State of Israel. They wouldn’t say America doesn’t have a right exist because they hate Trump; we organize and vote for an alternative in the next election. 

But they are angry that the Israeli people have continued to support their current government, so they advocate “tough love” things like BDS that would do serious damage to the nation of Israel. 

When the world’s major forces decide whether or not to throw Israel under the bus, economically or militarily, it does matter what are perceived to be the voices of American Jewry, too often saying that Israel deserves or needs to be punished.

Netanyahu may lose, be indicted, or win, but Israel will remain the democratic nation of the Jewish people long after his political life expires. So to all American Jews across the political spectrum, if you don’t like an Israeli candidate or a government policy, please speak out loud and clear. But don’t mistake a party or candidate for Israel the country, joining those who want to delegitimize Israel the nation. 
Too many American Jews don’t seem to mind throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

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

Cautionary Tales: Sound Strategies in the Levant

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

What can Israelis and Americans learn from the past, even acknowledging that fighting the last war is a prescription for poor policy going forward?

Israeli elections are just four months away. Which Israeli politicians can be trusted to keep their word? Who will tell you the difficult truths that may upset your most cherished desire to live in peace with your neighbor? Learning from the past is a good way to begin.

In his memoir, In Defense of Israel, former defense minister Moshe Arens wrote that within days of turning over the Defense Ministry to newly elected prime minister Ehud Barak in 2000, he “preemptively” withdrew from southern Lebanon. “His betrayal of the SLA [South Lebanon Army] and the unilateral withdrawal of the IDF… was interpreted in the Arab world as a sign of weakness and brought on the Second Intifada… It did not bring an end to Hezbollah activity against Israel and was followed by the Second Lebanon War.”

At the turn of the millennium, war-weary Israelis had lost too many of their boys. They were without a clear plan of exit after 18 years of disappointments and failures, and the leadership hadn’t articulated a clear vision going forward. They expected the newly elected prime minister to fulfill his campaign promise and disengage from Lebanon, although not necessarily in the dark of night, abandoning friends to the wolves of Shi’ite Jihadism. The logic was, if Israel had no presence in Lebanon and there was were no territorial conflict with Hezbollah, then the world would take Israel’s side if hostilities, aggression, and terrorism again emanated from Israel’s northern border.

The best of intentions, the worst of results. 

Within short order Israel’s most decorated military hero was turned out of office and replaced by one of its most right-wing politicians, who contrary to his previous actions and rhetoric over the preceding 40 years, unilaterally withdrew from the mother of all quagmires, the Gaza Strip.

The best of intentions, the worst of results. What can Israelis and Americans learn from the past, even acknowledging that fighting the last war is a prescription for poor policy going forward?

Here is a primer: What do the following have in common? The withdrawal from Lebanon; the Gaza disengagement; abandoning Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria in favor of Iraq and Turkey; America’s withdrawal from Iraq, fulfilling Obama’s promise to bring US troops home; Israel inviting an unrepentant and defeated PLO into Gaza and the territories in its quest for a lasting peace; the American recommendation that Israel trade the Golan Heights to Hafez Assad for peace; trusting that Israel’s strong relationship with Iran in the ‘70s and with Turkey in the ‘90s would stand the test of time; trusting international promises to ensure Israel’s security in Lebanon in 2006 and Egypt in 1967; and believing the Arab Spring would lead to a more democratic and stable Middle East.
All were made or hoped for with the best of intentions, but at best, led to unpredictable, unexpected and usually much worse results than the previous status quo.

LET’S ANALYZE the results and see how well they matched up with well thought-out intentions and expectations from some of our leading politicians and thinkers.

1. An Iranian-controlled Hezbollah permanently entrenched in Lebanon with the Lebanese government beholden to a terrorist organization.

2. A permanent Hamas terrorist base with 2 million human shields in Gaza perpetually threatening hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians.

3. An Iraqi Kurdish nation – that was a loyal ally to America – feeling betrayed, which sent a message to American allies around the world that they too can be forsaken.

4. A loyal Syrian Kurdish army that lead the fight against Daesh, now abandoned and forced to make deals with America’s enemies; Russia, Iran and Syria.

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5. A vacuum formed by president Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq after the surge of 2011 that helped create the Islamic State.

6. The marginalization of indigenous Palestinians post-Oslo with the imposition of Arafat’s corrupt and terrorist-oriented Palestine Liberation Organization that guaranteed the path to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be a much higher hill to climb.

7. An Arab Spring that quickly turned to winter; that abandoned a friendly, authoritarian dictator; that led not to democracy but instead empowered the leading center of anti-Western Islamism – the Muslim Brotherhood – while creating the conditions for the Syrian civil war and permanent Iranian entrenchment in the Levant

8. An impotent international force in Lebanon that has never stopped a single Iranian weapons delivery to Hezbollah.

ALL OF this brings us to the best of intentions of Commanders for Israel’s Security, former leading generals and members of the security establishment whose laudable goal is to extricate Israel from the Palestinians, but whose strategy is “not contingent upon the existence of a [Palestinian] partner

continued IDF control over the West Bank until a permanent status agreement is reached.” 
Is this possible or realistic?

The common expression of the Left is that you have to negotiate with your enemies. But what if your enemies won’t negotiate with you? Can you disengage or create a unilateral divorce and still remain secure, setting the stage for a lasting Palestinian peace?


The goal of a sustainable Jewish majority faithful to its democratic nature is consistent with the goal of the vast majority of both Israeli and Diaspora Jews. But is that possible when the vast majority of your Palestinian adversary overwhelmingly believes you have no right to exist as a Jewish entity in even a centimeter of the land, because the Jews are an illegitimate Western colonial outpost invading Dar al-Islam (lands that are irredeemably Muslim)?

How does one square the circle of lasting security, disengagement and legitimate Israeli rights beyond the Green Line with an adversary that won’t negotiate, who leads the BDS movement to delegitimize your very existence, and in this century turned down 100% of the “occupied” land with swaps, east Jerusalem as their capital, and continued Muslim control of the Temple Mount?

Strategists know the wrong formula in the Middle East is to appear weak and that poor policies are made of naiveté, abandoning allies, unilateral withdrawals without something tangible and lasting in return, and the dangers of trusting that relationships even with current allies will stand the test of time.

That is why Israel knows it must be self-sufficient and not rely for its security on the guarantees of other nations. This is part of the reason Israel is such a strong ally of America, not being asked to put its soldiers in harm’s way. This does not mean not having and creating new diplomatic relationships, but never relying upon them in the shifting sands of the Middle East as a core part of your survival. 

The best path forward as Israel embarks upon its election season is honesty and managing expectations with your constituents, and maintaining strength. This is what is respected in the Middle East. And if you want to empower and allow your Palestinian partners ever to concede anything even for a limited armistice, figure out a way for them to keep their honor (an insight of Micah Goodman in Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War), while never losing sight that you must remain in complete control of your security.

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

HOW ISRAEL’S CHOICES FOR GAZA AFFECT AMERICAN PLANS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

According to Avi Issacharoff writing in The Times of Israel, Israel has already lost the Fourth Gaza War. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar “has not only managed to score military and diplomatic victories, but can even claim to have likely brought about the end of Netanyahu’s government.” 

A positive spin would see a Hamas victory as possibly giving them political cover to accept a longer-term ceasefire, much as Sadat was able to claim success after the 1973 war before reconciling with Israel. Make no mistake, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Hamas is an American-designated terrorist entity that will never accept a Jewish state, but Israeli and American interests may be served if its claim to victory delays the next war, giving Israel and America some more years of quiet before Israel has to “mow the grass” again. Unfortunately, the more likely assessment is that Hamas will see their victory as evidence of Israeli weakness, encouraging them to be aggressive sooner rather than later.

For America, the first fact we need to be clear about is that the agenda of radical Islamist ideology will continue to trump the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people. Economic incentives or sanctions will not alter Hamas’ goal. After years of incitement against Israel, the people of Gaza would still re-elect a radical Islamist government over the corrupt Palestinian Authority.

Israel has no apparent military answer for Gaza, despite the Israeli public being in favor of a significant operation against Hamas to end the constant threat of missiles that have made life intolerable for Israelis living in the South in a perpetual state of traumatic stress.

Senior Likud official Tzachi Hanegbi was forced to apologize this week for publicly stating the unspoken truth that within the government and IDF leadership, Gaza’s conflict is considered a “minor” and non-existential threat, as long as life goes on in the Tel Aviv bubble. 

We hear from Israeli politicians like former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman and Jewish Home Party leader Naphtali Bennett, whose call to war is more calculated to influencing voters before the next election, but whose demand that their government protect its citizens from the constant threat of mortars is completely reasonable. 

So then why is Israel not contemplating a full-scale invasion to remove Hamas from Gaza once and for all? Why is the IDF so leery about conquering Gaza?

1. Logistics: Within the dense urban networks are miles of advanced tunnels crisscrossing Gaza with booby-trapped civilian structures set as traps to kidnap Israeli soldiers.

2. Lawyers and Proportionality: Israeli commanders may fear lawyers more than Hamas. Israeli lawyers will be embedded within all levels of the IDF, perpetually second-guessing every operation, knowing every Palestinian civilian killed will be part of the evidence used against Israel at the ICC (International Criminal Court). The army’s hands will be tied as it tries to fight a terrorist entity that uses human shields as canon fodder, and hospitals and schools as forward bases of operations. Israeli lawyers will also be dealing with the politicized definition of proportionality where Israel will be accused of disproportionality if more Palestinians are killed than Israelis.

3. Keeping the Eye on the True Existential Threat: According to David Makovsky of the Washington Institute, “Many senior security officials see Gaza as a distraction from Israel’s primary military challenge: keeping Iran from entrenching a Hezbollah-style military infrastructure in Syria. 

Former Military Intelligence head and National Security adviser Maj.-Gen. Yaakov Amidror said, “A war in Gaza will only benefit [PA President] Abu Mazen and Iran, and we don’t want to give Iran any gifts.”

4. Nation Building With a Hostile Neighbor: The last thing the IDF wants to do after defeating Hamas is control and provide for two million Gazans who have been indoctrinated to blame Israel for all of their ills. Just think of Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000 after the Second Lebanon War, except this time with much more dangerous possibilities.

So what happens the day after Israel “wins”?

Does Israel hand Gaza over to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as many American foreign policy advisers advocate? If it did, Gaza could turn into an even more chaotic territory where Iran and Turkey would support an Islamist insurgency, while Israel supports an unpopular Palestinian Authority who will be portrayed as Jewish collaborators without the support of the Gazan people.

That new reality in Gaza may also be a lightning strike destabilizing the West Bank and Jordan, empowering jihadists to ramp up terrorism while challenging both the PA and the Hashemite monarchy, a pillar of any American peace plan. A domino effect could also motivate Iran to unleash Hezbollah in the north, while it enjoys weakening Israel in a new proxy war in Gaza.

Some American Middle East experts say the end game would include Egypt, or a consortium of Arab states working with the Palestinian Authority. Unfortunately no Arab nation wants any part of Gaza, knowing it is a basket case that will cause political repercussions with its own citizens.

Egypt has enough on its hands with al-Qaida in the Sinai and chaos next store in Libya. All Egypt wants from its enemy Hamas is for it to stop supporting the jihadists in the Sinai. The Saudis do not want to be involved in another Yemeni proxy war with Iran in Gaza, and Israel would never allow Qatar or Turkey into Gaza, knowing that both are in cahoots with Iran.

So where does that leave us?

“Cutting the grass” every few years, unless Hamas steps over a red line such as hitting a school bus full of children, or incinerating a kindergarten. That would automatically elicit an overwhelming Israeli response where Israel might finally take the fateful decision to take Hamas out of Gaza.

Then the law of unintended consequences will rear its ugly head.

The writer, a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post, 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.

What are the American and Israeli Challenges in the Middle East Now?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

America should be very concerned about the outcome that may emerge later this summer as a result of the recent Iraqi election.

People who think they know what will happen in the Middle East this summer are either prophetic or simply fooling themselves.

Western analysis has been inaccurate so many times that the forecasts seem more akin to throwing darts. From the unanticipated Iranian Revolution of 1979, to the unexpected Arab Spring, all analysts should be humbled by the past before speculating about the future. The situations this summer in Israel, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, etc. all could change at a moment’s notice.

When ISIS inevitably strikes in Europe or America this summer, America needs to resist being blinded by the horrific images of a terrorist attack and losing sight of the Pentagon’s new national defense strategy, which prioritizes “inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism (as) the primary concern in US national security.” Iran’s rise in the Levant was a direct consequence of the previous strategy of prioritizing the defeat of ISIS over Iranian expansionism in Syria and Iraq.

America should be very concerned about the outcome that may emerge later this summer as a result of the recent Iraqi election, with the formation of a philo-Iranian parliament. The Iranian-controlled Hadi Al Amiri’s Fatah Alliance, which includes radical groups like Asaib Ahl al-Haq, has tentatively joined together with American nemesis Moqtad Al Sadr (Saeroon list) and his anti American platform.

Can America figure out a way this summer to encourage the Iraqi Arab Shi’ites to remain more independent from their Iranian non-Arab Persian Shi’ite co-religionists? Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the most important Iraqi Arab religious figure, has been against Iranian influence in Iraq. Can Secretary of State Mike Pompeo find any economic or other leverage to work against further Iranian encroachment? Interests create strange bedfellows in this region.

This is really an uphill task. Even the currently more pro-American Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi felt compelled to legalize incorporation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard-controlled Popular Mobilization Unit Hashd al-Shaabi militia into the Iraqi Army, in essence, a permanent Iranian military presence within Iraq.

As for Syria, America must make it clear to all parties this summer that American interests demand that its forces remain within Syria not only until ISIS is defeated, but until all Iranian, PMU and Hezbollah forces and bases have left Syria. Hopefully, Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton can convince US President Donald Trump of this necessity.

IF THERE is war this summer in Israel’s North, calling it the “Third Lebanon War” would be a misnomer. It will be a regional war involving Syria, Lebanon, Iran and possibly Turkey, Iraq, Russia and Jordan. Israel needs to continue its preparation for the new challenges it faces since the last Lebanon war of 2006, with the possibility of massive tunnels, advanced GPS-guided long-range missiles, and Hezbollah chemical weapons inherited from Syria.

One of the most crucial questions for the summer, as it affects every player in the region, is who will succeed ailing Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Khomenai? Will it be Ebrahim Raisi, another hardliner who this year stood on the Israeli-Lebanese border and said, “Soon we will witness the liberation of Jerusalem”?

American interests in the Mediterranean are complicated by the combination of Israel’s new relationship with Cyprus and Greece at the expense of NATO ally Turkey over access to Israel’s Mediterranean gas fields. Add the newly upgraded Russian naval base in Syria and Hezbollah threats against Israeli gas fields, and the next war could begin at sea. This summer, proactive diplomacy should be explored to lessen the possibility of this being the catalyst for the next war.

Will there be war this summer in Israel? It may not take much to set off the Northern front with Lebanon and Syria, with Hezbollah and Popular Mobilization Unit soldiers reportedly putting on Syrian regime uniforms and moving to within a few kilometers from the Israeli Golan border. Israel and America seek to avoid hostilities for as long as possible, but Iran is continually testing Israeli red lines in deconfliction zones, so miscalculations could spiral out of control.

Whether we like it or not, Russia has been made a player, with its American-sanctioned deescalation zones in Syria. Russia’s interest is stability in Syria to solidify its gains, especially its warm-weather port in Latakia. It is said that Russia is not a natural ally of Iran. Is there a way for America and Israel to leverage that natural division?

IN THE South, it may seem counterintuitive, but a perceived failure of the “Mass March of Return” could increase the chances of war if Hamas believes that their support among Gazans is decreasing and needs violence as a unifying factor.

There will be no reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah this summer or any time soon. The more important question to ask is who will follow the ailing Abbas if he succumbs to his infirmities this summer. When Abbas dies, a civil war could follow in the West Bank, with Hamas making a play to take over the Palestinian Authority. America should be reaching out to Palestinian Intelligence Chief Majid Faraj to prepare for the day after Abbas and prevent a Hamas takeover.

American sanctions this summer will be ramped up on Iran to further economically weaken the Iranian regime forcing it to either re-enter new nuclear negotiations that deal with all of its malevolent behavior, or risk the wrath of its people and the viability of its regime because of economic deprivation.

Don’t take your eye off of Jordan this summer. It is close to a failing state and a northern war on its border with a new flood of refugees could push it over the edge. Jordan could become an Islamist stronghold with the fall of the Hashemite dynasty. In addition, America should help Israel’s other cold ally, Egypt, before their next economic crisis, which could give the Muslim Brotherhood a chance for resurrection. Developing an economic plan to strengthen the Egyptian regime with reciprocal concessions on human rights is the way forward.

This summer America should begin to repair the damage caused by abandoning the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds. The abandonment of the Kurds in Iraq and in northwest Syria was perceived by American allies in the region as America being an unreliable partner for the long run.

It is also the time to reengage with Qatar and see if there is some way Pompeo can dissuade it from its support of fundamentalist groups that undermine American allies in the Gulf. America needs to find a way for both the Saudis and Qataris to save face, with the goal being a Qatar closer to its natural allies in the Sunni Gulf, and the beginning of some “daylight” between Qatar and Iran, although it will be impossible for that distance to get too wide, with their shared interest in the world’s largest gas field. American leverage is the Al Udeid air base, which Qatar takes for granted as an insurance policy against Iranian aspirations.

What will happen this summer in the Middle East? Nobody knows, but an America that supports its allies and takes an active role in affairs, has a fighting chance to advance its interests in a complex region.

The writer, director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™, regularly briefs members of Congress on the Middle East. He is a contributor to The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, and The Forward.




Will There be War in Israel this Summer?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Today there are upwards of 150,000 missiles in Hezbollah’s arsenal, enough to overwhelm every layer of Israel’s missile shield, capable of targeting any location in Israel.

Since the State of Israel was created 70 years ago, the question has always been not if there would be a war, but when. The only question now is will it be in the north against Iran and its proxies Hezbollah, Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Shi’ite Popular Mobilization Units, or will it be in the south against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, or will it originate from over the Green Line among the Arab Palestinians of the West Bank? In the north, the likelihood of war this summer will be increased if US President Donald Trump goes ahead with his plan to withdraw American soldiers from Syria and ends aid to allies in Syria fighting Assad.

This will be taken as a sign to Iran, Russia, Turkey and the whole Muslim world that America has yet again tried to abandon the region, except poor choices in the Middle East have a way of bringing America back with less leverage and not on its own terms.

As Tom Rogan of The Washington Examiner wrote, “President Trump should pay attention to what happened after former President Barack Obama’s hasty 2011 withdrawal from Iraq.

Because Obama’s withdrawal led to the increasing influence of Iran over Iraqi politics… In turn, these policies helped foster the rise of ISIS and led to Obama being forced to return forces to Iraq.”

This decision will hurt both Israeli and American security interests, as it increases the likelihood that Israel will be drawn into a northern war, confronting Russian troops stationed in Syria.

Iranian, Hezbollah, Syrian and Shi’ite PMU’s are positioned, on purpose, next to Russian military sites or have Russian advisers embedded. It is inevitable that Israeli strikes in Syria will kill Russian soldiers, increasing the chances of turning this into a wider regional conflict.

Ronen Bergman in The New York Times wrote, “Israel has been asking Russia to guarantee that the Iranians will leave Syria once the war is over. Those requests have been met with indifference… Russia wants to build a secure foothold in the Middle East and its policy requires it to maintain good relations with Iran…if anyone was not yet aware of it, Russia is the dominant power in the region.”

The downing of both the Iranian drone in Israeli airspace and an Israeli fighter jet in February brought all the adversaries to the brink of war. Russia, the new sheriff in town, ordered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stand down, and knowing he was alone, he did.

Simon Tisdall opined in The Guardian, “if Iran refuses to leave Syria and continues to expand its military presence…and if Israel continues its cross-border raids, something big, sooner or later, is going to blow.”

A few years ago I spoke to one of the senior international medical personal stationed in Lebanon caring for Syrian refugees. He told me that in every one of the 300 villages he visited in Hezbollah- controlled southern Lebanon missiles were hidden in people’s homes.

Today there are upwards of 150,000 missiles in Hezbollah’s arsenal, enough to overwhelm every layer of Israel’s missile shield, capable of targeting any location in Israel.

To the south, Hamas in Gaza is now feeling like a cornered rat, with no way out. The economic situation is worsening as the Palestinian Authority tightens the noose around their neck. The PA allows Gazans only four hours a day of electricity, while Gaza is an inferno always waiting to explode, fertile ground for radicalization and recruitment to terrorism, with an unemployment rate nearing 50%.

Four years ago Hamas was in a similar economic position, and it choose war as a way to get the attention of the international community. Expect Hamas to have learned from its past three wars with Israel, becoming a more lethal enemy. Israel does not want to take over Gaza, becoming responsible for its services, and it fears that if it overthrows Hamas, an even worse entity may emerge, or uncontrollable chaos.

Last week Hamas did a test run of its newest weapon, mass protests on the border, sending human probes to the security fence, hoping they would be killed and elicit the usual Pavlovian denunciations from anti-Israel groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW), who condemn Israel first and ask questions later. HRW choose not to mention that Hamas even sent a seven-year-old child as bait to cross the border, breaking all international standards. This ongoing test-run may be the starting point for a summer of violence and war.

In Judea and Samaria, PA President Mahmoud Abbas is still trying to show he can be as anti-Israel as Hamas, while the battle to succeed him has already begun. He wants to be remembered as leader of a resistance that did not make peace with the Jews. The rogues’ gallery of would-be successors, from intelligence chief Majid Faraj to former security chiefs Jibril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahlan, to deputy Fatah chairman Mahmoud Aloul, may also decide that agitation and violence this summer may give them the upper hand.

So will there be a war this summer? Nobody knows. But the possibility of a coordinated war aligning Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran, all acting in concert, would present Israel with unprecedented challenges. Israel must be prepared for the next war to break out at any time, and even with the best intelligence, events can spiral out of control, even if none of the adversaries are prepared for an all-out war.

The best way to decrease the chance for war in the Levant this summer is for Trump’s new team of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo to convince him that it is in American interests to remain in Syria for the immediate future, and be resolute that Iran cannot remain in Syria after the civil war ends.

The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network ™. He regularly briefs members of Congress on the Middle East. He is a contributor to The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, and The Forward.




Is Fighting for Israel at the U.N. Worth the Effort?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

A current exhibit at the United Nations presented by the Israeli mission includes a newly found 2,700-year-old First Temple seal in ancient Hebrew – a major discovery. Another treasure on display is the seal of Israeli King Hezekiah from around 700 BCE. Instead of celebrating a member nation’s proud heritage, as it does with every other nation, the UN posted something bizarre: a disclaimer that the contents do not represent the views of the United Nations!

The idea here is that the archaeological items, which demonstrate the concrete fact of the presence of Jews in these areas at those times, might challenge Palestinian narrative creators (who lately trace their lineage, with no evidence whatsoever, to the ancient Canaanites) and their UN supporters.

So is it worth the effort to fight the world organization’s anti-Israel, anti-Jewish bias? Does it make any difference? Because if it doesn’t help, why should we do it? It’s exhausting.

Despite the shameless antisemitism of many diplomats at the UN, there are signs of positive moves toward Israel far beyond the halls of Turtle Bay. India welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with open arms this year, while the Guatemalans are moving their embassy to Jerusalem and another 10 nations are considering doing the same, including Paraguay and Honduras. Israel is respected among the Tiger nations of the Far East, and there are even glimmers of hope in the Sunni Arab world.

Last week according to The Jerusalem Post, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said Israel is committing war crimes by building in Jerusalem, and it has committed a “grave breach of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention” by transferring its population into occupied territory.

Excuse me, but is he is speaking about Iran and its massive ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Sunnis from Syria and Iraq, with the illegal transfer of hundreds of thousands of Shi’ites into formerly Sunni territories to solidify Iranian expansionism? Not a chance. At the UN, a few hundred proposed – but not yet built – homes in Jerusalem take precedence over genocide and large-scale expulsions of minorities.

Did Hussein call the massive and now permanent Turkish transfer of population into occupied northern Cyprus a war crime? Of course not. How about the massive population transfer of Chinese nationals into Tibet over many decades? In all these cases the transfer of populations truly broke international law. Not so in Israel’s case, where the territory is legally ambiguous and disputed with legitimate claims by both parties, which the UN conveniently ignores.

We are in Israel-hunting season at the UN. It is like shooting fish in a barrel. Israel is fair game, the only country in the world subject to delegitimization simply for existing as a Jewish homeland, subjected to a perverted politically, correct version of international law applied only to Israel.

Many people would say why bother, this is an uphill struggle that will never be won or fought on even terms. You need to remember this exercise in refutation is primarily for an American audience. Those sound bites of US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley resonate the most with the American people who still sympathize with Israel.

Last year according The Times of Israel, every single American senator signed a letter to the UN secretary general demanding an end to anti-Israel bias and a reform of the “standing committees, which far too often serve no purpose other than to attack Israel and inspire the anti-Israel boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) movement.”

Western European hypocrisy regarding Israel borders on the delusional, especially in how they regard Israel and Iran. As Emily Landau of the Institute for National Security Studies said, the gap “between liberal values that Europeans claim to hold dear and their willingness to embrace Iranian regime, at seemingly any cost, is cause for concern… Europe increasingly… values its economic interests more than its expressed commitment to… human rights… Federica Mogherini [High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy] tends to pull out the liberal values card only when it comes to… lecture and scold Israel.”

So let’s review the disproportionate standard Israel has been subjected to over the past couple of years at the United Nations of Hypocrisy.

In 2017 there were 20 UN General Assembly Resolutions against Israel versus six resolutions for the rest of the world. North Korea, a country that is starving its citizens and threatening the world with thermonuclear annihilation, received one resolution, as did Iran, the number one state sponsor of terrorism.

Israel does lead the world in something at the UN General Assembly; despite its tiny size it has amassed more UNGA resolutions against it than every other nation in the history of the UN. That is the very definition of bias.

In case that didn’t get your attention, did you know Israel is the number one abuser of women in the world, according to the UNHRC? Council members North Korea, Syria, Iran and Sudan say so.

Not to be outdone, the World Health Organization said Israel is the only country in the world that is a violator of health rights. And the feel-good UNICEF isn’t so touchy-feely with Israel, as it declared Israel a grave violator of children’s rights.

UNESCO revised history and claimed that Judaism’s second holiest site, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, is a Palestinian world heritage site.

UNRWA is supposed to be a humanitarian body, yet it fosters antisemitism among Palestinian children through the incitement in their schoolbooks, and works hand-in-hand with Hamas, a US-designated terrorist organization.

And yes, Israel is the only UN member state targeted for annihilation by another member, Iran.

Remember that when you disproportionately single out Israel, certainly as compared to every other nation, you are in effect antisemitic, according the US State Department. The moral equivalence crowd throws a few bones back in defense of its overwhelmingly anti-Israel stand by acknowledging that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas commit a few human rights violations, but that doesn’t cut it.

There is nothing to inoculate the PA and Hamas from their profound misogyny, homophobia, extra-judicial killings, incitement against Jews, use of human shields, indiscriminate targeting of civilians and kleptocracy.

So in the end, is it worth fighting for Israel at the UN? Yes.

Israel will not be winning any UNGA votes any time soon, and will likely continue to lose votes in the Security Council 14-1. And yes the UN could use a profound reformation, becoming a purely humanitarian body, leaving security issues to coalitions of willing democracies led by the United States.

If Israel was not participating at the UN, or its supporters didn’t respond to the slanderers, it would not have the opportunity to refute the lies. The UN is in the media capital of the world, with more balanced press coverage to Israel than in the rest of the world. The spotlight shined on Israel allows it to fight the good fight, at least for an American audience that can tell the difference between a democratic ally being molested, and a UN Human Rights Council that represents countries that are obvious human rights abusers. Israel and its supporters actually improve its public image by being present and going on the offensive.

So keep fighting the good fight at the UN. It is still worth it.

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




Is Favoring Israel an American National Security Interest  

{Previously published in The Hill}

Should the United States distance itself from Israel to become a neutral negotiator?  According to a Wall Street Journal article, the Trump administration’s recent “moves have been seen as favoring Israel by Europeans, the Palestinians and their supporters.”

Lost in the discussion is whether America’s national security interests would be best served as a neutral intermediary, or, as Nikki Haley recently said, “There’s nothing wrong with showing favoritism towards an ally.”

Is Israel a strategically vital ally?

Back in 201, the Washington Institute’s Robert Blackwill and Walter Slocombe said, “There is no other Middle East country whose definition of national interests is so closely aligned with that of the United States.” Today those interests include reigning in Iranian expansionism and its quest for weapons of mass destruction, while combating both radical Sunni and Shiite Islamist terrorism.

The State Department, over the years, has been reluctant to “take sides” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, arguing that this would have negative effects for America’s other interests in the region.

However, it seems this has not advanced American interests or brought peace to the region. It has magnified Palestinian intransigence, while draining American taxpayer dollars, propping up a corrupt Palestinian Authority without demanding anything substantial of it.

Beyond shared democratic western values, does Israel advance American interests?

In the 21st century, intelligence and cyber-defense are paramount for security. For the United States, there is no better source of reliable information in the Middle East than Israel. The Israelis live in this bad neighborhood and understand the realities better than those on the outside.

It was Israel that discovered the North Korean-built Syrian nuclear reactor and destroyed it. Can you imagine the threat to American security if there were loose nukes in today’s Syria? Who would control them — ISIS, Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah, or Iran? These days, do we want our military in the region to be dependent on Turkey’s President Erdogan?

Today the United States has a reliable naval port in Haifa, joint military exercises preparing its soldiers, American troops manning the X-band anti-missile system in Israel to protect Europe, Israeli security technology for U.S. homeland security, and Israel’s advances in drone technology to benefit our military.

It should be clear to all that the present Palestinian leadership is incapable of making the hard but essential choices for real peace, a demilitarized state, ending the claim of a “right of return” of descendants of Palestinians refugees to Israel, accepting a Jewish State, and signing a final end-of-conflict agreement.

The Palestinians disengaged from meaningful negotiations years ago. President Abbas used the opportunity of Trump’s Jerusalem announcement to end America’s primary role in mediating the conflict, moving it to the more friendly confines of an internationalized mediation. Abbas knows full well that the Europeans are his best ally and advocate, with the deck stacked against Israel.

As retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog wrote in World AffairsAbbas “was afraid of the U.S. peace plan coming his way, felt he would have to reject it — while Israel may say yes — and didn’t want to navigate that situation.”

Pro-Palestinian Americans, such as Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi, have encouraged the Palestinian leadership to distance itself from America; Khalidi called  the United States the “eternally dishonest broker” in an op-ed in The Nation. A binational state controlled by Palestinians, where Israel now stands, would be an unreliable American strategic partner and would cripple American security in the Levant.

Far too many American secretaries of State have wanted to be the one to be the hero to cut the Gordian knot, to do something about the Arab-Israeli situation, so they have pressured Israel to make major concessions. American administrations have pressured Israel repeatedly because it is the one party in the conflict that is susceptible to pressure.

Unacknowledged by the realist school of thought advocated by Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Israel over the years has taken profound risks to accommodate American interests to its own detriment. President George W. Bush’s demand for Palestinian elections in 2006, against Israeli advice, directly led to Hamas’ takeover of Gaza. Bush’s father demanded that Israel break its own strategic doctrine by not responding to the Iraqi Scud attack during the Gulf War.

If a Western-style peace settlement is beyond possible in the shifting sands of the Islamic Middle East, what, then, will advance American security interests? The problem is that our interests have moved way beyond the conflict over the past decade, with our primary security problem being Iranian hegemony and its alignment with anti-American allies and proxies — Russia, Syria, Hezbollah and Turkey’s Erdogan.

So, how can America and Israel move forward without a Palestinian partner? The best, but still unlikely, possibility is encouraging the Sunni Arab Gulf states to start dealing with Israel as an equal and legitimate nation in the open, forcing the Palestinians to make more reasonable demands. The idea of treating these two belligerents evenly is morally obtuse, but treating them fairly according to our interests is appropriate.

Yes, American foreign policy interests would be advanced if there is resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but not at the expense of endangering the security interests of its indispensable ally Israel — security interests that are vital to combating Iranian, Turkish and Russian expansionism. You need only to look at Turkey, the eastern flank of NATO, to know how important Israel has become to American long-term security interests in the region.

Favoring Israel is an American national security interest. It lets our other allies know that America sticks with its longtime friends, and warns our adversaries not to underestimate American loyalty.

Eric R. Mandel is director of the Middle East Political and Information Network (MEPIN™). He regularly briefs members of Congress on the Middle East.




Is the US doing more harm than good in Syria and Lebanon? 

{Previously published in The Hill} 

Quite simply, the situation in Syria is a mess, with no easy or predictable solutions.

It is likely that a year from now the situation will look worse, even if ISIS is totally defeated. There are Sunni Salafist, Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda militias, all eager to fill the radical Sunni vacuum, and in it for the long haul.

In the humanitarian disaster known as East Ghouta, the Sunni “rebels” consist of the Islam Army; Tahrir al-Sham, an al Qaeda affiliate; and Failaq al-Rahman and the Free Syrian Army who are affiliated with Muslim Brotherhood. To make your head spin, Islam Army and Failaq al-Rahman are at each other’s throats.

Your choices in Syria are bad and worse, but figuring out what’s worse isn’t easy. Any wise strategist knows well enough that an American “friend” in the Levant, other than Israel, is only a temporary friend sharing for the moment a strategic interest. But choosing the wrong temporary friend can backfire — and abandoning “friends,” as we did various Kurdish allies in the region, also has turned out to be a poor choice and tainted us as an unreliable ally.

David Goldman wrote in Asia Times: “What is painfully clear is that Kurds have been abandoned by the United States. …. Washington’s abandonment of the Kurds left them with no other choice but to turn to the Assad government and its Russian backers.”

The area around Afrin in the northwest of Syria on the Turkish border is far from East Ghouta in the southeast, but both display the continued deterioration of American power and credibility in the Levant.

The result of the defeat of ISIS in Syria is certainly disappointing to anyone who thought there was light at the end of the tunnel. The decline of ISIS has simply meant the ascendency of Shiite Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and Assad, while the United States has been marginalized with little influence or leverage for its own or its allies’ security interests.

The resulting power vacuum has only facilitated the achievement of an Iranian corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean. Back in September, the Syrians already had crossed into the supposed deconfliction zones in Deir el-Zour, a key strategic area for an Iranian land corridor through Syria into Lebanon.

Second, the American belief that millions of dollars of arms for the Lebanese army is a necessary path for stabilization is dangerously wrong. It actually supports Iran and destabilizes Lebanon. Though the Lebanese army asserts its independence, Israeli officials have warned the army is aligned with Hezbollah, an arm of Iran and an ally of Assad and Russia.

There are no shortcuts or even guideposts of what to do in the region, but some United States choices clearly were wrong from the get-go. The vacuums created by the Obama administration, and the Trump administration’s outsourcing of security by trusting Russia to enforce deconfliction zones in Syria, were two among many poor strategic choices.

Let’s be clear — in the short, medium and long term, American troops are more endangered by these choices, not less, as isolationists would have you believe.

When Israel’s northern Iranian border erupts, i.e. the Lebanese and Syrian border, Hezbollah could have at its disposal American-made Super Tucano attack planes, attack helicopters, and Bradley armored personnel carriers.

When Israel inevitably hits Lebanese forces aligned with Hezbollah, there will be clash of interests between America and Israel. The Trump administration, like previous American governments, suffers from the delusion that there is a real separation between Hezbollah and the Lebanese military or government. Hezbollah — and therefore, Iran — controls Syria with Russian help. There will be an Iranian naval port on the Mediterranean in Syria.

Despite Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent comment regarding Hezbollah’s malignant influence in Lebanon, he said Washington remains “committed to supporting the Lebanese army and the internal security forces.” The United States must get over the illusion that the Lebanese army is a force against terrorism, and perceive its alignment with Hezbollah, Iran and Russia.

According to INSS Eldad Shavit, Russian media announced that the “Russian Ministry of Defense has been instructed to begin talks with its Lebanese counterpart, with the goal of signing a cooperative agreement between Russia and Lebanon. The agreement is supposed to include the opening of Lebanese seaports and airports to Russian military maritime vessels and planes. Russia is also reportedly interested in assisting the Lebanese army with training and military equipment.”

By extension, are we now helping Russian and Iranian interests in Lebanon?

Is the United States doing more harm than good in northwest Syria, near Manbij and Jarabulus, where Turkish forces attacked American Kurdish allies, threatening U.S. forces in the region? Turkey and America appear to be on a collision course, with Turkish President Erdogan demanding the United States stop aiding the Kurds. But according to CNN, Tillerson stopped short of demanding an end to Turkish provocations.

So, whose side is the United States choosing in Syria — the Kurdish YGP, which is the largest contingent of the U.S.-friendly Syrian Democratic Forces, or the Turks who are technically part of NATO but are more akin to a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated nation, on the march for new territory?

It is not too late for America to protect its interests in the region, but that will require a clear vision and coordination among those voicing its foreign policy.

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.




The Weaponization Of International Law To Delegitimize Israel

{Previously published by Forward}

The voting results are displayed on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly in which the United States declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was declared ‘null and void’ on December 21, 2017 in New York City. The vote, 128-9, at the United Nations concerned Washington’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate its embassy there. The Trump administration has threatened to take action against any country that votes against the United States decision to move its embassy.

The weaponization of international law against Israel has become the default position of many in the international community.

Over the last 50 years, legitimate criticism of Israel has morphed into anti-Semitism, a targeting that no other nation endures. Israel’s European friends have turned into adversaries, and even some American administrations have adopted a narrative in which Palestinians are always the victimized party. Heinous actions of violence, misogyny, and terrorism committed by other countries have no consequences, or are rationalized as being the only weapons available to the “victims.”

The weaponization of international law extends to the UN Human Rights Council, the World Health Organization and even UNICEF, which has used the information of anti-Israel NGOs to declare the IDF is a grave violator of children. Last year North Korea, a regime that is literally starving millions of its own citizens and threatening the world with a nuclear Holocaust, was the subject of only one UNGA resolution against it. Israel, in contrast, received 20 resolutions against it in 2017, and remains the all-time leader of UNGA resolutions against it — over 700!

Fortunately, having just returned from briefings and meetings with members of Congress, I can report that American leaders understand that the weaponization of international law against Israel not only undermines Israel, but also undermines American national security interests. 23 states have passed legislation against boycotting Israel. The bipartisan Taylor Force Act, named in honor of an off-duty U.S. Army Officer killed in Israel by Palestinian terrorists, demands that the Palestinian Authority stop spending American aid on rewarding its citizens and their families for committing acts of terrorism against Israel, or risk losing this aid.

A bipartisan American Congress is addressing the weaponization of international law against Israel with legislation that attempts to create a more balanced situation. While the international community is in no rush to sanction Iran, despite their growing human rights abuses, support of terrorism, and violations in missile development, Congress has approved legislation to sanction Iran’s proxy Hezbollah for its narco-terrorism, with bipartisan support. Meanwhile, the EU inexplicably refuses to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization. This, too, is a weaponized international attack on Israel.

The European community is constantly feting the Iranians with promises of lucrative deals while focusing almost all of their energies on Israeli settlements, which in their view cause of all the world’s’ problems. Iran, a nation that the US State Department year-in and year-out certifies as the number one state sponsor of terror, had all of one UNGA resolution against it in 2017.

If Israel did not exist, the Middle East’s problems would not disappear with it. The Sunnis and the Shiites would still be at each other’s throats, Qatar would still be a sponsor of terrorism, Iran’s quest for worldwide Islamic dominion would not be curtailed. The genocide in Syria would still have occurred, Hezbollah would still have taken over Lebanon to advance Iranian hegemony, and Iraq would still have become an Iranian proxy. Libya would still be in chaos in the aftermath of the Arab Winter and the Muslim Brotherhood would still want Sharia law to dominate the world.

It may be unwise or even counterproductive for Israel to want to retain large segments of the West Bank, but according to a legitimate reading of international law, Israel does have legal rights over the Green line (i.e. 1967 border). This is incredibly important to acknowledge if you believe in two states for two peoples, because if Israel and the Palestinian Arabs ever agree to a territorial compromise, any land over the Green Line Israel retains in a land swap will become a pretext to undermine the deal in the future, as it would be considered stolen in the first place according that reading of international law.

This is all the more important after President Abbas again publicly declared that Jews have no connection to the land. His government maps never show Israel in any territorial dimension, and the incitement against Jews in his mosques, media, schools and government is unrelenting. The Palestinian people have been taught from early childhood that Zionism is an illegitimate movement with no basis in fact, and no Arab land can ever be given to an infidel.

When the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rightly viewed by a world as a territorial issue, not an existential one, it will be readily solved — and bring with it a better life for the Palestinian Arab population.