Category Archives: Israel

Normalizations Must Be Nurtured and Act as a Model for Other Nations

{Previously published in The Israel Gulf Report}

During a visit to Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Dubai two years ago, it became clear to me that the people and leadership of the Gulf States were not only amenable but anxious to develop relations with Israel, harboring no deep resentments. My group included two Israelis with dual citizenship, and when it was revealed they were Israelis, only cordial relations followed. But normalization still seemed a bridge too far to cross in the immediate future.

The magnitude and potential of the new ground-breaking normalization agreements with Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco, and Sudan, should not be taken for granted. Success is not inevitable, as all parties must take extreme care to nurture, maintain, and grow these relationships for regional stability, where predatory nations like Iran will be on the look-out for cracks in relationships to undo this process.

Critics have disparaged normalization as only transactional relationships, not based on interests that are long-lasting. What they fail to see is that almost all international diplomatic relationships are created and sustained not by the goodness of nation-states but with the expectation of mutual benefit to advance both nations’ interests. One exception was the American recognition of Israel in 1948, an almost entirely valued-based diplomatic recognition by President Truman, where his American State department made a strong case to throw Israel under the bus for Arab oil. 

Today’s new normalization agreements are essential for all of the parties’ economic interests and security benefits. First world economies like Dubai and Israel can quickly take advantage of each other’s expertise and access to the world. At the other end of the spectrum, Sudan got off the American terror watch list by recognizing Israel and would be smart to let Israel help advance its third world economy.

Muslim majority nations that don’t prioritize Islamism realize that Israel is a necessary addition not only for economic and security interests but also because it will help advance their relations with America, still the only democratic superpower in the world. Despite its Islamism, even Turkey has maintained strong economic ties with Israel, although Turkish President Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman Islamism and hegemonic goals outweigh the return to a normal relationship.

Today’s new normalization agreements are essential for all of the parties’ economic interests and security benefits. 

Once the taboo of making peace with Israel is not held hostage to Palestinian intransigence, other Muslim nations will follow. However, for normalizations to be long-lasting, they must include the people-to-people interactions that are now occurring with Bahrain and the UAE. It cannot just be the military-to-military or leadership-to-leadership relationships that define the cold peace between Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. 

The new normalization agreements should prompt the Egyptians and Jordanians not just to use Israel for their intelligence and security interests but to put their toe in the water to begin to end the endemic anti-Jewish rhetoric that permeates their government-controlled media, schools, and mosques. It will lead to a more sustainable relationship for their self-interests, based on human interactions between ordinary citizens to break down the barriers of hate. 

Turning Egyptian and Jordanian normalization with the Jewish state warm after years of demonization and scapegoating will require overcoming difficult obstacles and the need for American leadership. They must come to see that the coldness of the current “cold peace” is against their long-term survival. With the rise of political Islamism from Iran, Turkey, and Qatar, and the failing states in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria, moderate Muslim nations need Israel as much as Israel needs them. 

The nurturing of the seedlings of reconciliation and normalization could easily be disrupted from both within and outside their countries. At present, the fear of Iran is the glue that holds together the new relationships between the Gulf states and Israel, as well as the cold peace with Egypt and Jordan. But as with everything in the Middle East, new and unanticipated challenges will emerge that will require the creation of crisis teams to deal with all types of contingencies and threats so that the relationships can be kept on a sound footing. 

America is turning east to confront China, and Muslim nations know that they may be more self-reliant than in the past. Cruise missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and Shiite militias undermining fragile states like Iraq are likely to increase, bringing instability and the possibility of regional war ever closer. That is why the normalization process’ success is necessary for the stability of the moderate Sunni nations. They will need to work in concert with Israel when Iran decides to cross a line that could set the region on fire. 

Iran is in Israel’s backyard in the Golan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Gaza, while the Gulf states know that they are no match for Iran if the American military leaves the region. They will need to develop some publicly expressed security alignment with the most effective military force in Israel as a hazard warning to Iran.

Hopefully, President-elect Biden and his new foreign policy team will value the new diplomatic relationships and not neglect them simply because the Trump administration created them. I America wants to pivot east and minimize its footprint in the Middle East, it will need to nurture the new normalization while working to develop new ones. Putting their efforts into a return to Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution is the wrong path forward for Middle East stability at this time. And yes, transactional relationships are just fine as long as the people to people component is included. 

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

Is it true that normalization doesn’t improve Israel’s existential problem?

{Previously published by the JNS}

Hadar Susskind, the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, penned an article in JTA titled, “Normalizing relations with the UAE does nothing to help fix Israel’s existential problems. … Frankly, we see little reason for celebration.” How sad, political and myopic a viewpoint. Even the progressive Haaretz newspaper called it a “historic signing.”

When I was in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai last year, accompanied by two Israelis, there was an enthusiasm for continuing the under-the-radar cooperation between these moderate Arab states and Israel for their mutual benefit. But the consensus view was that until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved, the relationship would be confined to an indefinite state of limbo. The Palestinian veto held sway in Arab capitals as it had since the infamous three “No’s” of the Khartoum Conference more than 50 years ago: No peace, no negotiation, no recognition of Israel.

After 72 years of saying no, some moderate and stable Arab states have begun to prioritize their own interests over the Palestinians, and with a remarkable and courageous step have decided to recognize Israel and normalize relations. How can one not celebrate the third and fourth Arab states, after Jordan and Egypt, to make peace with Israel with the likelihood of more on the way. Morocco, Oman, Sudan, Chad and Saudi Arabia are all on the flight path to normalization. If we were not in such a hyper-polarized political climate with a lightning rod of a president, these developments, if under a Barack Obama administration, would be placed on the fast track for a Nobel peace prize.

Yet Susskind looks through a lens that sees everything through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Israel as the intransigent party that has blinded him and his fellow travelers to the complex reality of the situation, completely ignoring the fact that peace has not been achieved because of the Palestinians. Their demand for an unconditional right of return of descendants of refugees, something Einat Wilf calls the “War of Return,” is a demand that has not been granted to any other refugee group and is minimized or ignored by progressive “peace” advocates. He says that the signing is happening as Israel “continues to entrench the occupation,” completely ignoring the quid pro quo for an agreement that suspended the extension of sovereignty into any new territory in the West Bank.

It cannot be repeated often enough that under Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority could have had a state with more than 100 percent of the territory of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) with land swaps and eastern Jerusalem as their capital. But because of its corruption, inability to sign an end of conflict agreement with Israel and contest with their rival Hamas to show who can more honor terrorists, the Palestinian people have become the real losers. That is why Israeli society has moved from the center-left during the Oslo years to the center-right today. Progressive voices like Susskind and Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street are magnified by like-minded mainstream American media and progressive groups, but they are unrepresentative of the vast majority of Israelis who have to live with the consequences of imposed solutions. There is something unseemly and condescending when one democratic nation tells another democratic nation what is in its best interests, especially when it deals with existential security issues.

The peace deals between Israel, UAE and Bahrain (and those to follow) are the best thing that could happen to the Palestinian people, but perhaps the worst thing for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. It is now up to the Palestinian people—the most subsidized people in the world—to end their grievance and victimization industry, and demand a new leadership that is more pragmatic. It needs a leadership that will prioritize the interests and well-being of their people, not letting the anti-Semitic ideology that permeates their mosques, textbooks and media to continue to ruin their chance to join their Arab brethren in the Gulf states in economic progress and the path to their own state. That begins by openly accepting a Jewish state in a territorial dimension that allows for its security.

Palestinians and their supporters, like Susskind, cannot remain blind to the reality of where the region is going, and that their Arab brothers will leave them behind as the intransigent player. If they care about Palestinians, then they will embrace these normalization deals as an opportunity to restart negotiations—something Abbas has avoided for years.

As far as an existential issue, while the Palestinians issue must be dealt with sooner or later, the true existential issue for Israel and the moderate Sunni world is Iran and its hegemonic ambitions. The Palestinians are not the primary issue for Arabs or for Israel’s immediate security, as evidenced by these treaties and the lack of outrage in the Arab world, except by the political Islamists in Tehran and Ankara.

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

What does pro-Israel mean in the age of Trump?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

The term “pro-Israel” has become has become a lightning rod, due in part to President Donald Trump’s many self-described pro-Israel statements and actions, and the scorn many people have for just about anything he says or does.

Writing in Haaretz, Jonathan Tobin said, “Democrats and never-Trump former Republicans argue that even if you support the president’s policies, they are bad for Israel… the association with Trump is tarnishing the Jewish state… [yet] if Democrats are increasingly divided on Israel, this is a trend that long predates Trump and was largely weaponized by Barack Obama’s feud” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Iran nuclear deal.

Eight years ago, when asked what it meant to be pro-Israel, David Shipler, the former New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, said, “It seems obvious to say that being pro-Israel means supporting Israel’s survival, security and well-being as a just and prosperous society. Nobody would disagree.”

Is that definition of being pro-Israel obvious to most Jewish Americans today?

Twenty-five years ago, pro-Israel was clearly understood to mean that you supported Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, respecting the democratically elected government as the will of its people who put their children and themselves in harm’s way every day. Fifty years earlier, six million Jews were slaughtered, with Israel being the refuge of the tiny remnant that survived, along with 750,000 Jews ethnically cleansed from Arab lands. Israel’s six million was to be protected and defended by the Jewish Diaspora so a second Holocaust could never occur again.

That never meant that Israel was always right, but to be pro-Israel you believed Israel was right more than wrong, and certainly more moral than its neighbors, which imported European style antisemitism on top of their own anti-Jewish animus. That – combined with misogyny, authoritarianism and a profound lack of human rights – made Israel the clear choice for American sympathy across the political spectrum.

With the election of Barack Obama to the presidency and his stated goal to put “daylight” between America and Israel, the definition of what it meant to be pro-Israel was put under stress, as most American Jews overwhelmingly voted for Mr. Obama, as they have consistently voted for the Democratic Party in every election cycle. 

At the same time a new organization came on the scene that supported a more much critical attitude to Israel that was adopted by the new administration, hoping to re-define what it means to be pro-Israel. The primary focus of J Street changed the positive shared values and security-based “special relationship” to highlighting Israel’s occupation of the disputed territories, calling for punishing consequences for Israel’s intransigence.

This resonated with many young Jewish adults who were immersed in college campuses where intersectionality is the prevailing wind, Israel being the victimizer and the Palestinians being the innocent lamb. Although J Street and its college subsidiaries claimed they were in favor of a Jewish and democratic state and against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, it still provided forums for those who believe in BDS as the best method to pressure Israel to change its ways. 

WITH THIS, the foundation of what it meant to be pro-Israel for young as well as older Jews began to crumble.

This culminated in the Obama administration’s orchestration of the passage of UNSC Resolution 2334 that labeled any Israeli presence in West Bank (Judea and Samaria) a violation of international law. Being pro-Israel now meant that if you believe Israel has legal rights over the 1967 line, you are a supporter of an international crime against humanity. To Israel’s critics, everything about Israel is defined through the lens of its occupation of the disputed territories.

Enter Donald Trump, and the “pro-Israel” moniker became even more politicized, if that were possible, by challenging Jewish Democrats’ loyalty to the Jewish state. This occurred contemporaneously with the rise of the Democratic congresswomen who routinely crossed the line into anti-Zionism and antisemitism without incurring any consequences.

Trump’s “pro-Israel” support of Israel’s annexation of the Golan, extension of sovereignty to 30% of the West Bank, withdrawing support to the Palestinian Authority for supporting terrorists, have all been condemned by J Street as wrong and counter-productive. The organization’s advocacy, primarily in support of the Palestinian position, seems to have been re-invented into what it claims is an authentic 2020 pro-Israel position.

So what should define pro-Israel in 2020 across the political spectrum?

Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Being able to say the Land of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people.
  2. That the state of Israel is entitled to exist as a Jewish and democratic state without qualifiers.
  3. Respecting, even if not agreeing, with the outcomes of Israel’s elections
  4. Not supporting boycotts, divestment or sanctions in any form.
  5. Not allying with anti-Israel organizations that question Israel’s right to exist.
  6. If you are pro-peace but advocate in favor of the Palestinian narrative that Jews are not indigenous, the creation of the state is illegitimate, you cannot spin that as being pro-Israel.
  7. If you advocate for a binational state you are not pro-Israel.
  8. You are pro-Israel if you demand any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict include an “end of conflict agreement” that all claims are forever ended, including the Palestinian right of return.

This list is certainly open to debate, but the hope is that it can create a dialogue into what pro-Israel should mean in 2020 and beyond. Just because you are Jewish does not automatically give you higher standing or the claim that anything you advocate is pro-Israel.

Whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden prevails in the November election, the eventual winner’s positions and actions over the next four years will challenge the very definition of what “pro-Israel” means. The ever-expanding and contracting tent of who is within or outside the pro-Israel tent will challenge Jewish Americans and their supporters in Congress for the foreseeable future.

The writer is director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network). He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is the senior security editor for The Jerusalem Report/Jerusalem Post, and has written in The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld, The Forward, i24, Israel Hayom and Defense News.

Will annexation embolden Iran?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Could the ramifications of annexation reverberate from an exclusively Israeli-Palestinian issue, into one with regional implications that could lead to a large-scale war?

Does Israel’s extension of sovereignty (annexation) into the West Bank, in accord with the Trump peace plan, play into an Iranian strategy that has been looking for an opportune time to respond to Israel’s continuing attacks on its interests in Syria, and against its missile shipments transiting through Iraq?

Iran’s strategy in Syria in regard to Israel has not changed, biding its time, waiting for a better landscape when Israel will be internationally isolated, to finally respond to the hundreds of Israeli missile and air attacks against its assets and allies in Syria. It has 150,000 missiles under its control in Lebanon, targeting every Israeli city and Israel’s nuclear facility in Dimona.

With the extension of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank and the inevitable international condemnation, Iran’s patience may have been rewarded. It can hope for a new American administration that may not only relieve sanctions on Iran and rejoin the JCPOA, but may actually sanction Israel because of its annexation of the disputed territory in the West Bank.

Could the ramifications of annexation reverberate from an exclusively Israeli-Palestinian issue, into one with regional implications that could lead to a large-scale war?

Just as some in Israel believe now is the time to act and extend sovereignty, as the opportunity will not being there under a Biden administration, Iran may also calculate that if Biden becomes president and re-enters the JCPOA, there would then be the opportunity to take military action against Israel, believing Biden will not want to endanger a nuclear deal by siding with Israel.

Iran remembers that after the JCPOA went into effect, it paid no consequences for its continued support of terrorism, complicity in the Syrian genocide, increased human rights abuses against its own citizens, and accelerated development of long-range missiles. This was despite the Obama administration’s promises to the contrary. The administration chose instead to ignore these Iranian transgressions in the name of preserving the deal.

So would a Biden administration give Israel a black eye over annexation? Remember that after the surprise Egyptian and Syrian attack on Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, an audio recording of then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger said, “[The] best result would be if Israel came out a little ahead but got bloodied in the process.”

Are there any parallels to today? Kissinger’s Machiavellian strategy hoped to cower Israel by refusing to resupply it for a week under dire straits, hoping to make Israel less intransigent on territorial concessions in the future. If Israel has annexed land that Biden views as Palestinian, what kind of support can Israel expect if Iran unleashes Hezbollah against Israel?

The administration’s ear will be tuned to J Street, an organization highly critical of Israeli policy and that believes for Israel’s own good it needs to be taught a lesson.

Israel hoped its repeated air strikes and the American sanctions that have left the Iranian economy in shambles would force Iran to withdraw from Syria, unable to afford to continue to invest in Syria.

Unfortunately, revolutionary Islamist regimes don’t play by Western rules.

NOT ONLY is Iran still in Syria, but Russian promises that the Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah, and Shi’ite militias would not move into southern and eastern Syria to threaten Israel have been ignored, increasing the likelihood of more Israeli attacks and a potential war.

As Amos Yadlin, the head of INSS and former head of Israeli Military Intelligence, said, “The extensive attacks in Syria… show that the assessment that the Iranians are leaving Syria is a wish…. We must be prepared for the entire scope of possible responses from the Shi’ite axis, from missiles to cyber terrorism.”

Iran’s long-term strategy to encircle Israel is halfway home with effectively control of Syria and Lebanon today. The next significant domino to fall is the vulnerable Jordanian monarchy, whose collapse would result in a Syrian-style civil war between Iranian Shi’ite proxies and Sunni Islamists who will fight tooth and nail, destabilizing the region.

If Iran sees a limited window of opportunity to attack Israel while influential factions of America are furious with Israel over annexation, will it act on that?

The conventional wisdom is that Iran will wait until after the US presidential election to see if the unpredictable Trump wins, or if a more compliant Biden prevails. From an Iranian perspective, Israeli annexation and the international fallout against Israel will play into their hands, especially if Democrats control the Senate, House and executive branch, and work in concert with the United Nations.

In the international community, Belgium has telegraphed Western European wishes, asking for sanctions on Israel and recognition of Palestinian statehood even before Israel acts to extend sovereignty.

Behind the scenes Israel’s strongest allies against Iran will remain the conservative Gulf states – Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt – which all know that Iran is its primary threat but can’t say so publicly. They will do whatever they can to help Israel defeat Iran, annexation or not.

Their current not-so-secret intelligence and security cooperation with Israel could actually increase even after annexation, but unfortunately their anti-Israel public rhetoric will also increase with any Israeli annexation, in order to placate their citizenry, who have been fed a lifelong diet of blaming Israel for all their problems.

A Biden administration may not like Israel’s annexation. However, if it wants to keep a lid on a major war erupting between Israel and Iran, it will need to be out ahead of the issue. That means publicly warning Iran that if it initiates a war with Israel, likely perpetrated by its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, it will not only be held responsible, but the United States will be fully supportive of Israeli actions. That is the best chance to avoid war.

This will be a tough sell in 2021 because of the anger a Biden administration will have for Israel’s extension of sovereignty into the West Bank. The greater picture of keeping a lid on an explosive Middle East, though, should lead Biden, if elected, to bite his lower lip and stand with Israel against Iran when the inevitable northern war from Syria and Lebanon under the direction of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s direction occurs.

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network). He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is the senior security editor for the Jerusalem Report/Jerusalem Post, and writes for The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld, and Defense News.

Unity Missing Ingredient for Success

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

I have come away convinced that whether by design or accident, sooner rather than later, Israel could be faced with its most significant war since 1973, whether on its own terms or not.

When I arrived in Israel this month for meetings with thought leaders in intelligence, politics, history and security, I thought I knew most of the logistical and strategic challenges they would face in the near future. But I had a blind spot for the challenge of keeping the nation unified.

Depending on how the next election cycle is handled, Israel’s esprit de corps could be its most important asset, or its Achilles’ heel.

I have come away convinced that whether by design or accident, sooner rather than later, Israel could be faced with its most significant war since 1973, whether on its own terms or not.

Israel has an incredibly strong and well-prepared military that is light years ahead in preparation, munitions, technology, and capabilities compared to previous wars.Iran’s race toward nuclear arms and its desire to turn Syria into a second Hezbollah are serious challenges facing Israel. The possible use of Iraqi and Yemini launching pads for precision-guided long-range missiles aimed at Israel adds to the menace of the Iranian threat.

The urgency for Israeli national solidarity for the success of the next war has moved into the top tier of my list. A war with Iran will likely be on three fronts, with unprecedented missile attacks throughout the whole country. Even a small number of terrorists on land or through tunnels who kill or kidnap civilians or soldiers would raise the nation’s anxiety to unprecedented levels.

The best way for Israel to deal with those challenges is for the next government to be one of national unity. No matter how capable Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is, or what he has accomplished both diplomatically and militarily, it is unlikely that he could form a national-unity government after the March election, the third in less than a year. His path to power is most likely a razor-thin majority right-wing coalition government, a poor choice when the nation needs as much as ever to have its sense of purpose.

Bibi will be prime minister through March and perhaps much longer, if there is a fourth election and his trial drags on until 2021 – a crazy scenario for a nation that could be in an unprecedented war for its survival against an Iranian regime whose Shi’ite revolutionary Islamism demands the annihilation of the Jewish state as its raison d’etre.

Let’s hope that if the next election ends in another coalition paralysis, Bibi allows a unity government to form whether or not he is to be its prime minister.

No one leader is indispensable for a nation’s survival, but unity of the nation is required if Israel is to win its next war and deal with its repercussions. It is hard for any nation to imagine being led by someone else after so many years, but even the United States during World War II survived and thrived after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and an untested president Harry S. Truman took the reins of government.

According to the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security’s National Security Policy for Israel, “The most important challenge facing any government in Israel is nurturing cohesion in Israeli society; ensuring unity in the face of tests that may be posed to Israel by the violent Mideast environment…. Deterrence is based not only on sheer military might… [but] above all on the capacity to bear loss and pain both at the front lines and on the home front.”

With so many potential threats looming against Israel even beyond Iran, including the possible fall of the Jordanian monarchy, a Russia that does not give Israel the freedom of the skies to strike Iranian targets in Syria, a civil war in the post-Abbas era with the emergence of Hamastan on the Jordan, a national-unity coalition government may be the secret sauce Israel needs.

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

Examining Israel’s Security Challenges with Blue and White’s Ya’alon

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

How will Israel know when Iran will cross the threshold for nuclear weapons, and will it act?

One casualty of Israel’s electoral deadlock is the absence of a budget for the Israeli military. The current five-year plan, Gideon, negotiated by former defense minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon almost five years ago is ending without a new military plan to replace it. Although the IDF can continue to act against imminent threats, it is dangerous to hamper long-range planning.

So I decided to speak with Israel’s former defense minister, who presided over the last five-year plan when things in the government were more normal, to see how he analyzes Israel’s current security challenges. His perspective should be seen not only through his years of military service culminating as the IDF chief of staff, but as a leader of Israel’s Blue and White Party that may lead the next coalition government. I thought it would be instructive to ask Ya’alon to comment on some of the topics I discuss in Washington with foreign policy experts and members of Congress.

First, I wanted to know how Israel will fight a multi-front war with thousands of missiles aimed at Israeli communities and strategic locations, some with precision guidance that could overwhelm its current missile defenses.

Ya’alon said that it must be remembered that the strategy of Israel’s enemies like Hezbollah and Hamas is to use missile attacks to target and terrorize Israeli civilians. They know Israel is militarily superior and cannot be defeated conventionally, so their strategy is to break the will of the Israeli people. He said Israelis have repeatedly stood the test of time under threat, revealing Israel’s true strength, combining the Jewish heart with Jewish values, intelligence and the spirit of Zionism.

However, the best defense is still a good offense provided by Israel’s superior intelligence gathering, which is also an indispensable American security asset. For Israel, this allows missiles, as well as precision-guided missile factories to be precisely targeted.

I asked whether Israel needs more anti-missile systems like Iron Dome. He said Israel could certainly use more anti-missile systems, but without an approved military plan and budget, it cannot happen.

I moved onto Israel’s northern Iranian border with Syria and Lebanon, and wanted to know if it is possible, short of a massive ground invasion, to diminish the Iranian presence.

Ya’alon said you need to begin by thinking of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Iranian controlled Shi’ite militias in Syria not as independent entities, but as parts of a whole entity, with its brain center for all of its nefarious activities located in Tehran. The supreme leader has not changed his spots, and when the West claims Iran has become more moderate under its current President Rouhani compared to his predecessor, Ahmadinejad, it’s like thinking Jack the Ripper is more moderate than the Boston Strangler.

I told him that there is a debate in the US whether it is wise to publicly support the protesters in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, as some say overt US support would allow the Iranian regime to claim this is all an American plot to overthrow the regime, which would resonate with the Iranian people. He answered that supporting the protesters is the right thing to do for both of our countries’ interests, and America shouldn’t fail the Iranian people again as they did 10 years ago during the Green Revolution.

Ya’alon added that regime change by the people of Iran would create more stability in the region. However, economic pressure via sanctions is not enough to stop Iran; they need to be politically isolated. Unfortunately, Europe is reluctant, but must be convinced that this is in their interest, as they did before agreeing to the flawed Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA), to reinstate political isolation.

It should be noted that no one I spoke to throughout the Israeli security or political establishment ever even hinted that America should consider boots on the ground to cause regime change, something that is disingenuously alleged by many of the supporters of the JCPOA.

Ya’alon said Iran’s leaders ultimately want to survive, and even if there is not a popularly inspired regime change, the regime can feel enough economic and political pressure to halt some of their expansionist activities, but only if both political isolation and hard-hitting sanctions are combined.

I ASKED if Israel is forced into a large-scale war with Iran from Syria and Lebanon, would Israel consider attacking Iran proper. Ya’alon didn’t answer directly but said it is counterproductive to speak openly about Israeli strikes against Iranian interests, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does now, finding it counterproductive, as ambiguity about military options better serves Israeli interests.

So how will Israel know when Iran will cross the threshold for nuclear weapons, and will it act?

Israel leaves all options on the table, and only a credible military threat will dissuade Iran. America, by not responding to the Iranian downing of its $100-million drone, or the unreciprocated attacks by Iran on international shipping in international waterways, or the lack of response to the Iranian attack on the Saudi oil facilities, has invited further Iranian aggression and increased instability in the region, undermining both American and Israeli interests.

The best way to decrease Iran’s threats is to respond with consequences when Iran acts. He wants America not to forget that it still has interests in the Middle East and that if it creates vacuums, it will eventually endanger America itself. America must remember that 9/11 came from the Middle East and that many attacks against American interests have come from the region.

Taking a step back to view the situation on a macro level, Ya’alon said there are three great threats in the Middle East: Iran; the Muslim Brotherhood, best exemplified by Turkish President Recep Erdogan; and Sunni Wahhabi radicalism in the form of al-Qaeda or Daesh (ISIS) that are both now somewhat in retreat. The only way America can counter these threats without sending in troops is to be supportive of Israel, which holds the front line against all the forms of radical Islam, from Shi’ite to Sunni jihadism.

Ya’alon is the number three in the Blue and White Party and is reportedly its choice for education minister. After his time as defense minister, he emphasized Israel’s internal challenges, so I asked him, if he became education minister, how he would approach the subject of Zionism in the secular Jewish school system.

As chief of staff of the IDF, Ya’alon made it a priority to teach young soldiers about the foundational core values of Zionism, defining Judaism as a religion, a national aspiration, a civilization and a people. He said these core values must be part of the educational system, as the nation must be rooted in a solid foundation to withstand its challenges. Israel’s four school systems: secular Jewish, religious Zionist, Arab and haredi (ultra-Orthodox), also need to be more integrated for both their benefit as well as the country’s. He emphasized the importance of avoiding confrontational coercion of the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs, but his party is in favor of some form of mandatory civil service.

Let’s hope Israel’s politicians will put the people’s interest ahead of their own and finally form a government after this unprecedented third election. Everyone I spoke to, Right and Left, agreed that having to endure a third election is unfortunate, and Israelis need to agree to disagree where necessary, maintain their sense of unity and move forward, as a genuine, vibrant democracy requires. 

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

Will Territorial Annexation Weaken Support for Israel in Congress?

{Previously published by the JNS}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is insanity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Freshman Members of Congress Should Learn on Their Trip to Israel

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

How does one reconcile this moral dilemma if you believe Israel has a right to exist as the home of the Jewish people but believe in two states for two peoples?

This year’s August congressional trip to Israel is different from previous years, as so much attention is focused on who is not joining, specifically the members of the pro-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) “Squad,” Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

However, most members who come to Israel do have an open mind and can grasp the difficulties that have thwarted decades of efforts at resolution of the conflict between Israel and its enemies, some who will not be satisfied until there is no Jewish state and no Western-oriented presence in the region.

Some say the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all about the occupation, and Israel for its own good should unilaterally withdraw to the pre-1967 lines, and that the Jews of all peoples, after centuries of oppression, should not be occupying another people’s land.

Yet if there is to be created an autonomous Palestinian state adjacent to Israel, is it reasonable to expect that missiles won’t be exploding in Tel Aviv, or that they won’t have to run their children into bomb shelters all the time everywhere in Israel?

Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005. Its reward was three wars launched from the coastal enclave and plenty of indignant international condemnation for Israel defending itself against forces launching missiles from school yards and hospitals, and digging tunnels under borders to sneak across and murder civilians.

Some advocate that the two peoples should have their own states based on the pre-1967 lines. Aside from the technicalities of armistice lines and borders, what if an objective analysis of Israel’s legitimate security concerns and the current pathology of the Palestinian leadership leads to the conclusion that the Palestinian Authority remains in power only because of the help it receives from Israel’s security forces? What if an Israeli withdrawal would likely lead to the creation of a “Hamastan” on the Jordan, a proxy of Iran backed with money and armaments?

How does one reconcile this moral dilemma if you believe Israel has a right to exist as the home of the Jewish people but believe in two states for two peoples?

Groups like J Street and their congressional supporters preach that the corrosive effect of occupation is worse than the security risk of withdrawal, finding a small group of former IDF officers to support their claim. All will be well if the cause of the conflict, the “illegal” occupation,” disappears.

If that were so, then how would one explain PA President Mahmoud Abbas walking out in 2007 when more than 100% of the disputed territory was offered with land swaps? In December 2018, Palestinian chief negotiator Saab Erekat confirmed that this was indeed the Israeli offer, and they turned it down.

If you are a congressional representative who prioritizes security considerations, the question to ask is: What do secure boundaries mean for Israel in the 21st century?

Those who advocate for a complete Israeli withdrawal minimize the importance of strategic depth in the age of missiles, as missiles fly over borders in a split second while Israel has the proven capabilities to intercept projectiles at a rate of 80%-90%, mitigating the need to have more territory. This argument rings hollow as territorial depth is essential for a country the size of New Jersey, 11 miles wide at its narrowest point.

The minimal Israeli mainstream security consensus, considering current logistics, is control of the Jordan River Valley, especially with Iran already having a military presence in Iraq and Syria, a demilitarized Palestinian state with defensible borders, and control of airspace.

Unfortunately, Palestinians were encouraged to become even more intransigent by former president Barack Obama’s parting gift to Israel in 2016, UN Security Council Resolution 2234, when the US abstained and joined for the first time with the UN claque of Israel-bashers.

It labeled any Israeli presence over the Green Line, including the vital Jordan River Valley and the Western Wall of the Jewish Temple, as illegal. This undermines the legitimacy of any land swaps, as Israel would be retaining, according to it, stolen land, a pretext for future conflict no matter what the Palestinians sign onto now. The only saving grace of 2234 is that it was adopted under the sixth chapter of the UN Charter, so it is considered a non-binding resolution. 

Suppose the Palestinians again remain intransigent. What would members of Congress who want an end to the occupation propose then?

Since the Palestinians will remain the perpetual righteous victims to the Squad, while Israel remains a Western colonial occupier, we can expect from some quarters more clamoring for BDS. Never mind that Israel is the only real democracy in the region with rights for all its citizens and the one steadfast ally of the US in the region. 

Israelis have enough on their plate with Iran threatening from the north, east and south, so the status quo, in spite of everyone’s distaste for the current situation, is the only logical choice until a durable Palestinian leadership is willing to sign an end of conflict agreement that credibly won’t endanger Israel’s existence as a Jewish State.

The writer is the director of Middle East Political and Information Network™ and a regular columnist to the Jerusalem Post and i24TV, and contributes to JNS, The Hill, the Forward, and JTA. MEPIN™ research analysis is read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, Knesset members, journalists and organizational leaders. 

The Question Israel’s Leaders Ask Every Day: Will Tomorrow be Too Late?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Critics of any pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities rightly claim that Israel cannot totally destroy the Iranian nuclear program. But that misses the point.

How far away is the day when Israelis and Americans will wake up and realize that it is too late to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program? This is not a new question. Seven years ago Jonathan Tobin writing in Commentary also asked, “Is it already too late to stop Iran?

Last week, I met with Israeli military, security and intelligence experts, and I asked if it is already too late to significantly affect the progress of the Iranian nuclear program with a pre-emptive strike, and the answer was always that it is not too late. But the caveat that followed was, the Americans can do it much more effectively than we can.

Critics of any pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities rightly claim that Israel cannot totally destroy the Iranian nuclear program. But that misses the point.

Delaying the program five or 10 years, which would be the case with an Israeli strike, could be game changing, especially in conjunction with continued cyberattacks and escalating American sanctions that undermine the support for the regime by the Iranian people, who are increasingly becoming economically harmed and blaming it on the Mullahs and their corrupt cronies.

We know that before the 2015 JCPOA deal, Iran was already technically capable of reaching the crucial 20% uranium enrichment level, and was within a just a few months of amassing enough 90% uranium for a nuclear weapon, even using obsolete and unpredictable IR-1 centrifuges.

So the question to ask now is, how much have Iran’s nuclear capabilities advanced over the last four years since the beginning of the JCPOA? How much closer are they to a nuclear breakout?

We know that the agreement allowed Iran to continue to develop advanced centrifuges that can enrich weapons-grade material in a significantly shorter amount of time than the older IR-1 centrifuges, reducing the critical time to produce enough fissile material to just a few months. These advanced centrifuges are also much smaller and harder to detect.

Additionally, Iran never accepted the Additional Protocol, a nuclear addendum that allowed international inspectors to visit military sites where they would likely be developing nuclear missile warhead production.

Already last year, David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, estimated that Iran could enrich enough material for a bomb in eight to 10 months. The deal’s supporters claimed that the agreement would not allow Iran to enrich enough uranium for a nuclear weapon for one year during the length of the agreement, something that is already probably untrue.

After Israel’s revelation of Iran’s nuclear archive, we now know without doubt that Iran planned to build a nuclear weapon, and still has the information and capabilities to accomplish this. This is not Saddam Hussein all over again.

Even if international inspectors wanted to visit a military faculty, the JCPOA gives them a month’s time to comply, more than enough time to clear away any evidence.

THE DAY Iran passes the threshold for creating a nuclear weapon, everything will change for Israel, the Sunni Gulf states, Turkey, the US and Europe, and the world will be a much more dangerous place. A nuclear arms race will begin in the Sunni world, dramatically increasing the potential dangers of a nuclear conflict in the future.

So can Israel, this late in the game, still effectively strike the Iranian program? The answer is yes – but again, the US can do it better.

Iran has a plan to make Israel think twice before attacking. According to former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror, now a Senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and a distinguished fellow at JINSA, Iran’s strategic plan – which is well underway – is to create a deterrence barrier around Israel, stretching from Lebanon to Syria to Iraq to the Gaza Strip, in order to threaten Israel with an overwhelming and devastating strike on its homeland, should Israel attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Is delaying their program five years worth the price Israel will pay if tens of thousands of missiles are unleashed, capable of hitting everywhere in the country, while the negative diplomatic fallout will be enormous, especially if Donald Trump is not US president?

Hillel Frisch of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies wrote “In both word and deed, Israel is firmly committed to its redlines. The reddest of all is that Israel will not permit Syria to be turned into a forward base for direct Iranian operations and a manufacturing center for precision-guided missiles.”

Which means the noose will only tighten around Israel, as the Iranian operating bases in Syria over time will eventually look more like Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Yet when I ask the Israeli experts if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the paper tiger that the Obama administration portrayed when a senior official called him chickens**t, the response was clear. If Bibi is convinced tomorrow is too late to stop a functioning Iranian nuclear weapon, he will indeed act today.

What will an Israeli attack on Iran look like?

Think out of the box. Not only cyberattacks and sophisticated strikes against known and presumed nuclear sites like Natanz, Fordow and the unnamed military sites conducting nuclear work, but targeting the lifeline of the Iranian economy – the port of Bandar Abbas, where almost all of Iranian commercial shipping trade transits, and Kharg Island, the location where Iran exports most of its fossil fuels.

An Israeli attack at Kharg or Bandar Abbas would make the impact of the current sanctions look like a popgun, and the survival of the regime would hang in the balance, as an economically devastated Iran will be imperiled from within.

If Israel does launch an attack on Iran, what would Israel look like the day after?

I remember visiting the North after the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Hospitals hit, hundreds of thousands of residents displaced to the South or living in steaming hot underground shelters and millions of Israelis throughout the country feeling vulnerable and angry.

Now imagine a hundred times worse, with the Dimona nuclear faculty in the South and Azrieli towers in central Tel Aviv in the crosshairs of Iran. The layers of Israel’s missile defense are remarkable but are incapable of stopping all the missiles heading for Israeli cities.

Time is not on Israel’s side, but when will tomorrow be too late?

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