Tag Archives: Israel News

The Question Israel’s Leaders Ask Every Day: Will Tomorrow be Too Late?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Critics of any pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities rightly claim that Israel cannot totally destroy the Iranian nuclear program. But that misses the point.

How far away is the day when Israelis and Americans will wake up and realize that it is too late to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program? This is not a new question. Seven years ago Jonathan Tobin writing in Commentary also asked, “Is it already too late to stop Iran?

Last week, I met with Israeli military, security and intelligence experts, and I asked if it is already too late to significantly affect the progress of the Iranian nuclear program with a pre-emptive strike, and the answer was always that it is not too late. But the caveat that followed was, the Americans can do it much more effectively than we can.

Critics of any pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities rightly claim that Israel cannot totally destroy the Iranian nuclear program. But that misses the point.

Delaying the program five or 10 years, which would be the case with an Israeli strike, could be game changing, especially in conjunction with continued cyberattacks and escalating American sanctions that undermine the support for the regime by the Iranian people, who are increasingly becoming economically harmed and blaming it on the Mullahs and their corrupt cronies.

We know that before the 2015 JCPOA deal, Iran was already technically capable of reaching the crucial 20% uranium enrichment level, and was within a just a few months of amassing enough 90% uranium for a nuclear weapon, even using obsolete and unpredictable IR-1 centrifuges.

So the question to ask now is, how much have Iran’s nuclear capabilities advanced over the last four years since the beginning of the JCPOA? How much closer are they to a nuclear breakout?

We know that the agreement allowed Iran to continue to develop advanced centrifuges that can enrich weapons-grade material in a significantly shorter amount of time than the older IR-1 centrifuges, reducing the critical time to produce enough fissile material to just a few months. These advanced centrifuges are also much smaller and harder to detect.

Additionally, Iran never accepted the Additional Protocol, a nuclear addendum that allowed international inspectors to visit military sites where they would likely be developing nuclear missile warhead production.

Already last year, David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, estimated that Iran could enrich enough material for a bomb in eight to 10 months. The deal’s supporters claimed that the agreement would not allow Iran to enrich enough uranium for a nuclear weapon for one year during the length of the agreement, something that is already probably untrue.

After Israel’s revelation of Iran’s nuclear archive, we now know without doubt that Iran planned to build a nuclear weapon, and still has the information and capabilities to accomplish this. This is not Saddam Hussein all over again.

Even if international inspectors wanted to visit a military faculty, the JCPOA gives them a month’s time to comply, more than enough time to clear away any evidence.

THE DAY Iran passes the threshold for creating a nuclear weapon, everything will change for Israel, the Sunni Gulf states, Turkey, the US and Europe, and the world will be a much more dangerous place. A nuclear arms race will begin in the Sunni world, dramatically increasing the potential dangers of a nuclear conflict in the future.

So can Israel, this late in the game, still effectively strike the Iranian program? The answer is yes – but again, the US can do it better.

Iran has a plan to make Israel think twice before attacking. According to former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror, now a Senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and a distinguished fellow at JINSA, Iran’s strategic plan – which is well underway – is to create a deterrence barrier around Israel, stretching from Lebanon to Syria to Iraq to the Gaza Strip, in order to threaten Israel with an overwhelming and devastating strike on its homeland, should Israel attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Is delaying their program five years worth the price Israel will pay if tens of thousands of missiles are unleashed, capable of hitting everywhere in the country, while the negative diplomatic fallout will be enormous, especially if Donald Trump is not US president?

Hillel Frisch of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies wrote “In both word and deed, Israel is firmly committed to its redlines. The reddest of all is that Israel will not permit Syria to be turned into a forward base for direct Iranian operations and a manufacturing center for precision-guided missiles.”

Which means the noose will only tighten around Israel, as the Iranian operating bases in Syria over time will eventually look more like Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Yet when I ask the Israeli experts if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the paper tiger that the Obama administration portrayed when a senior official called him chickens**t, the response was clear. If Bibi is convinced tomorrow is too late to stop a functioning Iranian nuclear weapon, he will indeed act today.

What will an Israeli attack on Iran look like?

Think out of the box. Not only cyberattacks and sophisticated strikes against known and presumed nuclear sites like Natanz, Fordow and the unnamed military sites conducting nuclear work, but targeting the lifeline of the Iranian economy – the port of Bandar Abbas, where almost all of Iranian commercial shipping trade transits, and Kharg Island, the location where Iran exports most of its fossil fuels.

An Israeli attack at Kharg or Bandar Abbas would make the impact of the current sanctions look like a popgun, and the survival of the regime would hang in the balance, as an economically devastated Iran will be imperiled from within.

If Israel does launch an attack on Iran, what would Israel look like the day after?

I remember visiting the North after the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Hospitals hit, hundreds of thousands of residents displaced to the South or living in steaming hot underground shelters and millions of Israelis throughout the country feeling vulnerable and angry.

Now imagine a hundred times worse, with the Dimona nuclear faculty in the South and Azrieli towers in central Tel Aviv in the crosshairs of Iran. The layers of Israel’s missile defense are remarkable but are incapable of stopping all the missiles heading for Israeli cities.

Time is not on Israel’s side, but when will tomorrow be too late?

The writer is the Director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, and regularly briefs members of the 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.

HOW ISRAEL’S CHOICES FOR GAZA AFFECT AMERICAN PLANS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

According to Avi Issacharoff writing in The Times of Israel, Israel has already lost the Fourth Gaza War. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar “has not only managed to score military and diplomatic victories, but can even claim to have likely brought about the end of Netanyahu’s government.” 

A positive spin would see a Hamas victory as possibly giving them political cover to accept a longer-term ceasefire, much as Sadat was able to claim success after the 1973 war before reconciling with Israel. Make no mistake, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Hamas is an American-designated terrorist entity that will never accept a Jewish state, but Israeli and American interests may be served if its claim to victory delays the next war, giving Israel and America some more years of quiet before Israel has to “mow the grass” again. Unfortunately, the more likely assessment is that Hamas will see their victory as evidence of Israeli weakness, encouraging them to be aggressive sooner rather than later.

For America, the first fact we need to be clear about is that the agenda of radical Islamist ideology will continue to trump the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people. Economic incentives or sanctions will not alter Hamas’ goal. After years of incitement against Israel, the people of Gaza would still re-elect a radical Islamist government over the corrupt Palestinian Authority.

Israel has no apparent military answer for Gaza, despite the Israeli public being in favor of a significant operation against Hamas to end the constant threat of missiles that have made life intolerable for Israelis living in the South in a perpetual state of traumatic stress.

Senior Likud official Tzachi Hanegbi was forced to apologize this week for publicly stating the unspoken truth that within the government and IDF leadership, Gaza’s conflict is considered a “minor” and non-existential threat, as long as life goes on in the Tel Aviv bubble. 

We hear from Israeli politicians like former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman and Jewish Home Party leader Naphtali Bennett, whose call to war is more calculated to influencing voters before the next election, but whose demand that their government protect its citizens from the constant threat of mortars is completely reasonable. 

So then why is Israel not contemplating a full-scale invasion to remove Hamas from Gaza once and for all? Why is the IDF so leery about conquering Gaza?

1. Logistics: Within the dense urban networks are miles of advanced tunnels crisscrossing Gaza with booby-trapped civilian structures set as traps to kidnap Israeli soldiers.

2. Lawyers and Proportionality: Israeli commanders may fear lawyers more than Hamas. Israeli lawyers will be embedded within all levels of the IDF, perpetually second-guessing every operation, knowing every Palestinian civilian killed will be part of the evidence used against Israel at the ICC (International Criminal Court). The army’s hands will be tied as it tries to fight a terrorist entity that uses human shields as canon fodder, and hospitals and schools as forward bases of operations. Israeli lawyers will also be dealing with the politicized definition of proportionality where Israel will be accused of disproportionality if more Palestinians are killed than Israelis.

3. Keeping the Eye on the True Existential Threat: According to David Makovsky of the Washington Institute, “Many senior security officials see Gaza as a distraction from Israel’s primary military challenge: keeping Iran from entrenching a Hezbollah-style military infrastructure in Syria. 

Former Military Intelligence head and National Security adviser Maj.-Gen. Yaakov Amidror said, “A war in Gaza will only benefit [PA President] Abu Mazen and Iran, and we don’t want to give Iran any gifts.”

4. Nation Building With a Hostile Neighbor: The last thing the IDF wants to do after defeating Hamas is control and provide for two million Gazans who have been indoctrinated to blame Israel for all of their ills. Just think of Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000 after the Second Lebanon War, except this time with much more dangerous possibilities.

So what happens the day after Israel “wins”?

Does Israel hand Gaza over to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as many American foreign policy advisers advocate? If it did, Gaza could turn into an even more chaotic territory where Iran and Turkey would support an Islamist insurgency, while Israel supports an unpopular Palestinian Authority who will be portrayed as Jewish collaborators without the support of the Gazan people.

That new reality in Gaza may also be a lightning strike destabilizing the West Bank and Jordan, empowering jihadists to ramp up terrorism while challenging both the PA and the Hashemite monarchy, a pillar of any American peace plan. A domino effect could also motivate Iran to unleash Hezbollah in the north, while it enjoys weakening Israel in a new proxy war in Gaza.

Some American Middle East experts say the end game would include Egypt, or a consortium of Arab states working with the Palestinian Authority. Unfortunately no Arab nation wants any part of Gaza, knowing it is a basket case that will cause political repercussions with its own citizens.

Egypt has enough on its hands with al-Qaida in the Sinai and chaos next store in Libya. All Egypt wants from its enemy Hamas is for it to stop supporting the jihadists in the Sinai. The Saudis do not want to be involved in another Yemeni proxy war with Iran in Gaza, and Israel would never allow Qatar or Turkey into Gaza, knowing that both are in cahoots with Iran.

So where does that leave us?

“Cutting the grass” every few years, unless Hamas steps over a red line such as hitting a school bus full of children, or incinerating a kindergarten. That would automatically elicit an overwhelming Israeli response where Israel might finally take the fateful decision to take Hamas out of Gaza.

Then the law of unintended consequences will rear its ugly head.

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

America Needs a Syria Policy to Avoid a Regional Conflagration

{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

Trump has put America in a position of strength by withdrawing from the JCPOA and re-imposing sanctions.

According to Steven Cook of the Council for Foreign Relations, “the Syrian war is over and America lost… Washington has proved either unable or unwilling to shape events in the Middle East… which is to say, it has abdicated its own influence.”

But is it too late or still in American interests to influence the endgame in Syria and beyond?

American foreign policy in Syria since 2014 has prioritized the defeat of ISIS, choosing to sideline the more important and challenging confrontation with Iran over its permanent entrenchment and expansionism in the region. Syria is just one theater of operation among many interconnected pieces of the jigsaw puzzle which includes Iraq and Lebanon, where all roads lead to a malevolent Iran.

But Syria is ground zero with its outcome still uncertain, still susceptible to American influence, and affecting all aspects of Iran’s quest for a Shi’ite corridor to the Mediterranean. America’s Syrian policy or lack of one reverberates throughout the region and the world.

The Trump administration has been saying all the right things about Iran’s malign influence on American security interests. The administration has put the world on notice that it is not business as usual and has taken tangible actions, including withdrawing from JCPOA (the Iran nuclear deal) and re-imposing escalating sanctions against Iran and her proxies, in part because of its role in the Syrian civil war.

But the next crucial step for the administration is to articulate a longer term, more comprehensive policy with a less ad hoc approach in Syria. The goal is nothing less than a return of American leverage in the region to advance our interests. This is in direct contradistinction to the isolationist approach of Stephen Walt of Harvard who wrote in Foreign Policy that he would like to forge an alliance with socialists against American exceptionalism and outsized influence in the region. (This the same Walt who, with John Mearsheimer has been arguing that America is fooled by the “Israel lobby” into thinking Israel is an ally worth supporting.)

To advance American interests, the president will need to overcome his impulse to prematurely withdraw troops from Syria, as their presence is essential to prevent Syria from becoming a permanent Iranian base threatening Israel and Jordan, which would fly in the face of US President Donald Trump’s stated vision.

This is the lesson to have learned from former president Barack Obama’s disastrous premature withdrawal of American soldiers from Iraq after the successful surge, which left Iran in the driver seat in today’s Iraqi politics, undermining American interests.

America must articulate its strategic goals and redlines to all the actors operating within the Syria theater, so miscalculations can be avoided and small problems won’t snowball into a significant escalation. The accidental Syrian downing of a Russian plane with blame ascribed to Israel is a case in point.

It was just a matter of time before Russia and Israel crossed paths in the crowded skies over Syria.

Without an American Syria policy, Russia can distance itself from cooperating with Israel without repercussions, while avoiding putting any pressure against Iran’s permanent presence in Syria, which they know crosses Israel’s existential redline.

Russia took notice when America did not utter a peep while Russia invaded Syria’s de-escalation zones in Daraa and Quneitra without paying any price. With a lack of an American policy on Syria, Russia feels free to threaten Israel, now offering to supply the advanced S-300 anti-missile system to the Assad regime.

An American Syria policy should not only make clear that Israeli strikes on Iranian military targets is in American interest, but be willing to enforce a no-fly zone over its Kurdish and moderate Sunni allies in the 40% of Syria they still control.

The downing of the Russian jet is just the tip of the iceberg for future game changing confrontations that threaten to bring the local war of Israeli preemptive attacks into a regional conflagration. The lack of an American policy and redlines contributes greatly to regional instability, while Israel is more isolated without an American plan for its interests in the Levant.

So what should be America’s Syria policy?

1. America will support its Kurdish and moderate Sunni allies in Syria. This does not mean any more boots on the ground, but does mean that America won’t leave Syria until Iran, and its proxies, the PMU’s (Iranian controlled Shi’ite militias) and Hezbollah are permanently gone. According to James Phillips and Luke Coffey writing for the Heritage Foundation.

“The pace of (US) withdrawal should be based on security conditions on the ground in eastern Syria, not on a pre-determined timetable.

2. America supports Israel’s objective to end any permanent Iranian presence in Syria. As the Washington Institute of Near East Policy’s Assaf Orion, Anna Borshchevskaya and Matthew Levitt wrote, “So long as Iran and its agents – especially foreign fighters – are active in Syria, US policy should be to contain the Assad regime and oppose steps that would strengthen it.”

3. America’s goal is the complete disarmament of Hezbollah in Lebanon according to UNSC Resolution 1701, even if it is not realistic at the moment.

4. America considers Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Hezbollah, PMU’s, or any political entity controlled by Iran to be the equivalent of an Iranian presence, and will hold Iran responsible for any attacks on Americans or her allies.

5. Reaffirm America’s commitment to NATO, as this directly confronts Russian influence in Syria. However, all NATO members i.e., Turkey, must not integrate any non-NATO military systems into NATO defenses. NATO is still important, even if Turkey decides to commit suicide by aligning with Russia and Iran, and is forced from the alliance.

Trump has put America in a position of strength by withdrawing from the JCPOA and re-imposing sanctions. But the president must realize that the revolutionary Islamist entity of Iran will let its people starve before capitulating to the West.

Former US secretary of state John Kerry has told the Iranians that they should wait out this administration. Let’s leave aside how inappropriate this is for a former secretary of state. The Iranians do plan to wait this president out for a more compliant president, no matter how harshly present-day sanctions affect its people, and Iran will not leave Syria any time soon. That is why it is important to articulate a longterm American policy that the next administration will have a harder time distancing itself from.

America’s national interest is not isolationism. “Mission accomplished” in Syria may be generations away. America needs patience, something this president and every one before has shown little interest in. No less than American and Israeli security interests are at stake.

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 advisors. He is a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to i24TV, The Hill, and The Forward.




What are the American and Israeli Challenges in the Middle East Now?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

America should be very concerned about the outcome that may emerge later this summer as a result of the recent Iraqi election.

People who think they know what will happen in the Middle East this summer are either prophetic or simply fooling themselves.

Western analysis has been inaccurate so many times that the forecasts seem more akin to throwing darts. From the unanticipated Iranian Revolution of 1979, to the unexpected Arab Spring, all analysts should be humbled by the past before speculating about the future. The situations this summer in Israel, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, etc. all could change at a moment’s notice.

When ISIS inevitably strikes in Europe or America this summer, America needs to resist being blinded by the horrific images of a terrorist attack and losing sight of the Pentagon’s new national defense strategy, which prioritizes “inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism (as) the primary concern in US national security.” Iran’s rise in the Levant was a direct consequence of the previous strategy of prioritizing the defeat of ISIS over Iranian expansionism in Syria and Iraq.

America should be very concerned about the outcome that may emerge later this summer as a result of the recent Iraqi election, with the formation of a philo-Iranian parliament. The Iranian-controlled Hadi Al Amiri’s Fatah Alliance, which includes radical groups like Asaib Ahl al-Haq, has tentatively joined together with American nemesis Moqtad Al Sadr (Saeroon list) and his anti American platform.

Can America figure out a way this summer to encourage the Iraqi Arab Shi’ites to remain more independent from their Iranian non-Arab Persian Shi’ite co-religionists? Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the most important Iraqi Arab religious figure, has been against Iranian influence in Iraq. Can Secretary of State Mike Pompeo find any economic or other leverage to work against further Iranian encroachment? Interests create strange bedfellows in this region.

This is really an uphill task. Even the currently more pro-American Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi felt compelled to legalize incorporation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard-controlled Popular Mobilization Unit Hashd al-Shaabi militia into the Iraqi Army, in essence, a permanent Iranian military presence within Iraq.

As for Syria, America must make it clear to all parties this summer that American interests demand that its forces remain within Syria not only until ISIS is defeated, but until all Iranian, PMU and Hezbollah forces and bases have left Syria. Hopefully, Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton can convince US President Donald Trump of this necessity.

IF THERE is war this summer in Israel’s North, calling it the “Third Lebanon War” would be a misnomer. It will be a regional war involving Syria, Lebanon, Iran and possibly Turkey, Iraq, Russia and Jordan. Israel needs to continue its preparation for the new challenges it faces since the last Lebanon war of 2006, with the possibility of massive tunnels, advanced GPS-guided long-range missiles, and Hezbollah chemical weapons inherited from Syria.

One of the most crucial questions for the summer, as it affects every player in the region, is who will succeed ailing Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Khomenai? Will it be Ebrahim Raisi, another hardliner who this year stood on the Israeli-Lebanese border and said, “Soon we will witness the liberation of Jerusalem”?

American interests in the Mediterranean are complicated by the combination of Israel’s new relationship with Cyprus and Greece at the expense of NATO ally Turkey over access to Israel’s Mediterranean gas fields. Add the newly upgraded Russian naval base in Syria and Hezbollah threats against Israeli gas fields, and the next war could begin at sea. This summer, proactive diplomacy should be explored to lessen the possibility of this being the catalyst for the next war.

Will there be war this summer in Israel? It may not take much to set off the Northern front with Lebanon and Syria, with Hezbollah and Popular Mobilization Unit soldiers reportedly putting on Syrian regime uniforms and moving to within a few kilometers from the Israeli Golan border. Israel and America seek to avoid hostilities for as long as possible, but Iran is continually testing Israeli red lines in deconfliction zones, so miscalculations could spiral out of control.

Whether we like it or not, Russia has been made a player, with its American-sanctioned deescalation zones in Syria. Russia’s interest is stability in Syria to solidify its gains, especially its warm-weather port in Latakia. It is said that Russia is not a natural ally of Iran. Is there a way for America and Israel to leverage that natural division?

IN THE South, it may seem counterintuitive, but a perceived failure of the “Mass March of Return” could increase the chances of war if Hamas believes that their support among Gazans is decreasing and needs violence as a unifying factor.

There will be no reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah this summer or any time soon. The more important question to ask is who will follow the ailing Abbas if he succumbs to his infirmities this summer. When Abbas dies, a civil war could follow in the West Bank, with Hamas making a play to take over the Palestinian Authority. America should be reaching out to Palestinian Intelligence Chief Majid Faraj to prepare for the day after Abbas and prevent a Hamas takeover.

American sanctions this summer will be ramped up on Iran to further economically weaken the Iranian regime forcing it to either re-enter new nuclear negotiations that deal with all of its malevolent behavior, or risk the wrath of its people and the viability of its regime because of economic deprivation.

Don’t take your eye off of Jordan this summer. It is close to a failing state and a northern war on its border with a new flood of refugees could push it over the edge. Jordan could become an Islamist stronghold with the fall of the Hashemite dynasty. In addition, America should help Israel’s other cold ally, Egypt, before their next economic crisis, which could give the Muslim Brotherhood a chance for resurrection. Developing an economic plan to strengthen the Egyptian regime with reciprocal concessions on human rights is the way forward.

This summer America should begin to repair the damage caused by abandoning the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds. The abandonment of the Kurds in Iraq and in northwest Syria was perceived by American allies in the region as America being an unreliable partner for the long run.

It is also the time to reengage with Qatar and see if there is some way Pompeo can dissuade it from its support of fundamentalist groups that undermine American allies in the Gulf. America needs to find a way for both the Saudis and Qataris to save face, with the goal being a Qatar closer to its natural allies in the Sunni Gulf, and the beginning of some “daylight” between Qatar and Iran, although it will be impossible for that distance to get too wide, with their shared interest in the world’s largest gas field. American leverage is the Al Udeid air base, which Qatar takes for granted as an insurance policy against Iranian aspirations.

What will happen this summer in the Middle East? Nobody knows, but an America that supports its allies and takes an active role in affairs, has a fighting chance to advance its interests in a complex region.

The writer, director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™, regularly briefs members of Congress on the Middle East. He is a contributor to The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, and The Forward.




Will There be War in Israel this Summer?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Today there are upwards of 150,000 missiles in Hezbollah’s arsenal, enough to overwhelm every layer of Israel’s missile shield, capable of targeting any location in Israel.

Since the State of Israel was created 70 years ago, the question has always been not if there would be a war, but when. The only question now is will it be in the north against Iran and its proxies Hezbollah, Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Shi’ite Popular Mobilization Units, or will it be in the south against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, or will it originate from over the Green Line among the Arab Palestinians of the West Bank? In the north, the likelihood of war this summer will be increased if US President Donald Trump goes ahead with his plan to withdraw American soldiers from Syria and ends aid to allies in Syria fighting Assad.

This will be taken as a sign to Iran, Russia, Turkey and the whole Muslim world that America has yet again tried to abandon the region, except poor choices in the Middle East have a way of bringing America back with less leverage and not on its own terms.

As Tom Rogan of The Washington Examiner wrote, “President Trump should pay attention to what happened after former President Barack Obama’s hasty 2011 withdrawal from Iraq.

Because Obama’s withdrawal led to the increasing influence of Iran over Iraqi politics… In turn, these policies helped foster the rise of ISIS and led to Obama being forced to return forces to Iraq.”

This decision will hurt both Israeli and American security interests, as it increases the likelihood that Israel will be drawn into a northern war, confronting Russian troops stationed in Syria.

Iranian, Hezbollah, Syrian and Shi’ite PMU’s are positioned, on purpose, next to Russian military sites or have Russian advisers embedded. It is inevitable that Israeli strikes in Syria will kill Russian soldiers, increasing the chances of turning this into a wider regional conflict.

Ronen Bergman in The New York Times wrote, “Israel has been asking Russia to guarantee that the Iranians will leave Syria once the war is over. Those requests have been met with indifference… Russia wants to build a secure foothold in the Middle East and its policy requires it to maintain good relations with Iran…if anyone was not yet aware of it, Russia is the dominant power in the region.”

The downing of both the Iranian drone in Israeli airspace and an Israeli fighter jet in February brought all the adversaries to the brink of war. Russia, the new sheriff in town, ordered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stand down, and knowing he was alone, he did.

Simon Tisdall opined in The Guardian, “if Iran refuses to leave Syria and continues to expand its military presence…and if Israel continues its cross-border raids, something big, sooner or later, is going to blow.”

A few years ago I spoke to one of the senior international medical personal stationed in Lebanon caring for Syrian refugees. He told me that in every one of the 300 villages he visited in Hezbollah- controlled southern Lebanon missiles were hidden in people’s homes.

Today there are upwards of 150,000 missiles in Hezbollah’s arsenal, enough to overwhelm every layer of Israel’s missile shield, capable of targeting any location in Israel.

To the south, Hamas in Gaza is now feeling like a cornered rat, with no way out. The economic situation is worsening as the Palestinian Authority tightens the noose around their neck. The PA allows Gazans only four hours a day of electricity, while Gaza is an inferno always waiting to explode, fertile ground for radicalization and recruitment to terrorism, with an unemployment rate nearing 50%.

Four years ago Hamas was in a similar economic position, and it choose war as a way to get the attention of the international community. Expect Hamas to have learned from its past three wars with Israel, becoming a more lethal enemy. Israel does not want to take over Gaza, becoming responsible for its services, and it fears that if it overthrows Hamas, an even worse entity may emerge, or uncontrollable chaos.

Last week Hamas did a test run of its newest weapon, mass protests on the border, sending human probes to the security fence, hoping they would be killed and elicit the usual Pavlovian denunciations from anti-Israel groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW), who condemn Israel first and ask questions later. HRW choose not to mention that Hamas even sent a seven-year-old child as bait to cross the border, breaking all international standards. This ongoing test-run may be the starting point for a summer of violence and war.

In Judea and Samaria, PA President Mahmoud Abbas is still trying to show he can be as anti-Israel as Hamas, while the battle to succeed him has already begun. He wants to be remembered as leader of a resistance that did not make peace with the Jews. The rogues’ gallery of would-be successors, from intelligence chief Majid Faraj to former security chiefs Jibril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahlan, to deputy Fatah chairman Mahmoud Aloul, may also decide that agitation and violence this summer may give them the upper hand.

So will there be a war this summer? Nobody knows. But the possibility of a coordinated war aligning Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran, all acting in concert, would present Israel with unprecedented challenges. Israel must be prepared for the next war to break out at any time, and even with the best intelligence, events can spiral out of control, even if none of the adversaries are prepared for an all-out war.

The best way to decrease the chance for war in the Levant this summer is for Trump’s new team of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo to convince him that it is in American interests to remain in Syria for the immediate future, and be resolute that Iran cannot remain in Syria after the civil war ends.

The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network ™. He regularly briefs members of Congress on the Middle East. He is a contributor to The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, and The Forward.




Is Fighting for Israel at the U.N. Worth the Effort?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

A current exhibit at the United Nations presented by the Israeli mission includes a newly found 2,700-year-old First Temple seal in ancient Hebrew – a major discovery. Another treasure on display is the seal of Israeli King Hezekiah from around 700 BCE. Instead of celebrating a member nation’s proud heritage, as it does with every other nation, the UN posted something bizarre: a disclaimer that the contents do not represent the views of the United Nations!

The idea here is that the archaeological items, which demonstrate the concrete fact of the presence of Jews in these areas at those times, might challenge Palestinian narrative creators (who lately trace their lineage, with no evidence whatsoever, to the ancient Canaanites) and their UN supporters.

So is it worth the effort to fight the world organization’s anti-Israel, anti-Jewish bias? Does it make any difference? Because if it doesn’t help, why should we do it? It’s exhausting.

Despite the shameless antisemitism of many diplomats at the UN, there are signs of positive moves toward Israel far beyond the halls of Turtle Bay. India welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with open arms this year, while the Guatemalans are moving their embassy to Jerusalem and another 10 nations are considering doing the same, including Paraguay and Honduras. Israel is respected among the Tiger nations of the Far East, and there are even glimmers of hope in the Sunni Arab world.

Last week according to The Jerusalem Post, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said Israel is committing war crimes by building in Jerusalem, and it has committed a “grave breach of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention” by transferring its population into occupied territory.

Excuse me, but is he is speaking about Iran and its massive ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Sunnis from Syria and Iraq, with the illegal transfer of hundreds of thousands of Shi’ites into formerly Sunni territories to solidify Iranian expansionism? Not a chance. At the UN, a few hundred proposed – but not yet built – homes in Jerusalem take precedence over genocide and large-scale expulsions of minorities.

Did Hussein call the massive and now permanent Turkish transfer of population into occupied northern Cyprus a war crime? Of course not. How about the massive population transfer of Chinese nationals into Tibet over many decades? In all these cases the transfer of populations truly broke international law. Not so in Israel’s case, where the territory is legally ambiguous and disputed with legitimate claims by both parties, which the UN conveniently ignores.

We are in Israel-hunting season at the UN. It is like shooting fish in a barrel. Israel is fair game, the only country in the world subject to delegitimization simply for existing as a Jewish homeland, subjected to a perverted politically, correct version of international law applied only to Israel.

Many people would say why bother, this is an uphill struggle that will never be won or fought on even terms. You need to remember this exercise in refutation is primarily for an American audience. Those sound bites of US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley resonate the most with the American people who still sympathize with Israel.

Last year according The Times of Israel, every single American senator signed a letter to the UN secretary general demanding an end to anti-Israel bias and a reform of the “standing committees, which far too often serve no purpose other than to attack Israel and inspire the anti-Israel boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) movement.”

Western European hypocrisy regarding Israel borders on the delusional, especially in how they regard Israel and Iran. As Emily Landau of the Institute for National Security Studies said, the gap “between liberal values that Europeans claim to hold dear and their willingness to embrace Iranian regime, at seemingly any cost, is cause for concern… Europe increasingly… values its economic interests more than its expressed commitment to… human rights… Federica Mogherini [High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy] tends to pull out the liberal values card only when it comes to… lecture and scold Israel.”

So let’s review the disproportionate standard Israel has been subjected to over the past couple of years at the United Nations of Hypocrisy.

In 2017 there were 20 UN General Assembly Resolutions against Israel versus six resolutions for the rest of the world. North Korea, a country that is starving its citizens and threatening the world with thermonuclear annihilation, received one resolution, as did Iran, the number one state sponsor of terrorism.

Israel does lead the world in something at the UN General Assembly; despite its tiny size it has amassed more UNGA resolutions against it than every other nation in the history of the UN. That is the very definition of bias.

In case that didn’t get your attention, did you know Israel is the number one abuser of women in the world, according to the UNHRC? Council members North Korea, Syria, Iran and Sudan say so.

Not to be outdone, the World Health Organization said Israel is the only country in the world that is a violator of health rights. And the feel-good UNICEF isn’t so touchy-feely with Israel, as it declared Israel a grave violator of children’s rights.

UNESCO revised history and claimed that Judaism’s second holiest site, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, is a Palestinian world heritage site.

UNRWA is supposed to be a humanitarian body, yet it fosters antisemitism among Palestinian children through the incitement in their schoolbooks, and works hand-in-hand with Hamas, a US-designated terrorist organization.

And yes, Israel is the only UN member state targeted for annihilation by another member, Iran.

Remember that when you disproportionately single out Israel, certainly as compared to every other nation, you are in effect antisemitic, according the US State Department. The moral equivalence crowd throws a few bones back in defense of its overwhelmingly anti-Israel stand by acknowledging that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas commit a few human rights violations, but that doesn’t cut it.

There is nothing to inoculate the PA and Hamas from their profound misogyny, homophobia, extra-judicial killings, incitement against Jews, use of human shields, indiscriminate targeting of civilians and kleptocracy.

So in the end, is it worth fighting for Israel at the UN? Yes.

Israel will not be winning any UNGA votes any time soon, and will likely continue to lose votes in the Security Council 14-1. And yes the UN could use a profound reformation, becoming a purely humanitarian body, leaving security issues to coalitions of willing democracies led by the United States.

If Israel was not participating at the UN, or its supporters didn’t respond to the slanderers, it would not have the opportunity to refute the lies. The UN is in the media capital of the world, with more balanced press coverage to Israel than in the rest of the world. The spotlight shined on Israel allows it to fight the good fight, at least for an American audience that can tell the difference between a democratic ally being molested, and a UN Human Rights Council that represents countries that are obvious human rights abusers. Israel and its supporters actually improve its public image by being present and going on the offensive.

So keep fighting the good fight at the UN. It is still worth it.

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




The Jew-Free State Solution

{Previously published on Forward.com}

In a recent solicitation email, J Street President Jeremy Ben Ami proclaimed that the “Palestinians are the only party willing to publicly endorse the goal of two states for two peoples.” Referencing Abbas’ speech to the United Nations Security Council, Ben Ami claimed that “Abbas laid out explicit support for the two-state solution and put forward a serious proposal for how to get there.”

He did — if your goal is a Palestinian state ethnically cleansed of every Jew.

When we talk about creating two states for two peoples, shouldn’t we mean a Jewish State of Israel and an Arab State of Palestine living side by side, created through a final status agreement which settles territorial disputes and leaves each state secure and in control of its destiny?

If this is what you mean by a two state solution, President Abbas and the current Palestinian leadership are not your ideal partners. Just listen to Abbas:

In 2014, he told the Arab League, “We will never recognize the Jewishness of the state of Israel.” In 2016 in Sudan, he reiterated that he will “recognize the State of Israel, and that is it. However a Jewish state is not my affair. I will not recognize it at all and I will not accept it.” In December, his chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Palestinians need to strive to reclaim “historic Palestine, from the river to the sea.”And this January, clearing up any ambiguity, Abbas asserted from the safety of his West Bank compound that the state of Israel is “a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism,” and rejected any Jewish ties to the land.

As for accepting Israel’s legitimacy and right to a state, Abbas asserts that Israel’s occupation started in 1948, not 1967. This clearly means that he believes Israel proper to be occupied, not just the West Bank and Gaza.

Abbas’s “serious proposal” calls for Israel to become a binational non-Jewish state with an unlimited right of return for descendants of Palestinian refugees, a clear path to the demographic elimination of a democratic and Jewish Israel. Nowhere in that speech did Abbas call for two states for two peoples.

Abbas’ speech was also notable for its denial of Jewish historical claims in Israel and fanciful claims that the Palestinians are the original residents of Israel, “ the descendants of the Canaanites that lived in the land of Palestine 5,000 years ago and continuously remained there to this day.”

This contradicts the claims of almost all Palestinian tribal clans, who trace their lineage to the Arabian peninsula or Egypt.

Grant Rumley, writing in the Atlantic, said that Abbas’ January speech “ deployed anti-Semitic tropes, undercut the Jewish connection to Israel, and blamed everyone from Oliver Cromwell to Napoleon to Winston Churchill for Israel’s creation… Frustration, it seems, has led Abbas to reveal his true colors.”

Abbas again calls Israel an apartheid state, and yet the Palestinian Arab state he wants to create must be a Judenrein, free of Jews. In Israel, 20 percent of the population is Arab — they have full voting rights, freedom of speech and government supported Arab schools.

Making Abbas something that he is not is both disingenuous and dangerous to Israel’s existence. The claim that Abbas is the best, last chance for Israel to have a moderate partner is doubtful.

Claiming Abbas is for two states for two peoples is simply untrue. It may be a pro-Palestinian position, but it is definitely is not a pro-peace, pro-Israel position.

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.




What do the Palestinian Citizens of Israel Want?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

While the world’s focus has been on the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the assumption has been that dealing with the needs of Arab citizens of Israel would be eminently easier.

What do Israel’s minority citizens want? That was the question I attempted to begin to answer with my annual MEPIN/Keshet seminar group, assessing the challenges and progress of Israel’s 20% minority population, consisting of Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, Aramaic Maronites, Druze and Beduin.

We visited and met with academics and school children, Israeli government officials and Arab mayors, Arab colleges, a leading demographer, teachers and human rights organizations, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. Today’s Israeli Arabs self-identify as Palestinian Israelis, or more precisely as Palestinian Citizens of Israel (PCI).

To deny that PCIs have faced discrimination in allocation of government funding, infrastructure, and employment opportunities would be to deny reality.

As Yossi Klein Halevi told us, “Palestinian Israelis have a profound sense of dislocation, humiliation, and grievance going back to 1948.

Palestinian Israelis are conflicted, as the country they reside in is at war” with their brothers over the Green Line.

I had thought that the concerns of PCIs were eminently more solvable than those of their Arab brothers living over the Green Line in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A recent poll of PCIs did favor a two-state solution, but here the semantics really matter as a window into the perspective of PCIs. For Palestinian Israelis, “two states” means one Palestinian state in the West Bank with no Jewish citizens, and the current State of Israel as a non-Jewish state for Arabs and Jews.

PCIs I met on this visit said Israel would never be a democracy until Israel ends the Jewish nature of the state and the Jewish right of return for Jews living in the Diaspora.

Yet paradoxically, recent polls of PCIs showed that over 50% are proud to be Israeli. So how do you unpackage these contradictory facts? I was expecting to find an Arab populace that saw a future for themselves in a Jewish state, and that despite the current economic inequalities, if the gaps continue to narrow, there would be an appreciation and acceptance of living in the only democratic state in the Middle East, imperfect as it for its minority citizens at this time.

When I asked Palestinian Israelis, if all the economic inequities were magically erased, would they then accept living in a Jewish state accepting the responsibilities of minority citizens? None said yes.

The narrative of too many well-meaning Jewish organizations and rabbis, who tell their members that PCIs just need economic equality and will then see themselves as being full partners of a Jewish state, may be far from the truth.

While the world’s focus has been on the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the assumption has been that dealing with the needs of Arab citizens of Israel would be eminently easier. After all, Israel’s minority citizens, despite the economic inequalities, have freedom of speech, religion and the press, access to the Supreme Court, 15 Muslim Knesset members, and are freer than any other Arab citizens in the region.

Through Western eyes, economic advancement is the key issue to solve to have, if not loyal citizens of a Jewish state, ones who comfortably accept living as a minority in a Jewish state.

What I learned troubled me. With the exception of the Druze and the Christian Aramaic communities, Palestinian Israelis today do not believe Israel can ever be a democracy unless it ceases to be a Jewish state, in essence a binational state. Too many PCIs believe Judaism is only a religion, not a legitimate national movement of a people entitled to a national home. Zionism to them is racism. Compared to 15 years ago, my impression is that today’s Palestinian Israelis have become more strident as their identity has become more Palestinian.

Even if Israeli Arabs were to become economically equal to Jewish citizens, it will never be enough to satisfy their basic demands, namely the dismantlement of the Jewish nature of the state; until then they are unwilling to accept the responsibilities of full citizens.

Palestinian Israelis complain about job discrimination because employers favor Israelis who serve in the military.

But when presented with the option of compulsory non-military civil service to match fellow Jewish citizens, evening the playing field for employment opportunities, they overwhelmingly rejected that option. There was almost no acknowledgment that they too have responsibilities as Israeli citizens and they were uninterested in meeting the Jewish majority halfway, as they see the problems as primarily ones of Jewish discrimination.

The narrative of the Palestinian Israeli is that the Jews are racist, while the Palestinians are a people who have suffered the indignity of the being displaced by the interloping Jews, with the underlying conviction being that Jews have no right to be anywhere from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river Valley.

So where do we go from here? ALTHOUGH ISRAEL has not fulfilled all its obligations to its minority citizens over the years, under the current coalition government more has been done, and more funds have been committed to the minority population than ever before. Arab mayors I met with, who are no fans of this Israeli government, readily admit that the current government has begun to narrow the gaps of economic inequality with more balanced funding for infrastructure and education.

But the challenge of the PCI education system goes way beyond funding. Too many Palestinian Israeli schools willingly choose self-segregation.

The Israeli educational system, which funds at least four different school systems, allows for self-imposed segregation.

While Jewish secular schools seem willing to partner for co-existence projects, PCI schools prefer to isolate themselves as there is little desire to interact with Jewish students in a shared educational experience, undermining the Western perspective that integration of minority communities with the majority population will lead to better co-existence. It is no wonder that when well-qualified Palestinian Israeli graduates apply to jobs with Jewish employers, both groups eye one another with suspicion.

There are exceptions, like the Hand-in-Hand schools where Israeli and Arab students learn together in a 50:50 setting. Unfortunately in a nation that is 80% Jewish and 20% Arab, this model would need to be adapted to acknowledge the demographic reality. The problem still is, do PCI parents in large numbers want their children segregated, or to be a minority in majority Jewish classrooms? With regard to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, we often say that the maximum Israel can offer the Palestinians will never meet the minimum requirements the Palestinians of the West Bank can accept to resolve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

We now also need to ask ourselves a similar question about the Palestinian Israelis.

Suppose that the maximum Israel can offer Palestinian Israelis – full rights, recognition of their Arab identity, and economic empowerment, while simultaneously accepting the responsibilities of living as minority citizens in a Jewish state – doesn’t meet the minimum PCIs can accept, namely the eradication of the Jewish nature of the State of Israel? Yossi Klein Halevi told us, “We need a serious conversation about rights and responsibilities between Arabs and Jews.” His new book Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor begins to address these difficult conversations, which he says will make both the Left and the Right uncomfortable.

There is plenty Israel needs to do to for its PCIs. Israel has recently stepped up and now 20% of the relevant budget goes to Arab communities, and 40% goes for transportation in Arab communities.

Israel should set up programs to teach Arabic in its Jewish schools, for both inclusiveness and security.

But until the PCIs realize that they too have responsibilities as minority citizens of the state, progress will be slow. Educational opportunities are key for advancement, and even in the poorer sectors, such as the Beduin, real progress and even innovation are occurring in this regard.

Israeli Arab Christians matriculate to university at a higher rate than Jewish Israelis.

An accomplished Muslim Arab judge in Israel told us that to succeed as a Palestinian Israeli you must be the best of the best. Yet he acknowledged that part of the reason is that Arab university graduates are disadvantaged because they do not join the military or have compulsory civil service. His words should be taken to heart by the PCIs.

This is a key to solving so many of their complaints, but the Palestinian Israelis have chosen to throw away the key rather than unlocking the door to addressing economic inequality. They must get past blaming the Jewish state for all of their problems.

You can’t complain you aren’t getting your fare share when you refuse to do compulsory civil service to match the time young Jewish citizens give to the nation.

There are certainly individual exceptions and whole fields with full equality, especially in medicine. The catch 22 is that Arabs want what Israelis have materially and educationally, but do not want to become full citizens if that requires living in a Jewish state.

Even in the truly innovative educational situations I witnessed in Arab education that lead to improved Arab educational advancement, the goal is to strengthen Arab society, not to co-exist or find their place with a Jewish majority.

This is a counterproductive and a shortsighted strategy that will perpetuate Arab disenfranchisement.

Arab economic disenfranchisement will also not improve until the misogyny in Arab society subsides, letting the majority of Arab women work, so that their socio-economic status won’t continue to stagnate.

The Palestinian Israeli narrative is similar to that of their Palestinian brethren over the Green Line, seeing the Jewish presence as the cause of all of their troubles. A people needs a shared vision that is more than the dream of the destruction of the other, and the lamentation of tragedies that have befallen them.

Palestinian Israelis refuse to acknowledge the dilemma they put Jewish Israelis in when they choose to align themselves with the enemies of the Jewish state. Although they are a minority within Jewish Israel majority, they are also aligned with the majority of Arabs and Muslims that surround Israel and threaten its existence.

The harshly critical human rights organization Adalah told us Israel couldn’t be a Jewish and democratic state.

It says PCIs cannot be protected as Palestinian Israelis if there is Jewish privilege, and until the Jewish Law of Return is ended. If PCIs continue to embrace this Adalah narrative, it’s a sure path to perpetual conflict.

Hopefully Palestinian citizens of Israel will choose a better and wiser path by embracing educational opportunities that include co-existence, accept full non-military civil service post high school, and accept the responsibilities of being a minority population in a majority Jewish state.

There is a way forward, but it is a two-way street.

The writer 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.




Netanyahu’s Speech to the E.U.:  Don’t Miss the Opportunity

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

The goal of this talk is to create a new benchmark narrative that Israel should insist upon at every meeting going forward with European and international diplomats.

After years of Netanyahu’s requesting the opportunity to address all 28 European Union foreign ministers, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has invited him for an “informal exchange of views… [at] the margins of the Foreign Affairs Council,” according to The Jerusalem Post.

Not exactly the respect due the democratically elected leader of the only democracy in the Middle East – but it does create an opportunity to think out of the box and reframe Israel’s case, presenting itself as the one stable and reliable nation amid the chaos created by the wars of political Sunni and Shi’ite Islamism that are raging against the backdrop of Iranian expansionism.

Netanyahu believes his rhetorical skills can convince skeptical and hostile European foreign ministers of the validity of his case. This is how he approached his visit to the US Congress to fight the good fight against the JCPOA (Iran Deal), which was counterproductive and alienated some US legislators, polarized along US party lines. I was asked by one of his senior aides at the time what he should do, and I said he shouldn’t go at that time.

When addressing the EU foreign ministers, Netanyahu should avoid reaching beyond what is possible, but not miss this opportunity to begin to give a new perspective to his listeners, European diplomats who have for years taken for granted that Israel is the party in the wrong in the Middle East.

Make no mistake, the Europeans will hear Netanyahu, but will for the most part not be listening to the substance of his remarks. What he says will be heard by the US Congress and Trump administration, his primary audience.

A few central or eastern European foreign ministers may appreciate Israel’s case, but the majority of Europe is blinded by an intersectional view that sees Israel as the oppressor and the Palestinian as clearly in the right.

America can and should over time better explain to its European allies why Israel is so important for both American and European national security.

The problem is that “Netanyahu is expected to tell the European leaders that their obsessive focus on the settlements is ‘ridiculous’… We in Israel are the future. We will bring you water, technology and security against terrorists. We have blocked 30 to 40 major attacks in Europe. You ask your people whether they would rather have that or Ramallah.”

All true and all will fall on not only deaf ears, but may also exacerbate hostility to Israel, as this group believes that the conflict is completely Israel’s fault as a post-colonial imperialist power.

To them it is clear; it is all about the settlements anywhere over the green line, while Israel commits war crimes targeting Palestinian children. To this group, UNSC Resolution 2334, Israel is a violator of international law. Thank you president Barack Obama.

They believe Israel is the primary cause of most of the problems of the Middle East, and that if only Israel disappeared or acquiesced to returning to the ‘67 lines, all the problems of the Middle East would fall away. They have been hearing this scapegoating line of logic from the Arab world for half a century, and European diplomats have internalized it.

Here is a better way forward for the prime minister.

Netanyahu should begin by telling them that if Israel disappeared today, the 1,400-year-old Sunni-Shi’ite war would still be raging, geopolitical Islamism would still be a threat to them and their allies, the Muslim Brotherhood and its political Islamist ilk would still want a worldwide caliphate, Egypt would still be a basket case, the Syrian slaughter would have still happened, and yes, Iranian Shi’ite Islamist hegemony would still be the greatest threat to peace in the region, while Iran continues every day to be the world leader in terrorism and human rights abuses.

Netanyahu should ask them why they are willing to invest hundreds of billions of dollars propping up the Iranian mullahs’ dictatorship, which is supporting the North Korean nuclear regime, while they call for a boycott of Israeli goods from the disputed territories.

That is how you go on the diplomatic offensive. You have nothing to lose and much to gain by calling the West to task for its hypocrisy.

Netanyahu, challenge them: if they care so much about human rights, why don’t they publicly rebuke the state-sponsored human rights abuses and terrorism that afflicts almost every Muslim nation?

Where are the condemnations of Turkey for its oppression of journalists and minorities, and the putsch-style takeover of the military, media and schools?

Why do they pretend that Qatar and its Gulf neighbors are good international citizens when they keep their foreign workers in slave-like conditions, and misogyny, homophobia and torture are, for them, business as usual?

Challenge them to acknowledge that Israel has offered an Arab state living next to it five times in the past 82 years. Ask them if they know that Israel offered a state in 1936, 1948, 1967, 2000 and 2007, when the offer rejected by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was for 100% of the West Bank with swaps, east Jerusalem as their capital, and Arab control of the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu should challenge them to get rid of the double standard they have used for years to cast blame on Israel and call them to task for their government funding of NGOs in Israel whose goal is to undermine the democratically elected government of Israel, something that they would never tolerate another government doing in their countries.

Netanyahu should tell them that before they present another peace plan that they should insist at the outset that both Israel and the Palestinians agree to sign an end-of-conflict agreement creating two states for two peoples, one a Jewish state and the other an Arab state – or no deal. Otherwise, once again, it will just be a one-way-street negotiation.

Few minds will change, but the goal of this talk is to create a new benchmark narrative that Israel should insist upon at every meeting going forward with European and international diplomats.

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.




Why Israel Needs to Prepare America for the Upcoming Conflict in Syria         

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Israel successfully destroyed a Syrian nuclear facility, so it is no stretch of the imagination to believe Israel would act again if its intelligence detected Iranian nuclear development in Syria.

For the next 10 days Israel will be simulating war conditions with Hezbollah, in its largest military exercise in over 20 years. Although the exercise is based upon a Lebanese battlefield, the Syrian frontier is equally problematic, with Hezbollah and Iran embedded within Syrian regime positions.
After listening and speaking to some of Israel’s most trusted analysts on security and intelligence, visiting the Lebanese and Syrian borders, and speaking with active and reserve officers in the field, I am confident that Israel is deadly serious about challenging a permanent Iranian presence in Syria, Hezbollah aggression, and Iranian missile bases in Russian-protected areas.

Israel’s tacit agreement with Russia to avoid misunderstandings over Israeli military actions in Syria targeting weapons shipments bound for Hezbollah is now in jeopardy, in part because the Syrian situation has evolved in favor of Assad, Russia and most significantly Iran. Consideration for Israel’s security challenges doesn’t hold much weight anymore for the Russians.

Most significantly, the Trump administration has agreed to leave it to Russia to enforce a Syrian de-escalation agreement, which legitimizes a permanent Iranian presence in Syria.

According to the London-based Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, the United States acquiesced to an Iranian presence less than10 kilometers from the Israeli border in the Golan. This is a game changer. This will allow Iran and Hezbollah to strike Israel from Syria, while avoiding Israeli retaliation in Lebanon.

Gen. (ret.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of research in the IDF Military Intelligence division and director general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry wrote, “Iran almost assuredly wants to turn Syria into an Iranian military base… so that instead of threatening Israel from 1,300 kilometers away, the Iranian forces could sit on Israel’s doorstep. This would bring about a dramatic change in the nature of the threat Israel is facing.”

He also believes that Iran may also be considering moving nuclear development into the unmonitored Syrian frontier to avoid IAEA detection of violations in Iran.

Ten years ago Israel successfully destroyed a Syrian nuclear facility, so it is no stretch of the imagination to believe Israel would act again if its intelligence detected Iranian nuclear development in Syria.

An Israeli tipping point may have been reached, forcing Israel to either be resigned to a permanent Iranian presence in Syria or significantly increase its operations in Syria, potentially escalating into a wider regional war.

According to Yediot Aharonot, “Russia has reportedly stationed its advanced S-400 anti-missile defense system near an Iranian arms factory in Syria, which allegedly manufactures long-range guided missiles for Hezbollah.”

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pravda reported that Putin’s response to Netanyahu’s complaints was “Iran is Russia’s strategic ally in the Middle East.”

So will Russia use its S-400 anti-aircraft system against an IAF attack on its Shi’ite allies? A successful Israeli attack would require Israel to knock out any S-400 system defending the target.

How would the Russians respond to the deaths of Russian soldiers manning the S-400? Can anyone predict how Trump and co. would respond to an Israeli attack killing Russian soldiers? A regional conflict now becomes a possibility.

As former head of the National Security Council Yaakov Amidror said, “At the end of the day it is our responsibility, not the responsibility of the Americans, or the Russians, to guarantee ourselves, and we will take all the measures that are needed for that.”

There is no doubt the Iranians will be testing Israel very soon, feeling secure that no one including the US will come to their aid. American resolve to stand by an essential ally will be severely tested, as many US allies will not choose Israel’s side if Israel acts.

The West mistakenly believes the imminent defeat of Islamic State (ISIS) will stabilize Syria and the surrounding region, but nothing could be further from the truth. ISIS with its offshoots will turn back to insurgency, while the Islamist Iranian victors solidify their land corridor to the Mediterranean.

The region could be ignited with a single match. That light could be a significant Israeli attack in Syria in response to the increased military transfers facilitated by a permanent Iranian presence, starting the engine toward a wider regional conflagration.

This is why Israel must prepare its American ally sooner rather than later to know that Israel may not be able to sit idly by while Iran’s uses its new base to transfer more and more powerful weaponry to Hezbollah.

Serious questions need to be asked and debated in Jerusalem and Washington.

• How will Jordan and the more moderate Sunni States be affected by the permanent Iranian presence in Syria? • How will Israeli actions affect US-Israeli relations?

• To what extent will Russia actively participate beyond coordinating with Syria and Iran?

• Would a third recertification of the JCPOA in October increase Iranian adventurism in Lebanon and Syria? The Iranian hegemonic expansion is not a new phenomenon, but a long and well planned one, as it tries to reproduce the glory days of the ancient Persian empires. Today’s territorial gains in Syria should be considered phase two, with phase one beginning 30 years ago when Iran sponsored Hezbollah.

Phase two began during the 2011 “Arab Winter” with US president Barack Obama’s withdrawal from the region creating the opportunity for Iran to move into both Syria and Iraq.

In the past few years, Hezbollah has grown from a formidable terrorist entity to effectively controlling all of the Lebanese government with terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East and South America, all under Iranian control.

What we do know is that Iran and Hezbollah’s permanent presence in Syria is dangerous for Israel, America and the West.

It is not too late for American diplomatic leadership to balance interests and turn down the heat, but that would mean America challenging Russian authority to make the rules in Syria and renegotiating the deal in Amman.

If the administration fails to act, Congress should take the lead, speaking clearly to the American people about how Iran’s newfound dominance in the region undermines American national security interests.

Expect the EU to be completely unhelpful, as it is blinded by the economic benefits of the JCPOA. It will bend over backwards to be on the side of Iran.

Which brings us back to Israel. It has already sent high-level security and intelligence teams to speak to the Trump administration warning it about the evolving danger in Syria.

An American commitment to back up Israel if Iran does not decrease its presence in Syria would actually decrease the chance for conflict, as knowing the red lines might make Iran think twice before challenging Israel or expanding further into the Golan.

The Trump Middle East Israeli-Palestinian peace team should also refocus their efforts away from the improbable quest for conflict resolution and get their head into the real game in the Middle East, Iranian control of Syria, one that could set the region on fire.

The author 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. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.