Category Archives: Israel

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.

Netanyahu’s Speech to the E.U.:  Don’t Miss the Opportunity

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

The goal of this talk is to create a new benchmark narrative that Israel should insist upon at every meeting going forward with European and international diplomats.

After years of Netanyahu’s requesting the opportunity to address all 28 European Union foreign ministers, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has invited him for an “informal exchange of views… [at] the margins of the Foreign Affairs Council,” according to The Jerusalem Post.

Not exactly the respect due the democratically elected leader of the only democracy in the Middle East – but it does create an opportunity to think out of the box and reframe Israel’s case, presenting itself as the one stable and reliable nation amid the chaos created by the wars of political Sunni and Shi’ite Islamism that are raging against the backdrop of Iranian expansionism.

Netanyahu believes his rhetorical skills can convince skeptical and hostile European foreign ministers of the validity of his case. This is how he approached his visit to the US Congress to fight the good fight against the JCPOA (Iran Deal), which was counterproductive and alienated some US legislators, polarized along US party lines. I was asked by one of his senior aides at the time what he should do, and I said he shouldn’t go at that time.

When addressing the EU foreign ministers, Netanyahu should avoid reaching beyond what is possible, but not miss this opportunity to begin to give a new perspective to his listeners, European diplomats who have for years taken for granted that Israel is the party in the wrong in the Middle East.

Make no mistake, the Europeans will hear Netanyahu, but will for the most part not be listening to the substance of his remarks. What he says will be heard by the US Congress and Trump administration, his primary audience.

A few central or eastern European foreign ministers may appreciate Israel’s case, but the majority of Europe is blinded by an intersectional view that sees Israel as the oppressor and the Palestinian as clearly in the right.

America can and should over time better explain to its European allies why Israel is so important for both American and European national security.

The problem is that “Netanyahu is expected to tell the European leaders that their obsessive focus on the settlements is ‘ridiculous’… We in Israel are the future. We will bring you water, technology and security against terrorists. We have blocked 30 to 40 major attacks in Europe. You ask your people whether they would rather have that or Ramallah.”

All true and all will fall on not only deaf ears, but may also exacerbate hostility to Israel, as this group believes that the conflict is completely Israel’s fault as a post-colonial imperialist power.

To them it is clear; it is all about the settlements anywhere over the green line, while Israel commits war crimes targeting Palestinian children. To this group, UNSC Resolution 2334, Israel is a violator of international law. Thank you president Barack Obama.

They believe Israel is the primary cause of most of the problems of the Middle East, and that if only Israel disappeared or acquiesced to returning to the ‘67 lines, all the problems of the Middle East would fall away. They have been hearing this scapegoating line of logic from the Arab world for half a century, and European diplomats have internalized it.

Here is a better way forward for the prime minister.

Netanyahu should begin by telling them that if Israel disappeared today, the 1,400-year-old Sunni-Shi’ite war would still be raging, geopolitical Islamism would still be a threat to them and their allies, the Muslim Brotherhood and its political Islamist ilk would still want a worldwide caliphate, Egypt would still be a basket case, the Syrian slaughter would have still happened, and yes, Iranian Shi’ite Islamist hegemony would still be the greatest threat to peace in the region, while Iran continues every day to be the world leader in terrorism and human rights abuses.

Netanyahu should ask them why they are willing to invest hundreds of billions of dollars propping up the Iranian mullahs’ dictatorship, which is supporting the North Korean nuclear regime, while they call for a boycott of Israeli goods from the disputed territories.

That is how you go on the diplomatic offensive. You have nothing to lose and much to gain by calling the West to task for its hypocrisy.

Netanyahu, challenge them: if they care so much about human rights, why don’t they publicly rebuke the state-sponsored human rights abuses and terrorism that afflicts almost every Muslim nation?

Where are the condemnations of Turkey for its oppression of journalists and minorities, and the putsch-style takeover of the military, media and schools?

Why do they pretend that Qatar and its Gulf neighbors are good international citizens when they keep their foreign workers in slave-like conditions, and misogyny, homophobia and torture are, for them, business as usual?

Challenge them to acknowledge that Israel has offered an Arab state living next to it five times in the past 82 years. Ask them if they know that Israel offered a state in 1936, 1948, 1967, 2000 and 2007, when the offer rejected by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was for 100% of the West Bank with swaps, east Jerusalem as their capital, and Arab control of the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu should challenge them to get rid of the double standard they have used for years to cast blame on Israel and call them to task for their government funding of NGOs in Israel whose goal is to undermine the democratically elected government of Israel, something that they would never tolerate another government doing in their countries.

Netanyahu should tell them that before they present another peace plan that they should insist at the outset that both Israel and the Palestinians agree to sign an end-of-conflict agreement creating two states for two peoples, one a Jewish state and the other an Arab state – or no deal. Otherwise, once again, it will just be a one-way-street negotiation.

Few minds will change, but the goal of this talk is to create a new benchmark narrative that Israel should insist upon at every meeting going forward with European and international diplomats.

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

IS THE ISRAEL ANTI-BOYCOTT ACT AN INFRINGEMENT OF FREE SPEECH?

{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

The “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” is bipartisan legislation currently supported by 42 senators and 247 members of the House.

Palestinian advocates use the language of free speech, human rights, social justice and international law to rationalize the irrational and immoral – financially supporting terrorists while promoting economic discrimination against the State of Israel. This manipulative use of universalistic terms hides the boycotters’ real agenda: the elimination of the State of Israel.

Congress is now deliberating on whether to update 1970s-era legislation against boycotting Israel with the Israel Anti-Boycott Act that would target the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Some of the same misleading arguments raised against the act were also used to discredit the Taylor Force Act, a proposed piece of legislation that would punish the Palestinian Authority if it continues to financially support and incentivize terrorists and their families with American taxpayer dollars.

Today, there is bipartisan support in Congress for updating the 1979 Export Administration Act prohibiting American corporations from cooperating with boycotts against Israel by foreign nations, the EU or the UN. No American should be compelled to acquiesce to a boycott ordered by a foreign entity.

Enter Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who introduced the updated legislation to combat the 21st-century boycotters of Israel.

The “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” is bipartisan legislation currently supported by 42 senators and 247 members of the House.

The ACLU, J Street and Moveon.org among other progressive groups are lobbying legislators to withdraw their support, claiming the legislation seeks to impose an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.

Senators Portman and Cardin responded to the ACLU, writing, “Nothing in the bill restricts constitutionally protected free speech or limits criticism of Israel… it is narrowly targeted at commercial activity and is based on current law that has been constitutionally upheld.”

Let’s be clear: the right to express one’s point of view, no matter how contentious or odious, is a constitutionally protected right.

However, the attempt to expand the meaning of speech to include commercial transactions is a transparent maneuver to stop this particular piece of legislation that would bar economic discrimination against Israel.

According to Scholars for Middle East Peace, “Legal analysts have shown… the amendment only… prohibits actual commercial boycotts… The distinction between expression, which cannot be regulated, and commercial conduct, which can be, is vital.”

Boycotts against the Jewish state began immediately with its creation in 1948. The Arab oil embargo and economic blackmailing of companies doing business with Israel motivated Congress to pass the Export Administration Act in an attempt to punish the boycotters of Israel and other American allies. The law barred economic discrimination against Israeli businesses, on pain of criminal and financial penalties.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, where the original boycott effort has mutated into the BDS movement, whose endgame is the destruction of Israel not the creation of two states for two peoples.

BDS is a serious and growing problem targeting investment funds, pensions funds and companies doing business in Israel.

Groups already supportive of BDS include various trade unions, municipalities, progressive mainstream churches, and academic organizations.

But the greatest potential threat from BDS may come from the halls of the United Nations and the European Union.

The ACLU claims the proposed legislation is an infringement of free speech. Yet many state legislatures have already passed anti-BDS legislation, going to great lengths not to restrict First Amendment rights.

Now that the legislation has reached the national level, the ACLU wants to include commercial transactions under the banner of speech.

It should be no surprise that the ACLU would be at the forefront in defending the rights of the anti-Israel movement. The ACLU is an advocate of intersectionality, whereby Zionism is stigmatized as being incompatible with everything from feminism to fighting racism. Progressive Zionists are demonized while even the most illiberal BDS supporters are celebrated.

Memo to the ACLU: fighting against Israel’s right to exist meets the State Department definition of antisemitism. Even the UN secretary general said that the “denial of Israel’s right to exist is antisemitism.”

The ACLU says it does not want to “stifle efforts to protest Israel’s settlement policies by boycotting businesses in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.” Notice that it doesn’t confine itself to the disputed territories but includes all of Israel, more proof this is not about a two-state solution but supporting the BDS goal of eliminating the Jewish state.

According to the pro-Palestinian website Electronic Intifada, “WESPAC, Adalah-NY, Jewish Voice for Peace-Westchester and Peace Action NY successfully mobilized to make this bill a central issue at New York Senator Gillibrand’s town halls.”

The intimidation is working, as Senator Kristin Gillibrand, a co-sponsor of the original legislation, has withdrawn her support, moving her into alignment with J Street.

Does Senator Gillibrand know these groups are vehemently anti-Israel and antisemitic, on the fringe of the left-wing extreme? J Street, a self-styled “pro-Israel, propeace” organization which reliably comes to the aid of BDS supporters, has expectedly lobbied Congress to oppose the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. Despite claiming that it is opposed to BDS, it is using its considerable voice not to explain the dangers of BDS to the State of Israel, but to support BDS’s rights, advocating engagement through dialogue that lends legitimization to BDS’s antisemitism.

BDS is not about two states or the “occupation,” it is about the destruction of Israel.

The words of BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti say it all: “Definitely, most definitely we [BDS] oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine,” and “no Palestinian Supports a Jewish state in Palestine.”

Let’s hope that the rest of Congress will rally in support of this important legislation against international BDS and will not be duped by the ACLU’s dubious freedom of speech argument.

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

New Challenges from Israel’s East and North

(Previously published in the Jerusalem Post)

Even if Israel and the West prop up the carcass of a failed Jordanian monarchy, how long can it last, as it will appear to be another colonialist land grab?

With the emergence of Iranian hegemony from Afghanistan to Beirut, Israel’s security and intelligence establishment is watching not only threats from Gaza and Lebanon, but also other areas of potential instability, including locations that have been quiet for years; the Golan Heights and Jordan.

The rise of Iran and the collapse of Syria have unnerved Sunni and Druse populations across the region, including those in Jordan and the Golan. They know that the United States and international bodies have acquiesced in the greatest ethnic cleansing of the 21st century, the removal of hundreds of thousands of Sunnis from Syria and Iraq.

As Hanin Ghaddar Friedmann of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote, “As a result of these efforts, a corridor linking Qalamoun to Damascus, Homs, and an Alawite enclave is almost Sunni-free…

this gives Hezbollah safe access to the Golan Heights, potentially allowing the group to open another front against Israel… The result will be an endless war in a region that is already fragile.”

Just as precarious and uncertain is the future of Jordan.

In desperation for answers beyond the mantra of an elusive two-state solution, experts have looked toward Jordan as a stabilizing pro-Western presence amid a sea of radical Shi’ite and Sunni jihadists. Some believe that a PA-Jordanian confederation is the best alternative.

But how stable is Jordan? Jordan is a very poor country with a radicalized anti-Israel Palestinian majority.

The nation has been inundated with refugees, first from the war in Iraq and most recently the millions fleeing a collapsing Syria. There are nearly 1.5 million refugees scattered throughout the country competing with Jordanians for jobs.

The recent Kerak attacks targeting Jordan’s essential tourist sector highlighted the growing radicalization of Sunni radicals within Jordan. Youth unemployment is near 40%, further adding fuel to radicalization.

Jordan is vulnerable from both within and from without. The Hashemite monarchy, which hails from the Hejaz, is not native to the area. Palestinians, who control the economy but not the government, demographically overwhelm the ruling monarchy’s Beduin brethren. The Muslim Brotherhood has a strong presence in Jordan and over the years has bred many Sunni jihadists who have joined Islamic State or were leaders of al-Qaida.

From the outside Jordan is facing ISIS-linked militants from Iraq and Syria, Hamas in the future from the West Bank, and Iranian-controlled Shi’ite armies to its east and north.

Israel’s next war might not be limited to attacks from Gaza or Lebanon, but could also come from the old front lines of the Golan or Jordan. The 40 years of quiet in the north during the tenure of Assad the father are long over. But is the nearly 50 years of quiet along the Jordanian frontier, that began after the Black September, 1970 struggle between Yasser Arafat and the Hashemites, endangered by instability within the Hashemite regime? Jordan’s greatest threat may be pressure from the do-gooding West encouraging elections in the Palestinian West Bank. Any election now will lead to a Hamas victory, and how long before a Hamas-controlled West Bank would direct its attention to undermining Jordan and encouraging its Palestinian populace to mutiny? As Reuel Marc Gerecht wrote in The Weekly Standard, “Not long ago, I asked a Fatah official how long he thought the Palestinian Authority could survive if Israel stopped supporting its security apparatus.” The answer was, “We could probably last two [months].”

Which means that if there is a PA-Jordanian federation, which falls in some kind of coup or civil war analogous to recent events in Syria, both the West Bank and Jordan could fall under the sway of radical Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, or worse.

To Israel’s north and east, groups ranging from Sunni jihadist Al Nusra to Shi’ite Iranian-controlled Hezbollah, both eye control of the Syrian Golan and desire to reconquer the Israeli Golan.

Conventional thought is that Israel’s next war will come from the north (Lebanon), where hundreds of thousands of missiles can rain on a population that is still not prepared for the carnage, or may like clockwork erupt from the Hamas Islamists.

The Golan may be particularly vulnerable for the first time in a generation due to the presence of the joint armies of the Shi’ite militias from Iraq, Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Syria, all on the doorstep of the Israeli Golan and Jordan.

Attacks on the Israeli Golan from what is left of Syria could be in the form of a long war of attrition, much like the repeated attacks from Gaza over the years, or like the war of attrition on the Suez after the Six Day War. Even if the next war comes from Lebanon, don’t be surprised to see the Golan as a new theater of war, creating a third front.

But it is a Jordanian front which poses the most dangerous challenge. America and Israel have pledged never to let the Jordanian monarchy fall, but it is built on an illegitimate foundation. Add to that a Palestinian majority even more anti-Israel than West Bank Palestinians, the destabilization by millions of poor radicalized refugees from war-torn Iraq and Syria, and Jordan starts looking a lot like pre-2011 Syria.

Even if Israel and the West prop up the carcass of a failed Jordanian monarchy, how long can it last, as it will appear to be another colonialist land grab? Some or none of this may happen, but what is certain is that Israel’s regional vulnerabilities are increasing.

The $38 billion MOU between America to Israel was mainly to compensate Israel for the Obama created disaster of the Iran deal.

It did not address the Obama-created chaos on Israel’s doorstep in Syria, Lebanon, or potentially Jordan, which will require billions more in aid to help stabilize America’s indispensable ally in the region.

What will happen? Who knows. All contingencies must be considered. But what is sure with Iranian ascendancy is that there will be an unpredictable radical Sunni response throughout the Levant.

The author is the director of MEPIN™. He regularly briefs members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

Prophetic vs. Protective American Jews: What Constitutes ‘Pro-Israel’?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Prophetic pro-Israel Jews need to be more realistic about Israel’s security concerns.

I recently listened to a sermon by Elliot Cosgrove, a leading Conservative rabbi in New York who spoke about the tension that exists between those who judge Israel through the lens of Prophetic Judaism, and Protective Jews who are primarily concerned with defending Israel from its legions of enemies.* Prophetic Judaism emphasizes its perception of injustices perpetrated by Israel against its minority citizens, and fancying themselves to be like the biblical prophets, its proponents cry out against Israeli leaders who don’t share their Progressive Prophetic political agenda.

For Prophetic Jews, pro-Israel support is conditional on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, often minimizing Israel’s security challenges and ignoring its offer of peace over the past 68 years.

Protective Jews see Israel fighting for its survival against 400 million Arab Muslims, so many of whom are suckled on antisemitism, praying for the end of the Jewish state. Protective American Jews defer security choices to the Israeli electorate, who have to live and sometimes die with the consequences of their actions.

Of course one should be both a moral and a pragmatic Israel supporter, but this dichotomy is real and needs to be addressed. If Israel is to maintain its American-Jewish support in the 21st century, the two groups need to find common ground for the good of the Jewish state, and Judaism in America.

So how does that tension play out? What does it mean for Israel to be a light unto the nations, surviving the efforts to annihilate it in such a noble way that it remains the embodiment of Jewish values? The Prophetic groups criticize IDF actions, and wring their hands over the poverty of the Palestinians, but are silent about the cultivation of hatred directed at Jews, and silent about the corrupt political, economic and legal institutions of the Palestinians that keep them impoverished.

Unfortunately many Prophetic groups define Israel with the broad brush of isolated negative anecdotes and egregious behavior that is the exception, not the norm.

Prophetic groups don’t see the hypocrisy in receiving money from foreign governments whose agenda is to delegitimize Israel and support her enemies. They too often fail to denounce Palestinian behavior like glorifying martyrs who kill Jewish civilians, or even rationalize attacks against Israel as the desperate attempts of an oppressed people, a very non-prophetic moral equivalence.

Israel’s raucous Knesset is called anti-democratic by many Prophetic groups, yet they ignore Israel’s toleration for Arab MKs who support the destruction of the state, something that would never happen in the American Congress.

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate is a serious problem that rightly upsets Prophetic and Protective Jews. It must be addressed for the health of the American-Israeli relationship.

However the claim that it has already destroyed a democratic Israel isn’t true by a long shot.

Full-time criticism of Israel is the MO of groups like Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

Earlier this year I spoke to the head of one of those Prophetic groups, Rabbis for Human Rights. When I recommended that his case for Palestinian rights would be more persuasive if he balanced his position by also advocating for Israeli human rights against incitement and attacks on Jewish civilians, he told me that was not the purpose of his organization.

So is this group really a Prophetic group, or is it a pro-Palestinian group masquerading as pro-Israel group? Breaking the Silence travels the world detailing alleged abuses by Israeli soldiers.

Its agenda includes support of boycott groups that want to end Israel as we know it.

Shouldn’t it be described simply as a pro-Palestinian organization? JVP’s real agenda, according to NGO Monitor, is to create “a wedge” within the American Jewish community, while working toward the goal of eliminating US economic, military and political aid to Israel.

When J Street said it could not say “who was right or who was wrong” during Israel’s last war against Hamas, weren’t they more pro-Palestinian than a Prophetic pro-Israel organization? So the real question is, can you balance security concerns and remain faithful to Jewish values? Of course you can, and you should.

Mainstream pro-Israel organizations like AIPAC and AJC balance the security challenges Israel faces, while remaining faithful to Jewish values.

They do not ignore the plight of innocent Palestinians, but they first and foremost are defenders of the only democracy in the Middle East, the only true ally of the United States in the region, and the only Jewish state in the world.

Prophetic pro-Israel Jews need to be more realistic about Israel’s security concerns.

They need to advocate for Israel’s right to defend itself from those who believe Israel doesn’t have a right to be a Jewish state in any part of the land, while remaining true to its Prophetic Jewish values, which true Protective lovers of Israel share.

*Rabbi Cosgrove referenced Stephen M. Cohen’s article “Prophets and Protectors of Israel” as the inspiration for his sermon.

The author is the director of MEPIN™. He regularly briefs members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

Is Path Forward a Revised Arab Peace Initiative?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

In 2002 Saudi Arabia proposed the Arab Peace Initiative (API), which seemed at first to promise an end to the Arab world’s rejection of Israel, and a path to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Initially it appeared that full normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world was being offered.

Unfortunately, “full normalization” evolved into “normal relations,” which then became almost meaningless as Adil al-Jubayr, the Saudi ambassador to the US, then said normalization would happen only after the achievement of peace.

This allowed the Palestinian leadership to hold a veto over any initiative and the chance of advancing Israeli-Sunni Arab relations.

What started as a dramatic possibility turned into a take-it-or-leave-it offer. It insisted Israel return to the indefensible 1949 armistice line, i.e. 1967 line, while guaranteeing an unlimited right of return for descendants of Arab refuges, i.e. the demographic destruction of Israel.

But times change, and there may be a real opportunity now.

Over the past 16 years Israel has participated in five wars, while the Arab Winter of 2011 upended the legitimacy of the arbitrarily chosen Sykes-Picot borders.

American interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were replaced by retreat, and Islamists of all stripes filled the resulting power vacuums. Meanwhile, the ill-conceived JCPOA (Iran deal) has given the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism the green light for a nuclear bomb with full international approval in 10-15 years, and access to billions for its war chest. Meanwhile, Palestinians are so disgusted with the Palestinian Authority’s pervasive corruption that Hamas has seemed to many a better choice.

Which brings us to a golden window of opportunity that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

The Obama administration’s gift to the Iranians is a dark cloud with the following silver lining: Shi’ite Iran’s threats are directed not just at America and Israel, but also at Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states that are in Iran’s path of aggression.

Israel and the Saudi monarchy have been unofficially cooperating on a number of security issues for the past few years. There have been a few public handshakes – previously unthinkable – between present and former Israeli and Saudi leaders (Saudi prince Turki al-Faisal).

As Lesley Terris of IDC Herzliya wrote in The Jerusalem Post earlier this year, The API “deserves serious consideration because a process based on a document endorsed and supported by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and… the Arab League would enjoy legitimacy in large parts of the Muslim and Arab world.”

So the magic question is, can the 2002/2007 API be tweaked to create a document that will allow all parties to save face, and bring the relationship into the public and diplomatic sphere? A simple document can state up-front that all issues are not going to be resolved immediately, but that it is the basis for an immediate process of normalization of relations between the parties so that they can work together.

Here are some ideas.

  1. Negotiations will be based on UN resolutions 242 and 181. This would allow both sides to move forward without imposing the indefensible Green Line as the final offer on borders.
  1. An Israeli gesture allowing 5,000 Arab refugees from 1948 immediate entrance into Israel, or compensation.

This symbolic gesture would acknowledge the hardships of Palestinians, while at the same time make clear that the deal-breaking UNWRA definition of refugees as descendants of refugees, unique to Palestinian refugees, cannot be on the table.

  1. Normal diplomatic and commercial relations, with embassies opened in the second phase of negotiations. America can sweeten the pot with preferred trade agreements for Arab states that sign onto the revised API.
  1. The issue of the Golan Heights and Jerusalem will be deferred due to regional realities.

A simple document could transform the region.

Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will be coming to visit members of the Senate and House Foreign Relations Council. He has already shown great foresight in his vision to restructure the future Saudi Arabian economy away from its reliance on oil revenue. He and his security establishment know that if anyone is going to oust the Saudi regime and lay waste to or nuke their country, it’s Iran waving a Shi’ite banner, not Israel or the US.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog recently revealed that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have had many recent discussions over the API, and no doubt could join a unity government if this moves forward.

Unfortunately the myopic Obama administration foreign policy team believes any new initiatives are deliberate plans to sabotage the president’s foreign policy legacy.

It is time for the American Congress to come to the rescue, to take a leading role in forging foreign policy initiatives.

For far to long the legislative branch of the American government has avoided its constitutional responsibilities on foreign policy, allowing presidents of both parties too much executive overreach in foreign affairs.

We should call on respective chairmen of the Senate and House foreign relations committees, Senator Bob Corker and Congressman Ed Royce, and ranking members Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Eliot Engel, to take up the mantle of forging regional Middle East stability, while promoting American national security interests.

The author is the director of MEPIN™.

He regularly briefs members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists on issues related to the Middle East.

Can a ‘Pro-Israel’ Progressive Still Ignore SJP’s True Agenda?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

How does the anti-Zionist Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) that traffics in anti-Semitic boycott advocacy, become so popular on US college campuses? Until recently, my talks on campus were a mixture of Middle East history, Iranian nuclear proliferation, the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, with a smattering of warnings about the growing boycott movement. This year and last, almost all of the invitations to speak were from students and parents desperately trying to understand and combat the intimidation of Jewish students by the boycott movement, while college administrators ignore the growing anti-Semitism on many campuses.

Why are SJP’s hateful message and its efforts to deny other people’s free speech by disrupting events not abhorrent to academics, or journalistic elites in mainstream media? Last year I accidentally stumbled into an SJP strategy session before I was to speak at a college campus, and heard them considering their options of whether to shout me down or just ask hostile questions.

When did anti-Semitism under the cover of anti-Zionism become acceptable on the American campus, while all other minority or marginalized groups receive the extra protection of “safe spaces” from politically incorrect “micro-aggressions”? There is a perfect storm on the 21st century campus. The far Left’s cultural relativism and moral equivalence have coalesced and joined the ascendancy of the anti-Israel advocacy within academia.

Hypocrisy abounds, as progressive professors protected by their free speech and tenure willingly collaborate with groups whose misogyny and human rights abuses they should find sickening. They rationalize that suppressing another’s free speech is itself a form of free speech, as long as it is directed only at Jews who want to defend Israel’s right to exist.

The creation and funding of anti-Zionist advocacy began in the Seventies with the oil largesse of Wahhabi Gulf States, which purchased the advocacy of our best universities by endowing what are now the lopsidedly anti-Israel Middle East studies departments. Our children live in a toxic academic environment where challenging the conventional wisdom of Palestinian victimhood could get you a D- or the loss of your “Facebook friends” for being politically incorrect.

Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) exposed the true nature of SJP and its associations in April and May of this year. He testified before Congress about SJP funding and its associations before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, and the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa. Schanzer previously served as a terrorism finance analyst for the Department of the Treasury.

Schanzer found that Berkeley professor Hatem Bazian, one of the founders of SJP, has had strong associations with Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood front organizations in America.

According to Caroline Glick, “Bazian formed American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), whose leadership held key positions at the Holy Land Foundation, KindHearts, and the Islamic Association for Palestine. These groups and their employees transferred millions of dollars to al-Qaida, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.

Although Schanzer could find no indication that AMP is continuing its predecessor’s practice of sending funds to foreign terrorist groups, he demonstrated how the heir of Hamas-USA now directs the BDS movement. Through AMP, they control SJP.”

Schanzer said, “AMP is… a leading driver of the BDS campaign (and) arguably the most important sponsor and organizer for Students for Justice in Palestine, which is the most visible arm of the BDS campaign on campuses in the United States.”

These are groups you should not associate yourself with if you claim to be pro-Israel, even if you believe settlements over the Green Line are a primary cause of the conflict. SJP is not about two states for two peoples.

From their co-founder Omar Bargouti on down, they are against the State of Israel’s existence. The claim that giving a stage to every anti-Israel opinion will lead to a true dialogue and somehow produce a constructive path to end the conflict defies logic.

This is not about criticizing critics of Israel or about the two-state solution; this is about giving a platform to those who want you gone or dead Perhaps none of this should be a surprise.

BDS supporters now sit on the mainstream Democratic Party platform committee, nominated by Israel’s harsh critic Bernie Sanders, the false messiah of millennials, brainwashed with politically correct advocacy education from our institutions of higher learning. In 2014 Cornell West wrote that the crimes of Hamas “pale in the face of the US supported Israeli slaughters of innocent civilians.”

The tide is turning against Israel within one segment of a mainstream American political party, while radical hate groups poison the minds of college students. For far too long too many mainstream Jewish organizations have only paid lip service to the growing BDS threat, or minimized its potential impact. Nothing could be more dangerous.

It’s time for pro-Israel organizations to actually work together to effectively oppose BDS on American campuses.

And it’s time for pro-Israel Jewish philanthropists to threaten to withhold financial support of universities that foster an atmosphere of intolerance and intimidation for Jewish students who identify with and advocate for Israel.

The author is the director of MEPIN™. He regularly briefs members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, and journalists.

Will Free Speech on Israel Survive Progressive Censorship?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Jewish liberals and activists from the ACLU defended the Nazis’ right to march and display the swastika as a form of free speech.

I remember, from my younger days, the controversies over the proposed Nazi march in Skokie Illinois in 1978. Skokie was a Jewish suburb of Chicago, with a high concentration of survivors of the Shoah. The Nazi march was specifically chosen to take place in this Jewish suburb, to outrage, intimidate, and gain notoriety for their odious genocidal agenda.

Unlike post-World War II Europe that chose to deal with Nazism by outlawing it and imposing criminal penalties for using or promoting Nazi agendas or symbols, the United States chose to remain true to one of the core principles of its founders, allowing free speech with few exceptions, such as yelling “fire” in a theater.

Jewish liberals and activists from the ACLU defended the Nazis’ right to march and display the swastika as a form of free speech. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that any ban was unconstitutional.

How times have changed.

Today the ACLU and progressive farleft activists, many of them Jewish, fail to object to the assault on pro-Israel free speech on American college campuses and in the public arena, no doubt because the calls for denial of free speech come from their own ranks.

Pro-Israel speakers are now routinely shouted down, forced off the stage of public discourse by Palestinian and “social justice” activists. Just ask ambassador Michael Oren, or Palestinian human rights advocate Bassem Eid, whose crime was talking about co-existing with Israelis. At Brandeis University, Brandeis president Frederick Lawrence withdrew Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s invitation to speak there, because she speaks out against Islamic female genital mutilation and other human rights violations in the Islamic world.

These “open-minded” progressives claim friends of Israel shouldn’t be allowed to speak, because of Israel’s supposed war crimes against Palestinians, Western colonialism, apartheid, human rights abuses, genocide of the Palestinian people, ethnic cleansing of the indigenous inhabitants, use of disproportionate force, targeting of Palestinian children, etc. Then boycotting, demonizing and sanctioning Israel is then only a natural next step.

They further claim that shouting down pro-Israel speakers is their form of free speech. George Orwell must be turning over in his grave.

As Ruth Wisse writes in The Wall Street Journal, “Campus anti-Israel coalitions exploit freedom of speech and assembly to assail the only Middle Eastern country that guarantees those freedoms.”

Within the Progressive far Left, there is a singular lack of respect and toleration for differing opinions, not only on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A recent Progressive recommendation is to use RICO law enforcement statutes designed for the Mafia and drug cartels to suppress the free speech of those who challenge some of the claims of climate change advocates. In the eyes of Progressives, climate change deniers are now equivalent to Pablo Escobar and the Corleone family. The idea that it is a legitimate Progressive tactic to intimidate opposing voices by using the RICO statutes should be frightening to everyone across the political spectrum.

Not to be outdone, on the populist Right is the dangerous rhetoric of Donald Trump, who also exhibits an utter disdain for differing viewpoints, viciously attacking individuals who disagree with his agenda in a manner more akin to Peron or Chavez than any previous American aspiring to be president.

As for the intimidation and suppression of free speech by anti-boycott activists, Richard Cravats in The American Thinker offers: “The disturbing campaign to suppress speech… is a troubling and recurrent pattern of behavior by ‘progressive’ leftists and ‘social justice’ advocates from Muslim-led pro-Palestinian groups… [it] promote[s] a relentless campaign against Israel in the form of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS)… university officials and student groups who now try to suppress all thought of which they disapprove have sacrificed one of the core values for which the university exists… the truth.”

So what to do? On the Right, many American conservatives have already publicly challenged and repudiated Trump’s scapegoating and bullying tactics. An open letter by 120 members of the Republican foreign policy establishment denounced Trump’s inflammatory foreign policy rhetoric.

But for supporters of Israel and those who want to fight against the anti-Semitic, anti-free speech BDS movement, the problem lies almost exclusively with the progressive far Left.

A recent encouraging sign was the superb work of Professor Tammi Rossman- Benjamin, who led a coalition of groups that included MEPIN that persuaded the California Board of Regents to acknowledge that some forms of anti-Zionism are truly anti-Semitic.

Although not quite an acceptance of the US State Department definition of anti-Semitism, the Californian Board of Regents decision is no half-loaf victory, especially when you realize that California academia is overwhelmingly biased against Israel, and more times than not encourages BDS in the classrooms.

So how do you stop the anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist protesters from denying a pro-Israel activist the right to speak, uninterrupted, in a public or private space? Can you create a strategy to preemptively stop disrupting protesters from denying a pro-Israel advocates their right to free speech? On the college campus it needs to begin with the administration, alumni and financial supporters of universities.

Pro-Israel funders and alumni need to make it crystal clear to the administration of our universities that continued financial support is contingent on protecting free speech, especially of pro-Israel supporters, the ones overwhelmingly under attack.

According to Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor, “A major law firm that gave student groups at the Harvard Law School a million-dollar donation changed course after learning that some of the money went to promote campaigns that single out Israel.”

Liberal and conservative intellectuals and thinkers need to come together to publicly disavow suppression of free speech. Even in our hyperpolarized political world, there are many good people across the spectrum that would support letters and advertisements to protect and promote free speech for all, repudiating the shouting down of pro-Israel speakers as a legitimate tactic of free speech.

The effort can begin in a bipartisan fashion in Congress, between respectful academics, or be initiated by mainstream pro-Israel organizations like AJC or ADL.

Calling all Americans: protect our free speech.

The author is the director of MEPIN™.

He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East. Mepinanalysis.org is read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists.