Tag Archives: JNS

America Needs to Impose Consequences for Working with Iran

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel and Seth J. Frantzman

{Previously published in the JNS}

Why do we allow the Iraqi and Lebanese governments to have it both ways, receiving American taxpayer dollars while simultaneously working with Iranian-controlled militias?

Speaking at the summit of United Against Nuclear Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not only outlined all of Iran’s malevolent behaviors—from “murdering and torturing their own people, to killing Americans from Lebanon to Iraq, to harboring Al-Qaeda” while “protecting, hiding and preserving their nuclear know-how”—more consequentially warned nations that we will “sanction every violation of sanctionable activity” when it comes to Iranian trespasses.

So why do we allow the Iraqi and Lebanese governments to have it both ways, receiving American taxpayer dollars while simultaneously working with Iranian-controlled militias?

President Donald Trump has touted his maximum economic pressure campaign against Iran and its main proxy Hezbollah, claiming that it is the best way to undermine Iran. He has also avoided a kinetic military response to Iran’s many provocations against international law, including their attacks against shipping in international waters, the high-jacking of a British oil tanker and the attack against two major Saudi oil facilities, which was called an “act of war” by Pompeo.

Yet when it comes to the Iraqi and Lebanese governments who work with Iranian-controlled militias, consequences are not imposed. The prevailing logic is that these nations are too weak, and if we put pressure on their fragile governments, we will push them into the arms of Iran.

The evidence suggests otherwise, being more akin to a failed strategy that must be re-evaluated if our goal is to create some distance between Iran and those nations for the long term, while making any headway into stopping Iran from completing its land corridor controlling Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, while threatening Jordan, Israel and our Gulf allies. Iran views this American policy towards Iraq and Lebanon as a sign of weakness—something to take advantage of.

So when U.S. Assistant Secretary for Terrorism Financing Marshall Billingslea met with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and told him that according to AFP, increased U.S. sanctions on Hezbollah “will not target groups who are only tied to Hezbollah politically,’ “easing concern that the groups political allies, including [Lebanese] President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and Berri’s Anal Movement could be targeted,” it leaves you scratching your head to understand the logic.

David Schenker, Washington’s Assistant Secretary of Near Eastern Affairs, said “in the future, we will designate … individuals in Lebanon who are aiding and assisting Hezbollah, regardless of what their sect or religion is.”

So why do Aoun’s and Berri’s groups get a pass?

This policy is both contradictory and a counterproductive strategy for America’s stated goal of applying maximum pressure on Iran. It is based on the same failed logic European nations employ that allows Hezbollah’s “political” operatives to fundraise on European soil, knowing full well that the money ends up supporting terror in the treasury of Hezbollah’s military wing, a designated terrorist organization.

Ending this disingenuous legal fiction in Europe should be a priority of American policy. We should not use it to give cover to Lebanese or Iraqi political parties, ending the false distinction between the political and military wings of Hezbollah, or of Iraqi’s Shi’ite militias and Shi’ite political parties.

In Iraq, America has allowed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-controlled Shi’ite militias to be incorporated into the Iraqi military without any protest or consequences. We don’t know if American economic pressure with the threat of withholding aid for the Iraqi government would have worked, but what we do know with certainty is that the Iraqi government and military are dominated by Iran, with those Iranian Shi’ite militias controlling vast swaths of Iraq and Syria, connecting them to the strongest Iranian militia: Hezbollah in Lebanon.

American strategists also know that if U.S. troops leave Iraq, the sectarian war is likely to be reignited sooner than later, which is part of the logic to not make waves with the Iranian entrenchment into the Iraqi military and government.

It should be remembered that Iran controls Hezbollah; they are for practical purposes one and the same. We should not differentiate the political world of the Supreme leader from the IRGC, and we shouldn’t play a game claiming that just because a terrorist organization like Hezbollah provides humanitarian services, you can separate its many tentacles. For a Western mind, separation of church and state is logical. In this part of the world, however, religion and state are intertwined, as are the military and political activates of the revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran, and its proxy Hezbollah.

The AFP said the United States “encourage(s) Lebanon to take the necessary steps to maintain distance” from Hezbollah.

The worst way to help Lebanon create separation from Hezbollah is to facilitate the continued cooperation of Lebanese Sunni, Druze and Christian political leaders, while not penalizing them for working with Hezbollah.

It is certainly true that Hezbollah is in charge of Lebanon with veto power for all important military decisions, despite some members of Congress pretending that the LAF and other political groups are somehow independent of Hezbollah’s heavy hand.

America has a misguided strategy for the Middle East, thinking that if it puts consequences on nations or political organizations that work with Iran or Hezbollah, it will push them into the arms of the Shi’ite theocracy.

It’s time to tell Baghdad that America won’t support your actions if you continue to get in bed with Iran, and in Lebanon, it’s time to do the same—first, by stopping U.S. military aid to the LAF and converting it to humanitarian aid unless they commit to tangibly distance themselves from Hezbollah and Iran. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it must start on that path.

The challenges and risks of this strategy are real, but worth the risk. In Iraq, we should tell Mahdi that America needs a reliable ally, so we are going to independently send weapons to the Kurdistan Peshmegar, who have stood with the United States for more than 25 years, and hold the Iraqi government accountable for not sending money Baghdad is constitutionally obligated to send to the Kurdistan government. In Lebanon, we must lay down a clear marker that working with Iran and Hezbollah in any form crosses the line, and that consequences will follow.

Americans don’t want their taxpayer dollars supporting terror, even indirectly, and aid to Iraq and Lebanon that doesn’t aim to separate those nations from the world’s leading state sponsor of terror is an indirect form of helping Iran.

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.”

Seth J. Frantzman is executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis. A former assistant professor of American Studies at Al-Quds University, he covers the Middle East for “The Jerusalem Post” and is a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of “After ISIS: How Defeating the Caliphate Changed the Middle East Forever.”

Israel’s Self-Inflicted Black Eye

{Previously published in the JNS}

If Israel had better control of its foreign-policy public relations, lemonade could have been made out of lemons. Instead, the harsh critics of American mainstream media will now be able to depict Israel as being unable to tolerate criticism.

In the aftermath of Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s rejection of Israel’s offer for her to visit her ailing grandmother, which has completely exposed for all but the anti-Semite her real intentions, it’s important to step back and ask: Was Israel’s initial acceptance and then denial of the congresswomen’s visit to Israel a wise decision? What does it say about Israel’s public-relations strategies?

Brooke Goldstein of the Lawfare Project writing on Fox News said “Israel was wise to deny entry. … These freshmen Democratic congresswomen have built their brands on delegitimizing the Jewish state … (they) would have used a visit to Israel to give themselves an international platform to spew their hate.”

Her description of the congresswomen (Tlaib and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar) may be accurate, but denying them entry seemed unwise. Yes, they intentionally misled Israel regarding their dates of entry as part of a ploy to maximize their media coverage, and their presence would have been a circus for the international media who delight in anything that paints Israel in a bad light.

But denying entry after Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer had said that the women would be allowed to enter the country out of respect for the dignity of the office they hold—and not their personal views or policies they advocate—has for many Americans who do not fully understand the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict turned them into sympathetic figures, despite their odious views.

It has deflected attention from the spotlight that could have been focused on them during their visit, revealing a deep stain of anti-Semitism, and highlighting the frustrations of dealing with a Palestinian leadership under Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas that turned down more than 100 percent of the disputed land and eastern Jerusalem as its capital in 2007, which was confirmed last year by chief P.A. negotiator Saeb Erekat.

This would have been a perfect opportunity for Israel to make the case that this conflict is not a territorial issue for this generation of Palestinians, but that it’s still an existential issue to destroy the Jewish state entirely.

If Israel had better control of its foreign-policy public relations, lemonade could have been made out of lemons. Instead, the harsh critics of American mainstream media will now be able to depict Israel as being unable to tolerate criticism.

Would it have made a difference?

Gil Troy writing in The Jerusalem Post in 2017 asked if Israel’s bad PR is its own fault. He wrote, “We need Israeli policies that are good, not policies to make Israel look good. … We haven’t explained ourselves well, yet our efforts are doomed. Anti-Semitism, the world’s longest … hatred, persists no matter how brilliant our arguments. … Anti-Zionism grew … during the Oslo peace process, when Israel was conceding territory.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s advice to Israel to deny entry after Israel had said it would accept the two congresswomen was well-meant, but counterproductive. Israel should have politely rejected his advice, while thanking him for his extraordinary support of the Jewish state.

As Jonathan Tobin writing in JNS said, “This is a moment when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should have not only sought to establish a little distance between his government and the White House but also ignored the advice coming from the Twitter account of @realDonaldTrump. … Banning members of Congress, even anti-Semitic BDS supporters … is a grave mistake that will only help Israel’s foes.”

The president intentionally or not, interfered in Israeli politics during an election season, which will be counterproductive and a distraction from Israel’s real issues. This was an opportunity for Netanyahu to show some independence, while keeping the ever strained bipartisan U.S. support for Israel in Congress from being damaged.

As Herb Keinon of The Jerusalem Post wrote, “This will force Israel’s friends in the Democratic Party to condemn it, and it could impact on the positions presidential candidates will now take on Israel in the debates.”

The congresswomen’s trip was a no-win situation for Israel—a choice between bad or worse. However, Israel‘s vibrant democracy could have easily withstood these Israel-haters.

Was Israel’s action not to allow these women to visit Israel legal? Yes.

According to Professor Eugene Kontorovich  of the George Mason University School of Law, “As someone one who has argued that Israel should admit Omar and Tlaib, I must also say that the decision to bar them is legitimate. … Countries routinely deny visas to those with extremist views. The U.S. excludes people for ideologies fundamentally hostile to the U.S.”

But was it a wise decision? I think, on balance, not.

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.”

Hezbollah’s Largest Attack Tunnel and its Financial Supporters

{Previously published in the JNS}

The significance of the Hezbollah tunnel is clear. It is just one element of the multi-dimensional, long-term Iranian strategy to threaten and eventually destroy Israel, achieving in the process Iran’s hegemonic ambitions.

At the depth of a 25-story building underground near the quiet Israeli villages of Shtula and Zarit lies Hezbollah’s largest attack tunnel stretching 250 feet into Israeli territory, and at the other end traveling more than half a mile to emerge in a Lebanese home in the Shi’ite town of Ramyeh.

This is what I saw during a visit to Hezbollah’s most sophisticated “flagship” tunnel, arranged by the Israel Defense Forces’ Spokesperson office with my guide Lt. Col. (Res.) Sarit Zehavi, CEO of ALMA, a think tank that specializes in helping understand Israel’s challenges on its Iranian northern border with Lebanon and Syria.

There are at least six publicly acknowledged tunnels that have crossed into Israeli territory from Lebanon—all strategically poised for thousands of Hezbollah terrorists to simultaneously emerge near Israeli border towns on the Lebanese border, kidnapping, crippling, killing an untold number of Israeli civilians, while terrorizing the whole nation.

This was no amateur operation. The tunnel took years to build, and over the last decade, Iran and Hezbollah created an elite force (Radwan) whose sole purpose is to kill Jews on Israeli soil. The threat is real, especially after you see it with your own eyes.

And Iran, Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp will try again and again. They have tremendous patience, married to a fanatical Twelver Shi’ism ideology where Israel as a Jewish state must be destroyed in its entirety.

Who knows how many more tunnels are nearly complete but remain deep underground, just meters from the Israeli border on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line so Israel cannot find them, and which the U.N. peace-keeping force (UNIFIL) has displayed no interest in identifying?

Remember, UNIFIL’s primary mission is supposed to be to fulfill U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 to identify missiles coming into Lebanon for Hezbollah’s use. Of the nearly 150,000 missiles Hezbollah has accumulated since the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, UNIFIL have stopped or identified precisely zero missile transfers to Hezbollah. Not a single one.

In regard to the Hezbollah tunnels, the United Nations was grudgingly forced to acknowledge that Hezbollah tunnels crossed the Blue line into Israeli territory.

After a visit like this, my thoughts would normally focus first on how Israel can more effectively detect new tunnels on the Lebanese side of the border or how to prepare Israeli border towns to thwart an attack, but my thoughts went instead to the east, to Germany.

Today, there are nearly 1,000 Hezbollah fundraisers legally operating in Germany to raise money for a terrorist organization. Germany and most of the European Union, with the exception of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, differentiate between the military and political wings of Hezbollah, designating its military wing as terrorists but not its political wing. Hezbollah themselves has said that there is no difference or separation between their military and political wings.

Over the last few years, I have been trying to get this on the radar screen of Congress, its members I believe would be as outraged as when they found out that American taxpayer dollars supported Palestinian terrorists.

After the experiences of the 20th century, Germany should understand the hypocrisy involved in giving money to the non-military part of a regime intent on murder, Lebensraum and ethnic-cleansing.

The German parliament to its great credit recently differentiated itself from other European governments in another very important way to help fight against the delegitimization of Israel by passing legislation condemning the BDS movement as anti-Semitic. Yet they so far accept the idea that it’s decent to back the “political” organizers of Hezbollah because they also provide medical care, schools and social services for the local Shi’ite population from which they groom their militias to destroy the Jewish state.

With Hezbollah receiving fewer funds from Iran due to the effectiveness of U.S. sanctions despite European resistance to them, Hezbollah fundraising in Germany is a lifeline that must end if you care about subsidizing terror.

Germany and the rest of the European Union are trying to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal at any cost and are loath to antagonize Iran by designating Hezbollah altogether as a terrorist entity. Hezbollah is not independent of Iran; it is Iranian-controlled in its entirety. Germany needs to follow Britain’s lead; earlier this year, the United Kingdom broke from the European appeasement strategy to Iran and designated Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.

It is time for Germany and the European Union to stop aiding Hezbollah or pretending that parts of Hezbollah are not terrorists. Hezbollah has veto power in Lebanon and now controls vital agencies in the Lebanese government with large budgets to make sure the money continues to flow. American taxpayer dollars go to the Lebanese Armed Forces, who are forced to look away and sometimes work with Hezbollah.

The significance of the Hezbollah tunnel is clear. It is just one element, albeit a significant one, of the multi-dimensional, long-term Iranian strategy to threaten and eventually destroy Israel, achieving in the process Iran’s hegemonic ambitions.

However important the tunnels are, they cannot distract Israel from its most serious focus for survival, keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of the likes of the ayatollah, who would be happy to go down in history as the great warrior of God who laid waste to the Jewish nation in a fiery cataclysm.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. Dr. Mandel 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.”