Tag Archives: Israel

Unity Missing Ingredient for Success

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

I have come away convinced that whether by design or accident, sooner rather than later, Israel could be faced with its most significant war since 1973, whether on its own terms or not.

When I arrived in Israel this month for meetings with thought leaders in intelligence, politics, history and security, I thought I knew most of the logistical and strategic challenges they would face in the near future. But I had a blind spot for the challenge of keeping the nation unified.

Depending on how the next election cycle is handled, Israel’s esprit de corps could be its most important asset, or its Achilles’ heel.

I have come away convinced that whether by design or accident, sooner rather than later, Israel could be faced with its most significant war since 1973, whether on its own terms or not.

Israel has an incredibly strong and well-prepared military that is light years ahead in preparation, munitions, technology, and capabilities compared to previous wars.Iran’s race toward nuclear arms and its desire to turn Syria into a second Hezbollah are serious challenges facing Israel. The possible use of Iraqi and Yemini launching pads for precision-guided long-range missiles aimed at Israel adds to the menace of the Iranian threat.

The urgency for Israeli national solidarity for the success of the next war has moved into the top tier of my list. A war with Iran will likely be on three fronts, with unprecedented missile attacks throughout the whole country. Even a small number of terrorists on land or through tunnels who kill or kidnap civilians or soldiers would raise the nation’s anxiety to unprecedented levels.

The best way for Israel to deal with those challenges is for the next government to be one of national unity. No matter how capable Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is, or what he has accomplished both diplomatically and militarily, it is unlikely that he could form a national-unity government after the March election, the third in less than a year. His path to power is most likely a razor-thin majority right-wing coalition government, a poor choice when the nation needs as much as ever to have its sense of purpose.

Bibi will be prime minister through March and perhaps much longer, if there is a fourth election and his trial drags on until 2021 – a crazy scenario for a nation that could be in an unprecedented war for its survival against an Iranian regime whose Shi’ite revolutionary Islamism demands the annihilation of the Jewish state as its raison d’etre.

Let’s hope that if the next election ends in another coalition paralysis, Bibi allows a unity government to form whether or not he is to be its prime minister.

No one leader is indispensable for a nation’s survival, but unity of the nation is required if Israel is to win its next war and deal with its repercussions. It is hard for any nation to imagine being led by someone else after so many years, but even the United States during World War II survived and thrived after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and an untested president Harry S. Truman took the reins of government.

According to the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security’s National Security Policy for Israel, “The most important challenge facing any government in Israel is nurturing cohesion in Israeli society; ensuring unity in the face of tests that may be posed to Israel by the violent Mideast environment…. Deterrence is based not only on sheer military might… [but] above all on the capacity to bear loss and pain both at the front lines and on the home front.”

With so many potential threats looming against Israel even beyond Iran, including the possible fall of the Jordanian monarchy, a Russia that does not give Israel the freedom of the skies to strike Iranian targets in Syria, a civil war in the post-Abbas era with the emergence of Hamastan on the Jordan, a national-unity coalition government may be the secret sauce Israel needs.

The writer is the director of the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the Senate, House, and their foreign policy advisers, as well White House advisers.        

Examining Israel’s Security Challenges with Blue and White’s Ya’alon

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

How will Israel know when Iran will cross the threshold for nuclear weapons, and will it act?

One casualty of Israel’s electoral deadlock is the absence of a budget for the Israeli military. The current five-year plan, Gideon, negotiated by former defense minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon almost five years ago is ending without a new military plan to replace it. Although the IDF can continue to act against imminent threats, it is dangerous to hamper long-range planning.

So I decided to speak with Israel’s former defense minister, who presided over the last five-year plan when things in the government were more normal, to see how he analyzes Israel’s current security challenges. His perspective should be seen not only through his years of military service culminating as the IDF chief of staff, but as a leader of Israel’s Blue and White Party that may lead the next coalition government. I thought it would be instructive to ask Ya’alon to comment on some of the topics I discuss in Washington with foreign policy experts and members of Congress.

First, I wanted to know how Israel will fight a multi-front war with thousands of missiles aimed at Israeli communities and strategic locations, some with precision guidance that could overwhelm its current missile defenses.

Ya’alon said that it must be remembered that the strategy of Israel’s enemies like Hezbollah and Hamas is to use missile attacks to target and terrorize Israeli civilians. They know Israel is militarily superior and cannot be defeated conventionally, so their strategy is to break the will of the Israeli people. He said Israelis have repeatedly stood the test of time under threat, revealing Israel’s true strength, combining the Jewish heart with Jewish values, intelligence and the spirit of Zionism.

However, the best defense is still a good offense provided by Israel’s superior intelligence gathering, which is also an indispensable American security asset. For Israel, this allows missiles, as well as precision-guided missile factories to be precisely targeted.

I asked whether Israel needs more anti-missile systems like Iron Dome. He said Israel could certainly use more anti-missile systems, but without an approved military plan and budget, it cannot happen.

I moved onto Israel’s northern Iranian border with Syria and Lebanon, and wanted to know if it is possible, short of a massive ground invasion, to diminish the Iranian presence.

Ya’alon said you need to begin by thinking of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Iranian controlled Shi’ite militias in Syria not as independent entities, but as parts of a whole entity, with its brain center for all of its nefarious activities located in Tehran. The supreme leader has not changed his spots, and when the West claims Iran has become more moderate under its current President Rouhani compared to his predecessor, Ahmadinejad, it’s like thinking Jack the Ripper is more moderate than the Boston Strangler.

I told him that there is a debate in the US whether it is wise to publicly support the protesters in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, as some say overt US support would allow the Iranian regime to claim this is all an American plot to overthrow the regime, which would resonate with the Iranian people. He answered that supporting the protesters is the right thing to do for both of our countries’ interests, and America shouldn’t fail the Iranian people again as they did 10 years ago during the Green Revolution.

Ya’alon added that regime change by the people of Iran would create more stability in the region. However, economic pressure via sanctions is not enough to stop Iran; they need to be politically isolated. Unfortunately, Europe is reluctant, but must be convinced that this is in their interest, as they did before agreeing to the flawed Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA), to reinstate political isolation.

It should be noted that no one I spoke to throughout the Israeli security or political establishment ever even hinted that America should consider boots on the ground to cause regime change, something that is disingenuously alleged by many of the supporters of the JCPOA.

Ya’alon said Iran’s leaders ultimately want to survive, and even if there is not a popularly inspired regime change, the regime can feel enough economic and political pressure to halt some of their expansionist activities, but only if both political isolation and hard-hitting sanctions are combined.

I ASKED if Israel is forced into a large-scale war with Iran from Syria and Lebanon, would Israel consider attacking Iran proper. Ya’alon didn’t answer directly but said it is counterproductive to speak openly about Israeli strikes against Iranian interests, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does now, finding it counterproductive, as ambiguity about military options better serves Israeli interests.

So how will Israel know when Iran will cross the threshold for nuclear weapons, and will it act?

Israel leaves all options on the table, and only a credible military threat will dissuade Iran. America, by not responding to the Iranian downing of its $100-million drone, or the unreciprocated attacks by Iran on international shipping in international waterways, or the lack of response to the Iranian attack on the Saudi oil facilities, has invited further Iranian aggression and increased instability in the region, undermining both American and Israeli interests.

The best way to decrease Iran’s threats is to respond with consequences when Iran acts. He wants America not to forget that it still has interests in the Middle East and that if it creates vacuums, it will eventually endanger America itself. America must remember that 9/11 came from the Middle East and that many attacks against American interests have come from the region.

Taking a step back to view the situation on a macro level, Ya’alon said there are three great threats in the Middle East: Iran; the Muslim Brotherhood, best exemplified by Turkish President Recep Erdogan; and Sunni Wahhabi radicalism in the form of al-Qaeda or Daesh (ISIS) that are both now somewhat in retreat. The only way America can counter these threats without sending in troops is to be supportive of Israel, which holds the front line against all the forms of radical Islam, from Shi’ite to Sunni jihadism.

Ya’alon is the number three in the Blue and White Party and is reportedly its choice for education minister. After his time as defense minister, he emphasized Israel’s internal challenges, so I asked him, if he became education minister, how he would approach the subject of Zionism in the secular Jewish school system.

As chief of staff of the IDF, Ya’alon made it a priority to teach young soldiers about the foundational core values of Zionism, defining Judaism as a religion, a national aspiration, a civilization and a people. He said these core values must be part of the educational system, as the nation must be rooted in a solid foundation to withstand its challenges. Israel’s four school systems: secular Jewish, religious Zionist, Arab and haredi (ultra-Orthodox), also need to be more integrated for both their benefit as well as the country’s. He emphasized the importance of avoiding confrontational coercion of the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs, but his party is in favor of some form of mandatory civil service.

Let’s hope Israel’s politicians will put the people’s interest ahead of their own and finally form a government after this unprecedented third election. Everyone I spoke to, Right and Left, agreed that having to endure a third election is unfortunate, and Israelis need to agree to disagree where necessary, maintain their sense of unity and move forward, as a genuine, vibrant democracy requires. 

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the Senate, House and their foreign policy advisers, as well as White House advisers. He is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to The Hill, i24TV, JTA, TheDefensePost.com, JNS, The Forward and has appeared on RealClearWorld.com.

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.

Will Territorial Annexation Weaken Support for Israel in Congress?

{Previously published by the JNS}

It certainly could. Timing it to coincide with a Trump second term would be a much better strategy.

There is a solid consensus within Israel that it must continue to control the Jordan River Valley, as it is Israel’s only truly defensible border to the east. According to the Israel Democracy Institute, nearly twice as many Israelis are in favor of annexation of Jordan River Valley than are opposed.

There is little doubt of the necessity of the Jordan River Valley for Israel’s long-term safety, especially with a fragile Jordan controlling the eastern bank of the Jordan River, and both Iran and Sunni jihadists waiting for an opportunity to destabilize the Hashemite Kingdom.

It is not often said, but any Palestinian state that is created in the foreseeable future would destabilize Jordan. Israel’s control of the valley is also in America’s interest, which is served by regional stability.

Critics of continued Israeli control of the Jordan River Valley claim that its annexation is illegal as it is “occupied territory,” according to their definition of international law, and would preclude the creation of a Palestine state.

According to this view, ending the possibility for a Palestinian state is against Israel’s own interests, for it to remain both a democratic and a Jewish state. Others also claim that there is no need for Israeli topographical advantage or controlling the passages through the mountain ranges in Samaria with today’s defensive advanced technologies, which in this view are less dependent on geography.

Countering this view is the reading of international law that would dictate that territory acquired in a defensive war should not be returned unless there is a complete end of conflict agreement, with a demilitarized Palestinian state. In addition, since the territory never had a previous legitimate stakeholder, Israel has at least equal rights to the territories beyond the 1949 armistice line, and so the land should clearly be viewed as disputed, not occupied.

The first duty of any nation is to protect its people, and control of the Jordan River Valley clearly rises to the level of an essential long-term strategic defensive priority, especially in this neighborhood of very bad actors.

But does Israel need to annex the Jordan River Valley now?

Supporters say that there will never be another President Donald Trump in the next 100 years—someone who was willing to recognize the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, when no previous American president, Democrat or Republican has been willing to do so. Those presidents and their “peace teams” not only didn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty in the Golan, but also encouraged Israeli prime ministers to consider a near complete Israeli withdrawal for a “words only” promise of peace with Syria.

Israel doesn’t have to annex the Jordan Valley in order to control it indefinitely. Its choices include leaving the status quo or extending Israeli civilian law to the region without annexation.

According to Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of research for the Israeli Defense forces, and now a security and intelligence expert at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), applying the law “means that the area is still a disputed land that is subject to future negotiations,” whereas annexation is more irreversible.

Annexation at this time would, in my view, be a mistake.

It would be unnecessarily placed on the agenda of the contentious Democratic Party debates, forcing Democratic candidates to criticize Israel to remain relevant in the primaries where progressive anti-Israel forces are likely to hold sway.

The rhetoric and damage will only increase during the 2020 elections between Trump and the Democratic presidential candidate, where Israel will be placed on the docket—the worst place it could be to accelerate the bipartisan divide.

Five years ago, I was asked by a member of Israel’s security cabinet what he should recommend to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in regard to accepting the invitation of Republican House Speaker John Boehner to speak about the upcoming Iran deal. Knowing that I was strongly against the deal that was being negotiated, he was surprised when I told him to tell Netanyahu not to come. The timing was wrong.

I advised him to wait a few weeks until after the Israeli election; it will put Israel in a better position diplomatically with wavering members of the Democratic Party. I said that if he won the election, he would be received with much stronger support from the Democratic side in just a few weeks. But if he came now, he would further polarize bipartisan support and weaken the case, which needs Democratic support.

The annexation story has strong parallels, and the subject should be avoided in American politics as much as possible. If Trump losses the next election, a premature Israeli annexation may force the next Democratic president to impose consequences on Israel, especially if there is Democratic control of both chambers of Congress, a totally unnecessary and self-inflicted wound.

There is no imperative to annex now unless Israel believes that the move cannot be reversed in the future, which is not certain. Timing it to coincide with a Trump second term would be a much better strategy.

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.”

Israel’s Self-Destructive PR Must Change in its Next Government

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Wouldn’t be great if Isrotel worked with StandWithUs like El Al, to empower their employees, helping them to realize they are the face of Israel.

American supporters of Israel have complained for years that Israel’s public relations, hasbara, has been ineffective, counter-productive, and its importance for strengthening the US-Israeli relationship unappreciated by Israelis as a core national security interest.

This all came to mind during a wonderful weekend wedding at one of Israel’s leading hotels, when I went to breakfast and the only newspaper available to read was the Haaretz/New York Times edition. This was not the first time this has happened to me in Israel.
Haaretz’s Hebrew-language readership is dwarfed by other Israeli print dailies, but you would never know that if you were a visiting American tourist or English-speaking journalist staying at some of Israel’s many fine hotels, reading the Haaretz English edition that is combined with The New York Times, another paper that has a long history of harshly critical views of Israeli policy.

Within Israel, the newspaper is widely known as being to the hard-left of the political spectrum, representative of a small segment of the Israeli population, although it is influential within Israeli academia and intelligentsia. It is a legitimate and important viewpoint, but not one representative of the majority of the Israeli people based upon election results and surveys over many years.

When an English-speaking journalist, organizational leader or businessperson visits Israel, if they receive only one critical viewpoint to start their day, does this matter? It does, and it is representative of the greater problem of Israel’s approach and investment in projecting a positive image, and explaining its policies to a world that is increasing hostile to its very right to exist.

There is little doubt that some of the news writers for Haaretz, not only its editorial and opinion-page journalists, are profoundly hostile to Israeli policy. When I brought this up with then chief political columnist, editorial writer and US bureau chief, Akiva Eldar, at his Haaretz office about 10 years ago, complaining that news articles shouldn’t be editorialized and should strive to present a factually balanced news story, he simply told me to go read another paper.

So when a hotel offers only Haaretz to its guests, it’s representative of a pervasive Israeli attitude that stretches from the halls of the Knesset to Israeli companies to the Prime Minister’s Office that they are indifferent or exasperated, that they need to continually plead to the world for understanding of their precarious situation.

But when you are a lonely democracy living in a very bad neighborhood, you’d better start caring.

Haaretz is a legitimate view of Israel but not the only one. If during your time in Israel when impressions are formed and this is the only newspaper you read, as it is for too many foreign journalists, it will present a distorted and biased view. In short, it feeds the echo chamber for those who see Israel responsible for all the problems of the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – a brutal, undemocratic, colonialist occupier.

BUT FOCUSING the blame for bad public relations on Israeli businesses is just the tip of the iceberg, as Israel’s government has slashed its investment into its Foreign Ministry that is tasked with explaining its case to America and to an unsympathetic world. Instead of expanding and increasing consulates in the United States, there are plans to close consulates.

This month Israel ordered most of its overseas embassies to stop work due to a “grave deficit” of its Foreign Ministry budget.
According to the Foreign Ministry, “The main effect is that during this sensitive time, when faced with diplomatic and strategic challenges… foremost among them the threat by Iran… and on the eve of a UN General Assembly – the Foreign Ministry and its missions abroad will be almost entirely paralyzed.”

This is insanity.

PM Netanyahu bears responsibility as he has overshadowed his own foreign ministers, when he has appointed them at all, choosing inexperienced lightweights, the most recent having made too many mistakes since filling the vacancy earlier this year.

Sometimes Israelis do get it, as when StandWithUs partnered with El Al pilots and flight attendants, helping them use their two-to-three day layovers overseas to educate people about the real Israel, sharing their personal stories.

Which brings us back to the wedding at one of Israel‘s best hotels owned by one of Israel’s leading hotel chains, Isrotel. The assistant manager told me that offering Haaretz was the way it has been for years. I explained why multiple viewpoints are important for their guests and for Israel’s hasbara, or public diplomacy.

The guests at the wedding included many distinguished young American and Europeans from the world of governments, business and NGO’S.

When they walked into the dining room and picked up their English-language newspaper, they were presented with a one-sided minority Israeli view, but most were completely unaware of this.

Wouldn’t be great if Isrotel worked with StandWithUs like El Al, to empower their employees, helping them to realize they are the face of Israel.

Israel is about to form a new coalition government. Whether it is led by incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu or Blue and White’s Benny Gantz, both need to realize that Israel’s security is not just in the hands of its very capable defense forces, but needs the help of all of its people, companies and government to present the real Israel in all its beauty and complexities.

It’s about time Israel started putting its best face forward with increased government expenditures for its Foreign Ministry overseas, and work in partnership with Israeli companies and their employees, who very often are the only face that the world sees representing Israel.

Criticism is great for the health of a democracy. Thank you Haaretz. But if you have only criticism reinforced by poor hasbara, then at the end of the day instead of debating Israeli policy with the world, you will continue to simply fight to explain why you have a right to exist at all.

The writer is the director of the Middle East Political Information Network who 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.

A Year of Weaponized Words, Antisemitism, and Revisionist History

{Previously Published in The Jerusalem Post}

Another misused word directed at Israel is the charge of apartheid. Anyone opening up a real dictionary would see that the true meaning of the word has nothing to do with anything in Israel. 

A year ago I didn’t know that “it’s all about the Benjamins” was an antisemitic slur. I could never have predicted that a self-identified group of “Justice Democrats” who would call themselves “the Squad,” would become a virtual seminar in antisemitic rhetoric, and the voice of an intolerant intersectional movement that disparages anyone who crosses them as a racist, Islamophobic or a bigot.

The appropriation and distortion of words like concentration camps, apartheid, Nazi and martyr is bad enough coming from the Squad, but over the last year, the words have been weaponized and have become part of mainstream discourse, exemplified by the antisemite UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, some mainstream media outlets, Palestinian leadership and on college campuses where it flourishes in academia and in “social justice” movements.

Words are mightier than the sword, and in the history of Jew hatred, they have led to Inquisitions, Crusades, pogroms, discrimination, delegitimization, expulsions and the Holocaust.

This has been a big year for the misappropriation of the word martyr, whose meaning was twisted by PA President Mahmoud Abbas after the US Congress withdrew American taxpayer funds under the Taylor Force Law for those we call terrorists in a “Pay to Slay” scheme, but are called glorious martyrs by the Palestinian Authority. This month, Abbas said “We reject [the] designation of our martyrs as terrorists… they are ‘the most sacred thing we have.’” In what sick universe are suicide bombers, kidnappers and killers of children martyrs?

One member of the Squad opened their Orwellian vocabulary to misappropriate the word massacre to describe Israeli soldiers killing terrorists who were targeting Israeli civilians along the Gaza border, as a “massacre of protesters.”

Another misused word directed at Israel is the charge of apartheid. Anyone opening up a real dictionary would see that the true meaning of the word has nothing to do with anything in Israel, but since the term is so heinous, it has been appropriated as a tool to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist.

This year has been a big year for the term “dual loyalty.” Minnesota Justice Democrat Ilhan Omar charged Jewish legislators with dual loyalty, by “hav[ing] allegiance… to a foreign country [Israel].”

Democratic chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee Nita Lowey, who will be challenged by a Justice Democrat next year, confronted Omar’s antisemitic smear, reminding her “throughout history, Jews have been accused of dual loyalty, leading to discrimination and violence.”

US President Donald Trump also inappropriately used words evoking dual loyalty this summer, when he charged Jews who vote Democrat as being disloyal to Israel. As a supporter of Israel, he should have been more sensitive to those dangerous words with a history of too many antisemitic associations.

However, the most egregious abuse of words this summer was by the Squad’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Justice Democrat from New York, who shamelessly appropriated the words “never again” and “concentration camps” to advance her agenda against American immigration policy.

“The United States is running concentration camps on our southern border and that is exactly what they are,” said AOC.

When AOC uses the words “concentration camps” to describe border detention facilities, you have to be tone deaf or a Holocaust denying revisionist historian not to understand that to almost every person in the United States since the end of World War Two, the words “concentration camp” are identified with the Holocaust and genocidal death camps. Her goal was not to have a legitimate policy debate, but to demonize opponents with incendiary language.

Whatever one thinks about the conditions of detention facilities for illegal aliens and their children, it is a travesty to liken them to the Nazi concentration camps where people were used as slave labor, starved, beaten, raped, dehumanized and degraded – both Jews and other persecuted minorities – led like sheep to slaughter in an organized mass extermination. She and those who defend her use of the term concentration camps in this context insult the memory of those who were rounded up, deliberately treated as vermin and massacred in the Holocaust.

SOMETIMES, THE most dangerous words are the ones that are left out, distorting the context of a story. CAMERA reported that The New York Times and The Washington Post choose to inaccurately describe the organization that sponsored Omar and Tlaib’s trip to the disputed territories. The organization Miftah has a long history of antisemitic associations, but a Times editorial referred to it as “a Palestinian organization… that promotes ‘global awareness and knowledge of Palestinian realities.’” The Washington Post said Miftah is “headed by Palestinian lawmaker and longtime peace negotiator Hanan Ashrawi.”

So how could anybody take issue with a nonprofit run by a peacemaker, sponsoring a fact-finding trip to the Middle East?

New York Times columnist Bari Weiss wrote other words that the Times editorial board and The Washington Post refused to include, that Miftah is “an organization that has proudly praised female suicide bombers, and pushed the medieval blood libel,” which is alive and well in Ms. Tlaib’s Palestinian Arab society.

Even the term antisemitism is selectively used. For the Squad and its ilk, antisemitism is the realm of the Right. No one can deny that Jew hatred from the Right has a long history, and its contemporary white supremacist followers have committed despicable hate filled violence to this day.

However, the words that are left out, a form of political revisionism, is that on today’s college campus, antisemitism comes primarily from the Left. In Europe, according to a recent survey by the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights, Muslim and left-wing antisemitism was more prevalent especially against young European Jews.

Words matter.

With three months before the 2020 presidential year, we already have had more than our share of trivializing the Holocaust, weaponized words and mainstreaming of antisemitism through a media that is so fearful of not being politically correct that it seems to have lost its moral compass.

Let’s hold our presidential candidates, politicians, clergy, media and even our friends accountable for what they say and write.

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the Senate, House and their foreign policy advisors. He is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to i24TV, The Hill, JTA and The Forward.

Israelis and Arabs Say One Thing in Public and Another Behind Closed Doors. Politicians and Pundits Need to Understand the Difference.

{Previously published in the JTA}

By the end of this year, my research and travels in the Middle East will have brought me through Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Kurdistan, as well as many visits to Capitol Hill.

What I’ve learned from security, defense and intelligence officials is this: When Israelis and Arabs talk off the record, what they say differs markedly from their public statements. America policymakers are too often unaware of what Israeli and Arab experts and official say behind closed doors, even to one another.

This may not come as much of a surprise, given the global diplomatic crisis that resulted from the 2010 Wikileak of diplomatic cables. But it does mean that the American public, not to mention elected officials, are often ignorant of the full breadth of information needed to understand the most important issues going on in the Middle East. 

As Jonathan Spyer, a leading Middle East analyst, told me after his most recent travels, “It’s very important for Western policymakers to be aware that leaderships and elites throughout the Arab world today find a great deal of common ground with Israel on the issues of the Iranian and Sunni Islamist threats.”

“To an increasing extent,” he continued, “they are also weary of Palestinian intransigence and see Israel as a model for successful development. Much of that, however, cannot be said openly by these leaders because this does not reflect the views of parts of the societies of the leaders in question, where Islamist and/or Arab nationalist sentiments continue to hold sway.”

Today, despite some public lip service to the Palestinian cause, the Sunni Arab world knows that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at most a “side issue.”

Incitement and scapegoating may have political advantages for authoritarian regimes, but it undermines forging people-to-people relationships and the acceptance of Israel as a permanent part of the Middle East.

I recently interviewed an Israeli military intelligence expert who had just returned from private meetings in Europe with Arab and EU officials. He told me that behind closed doors, their analysis of the Middle East, including Iran, is often light years away from the public rhetoric offered by European — and to a lesser extent, Arab Sunni government officials — to their citizens and the world at large. 

When politicians or pundits make foreign policy critiques, unaware of what is discussed privately between insiders in the Middle East, the public is misinformed.

Most Americans don’t realize that the conflicts of the Middle East are primarily tribal and religious in nature, and that the primary allegiance is not to modern states artificially constructed by the West 100 years ago, something Arabs and Israelis know all too well.

Too many Americans fail to realize this, but insiders know that if there were no Israel, the Shiites would still hate the Sunnis, Iran would still aspire to hegemony, Turkey would still be an unreliable NATO ally and Libya and Yemen would still be chaotic.

It is this American blind spot that attempts to recreate nation-states like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, and undermines America’s ability to foster stability in nations where rule of law and the primacy of clan don’t follow a Western path. 

Some European officials, who vociferously defend the Iran nuclear agreement publicly, privately acknowledge the dangers of the Iranian revolutionary theocracy that acts against their values, from the hanging of gays to the Iranian complicity in the Syrian genocide, the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis in Iraq and Syria and the population transfer of Shiite families from Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan into Syria.

Europeans have long tried to have it both ways, appeasing illiberal Middle Eastern states and actors in the hope that terrorism won’t land on its shores, while rhetorically taking a value-based foreign policy position that ignores the worst players in the region while saving all of their criticism for the only democracy that shares their values.

My own work in Congress over the years has consisted of private, off-the-record briefings. In private meetings, when you are trusted by members and their foreign policy aides, conversations of substance can take place. Ideas and observations that normally wouldn’t see the light of day are discussed, which hopefully translates into a better-informed and nuanced policy proposals. 

Quantifying the success of private meetings is sometimes hard to judge. But when a leading member of the Senate uses my notes to prepare himself before going on “Meet the Press,” or I am asked for ideas for new legislation or for my opinion regarding pending legislation, I consider that a measure of success.

Unfortunately, we Americans are in our own echo chambers, not challenging ourselves to see the merits of other uncomfortable positions, afraid to express contrary points of view if they don’t reflect our party’s talking points. In our conversations, whether in Washington or on social media, you are defined as evil if you challenge a politically correct narrative that undermines the alleged victims of Western perfidy.

It is common today to unfriend people whose viewpoints do not corroborate one’s own world view. Removing oneself from the opportunity to engage in dialogue that conflicts with one’s own perspective makes it easy to delegitimize any differing viewpoints and creates an increasingly more insular social media community.

In Washington, I was in a closed-door meeting in Congress when a legislative aide told me that the member agreed with my analysis regarding Palestinian intransigence, corruption and funding of terrorists, but he had advised the member not to publicly express that opinion — it would endanger the member’s chances of moving up to a leadership position because it challenged the party’s current narrative.

On both sides of the aisle, I have often tried to bring offices together to work on shared interests in the Middle East, and more times than not, politics wins over policy. We are reluctant to upset the simplistic echo chambers we have created.

It would be illuminating for American policymakers if they could hear what is said privately about the Middle East among intelligence, security and defense officials. 

Not making an attempt to understand the Middle East beyond the talking points of like-minded sources is a prescription for America to get dragged into another Middle East war in the not-too-distant future.

When the gap between public policy statements and a fully informed politician is wide, the chances for miscalculation leading to dangerous policy recommendations greatly increases. The pieces of the Middle East puzzle do not fit into a Western frame, and we ignore this at our peril.

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

SPOTLIGHT ON MOSHE ‘BOGIE’ YA’ALON

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

I had a long discussion this week with Moshe Ya’alon.

“Bogie” is a self-described defense hawk, whose strategic vision, especially regarding the dangers of Oslo and Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza, was prescient. When asked if he is on the Right or Left politically, he said he is not on either side, but only for what is right for Israel.

In 2015 when Ya’alon was still defense minister, I had the opportunity to speak with some members of the opposition parties, including Yesh Atid and the Zionist Union, about Ya’alon. The consensus said they might agree or disagree with his position on an issue, but they knew they could trust him to keep his word and be an honest partner.

He is not the most charismatic political leader, as he reminded me that modern democratic leaders don’t wear glasses and have much more hair than he does. He said Harry Truman was the last leader he can remember who wore glasses. His self-effacing personal warmth is clearly present in person, but less appreciable by those who have seen him only on TV.

He stands out in one respect that is as rare as hen’s teeth among politicians – honesty and integrity. Add to that a keen insight with a strong Jewish moral compass, and you have an unusual description of a political leader in the 21st century.


I have spoken with Ya’alon at length before, but never when he was the political leader of a party, now a joint party with Benny Gantz. So why did he choose to align himself with Gantz’s party, as there were other suitors for his talents and security credentials?

He said he surveyed the political landscape and was most comfortable with Gantz’s integrity, realizing it is not about who leads the top of the ticket, but what is best for the Israeli people. He said that anyone who challenges Netanyahu’s monarchy is portrayed as a leftist, an epithet he says the prime minister uses to delegitimize his adversaries.

Although senior to Gantz, who served under him in the IDF, Ya’alon has no trouble being No. 2, and would consider becoming defense minister again, if asked. He has publicly called for another popular former IDF chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, to join the team, but when pressed about other politicians joining, such as Yair Lapid, he preferred not to speculate.

It should be remembered that Ya’alon did coauthor an op-ed with Lapid last July titled “Will the West Cede the Golan Heights to a Psychopath?” It called on the US to begin the process of recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Recent polls have shown that if Gantz, Ya’alon, Ashkenazi and Lapid form a coalition, it could oust the long-reigning Likud grip on power, replacing Netanyahu, which up until now seemed unlikely.

Ya’alon came to the conclusion a couple of years ago that Netanyahu should resign, because of his interference in the government’s procurement of submarines and frigates from Germany. At first he didn’t understand why Netanyahu was bypassing the usual process for purchasing billions of dollars in armaments by not bringing it to the cabinet, but when he understood that there were serious conflicts of interests involving his associates, he asked Netanyahu to resign for the good of the country and the rule of law.

Although Netanyahu has a range of alleged corruption charges against him, Ya’alon spoke about the submarine case involving the German manufacturer ThyssenKrupp, and the allegation that Netanyahu’s personal attorney David Shimron used his relationship with the prime minister for financial gain. Police have claimed there is enough evidence to charge Shimron with money laundering. As for Netanyahu, Ya’alon has previously stated that there was no way that Netanyahu didn’t know.

Ya’alon choose to leave the Netanyahu government when he was replaced as defense minister rather than accept the offer to become foreign minister, which would have left him as the likely heir apparent, if the prime minister were to be forced to resign over his alleged corruption.

I asked Ya’alon if Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit would indict Netanyahu before the election; he said doesn’t know, but he did say that he trusts the attorney-general.

WE MOVED on to his true area of expertise, the security of the State of Israel.

When asked who is Israel’s No. 1 threat, he said Iran. On this he agrees with Netanyahu.

We first discussed the proposed American withdrawal from Syria, which he said was a poor decision. It is not so much about boots on the ground as it is the abandonment of the Kurds. He said that the previous American president, Barack Obama, who withdrew from the region (Iraq), was forced to return to fight ISIS, which was a consequence of that poor decision.

He said President Donald Trump should learn a lesson from his predecessor’s mistake. It is important for America to be involved in the region for its own interests. Ya’alon said, just look around: Except in Israel, all the governments in the region are under stress, from Amman to Cairo to Riyadh, and a withdrawal of American forces would destabilize the region.

When asked about the population transfer in southern Syria orchestrated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah, placing a permanent hostile force on Israel’s Syrian border, he responded by saying Israel has a very strong destructive power that has and will keep Iran in check. Up until now, it has not allowed advanced weapons or permanent Iranian bases to remain undamaged. A future defense minister Ya’alon would have to deal with a permanently entrenched Iranian presence in Syria.



Ya’alon took Netanyahu to task for his new strategy to publicly claim every Syrian strike with video as an open provocation that serves no purpose, but in fact removes the helpful façade of plausible deniability that had restrained Iranian and Syrian responses. He said this was done only for Netanyahu’s political advantage, not for Israel’s strategic benefit.

What about the new Russian S-300 antimissile system, which the Russians gave to Syria, after Syria mistakenly shot down a Russian aircraft – will the Russians use this system against Israel?

Ya’alon said the Russians and Israel are not on the same page in Syria; we are not even in the same book. However, they are a dominant power in control, with influence on Israel’s enemies. He said we have open lines of communication with them, and they have worked until now, hopefully also in the future.

So why did they give the S-300 missile system to the Syrians? According to Ya’alon, it is another card that Russia played that could be used against Israel for leverage in any future negotiations.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what about the collapse of security cooperation between Israel and the PA, due to the loss of American funding because of the Taylor Force Act, and the Palestinian fear that accepting American money opens them up to American lawsuits for complicity in terrorism?

According to Ya’alon, it is in the Palestinians’ interest, with or without funding, to continue the security coordination with Israel. If the Palestinians stop coordinating with Israeli security, they know that the likely outcome will be the same as what happened to them in Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal – a total Hamas takeover.

Right now Israel performs 70% of the security operations for the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria (West Bank), while the Palestinian security forces do 30% of the work. He says it is definitely a challenge for the cooperation to continue without funding, but on principle, terrorists and their families cannot be rewarded with funding, as it encourages and promotes more terrorism. He also had harsh words for UNRWA as a corrupt and complicit international organization.

I mentioned that American Jews want to know if he is for a two-state solution. Ya’alon said the two-state solution is something that is not possible at this time, because the Palestinians cannot even accept Israel’s right to exist. In the meantime, he would like to give them more autonomy, separate from them, and would consider giving up some additional territory, if it serves Israel’s purpose for calm, as long as it does not affect Israeli security.

What about the Qatari money to Hamas? He disagrees with Netanyahu’s approach of giving millions in a lump sum and trusting that international organizations will not let Hamas siphon off money for terrorism. Ya’alon says there is experience in transferring funds to banks that can be withdrawn only by noncombat civil servants with proper IDs, which he believes is a better although not perfect option to buy calm in Gaza.

WE NEXT touched on the relations between Israel and its Diaspora Jewish population, many of whom are critical of Israel. Ya’alon said we must be more tolerant of, and sensitive to, our Diaspora brothers’ Jewish religious practice, as Israel is the homeland of all the Jewish people.

What about Israel’s minority population, many whom call themselves Palestinian citizens of Israel, and whose narrative is now aligned with Palestinians of the West Bank?

Regarding Israeli Arabs, Ya’alon wants to integrate them more and says they would like that, but for the malevolent role their political leaders play, which he believes hurts their genuine aspirations to be part of the state. He wants these Palestinian citizens of Israel to be required to do civil service and believes most would want this, despite what their political leaders say.

As for domestic and socioeconomic issues, Ya’alon has previously spoken about leading the fight against racism and sexism in society, and has said the Nation-State Law should be nullified, as it has done damage to the country. 

What you see is what you get with Ya’alon: something refreshing in a world of cynicism, where one expects the worst of elected leaders.


The author is the director of the Middle East Political and Information Network and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.



AMERICAN JEWS AND THE UPCOMING ISRAELI ELECTION

But do American Jews know the difference between Bibi, Bogie, Benny and Bugie?

{Previously published by The Jerusalem Post}

Israelis will go to the polls this spring to cast their ballots for a myriad of competing parties, one of which will then be asked to try to stitch together an unruly coalition, highlighting how very democratic and disorderly Israel’s parliamentary system is. This is not necessarily the best system for a nation that is in a constant state of war.

American Jews of all stripes are also gearing up to support or demonize their preferred or hated candidates and parties. Actually, it is not so different from what Israelis do themselves. But in the age of US President Donald Trump, where Israelis generally appreciate his support if not his style, many American Jews viscerally hate anything he does, even if it’s something in their interest.

But do American Jews know the difference between Bibi, Bogie, Benny and Bugie? 

Leaving aside the funny nicknames, this is a deadly serious question as Americans want to weigh in on this pivotal election, while the growing Iranian menace threatens Israel from three sides, and Trump plans to announce a peace plan right after the election, which some in the know say might involve some difficult or even unacceptable demands on Israel.

What are the effects, in Israel, in the US, and the rest of the world, of the perceived opinions of American Jewry?

What could be worse for Israel’s international reputation than to have it perceived that the Jews of America on the whole believe the nation; the people of Israel are the intransient party and deserve to be punished?

Weighing in on the Israeli election from 8,000 kilometers away highlights the conflicting perspectives of the 21st century’s two largest Jewish populations.

If Israel is the home of the Jewish people, should American Jews deserve a voice, if not a vote, and be taken seriously? If American Jews don’t put their children in harm’s way, how much should their concerns be considered? After all, it is Israelis who have to live with the consequences.

Yossi Klein Halevi, in a Moment Magazine interview, said that the divide between the communities was inevitable. 

”Israelis live in the most dangerous… neighborhood in the world; American Jews live in the most hospitable environment that Jews have ever lived in… Too many American Jews speak of ending the occupation as if Israel were an island in the South Pacific… not a miniscule country surrounded by some of the most lethal terrorist groups in the world… For Israelis, the essential element is Jewish solidarity and self-protection. For American Jewish liberals, it’s empathy for the other, especially the oppressed.”

American Jews are overwhelming liberal, live in economic and physical security, and haven’t changed their political affiliations despite their changing socio-economic status over generations. Israelis, on the other hand, were much more liberal 25 years ago during the euphoric but illusory days after the Oslo Accord.

All that changed for Israelis with the Second Intifada, as they shifted to the center and right. Even after the Intifada subsided, those still hoping for a reasonable Palestinian partner were disabused of the idea when Abbas refused to even respond to Olmert’s offer of 100% of the disputed territory with land swaps.

American Jews who didn’t suffer the physical and emotional consequences of the Second Intifada didn’t shift their perspective, remaining convinced that this conflict is still simply about territory and an occupation, victimizer and victim. Today many still judge Israel as the primary intransient party, as though this is still 1995.

American Jews do not understand that for most Israelis, security will be their primary concern when they go to the ballot box, not pluralism, even if they abhor the disproportionate influence of ultra-Orthodoxy.

As important as socioeconomic issues are to Israelis – and they are – they take second place to life-and-death security concerns in a society where every citizen is supposed to serve in the armed forces. In America, 1.4% of women and 13.4% of men have ever served in the military, a humbling difference.

When Israelis go to vote, they must balance lives that respect their Jewish values, but can never forget they live in a neighborhood where the weak are slaughtered and the world turns a blind eye to genocide. That is the reality they live in, and which too many Americans ignore. It explains to some extent why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endured for so long.

Americans who are interested in the upcoming Israeli election will read about it in their own echo chambers that reinforce their pre-determined points of view, rarely challenging ourselves with different opinions, usually dismissing them because they come from non-trusted sources. 
American liberal Jews will read Haaretz and The New York Times, listen to NPR, watch MSMBC/ CNN and think they know what is really happening in the fistfight of the upcoming April election. Meanwhile, American conservatives will read National Review, the editorials of the Wall Street Journal, watch Fox and think they have all the answers.

From so far away, when American towns and cities are not in the crosshairs of Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah, it is easy to pontificate and give advice to Israelis, claiming your objective perspective and harsh medicine are needed for Israel’s benefit. Some even claim to be pro-Israel, rationalizing that boycotting products from Judea and Samaria (West Bank) is for Israel’s own benefit, while ignoring the incessant and unrelenting Jew hatred from Israel’s erstwhile peace partners.

This is the reality for far too many American Jews, who weigh in and think they know all about the Middle East. They tell me that this is what they have heard from their rabbis, who heard it first hand from Rabbis for Human Rights, or a speaker from J Street, an NGO that claims Israel is not a democracy, or have visited Ramallah with a trip organized by a group like Breaking the Silence, to listen to PA officials who claim it is all the occupation, not their incitement and kleptocracy.

Let’s be clear… Israel has thrown kerosene into the fire of civil relations between the communities by not figuring out some way to respect American Jewish religious denominations, allowing the ultra-Orthodox to disenfranchise the largest Diaspora Jewish community in the world. 

Israelis seem unaware that American Jewish organizations are vital for their security interests by educating members of Congress about the role of Israel as a bulwark of American national security.

Which brings us to the upcoming Israeli election.

Too many American Jews cannot differentiate between Netanyahu, his policies and the State of Israel. They wouldn’t say America doesn’t have a right exist because they hate Trump; we organize and vote for an alternative in the next election. 

But they are angry that the Israeli people have continued to support their current government, so they advocate “tough love” things like BDS that would do serious damage to the nation of Israel. 

When the world’s major forces decide whether or not to throw Israel under the bus, economically or militarily, it does matter what are perceived to be the voices of American Jewry, too often saying that Israel deserves or needs to be punished.

Netanyahu may lose, be indicted, or win, but Israel will remain the democratic nation of the Jewish people long after his political life expires. So to all American Jews across the political spectrum, if you don’t like an Israeli candidate or a government policy, please speak out loud and clear. But don’t mistake a party or candidate for Israel the country, joining those who want to delegitimize Israel the nation. 
Too many American Jews don’t seem to mind throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

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

Cautionary Tales: Sound Strategies in the Levant

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

What can Israelis and Americans learn from the past, even acknowledging that fighting the last war is a prescription for poor policy going forward?

Israeli elections are just four months away. Which Israeli politicians can be trusted to keep their word? Who will tell you the difficult truths that may upset your most cherished desire to live in peace with your neighbor? Learning from the past is a good way to begin.

In his memoir, In Defense of Israel, former defense minister Moshe Arens wrote that within days of turning over the Defense Ministry to newly elected prime minister Ehud Barak in 2000, he “preemptively” withdrew from southern Lebanon. “His betrayal of the SLA [South Lebanon Army] and the unilateral withdrawal of the IDF… was interpreted in the Arab world as a sign of weakness and brought on the Second Intifada… It did not bring an end to Hezbollah activity against Israel and was followed by the Second Lebanon War.”

At the turn of the millennium, war-weary Israelis had lost too many of their boys. They were without a clear plan of exit after 18 years of disappointments and failures, and the leadership hadn’t articulated a clear vision going forward. They expected the newly elected prime minister to fulfill his campaign promise and disengage from Lebanon, although not necessarily in the dark of night, abandoning friends to the wolves of Shi’ite Jihadism. The logic was, if Israel had no presence in Lebanon and there was were no territorial conflict with Hezbollah, then the world would take Israel’s side if hostilities, aggression, and terrorism again emanated from Israel’s northern border.

The best of intentions, the worst of results. 

Within short order Israel’s most decorated military hero was turned out of office and replaced by one of its most right-wing politicians, who contrary to his previous actions and rhetoric over the preceding 40 years, unilaterally withdrew from the mother of all quagmires, the Gaza Strip.

The best of intentions, the worst of results. What can Israelis and Americans learn from the past, even acknowledging that fighting the last war is a prescription for poor policy going forward?

Here is a primer: What do the following have in common? The withdrawal from Lebanon; the Gaza disengagement; abandoning Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria in favor of Iraq and Turkey; America’s withdrawal from Iraq, fulfilling Obama’s promise to bring US troops home; Israel inviting an unrepentant and defeated PLO into Gaza and the territories in its quest for a lasting peace; the American recommendation that Israel trade the Golan Heights to Hafez Assad for peace; trusting that Israel’s strong relationship with Iran in the ‘70s and with Turkey in the ‘90s would stand the test of time; trusting international promises to ensure Israel’s security in Lebanon in 2006 and Egypt in 1967; and believing the Arab Spring would lead to a more democratic and stable Middle East.
All were made or hoped for with the best of intentions, but at best, led to unpredictable, unexpected and usually much worse results than the previous status quo.

LET’S ANALYZE the results and see how well they matched up with well thought-out intentions and expectations from some of our leading politicians and thinkers.

1. An Iranian-controlled Hezbollah permanently entrenched in Lebanon with the Lebanese government beholden to a terrorist organization.

2. A permanent Hamas terrorist base with 2 million human shields in Gaza perpetually threatening hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians.

3. An Iraqi Kurdish nation – that was a loyal ally to America – feeling betrayed, which sent a message to American allies around the world that they too can be forsaken.

4. A loyal Syrian Kurdish army that lead the fight against Daesh, now abandoned and forced to make deals with America’s enemies; Russia, Iran and Syria.

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5. A vacuum formed by president Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq after the surge of 2011 that helped create the Islamic State.

6. The marginalization of indigenous Palestinians post-Oslo with the imposition of Arafat’s corrupt and terrorist-oriented Palestine Liberation Organization that guaranteed the path to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be a much higher hill to climb.

7. An Arab Spring that quickly turned to winter; that abandoned a friendly, authoritarian dictator; that led not to democracy but instead empowered the leading center of anti-Western Islamism – the Muslim Brotherhood – while creating the conditions for the Syrian civil war and permanent Iranian entrenchment in the Levant

8. An impotent international force in Lebanon that has never stopped a single Iranian weapons delivery to Hezbollah.

ALL OF this brings us to the best of intentions of Commanders for Israel’s Security, former leading generals and members of the security establishment whose laudable goal is to extricate Israel from the Palestinians, but whose strategy is “not contingent upon the existence of a [Palestinian] partner

continued IDF control over the West Bank until a permanent status agreement is reached.” 
Is this possible or realistic?

The common expression of the Left is that you have to negotiate with your enemies. But what if your enemies won’t negotiate with you? Can you disengage or create a unilateral divorce and still remain secure, setting the stage for a lasting Palestinian peace?


The goal of a sustainable Jewish majority faithful to its democratic nature is consistent with the goal of the vast majority of both Israeli and Diaspora Jews. But is that possible when the vast majority of your Palestinian adversary overwhelmingly believes you have no right to exist as a Jewish entity in even a centimeter of the land, because the Jews are an illegitimate Western colonial outpost invading Dar al-Islam (lands that are irredeemably Muslim)?

How does one square the circle of lasting security, disengagement and legitimate Israeli rights beyond the Green Line with an adversary that won’t negotiate, who leads the BDS movement to delegitimize your very existence, and in this century turned down 100% of the “occupied” land with swaps, east Jerusalem as their capital, and continued Muslim control of the Temple Mount?

Strategists know the wrong formula in the Middle East is to appear weak and that poor policies are made of naiveté, abandoning allies, unilateral withdrawals without something tangible and lasting in return, and the dangers of trusting that relationships even with current allies will stand the test of time.

That is why Israel knows it must be self-sufficient and not rely for its security on the guarantees of other nations. This is part of the reason Israel is such a strong ally of America, not being asked to put its soldiers in harm’s way. This does not mean not having and creating new diplomatic relationships, but never relying upon them in the shifting sands of the Middle East as a core part of your survival. 

The best path forward as Israel embarks upon its election season is honesty and managing expectations with your constituents, and maintaining strength. This is what is respected in the Middle East. And if you want to empower and allow your Palestinian partners ever to concede anything even for a limited armistice, figure out a way for them to keep their honor (an insight of Micah Goodman in Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War), while never losing sight that you must remain in complete control of your security.

The writer is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™) and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post and i24TV.