The first anniversary of the Abraham Accords is a time for celebration and concern. The celebration is because the unthinkable happened. Arab states developed warm diplomatic relations with Israel before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved, no longer hostage to Palestinian intransigence. The concern is that the Biden administration is suffocating their further development. This TV interview will:
Explain how the Abraham Accords changed the Middle East.
Explain the difference between the cold Jordanian/Egyptian peace and the warm peace with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco.
Why the Accords are essential to American interests but are undervalued by the Biden administration.
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.
Every American administration since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 has tried to find some way to accommodate and work with the Islamic Republic of Iran. More specifically, they have attempted to identify some working arrangement with the Supreme Leader, the regime’s ultimate authority and final word.
Carrots in the form of economic inducements and sticks in the shape of sanctions relief have not fundamentally moved the needle in dealing with Iran. Only the perceived threat of an American invasion of Iran after the United States went into Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s forced the Iranians to slow-walk some of their malign and nuclear activities.
But what is absent in the current administration’s thinking and strategizing is the willingness to look with fresh eyes at why 40 years of efforts have entirely failed. Those failures had real consequences in the death of more than 600 American servicemen killed in Iraq by Iranian-supplied improvised explosive devices, the hundreds of Americans killed by Iranian proxies in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and the kidnapping of Americans who never again saw the light of day. This is not to mention the tens of millions of Iranians who are forced to live under a brutal regime that tortures, imprisons and kills its citizens for the crimes of homosexuality and speaking their minds.
The answer is right in front of the noses of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez and President Joe Biden. The Iranian regime is a fundamentalist Twelver Shi’ite revolutionary movement of true believers whose mission is to spread their repressive understanding of Islam throughout the world, including among their Sunni brethren. They are as doctrinaire as ISIS in their beliefs, except the Iranians will soon have the capability to have nuclear weapons. Since 1979, many Republicans and most Democrats have not been able to deal with this complex reality.
The Achilles’ heel of American foreign policy is the false belief that all nations, including those that are horrifically repressive and sponsors of terrorists, can be induced to choose a more conciliatory and less confrontational posture to the U.S. and its allies by Western reason and economic inducement. This comes despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary that our outreach has been interpreted as a weakness.
Administrations from both parties have chosen to ignore the obvious because of our Western conceit, that we know how to manipulate this regime if we only bend enough, give enough money and show respect. The manipulation masters are the Iranians. Religiously sanctioned dissimulation, also known as Taqiyya, permits deception of one’s enemy. The Iranians’ patsies are their naïve Western nuclear negotiation counterparts.
None of this is new. In 2006, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute wrote, “It is dangerous to assume that both Washington and Tehran operate from the same set of ground rules. [Former Supreme Leader Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini] spoke of the Shi’ite concept of taqiyah…the necessity to engage in such religiously sanctioned lying…If the Islamic Republic perceives itself as under threat, its leaders may not only feel compelled to lie but may also feel justified in so doing. From a religious and political perspective, the ends justify the means.”
Iran is not capable of fundamental reform in any Western sense under this regime. The quicker we understand that, the more realistic will be our foreign policy. For President Biden and previous administrations from both parties, ignoring it is a prescription for national security nightmares.
As Bret Stephens, writing in The New York Times, said, “If Iran’s ambitions are fundamentally ideological – to spread the cause of its Islamic Revolution to every part of the Middle East and beyond – then negotiations are largely pointless. Iran will be bent on dominance and subversion, not stability. Those who thought that Iranian politics would ultimately move in a more moderate direction were wrong. The regime is doubling down on religion, repression, and revolution.”
Let us be clear: That does not mean America should put boots on the ground to overthrow the Iranian republic. That is the false accusation of Iranian regime apologists and isolationists in our government, from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
It does mean we are hurting the Iranian people’s chance to throw off their yoke of repression when we appease Iran with economic relief, this time by wanting to return to a bad nuclear deal that economically strengthens an economy on the ropes.
American values and security interests demand that we not economically empower Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. They have repeatedly proven that they cannot be trusted, especially in exchange for a nuclear agreement that doesn’t allow genuine inspections or end their nuclear program. We are giving them just what they want — to delay the weaponization of a nuclear device for a few years, in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in economic relief which will support the terrorism of Hezbollah, Hamas, South American tyrants, Iraqi and Syrian militias and the Houthis. This is not to mention handing a lifeline to their hate-mongering government while building missiles capable of hitting the U.S. Even if Iran chooses not to cross the nuclear weapons threshold, its neighbors know that it can turn on the nuclear weapons spigot at any time of its choosing.
One just needs an open mind to understand that projecting a Western perspective on a revolutionary Islamic regime is not only misguided but dangerous. This regime can’t abandon its extremist agenda without collapsing. There is no way that will happen when the revolutionary regime’s raison d’etre is a religiously motivated movement that cannot abandon its most fervently held beliefs.
The shortsightedness of the Biden administration and other powers extends to projecting Western timeframes on a Persian Islamist power. For example, the American maximum pressure campaign that has brought the Iranian regime to the edge of the economic cliff is claimed to be a failure by supporters of the Iran nuclear deal because Iran has advanced its nuclear enrichment since Trump withdrew from the agreement.
However, the timeframe of the revolutionaries in Iran is measured in decades and centuries, willing to wait out an impatient America. A nuclear agreement at this time guarantees Iran weapons capabilities in less than a decade. Thus, a continued and strengthened maximal economic pressure campaign may be the only thing that could change the inevitability of a nuclear Iran. But that requires more patience than the American democracy has, as it changes its executive branch every four or eight years.
A nuclear Iran may be inevitable. So, which is better for American interests: Strengthening the revolutionary regime with economic relief, or continuing to keep the Iranian government on financial life support under maximum pressure sanctions until one way or another Iran ceases to be one of the worst actors on the world’s stage?
Totalitarian regimes like the former Soviet Union need to collapse under the weight of their failed economies, whether they are communists or Islamist revolutionaries. Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, who is likely to be the next Supreme Leader, is another true believer, with a long history as a heartless butcher of those who stands in the way of the “revolution.” The only way to find common ground with this fundamentalist revolutionary regime is to let them have their way. If we rejoin a nuclear deal that is not truly longer and stronger, this administration will not have learned the lessons of why we have never found common ground with Iran.
Iran’s new president may become its next supreme leader.
Much has been written about Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, who has been branded as a hard-liner compared to the departing “moderate” President Rouhani, and how he will influence Iran’s return to the JCPOA (Iran nuclear agreement). Raisi had earned the hard-liner status by playing a pivotal role in executing thousands of opposition prisoners in 1988 as part of the Death Committee. During the Green Revolution in 2009, he brutally suppressed the protesters who attempted to throw off the shackles of the repressive Islamic government, while the Obama administration pointedly ignored their struggle.
But the American designation of any Iranian government official as a moderate is not only false but dangerous. Rouhani was never a moderate. He was the most moderate hard-liner tolerated by the Guardian Council in 2013 that approved presidential candidates and which the supreme leader controls. Hundreds of Iranians try to enter the presidential race each cycle, but only those vetted to be reliably obedient to the leadership of the “revolution” are allowed to become candidates.
As the Foundation for Democracies’ Iran expert Reuel Gerecht has said, “Rouhani is one of the architects of the national security state [in Iran]. He’s got so much blood on his hands, he’ll never be able to wash it off.”
Back to Ebrahim Raisi, the hard-liner of hard-liners who was elected to his first term as president. The former head of the judiciary is not opposed to rejoining the JCPOA, as long as he, the supreme leader, and the leadership of the IRGC can get sanctions relief to reverse the devastating effects on the regime of the Trump-era sanctions. They are all quite cognizant and satisfied that they will be returning to basically the same deal that guarantees Iran an industrial-size nuclear program with international approval in less than 10 years. We should hire the Iranians to help us negotiate with the Chinese.
What makes this election so consequential is that Raisi is not only close to Ayatollah Khamenei but is also the likely favorite of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, which chooses the next supreme leader. Raisi is close to the Revolutionary Guards Corps, which acts more and more as a state within a state, with disproportionate and growing influence. Khamenei would like his son to follow him as supreme leader, but he does not get to choose his successor.
According to CNBC, “In 2019, Saeid Golkar of Al Jazeera called Raisi “the most likely successor of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei” as supreme leader of Iran. In 2020, Dexter Filkins of The New York Times described him as “frequently mentioned” as a successor to Khamenei.”
That makes Raisi’s influence as president more consequential than Rouhani’s ever was. Unlike when Khamenei criticized Rouhani over the JCPOA and the re-imposition of sanctions by Trump, there are likely to be far fewer public disagreements between the ailing supreme leader, the IRGC, and President Raisi.
According to the Atlantic Council’s Iran expert Raz Zimmt, “Raisi’s presidency may be characterized by a higher level of coordination with the supreme leader’s office because, unlike former presidents, Raisi expresses positions that are even more aligned to Khamenei’s views on domestic and foreign issues. Similarly, Khamenei seems to have a clear interest in ensuring Raisi’s success as president – assuming the former truly considers the latter a leading candidate to succeed him.”
Raisi’s job will be made infinitely easier as the Biden administration is already chomping at the bit to return to the JCPOA and celebrate a return to the JCPOA as an American victory. If only.
The US has already blinked, removing some Trump sanctions. The Iranians, who are master negotiators, are just waiting for the sanctions house of cards to completely crumble in exchange for an Iranian nuclear deal heavily in their favor.
Raisi will play his part acting tough. The US and its European sycophants will feign frustration. A few changes will be made to the JCPOA, and the selling of the deal in Ben Rhodes fashion to a compliant media will seal the American and European return to the Iran nuclear deal. At the same time, the Russians and Chinese will see this as a sign of American weakness for future dealings with them.
Rhodes, it should be remembered, was infamous for bragging about how he bamboozled and manipulated the press to advance the Iran deal during the Obama/Biden administration. The media were so in bed with the former president and his agenda that they didn’t even object when Rhodes’s comments became public. Today’s mainstream journalists may be even more willing to accept a return to the deal without any investigative reporting on why missile development, terrorism, Iranian human rights abuses or hegemony into the Levant are not addressed.
It is not if, but when will the supreme leader pass away, whether from his metastatic prostate cancer or some other ailment not shared with the Iranian people. When that happens, President Raisi will most likely ascend to the dictator’s throne of the Iranian Revolution as supreme leader. As the rock band The Who sang, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Israel is watching carefully, and so should the United States. If Israel still believes in the Begin Doctrine, never to let an enemy state have nuclear weapons, the ascendancy of Raisi and the end of American sanctions increases the chance for a preemptive Israeli strike in Iran and a large-scale regional war drawing in all players.
Let us hope that Biden’s allegiance to former president Obama’s legacy does not blind him to the likely consequences of a deal that President-elect and future supreme leader Raisi will appreciate.
If President Joe Biden changes or adjusts the Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA—then he is obligated to bring it to Congress. This is not the wishful thinking of critics of the agreement; it is according to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) of 2015.
In May of 2015, Congress passed INARA, giving itself the right to review any future agreements or modifications reached regarding the Iran nuclear deal, in essence reserving the right to assess any changes made. Since it’s almost impossible to restore the deal intact since six years have passed since it was written, a return to the JCPOA promised by Biden means a new agreement. The administration’s strategy will be to ignore Congress, claiming that any changes will not be substantive, so INARA does not apply.
According to former Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Rademaker, writing in RealClearWorld, “The Act mandates congressional review—and provides for potential disapproval—of not just the JCPOA, but any “agreement related to the nuclear program of Iran … regardless of the form it takes … the Act (also) prohibits the extension of sanctions relief during the 30 days the law sets aside for congressional review of any nuclear agreement with Iran.”
Biden promised to rejoin the JCPOA, and lengthen and strengthen the unsigned agreement. Unfortunately, his Iran envoy Robert Malley has said that if Iran returns to full compliance, then they will immediately get sanctions relief. Does that mean removing all sanctions, including those for their egregious human-rights abuses, missile proliferation and counterterrorism? U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that no significant amendments will be added before rejoining the agreement. I don’t follow the administration’s logic—beginning negotiations with the wily Iranian regime by giving away all its leverage.
In response this month, Sens. James Risch (-Wis.) and Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) introduced legislation called the Iran Sanctions Relief Review Act of 2021 (S. 488) to address the administration’s contradictory approach and messaging. Risch said, “It’s increasingly clear that the Biden administration’s promises to ‘lengthen and strengthen’ the Iran nuclear deal are instead an attempt to re-enter the flawed 2015 JCPOA at any cost. … This bill would require Congress to approve any Biden administration effort to lift sanctions against the Iranian regime. The United States currently maintains a position of significant leverage with Iran because our sanctions are working. Given that reality, the administration should keep its promises to address the JCPOA’s looming sunsets, as well as Iran’s regional terrorism, ballistic-missile activity and wrongful imprisonment of Americans.”
And that is where INARA comes in. If Biden keeps his promise to be the anti-Trump, following the law he needs to go back to Congress before obligating America to trust the theocratic Islamic regime, which hid and lied about its nuclear program for decades. Like all recent executives of both parties, Biden will claim that foreign policy is the exclusive purview of the president. That is because the Senate has allowed presidents to run roughshod over its constitutional duties for decades. The Senate should speak up now—that includes members on both sides of the aisle. Will Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who voted against the deal the first time, speak up again and act? The JCPOA in 2015 should have been submitted to the Senate as a treaty, being the most consequential American foreign-policy agreement of the 21st century.
According to an article in Foreign Policy by Daniel Kutzer, Aaron Miller and Steven Simon, “Little constituency exists in Washington for returning to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran on precisely the same terms as before. Republicans and even some crucial Democrats oppose it.” If that is true, then the president is bound by law to send any updates or changes to Congress for review.
I received a request from a reader about what voters should “ask for” from Congress. First, don’t be fooled by rhetoric that claims we are all on the same page, agreeing that Iran should never get a nuclear weapon. That does not mean and is not the same as improving the JCPOA now. When Brett McGurk, Biden’s national security council coordinator for the Middle East, said this week concerning the United States and Israel’s goals regarding Iran, “there is no disagreement. … Iran can never get a nuclear weapon, period,” that is political doublespeak. It does not address that the JCPOA, which the administration has vowed to return to, still allows Iran to develop an industrial-size nuclear program in less than 10 years when its sunset provisions fully kick in.
The answer for pro-Israel Americans is to let the Democratic Majority for Israel, the Jewish Democratic Council and their state legislators know the JCPOA’s weaknesses are your No. 1 foreign-policy concern. Let them know you expect Biden to keep his word to strengthen and lengthen the deal, but to do it before rejoining a flawed JCPOA. And you want the Senate to be able to weigh in and review the modifications. Let them know that rhetoric alone without a fundamental change of the sunset provisions is not enough. The handwriting is already on the wall for a return to the old JCPOA. Now is the time to speak up.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
In the winter of 2015, one of Israel’s most senior security cabinet officials asked me what advice should he give to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in regard to Speaker of the House John Boehner’s invitation to speak before the U.S. Congress, laying out his case of why the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, was a “bad deal” for both Israel and the United States. My answer surprised him. I told him not to accept the invitation, but to wait a few months until the Israeli election was concluded. I learned later that Netanyahu’s former Ambassador Michael Oren also told him to decline the invitation. This is in contrast to Israel’s ambassador at the time, Ron Dermer, who incensed the Obama administration as the one who “orchestrated the invitation” and wrote much of the speech.
Why is this history relevant for Netanyahu in 2020? There is an analogy to today. He is likely to create conditions in 2021 for a new election to avoid handing over power as promised to Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The Biden administration would likely be negotiating with Iran, once again at a time when Netanyahu’s hold on the leadership of Israel is in doubt, as it was in 2014. This should be kept in mind by the Israeli prime minister before he has his first meeting with the Biden people, and strategizes how he should approach the new administration.
The 2014 visit to Congress was ill-timed, coming before an Israeli election later that spring. If Netanyahu won and formed a coalition, he could then have come later in the spring with a stronger mandate as the newly re-elected leader of Israel with a better chance not to throw kerosene into the fire of American politics. Any newly elected Israeli leader would naturally have asked to come to speak to U.S. leadership. If an audience with the president were denied, it would have been seen by much of the American public as petty politics on the part of the Obama administration. According to an NBC poll at the time, 68 percent of Americans “believed Iran was not going to abide by the nuclear agreement.”
I was and still am a strong critic of the JCPOA, believing that it undermines American and Israeli security interests, being both dangerous and unprecedented in giving a nation on our terror list the right to enrich uranium.
Yet knowing all of that, I still told my Israeli friend to try and dissuade Netanyahu from coming to Congress in 2014, even though I knew that Obama and his team had completely misled the Israelis, keeping them in the dark about the secret negotiations despite assurances that they would be kept in the loop, knowing the JCPOA was an existential issue for Israel’s survival.Top of Form
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Although some blame the frosty relationship between Obama and Netanyahu for his administration’s actions, most think that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s relationship with the Israeli prime minister was always warmer. However, we don’t really know whether Biden will prove more sympathetic to Israeli interests than Obama was. We do know that he fully supported the JCPOA and was aware of the behind-the-scenes maneuvers to keep the Israelis in the dark.
The Obama administration policy from 2009 on was to create “daylight” between Israel and the United States, and to move closer to the Iranians. Keep in mind it was Biden who told the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, “Bibi, I don’t agree with a damn thing that you say, but I love ya.” That was 2014—the same year that the administration was secretly negotiating with Iran. So with act two of the JCPOA about to preview, it would behoove Israel and its supporters to review all of the history, mistakes and consequences related to the nuclear agreement.
In 2014, I spoke with the foreign-policy advisers of the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressing my concern that they were being outmaneuvered by the Obama administration, which was cleverly creating a backdoor pathway for Senate approval of the agreement with only a minority of the Senate in favor of the deal. I emphasized that the JCPOA rose to the level of a treaty and should be submitted to the Senate as such, which would require 60 senators to vote in favor of its passage, as it was the most significant American foreign-policy commitment of the 21st century. In the end, the Obama administration brilliantly outmaneuvered the Republican leadership and was able to advance the agreement with something akin to an executive order, with only 42 senators in favor. The next year I was told by that same Senate office that when Europeans came to visit Washington, they were astonished that the JCPOA was not passed as a treaty.
If President-elect Biden re-enters the JCPOA or renegotiates a new agreement, will the 2021 Republican Senate try to weigh in? Will Netanyahu try a new approach, having learned the lessons of interfering in American politics? Biden promises to re-enter the deal in his first few months, so time will be of the essence.
The Obama administration took its revenge for the Netanyahu speech before Congress, when a year-and-a-half later, in December 2016, the United States orchestrated the passage of UNSC Resolution 2334, labeling any Israeli presence over the 1949 armistice line (1967 line or Green Line) an international crime and upending the UNSC Resolution 242, the keystone document that previously acknowledged that Israel was never supposed to return to the indefensible borders of 1967.
So how should Netanyahu approach dealing with Biden, knowing he wants to restart the JCPOA in a few months’ time and wants to fulfill his campaign promise to reopen the PLO mission in Washington, the U.S. Consulate in eastern Jerusalem for Palestinian use, and restore some funding to the Palestinians, even if they have to ignore the Taylor Force Law denying American funding to a Palestinian Authority that rewards and incentivizes terrorism?
The two leaders know each other very well. They also have clashed with each other for years over settlement building, most recently when mid-level Israeli officials announced settlement building during a Biden visit to Israel, embarrassing the vice president, who choose to publicly lash out at Netanyahu despite the prime minister’s apology.
Unlike the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which not only saw eye to eye with him on almost every issue—with tangible actions ranging from the U.S. embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to acknowledging that Israeli settlements do not break international law—Biden and his advisers want to promote a more balanced narrative and promote the aggrieved party of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They could, if challenged by the Israeli government, even choose to join the international community in boycotting Israeli goods from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).
Netanyahu needs to prioritize his goals before engaging with the new administration. There is no doubt that the nuclear deal is the No. 1 issue on Israel’s plate, and there are rumors that the new administration, unlike the Obama one, will actually listen to Israeli suggestions for a new nuclear deal.
The Israeli prime minister’s highest priority is to emphasize to Biden that he shouldn’t rush to rejoin the flawed deal without significant changes to the agreement, as many of its provisions will sunset in less than five years. He must convince Biden that the United States has new leverage with the Trump sanctions in place, which have caused the Iranian economy to be under tremendous strain. The revolutionary regime’s first goal is to stay in power, and it worries about a rebellion from within. This is a great American advantage for negotiations if it is appreciated, as it could force the ayatollah and his minions back to the table.
“Patience, patience, patience with Iran” should be the bywords for the Biden administration, along with the willingness to leave negotiations if the regime’s leaders don’t meet the minimum threshold to truly end the Iranian nuclear program forever.
Netanyahu’s second goal is to continue the normalization process with the Arab world. Getting the Biden administration to prioritize this early on when there is still a window of opportunity for new nations to join will require him to give Biden something back in return. That inevitably will be something in regard to the Palestinians and Israeli settlement-building.
With the Israeli prime minister looking to renege on his deal to hand over power to rival Benny Gantz next year—and another potential contender, Naftali Bennett, gaining popularity from the right—he will be seriously challenged to advance Israel’s long-term goals while advancing his own political interests.
For his legacy, I would urge him to think of the long-term survival of the U.S.-Israel relationship in light of the challenges Biden will face from his own party regarding the Palestinians, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and prioritize the nuclear deal and normalization, offering some carrots to the Palestinians. The P.A. is dysfunctional, and the Palestinian people don’t trust their leadership, now in the 15th year of their four-year term, so even optimists in the Biden administration know that there is a limit to what can be achieved.
You don’t get something for nothing, and if Netanyahu can get 80 percent of Israel’s agenda in line with a President Biden, that is a huge win for America and 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.”