Category Archives: Middle East

The dangerous impotence of UNIFIL’s mission in Lebanon

A picture taken from the southern Lebanese village of Meiss al-Jabal on December 16, 2018, shows a United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) soldier monitoring the border between Lebanon and Israel. On his right is a flag of the Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

Published in the Times of Israel.


Lebanon is in economic freefall, and the sectarian tensions between Shiite, Sunni, Christian, and Druze have paralyzed the government. Lebanon’s true power, Hezbollah is under the direct control of Iran, while Lebanon’s weak and compliant armed forces (LAF) coordinate with Hezbollah.

Both Iran and Hezbollah have ignored UNSC Resolution 1559, calling for “strict respect of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon” while disbanding “all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.”


Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Lebanon is supposed to be monitored by a 10,000 multi-national United Nations force (UNIFIL). Its mandate is to work with the LAF to keep Hezbollah’s unauthorized military out of southern Lebanon, prevent the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah, disarm all militias, and stop attacks against Israel. UNIFIL’s overall mission has been a failure with few exceptions since it began over forty years ago with the Taif Agreement that ended the Lebanese civil war.


Last month the UNSC adopted Resolution 2591, extending UNIFIL’s mandate in southern Lebanon for another year. The resolution urged all parties “to ensure that the freedom of movement of UNIFIL in all its operations and UNIFIL’s access to the Blue Line in all its parts is fully respected and unimpeded….” It condemned “in the strongest terms all attempts to restrict [its] freedom of movement.” And it reaffirmed “the necessity of an effective and durable deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces in southern Lebanon.”


The Security Council was too timid to call out Hezbollah or Iran by name in the resolution. The LAF will continue to facilitate Hezbollah’s wishes, or else it will suffer its wrath. So what have the 10,000 UNIFIL peacekeepers been doing for the last 15 years since the UNSC passed Resolution 1701 after the Second Lebanon War with Israel?

They were supposed to have created a zone south of the Litani River free from Hezbollah and entirely in the control of the LAF. Unfortunately, the LAF, for its survival, has become serf to Hezbollah’s wishes. While Hezbollah continues to intimidate UNIFIL personnel directly, the LAF can’t work with UNIFIL to monitor Hezbollah’s actions that threaten Israel. A recent attempt to upgrade UNIFIL’s monitoring of the Blue Line with new surveillance cameras was vetoed by Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, with the help of the LAF, has created no-go zones for UNIFIL patrols. All patrols must be coordinated with the LAF in advance in conjunction with their Hezbollah overlords, lest UNIFIL finds some of the tens of thousands of missiles, many hidden in civilian homes — which constitute war crimes.

The LAF facilitates freedom of operation for Hezbollah by designating areas off-limits to UNIFIL troops for inspection. The LAF’s intelligence units that liaise with Hezbollah on occasion attempt to intervene to solve minor incidents, but the vast majority of the time, they are simply in lockstep with Hezbollah. The LAF cannot even guarantee that any equipment and weapons that Hezbollah operatives confiscate from UNIFIL personnel will be returned.

The sources reporting on UNIFIL-Hezbollah clashes are primarily from the Lebanese media. You will not find them on the home page of the UNIFIL website because UNIFIL chooses instead to spotlight its aid to the Lebanese people and the LAF, not its impotence to fulfill its mandate. UNIFIL doesn’t want to put targets on their backs for Hezbollah to identify. Since 2006 at the end of the Second Lebanon War, UNIFIL has stopped no missile transfers from Iran to Hezbollah.

UNIFIL was too intimidated to have exposed any of the six border tunnel openings into Israel excavated by Hezbollah, even after Israel had publicly informed UNIFIL of their existence. The latest resolution also failed to mention that six rocket attacks originated from south Lebanon in the past two months.

Hezbollah no longer even tries to conceal its presence on the Blue Line with Israel. Iranian, Hezbollah and Palestinian flags adorn the border fence. Military ceremonies are held overlooking Israeli communities while more fortifications with vantage points overlooking Israel are erected under the pretense of an environmental organization, “Green without Borders.” Daily, we see Hezbollah operatives gathering intelligence and filming Israelis, even with the LAF present.


Where was UNIFIL this entire time? See no evil, speak no evil, report no evil should be the motto of UNIFIL and the LAF.


The real question is what is UNIFIL’s mission in the 21st century. Is it to keep the peace or to enforce it? If it is the former, then UNIFIL’s success is minimal at best, only due to Hezbollah’s patience under the direction of Iran, waiting for an opportune time to open its missile arsenal to strike Israel. But if it is the latter, and south Lebanon “must be free of unauthorized personnel, weapons, and other assets,” then UNIFIL has been a profound failure.


UNIFIL’s presence in Lebanon has lasted decades. That is why it is necessary to end the charade that UNIFIL is fulfilling its mission. It is time to state the obvious, UNIFIL is ineffective and completely cowed by Hezbollah. Can the UNIFIL force’s half a billion dollars a year subsidy be anything more than another international bureaucratic economic boondoggle?


The only choice, short of totally ending UNIFIL’s presence, is to fundamentally change its mission. Since it is nearly impossible for UNIFIL to fulfill its current mission, it would be far wiser to change its mission to simply act as a mediator that can resolve tactical conflicts between the Israelis and the Lebanese on the border, as they have done over the past 15 years.


Since the US is a significant contributor ($145 million per year) to this ineffective force, it should insist on reducing UNIFIL’s mandate to one that it can fulfill and dramatically decrease its funding in proportion to a reduced mission. American administrations of both parties have been willfully blind to the reality in Lebanon. The American taxpayer should not have to finance a mission that has not improved Lebanon’s future or afforded peace to the residents of Israel or Lebanon. They would be better served by funding a more limited mission.

Hezbollah attack tunnel from Lebanon reaching 80 meters below ground and 70 meters into Israeli territory. May 29, 2019 (Avihu Shapira / IDF spokesman office)

Palestinian Authority Textbook Anti-Semitism and J Street

Dear MEPIN Readers,


First, a belated happy and healthy New Year to my Jewish readers. In past years, far too many congregants worshipping in the more pluralistic branches of Judaism were subjected to sermons on the High Holidays that emphasized criticism of Israel without enough context or appreciation for the security challenges of the Jewish state. Being tough on Israel and soft on the PA was too often the script. This brings us to the issue of the Palestinian Authority’s long-standing anti-Semitism, most egregiously evidenced in their textbooks. Many of these sermonizers subscribe to the J Street talking points regarding criticism of Israel and defense of the Palestinian Arabs.


In recent weeks “Members of the European Parliament…were unanimous in condemning incitement and anti-Semitic content found by a recent study of Palestinian Authority textbooks, in what one nonprofit called a “watershed moment” in the campaign to reform the curricula.”  

Overwhelming evidence of Palestinian Authority anti-Semitism has been documented for many years by organizations such as Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) that has been ignored or minimized by groups like J Street. A few years ago, I brought the head of PMW to meet leaders of J Street in New York. Itamar Marcus shared evidence of PA support for anti-Semitism in schools. Promisingly, the J Street leaders said the information was new to them and disturbing. They said that despite it being uncomfortable to a J Street audience, they would recommend to their national leadership to bring Mr. Marcus to speak at the national J Street conference. Unfortunately, Itamar never received an invitation from J Street, despite contacting them again. Diversity of thought was not on the agenda.


The last time J Street strongly condemned the PA was over three years ago when PA President Abbas’ blatantly anti-Semitic speech couldn’t be ignored. It may be long in coming, but it is time for J Street to step up to the plate and strongly condemn the PA for decades of anti-Semitism in their textbooks, official media, and mosques. Since the PA has not prepared their young people to accept their Jewish neighbors to have their own nation, J Street should be faithful to its mandate for two states for two-peoples and call out the PA’s actions as an impediment to peace, equal to their demand to end settlements. If settlements and territory were the primary reason for this dispute, it would have ended many years ago after Israeli offers in 1949, 1967, 2000, 2001, and 2008 for two states for two peoples. 

Suppose J Street ignores, rationalizes, or defends the PA, even after the usually unsympathetic EU has denounced PA indoctrinated anti-Semitism. In that case, they should consider changing their moniker from pro-Israel to pro-Palestine.  


EU Budgetary Committee Chair Monika Hohlmeier — who hails from Munich, where Palestinian gunmen killed members of the Israeli Olympic team in 1972 — called the offending (Palestinian textbook) content unacceptable. “The Munich massacre is portrayed as a justified attack. We cannot accept that young people are taught that terrorist attacks are acceptable.” 


The Director of the mainstream American Jewish Committee’s Brussels-based EU Office said it is “difficult to imagine a policy more at odds with EU values and the stated goals of working toward peace and the creation of a democratic Palestinian state than indoctrinating schoolchildren to hate. The European Commission must act decisively to help preserve both the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution and its own standing as an honest broker.” 


And J Street should act too. 

Your thoughts?


Eric

Sources:
https://www.algemeiner.com/2021/09/03/eu-lawmakers-unanimous-in-denouncing-antisemitic-content-in-palestinian-authority-textbooks/
https://www.algemeiner.com/2021/06/18/after-delay-eu-releases-report-detailing-antisemitism-incitement-to-violence-in-palestinian-textbooks/
https://www.algemeiner.com/2021/06/10/german-politicians-demand-immediate-publication-of-secret-eu-report-exposing-antisemitic-incitement-in-palestinian-schools/

Afghanistan debacle upends Biden’s upcoming summit with Israel’s Bennett

Source: Getty

What a difference a month makes. In July, Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, met with his military, security and intelligence advisers to plan for his Aug. 26 summit with President Biden. Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid were considering a less confrontational approach than the previous Israeli administration, trying to work more closely with the United States regarding Iran’s aggression while not raising the ire of the Biden administration about Israel’s actions in the West Bank. National security advisers from both countries also met to lay the groundwork for the summit.

Now, the Biden administration is dealing with the repercussions to America’s reputation from its Afghanistan withdrawal, and allies including Israel are uncertain about trusting U.S. assurances going forward. 

Read the rest from The Hill.

The flight of the human-rights warriors from Afghanistan and Iran

Published by JNS.

Malala Yousafzai message on Afghanistan

The leading proponents of the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan were liberals and progressives, including supposed interventionists like Joe Biden.

Eric R. Mandel(August 23, 2021 / JNS)
<iu.jpeg> credit:  theplanettoday.com

I had already started writing this article when I stumbled upon an article in The Atlantic, “The Week the Left Stopped Caring About Human Rights. It’s remarkable how quickly liberals abandoned the women of Afghanistan.” The initial impetus was U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s remarks earlier this year when he said the “administration will stand against human-rights abuses wherever they occur, regardless of whether the perpetrators are adversaries or partners.”

It needs to be pointed out that The Atlantic is not some right-wing outlet but is a leading light for the Democrat Party. So kudos to them for publishing this article.

Get the hell out has … been the liberal position for two decades, until about 72 hours ago, when Democrats suddenly became so concerned about the fate of Afghanistan. … You can call for American troop withdrawal for 20 years. … But you need to be ready to take it on the chin when you get what you ask for, and the inevitable happens: girls being forced into child marriage and forbidden to go to school or to leave the house without a male relative. Is your conscience prickling. … It’s remarkable how quickly the left took up the cold calculus of realpolitik. How quickly it forgot its love for Malala, the young Pakistani girl who survived a Taliban bullet to the head, her only crime getting an education and trying to help other girls get one too. The White House must have known she’d give Biden a bad news cycle or two, and indeed, she appealed to the president to take ‘a bold step’ to stave off disaster.”

Anyone who has paid attention to Afghanistan over the last 20 years knows that the Taliban are horrific abusers of women, minorities and anyone else who stands in their way. They also knew that millions of those people’s lives were profoundly changed for the better after the Taliban were supposedly defeated by the United States 20 years ago.

Yet the leading proponents of the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan were liberals and progressives, including supposed interventionists like Joe Biden.

Republican isolationists like Rand Paul also represent a minority viewpoint to end all American entanglements, caring little for the well-being of anyone beyond American borders. I wish my fellow ophthalmologist had a bit of compassion for the other and realized that history proves more times than not that American withdrawals lead to harmful consequences at home as well as abroad. America’s retreat after World War I was one of the reasons for World War II and the rise of fascism.

But liberal Democrats, unlike many non-isolationist Republicans, have championed the complete American withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan while paying lip service condemning human-rights abuses. They didn’t want to have any more skin in the game but still wanted to virtue signal their fight against misogyny and genocide.

Biden’s old boss also talked the talk on human rights but often didn’t walk the walk. One example was when his Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power revealed in her 2019 memoir that she defied his orders and blocked Russia from joining the U.N. human rights council. Power, who made a name for herself with her book on genocide, couldn’t stomach voting for a regime that directly helped Syria’s genocidal dictator Bashar Assad.

So let’s be honest: Biden helped cause a human-rights disaster in Afghanistan, weakened America’s ability to prevent the next 9/11 and feels little regret about the move. As a candidate in 2020, when asked whether the United States had a responsibility to Afghan women and girls in light of a possible Taliban takeover, he said: “No, I don’t!” So much for his trumpeted empathy. The emperor has no clothes and makes no bones about it.

As Peter Baker of The New York Times wrote: “The president who won the White House on a promise of competence and compassion has had trouble demonstrating much of either … seemingly more intent on washing his hands of Afghanistan than expressing concern over the humanitarian tragedy unfolding on the ground.”

This brings us to Biden’s next Middle East foreign-policy decision, involving human rights and realpolitik. The decision to appease Iranian misogynists, terrorists and human-rights abuses with enough cash so they will want to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.

Biden is still gung-ho and happy to engage the revolutionary anti-Western despots in Iran, despite ignoring that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has nominated former Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi to become Iran’s next interior minister. Vahidi has an outstanding warrant for his arrest by Interpol for his role in bombing the AMIA Jewish Center in Argentina in 1994. Not a peep of condemnation from the administration, yet they rightly condemned former President Donald Trump for engaging with the Taliban two years ago in its negotiations in Doha.

The Iranian apologists from pro-peace organizations remain mute on calling out the actual war crimes committed by Iranians. There has been no public censure from the administration about Iran’s new president—a man responsible for the deaths of thousands. Not even a call to demand that a killer president elected in a rigged election be denied a visa to attend the United Nations General Assembly. Raisi’s previous position was as the head of Iran’s judiciary; it’s not every day that do you see a war criminal as a nation’s chief justice.

Yet Biden was willing to meet with Raisi, which would have offered a form of legitimization. Raisi saved Biden when he refused to meet with him. According to White House spokesperson Jen Psaki, “The president’s view … is that the decision leader is the Supreme Leader.” Memo to the White House: Khamenei oversees the apparatus that tortures, imprisons and kills gays, journalists, minorities and opposition members.

As for Afghanistan, Michael O’Hanlon, writing for the Brookings Institute, said: “The decision to leave when we had a reasonably stable if indefinite presence of only 3,000 or so U.S. troops was a poor strategic calculation. … The uncertain status of so many friends of the United States who are still stuck in Afghanistan brings a poignant human-rights dimension to the miscalculation as well.”

America cannot intervene in every humanitarian crisis, but this was one of our making, and we should be ashamed of how we left.

A way to end the long ‘Middle East Winter’

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel

Published in The Hill.

Source: Getty Images

Ten years ago, the Arab Spring gave hope to people of the Middle East that they could take more control of their lives away from repressive regimes. Those in the West hoped that new governments would be more aligned with their interests, even without adopting Western-style democracy. Such dreams were dashed when Islamists and new authoritarians took advantage of the moment to seize control. The prospects of that “spring” turned into a lasting “Middle East Winter.” The one glimmer of hope was Tunisia, and that fragile democracy now also has turned authoritarian.

Read the rest from The Hill.

America’s exit from the Middle East – analysis

U.S. Army paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division prepares before departure to Middle East
(photo credit: JONATHAN DRAKE / REUTERS)

Published in The Jerusalem Post.

Walter Meed Russell, writing in The Wall Street Journal, sees the glass of America’s 20-year presence in the Middle East as half full. He believes we bolstered our interests, if not advancing democracy abroad. One of the most important accomplishments that we take for granted is that our presence has prevented any “major new international terrorist attacks” on American soil over the last two decades. In addition, he points out the unprecedented accomplishment of the Abraham Accords where today “neighboring Arab states now consider Israel an ally to be cultivated” instead of a pariah to be annihilated. 

But are these gains sustainable without a continued American presence in the region? What will be the consequences without an American security blanket? 

The American withdrawal from the region, promised by US presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, now has a September target date in Afghanistan. In Iraq and Syria, the US presence is also on life support. The long-anticipated departure from the Middle East will end a fragile status quo for all the players in the region. 


The Sunni states, which have counted on the US as a final level of defense, are in uncharted territory. America is not only leaving the region but as a parting gift is returning to the Iran nuclear agreement, which will provide Iran with tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief. The Sunni states know this will encourage Iran to test the waters of how far it can push its influence before it suffers any repercussions. Consequently, all of the region’s nation-states are recalibrating their strategies and contemplating new alliances for their survival, even with their current enemy Iran.

So when Saudi Intelligence Chief Khalid al-Humaidan secretly met with Saeed Iravani, Iran’s deputy secretary of its Supreme National Security Council, it represented a possible tipping point between the Islamic world’s bitterest of rivals as a direct result of America’s retreat from the region. Kirsten Fontenrose of the Atlantic Council offered a positive spin, advancing the possibility of an Ishmael Track (Sunni-Shi’ite) between the bitter rivals to pursue détente. Pushing America’s longtime Saudi ally into the arms of the region’s most dangerous actor only serves Russian, Chinese and Iranian interests. 

The most dangerous consequence of the American turn from the region will be the nuclear arms race left in its wake. The Sunni world will play catch-up, knowing they or anyone else cannot count on UN nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency who are not permitted to visit clandestine Iranian nuclear sites, the very places weaponization is likely to occur. If Iran continues to enrich uranium, develops more precise ballistic and cruise missiles and achieves the compartmentalization of a nuclear warhead, a nuclear Middle East is inevitable. The Saudis, Egyptians and the Emiratis will join the race for their own nuclear bomb as a counterweight to Iran’s adventurism and intimidation. The Saudis have already contracted with Pakistan for nuclear technology and possibly a completed weapon.

So what happens when the US leaves the Middle East? Here are 10 possible outcomes that American politicians, the military and intelligence services will have to grapple with in the coming years. 

1. Islamist terrorism will find both new and old havens from which to plot mayhem against the US and Israel.
2. Iran will increase its military activity at the region’s two strategic choke-hold points at the Straits of Hormuz and Bab el Mandeb, threatening international shipping lanes.
3. With America’s retreat, allies worldwide will know that American security commitments can be expected to have expiration dates.
4. Iran, Russia and China will be the new superpowers of the Middle East.
5. Israel will be more isolated if Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states move toward Iran out of desperation. Still, Israel hopes they decide to continue normalization (Abraham Accords), seeing them as the better choice of ally.
6. Iran will feel less inhibited in risk-taking, knowing the US will not want to challenge the Islamic regime, lest it withdraw from the nuclear agreement.
7. Iran will set its sights on Jordan, the next domino to fall, after Iraq and Lebanon, under Iranian influence.
8. The Taliban will retake Afghanistan, making all the gains achieved for women and minorities disappear instantly.
9. The chance for regional conflicts will grow.
10. Nuclear proliferation will arrive sooner or later in the Sunni world, to nobody’s benefit. 

Are any of these outcomes in America’s national security interest? Will America be forced to return to the region as it did after Obama’s hasty retreat from Iraq in 2011, but under less favorable conditions? As former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren told Yaroslav Trofimov of the Journal in October 2019, “If you think the United States as a global power can pull out of the Middle East and not endanger itself, you are deluding yourselves.” 

Does the Biden administration believe Iran is behind most Shia militias?

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel

{Previously published in JNS}

A controversy that occurred during a recent question-and-answer session for reporters by Pentagon press secretary John Kirby may have revealed a troubling insight into the Biden administration’s approach in rebranding Iran’s problematic image. He claimed that Shia militias that are causing so much trouble in the Middle East are not Iranian-controlled. After criticism made its way into the public arena, Kirby partially walked back his statement in a subsequent press conference, agreeing that some Shia militias are Iranian-backed. Was this a Freudian slip, a trial balloon or a real insight into administration thinking?

There is a well-documented history of the Obama-Biden administration misleading the public about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Therefore, it is prudent to ask if Kirby’s first answer to a softball question that should not have flustered an experienced spokesperson was an accurate representation of the administration’s thinking. It’s all part of a strategy to create the illusion that the Islamic Republic is not responsible for supporting the majority of Shia militias throughout the Middle East in the hopes that in preparing the ground to rejoin JCPOA, Iran will be more palatable to the U.S. public.

So a primer on Iranian-controlled Shi’ite militias and what the administration is doing is in order.

What Kirby may have been attempting to do is frame the situation as an internal ethnic conflict between Shi’ite groups who are independent of Iranian influence. However, the overwhelming evidence is that Iran’s strategy is to create Iranian-controlled militias in the region’s crumbling nations to exert control and undermine U.S. interests while threatening American allies.

Statements like Kirby’s intensify Israel’s well-founded fears that America wants to pretend it doesn’t see Iran’s malign activity. Instead, the administration chooses to put all of its eggs in the JCPOA basket, focusing on the nuclear issue while ignoring Islamic imperialism. Almost no serious military or intelligence analyst believes the Islamic Republic of Iran does not control Shia militias, such as the Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq or Syria (local militias). Iran’s hegemonic ambitions carried out through its proxy network are a threat to be taken seriously.

A not-so-subtle warning for Israel not to attack Iran was posted by the White House in its Interim National Security Guidelines. The administration stated, “We do not believe that military force is the answer. … We will not give our partners in the Middle East a blank check to pursue policies at odds with American interests.” Is that a warning not to attack Iran in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon?

As in Lebanon, Iran is slowly swallowing Syria and Iraq. Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah is the dominant military force while effectively controlling its parliament. Iranian symbols appear everywhere, as though you were walking in Tehran. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) martyr Gen. Qassem Soleimani was commemorated this year throughout the country with a massive statue placed in the center of the Lebanese capital Beirut. At rallies, Lebanese citizens under Hezbollah’s thumb wave the Iranian flag, not the Lebanese one.

What is groundbreaking in Syria is that Iran not only sent its IRGC troops with its Hezbollah proxy but has now recruited former Syrian rebels of local Sunni militias to create a permanent Iranian presence. The blueprint is the Hezbollah model in Lebanon. Iran’s goal is to surround Israel with its militias, proxies and allies, including Sunnis who are easily bought for money, bread or ammunition. Just think of the Sunni Arab Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip working with Persian Shi’ite Iran.

Alma, Israel’s best source for independent research on its northern border, has documented Iran’s support and control of Hezbollah, Shia militias, and now Iranian-controlled former rebel Sunni militias. This is groundbreaking information. The militias receive orders and salaries from Iran in conjunction with a well-thought-out civilian investment to support a long-term Iranian military entrenchment. In this way, Iran effectively takes control of weak nation-states like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. For example, Iran is heavily involved in Syria’s post-war reconstruction, buying agricultural land, establishing community and educational centers to promote the Islamic Revolution’s values among the local Sunni population.

One should bear in mind that the IRGC’s Quds force’s raison d’être since the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s is to spread the Iranian revolution throughout the Middle East while backing almost every terrorist Shia militia to further its goal. Thousands of IRCG soldiers and commanders operate beyond Iran’s borders, leading and strategizing on how to get the United States out of the Middle East and put Israel out of existence.

This is based on the concept of velayat-e faqih, or “guardianship of the jurist,” which gives absolute religious authority to the Iranian Supreme Leader, who is in charge of the world’s Shi’ites. Shias are thereby obligated to support the Islamic revolution everywhere in the world. The Biden administration should be cautious replacing radical Sunnis like ISIS and Al-Qaeda with extremist Iranian Shi’ism.

More than half of the pieces are in place to surround Israel. Next on the target list is the West Bank and Jordan to surround Israel with the threat of missiles and militias under Iranian control. All in preparation for a day when Islamist Iran unleashes its proxies to devastate Israeli civilians and destroy Israel’s infrastructure, with the hope that Israelis will abandon the Zionist experiment.

Going forward, U.S President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin should make clear the obvious. Iran is responsible for Shia militias’ creation and actions that threaten Middle East stability and American soldiers’ lives, and that rejoining the JCPOA should not obscure that fact.

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.”

A Cold Egyptian-Israeli Peace Undermines Both Culture and Security

by Marwa Maziad and Eric Mandel

{Previously published in The National Security Magazine}

Recently, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet in Egypt for the first time in a decade to discuss their shared interests. This includes the growing threat of their political Islamist adversaries, Iran, Qatar, and Turkey. The agenda consists of improving economic ties, finding new opportunities created by Israel’s normalization with Arab Gulf nations, and exploring ways that Egypt could facilitate talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. What is missing is the desire to restart a people-to-people exchange to strengthen the peace accord, arguably essential for long-term regional integration and stability.

President Sisi sees the handwriting on the wall. He knows the Biden administration will be more critical of Egypt than previous ones. Sisi sees Egypt as part of a coalition of Arab states and Israel, strategizing together to mitigate the consequences of Biden’s plan to turn back towards Iran, as he rebalances American relationships in the Middle East away from the Arab Quartet (Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain) by rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran nuclear agreement).

American sanctions relief will inevitably be part of rejoining the nuclear deal. It will embolden Iran and be taken as a sign by its Islamist partners to challenge Egypt and its allies. Turkey wants sovereignty in the Eastern Mediterranean energy corridor, while Iran desires a Mediterranean naval base on the Syrian coast. Qatar, the political Islamists’ banker, believes it has the upper hand over the United States because it hosts America’s Central Command and U.S. Air Force Command headquarters at its al Udeid air base. How the new rapprochement between Qatar and the Gulf States will translate into any Islamist moderation or cooperation against Iran is a big unknown.

According to the American Security Council Foundation, “For ordinary Egyptians, a combination of opposition to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, lingering hostility from when the countries were at war and antipathy from some officials means that contact with Israelis is rare. The ties that do exist are often secret… The so-called cold peace is the result of a dual approach by Cairo in which it engages in a warm relationship at the top, but still limits social and institutional ties, in part due to fear of losing public legitimacy.”

But does this strategy of maintaining a cold peace between the peoples help long-term Egyptian security interests, especially in light of a new Middle East where political Islamism is an ascending threat?

President Sisi should consider that one possible strategy to indirectly strengthen Egypt’s relationship with America is to draw closer to America’s closest friend in the Middle East, Israel. The Biden administration and the majority of Congress will favorably view an opportunity to warm the relationship between the two American allies through economic and personal interactions.

The choice is not clear cut. Some might argue that it is in Egypt’s interest to not only preserve the treaty but to strengthen it, as political Islamists want nothing better than to undermine the accord, create distrust in the Egyptian public, and threaten Sisi’s political legitimacy. But Egypt doesn’t want Israel taking it for granted, especially as the most populous Arab nation of over one hundred million people that took the risk to sign a peace agreement.

Both Egypt and Israel know they need their peace treaty to endure. Political Islamism’s goal is to weaken that treaty and eventually take over Egypt. The treaty’s Achilles heel is the lack of human interaction between the two peoples. Although the cold peace has survived for over forty years, there is nothing inevitable about it lasting for another forty years. According to Ephraim Inbar, director of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), the distrust is “rooted [in] cultural and religious barriers” with the Arab world viewing Israel as an “alien body.” Although Morocco’s, Bahrain’s, and the United Arab Emirates’ relationship with Israel is new, the level of interaction between their peoples has already surpassed Egyptian and Israeli exchanges over the last thirty years.

Why should this matter? Some experts will say that as long as their respective military and intelligence services’ cooperation is strong, the soft power of people-to-people interactions is of minor consequence. With the common enemy of political Islamism threatening both nations, this should be enough, and taking the risks of changing the Egyptian people’s perception of Israelis is a bridge too far to cross.

Unfortunately, as evident from the Arab uprisings of the past decade, political discontent can rise anew over time. In a world controlled by malign social media forces, Islamists have become experts not only in riling up discontented populaces but can coordinate uprisings by merely pressing a few keystrokes on a computer, instantaneously sending their rallying messages of destabilization to millions. The Brotherhood and Salafists brought the Islamist President Mohamed Morsi to Egypt’s presidency in 2012. There is no guarantee that next time the Egyptian people will be able to throw off the yoke of political Islamism as they did with the Egyptian military’s help, one year after Morsi’s rise to power.

Egypt needs stability, intelligence, economic security for its people, and military prowess to survive in a world where its rivals, Turkey, Qatar, and Iran, are looking to destabilize it. The Turkish-Qatari alliance would like a compliant and like-minded Egyptian leader like Morsi. This is not a war between Sunnis and Shiites, but a confrontation between moderate Sunni Arab states and ideological political pan-Islamists.

Real stability would need a new approach. It is crucial that Egypt’s people self-examine their beliefs about who their friends and enemies are. Today the Egyptian people still see the Jewish state more as an enemy than a friend. The memory of four wars, 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, still resonates strongly with them. During the Mubarak era, contrary to the state’s official stance of peace, the media, schools, and mosques at the societal level portrayed Israel as a perpetual enemy. To President Sisi’s credit, he has hesitantly begun to change this dynamic, and his invitation to Netanyahu is a good first step.

Things may be looking up for the relationship. According to a report in the Times of Israel, Israel’s new Ambassador to Egypt Amira Oron believes relations are already improving. Oron says that new possibilities for cooperation are emerging in Mediterranean energy development.

For their part, Israelis have not been able to find common ground with the Palestinian Arabs, who have the sympathy of their fellow Arabs. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, what matters is the Egyptian people see Israel as victimizing their brethren. Arab nations making peace with Israel today had become frustrated with Palestinian intransigence, that the Palestinian Authority chose not to negotiate with Israel when it offered East Jerusalem as their capital and 100 percent of the West Bank with land swaps in 2008.

Political Islamism has weaponized the Palestinian issue. Egypt need not double down by placating their populace with more criticism of Israel but begin the complicated process of changing the way the Egyptian people view Israel. An excellent place for Egypt to start would be to offer to broker negotiations with Israel based on two states for two peoples, a Palestinian Arab state and a Jewish state, with Palestinian refugees welcomed by the Palestinian entity.

Egypt has joined moderate Arab states, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Morocco, and Bahrain, in opposing the rise of the political Islamists. Morocco cut off relations with Iran two years ago because it supported insurgents in Western Sahara, and the Gulf States fear that Iran will try to reduce them to satraps, as they have done to Lebanon. With the United States as a less reliable ally, as it turns away from the Middle East and focuses on its greatest threat, China, the moderate Arab states, and Israel will need to work together as never before.

A new Egyptian initiative that would change the messaging about Israel, as it appears in their government communications, national media, schools, and mosques, would help strengthen the treaty. If there is an end to Covid-19 travel restrictions, encouraging the Egyptian people to visit Israel and welcoming Israelis to Egypt would begin to break down barriers of suspicion. Egyptians already have business partnerships with Israelis through the QIZ arrangements that allow both to export to the United States.

Inviting more Egyptian businesses to partner in the Israeli economy in shared enterprises would be a winning proposition. This can come in baby steps and follow the path of their Emirati cousins. Reconciliation of the peoples would set an example to Palestinians to create a new playing field to resolve the conflict once there will be a younger generation of Palestinian leadership, allowing both the Israelis and Palestinians to find a compromise.

A year ago, no one predicted 50,000 Israelis would be visiting Dubai in a month’s time, and many Arabs are coming to Israel to investigate business opportunities. Thinking out of the box means recognizing that the old paradigm of scapegoating Israel undermines Egyptian national security interests. President Sisi is on the right road; now, he needs the support of like-minded moderate Arab leaders, journalists, and academics, to secure Egypt’s future.

Marwa Maziad is a Non-Resident Scholar at the Middle East Institute.

Eric Mandel is a Jerusalem Post columnist and the founder of the Middle East Political and Information Network.

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

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reclaiming the Language of Human Rights to Advance Peace in the Middle East

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

While speaking in Europe last week on political Islamism, the Iran agreement, and American national security interests in the Middle East, I continually emphasized the importance of reading multiple points of view to combat today’s editorialization of the news. 

To do this effectively, you must literally examine the “accepted” meaning of words used to describe Israel’s behavior in the Palestinian conflict. Far too often, benign sounding words like “human rights” have been transformed into rhetorical weapons to advance a political agenda – in academia, the media, or in Congress – whose goal is to undermine America’s relationship with Israel, and Israel’s very legitimacy as a nation-state.

When I am in meetings at US congressional offices or when I lecture, I assume everyone does not share the same understanding of “international law, occupation, war crimes, Zionism, two states and human rights,” and I take pains to clarify their meanings in context.

This was highlighted by two articles I read this week while in Europe: one by Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Israel and Palestine, and the other an academic analysis by Dr. Donna Robinson Divine, titled “Word Crimes: Reclaiming the Language of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” published by Indiana University Press.

Shakir used the accepted politicized language of Middle East NGO’s – while Divine examined and challenged the current use of these words as they have come to be understood in the halls of academia, where the fashion is to bad-mouth Israel and give a nod to the BDS movement.

Two generations of American college students are now in positions of influence across the spectrum of American society, government and business, who were raised on a terminology of the Middle East that has become the default starting point for international discourse, but is in fact a cleverly transformed lexicon to undermine Israel’s right to exist, advancing a political agenda where various aggrieved peoples must join forces (intersectionality) to undermine the racist Western civilization and its Jewish outpost in the Middle East.

To argue or challenge the meaning of these words labels you as a racist, immoral or beyond the pale of worthy discourse. You don’t even have the right to free speech, as evidenced by speaker after speaker being disinvited or screamed down in the halls of universities. I know first hand.

Divine says that: “Much of the academic discourse on the Middle East conflict has distorted the truth by transforming even the very idea of what constitutes a “fact”… How the change took hold in academia is best understood by focusing on the vocabulary that purports to show why the establishment of a Jewish State was an international crime… Students learning only this language graduate with a vocabulary that identifies Israel not simply as a force hostile to Palestinian interests, but also as a major source of evil for the world.”

For the vast majority of people who are unaware that the vocabulary of human rights has been co-opted to demonize Israel, you fall right into the hands of organizations like Human Rights Watch.

Shakir claims that Human Rights Watch takes no position on BDS, an international movement whose goal is the delegitimization of Israel through an economic boycott.

Yet he sees no contradiction in using the benign sounding words of human rights advocacy to claim HRW’s mission is “to defend the right of people to boycott… [that] telling businesses to stop engaging in activities that abuse rights in the occupied territories, is neither a call for a consumer boycott nor a boycott of Israel itself.”

Leaves you scratching your head.

“Human rights” organizations operating in Israel and funded by European governments accuse Israel of some of the worst abuses in the world, while using moral equivalence to claim impartiality by equating the actions of terrorist groups – like Hamas that target civilians or the Palestinian Authority that financially supports convicted terrorists – with Israel, which takes pains to avoid civilian casualties.

Ten years ago, HRW founder Robert Bernstein took to task the transformation of his organization from an unbiased sword to one where “Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of Human Rights Watch’s criticism.” Nothing has changed for the better since he wrote those words, except that both the United States and Israel now identify BDS and its defenders for what it is: antisemitism hiding in the clothes of anti-Zionism.

It is time to realize that language matters for those who care about the US-Israel relationship and its importance to American national security interests. Semantics is the coin of the realm in diplomacy, and words are the ammunition of the lawfare campaign to destroy Israel.

A number of years ago, I sat with a senator and her chief of staff (COS) describing the complexities and conflicting narratives of what the occupation of a disputed territory means according to a non-politicized definition of international law. The COS thanked me, and I asked why.

What I learned was that many pro-Israel organizations have adopted the words of their adversaries, undermining their case to present a contextually correct understanding of the complexities of the conflict. Terms such as occupation, 1967 border, war crimes, collateral damage, disproportionate force and settlements need more than a 280 character tweet.

Organizations that are trying to advance peace in the region need to think about reclaiming the language of human rights, and learn to explain how it is used today as a weapon against Israel. Otherwise, those peace advocates will be fighting a continually uphill battle in Congress, on college campuses and with the American public, against an adversary with a decided advantage that has won the tools of debate.

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