Tag Archives: Jerusalem Post

Which is the Most Dangerous:  Preserve, Fix or Tear Up the Iran Deal?

{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

The time to strike new legislation is now, this spring, before the next election season is in full swing.

‘We will produce any weapons of any kind that we need and use them at any time to defend ourselves”– Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, October 2017.

A new bill, the “Iran Freedom Policy and Sanctions Act,” has been introduced in the US House of Representatives that attempts to fix the flaws in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, the “Iran deal”), while also sanctioning Iranian human rights abuses, terrorism and ballistic missile development.

To understand why the JCPOA needs to be fixed, we need only focus on the unfulfilled promise of unfettered inspections of Iranian military sites; the most likely place Iran will weaponize a nuclear device.

According to The Guardian, US secretary of state John Kerry told the Israelis back in 2015, “I absolutely guarantee that in the future we will have the ability to know what they are doing so that we can still stop them if they decided to move to a bomb… We will have inspectors in there every single day … forever.”

Last month, Kerry opined in The Washington Post that the agreement is “grounded in the transparency rules of the IAEA’s [International Atomic Energy Agency] Additional Protocol” allowing inspections in military sites. President Barack Obama also promised “inspectors will have 24/7 access to Iran’s key nuclear facilities.”

In other words, the promise of “anytime, anywhere inspections.”

Only one problem: Iran has repeatedly said it will never abide by the Additional Protocol. As senior adviser to the Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati said, “Nobody is allowed to visit Iran’s military sites.” Ayatollah Khamenei agrees. He told Reuters that access to military sites is a “red line.”

What is the Additional Protocol and Section T? Section T restricts Iran from weaponizing a nuclear explosive device or acquired dual-use technology, while the Additional Protocol was “sold” to Congress as the transparency allowing unfettered access to military sites. You often hear from supporters of the deal that Iran is in full compliance with the JCPOA. But if your inspectors have never visited a military site, you will never have anything to report.

Indeed, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told Reuters last fall that his agency doesn’t have the “tools” to verify Iran’s compliance.

The “Iran Freedom Policy and Sanctions Act” attempts to fix this profound flaw in the deal, while also toughening economic sanctions against the Republican Guards and Basij Force, who profit from nuclear and missile development and are at the vanguard of Iranian human rights abuses, terrorism and missile development. The problem is that the Senate will not be able to fix the flaws of the JCPOA because it would require 60 votes, a virtual impossibility in this political climate.

There is a path forward. It’s a two-pronged approach.

Create legislation from both houses of Congress to provide new, enforceable, non-waivable sanctions that focus on Iran’s human rights abuses, missile development, and terrorism. (Recall that non-nuclear sanctions were promised but not acted upon by the Obama administration.) Leave the issue of reinstating sanctions regarding the JCPOA for President Donald Trump.

In other words, Congress should take half a loaf that would accomplish the same goal of economically punishing Iran with new sanctions, while avoiding the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate for fixing the JCPOA. Dealing with the JCPOA is best addressed by President Trump as he could reimpose sanctions on the nuclear program in 120 days.

Shouldn’t Democratic senators who did not support the JCPOA also want to sign on to non-nuclear sanctions? The answer is President Trump and politics.

Anything that Trump supports – even if clearly in the national interest – is dismissed and rationalized away with the hope that it will translate into a political victory in the midterm elections.

The question for senators Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), Chris Coons (D-Delaware) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York), who all voted against the JCPOA, is why are you now in favor of preserving the Iran agreement? Don’t you want to be on the right side of Iranian human rights, and against the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism? Senator Cardin claims to be interested in fixing the deal but has demanded the Europeans be given a veto on any new American legislation that fixes the JCPOA. Has Iran decreased its cooperation with the North Korean missile and nuclear program, stopped supporting terrorists, decreased its executions of women and children or its calls to exterminate Israel? Senator Cardin, please reconsider.

Won’t the Europeans go ballistic? Sure, but they will choose the American market and financial system and not run afoul of American sanctions.

Supporters of the agreement say that if the US withdraws from the JCPOA, Iran will quickly restart its nuclear program; the JCPOA, they say, has increased Iranian nuclear “break-out” time from three months to a year. Even if it were true in 2015, the one-year delay will completely evaporate over the next eight years because the Obama administration inexplicably allowed Iran to immediately develop advanced centrifuges, reducing to a few months the time needed to produce weapons-grade material.

Which is more dangerous – preserving the JCPOA, fixing it or ripping it up? The most dangerous option is preserving the status quo without changing the deal’s fundamental flaws, that undermine American national security. Congress needs to pass new, biting economic sanctions on the regime for human rights abuses, terrorism and missile development, requiring only 50 votes, while leaving decertification of the JCPOA for the executive branch.

The time to strike new legislation is now, this spring, before the next election season is in full swing.

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.

Will the Taylor Force Act and UNRWA Reform Destroy the PA?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

America should have learned that the Palestinian Authority believes that there are no consequences for its institutionalized corruption and its compensation system for terrorists and their families.

If the Senate passes and President Donald Trump signs the Taylor Force Act, ending Palestinian Authority funding unless the PA stops its payments to terrorists and their families, would the PA really collapse, and if so what would be the consequences?

The US House of Representatives and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have already approved the Taylor Force legislation. Now it’s up to the full Senate to vote, awaiting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring it to the floor for a full vote or attach it to other legislation.

Nearly half of all American foreign aid to the PA goes to prisoners ($345 million) and the families of so-called “martyrs,” what Americans call terrorists. The more heinous the terrorism, the more money a prisoner and his family get for a lifetime. The Taylor Force Act aims to end this practice.

As Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee said, the PA created a “system in law that pays Palestinian prisoners… more money if they have longer [prison] sentence… Prisoners purposely commit more heinous crimes to get more money for families… PA incentivizes terrorism.”

His colleague Rep. Ed Royce (R-California), the chairman of the House Foreign Relations committee said, “With this legislation, we are forcing the PA to choose between US assistance and these morally reprehensible policies.”

Critics of this legislation claim that the PA would collapse without American aid, being replaced by a more radical entity like Hamas, hurting Israeli and American security interests. Given the PA-Hamas reconciliation agreement last year and Hamas’s stating this month that it will place its weapons under PA control if it can join the PLO, the distinction between these two rivals may have dramatically dissipated.

Of the $600m. per year given to the PA, approximately $290m. is from the State Department under USAID for debt relief, NGOs, hospitals, economic development etc., $355m. goes to UNRWA and the smallest amount, $55m., to PA security forces. Aid to PA security working with Israel would not be threatened.

But from an American taxpayer perspective, rewarding terrorists is abhorrent.

Which brings us to UNRWA, the humanitarian UN organization that perpetuates the conflict by counting the descendants of Palestinian refugees as refugees, refusing to resettle them, while teaching an anti-Israel curriculum in its school system.

UNRWA is the next congressional target for reform.

President Trump has threatened to decrease aid to UNRWA after the condemnation of the United States by the vast majority of UN General Assembly members in the aftermath of the US acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

UNRWA treats Palestinian refugees differently than any other refugees in the world.

For Syrian refugees living in Europe, their children born in Europe are not counted as refugees and are encouraged by the UN to resettle. But for a Palestinian who has lived in Europe for the past 70 years, their European- born children are considered stateless Palestinians in perpetuity, given the false hope of a “right of return,” a euphemism for the demographic destruction of Israel.

So, could a dramatic decrease in funding destabilize the PA, or is it time to stop the rationalizations and realpolitik and end funding of terrorists, and a system that has not only perpetuated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but has ossified any potential progress?

As for UNRWA, there would be humanitarian issues with a significant decrease in funding. According to The Times of Israel, UNRWA “educates half a million children… doctors see eleven million patients per year, and UNRWA conducts vocational training for 9000 young people” annually.

The best strategy for the time being is to continue UNRWA funding but only if Congress writes and the president signs legislation that changes UNRWA’s definition of “refugee” to that of the UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees), with Palestinian refugees’ descendants being treated as every other descendant of a refugee in the world. This must also be accompanied by the demand that UNRWA end its incitement against Israel and Jews in UNRWA-run schools and related facilities.

As for the Taylor Force Act, it makes sense to stop literally paying for terrorism against civilians with American taxpayer money.

America should have learned that the PA believes that there are no consequences for its institutionalized corruption and its compensation system for terrorists and their families. Some potential terrorists arrested during the “knife intifada,” when asked why they were committing terrorism, admitted that they only needed a few more years in prison to financially set their families for life.

This may be a propitious point in time for action on these issues, as Sunni Arab nations are more interested in working with Israel and the US on their growing problems with Iran, and less concerned with their Palestinian cousins.

So will the PA collapse if the Taylor Force Act and UNRWA reform are instituted? It is all up to the Palestinians.

All they have to do to continue their aid is to stop paying terrorists, while preparing their people for the hard choices that need to be made if they truly believe in co-existing as two states for two peoples.

It is all up to them.

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

A Fair Investigation into the Alleged Obama-Hezbollah-Iran Connection

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

There is currently a bipartisan consensus in Congress that understands Hezbollah is a criminal organization undermining American foreign policy interests.

How far did the Obama administration go to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran?

An investigative report in Politico, “The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook,” has gotten the attention of the US Congress because of its comprehensive documentation, centrist origin, and potentially devastating findings.

According to its author, Josh Meyer, “In its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran the Obama administration derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign (Project Cassandra) targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funneling cocaine into the United States.”

Did the Obama administration really impede a DEA probe into Hezbollah’s billion-dollar narcotics trafficking so as to not antagonize Iran during the secret negotiations? If true it might dwarf the Reagan- era Iran-Contra scandal because of the magnitude of what was given to the Iranians in the nuclear agreement.

Add to that the public disinformation campaign by Obama adviser Ben Rhodes, who bragged of deliberately manipulating the press to influence the passage of the Iran agreement, and how profoundly American national security interests will be affected for generations by the deal, and this potentially becomes a huge story.

What makes the report so credible is that it did not come from a right-wing media source, where it would have been quickly dismissed as another partisan attack, but arose from a respected centrist news source on Capitol Hill.

Leaving aside the liabilities of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), does it still matter if these allegations are true, knowing that the Iran agreement is a fait accompli and Obama is out of office?

Obama’s allies will defend his legacy no matter what, especially because the new president is so hated in their circles, and his policy on Iran is diametrically opposed to Obama’s.

In addition, Obama administration officials’ reputations are on the line and they have pre-emptively claimed this is much ado about nothing, telling like-minded members of the media that this is just another Republican political hatchet job on the former president.

Some Democrats, if they weren’t under a Trump administration, would be seriously interested in finding out the truth about impeding a massive narcotics operation in cooperation with a state sponsor of terrorism.

So are these allegations against the Obama administration plausible? The Obama administration strategy of rebalancing and realigning American interests to Iran began in 2009 with the abandonment of the Iranian people in the Green Revolution, refusing to see how fragile the Iranian government was.

When new sanctions were placed on Iran, the president watered down their full effect.

In Syria the president chose not to interfere with the Iranian- supported slaughter or its carving out the foundation for a land corridor to the Mediterranean Sea, as negotiations for a nuclear agreement were proceeding in secret.

The distancing of American allies was part of the appeasement of Iran. This realpolitik strategy might be excused if only the negotiated deal indefinitely stopped the Iranian nuclear program as promised.

Poor choices in foreign policy come with the territory for any administration, Republican or Democratic, and should not be challenged for purely political ends.

However, the profound national security implications of the way the deal was negotiated makes finding out the truth regarding the Obama-Hezbollah- Iran connection vital to our interests going forward.

Getting that truth in this toxic hyper-political environment in Washington will be difficult, as we live in an era where politics trumps national security.

So how far did the administration go in order to placate the Iranians during the negotiations? According to the Politico report, the State Department and the Justice Department were used as roadblocks to avoid criminal charges against money-laundering banks, and even a member of the Iranian Quds force, a designated terrorist organization.

Let’s remember that Hezbollah is a transnational narco-terrorist organization that works with other criminal enterprises to traffic weapons, while laundering profits to sponsor terrorism.

The see-no-evil Europeans have created a distinction between the political and terrorist divisions of Hezbollah, allowing its “political” wing to operate freely in Europe. Let’s be clear: there is no distinction to anyone who isn’t deliberately morally obtuse.

This policy is analogous to differentiating the North Korea military and its narco-trafficking from its political wing, as if they were two independent entities.

Administration defenders have claimed enforcement of criminal inquiries and sanctions relating to Iran and Hezbollah were never diminished intentionally.

Derek Maltz, who oversaw Project Cassandra as the head of the DEA’s Special Operations Division ending in July 2014 said, “There is certainly an argument to be made that if tomorrow all the agencies were ordered to come together and sit in a room and put all the evidence on the table against all these bad guys, that there could be a hell of a lot of indictments.”

So what should be done going ahead?

Congress has already written new legislation urging Europe to end the false distinction between the terrorist and political arms of Hezbollah, while increasing sanctions.

Based on my meetings in Washington, the Trump administration needs to increase its funding to enforce Hezbollah and Iranian sanctions, and let its federal agencies know that this is an administrative priority to starve Hezbollah of funds. According to Vox, under Trump the “State Department eliminated the Coordinator for Sanctions Policy Office,” decreasing the staff from five to one.

There is currently a bipartisan consensus in Congress that understands Hezbollah is a criminal organization undermining American foreign policy interests.

Therefore even in this difficult political climate, Congress should be able to come together to write stronger legislation to unambiguously designate Hezbollah as a transnational criminal organization subject to RICO statutes. It should be fast-tracked in Congress and coordinated with the executive branch.

And yes, a thorough investigation to determine if the Obama administration crossed the line in its pursuit of an Iran nuclear agreement is mandatory.

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

Editorialized Journalism:  Don’t Always Believe Your Eyes

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Media coverage – or lack thereof – leaves readers on their own.

Last week, 14 out of 15 member-states of the United Nations Security Council condemned the United States for its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This was no surprise, as the UN’s cultural agency UNESCO has said Israel has no legal or historical rights anywhere in Jerusalem.

In response to US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas jointly called for rage and violence.

So the international photojournalist community, which is opposed to Israel’s being in charge of the city, needed to provide their news organizations with pictures crafted to create the impression that Israel was taking Jerusalem by force, brutalizing its non-Jewish residents.

As former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman wrote in The Atlantic after the last war in Gaza: “The Western press has become less an observer of this conflict than an actor in it.”

How is it, you might wonder, that photojournalists are always at the right place at the right time – at “peaceful” Palestinian events that turn into premeditated confrontations – in order to create pictures of aggressive Israeli police officers appearing to attack innocent victims? Since the Jerusalem announcement, far too many photos have been captured showing lines of photojournalists who just happen to be present to photograph the responses of Israeli security forces to “peaceful” protests.

Palestinians and their international supporters have been known to provide news organizations with schedules of where protests and staged confrontations will occur.

Sympathetic journalists play along, taking pictures of “innocent” Palestinians protesting, but not showing them as they deliberately force a violent Israeli response.

The photographs are often of the elderly, meek, or very young, showing expressions of fear and horror in response to the “unprovoked” use of force by Israeli security forces.

Last week, the official Palestinian Maan News Agency published a series of editorialized pictures, available to international news organizations, of Palestinians looking the part of victims.

Among the more sensational pictures was one of a terrified, elderly woman cowering in fear of an Israeli police officer on horseback.

In another, an elderly, injured Palestinian man was being carried away from a protest, in a photograph that also captured two other photojournalists who just happened to be at that spot to record the event.

Maan’s photographs were accompanied by an account in which “witnesses said police stormed into the crowd of local activists, students and ordinary citizens who were marching peacefully on the main city street…. Police tossed stun grenades into the crowd as police on horseback reportedly ran over people, including journalists covering the event.”

Sympathetic European editors are delighted when they receive such pictures, as they represent their narrative of the Israeli “occupier” tormenting the “helpless” Palestinian.

Last week, a Palestinian plunged a knife into an Israeli security guard at the Jerusalem Central Bus Station.

The security video caught it all. The still frames of the attack are just the type of sensational material that today’s media generally love to print. But do you remember seeing a photo or the video on BBC, CNN, or on the front page of the New York Times? This is another form of editorialized photojournalism – editorializing by omission. Not publishing a photograph that contradicts a news organization’s party line is a more subtle, but equally biased form of slanted reporting, such as suppressing a news story or burying it deep in a newspaper.

Another infamous case of editorialization by omission was the AP’s refusal to publish a photograph of an Islamic Jihad rally at the flagship Al-Quds University, claiming it was not newsworthy. The event was organized by a “moderate” Palestinian professor and included en masse Nazi salutes, which made for a riveting image, but not one that fit AP’s narrative.

It is not that editorialized photojournalism is new. It began during the First Intifada, continued into the Second Intifada, then through all three Gaza wars, and continues right up until today in Jerusalem.

What is new, is that we now seem to have become dulled by the longevity of the practice, failing to notice or respond as we once did to its insidious effects.

So, going forward, become reengaged in scrutinizing the news.

Be an educated consumer of the news, especially photojournalism, and ask yourself if you can really believe your own eyes.

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

Deconstructing Kerry, His Legacy May Cause a Third Lebanon War 

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

The toxic combination of an emboldened Iran using Shi’ite proxies to fill the Islamic State vacuum while America chooses to cede influence to Russia has set the stage for further destabilizations.

John Kerry is on another campaign swing, this time at London’s Chatham House, trying to convince the world that his Iran agreement is an overwhelming diplomatic success. I witnessed the debates in the Senate leading up to the JCPOA (Iran Agreement), and Kerry’s speech repeated many of the same factually flawed arguments.

Now, two years later, it is clear that the JCPOA has increased the likelihood of war on Israel’s northern border, which could quickly escalate to involve many regional players and Russia.

The toxic combination of an emboldened Iran using Shi’ite proxies to fill the Islamic State (ISIS) vacuum while America chooses to cede influence to Russia has set the stage for further destabilizations, where one false move could set the region on fire, putting American troops in harm’s way.

According to The Wall Street Journal and corroborated to me in my visits to Congress, Israel and think thanks, there is no American consensus on an Iran strategy.

Our military officials haven’t been able to decide to call a spade a spade and fully support listing the terrorist arm of Iran, the Revolutionary Guard, as a terrorist entity.

Memo to the unnamed military officials: appeasement of Iran’s regime will not work; the Supreme Leader and his minions accept carrots with a smile.

The JCPOA is perceived by Iran as weakness, emboldening its vision for a permanent presence in Syria, including a naval base on the Mediterranean.

All of this came into focus for me after speaking to members of Congress and their foreign policy teams with an expert analyst on Israel’s northern border this week, and during my speech to the American defense industry with the participation of Arab and other Muslim government officials.

My goal in Congress was to shine a spotlight on the growing dangers to American and Israeli security interests that have been catalyzed by the hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief Iran has received as a consequence of Kerry’s agreement, and how it has been invested in a Shi’ite land corridor that has exacerbated an already volatile situation in southern Lebanon and Syria.

The toxic stew of an emboldened Iran and its proxies Hezbollah, the Revolutionary Guard-controlled Popular Mobilization Units, and Syrian President Bashar Assad, all with Russian backing, have created a tinderbox in the Levant where one match, either a single Hezbollah missile attack in northern Israel killing civilians or the downing of an Israeli aircraft over Syria or Lebanon, could set the region on fire.

Add to that the unknown effect of the vacuum created by the resignation of the Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, seemingly orchestrated by the Saudis due to his cozening up with archenemy Iran and Hezbollah, and this part of the Middle East is ground zero for the next regional war.

Iran sees Kerry’s continued support of the JCPOA despite its profound negative consequences as a green light that America can continue to be manipulated and dissuaded from stopping its number one regional goal, effective control of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

So let’s break down Kerry’s assertions at the Chatham House as reported by The Jerusalem Post, and how they have added to the destabilization of the overall region.

Kerry: “Bombing Iran does not necessarily stop them from having a nuclear weapon.”

Iran is hell-bent on getting nuclear weapons, and no agreement is going to deter this revolutionary theocratic movement from its worldwide ambitions.

Kerry: “I guarantee you, once you bomb the country [Iran], you have surely given them a good reason to want to have a weapon.”

They aren’t waiting for us to give them a good reason. They are putting in a huge, determined effort to have nuclear-armed missiles as leverage to achieve hegemony over their enemies right now. Also, the analysis of anyone who guarantees you anything in the Middle East should be suspect from the start.

Kerry said that Iran could have “dug two miles deep into a mountain” to create a facility to produce a nuclear weapon.

Iran is already building deep underground bunkers for its nuclear-capable missiles, which Iran has publicly acknowledged with photos. An NBC news report showed pictures of a massive bunker with Emad nuclear- capable missiles. The only real question is how many underground missile cities North Korea has helped Iran dig already in the uninspected military sites Kerry conveniently agreed to ignore in the negotiated agreement.

Kerry said that when the deal was concluded Iran was two months away from having the ability to produce a nuclear weapon, but that now it is a year away.

His friend, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said that Iran could within five days begin enrichment of uranium to 20%. Kerry should have shared with his audience that his agreement allowed immediate unrestrained Iranian R&D on advanced centrifuges, corroborating Salehi’s claim.

Kerry claimed Iran wouldn’t be able to produce a nuclear weapon for 15 years, and then only with an additional 10 years of oversight.

In just eight years Iran is allowed to openly advance its nuclear program. His claim that there will be oversight over the next 20 years is silly in light of the current oversight that is already ineffective and filled with loopholes.

The legacy of the JCPOA is still being written, but in a few years its authors will be creating new mythologies and rationalizations to explain its failures, blaming everyone but themselves, while our allies in the region will have to bear the consequences of its failures, perhaps beginning with explaining how it ignited the third Lebanon war.

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, and is a regular contributor to
 The Jerusalem Post.

What Congress Now Needs to Do After Decertification 

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

The real question is whether congressional Republicans can act in concert for the national good, and avoid internal bickering.

For years I have tried to persuade my friends in Congress that they need to assert their constitutional responsibility to influence and shape our foreign policy as the elected leaders closest to the people, not leaving all foreign policy decisions to the executive branch of government.

President Donald Trump’s decertification of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) is the perfect opportunity for Congress to join together with the executive branch to advance American security interests.

Decertification creates an opening for Congress to take the lead and change the balance of power, which is currently in Iran’s favor.

Congress’ goal should be to reestablish American leverage over Iran’s malevolent behavior, to renegotiate the terms of the JCPOA on sunset provisions, R&D, inspections, and cooperation with North Korea, by creating new, non-nuclear related sanctions against Iranian nuclear missile development, international terrorism, and human rights abuses, all of which are not addressed by the JCPOA (Iran deal).

If these new sanctions are effective, there will be no need to reintroduce nuclear-related sanctions threatening to bring us in confrontation with our allies.

Trying instead to add triggers to the current Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), requiring 60 votes in the Senate, would be a failing strategy. New sanctions should be constructed requiring only a simple majority for passage.

Let’s be clear: if the president wanted to withdraw from the deal he certainly has more than enough evidence to do so.

It does not take much to make the case that Iran is advancing its nuclear program through North Korea, or as reported in the British Sunday Telegraph, the British Foreign Office believes “For [North Korea] to have done this entirely on their own stretches the bounds of credulity.”

Not to mention multiple German intelligence reports documenting continued Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons in defiance of the JCPOA through front companies, most recently in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, with over 30 nuclear procurement attempts.

Even president Barack Obama promised that the JCPOA would not inhibit future non-nuclear sanctions, and indeed he extended non-nuclear sanctions before leaving office in January.

According to Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, Obama said, “Iran’s… support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah and repeated threats against Israel remain contrary to the interests of the United States in the region and continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”

The Trump administration’s decertification of the JCPOA is a step in the right direction, but it will be effective only if Congress takes the lead and has the vision to force Iran back to the bargaining table due to financial pressure.

The carrot of billions in front-loaded sanctions relief has not changed Iranian behavior, so the stick of new sanctions is the only logical step.

President Trump should be commended for listing the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) as a terrorist group and authorizing the Treasury to further sanction the IRGC, as it is the vanguard for the ayatollahs, advancing their worldwide ambitions against American interests. But that is not enough.

The president chose not to order the State Department to designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist group, under pressure from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. This was a mistake.

Congress needs to legislate and force the hand of the administration to use this much more effective strategy to bring Iran back to negotiations.

As IRGC commander Maj.-Gen. Ali Ja’afari said, “We are on the path that leads to the rule of Islam worldwide.”

We should take his words seriously.

The administration needs to understand that Iran is not a rational state actor but a revolutionary ideological movement that does not use Western rationales to advance its interests.

Therefore, I would avoid at this point reimposing nuclear-related sanctions like the Iran Sanctions Act, the Iran Freedom and Counter-proliferation Act or Iran Threat Reduction Syrian Human Rights Act.

However, even more onerous sanctions should be legislated on their other nefarious activities, which will in effect bring them back to renegotiate the JCPOA, New sanctions need to be even more tough if Congress wants to give the administration leverage to renegotiate the nuclear deal.

The key is pressure on the financial stability of the IRGC, which is intimately involved in terrorism as well as with nuclear weapons development at home and in North Korea. The IRGC controls somewhere between 20% to 50% of the Iranian economy, in essence stealing the Iranian people’s money, just as the totalitarian Soviet Union did.

But what about the Europeans? How will they react to new American sanctions affecting their lucrative economic deals with Iran? As Richard Goldberg, one of the unsung heroes of the original sanctions legislation, wrote in Foreign Policy this month, “Trump should…hold a sanctions Sword of Damocles over the Iranian economy: change your behavior or risk total economic collapse… Cry as they might along the way, no European or Asian corporation is going to choose a terrorist regime over access to the US dollar.”

European companies doing business with Iran will have to choose between the $400 billion Iranian economy and having full access to the $17 trillion American financial system. The Europeans don’t have to support sanctions, but they will have to respect them if constructed properly by Congress and in their financial interest.

The real question is whether congressional Republicans can act in concert for the national good, and avoid internal bickering.

As reported in the Washington Free Beacon, “This is the party [Republican] whose platform reads, ‘A Republican president will not be bound by the [Iran] deal and we must retain all options in dealing with a situation that gravely threatens our security, our interests, and the survival of our friends.’ Now they must act.”

What about Democrats like Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, and ranking members of the Foreign Relations Committee Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Elliot Engel, all who spoke out and voted against the deal in 2015? Are they willing to choose national interests over loyalty to president Obama’s legacy, or will they choose party loyalty that reflexively opposes anything Republicans propose, even if in the national interest? Now the ball is in Congress’ court.

Let’s hope they act.

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.

Can U.S. Withdraw from JCPOA if it Endangers American Interests? 

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Can the US wash its hands of the agreement, or are we stuck with it?

“The Iran deal is not a fair deal to this country” – US President Donald Trump, September 14, 2017 What if the Trump administration comes to the conclusion that the Iran agreement  (JCPOA ) authored by the previous administration has destabilized the Middle East and undermined American interests? Since it was signed, Iran has actively supported the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Sunnis, while being complicit in Syrian President Bashar Assad’s genocide of his own people.

Can the US wash its hands of the agreement, or are we stuck with it? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly asked President Trump to either amend or withdraw from the 2015 agreement. There is no doubt that president Barack Obama believed that he knew better than the Israelis what was in their best interest, but now there is a new sheriff in town, who for years has made it clear that he believes the Iran agreement is a danger to America.

There are no American inspectors anywhere in Iran, or anyone else inspecting military sites, where agreement-breaking nuclear weapons development may be taking place. Can America withdraw or amend the agreement if Iran technically adheres to its commitment according to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), which refuses to confront Iranian intransigence on military inspections? Can Trump say sayonara, even if the other members of the P5+1 think it is not in their interest to leave the agreement? The answer is yes, but with a few caveats.

First, the Iran deal is not what it was presented by its authors to be. President Obama signed an agreement that betrayed his own words, promising to “end their nuclear program.” The agreement in fact guarantees an internationally accepted nuclear program in eight more years.

However, critics of withdrawal point out that despite the agreement having never having been signed, it is a commitment that was witnessed by five other major powers, and the consequences of America withdrawing would cast doubt on Western assurances in the future, undermining future negotiations.

The JCPOA is the most important American treaty of the 21st century, except that it was never submitted to the Senate for approval as a treaty.

According to Bruce Fein in The Washington Times, the JCPOA was “intended to constrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for a relaxation of sanctions, and must be construed as a “treaty” under Article II, section 2, clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution.”

As National Review’s Andrew McCarthy explained, the Constitution “does not empower the president to make binding agreements with foreign countries all on his own.”

Even the Yale Journal of International Law, a strong supporter of the JCPOA which believes withdrawal is unwise, opines that “nothing in the JCPOA …formally binds the United States to the Agreement.”

There is even a precedent for walking away from the agreement, set by Rahm Emanuel and the Obama administration itself.

Let us recall that president Obama disavowed the Bush-Sharon letters of 2004, which said that the “existing major Israeli population centers” were “realities on the ground” and it is unrealistic to expect Israel to return them in any final agreement, with the quid pro quo of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in the disengagement plan.

According to Ben Caspit’s book The Netanyahu Years, an illuminating exchange occurred between Israeli ambassador Michael Oren and Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

Ambassador Oren called Emanuel for a clarification and said, “You can’t repudiate former understandings… it will cause long-term damage.”

Emanuel responded emphatically, “If we think they are not effective it is our right to say so isn’t it? We can’t be committed to everything the previous administration thought.”

So the Obama administration itself created a framework for walking away from the JCPOA , a set of unsigned understandings according to the State Department. If the JCPOA is not effective in moderating Iranian ambitions, and is a glide path to a nuclear weapons program, isn’t it then the right of the new administration to cancel that agreement? Of course it is.

Non-binding agreements that are not treaties can be withdrawn from. If president Obama wanted a binding agreement for perpetuity, all he had to do was present it as a treaty to the Senate.

So what should the US do now? Work with Congress to write legislation to annul the JCPOA if Iran cooperates in any way with North Korea on nuclear or missile related technology, while imposing new sanctions. Better yet, submit the JCPOA for Senate ratification.

As for the Europeans, their latest rationale for maintaining the Iran deal is that it is the model for a resolution of the North Korean nuclear conflict. They say the Iran deal mustn’t be touched, in order to reassure the North Koreans that if they strike a diplomatic deal the West will not renege on it.

So then we should show the North Koreans that they, like Iran, can have an internationally recognized nuclear program in 10 years, free of military site inspections in the meanwhile, and free to build nuclear-armed ICBMs, with billions of dollars as a reward for signing a piece of paper it has no intent of honoring.

The Iranian-sponsored ethnic cleansing of the Sunni population in Syria and Iraq is a war crime, and has caused a catastrophic refugee exodus with profound demographic national security threats to Western European nations.

So why is Western Europe so blind to the fact that the JCPOA is a major source of resources for Iranian belligerency, a primary cause of the refugee epidemic? It seems today’s Western European leaders are so lost in political correctness that they are content to author their own suicide.

As US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said, “It is this unwillingness to challenge Iranian behavior for fear of damaging the nuclear agreement that gets to the heart of the threat the deal poses to our national security.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Iran is “clearly in default” of the nuclear deal, and “the Trump administration is fully committed to addressing the totality of malign activities attributable to the Iran regime and its proxies.”

But is it willing to see the JCPOA as the primary driver of those malign activates?

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.

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.

Will America Recertify the JCPOA, Abandon its Influence in Middle East?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

One of US President Donald Trump’s most longstanding conservative critics, Bret Stephens of The New York Times, recently challenged pro-Israel conservatives on why they still support the president.

“The president’s Jewish supporters are left to wonder why the Iran deal remains in force… Bashar al-Assad is stronger than ever, [and] the Israeli government is outraged by the deals the administration has cut with Russia at Israel’s strategic expense.”

While America, the media, and the world have completely focused on the presidential melodrama, America has taken its eye off potentially more consequential issues in the Middle East affecting national security interests for years to come. First among the essential decisions coming due is on Iran.

Will Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of Defense James Mattis convince President Trump, for the third time, to recertify Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in October, despite evidence of serious violations? Only UN Ambassador Nikki Haley seems inclined to oppose recertification, but she is not in the inner circle.

As Ambassador Eric Edelman and Gen. (ret.) Charles Wald, former deputy commander of US European Command, wrote in Politico, abiding by the JCPOA “will only enable a nuclear and hegemonic Iran. It provides Tehran significant financial, military and geopolitical benefits… in exchange for minimal, reversible and temporary concessions on its nuclear program… the JCPOA puts Iran on track to become as intractable a challenge as North Korea is today.”

The first two certifications may have been understandable in light of a new administration getting its house in order while seriously evaluating the consequences of a difficult choice between abandoning a campaign promise to end a very bad deal, and the diplomatic and strategic consequences of withdrawal.

The problem now is that the president’s political weakness makes any choice, especially decertification, a much higher hill to climb because of its controversial nature, Democrats having been generally supportive, while Republicans on the whole against the deal from the start. It is a political sword of Damocles hanging over an embattled president, no matter the merits. The president’s political opponents include a growing number in Congress who would ordinarily back decertification on principle, but may choose to remain on the sidelines due to political expediency, avoiding any association with this administration.

Forcefully standing up to any adversary breaking an agreement is a long-term American diplomatic interest that should be beyond politics. Under normal circumstances transgressing UNSC resolutions on ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead alone would be more than reasonable grounds for renegotiation or decertification.

But these are not normal times. The impulse of the administration to avoid hard choices in this political climate and their inclination for less American involvement in the region overall may move them to again recertify compliance with the JCPOA, no matter the violations or longterm effect. Three times might well make it a fait accompli to never decertify the deal.

In this region America’s allies will perceive it as profound weakness, sending a green light for an Iranian march toward the Syrian-Iraqi border, putting a final nail in the coffin of stopping a land corridor to the Mediterranean, joining Tehran to Hezbollah- dominated Lebanon.

Politico’s chief international affairs correspondent Susan Glasser wrote, “Russia won in Syria thanks to President Barack Obama’s inaction.”

But now President Trump’s State Department has handed Russia control of enforcing a cease-fire that directly endangers Israel and Jordan.

If Iran, Hezbollah, or Syria violates the Russian cease-fire, will America respond and impose consequences, or will this administration follow the Obama policy of creating vacuums undermining American national security interests for generations to come?

There is no reason to believe that Russia will do anything to impede its allies when they inevitably move toward the Israeli Golan Heights while continuing their ethnic cleansing of Sunnis in the southwest of Syria.

Israel has sent a high-level national security team to meet with its counterparts in Washington to talk about Israel’s fear of a permanent Iranian/Hezbollah/Shi’ite presence mere kilometers from the Israeli Golan.

There is little doubt Iran will have a naval presence in Syrian territory on the Mediterranean, forever changing the region’s security balance, but an additional land link to supply Hezbollah and their bases in Syria will put a noose around Israel from the north, creating conditions for a new war.

Iran’s next logical step would be to create instability in a fragile Jordan, already home to millions of refugees. Its new relationship with Hamas could be a prelude to destabilization of the Hashemite dynasty, placing an Iranian ally like Hamas as a compliant friend in Jordan.

The threat to Israel from the west would be a war Israel could not avoid, as it is committed to militarily keeping the Hashemite Kingdom in power as a buffer with Iraq.

A tipping point could be reached if Iran coordinates with Hamas from Gaza, and Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Golan, to create three simultaneous fronts against Israel. You can imagine what the West Bank Palestinians would do with this opportunity to bloody a distracted Israel.

How would any of this be good for American national security interests?

Should Israel trust anyone but itself to enforce the Syrian agreement? History clearly answers with a resounding “no.”

Just a few examples:

1. A unanimous UNSC Resolution 1701 after the Second Lebanon War declared: “[T]he disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon… no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.” Today Hezbollah effectively controls Lebanon with 125,000 missiles, none ever stopped by the impotent UN Interim Security force.

2. American policy over many administrations, including the Obama administration, until 2013 was unambiguous: no Iranian nuclear weapons capability. The promise was turned into a lie as UNSCR 2231 and the JCPOA guarantee Iran the right to an unlimited nuclear capability in 10-15 years with international approval.

3. On to chemical weapons promises. Remember when secretary of state John Kerry told the world, “We got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out” while national security adviser Susan Rice claimed that president Obama got Syria to “verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile forever.”

So much for pieces of paper guaranteeing regional security.

Have Tillerson and Co. learned anything from the broken promises of the last administration, which American allies still point to as one of the fundamental reasons of lost trust for American guarantees? Is this administration interested in repairing American credibility?

While the media was focused on Fayetteville, Reuters reported that diplomats and weapons inspectors now believe that Syrian dictator Assad never gave up his chemical weapons.

Now Israel is supposed to trust an American- sanctioned agreement allowing Russian control of enforcing a cease-fire in Syria, the vital link in the Iranian land corridor. Considering that every negotiated cease-fire in Syrian eventually failed, Israel should be more than alarmed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming fourth visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin reveals Israel’s concern and the address of the major power player in the region, Russia, because of the American- created vacuum in the region.

In the Middle East, the only thing worse than overzealous American intervention is American abandonment.

Obama was wrong when he claimed that Syria would become Russia’s Vietnam, as Russia beyond all expectations now has new and upgraded military bases in Syria, including the port in Tartus and air base in Latakia.

The question now in this season of American political turmoil is, can the Trump administration rise to the occasion, reasserting American influence in the region for its own national security interests?

Or will it follow the devastating counterproductive policy of president Obama’s abandonment of the region and its allies that first led to the rise of Islamic State and Russian dominance, and next to the more consequential Iranian dominance of the Levant.

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.