Category Archives: National Security

Biden needs to uphold US law on pay-for-slay

The Biden administration claims it can restore funding to the PA without violating the Taylor Force Act.

Published in the Jerusalem Post.

In 2017, Congress passed the bipartisan Taylor Force Act (TFA) to put an end to the Palestinian Authority (PA) practice of using US taxpayers’ dollars to finance “Pay for Slay,” a policy rewarding terrorists and family members of imprisoned and deceased terrorists. The legislation’s clearly expressed goal is to deny the PA funding until it stops their program of incentivizing and paying for the murder of civilians. 

The bill was named after an American Army veteran who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was killed by a Palestinian terrorist while visiting Israel. The PA media called his killer a “martyr,” and he was venerated throughout the Palestinian territories.

The Taylor Force Act requires the Biden State Department to issue a report to Congress for Acts of Terrorism. Despite the report’s conclusion that the PA “has not terminated payments for acts of terrorism to any individual (and) has also not taken proactive steps to counter incitement to violence against Israel,” the administration’s report states that the “Biden-Harris Administration has made clear its intent to restart assistance to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” 

Which is to say, they intend to ignore the continued support of terrorism and resume supplying the money. 

WORKERS CLOSE the aid distribution centers of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in Rafah in February, protesting against the reduction in food aid.
(photo credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)

The Biden administration claims it can restore funding to the PA without violating the TFA. It claims its goal is to provide humanitarian assistance, rebuild trust with the Palestinians that was undermined by the Trump administration, economically stabilize the government while advancing the moribund peace process with Israel.

The Trump administration cut off funding to the PA and UNWRA, the UN agency that financially supports descendants of Palestinian refugees. The Biden administration is also planning as a goodwill gesture to reverse Trump’s decision to close the PLO / PA office in Washington, which was done to give more consequence to their continuing to incite and pay for terrorism. 

The State Department report is clear enough; it says the “PA expressed its intention to expend approximately $151.6 million in payments to convicted prisoners, administrative detainees, and former prisoners (and) expressed its intention to expend approximately $191 million in support of families of deceased Palestinians referred to as ‘martyrs’ by the PA.” In November 2020, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said they would “remain loyal to the souls of martyrs, the blood of injured, and the sufferings of prisoners… we will not abandon them.” 

The perverse incentive used by the PA is that the more gruesome and worse the attack, the more money the imprisoned “martyr” and his family receive through the PA’s Martyr’s Fund. The PA spends nearly $350 million per year on Pay for Slay, but just $220 million for its other welfare programs for the rest of its citizens. 

In Washington today, everything is seen through a political lens. In 2017, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said, “Abbas has to stop making payments to terrorists and their families, and all elected officials should call them out.” Will Schumer, now majority leader, challenge the president of his party to keep the pressure on the Abbas and enforce the law? Or will he go along with spinning some words to fashion a legal loophole to allow money to flow to the PA? The PA would like to create a legal fiction by distributing the money through the PLO, Abbas being both the president of the PA and head of the PLO. 

For the first time in 16 years, the Palestinian people will be voting for a new president and parliament. The list of potential candidates is not promising if you are looking for moderation. The leading candidates try to outdo one another with their non-conciliatory rhetoric and incitement of violence. 

The Biden administration should learn from prior administrations’ failures. America giving the PA carrots without reciprocal concessions has never been fruitful. As surely as the sun rises in the east, giving up leverage for nothing gets you nowhere with the PA/PLO. 

The administration needs to uphold the Taylor Force Act. 

Before the next war: Israel and the US should articulate a policy on proportionality

How can a democratic nation fight and defeat asymmetric enemies in the 21st century?

Previously published in the Jerusalem Report.

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel

The recent International Criminal Court decision to investigate Israel for “war crimes” in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) highlights not only the hypocrisy of the international community’s anti-Israel bias but the difficulty of militarily responding to terrorists who play by no rules.

Can America and Israel ever receive a fair hearing in analyzing the complexity and legality of their military actions against asymmetric actors? Especially when international bodies like the UN Human Rights Council are dominated by some of the worst human rights abusers in the world. These anti-American and anti-Zionist organizations have become weaponized political instruments in a war of lawfare against the US and the Jewish nation.

Israel faces asymmetric threats from Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iranian-controlled militias in Syria and Iraq. America has at least a 40-year history of fighting non-state actors in the Middle East – from the Iranian-orchestrated bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut to one of the worst asymmetric actors, Islamic State.

Israel’s dilemma is that what the US did to ISIS, with civilians embedded within its terrorist network, would not be tolerated by a world with double standards for the Jewish state. Israel will continually be delegitimized
for its response to attacks from civilian areas, where its enemy cynically uses civilians as human shields.

Proportional responses are a matter of ongoing debate in this murky environment. Let’s be clear: “Proportionate” does not mean that if Hezbollah or Hamas sends 100 missiles indiscriminately into Israeli civilian communities, Israel should be expected to send 100 missiles into Palestinian or Lebanese communities. That is immoral and would never even be considered by any democracy, especially Israel or the US.

Articulating a policy on what constitutes a proportional response in asymmetric warfare is both in American and Israeli interests. This past February, the US struck Iranian-controlled weapons depots in Syria in retaliation for an attack on American soldiers at a US base near the Erbil international airport. One American soldier was injured, but 22 Iranian militiamen of the terrorist organizations Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada were killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Is that proportionate or disproportionate?

According to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, “The strikes were necessary to address the threat and proportionate to the prior attacks.”

What is not acknowledged by critics is that it is well within the bounds of international law to retaliate even if the number of casual ties turns out to be more than were incurred, especially if the enemy deliberately uses civilians’ lives for propaganda purposes.

When civilians are inadvertently killed in homes where missiles are stored or whose living room is used as an entrance for an attack tunnel, is it still legal to attack those homes as long as you try to minimize civilian casualties? How do you cope when your intelligence finds kindergartens or hospitals used by terrorist organizations to store weapons or mount operations against your civilians? Israel has called off many operations, walking the fine line between a nation’s obligation to protect its civilians and its moral responsibility to minimize danger to the enemy’s non-combatants.

What is a proportionate response? It behooves Israel, the US and all Western nations not to wait until after civilians are killed in confronting an enemy, but to clearly state what proportionality is, and in a very public way.

Proportionality is wholly misunderstood by democratic governments, the press and the public. It is not the number of causalities that determines proportionality but the necessity of the military action balanced against the potential civilian loss.

Source: Alma Research and Education Center

As Victor Davis Hanson said, “Every Hamas unguided rocket is launched in hopes of hitting an Israeli home and killing men, women, and children. Every guided Israeli air-launched missile is targeted at Hamas operatives, who deliberately work in the closest vicinity to women and children.”

According to Human Rights Watch, no fan of Israel, for a specific attack on a military objective to be lawful, it must discriminate between combatants and civilians. The expected loss of civilian life or property cannot be disproportionate to the attack’s anticipated military gain.

Does Israel take care to avoid civilian casualties, even when they are purposely placed in harm’s way?

Asa Kasher, the co-author of the first IDF Code of Ethics, said, “We can’t separate the terrorist from his neighbors. The terrorists have erased the difference between combatants and non-combatants. They operate from within residential areas. They attack civilians. The world doesn’t have a clue what proportionality is. Proportionality is not about numbers.”

According to international law, the question of proportionality is whether the military benefit justifies the collateral damage. As for B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, all have double standards. For them, there is the poor, pitiful side and the strong side. Testimony that comes from the pitiful side is taken at face value. They think it is immoral to give priority to the defense of the citizens of your state over the protection of the lives of the neighbors of the terrorists.”

The number of casualties, civilian or combatant, is not a determinate for proportionality. War crimes and proportionality are for those who target civilians, are indiscriminate in their attacks, or cause disproportionate civilian loss. Israel does not target civilians, but you would not know that from reading European newspapers or reports from so-called human rights organizations in which body counts determine proportionality.

Jeffery Goldberg, writing in 2014, hit the nail on the head in describing terrorist actors. “Hamas is trying to get Israel to kill as many Palestinians as possible. Dead Palestinians represent a crucial propaganda victory for the nihilists of Hamas. It is perverse but true. It is also the best possible explanation for Hamas’s behavior because Hamas has no other plausible strategic goal here.” This is the strategy of Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah and ISIS.

As Middle East analyst, British Col. (ret) Richard Kemp said, “Of course innocent civilians are killed in every war; war is chaotic and confusing, and mistakes are frequent, but mistakes are not war crimes.”

The problem is that the international community judges a disproportionate response by a body count. A democracy like Israel will always lose because its asymmetric enemy uses its citizens as human shields, hoping to
demonize Israel and deter legitimate use of force.

A few years ago, I spoke to the international medical director for Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, who told me that in the 300 villages he had visited in southern Lebanon, there was not one where missiles were not placed in civilian homes. This man was no Zionist.

All of this came to the fore in February when the ICC ruled that it is under its jurisdiction to investigate Israel for war crimes for its past military activity in the Gaza Strip. Also, it wants to determine if settlements in Judea and Samaria also constitute war crimes against the Palestinians.

The ICC is also supposedly looking into the potential war crimes of Hamas. Yet, it seems morally perverse to equate Hamas, a designated terrorist entity that indiscriminately targets Israeli civilians while using human shields to induce Israeli retaliation, with a democratic nation that tries as much as any other military on earth to minimize enemy civilian causalities. I have witnessed this firsthand along the Gaza border.

The three-judge panel ruling in favor of investigating Israel in 2021 is a far cry from former chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who said in 2006 that the ICC’s Rome Statute “permits belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks against military objectives, even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur.”

The goal of Hamas and Hezbollah is to induce Israel to kill their civilians for political and diplomatic gain. Knowing international arbiters act only as bean counters plays right into their hands.

Whether from the north or south, Israel’s next war will again feature the use of human shields. This time it will be on a massive scale, with the inevitable international condemnation. Lt.-Col. Sarit Zehavi’s ALMA think tank, with the best expertise on Israel’s northern border, has documented many precision-guided missile factories purposely placed in civilian neighborhoods, next to schools, gas companies, and recreational facilities. It takes a herculean effort to fight UN officials and progressive media outlets who don’t hide their bias against Israel, choosing civilian body counts as their weapon to delegitimize Israel, knowing full well that Israel goes to extraordinary lengths to minimize civilians’ causalities.

Since the term “disproportionate” has been politicized and misused, it is appropriate to ask if an overwhelming response can be legal and justified if it acts as a deterrent to further attacks against your civilian population? What if it is the only effective deterrent against an asymmetric enemy that doesn’t play by international conflict rules, strategizing that it will not be on the receiving end of more missiles than it sends?

Can a case be made for a disproportionate response? Yes, it is called the Powell Doctrine and, in the long run, can decrease casualties by deterring the enemy. According to the late Charles Krauthammer’s interpretation of the
doctrine: “The key to success in a military conflict is the use of overwhelming force. For decades the US had followed a policy of proportionality: restraint because of fear of escalation. If you respond proportionately, you allow the enemy to set the parameters… you grant him the initiative.”

In 2006’s Second Lebanon War, Israel’s alleged use of disproportionate force deterred Hezbollah for nearly 16 years. Yet just two year later, the international community ganged up on Israel after Operation Cast Lead in 2008, alleging excessive force constituting war crimes that culminated in the infamous but now discredited and retracted Goldstone Report. The current ICC investigation against Israel for war crimes in 2014 is a continuation of the diplomatic war to discredit Israel and undermine its right to exist like every other nation in the world.

So what can US President Joe Biden’s administration do? It is in America’s interest to protect Israel and itself, so it shouldn’t wait until missiles fly in the next inevitable war. Being proactive before the next war, articulating an American policy on proportionality, would protect both your ally and yourself.

Sooner or later, the US will also be on the docket of the ICC for war crimes. In any war, bad things happen, and yes, war crimes occur. The difference is that for America and Israel, they are far and few between, are legitimately investigated, and punishment is meted out when warranted. Just ask the soldiers in Israeli or American military prisons.

The international community’s goal is to redefine proportionality and tar Israel and America by isolated incidents for political gain. Don’t be misled. Both nations follow the rule of law that is guided by their democratic values.

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.”

Pandemic Should be a Wakeup Call to Prepare for Bioterrorism

{Previously published by the JNS}

The hard lessons of the coronavirus pandemic will hopefully motivate the world to work together in the future to mitigate the effects of the next naturally occurring global viral threat. But it should also open our eyes to the potentially greater threat of human-made biological weapons—the deliberate release of a pathogen or biotoxin against humans or animals.

In 2017, the International Committee of the Red Cross asked the question as to how real the threat of biological weapons was. “It’s never been easier to develop and use biological weapons…It’s time to take this seriously. Governments need to assess the new risks,” was the response.

In 2010, the U.S. Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, chaired by Sens. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) and Bob Graham (D-Fla.), reported that, “Unfortunately, there is no national plan to coordinate federal, state and local efforts following a bioterror attack, and the United States lacks the technical and operational capabilities required for an adequate response.” Since the anthrax scare post-9/11, America has spent billions of dollars on bio-defense, and provided the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases with more than a billion dollars annually for biodefense research.

But it may not be enough. our top stories

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Today, viruses and microbes can be weaponized using gene-editing CRISPR technology to weaponize everything from smallpox to Ebola to the Spanish flu. In addition, bio-weapons have been produced and stockpiled around the world—how securely, your guess is as good as mine. Some experts think extremists are now more likely in the coming years to use bioterrorism than nuclear weapons.

The current pandemic may have whetted their appetite for biological disaster as a path to anarchy and chaos which could destabilize their target enemies. Whether we are speaking of Iran’s revolutionaries hastening the return of the hidden imam, the irrational megalomaniac in North Korea, the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda Salafists, drug cartels in South America, or neo-Nazis in Europe or America, we must think like they do to prevent the next potential threat.

Unlike the coronavirus pandemic that indiscriminately attacks everyone, the next catastrophe could be fashioned to target certain areas and populations.

The West, except for Israel to some extent, is woefully unprepared for biological threats. Fourteen years ago, I visited a newly constructed underground hospital in northern Israel whose air-filtration system was designed with protection from chemical and biological weapons.

Of course, we cannot put everyone underground, but there are many ways Israel continually prepares its citizens and mitigates the potential for future attacks in its small geographic neighborhood surrounded by enemies who can deliver lethal unconventional attacks with crude missiles at a moment’s notice, for whom the threat of retaliation is likely the only barrier to the use of nonconventional weapons. Remember, rogue leaders like Syria’s Hafez (and now Bashar) Assad and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein weren’t ashamed to kill their own people with poison gasses.

What the United States and the West can and should learn is that these attacks are not far-fetched, and we must invest in the resources not only to be defensive, but to stop them at their source like Israel routinely does. An American withdrawal from the Middle East—losing our eyes and ears, and HUMINT (human intelligence)—is a prescription to endanger our homeland in the future.

Wholesale deliberate massacres are plentiful in recent history. As many as 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda by ethnic Hutu extremists in 100 days. Pol Pot killed at least a million-and-a-half of his citizens; and the Nazis on an industrial scale killed 6 million Jews and millions of others. In Syria, 500,000 of its citizens have been killed, with millions displaced, and the world yawns. Too many people have an indifferent side to suffering, and we mustn’t think that there aren’t zealots who would rationalize the use of unconventional biological weapons to advance their goals.

To understand how far from Western norms a rogue nation could be, just look back at the Iran-Iraq war, when the Ayatollah sent tens of thousands of Iranian children to clear minefields and barbed wire for tanks, giving them keys that they were told were tickets to paradise if they were lucky enough to become martyrs.

A U.S. Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense in 2016 warned that “our nation remains woefully underprepared for dangerous biological incidents.” The American people are ready for leadership on this issue.

COVID-19 is a wakeup call to believe that in the future, not only can another species-leaping virus wreak havoc on the world, but it may be man-made the next time. We need not panic, but with time and clearsighted leadership, we should begin to think about how to fight the next unconventional threat that could use a virus, bacteria, fungus or nanoparticle as a weapon of mass destruction.

Our Achilles’ heel will be the amnesia of time, as people will become naturally complacent when future warnings will not materialize, lowering our guard in the years to follow.

The lessons we learn from the pandemic should prepare us for the next novel viral attack. At a minimum, they should include the availability of early widespread viral and antibody testing; stockpiling personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators; and the accelerated testing and manufacturing of medicines and vaccines that will be essential if a bioterror strikes America or Israel.

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.”

Is Jewish Unity an Israeli National Security Issue?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

For the foreseeable future America is indispensable for Israel’s national security interests, and Israel is indispensable for American defense interests.

Now that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has temporarily mollified the America Jewish community by kicking the can down the road on the controversial conversion legislation, leaving the Western Wall issue unresolved, this is a good time to think about the relationship between American Jews and Israel.

1.  Is American Jewish support of Israel essential for the survival of the Jewish state?

2.  Does the Israeli government understand how much America’s support of Israel might be weakened by the alienation of ardently Zionist but not so religious Jews who make up much of the core of groups like AIPAC, AJC and StandWithUs, and pour their lives into defending the Jewish state?

3.  Do secular and religiously liberal American Jews now calling for boycotts of Israel because of disagreements on religious pluralism realize how much damage this might create for both US and Israeli national security interests?

During the years of contention when the Obama and Netanyahu administrations overlapped, I repeatedly tried to tell members of the Israeli coalition governments that there was a dangerous and growing divide between large segments of American and Israeli Jewry.

Addressing this problem should be considered an Israeli national defense priority, as Israel needs American Jewish support to defend itself in the court of world opinion, in Congress, fighting boycotts worldwide and to resist journalistic and organizational attacks that aim to delegitimize its very existence.

There is nothing inevitable about American support for Israel. Suppose a large part of the American Jewish community becomes estranged from the Jewish state, vocally denouncing it either because of bickering among Jews about issues of religion, or Diaspora Jews back-seat driving Israel’s painful search for workable ways of dealing with neighbors whose determination to kill them or drive them out of their homes seems implacable.

Might their vocal demands that Israel be punished succeed in undermining Israel’s national defense, which is a keystone uniquely positioned to defend their American national security interests? Too many in the Israeli government remain tone deaf to the gravity of a loss of cohesion between the Diaspora and Israeli Jewish communities, and how it can directly affect their core security concerns.

At the same time, American Jews must in the name of diversity and pluralism make the effort to respect and understand the complex realities of Israel’s multi-party democracy, where the majority of today’s citizenry are Sephardi or Mizrahi, not European Ashkenazi, who view religious issues differently.

American and Israeli Jews need to learn to respect each other’s understanding of how they define their Jewish identity, which is overlapping but different. As Jonathan Tobin wrote in Haaretz, “ Secular Israelis think of religion as only one aspect of Jewish identity that many see as optional… but to be a Jew in the Diaspora is inextricably tied with religion,” even if you are not ritually observant and Tikkun Olam (“repairing the world”) is your primary attachment to your Jewish identity.

So is the relationship between the two largest Jewish communities in the world vital for their survival? Jewish-Americans do not have to put their children in harm’s way, and far too many have a distorted historical understanding of the disputed territories, with a naively sanguine view of Palestinian leadership.

To most Israeli voters, issues relating to the Western Wall and religious pluralism, which might be vehemently discussed in the US, are issues secondary to economics and security.

Israeli leaders need to understand how important these issues are in the minds of many American Jews, who may think more about who gets to pray at the Western Wall and conversions and less about rockets from Gaza, Israeli army service, Iranian nuclear weapons, and shekels.

The issues are complex, but American Jews, who passionately care about Israel’s welfare, feel disrespected as Jews by the ultra-Orthodox. They are perplexed as they see the ultra-Orthodox (not to be confused with religious Zionists) as non-Zionists who do not serve in the army, don’t seem grateful for American financial support of Israeli institutions and extort money for religious schools that don’t teach secular skills for self-sufficiency in the modern world.

Likud-led governments are not the only ones that have capitulated to ultra-Orthodox demands in forming coalition governments. American liberal religious groups would be blind to ignore the very real possibility that Zionist Union (Labor) would accept the ultra-Orthodox into their coalition if that were needed to attain power. Perhaps only Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid might resist that temptation.

Israel would also be incredibly shortsighted if it sees its pivot toward relationships with India, China and other nations supplanting the American-Israeli relationship in the short term.

For the foreseeable future America is indispensable for Israel’s national security interests, and Israel is indispensable for American defense interests.

An important side benefit of a compromise on conversion would be for Israeli-Russian citizens. Non-coercive and easier conversions that would satisfy the more tolerant Orthodox streams within Israeli Jewry, especially those led by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Rabbi Benny Ish-Shalom, would show great compassion to the hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews who fight for their country, consider themselves Jews but technically need a conversion for their patrilineal descent.

The Reform movement’s acceptance of patrilineal descent yields at this time an unbridgeable divide within halachic movements, although Judaism has always come up with legal fictions through the ages to preserve the Jewish People, and more compassionate conversions would be a good first step.

Haredim need to be respected but would do well to remember the words and actions of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who loved all Jews and considered the performance of any mitzvot by a non-observant Jew as worthwhile.

American Jews need to be more sensitive to Israeli political realities and not overreact with calls to boycotts, giving succor to the BDS movement.

And Israeli politicians should remember not to take American Jewry’s support for granted, that disparaging American Jewry is not just a religious or moral issue, but is an Israeli national security interest too.

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 and is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.