Category Archives: National Security

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.