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Another NYT Article on the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Deal), Another Misleading Set of Facts

Responding to “The Iran Nuclear Talks Explained” in the New York Times

Source: CBs News

In a straight NY Times news article, not analysis, “The Iran Nuclear Talks Explained,” Steven Erlanger writes:


“They (the signers of the JCPOA) want to restore compliance with an agreement that put strict controls on Iran’s nuclear enrichment, to ensure that it cannot build a nuclear weapon.”


“Trump pulled the United States out of the accord in May 2018…restored and then enhanced harsh economic sanctions against Iran, trying to force it to renegotiate….Iran responded…by acting more aggressively in support of allies in the Middle East, like Hezbollah, Hamas, Shia militias in Iraq and the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.”

Sounds correct, right? Nope.

It is entirely misleading to say Iran responded to Trump’s withdrawal by acting aggressively. The implication is that they were restrained and compliant since the agreement was signed during the Obama administration.

Yet, from the summer of 2015, when the deal began to go into effect, until President Obama left office in January 2016, Iran never paused in ramping up its support of its terrorist proxies. It knew that no matter what it did, the Obama administration would not impose any sanctions or consequences for their expansionism, terrorism, missile development, or human rights abuses despite promises to the contrary. It was nearly three years later, two years into Trump’s term, before the US left the JCPOA, so the article is at best misleading, with facts out of context.


The claim that the JCPOA is “to ensure that it cannot build a nuclear weapon” is not correct. In fact, the JCPOA allows Iran to legally begin a full-scale nuclear industrial program in 2030, with the blessing of the signers of the JCPOA.

Facts are inconvenient for supporters of the JCPOA, but when they are disguised as news in the NY Times, they perpetuate a fraud on the public. Buyer beware if you read the NY Times and nothing else for comparison.

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

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

Previously published in the Jerusalem Report.

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Alma Research and Education Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

End the ‘conventional wisdom’ of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to advance peace

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel

Image Source: Getty Images

{Previously published in The Hill}

For the first time in 16 years, Palestinians will go to the polls for a parliamentary and presidential election. The elections in May will gain legitimacy for the Palestinians with the Biden administration, who, like many before it, may be tempted to re-engage in brokering a final resolution of the conflict — the holy grail of foreign policy.

For most American administrations, the conventional wisdom for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is based primarily upon a territorial compromise, allowing for two states for two peoples to live in harmony. Unfortunately, this has never panned out. Without a profound update to this American “wisdom,” the result inevitably will be another failure. So, before dipping their toes into the frigid waters of peacemaking, President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others on the team should rethink this. Absent a miraculous 180-degree change in Palestinian ideology, any venture into final status talks will be DOA. 

The Biden team got off to a good start when Blinken said, “The United States firmly opposes an @IntlCrimCourt investigation into the Palestinian Situation. …We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.” This was in response to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to investigate Israel for war crimes, including Israelis living anywhere within the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). However, when asked about resolving the conflict, Blinken returned to the mainstream mantra that the best way to achieve peace is to aim for a two-state solution.  

For any chance of success, two states for two peoples must be supplemented with new requirements. The new narrative should be informed by learning the lessons of past failures of final-status negotiations. Israel’s unrequited offers of the West Bank and East Jerusalem for a Palestinian state and capital in 2001 and 2008 made clear that fulfilling the Palestinians’ territorial demands was not the answer; something else was in play. The Biden team needs to acknowledge that the Palestinian demand for an unconditional right of return of descendants of Palestinian refugees is the primary impediment to resolving the conflict.

America also can judge the parties’ sincerity by demanding before entering talks that the outcome of any negotiation will be an end-of-conflict agreement, with all claims resolved. The U.S. should simply walk away if this is not accepted. To begin to change the accepted narrative of the conflict, the administration needs to step back and ask, “How did we get here?”

Until 1967, the conventional wisdom for the failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lay squarely on the Arabs’ shoulders. After the 1967 War (Six-Day War), when Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza, it offered Gaza and the West Bank back in return for permanent peace. They instead received the infamous “three Nos” — no peace, no recognition and no negotiation. 

As years passed and there was no sign that Arabs would accept Israel’s right to exist in their midst, the left reframed the conflict’s etiology. They blamed Israel as the intransigent party. Israel was transformed into a victimizer, despite the terrorism it sustained, and settlements in the disputed territories became the primary impediment. It didn’t matter that peace did not reign before a single settlement existed. Israel’s legal international rights in the West Bank were ignored. Even Palestinian terrorism was rationalized as the natural outgrowth of a people denied their dignity and land. If only Israel would give the Palestinians a state in the West Bank and Gaza, they surely would accept it.

In 1993, Yitzhak Rabin reluctantly reached across former President Clinton at a Rose Garden ceremony on the White House lawn to shake hands with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat, whose signature had been terrorist attacks on civilians. After the Oslo Accords, Palestinian terrorism not only did not diminish, but it grew. In 2000 and 2001, Clinton and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a final push at Camp David and Taba. 

Barak offered far-reaching concessions that surprised Clinton to their extent: almost all of the West Bank, 100 percent of Gaza, a recognized Palestinian State, East Jerusalem as their capital, and control of the Temple Mount, Judaism holiest site. The Palestinian answer was the Second Intifada, an unrelenting spasm of violence that continued for years. In 2007, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an even more generous offer than Barak. Arafat’s successor, current President Mahmoud Abbas, didn’t even bother to respond. 

Palestinian intransigence was because of the irreconcilable demand for an unconditional right of return of descendants of Palestinian refugees to Israel. One would have thought that Oslo’s failure and the terrorism that followed would have disabused the left of the notion that this was simply a territorial conflict. Peace advocates tie themselves up in knots claiming the right of return is just a bargaining position.

The Obama administration subscribed to the conventional wisdom narrative, only more so. In their eyes, the primary fault for the conflict lay squarely with the Israeli government. The administration’s disdain for Israel culminated in United Nations Security Council Resolution (No. 2334) that made any Israeli presence in the West Bank a war crime. Who knew Jewish control of the Western Wall was a crime! This resolution enshrined a perpetual prejudice against Israel within the international community. It became crucial in this year’s ICC decision to investigate whether Israel’s very presence in the West Bank is a war crime. 

Former President Trump decided that sticks, not conventional-wisdom carrots, were needed, that the Palestinian Authority was incentivizing terrorism with American taxpayer dollars. Hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars were transferred every year to the families of martyred terrorists, as well as jailed terrorists and their families. A bipartisan law named for a former American West Point graduate, Taylor Force, killed by a Palestinian terrorist in Israel, ended the practice for the time being.   

Now comes President Biden, who reflexively is undoing anything associated with his predecessor. Biden has restored funding to the Palestinian Authority without asking for anything in return. So, if the Biden administration wants to accomplish anything in the Levant, a good place to begin is by ending the ambiguity of what “two states” means. It should mean a Jewish state and an Arab state — the Palestinian one demilitarized. It means acknowledging that the Palestinian goal for two states — an Arab state in the West Bank and a binational state in Israel with a right of return — is entirely off the table.

Peace will be possible only when the conventional wisdom of the conflict is updated. Then it is up to new Palestinian leadership to convince the United States and Israel that it is ready for substantive negotiations. The Palestinian people deserve leadership that prioritizes them.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

A Public Service: Dissecting a ‘NYT’ Article on Israel

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Report (The Magazine of The Jerusalem Post}

At first glance, the New York Times news article “For Netanyahu and Israel, Trump’s Gifts Kept on Coming” by Jerusalem bureau chief David Halbfinger seems a straightforward account of US President Donald Trump’s actions that favor Israeli interests. This was in distinction from his predecessor Barack Obama’s actions that favored the Palestinians and were simpatico with the Times’ perspective.

So instead of analyzing a biased news story of which there have been many in the Times, I chose one that most would consider balanced at first blush, especially if you trust the Gray Lady as the ultimate “paper of record.” This exercise in critical thinking is one every reader should perform on all media outlets as an antidote to the pervasive editorialization found in purportedly straight news stories. Hopefully, it will educate those few of us left who yearn for a return to old-time journalistic standards. There is a vast gulf between unbiased reporting and what we experience today.  

Consciously or unconsciously over the last 30 years, The New York Times has moved from traditional news reporting to advocacy journalism, an editorialization of the news to provide its readership with their “correct” understanding of the story. This does not happen all the time, but it is not confined to their Middle East coverage. Many Times investigative pieces provide an invaluable service and are factually in context. Unfortunately, the growing instances of advocacy journalism have crossed a dangerous line, necessitating a warning label be affixed to their news stories – danger, you are reading an opinion, not news.  

Finding the truth amid the Times cherry-picked facts and using like-minded “experts” who reinforce their viewpoint without a counterbalanced perspective requires readers to digest their “news” with a jaundiced eye. This applies to many journalistic outlets from Right to Left. The problem with the NYT is that far too many people read the Gray Lady’s news reporting expecting the unvarnished truth. Therefore, analyzing an article by its Jerusalem bureau chief, one that doesn’t reek of prejudice at first glance, would be a service to their readership.  

The Times’ sad state of affairs was best exemplified this past summer when eight hundred Times staffers’ “safe space” was invaded by an op-ed of US Sen. Tom Cotton, whose opinion was supported by 57% of the American public. Yet they demanded not only a retraction but more consequentially, were allowed to cross the line into the supposed independence of its opinion pages. Never mind this violated the Times and journalistic standards, all because it offended their social justice sensitivities.  

Initially, the Times management defended its publication. Still, it quickly succumbed to the “wokesters” cancel culture, culminating in firing the opinion editor, a person of the left who just wasn’t progressive enough. Shades of the French Revolution’s Jacobins, as the incident was described as an “open revolt” by the Daily Beast.  

The resignation of Times columnist Bari Weiss, who dared not to toe the Progressive Palestinian grievance narrative of her news and opinion colleagues, was the most visible sign of the paper’s rot. The Times editorial and newsrooms’ toxic atmosphere chased away an essential voice from its opinion page, which is precisely what the Times cancel culture set out to do.  

“For Netanyahu and Israel, Trump’s Gifts Kept on Coming” is a catalog of American actions that support the Times thesis that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wagged the American dog. A legitimate opinion, but it is not news; it attempts to influence the reader’s understanding of the information, which is called opinion writing. The description of Trump’s actions as “noteworthy gifts… long list of prizes… nothing short of lavish” are adjectives to advance an opinion. Suppose the article valued Israel’s contribution to US security interests. In that case, it could have used words like shared values, justified and warranted.    

The article says, “Palestinians consider East Jerusalem, which Israel seized in the 1967 war, the capital of their future state.” The reader would be better served if the next sentence said, “Palestinian intentions regarding a division of Jerusalem may be suspect, as they refused to accept East Jerusalem as their capital at Camp David, Taba, and from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, instead their response was violence or silence each time.”  

The piece continues, “Seeking to compel the Palestinians to drop their demand for millions of their refugees’ descendants to be able to return to what is now Israel – a demand Israel has always rejected – the Trump administration cut all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.” This appraisal omits mention of the Taylor Force legislation that compels the US to end funding because the Palestinian Authority transfers hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to convicted terrorists and their families, some with American blood on their hands. Surely the writer is aware of this, but “the only news printed is one that fits.”  

The Times’ approach to Palestinian refugees conjures up images of desperate stateless people without explaining that Palestinian refugees are treated differently from every other refugee. In effect, it advocates for a Palestinian position instead of the more challenging task of explaining the refugee situation’s complexity. It never attempts to explain the vast majority of Palestinian refugees do not satisfy the international standard (UNHCR) applied to other refugees in the world. Then the Palestinian claim that descendants of refugees should have refugee status would evaporate. Nowhere does the Times explain the contradiction of counting millions of Palestinians who hold Jordanian citizenship as active refugees.  

Opinions belong on the op-ed page under the bylines of the usual Israel critics, Roger Cohen, Paul Krugman, Peter Beinart, or the Times editorials.  
On the issue of isolating Iran, Halbfinger stated, “Mr. Trump’s ordering of the killing Iranian General Qassim Suleimani eliminated one of Israel’s most feared adversaries.” No explanation that this person was one of the world’s most notorious terrorists; instead, this is phrased in such a way as to make it appear that this targeted assassination was a “gift” for exclusively Israeli interests.  

Even worse, it perpetuated the antisemitic stereotype of Israel wagging the tail of the American dog. It omitted that Soleimani had American soldiers’ blood on his hands, providing improvised explosive devices to Iranian supporters in Iraq that maimed and killed hundreds of Americans. Through his Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps., he was complicit in the attack on the American Embassy in Baghdad and on a US base, killing an American civilian.  

As a final example, the article says, “the Trump administration has increasingly equated anti-Zionism with antisemitism.” That is undoubtedly true, but again, the writer insinuates that this is a Trump-invented fantasy. Our State Department and many other democracies use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism that unambiguously equates anti-Zionism with antisemitism.  

Sometimes photo-journalism is the most striking way to reveal overt prejudice in a news article. The section dealing with “Pressuring the Palestinians” shows a photo of terrified Palestinians on the Gaza border fleeing Israeli tear gas. The image has not been doctored, but does it tell the truth? Hardly. Nowhere in the article does it even make the most meager attempt to explain why Israel’s army released tear gas at these Palestinians. To the Times writers, this manipulation allows them to convince their readers that Israel is the brutal occupier who, without cause, attacks Palestinians as a matter of policy. Anyone familiar with the history knows that the anti-Israel leaders have for many years orchestrated photo-ops to give the appearance of Israelis bullying helpless Palestinians.  

There is no mention of Palestinians sending incendiary balloons into Israeli civilian areas or that the Palestinian people elected a terrorist Islamist government, Hamas, that supports these attacks and whose goal is to destroy Israel. Not addressed were the thousands of rockets over the past 20 years launched to terrorize Israeli civilians, who live with constant traumatic stress, while the Palestinians use their people as human shields.    

A few years ago, I spoke with one of my friends, a chairperson of an important committee in the US House of Representatives. This person is kind and fair, but seemed always to have a limited breadth of facts on the Middle East. When I asked where they got their news coverage, I was told the Times. I tried to explain that I too read the Times as an essential read. Still, I also need to read many other sources of information to form a fully balanced and comprehensive picture of the day’s news.  

So few of us today are willing to go outside of our echo chambers to discomfort ourselves with other “facts” that would challenge our preconceived notions of what happens in the world. A good part of the American populace intuitively knows that today’s news is not balanced. A recent Knight Foundation/Gallop poll revealed, 86% of Americans say that “news organizations advocate political viewpoints rather than report the news free of bias.”  

This is not healthy for American democracy or any democracy. Israel too has its issues with its advocacy journalism masquerading as news. Just open up Haaretz, where I asked a former editor if he was troubled its news articles were opinion. He didn’t deny it, but said if I didn’t like the news, read another paper. This is the paper English-speaking journalists in the Middle East read.  

It is time for the American and Israeli public to acknowledge we are part of the problem. We are so lazy, gravitating to news and social media sources that make us feel better and make us worse citizens. Once we acknowledge that, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican; a Likudnik, Lapid, Sa’ar, Bogie or Blue and White supporter, you need to prioritize making an effort to be better informed. Let your friends know that we are being duped, and demand a change from our media in how we are presented with news.  

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, and regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House, and their foreign-policy advisers.

Two States for Two Peoples Requires Recognizing Israel’s Legal Rights

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Ten years ago, I was briefing a senator and her chief of staff about the complex nature of international law regarding the building of Israeli communities, i.e., settlements over the 1949 Armistice line (1967 Line or Green Line), in land claimed by the Palestinian Arab people as their future national home. They thanked me for new information, which surprised me, telling me that the leading pro-Israel groups almost never mention anything about settlements, not even the militarily essential ones in the Jordan River Valley that are supported by many Israelis. So I filled in the blanks.

Does Israel have any legal rights over the 1967 Line?

Is every Israeli settlement over the 1967 line a violation of the international law, including Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall?

What does international law say about settlement in non-populated areas of disputed territory acquired in a defensive war?

When I was a guest lecturer in a Middle East Studies class at a major university and when I began explaining what I thought was a straight-forward explanation of UNSC Resolution 242, the basis for all international agreements and negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, the Lebanese professor who invited me to speak told me that I mistranslated the text. I said the text said Israel was to withdraw from “territories” it captured during the 1967 Six Day War, the authors specifically leaving out the indefinite article “the” to imply it didn’t have to return from 100% of the occupied area.

The professor said the correct translation in Arabic was “the territories” meaning Israel must completely withdraw, so I retorted that it was written in English, citing the words of the authors of the resolution who explained that it was written purposely without “the,” as they never expected or required Israel to return to the indefensible borders of 1967. He was unpersuaded, but students who came up to me afterward thanked me for adding some gray to the black or white picture the professor had painted regarding Israel and the territories in question.

When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently announced that Israeli settlements are not per se illegal, it touched off a political firestorm with partisans going into their corners citing international law without actually looking at the complexities of the issue or what a non-politicized version of international law actually says.

Whether it is wise for Israel to have their current settlement policy is a different question. But not differentiating between settlements based on security issues like the Jordan River Valley, or rather, as defined by the professor as any Jewish presence over the ‘67 line, which would include the Western Wall of the old Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, makes an eventual resolution of the conflict almost impossible.

Adding to the complexity was President Barack Obama’s parting shot at the end of his term to Prime Minister Netanyahu, with the American orchestration of UNSC Resolution 2334, which declared an Israeli presence of one centimeter over the 1967 line as a “flagrant violation of international law,” contradicting UNSC 242, and hardening the Palestinian position.

SO WHAT does international law actually say about the issue? A recent Democrat-penned letter that garnered more than 100 signatures cited a 1978 opinion by State Department legal counsel Herbert Hansell that said Israel’s settlements violate Article 49 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibiting the deportation of its civilian population into the disputed area.

What he chooses to ignore is that this prohibition was specifically written because of what the Nazis did during World War II, where they forcibly transferred their populations into occupied lands that they ethnically cleansed of Jews for colonization and for racial reasons. Comparing Israel’s settlement policy to a policy designed to prevent a recurrence of Nazi fascism is not only inaccurate but obscene.

According to Alan Baker, defenders of Israel’s settlement policy have international law on their side, citing Article 80 of the UN Charter, which memorialized the Balfour Declaration, the San Remo Declaration and the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, granting Israel rights in today’s contested territories over the 1967 Line (West Bank or Judea and Samaria).

In addition, from 1949 to 1967, the area was claimed by Jordan, but the international community, with the exception of Pakistan and Britain, did not recognize that claim. Since the last legal stakeholder of the land was the Ottoman Empire, which had dissolved after World War I, the land was best described as disputed after Israel captured the territory during the Six Day War.

Why is this important even if you believe the eventual resolution of the conflict is two states for two peoples and an Israeli return to the 1967 lines with land swaps, which is what many of those who signed Congressional letter believe?

Because if Israel in a negotiated settlement with the Palestinian Authority is ceded any territory over the 1967 line, whether for defensive reasons or part of a land swap, it will always be viewed as a burglar returning only part of his ill-gotten gains, setting up a pretext for future generations of Palestinians to undermine any settlement in the future.

Israel’s legal rights over the 1967 line must be recognized for there to be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Counterintuitive, yes, but considering the failures of all previous negotiations, it is something that should be championed for those who want both a Jewish state and an Arab state.The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. Dr. Mandel regularly briefs members of the Senate, House, and their foreign policy advisers, as well White House advisers. He is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to The Hill, i24TV, JTA, Defense Post, JNS, The Forward and has appeared in RealClearWorld.

Should the Flawed Iran Deal Alter U.S. Interest in Regime Change? 

{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

With Obama’s out, what happens next with Iran?

It has become painfully clear that former US president Obama’s desire to make the Islamic Republic of Iran a “very successful regional power” has come to fruition. Iran is on the verge of creating its long-sought Shi’ite Islamist land corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean.

Unfortunately, Obama’s goal to develop “an equilibrium…between Sunni states and Iran in which there’s competition…but not an active or proxy warfare” has utterly failed. Just look at Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

This is an important moment to reassess American foreign policy in the region, as we mark the second anniversary of the still unsigned Iran agreement (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA).

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has persuaded President Donald Trump to again recertify Iran, fearing that pursuing full compliance would endanger his fragile cease-fire in Syria and his working relationship with Russia and its Iranian ally. Appeasement is rarely a successful strategy in this part of the world.

Iran has violated both in spirit and the law the JCPOA and UN Security Council resolutions by exceeding heavy water limits, testing intercontinental ballistic missiles, and refusing to grant full access to international inspectors.

As German Intelligence recently reported, Iran has continued to seek “products and scientific know-how for developing weapons of mass destruction as well missile technology.”

The JCPOA was a transactional set of understandings that was sold to the American people as strictly about nuclear weapons, after it became clear that none of the moderation promised by the deals supporters had materialized. The Iran agreement was supposed to be vigorously enforced, while not inhibiting consequences for violations of UN Security Council resolutions, human rights abuses, terrorism, or destabilization and threats against its neighbors.

Yet Iran’s supreme leader’s rhetoric and actions against American interests have only increased and worsened since July 2015. Iran is now planning a naval port on the Mediterranean, is entrenched in Syria, and is more hostile than ever to America and its allies.

American foreign policy advisers should be asking:

• Would American national security interests be better served by a change in the Iranian government?

• Can America openly desire a peaceful regime change, while not being accused of wanting to start a new war?

• Wouldn’t the Iran agreement more likely be adhered to, if the regime in Iran were not the Islamic Republic of Iran?

In 1983, then-president Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” In 1987, in the name of freedom and American interests, he unapologetically called for regime change in the brutal authoritarian communist expanse by famously declaring, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Yet, like the JCPOA, he continued to seek transactional agreements with that evil empire. There is little doubt that what Reagan wanted to achieve was a regime change in the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism, yet no bullet was ever fired.

Could the same approach work with the Islamist theocracy, if the Iranian people were given moral encouragement to take charge of their own destiny? Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran, like the former Soviet Union, poses one of the most consequential threats to American security interests in the 21st century.

Its aspirations are megalomaniacal, and it is on the threshold of irrevocably changing the character of the Middle East against American interests.

As Saeed Ghasseminejad and Emanuele Ottolenghi wrote in The Huffington Post last year on the first anniversary of the JCPOA: “In the administration’s telling, the agreement would help loosen hard-liner’s grip on power in favor of more moderate forces…

the sad truth is unavoidable: the very opposite has occurred.”

Iranian ascendancy was validated and supported by Obama’s Iran agreement, which purposely ignored its hegemonic ambitions to reach a legacy agreement that almost certainly guarantees Iran an industrial-size nuclear program with full international approval in just 10-15 years.

When a pro-peace, pro-Israel progressive organization on the second anniversary of the JCPOA claimed that the agreement had “utterly defanged” Iran, it strained credulity.

It is troubling to see so many progressive groups act as Iranian advocates while Iran still remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, routinely imprisons and tortures its opponents, treats women as second class citizens, and is openly antagonistic to LGBTQ.

The JCPOA has betrayed the people of Iran. Ironically, Iran’s citizens would be among the most Western- oriented people in the Muslim Middle East, if only they could unshackle themselves from their repressive Islamist leadership. This would give them the opportunity to vote in a truly representative election, not one controlled by the Guardian Council, which disallowed 99% of presidential candidates in the last election and does not allow a women to be elected president.

As Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations said, the “Islamic republic… features a constant struggle between an authoritarian regime and restive population seeking democratic empowerment…. one thing certain about Iran’s future is that another protest movement will rise at some point seeking to displace the regime.”

Nothing could have been so contradictory to American values than the Obama administration’s abandonment of the Iranian people in 2009 during their Green Revolution, when Iranians by the millions rose to challenge their repressive Islamist government.

In 2015, when Iran was on the threshold of collapse from congressional sanctions with an economy in free-fall, Obama rescued the supreme leader and the fortunes of the Revolutionary Guard with front-loaded sanctions relief, undermining the Iranian people’s chances for more freedom.

So is it wise for an American administration two years into the JCPOA to publicly state that it is in the interests of the Iranian people and American security, to view with favor an eventual change in the leadership of the Islamist Republic, one that is representative of its people while not endangering its neighbors? With the blood of so many Americans directly staining the hands of Iran, ranging from its 1983 orchestrated bombing that murdered 241 American servicemen in Beirut to the untold number of American servicemen maimed and killed by Iranian supplied IED’s in Iraq, America does not have to be apologetic to state the obvious – that Iran is a menace to the world and its people.

It’s time to be there for the Iranian people if they again rise up against the fascists who now control their country. This does not mean military intervention, but it does mean that, at least rhetorically, America would welcome new leadership in Iran. Maybe that is all the Iranian people need to hear.

Unlike all of the Arab peoples who rose up during the failed Arab Spring, the Iranian people is Western oriented and is more likely to democratize in a non-Islamist fashion. But they won’t be free until the regime is gone, and it won’t be gone without a revolution of its indigenous Persian people. They will fail again if America abandons them.

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

 

 

 

American Re-Engagement in the Middle East 3.0

{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

Can Trump overcome his isolationist instincts and look anew at the Middle East?

Do US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson believe that the “Middle East is and will remain a region of strategic importance to the United States,” as Richard Fontaine and Michael Singh wrote in The National Interest?

Do they agree with US Central Command commander Gen. Joseph Votel, who told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the threats in the Middle East “continue to pose the most direct threat to the US homeland and the global economy… [and] Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability for this part of the world”? If they do agree, they need to begin to formulate a new vision of American engagement, or reengagement, that learns from the lessons of the past.

Some suggestions:

Rule 1: Remember that unilateral concessions in the Middle East are rarely reciprocated. Totalitarian Islamist and secular authoritarian regimes view unilateral concessions as weakness, an opportunity to gain influence and power. Just ask Israel.

Rule 2: Construct quid pro quo deals to make sure American interests aren’t shortchanged. For example, the Saudis want advanced tanks and precision guided missiles, a hard sell at Congress now. Tillerson could try tying Saudi arms sales to tangible steps to promote US-Israeli-Saudi open cooperation. It would be a stabilizing step, aligning American allies with shared American security interests, rebalancing versus the ascendancy of Iranian influence.

Rule 3: Warn American adversaries that they should expect consequences when they double-cross us.

Rule 4: Communicate to the American people that Iranian hegemony is the most dangerous threat to American national security for the foreseeable future.

Rule 5: Stabilize the region with humility, but with the confidence of a superpower.

Rule 6: Engage in the region with realistic expectations and have multiple fall-back strategies.

Rule 7: Realize that completely solving conflicts is usually not a realistic goal.

Rule 8: Do not rely on unsigned agreements. The most consequential American agreement of the 21st century, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran Agreement) was never signed by the Iranians and its companion, UNSC 2231, is continually violated by the Iranian regime.

Tillerson should use the platform of the secretary of state to address the world with a coherent foreign policy for American reengagement in the Middle East that balances American realist security interests with American value-based foreign policy.

From 2009 to 2016, American foreign policy was one of deliberate retrenchment and apology for past sins, with the goal to reduce the world’s unipolar superpower to one among equals, hog-tied by international organizations whose goal was, more often than not, to humble the United States.

As John Bolton wrote in The Wall Street Journal, international organizations’ “unspoken objective is to constrain the US and to transfer authority from national governments to international bodies… submitting the United States to authorities that ignore, outvote or frustrate [our] priorities.”

Perhaps in some utopian world this makes sense, but certainly not in the real world of the Middle East.

The Trump administration is unlikely to be fooled into believing international organizations are going to stabilize the world order. The idea of a peaceful multi-polar world with a weakened America, was, is and for the foreseeable future will be a chimera that will endanger America and its allies.

Re-engagement 3.0 should reflect the realties of today, not resurrect the failed assumptions of the past.

So which actions would jump-start this new vision?

• America interests are the polar opposite of Iranian interests. Therefore the administration should recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights.

According to The Washington Post the “Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are now present along the 1967 cease-fire line with Israel in the Golan Heights, putting them directly opposite Israeli troops for the first time.”

Can you imagine the danger if the Iranians were on the shores of the Galilee, if Israel had listened to John Kerry and given up the Golan? American interests are aligned with Israel’s permanent control of the Golan, a bulwark against Iranian expansionism.

• Stabilize American allies Jordan and Egypt with loan guarantees, tax incentives and upgraded border security.

• Reevaluate and develop a new relationship with Turkey. The Islamization of Turkey, its precarious role as the eastern flank of NATO and its support of terrorist entities must be addressed. Waiting a generation for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to pass from the scene will be too late.

• An independent Iraq not controlled by Iran is an important American interest. Additional economic support of Iraq should be tied to its distancing itself from Iran. America should leverage the Persian Shiite condescension towards Iraqi Arab Shiites to build a better US-Iraq relationship.

• American policy 3.0 should state unambiguously that when groups like Hezbollah or Hamas use civilian areas as staging groups to attack civilians or use human shields to create self-inflicted humanitarian propaganda, America makes clear to international organizations that the harm that comes to those civilians is the responsibility of the terrorist organizations themselves.

Re-engagement 3.0’s goal should be multilateral, but only if America is firmly in charge of its destiny. If multilateralism is used as a façade for a withdrawing, isolationist foreign policy, American interests will be at the mercy of others.

Israel does not enjoy any of the luxuries of a unipolar superpower or even a regional superpower. It is judged against a standard no other democratic nation in its position would be asked, or even rationally expected to adhere to. The new Trump administration should reiterate every time the UN and EU stigmatize and delegitimize Israel that America views Israel as a primary American security interest that won’t be abandoned.

But the real question is, can Trump overcome his isolationist instincts and look anew at the Middle East, not through the prism of the Iraq War? American security for the next decade depends on it.

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.

What US Ambassador David Friedman Should Do in 2017

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

If Friedman were interested in my advice, I would recommend he use the ambassador’s pulpit to clearly articulate why the new administration has chosen a different path forward.

Last week, while I was speaking with foreign policy experts in Washington, I received a text from my millennial- age son Adam asking about the newly nominated US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. “Aside from The New York Times painting him as the devil, and J Street portrayed as the moral saviors of Jewish America, what is the real story?” he asked.

Then began the emails from friends, skeptics, and news media wanting to know if Friedman’s nomination is unnecessarily provocative, whether he is a “far-right” extremist, and are his past statements representative of what the Trump administration will actually do? Leaving aside the apocalyptic hyperventilating by the New York Times lead by their J Street allies, my impression of the importance of this nomination was tempered by my bipartisan meetings in Congress and with foreign policy think tanks after the nomination.

Congress’ main concern is not the nomination. It is overwhelmingly focused on Iranian ambitions of hegemony affecting American interests, what to do with the disastrous JCPOA, how to respond to Iranian/Russian complicity in the Syrian genocide, and the delegitimization of Israel.

With the American abstention of the UN Security Council Resolution condemning all settlements over the 1949 Armistice Line as having “no legal validity,” Obama in one stroke did what no president has ever done. When I warned Israeli and American officials early in 2016 about this possibility, I was told it would not happen. So it was no surprise when State Department spokesman John Kirby recently said Israeli settlements are now illegal, a first for any administration.

President Obama in essence legitimized the delegitimizers, the supporters of BDS, breathing new life into this most heinous antisemitic movement. That officially puts the Obama administration on record condemning the Jewish presence in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, in Gilo, in Gush Etzion, in French Hill, and so many other areas that were supposed to be part of land swaps.

The UN abstention, along with the JCPOA, completed President Obama’s long planned vision of realignment for his new Middle East. It both empowered the Islamic theocracy of Iran, a radical Islamist regime, while creating his long sought “daylight” fraying the US-Israel relationship.

If Friedman were interested in my advice, I would recommend he use the ambassador’s pulpit to clearly articulate why the new administration has chosen a different path forward, and explain that past presidents of both parties have failed because they have viewed the conflict as a dispute over borders, an argument about territory, which misses the point: Israel’s neighbors don’t care where Israel’s borders are. They want it not to exist at all.

Friedman needs to make clear that President Obama’s successor does not agree that Israeli settlements are illegal, and is against unilateral UN actions demanding that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem,” as stated in the one-sided UN resolution. This will only embolden those who want to destroy Israel.

Here are three important ideas Friedman should communicate to the international community in his first year in office: 1. Explain that US policy is committed to interpreting international law as it was written, not politically interpreted.

The US believes that Israeli building over the Green Line is not illegal, but is more accurately described as disputed territory. This does not mean territorial concessions are not part of a final resolution, but it does mean Israel has legitimate legal rights that must be weighed in the balance.

2. Explain that the international community has willfully misinterpreted what the authors of UNSC Resolution 242 actually meant: Israel was never supposed to return to the indefensible 1949 lines, and since 242 is the definitive statement about the conflict, the new American administration will interpret this document the way it was intended.

3. Explain that US policy will now insist UNWRA must redefine its definition of refugees to the UNHRC definition of refugees, where no one is counted as a refugee after one generation. American policy is about supporting humanitarian aid, not perpetuating the refugee charade.

I don’t know Friedman, nor do I know if his previous statements regarding the status of communities over the 1949 Armistice Line, or the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, will come to fruition any time soon. President Trump’s senior aide, Kellyanne Conway, said that the embassy move is a “very big priority” for Trump, yet Trump’s foreign policy adviser Walid Phares walked it back.

Like any presidential appointee, you serve at the president’s pleasure, or you won’t serve very long. But this is an unconventional president, and Friedman’s potential influence in American policy is a complete unknown.

The real question is why should moving the embassy to the western side of Jerusalem cause such outrage, as every plan favoring the two-state solution agreed that the western part of Jerusalem should be Israel’s capital.

Promises and timing are always fungible. It would be very easy for the American decision on the embassy to be postponed, as the area the United States owns for a future embassy in Jerusalem is now a hotel housing elderly immigrants from the former Soviet Union, whose lease runs another four years.

So will Friedman change US-Israeli policy? Only Donald Trump can make that happen. But what Friedman’s presence in Israel will do is change the hostile tone that has emanated from the US Embassy toward Israel into something more appropriate for a valued American ally.

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