Category Archives: The Iran Deal

Next Stop for Iran: Bahrain

The presence of Iran casts an ominous shadow on the whole Gulf.

Tens of thousands of Shi’ite militia, the Popular Mobilization Units, have been trained and are controlled by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah.  They are the vanguard of a Shi’ite jihad stretching from Tehran to the shores of the Mediterranean, while simultaneously ethnically cleansing tens of thousands of Sunnis without a whimper from the United Nations.Ever since the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka, “the Iran Deal”) was agreed to in the summer of 2015, Iran has become empowered both militarily and economically.

Now that Iran and Hezbollah are well on their way to claiming Syria and Iraq as trophies, they may goose-step their way toward their next targets. Iranian support for the Houthis in Yemen’s civil war has tied up the Saudis while allowing Iran to focus on its next likely target, Bahrain.

Bahrain may be the next epicenter in the war for Islamic supremacy, the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict. Iran has made no secret of the fact that it wants to overthrow the Sunni Al Khalifa Bahrainian dynasty, which rules a majority Shi’ite population in what Iran considers one of its provinces. Just two years after the Ayatollah Khomeini took power in 1979, he tried to foment a coup in Bahrain.

Here is a glimpse into some of Iran’s recent nefarious activity in Bahrain:

As The Washington Post reported, “[The] U.S. increasingly sees Iran’s hand in the arming of Bahraini militants.”

According to the Post, US and European officials said raids have revealed “game-changer” weapons, and “an elaborate training program, orchestrated by Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to school Bahraini militants in the techniques of advanced bomb making and guerrilla warfare.”

In 2016 Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the overseas Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Quds Force), threatened Bahrain with a “bloody intifada.”

According to the Washington Institute’s Matthew Levitt and Michael Knights, there is a “growing network of bomb making facilities and weapons stores,” part of a coordinated “destabilization campaign” by Iran in Bahrain.

Shi’ite militias and underground cells trained in Iran and Iraq are producing highly advanced weapons. Iran’s fingerprints are all over the imported weapons; the military explosive C-4 could only have come only from Iran.

This month Bahrain arrested 14 people trained by Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who were allegedly planning assassinations.

Let’s be clear: Bahrain is not an exemplar of human rights, and represses its majority Shi’ite populace. But in the name of shared interests, American administrations of both parties have relied on Bahrainian territory for American security interests.

So why is Bahrain so vital to American national security interests? The answer is the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

Bahrain is home to the Fifth Fleet, tasked with security of the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

Up to 20% of the world’s fossil fuels transit these waters and only America’s Fifth Fleet is capable of the indispensable mission of protecting free passage for shipping. The Straits of Hormuz are just a few miles wide, connecting the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea. Every ship transiting the straits is in easy target range of Iranian missiles, endangering the worldwide economy.

If Iran takes over Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, a key American ally, will be exposed and vulnerable. It would destabilize the region and dramatically increase the risks for American forces.

The King Fahd Causeway connects Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and was used by the Saudis to help quell the Bahrainian Shi’ite uprising during the Arab Winter. If Iran overtakes Bahrain, it could easily be used by Iran to threaten or overrun Sunni Arab oil fields and incite a Shi’ite uprising in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Shi’ites live near some of the most vital Saudi oil fields and could easily become a fifth column within the kingdom.

The presence of Iran casts an ominous shadow on the whole Gulf, where Oman has already acquiesced to Iranian extortion.

Oman fears Iran, which lies just across the straits and for decades has been compelled for its survival to be Iran’s ally in the Gulf.

Oman has allowed Iran to use its territory to threaten shipping in the Straits of Hormuz, and may build with Iran both a gas pipeline and a causeway to connect the nations.

According to the official Iranian Press TV in 2014, “the responsibility for seizing vessels trespassing on Iran’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf has been officially given to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Navy, according to Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, the commander of the IRGC Navy.”

Fadavi told the country’s quasi- official Fars news agency, “The Americans can sense by all means how their warships will be sunk…in combat against Iran.”

For the past few years Iranian speedboats controlled by the IRGC have been harassing American naval vessels.

Now that US President Donald Trump has dipped his toe into the treacherous water of Iranian hegemony with his strike in Syria, will he also realize it is also the time to act decisively the next time the Iranian navy endangers American vessels in the international waters of the Persian Gulf?

The world is waiting to see whether his attack against the use of chemical weapons was a “one and done,” or is America beginning to reassert its authority for its national interest that was so carelessly abandoned by president Obama, Susan Rice and John Kerry.

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

The Obama Administration’s Faulty Reasoning and Analysis

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Obama’s conviction borders on delusion as he ignores the dangers of nuclear weapons in the hands of an apocalyptical revolutionary theocracy.”

 The Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) “has worked exactly the way we said it was going to… it’s not just the assessment of our intelligence community. It’s the assessment of the Israeli military and intelligence community.” – President Barack Obama “One year later, it can clearly be said that the nuclear talks reversed power relations in Iran’s favor, with the US forfeiting a historic opportunity to dismantle Iran’s nuclear capability…

Iran has been given the legitimacy to maintain, develop, and move forward along the path of uranium enrichment after the deal… the scope of the deal’s damage is wider still. It has turned Iran into a superpower… Iran is the only country that has the potential to pose a threat to the existence of Israel.” – IDF Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, former Israeli national security adviser When a politician or government official assures you something in the Middle East “has worked exactly the way we said it was going to,” you should take it with a large grain of Dead Sea salt. Humility is a prerequisite for Middle East analysis; where understanding regional variables is more akin to playing five-dimensional chess, where your enemies’ enemy is just as likely to be your friend as your foe, and tomorrow, guess again.

Humility is demanded to even begin to understand the complexities of the conflicting myriad of tribal Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim interests. As Scott Anderson wrote in The New York Times Magazine, “[J]ust beneath the sectarian and regional divisions… there lay extraordinarily complex tapestries of tribes and sub-tribes and clans, ancient social orders that remained the populations’ principal source of identification and allegiance.”

Simplistically connecting the dots between the 2003 Iraq War and the chaos that now afflicts the Muslim world projects a misleading narrative of simple cause and effect. To both Sunnis and Shi’ites of the region, 13 years is a blink of an eye, where Muhammad’s word and the death of the fourth caliph ring as clearly to the faithful as though they occurred only yesterday. Westerners cannot understand that 21st-century Islam sees separation of church and state as an alien concept.

Few experts saw the “Arab Winter” coming, just as the best and brightest Israeli military intelligence experts miscalculated the possibility of an Arab invasion in 1973 (Yom Kippur War).

So when US President Barack Obama said with confidence, “The country [Israel] that was most opposed to the deal… [Now] acknowledges this has been a game-changer,” it strains credulity.

Claiming all now agree that the JCPOA is a good agreement makes sense only if your audience is members of Meretz or J Street, not mainstream Israeli parties of the Left, Center and Right, or the American electorate.

I guess the administration missed the Pentagon report in Bloomberg this month, according to which Iran “improved its offensive cyber abilities and developed more advanced ballistic missiles since signing an accord last year to curb its nuclear program.” This violates UNSC resolutions 1929/2231 banning ballistic missile tests, and betrays the president’s own words that snap-back sanctions would occur if Iran violated the deal, as a missile program is essential to an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Worst of all, the legitimization of the Iranian nuclear program betrays Obama’s promise that the “prohibition on Iran having a nuclear weapon is permanent.” As Alan Dershowitz, who studied the deal’s language, wrote in The Times of Israel, “There’s nothing in the deal that says they’re not allowed to develop nuclear weapons.”

In 1973 the same level of certainty was reached by the Israeli military intelligence chief, who was convinced that an Arab attack on Israel was highly unlikely since they had no new jet fighters or Scud missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv. His marching orders were not to panic the nation with repeated call-ups of reservists, disrupting the national economy. So even massive Arab troop movements did not budge him.

False certainty and the desire for “legacy have blinded this American administration, which concluded that Iran is a better long-term friend than Israel or the Gulf States. Just as [with] the inability of the Israeli intelligence chief in 1973 to think out of the box, Mr.

Obama’s conviction borders on delusion as he ignores the dangers of nuclear weapons in the hands of an apocalyptical revolutionary theocracy.”

Karen Armstrong wrote, “Socrates made it his life’s work to compel people to question their most fundamental assumptions… The people who conversed with Socrates usually thought they knew what they were talking about, but by the end of the conversation he had exposed the flaws at the heart of each firmly held opinion.”

This is excellent advice for President Obama, and the next American president, if they really think they know what is going to happen next in the Middle East.

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

A Year Later, Failure of Iran Nuclear Deal is Clearer Than Ever

(Previously published on Forward.com)

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN™. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East and is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post.

Last summer, a fierce debate in the pro-Israel community over how to best curtail the Iranian nuclear program took place. On July 14, 2015, after 20 months of arduous talks, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran, the P5+1 countries, and the EU was announced. On the deal’s anniversary, we asked two pro-Israel leaders, one on the right and one on the left, to share their thoughts on how the deal is working one year later. To read the other perspective, click here.

President Obama “has bet global security and his own legacy that one of the world’s leading state sponsors of terrorism will adhere to an agreement to curtail its nuclear program.”

~Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic

“In the United States, support is growing for the notion that (President Obama) has failed to hold Tehran accountable for nuclear violations, downplayed Iran’s economic windfall from sanctions relief, and ignored the deal’s negative regional implications for state sponsorship of terrorism.”

~Raymond Tanter, Foreign Policy Magazine

The one-year anniversary of the JCPOA is an important, yet premature time to reflect on the accomplishments and failures of the nuclear agreement.

I was privileged to work with members of Congress, and their foreign policy and national security advisors who were grappling over many years with the challenges and ambitions of the revolutionary Iranian theocracy.

During the contentious debate over the merits of the JCPOA, a false choice was offered, either accept this agreement or you are a warmonger, willing to drag America into another Middle East quagmire. Yet almost everyone I spoke with in Congress preferred a negotiated settlement, just not a bad one that would weaken American national security interests. A new relationship with Iran was desired, just not one based on empowering the misogynist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-American, Islamic Republic of Iran, without significant security concessions.

So where did we begin.

In 2012 the President said, “The deal we’ll accept…is that they end their nuclear program.” The administration told Congress that it would not sign an agreement that did not require Iran to forsake its nuclear weapons capability. The President claimed that the JCPOA indeed ended every pathway to a nuclear weapons capability through plutonium and uranium enrichment.

In April 2015 when the “Key parameters” of the deal were released, the Washington Post’s Editorial Board wrote, “Obama’s Deal Falls Far Short of His Own Goals.” They complained that none of Iran’s nuclear facilities will be closed, not one of its 19,000 centrifuges will be dismantled, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain “intact”, and in ten years Iran “instantly” becomes nuclear state.

President Obama’s first Iran advisor Ambassador Dennis Ross said, “The agreement…does not reflect the objective we had hoped to achieve.”

The administration said their deal would empower the moderates and reign in Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and domestic human rights abuses. When this clearly became untrue, they backtracked and claimed the deal was never about reigning in the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, but was exclusively about nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. Even that limited goal needed to be amended when Iranian missiles capable of delivering a nuclear weapon were tested, violating a number of UN Security Council resolutions. German Chancellor Merkel recently told Parliament, “Iran (has) continued unabated to develop its rocket program in conflict with the relevant provisions of the UN Security Council.”

The administration also choose to ignore Iran’s more dangerous regional ambitions threatening American allies, and shut its eyes on Iran’s direct role in the genocide in Syria, fighting arm and arm with Hezbollah and Assad. Obama’s own State Department still lists Iran as the leading state sponsor of terror, while this agreement provides hundreds of millions of dollars in sanctions relief and new trade deals, strengthening the Iranian regime.

As for the agreement itself, a partial list of what was allowed contradicts the assurances the administration gave to Congress.

  • Allows Iran in ten years to build an unlimited numbers of heavy water nuclear reactors
  • Conduct advanced centrifuge R&D immediately
  • Denies immediate anytime, anywhere access to check for violations of the agreement. Considering that Iran’s whole nuclear program was clandestine, this concession was particularly egregious.
  • At year 15, allows Iran to become a nuclear weapons power with unlimited uranium production, and unlimited number of centrifuges.

In the Middle East, 15 years is a blink of the eye.

To evaluate where this deal is going you need to understand the reality of the Islamic Republic. Iran today is motivated by a combination of Persian nationalism, Islamic revolutionary ambition, and the desire for Shiite control of Mecca and Medina. Anti-Americanism and the destruction of Israel are not rhetoric, but part of its core DNA, foundational principles of the Republic. Iranian diplomacy practices taqiyah, an Islamic doctrine that permits Iran to deceive its enemies, signing agreements with no intention of being faithful to them.

As for the deal itself, did you know that the JCPOA and its companion the UNSC Resolution 2231 are different documents? UNSC Res. 2231 was sold to the American people as the UN version of the JCPOA. Wrong!

Why is this so important? Because the more restrictive aspects of the Iran deal that Iran refused to agree to, were put only into UNSC 2231 but are not in the JCPOA. Iran now claims that 2231 is not legally binding on them!

Here is another shocker. Did you know that the JCPOA is not an agreement or a binding contract? It is simply a set of understandings that remain unsigned by the Ayatollah. What should have been a negotiated treaty, the most important American foreign policy agreement of the early 21st century, intentionally bypassed the Senate with Presidential prerogative because the President knew that the majority of the American people and Congress were against the concessions in the deal. Mind you not against a deal, just against this deal.

As for a partial but growing list of its faults, we conceded finding out the past military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program, and then delinked sanctions relief from PMD.

Did you know that the sanctions relief’s main beneficiaries are the Ayatollah’s 100 billion dollar Setad conglomerate, and his Iranian Revolutionary Guard storm troopers, both who control much of the Iranian economy.

So what has happened since the agreement went into effect.

  • This month Germany’s FBI said Iran has a “clandestine” effort seeking illicit nuclear technology
  • Iran violated UNSC 2231 which compelled it to stop ballistic missile work for 8 years.
  • Iran fired live missiles within 1500 yards from an American aircraft carrier and humiliated American sailors
  • Multi-billion dollar sales to Iran of Russian arms including the advanced Sukhol super jets, and the S300 surface to air missile system.

So why did we sign this deal?

I have written for the last eight years that the administration’s goal was to develop a new U.S.-Iranian relationship at the expense of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and America’s traditional Sunni allies. The President told Jeffery Goldberg that the Saudis have to learn to share the Middle East with Iran.

This deal is the culmination of that dream; it is about the President’s foreign policy legacy. The writing was on the wall way back in 2009 when the President mystifyingly abandoned the Iranian people during their Green Revolution, siding with the Ayatollah.

The agreement not only reinforced the regime’s hold on domestic power, but also fundamentally reversed the regime’s decline caused by the 2009 protests, the international unity against Iran’s nuclear program after 2011 IAEA report, the Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions laws in late 2011 and 2012 that isolated and contracted Iran’s economy and obliterated the rial’s value.

We now know with certainty that in ten to fifteen years Iran will be a nuclear weapons power at any time of its choosing, with complete international legitimacy, memorialized in the President’s JCPOA.

This totally contradicts the Presidents stated goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, as with time, more and more nations will fear an unrestrained hegemonic nuclear Iran, developing their own nuclear weapons capabilities, and dramatically increasing the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Islamist non-state actors. God help us!

As for the President’s promise of snap-back sanctions if Iran fails to comply with the JCPOA that is not happening. Iran has already crossed a number of redlines that should have prompted American action but have instead been excused and rationalized. No matter what, nothing is to sabotage the President’s legacy.

As former Iran expert at the Pentagon and Georgetown Professor Matthew Kroenig said,

“Iran would like to build nuclear weapons. The only people Tehran is fooling at this point are people who want to be fooled.”

When the Iran deal eventually implodes, the current administration ‎will be long gone. But the President and his inner circle will blame whoever is in power in the White House for the failure of an agreement that was destined to fail in the first place.

Will Senate Democrats take Violations of the Iran Deal Seriously?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Will Democratic senators and members of the House follow their consciences and defend American national security interests, or will they march in step with Obama?

The contentious debate over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has not ended, but simply moved into its next predictable phase: dealing with Iranian violations of the JCPOA and UNSC Resolution 2231.

Back in the summer of 2015, Democratic Senators wrestled over the difficult choice of trusting the president on Iran or risking the wrath of the administration and the Democratic leadership by opposing the deal because it would weaken American national security interests. In the end, most begrudgingly choose political allegiance over principle, but publicly promised disappointed constituents that they would meticulously monitor for Iranian violations, and be quick to respond with “snapback” sanctions if Iran reneged on the deal.

Fast-forward to Spring 2016, and the Iranian transgressions of both the JCPOA and UNSC resolutions on missile tests are clear to everyone.

Furthermore, Iran’s continued support of the genocidal Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, with Iranian- backed Hezbollah shock troops, has unquestionably broken all human rights standards, being the very definition of state-sponsored terrorism. Just ask the tens of thousands of Syrian civilians Syria has tried to starve to death with Iranian financial support.

During my briefings on Capitol Hill in March, I reviewed two pieces of new Senate legislation, The Iran Ballistic Missile Sanctions Act of 2016 and the Iran Terrorism and Human Rights Sanctions Act of 2016 (S. 2726). Both called for tangible consequences for Iranian missile tests, human rights abuses and support of terrorism. They simply follow the president’s promises that there would be “snapback sanctions” if Iran violates the deal, as it obviously is, flagrantly violating UNSC Resolution 2231 and the JCPOA . The most recent missile tested by Iran can carry a nuclear payload and is capable of reaching both Israel and Europe. President Barack Obama and his administration are pressuring Democrats to forget about the “snapback sanctions.” The legacy deal is more important than the truth.

The administration, with the good graces of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and “Shomer of the Senate” Chuck Schumer have told fellow Democrats that all of this is a “Republican” ruse to destroy the president’s legacy, leaving the world in a dangerous predicament without the deal in place. They tell fellow Democrats not to vote for this “Republican legislation,” as it would be a political win for them, and that’s what counts.

Instead the administration is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people by trying to extend the toothless Iran Sanctions Act, which will allow the president to continue to waive any meaningful sanctions on Iran.

Even more troubling is that the administration never told the American public that the Iranian Parliament never actually approved the American version of the JCPOA given to Congress. The Majlis (Iranian Parliament) only approved an amended Iranian version that among other things disallows snapback provisions.

Yet Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate on July 23, 2015, ‘‘We will not violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action if we use our authorities to impose sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights, missiles… the JCPOA does not provide Iran any relief from United States sanctions under any of those authorities or other authorities.”

Over the past four months Iran has launched multiple banned missile tests, all of missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload, in breach of the JCPOA .

UNSC Resolution 2231 was sold to Congress as an endorsement of the JCPOA , both touted as major achievements to stop Iran’s quest to build and deliver a nuclear bomb. Unfortunately, Iran never accepted UNSC Resolution 2231 as valid or enforceable.

When the administration realized during the negotiation last year that Iran would not allow any teeth to be attached to the JCPOA for future violations of the agreement, the administration pulled a fast one on Congress and the American public by moving anything objectionable to the Iranians, i.e. banning missile tests, to an obscure Annex B in UNSC Resolution 2231, but absent from the JCPOA .

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi made it clear that they viewed the two documents as different from the start.

In July 2015, according to a MEMRI translation Araghchi said, “We told them [the Americans] explicitly [that if you insist on including these articles on the arms and missile embargoes in the JCPOA , then], ‘There is no agreement,’ and we will not accept an agreement in which embargoes on weapons and missiles continue….”

As reported in MEMRI, “The Iranian perspective regarding UNSCR 2231 hinges entirely on its non-binding nature. Iran deems only the JCPOA to be binding… Iran insisted on relegating disputed issues (arms embargo, ballistic missiles) to UNSCR 2231 with the clear intent of violating it.”

2231 “calls upon” Iran to refrain for up to eight years from activity, including launches, related to ballistic missiles designed with the capability of delivering nuclear weapons. But Russia, as should have been expected, has defended its Iranian client and said the wording on Iranian missile tests is not legally binding. Putin 1, Obama 0.

Senator Mark Kirk, who has been insisting on Iranian accountability while defending American national security interests in regard to Iran’s quest for nuclear capability, said, “I reject our current posture of willful ignorance and inaction towards Iran’s terrorist activities, illegal missile testing, funding Assad’s war, and human rights abuses. The administration’s response cannot once again be it’s ‘not supposed to be doing that’ as Iran continues to walk all over US foreign policy and the international community.”

Democratic senators who reluctantly voted for the JCPOA claimed the Obama administration would hold tough and respond to violations immediately if the Iranians pulled any shenanigans. In addition, the president promised that the JCPOA and UNSC 2231 were in no way going to stop sanctions on Iran for its state sponsorship of terrorism or human rights abuses.

So much for the president’s promises.

Missile tests breaking UNSC resolutions evoke only rhetorical grumbles and shrugged shoulders from the administration, like what-can-we-do parents whose kids are misbehaving.

Which brings us to Congress’ foreign policy obligations to impose sanctions on Iran for breaking the JCPOA and UNSC 2231.

Will Democratic senators and members of the House follow their consciences and defend American national security interests, or will they march in step with Obama? The key is Democratic ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee Ben Cardin of Maryland.

Cardin, to his credit, voted against the JCPOA , but has received the runaround from the administration on consequences for Iran’s transgressions.

Ben, do the right thing.

Also calling senators Gillibrand, Coons, Booker, Wyden, Cantwell, Blumenthal, Schumer, Murphy and Peters.

The author is the director of MEPIN™.

Iranian Transgressions and Ongoing Palestinian Terrorism

Today’s VLOG asks two questions:

The first: Is there any Iranian violation or transgression of the JCPOA or of long-standing sanctions that would cause this administration to consider imposing a tangible consequence?

According to news sources, the White House said it had “strong indications” that Iran violated UN Security Council resolutions with a ballistic missile test this week. Yet White House press secretary Josh Earnest said it wouldn’t affect implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran. “Iran has demonstrated a track record of abiding by the commitments that they made in the context of the nuclear talks.”

A factually inaccurate, and a troubling response.

The second question deals with the ongoing Palestinian terrorism.  Is this the beginning of a third intifada?

Watch the VLOG below:

Here is a related article I wrote for the Jerusalem Post 6 months ago: Does Mahmoud Abbas Want His Legacy to be the Third Intifada?” 

As always, please share your thoughts. 

Dr. Eric R. Mandel
Director, MEPIN

Can the burning flames within American Jewry be lowered after the Iran deal?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

No matter where you stand on the Iran debate or what you think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, coming together to fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement should be common ground.

In the aftermath of the intense debate over the Iran agreement, a pervasive noxious cloud has enveloped the American Jewish community. An appeal has been issued from organized Jewry to tone down the level of vitriol against fellow Jews.

The White House’s strategy to politicize the debate to overcome the congressional majority against the deal won the day. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ill-timed visit in the spring didn’t help either.

Democratic Jewish Americans were forced to choose between party loyalty vs. independently judging the dangers of the agreement for American and Israeli national security interests. The administration’s strategy challenged the American Jewish Diaspora on the very meaning of what it means to be a pro-Israel American Jew.

The president persuaded the majority of Jewish congressional legislators to back his deal. This infuriated Democratic and Republican Jewish Americans opposed to the agreement, who think security interests were compromised for a partisan victory and a presidential legacy. Progressive American Jews trust the president on Iran, and believe him when he says this is the best deal that could have been negotiated, the only other choice being war. Political allegiance suffocated independent thought for those who reflexively supported the president.

As I have reminded members of Congress, this is not the end but the beginning of a new reality with Iran. As the president has said, the agreement leaves Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism that remains both fiercely anti-American and anti-Semitic. Over the next 16 months, the president will do whatever is in his power not to undermine this deal by imposing any new congressional sanctions on Iranian human rights violations or terrorism. American Jewish supporters of the agreement will be challenged to remain supportive of the president and defend the Islamic Republic if Iranian financial, military and technical support to Hamas, Syrian President Bashar Assad, or Hezbollah succeeds in killing more Americans and more Jews in the near future.

What will truly intensify the divide within American Jewry is the likely event that the president turns his attention back to his vision of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The American progressive Left is at the forefront of encouraging the president to re-engage and pressure Israel to make concessions, as they provide much of the ammunition to criticize the current Israeli government. Groups like Jewish Voice for Peace actively call for a one-state solution, i.e.

the destruction of Israel. The progressive J Street organization whose positions have been embraced by the administration gives legitimacy to pro-boycott advocates by providing a Jewish platform for them to speak from, angering mainstream American Jewry.

The Iran deal brought to the fore the divide in the American Jewish community. A younger generation steeped in universalism is uncomfortable with Jewish particularism, especially Zionism. They find no hypocrisy in both condemning Jewish nationalism while championing Palestinian national aspirations.

Palestinian Arab misogyny, corruption, anti-Semitism and homophobia seem beside the point, and shouldn’t get in the way of a Palestinian state.

Many young Jewish adults are predisposed to thinking the worst of Israel, as they have heard little but criticism of Israel during their formative years in some congregations.

On campus, they find university professors who are overwhelmingly hostile to Israel, and often cross the line from legitimate criticism to anti-Semitism. Jewish students who want to defend Israel must confront the growing SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) movement, which refuses dialogue and advocates the destruction of Israel.

So what are some possible remedies to lower the flames of vitriol between Jewish Americans with differing political outlooks? IT BEGINS with education. I recently spoke to a Reform congregation about my meetings in Congress on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). After the talk, I heard from many people who were surprised by how much information was new to them. Too often in our hyperpolarized world, we listen to and read only points of view we agree with.

If American Jewry is to come together, we must begin with the American synagogue. American Jews have a delicate balance in their relationship with their rabbis on political issues. Too many rabbis mix their personal politics with their teaching of Jewish values.

American Jews need to respectfully insist that personal politics in the guise of teaching Jewish values should find no home at the community’s pulpit. The alternative will be synagogues that turn into monolithic places of thought, where congregants of differing viewpoints feel unwelcome, and vote with their feet.

American Jews of all persuasions, like their Jewish brethren in Israel think they know everything! However if American Jewry could show some humility and restraint in telling a fellow Democratic nation that it knows what is best for that country’s security interests, it would lower the flames within American Jewry. All one needs to do is realize that it is Israeli mothers and fathers that place their children in harm’s way. American Jews of the Left and Right can also come together to support Congress to create new sanctions for Iranian human rights abuses and terrorism.

This has bipartisan support in Congress, so it should be a consensus issue.

One issue all American Jews should be able to come together on is fighting the growing menace of anti-Semitism on college campuses, especially when it is hides behind anti-Zionism. Last week the California Board of Regents acknowledged that anti-Semitism on the UC campuses is a real problem.

American Jews should endorse our State Department definition of anti-Semitism which says that if you use a different standard for Israel than for any other nation, or if you question Israel’s right to exist, or if you use Nazi symbols to describe Israel, that is anti-Semitism, plain and simple.

We all want our American Jewish kids on the college campus to live in a safe environment. This would be a great place to start and for American Jewry to say with a single voice, no to anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism.

Finally, no matter where you stand on the Iran debate or what you think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, coming together to fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, whose goal is the destruction of Israel, should be common ground for the overwhelming majority of synagogues of all denominations. So how about Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Orthodox synagogues in America come together with a banner or ad that says: “Wherever We Stand, We Stand With Israel, Wherever We Stand, We Stand Against Boycotts” American Jews need to find common ground, lower the rhetorical flames of infighting, and support a strong US-Israel relationship for the benefit of both nations.

The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™), and a regular contributor to the Jerusalem Post. MEPIN is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisors, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

What’s Next With Iran and the U.S.?

The political manipulations of the Iran negotiations are not over.

The Obama administration is intent to show the world that its outreach to Iran on the nuclear deal will bear fruit to transform the regime into a member in good standing of the international community. The Iranians will be happy to play their part and continue to fool the West. So, expect Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and three other Americans, unlawfully imprisoned by Iran, to be released and exchanged for Iranians jailed for sanctions violations in the West. This “magnanimous” Iranian gesture could even come during or right after Secretary of State Kerry meets with the Iranian Foreign Minister at the General Assembly next week. President Obama is reportedly still chasing President Rouhani for a meeting on the sidelines of the GA, but Rouhani is playing hardball just like during the negotiations. The majority of the UN General Assembly, which is composed of non-democratic nations, will give a standing ovation to the Iranian President whose nation wants to “annihilate” a member state of the UN, while that state’s Prime Minister will speak to a half empty auditorium because of anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism.

If Iran Cheats can Israel Still Strike?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

An Israeli pre-emptive attack against Iranian nuclear facilities is theoretically still a reality.

Will President Barack Obama again say to Israel “atem lo levad” (“you are not alone”), if Israel strikes Iran? Will the American administration commit to approve an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities if Iran violates the agreement? In April, opposition leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union proposed just that in a position paper, according to Yediot Aharonot.

Despite the recent revelation by former defense minister Ehud Barak that both he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu favored an Iranian strike, but were stymied by Yuval Steinitz, Moshe Ya’alon, Meir Dagan and Gabi Ashkenazi, an Israeli pre-emptive attack against Iranian nuclear facilities is theoretically still a reality.

(The rationale, of course, is that the Iranian leadership repeatedly calls for Israel to be “annihilated” or “wiped off the map.”) Whether this is wise or unwise in the post-Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action world is another story.

According to Norman Podhoretz writing in The Wall Street Journal: “With hardly an exception, all of Israel believes that the Iranians are deadly serious… to wipe the Jewish state off the map… once Iran acquires the means to make good on this genocidal commitment, each side will be faced with only two choices: …rely on the fear of a retaliatory strike… or… launch a pre-emptive strike of its own.”

In light of this overwhelming Israeli sentiment, here are four questions: • If Israel decides, for self-preservation, to strike Iran after a deal is in place, what happens to the US-Israel relationship? • Would Israel choose not to strike to preserve that relationship, which in the eyes of many is of existential importance to Israel? • Are you confident that Iran won’t give Hezbollah a nuclear device? If not, are you confident Hezbollah would not put it on a missile headed for Tel Aviv? • Would the world be safer if Israel did strike, upending conventional wisdom? Just as the pre-emptive Israeli strikes on the Iraqi reactor in 1981 and (allegedly) the Syrian reactor in 2009 made the world a less dangerous place, a strike against Iran, even post-agreement, has the potential for many unintended consequences, not all of them necessarily bad. Imagine the apocalyptic scenarios we could be facing today if the Syrian reactor had not been struck in 2009. A nuclear weapon might now be in the hands of the Syrian regime or Islamic State – both of which have already used chemical weapons. When the US president tells Israeli supporters that he has Israel’s back, they should look at how he turned his back on the Kurds.

This may all be moot as it assumes Israel still has the capability to deliver a meaningful strike, setting the Iranian nuclear program back many years. But the recent Russian announcement that it will sell the advanced S-300 anti-missile system to Iran in defiance of existing sanctions may close Israel’s window of opportunity.

Those Russian missiles could actually force Israel to strike sooner rather than later.

President Obama believes American interests are best served by the nuclear deal. Yet the American people and an overwhelming majority of Israelis, from the Right to Left, think the nuclear deal is dangerous. This is because the agreement spared Iran the need to choose between its nuclear program and economic prosperity. Iran received both in the deal.

Four more questions to ponder: • Could Israel, against the wishes of every nation on the planet, pre-emptively attack Iran to save itself? • What would follow an Israeli strike? • Will international terrorism rise; will the Iranian proxy Hezbollah and Iranian ally Hamas coordinate a conventional attack against Israel? • Would Iranian hegemonic ambitions be dampened or accelerated? With the conclusion of the deal, Iranian proxies and allies may feel freer to ramp up terrorism against Jews in Europe and South America again, testing Israel and the American response. There is no doubt that the administration would condemn such actions, but then rationalize that no military response should be allowed to threaten the greater benefits of the deal.

Netanyahu and the Israeli public may not be so forgiving if Hezbollah emerges from underground tunnels in the north, Hamas joins them via tunnels dug with Iranian largesse, missiles fly from the south or north to the heartland, or Jewish civilians are killed on a tourist bus in Prague, London, or Nairobi.

Perhaps the greatest damage caused by an Israeli strike would be to the US-Israeli relationship. Could it mean a permanent end to the special relationship? Would the president allow UN Security Council sanctions against Israel? American military support might be suspended or could end during this administration. The president might even welcome the opportunity as part of his long-term goal of realigning American interests to the Muslim world.

AT THE same time, allies of Israel in Congress will worry that the most important US ally in the region will be weakened and isolated, hurting US national security and surveillance interests. On the other hand, there is a potential backlash of anti-Semitism if Israel is perceived as drawing the US into another Middle East war.

When the deal becomes effective, most pro-Israel members of Congress and Jewish organizational leaders will have a two-fold strategy: increase US military aid to Israel to compensate for the deal’s devastating impact on Israeli security interests, and lobby the Israeli government not to strike Iran – even if the US imposes no consequences when Iran cheats.

If Israel strikes Iran before President Obama’s term ends, the president will likely stand aside as the European nations and the international community lead the charge to make Israel a pariah nation. But what would the next American president do? It is likely he or she will try to bridge the divide between the countries.

However, if the world is significantly destabilized by Iranian retaliations either in the form of terrorism or economic blockades of the Straits of Hormuz and Bab el Mandeb, then many on the Democratic side of the aisle will demand that the US remain permanently distanced from Israel.

The fraying of the US-Israel relationship as we know it is real – especially if the United States does not impose consequences for Iranian cheating. Congress, the American people, the American Jewish community and, most importantly, the next American president must anticipate this eventuality and act to prevent it.

The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™), and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN™ is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisors, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.

He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

 

The Iran Debate: The View from Congress

Last week I was privileged to speak with members of Congress and the their foreign policy experts as the deliberations and votes on The Iran Deal were taking place.  My objective was to explain that despite the manipulative political machinations that deprived the American people of an up or down vote on the agreement, there was much that can be done.

The emphasis needs to change from the focus of sanctions on nuclear weapons that the president will waive, to enacting new sanctions on the Islamic Republic for its egregious support of terrorism and human rights abuses, which threaten both our allies and our national security interests.

Watch my latest vlog to learn more about The Iran Debate:

 

 

 

The Price President Obama Will Demand from Israel for Increased Military Aid After the JCPOA

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

To the president, this deal is not so much about nuclear weapons. It’s about the president’s outreach to the Muslim people as articulated in both his Cairo speech of 2009 and in other statements.

There may be a threatening quid pro quo on the horizon for Israel, namely that the truly consequential armaments it needs to defend itself will be withheld unless Israel concedes to a Palestinian state.

There has been an unexamined consensus in Congress that Israel will automatically be given a dramatic increase in both the quantity and quality of military aid to make up for the dangers the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has created for it. Those dangers include a strengthened Hamas and Hezbollah, the increasing presence of more dangerous conventional missiles and the looming threat of an Iranian nuclear-tipped missile directed toward the Jewish state.

There is no doubt more aid is forthcoming, if for no other reason than to give cover to Democratic members of Congress who will vote with the president on the deal, but will soon be seeking campaign donations from concerned pro-Israel political donors.

But what is not appreciated is that there will likely be a huge price Israel will be asked to pay to receive what it needs to survive.

Pundits following the Iran deal have misunderstood what the deal is really about. Almost everyone has been focused on the nuclear weapons aspect of the deal, but that is not primarily what this agreement (JCPOA) is all about. If it were, we would have negotiated a much better deal.

This deal is just the first step in President Barack Obama’s vision for creating a new Middle East. It began with Iranian rapprochement, but it will not end until a Palestinian state is created, a passionately held desire of the president, his advisors and his progressive supporters. The president and his allies, for example J Street, still believe that the Israeli- Palestinian conflict is the Middle East’s primary problem. Israel to them is the linchpin, and Israel remains to its critics the intransigent and immoral party in the dispute.

There is little doubt that resolving the conflict in some way that secures Israel would have positive consequences.

But to focus attention here is to miss the point that almost all of the problems of the Middle East, from Islamic State (IS) to the Sunni- Shi’ite divide, have nothing to do with Israel, except for Israel’s role as a convenient scapegoat.

For all of the administration’s condemnations of the Bush administration agenda – trying to bring democracy to the region with American hubris and exceptionalism – this president’s plan is in actuality much more ambitious: to transform the region with an American progressive footprint. The more the president protests that this deal is just about nuclear weapons, the less you should believe it. You just have to look at the dramatic concessions made on conventional and ballistic missiles.

The Iran deal is less about nuclear weapons and more about strengthening Shi’ite Iran as a counterweight to balance the power of the Sunni Gulf states before moving on to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the same progressive footprint. If the president thinks his pivot to Iran reassures the other regional players, he is dangerously mistaken. The half a trillion dollars in money freed up with sanctions relief over the next five years will ignite the Sunni-Shi’ite world, not quiet it. American aid to the Sunni world in turn is simply kerosene being thrown in the Sunni-Shi’ite fire, with American soldiers likely to end up being killed as a result. The president’s wishful thinking is that Iran will work with the US against IS, help resolve the genocidal Syrian civil war, and with billions in economic relief choose butter over guns to revitalize its domestic economy, rather than beef up its military and that of its proxies. Good luck with that.

To the president, this deal is not so much about nuclear weapons. It’s about the president’s outreach to the Muslim people as articulated in both his Cairo speech of 2009 and in other statements.

So after Congress fails to override the president’s veto, he will turn to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is directly related to the Iran deal as part of an overall strategic vision.

It will next be about pressuring Israel to accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, which until the Obama administration was the Palestinian starting point for negotiations.

The Israeli view is secure and defensible borders. The American stick to Israel will be the threat to abstain from vetoing an expected French proposal in the UN Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state. The carrot is the advanced military aid Israel needs in response to the concessions the JCPOA created.

For the real consequential military “goodies” that Israel needs, there will be a quid pro quo: bend to our vision of resolving the conflict or pay the price.

The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™), and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN™ is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisors, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.