Tag Archives: MEPIN

The Senate’s Role in Military and International Affairs

{Previously published by the JNS}

U.S. President Joe Biden ordered airstrikes late last week in eastern Syria against the Iranian-controlled militias, Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada. This was in retaliation for their most recent attack against an American base in northern Iraq (Kurdistan) that injured an American soldier and killed allied personnel.

According to Politico, “The Biden administration is taking heat from fellow Democrats as lawmakers pressure the White House to provide a legal justification for (the) airstrike…giv(ing) new ammunition to lawmakers who want to roll back broad presidential war powers (claiming) offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional.”

For years, I have written and urged members of Congress to exert their constitutional role in foreign affairs and not be a rubber stamp for executive actions, whether they are kinetic or diplomatic. Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Tim Kaine of Virginia—members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations—claim that Congress must be consulted according to the War Powers Act (2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq) for military actions. Their goal is transparent: extricate America from its forever wars in the Middle East. Last year, the Democratic-controlled House voted to end military actions against Iran after the U.S. strike against Iranian terror mastermind Gen. Qassem Soleimani for directing strikes against the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and bases in Iraq.

Although I disagree that the president has to clear all military actions with Congress, Congress does have a right to demand that they be briefed on significant engagements. Their opinion is to be taken seriously. However, the final decision is still with the president. Senators have many ways of punishing a sitting president if he/she does not take their advice with the proper respect it deserves.

Yet such punctilious study of the Constitution, as the senators claim, regarding the controversial use of war powers by this president is absent in their support of Biden’s desire to rejoin America’s most consequential treaty in 50 years without a Senate vote as proscribed by the Constitution.

The importance of the Iran nuclear deal—or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—and its binding consequences demand the Senate’s deliberation and approval. Murphy and Kaine were against using the constitutional standard for treaties in 2015 and remain curiously silent today for members who demand that America follow the rule of law regarding the War Powers Act, which is legislative but doesn’t have the gravitas of the Constitution itself.

The Constitution demands that the president make treaties with the Senate’s advice and consent, providing two-thirds of the Senate vote in favor (Article II, section 2). Murphy and Kaine want to check presidential power concerning military actions, which is their prerogative. However, abandoning the demand that the Senate be presented with the JCPOA as a treaty smacks of politicization that undermines American national security interests and the American people’s will.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Texas), a longtime anti-war advocate who also favors limiting presidential military actions, should be applauded for honesty. She makes it clear that military action should be stopped so as not to handicap America’s return to the Iran nuclear deal. This is something most advocates of the JCPOA choose not to articulate, hoping that the American people will not catch on. This is the same logic used by the Obama administration in not adding sanctions for Iran’s malevolent behavior after 2015, lest it cause Iran to walk away from its legacy foreign-policy achievement.

Lee’s wing of the party wants to give Iran a pass on attacking Americans and American bases. To say nothing of attacking its own people, being complicit in the Syrian genocide and its role in the humanitarian disaster in Yemen—all to rejoin a nuclear deal that guarantees a revolutionary Islamist Republic nuclear weapons while it vows to destroy the State of Israel and burn effigies of the Great Satan.

Unfortunately, advocates like Murphy, Kaine and Lee subscribe to the discredited idea that the nuclear agreement ends Iran’s ability to have a nuclear weapon. Although former President Barack Obama said the JCPOA “cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to the bomb,” he also said that in 2028, just seven years from now, “breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.”

So is a temporary pause in its nuclear program, which would end sanctions and empower this malign regime, something any president should be able to do of his or her own accord? The financial rewards of sanctions relief should be reserved for an indefinite end of their nuclear program, the end of the sunset provisions, and nothing less, something the current JCPOA does not do.

So which is it: Senators and the Constitution only when it is politically convenient, or doing what the Senate is supposed to do and look beyond the political fray and prioritize the Constitution and American national security interests?

As former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren and Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in Jan. 21 article “The Case Against the Iran Deal” in The Atlantic: “Reviving the JCPOA will ensure either the emergence of a nuclear Iran or a desperate war to stop it.” It is hard to believe that Kaine and Murphy would want that.

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 the senior editor for security at “The Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

A Cold Egyptian-Israeli Peace Undermines Both Culture and Security

by Marwa Maziad and Eric Mandel

{Previously published in The National Security Magazine}

Recently, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet in Egypt for the first time in a decade to discuss their shared interests. This includes the growing threat of their political Islamist adversaries, Iran, Qatar, and Turkey. The agenda consists of improving economic ties, finding new opportunities created by Israel’s normalization with Arab Gulf nations, and exploring ways that Egypt could facilitate talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. What is missing is the desire to restart a people-to-people exchange to strengthen the peace accord, arguably essential for long-term regional integration and stability.

President Sisi sees the handwriting on the wall. He knows the Biden administration will be more critical of Egypt than previous ones. Sisi sees Egypt as part of a coalition of Arab states and Israel, strategizing together to mitigate the consequences of Biden’s plan to turn back towards Iran, as he rebalances American relationships in the Middle East away from the Arab Quartet (Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain) by rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran nuclear agreement).

American sanctions relief will inevitably be part of rejoining the nuclear deal. It will embolden Iran and be taken as a sign by its Islamist partners to challenge Egypt and its allies. Turkey wants sovereignty in the Eastern Mediterranean energy corridor, while Iran desires a Mediterranean naval base on the Syrian coast. Qatar, the political Islamists’ banker, believes it has the upper hand over the United States because it hosts America’s Central Command and U.S. Air Force Command headquarters at its al Udeid air base. How the new rapprochement between Qatar and the Gulf States will translate into any Islamist moderation or cooperation against Iran is a big unknown.

According to the American Security Council Foundation, “For ordinary Egyptians, a combination of opposition to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, lingering hostility from when the countries were at war and antipathy from some officials means that contact with Israelis is rare. The ties that do exist are often secret… The so-called cold peace is the result of a dual approach by Cairo in which it engages in a warm relationship at the top, but still limits social and institutional ties, in part due to fear of losing public legitimacy.”

But does this strategy of maintaining a cold peace between the peoples help long-term Egyptian security interests, especially in light of a new Middle East where political Islamism is an ascending threat?

President Sisi should consider that one possible strategy to indirectly strengthen Egypt’s relationship with America is to draw closer to America’s closest friend in the Middle East, Israel. The Biden administration and the majority of Congress will favorably view an opportunity to warm the relationship between the two American allies through economic and personal interactions.

The choice is not clear cut. Some might argue that it is in Egypt’s interest to not only preserve the treaty but to strengthen it, as political Islamists want nothing better than to undermine the accord, create distrust in the Egyptian public, and threaten Sisi’s political legitimacy. But Egypt doesn’t want Israel taking it for granted, especially as the most populous Arab nation of over one hundred million people that took the risk to sign a peace agreement.

Both Egypt and Israel know they need their peace treaty to endure. Political Islamism’s goal is to weaken that treaty and eventually take over Egypt. The treaty’s Achilles heel is the lack of human interaction between the two peoples. Although the cold peace has survived for over forty years, there is nothing inevitable about it lasting for another forty years. According to Ephraim Inbar, director of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), the distrust is “rooted [in] cultural and religious barriers” with the Arab world viewing Israel as an “alien body.” Although Morocco’s, Bahrain’s, and the United Arab Emirates’ relationship with Israel is new, the level of interaction between their peoples has already surpassed Egyptian and Israeli exchanges over the last thirty years.

Why should this matter? Some experts will say that as long as their respective military and intelligence services’ cooperation is strong, the soft power of people-to-people interactions is of minor consequence. With the common enemy of political Islamism threatening both nations, this should be enough, and taking the risks of changing the Egyptian people’s perception of Israelis is a bridge too far to cross.

Unfortunately, as evident from the Arab uprisings of the past decade, political discontent can rise anew over time. In a world controlled by malign social media forces, Islamists have become experts not only in riling up discontented populaces but can coordinate uprisings by merely pressing a few keystrokes on a computer, instantaneously sending their rallying messages of destabilization to millions. The Brotherhood and Salafists brought the Islamist President Mohamed Morsi to Egypt’s presidency in 2012. There is no guarantee that next time the Egyptian people will be able to throw off the yoke of political Islamism as they did with the Egyptian military’s help, one year after Morsi’s rise to power.

Egypt needs stability, intelligence, economic security for its people, and military prowess to survive in a world where its rivals, Turkey, Qatar, and Iran, are looking to destabilize it. The Turkish-Qatari alliance would like a compliant and like-minded Egyptian leader like Morsi. This is not a war between Sunnis and Shiites, but a confrontation between moderate Sunni Arab states and ideological political pan-Islamists.

Real stability would need a new approach. It is crucial that Egypt’s people self-examine their beliefs about who their friends and enemies are. Today the Egyptian people still see the Jewish state more as an enemy than a friend. The memory of four wars, 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, still resonates strongly with them. During the Mubarak era, contrary to the state’s official stance of peace, the media, schools, and mosques at the societal level portrayed Israel as a perpetual enemy. To President Sisi’s credit, he has hesitantly begun to change this dynamic, and his invitation to Netanyahu is a good first step.

Things may be looking up for the relationship. According to a report in the Times of Israel, Israel’s new Ambassador to Egypt Amira Oron believes relations are already improving. Oron says that new possibilities for cooperation are emerging in Mediterranean energy development.

For their part, Israelis have not been able to find common ground with the Palestinian Arabs, who have the sympathy of their fellow Arabs. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, what matters is the Egyptian people see Israel as victimizing their brethren. Arab nations making peace with Israel today had become frustrated with Palestinian intransigence, that the Palestinian Authority chose not to negotiate with Israel when it offered East Jerusalem as their capital and 100 percent of the West Bank with land swaps in 2008.

Political Islamism has weaponized the Palestinian issue. Egypt need not double down by placating their populace with more criticism of Israel but begin the complicated process of changing the way the Egyptian people view Israel. An excellent place for Egypt to start would be to offer to broker negotiations with Israel based on two states for two peoples, a Palestinian Arab state and a Jewish state, with Palestinian refugees welcomed by the Palestinian entity.

Egypt has joined moderate Arab states, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Morocco, and Bahrain, in opposing the rise of the political Islamists. Morocco cut off relations with Iran two years ago because it supported insurgents in Western Sahara, and the Gulf States fear that Iran will try to reduce them to satraps, as they have done to Lebanon. With the United States as a less reliable ally, as it turns away from the Middle East and focuses on its greatest threat, China, the moderate Arab states, and Israel will need to work together as never before.

A new Egyptian initiative that would change the messaging about Israel, as it appears in their government communications, national media, schools, and mosques, would help strengthen the treaty. If there is an end to Covid-19 travel restrictions, encouraging the Egyptian people to visit Israel and welcoming Israelis to Egypt would begin to break down barriers of suspicion. Egyptians already have business partnerships with Israelis through the QIZ arrangements that allow both to export to the United States.

Inviting more Egyptian businesses to partner in the Israeli economy in shared enterprises would be a winning proposition. This can come in baby steps and follow the path of their Emirati cousins. Reconciliation of the peoples would set an example to Palestinians to create a new playing field to resolve the conflict once there will be a younger generation of Palestinian leadership, allowing both the Israelis and Palestinians to find a compromise.

A year ago, no one predicted 50,000 Israelis would be visiting Dubai in a month’s time, and many Arabs are coming to Israel to investigate business opportunities. Thinking out of the box means recognizing that the old paradigm of scapegoating Israel undermines Egyptian national security interests. President Sisi is on the right road; now, he needs the support of like-minded moderate Arab leaders, journalists, and academics, to secure Egypt’s future.

Marwa Maziad is a Non-Resident Scholar at the Middle East Institute.

Eric Mandel is a Jerusalem Post columnist and the founder of the Middle East Political and Information Network.

A Return to the Iran Nuclear Deal Would Increase the Chances of War

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Report}

For the third time in 2021, the US recently flew B-52 bombers along the Iranian coast, in what The Wall Street Journal called “a show of the deterrence (to) reassure allies in the region.”

Unfortunately, both the supreme leader of Iran and America’s regional allies know this is more show than a serious threat. They know US military options under Biden are far off the table, as his administration has repeatedly telegraphed its intention to allow Iran to rejoin the nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by merely returning to compliance with the flawed 2015 deal, without demanding any significant changes, despite Iran’s egregious behavior over the last five years.

The administration refuses to acknowledge that Iran desperately wants to rejoin a deal that was skewed in its favor. It will relieve the Iranians’ financial predicament, solidify the regime’s repressive grip on its people, while allowing the pathway to nuclear weapons capabilities the JCPOA granted over time. The administration’s analysis is that unless America enables Iran to return to the original deal, hardliners may be victorious in this year’s Iranian election, marching more quickly to a nuclear weapon. This completely misreads the situation. As Alexander Grinberg of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security wrote, there is no difference between so called “moderates” and hardliners; both want to return to the deal. The only difference is their tactics to do it.

If you want to understand how Israel views the threat of an Iranian return to the JCPOA, just listen to the recent words of the IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Aviv Kochavi. In unprecedented public remarks, he said that if the US returns to the JCPOA, it will be considered an “intolerable threat… we cannot allow it.” He went on to state that he is ordering new operational plans to confront Iran this year. This is not bravado. After years of speaking to experts, military officials, politicians, and intelligence experts, I have concluded that a return to the original JCPOA means a likely regional war.

The only question is tactics. Mossad director Yossi Cohen, a hard-liner on the nuclear agreement and who has had an amicable relationship with Biden, recommends quiet behind-the-scenes lobbying in contrast to the more public approach of Kochavi. Yet both are close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is no wallflower in letting the world know that the current JCPOA is a deal breaker.

No nation, especially the US, should be surprised if Israel decides to act if the “new” version of the JCPOA does not indefinitely end Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon. JCPOA opponents’ greatest fear is that Iran will return to the deal, knowing that it will become immune to a future attack from its enemies once it becomes a nuclear power. If the Biden team does not want the region to spiral out of control, they would be wise to listen to the words of one of Israel’s most astute military and intelligence experts, retired Maj.-Gen. Yaakov Amidror, Israel’s former national security adviser, “In a situation where the United States returns to the old nuclear agreement with Iran, Israel will have no choice but to act militarily against Iran to prevent it from manufacturing a nuclear weapon,” he says.

It is that simple, and Amidror also has Netanyahu’s ear. Israel takes Iran’s supreme leader at his word. His goal is the “elimination” of the Zionist entity that must “be uprooted and destroyed.” To Western sensibilities, this seems just incendiary rhetoric. US President Joe Biden must think again about how his decision about how to reenter the JCPOA can make all the difference in the world. No one wants a regional war, least of all Israel. But when faced with the potential for another Holocaust, Israel will not shy away from preemptively acting. To avoid conflict, Biden should not dismiss Israel’s red lines like US president Barack Obama did, paying lip service to their legitimate security concerns.

In 1981, Israel struck the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osirak. In 2007 Israel struck the North Korean-built Syrian reactor that was undetected by America. Today, Iran can enrich uranium to 90%, deliver a nuclear warhead on its advanced missile system, and is working on compartmentalizing the core of a nuclear warhead. Today America has little idea how far along Iran’s weaponization program is, as the JCPOA didn’t allow intrusive inspections in its military facilities. In fact, the JCPOA didn’t require a single centrifuge or nuclear facility to be destroyed, something JCPOA advocates fail to acknowledge but which Israel is well aware of.

If Biden signs onto a JCPOA agreement that does not significantly change the agreement’s sunset provisions, it will tie Israel’s hands. It will then be forced to make a fateful decision to either live with a nuclear weapons-capable Iran, hoping mutually assured destruction will be a deterrent, or preemptively attack Iran and bear all the risks of retaliatory attacks. The international diplomatic fallout resulting from a preemptive attack will be led by the West, sanctioning Israel for its aggression.

The refrain of the Obama-Biden administration officials is the choice is binary: return to the JCPOA or you are asking for war. They have it backward; returning to this deal without significant improvement means war. They just don’t get it. As Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in The Atlantic, “Reviving the JCPOA will ensure either the emergence of a nuclear Iran or a desperate war to stop it.”

During the years after the agreement went into effect in 2015, the same team that is now in place in the Biden administration did not enact a single new sanction for their miserable human rights record, growing missile development, support of terrorism, or support of Islamists, despite promises to the contrary. Sanctions relief today will support clandestine nuclear work in uninspected military sites and support Hezbollah and Iranian controlled militias throughout the Middle East. Billions of dollars will return to the coffers of the supreme leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Is there a plan to deal with this beyond the hope for diplomatic engagement where the US would have lost its leverage?

Let’s take the Biden administration at its word – that it will rejoin the JCPOA. What does that mean?

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that there will be “no significant amendments added before rejoining the agreement.” Translation: the old deal is back with the hope that someday the Iranians may grace the Biden administration with another negotiation to address the failings of the JCPOA and their bad behavior. If you have seen the North Korean-American nuclear negotiations, don’t watch this sequel, it will be the same sad story, undermining American interests and increasing the chance that Israel will preemptively attack Iranian nuclear facilities.

Israel has contemplated preemptive attacks against Iranian nuclear facilities many times over many years. Some thought it would act in 2007 when a politically manipulated American National Intelligence Estimate claimed Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program, something disproved when Israel stole the Iranian secret atomic archive in 2018. As Oren and Halevi wrote, “The archive confirmed that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program did not stop in 2003 but was merely split into overt and covert channels.” Netanyahu and his former defense minister Ehud Barak were reportedly in favor of an attack in 2012 but were thwarted by their security cabinet.

There should be little doubt that no matter who is prime minister after Israel’s fourth election in two years, the decision on a pre-emption strike will rise to the top of the agenda if the US returns to the deal it struck in 2015. That deal was not popular with Israelis, the American people, or Congress at the time, as evidenced by the fact that Obama never submitted it to the Senate as a treaty, knowing he was 24 senate votes short of approval. So it remains an unsigned document, not a treaty, to this day.

Fast forward to 2021’s hyper-polarization. You may find some Democrats in the Senate who were against the JCPOA in 2015 but may now be more likely to find some rationale to favor the JCPOA, even though its flaws remain while Iran has become an even more dangerous and authoritarian state. Will Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who voted against the original deal, claim in 2021 that some minor reform by the Biden team that does not substantially change the agreement’s essence allow him to vote in favor of a “new” JCPOA agreement? In 2015, he chose not to lobby a single senator against voting in favor of the deal despite speaking an excellent game to anti-JCPOA constituent groups. Will he choose politics over principle this time?

Iran is a revolutionary Islamist country whose core beliefs demand the extermination of the Jewish state. To western ears, this is unfathomable, but it is nevertheless true. Failing to understand the foundational core of Iran’s regime’s founding and beliefs dramatically increases the chance that Israel will need to strike Iran with all of the profound and dangerous consequences it will produce for the region and the world.

So will Israel strike? When will it strike? How will it strike?

Israel knows it will face a multi-front war and need to figure out how to survive a conventional missile onslaught from Hezbollah, Hamas, Iranian controlled Syria and Iraqi militias, and from Iran itself. We saw how devastating the Iranian cruise missile attack on Saudi oil facilities was last year, and Israel fears these capabilities even with its multitiered anti-missile defenses.

How would the Biden administration respond to a preemptive Israeli attack? Would they act like Henry Kissinger in 1973, telling associates to let Israel get a bloody nose before resupplying to gain leverage for the future?

Israel’s preemption would not necessarily be immediate as it would need to monitor the Iranian nuclear timeline, but once Iran gets close to that line in the sand, it will act. Cyber and clandestine attacks will continue. But conventional wisdom says Israel will need a kinetic attack in Iran to delay its program and repeat when it again comes close to crossing the nuclear weapons threshold again. The new variable is the Abraham Accords and the open relationship between Israel and Sunni states. Israel would likely coordinate defense and intelligence sharing, as the Gulf states share the same mortal threat, but Israel will fear its plans could be leaked and will keep its timing close to the vest.

Administration officials claim that the maximum pressure campaign has failed because Tehran has not rolled back its nefarious activity. The problem with this logic is that for the two and a half years Obama remained in office after the JCPOA went into effect, none of the moderation Obama anticipated happened. Iran became an emboldened hegemon. Today Iran deserves maximum sanctions for its clandestine nuclear work, to keep maximum leverage to negotiate a better deal, and impose a cost on their worsening human rights abuses and their support of terrorism.

Biden has the power to set the region on its course. What will he choose?

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

Will Riyadh, Manama be Iran’s next targets?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

It has been seven years since an Iranian member of parliament, who reportedly was close to the Supreme Leader, claimed Iran already controlled four Arab capitals. This occurred after Iranian supported Shia rebels, the Houthis, conquered the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. So what are Iran’s next targeted Arab capitals? 

Iran is more patient than the West, willing to wait years for the right opportunity to pounce. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the capital of the desert Kingdom, is undoubtedly high on the theocratic Islamist Republic’s list, especially as the holiest cities in the Islamic world, Mecca and Medina, are ruled by their rival, the Sunni Saudis. American policy makers underestimate Iran’s desire to export its revolutionary message; rejoining the JCPOA will do nothing to moderate their determination to change the face of the Islamic world by in effect conquering the region.

Today, Iran effectively controls Beirut, Lebanon through its Hezbollah division. Baghdad, Iraq is under Iranian influence through control of the Iraqi Parliament’s pro-Iranian majority, and their affiliated Iraqi militias under the Iranian Republican Guards Corps’ authority. Damascus, Syria is in the Iranian camp because Syrian President Assad acquiesces in Iranian control throughout southern Syria being grateful for them saving his despicable regime, and also powerless to resist their entrenchment there anyway. 

And in Sanaa, Yemen, the Iranian proxy Houthis are on the march again, looking to permanently control the vital Bab El Mandeb passage between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. This strategic choke point connects the Mediterranean Sea with South Asia and the Far East through the Suez Canal. 

The Iranians next Arab capital to target could be Manama, Bahrain. Iran considers Shiite majority Bahrain its own. If the Iranians feel empowered by American weakness over time, Bahrain may be targeted by Iran to test America’s resolve to curb Iran’s imperialist ambitions. If this occurred and America did not back Saudi efforts to fight an Iranian incursion on the western bank of the Persian Gulf, a stone’s throw from Saudi territory, it would be a major destabilizing development for the region. The JCPOA’s sanction relief fuels the fire.

The Biden administration is gaining a reputation for itself in the Middle East as willing to talk the tough talk against adversaries, but America’s Sunni Arab allies don’t believe Biden’s crew are willing to walk the walk of tangible actions that match their rhetoric. Timothy Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen said the US is “not going to allow Saudi Arabia to be target practice,” reacting to the recent increase in missile and drone attacks against the kingdom. Yet White House spokesperson Jen Psaki undermined the credibility of that support by saying, “We’ve made clear from the beginning that we are going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia.” The Iranians are loving it.

Noting more contradictory messages, according to AP, the State Department warned Houthi rebels to stop killing civilians, “just 48 hours after moving to strike the group from a terrorism blacklist.” State Department spokesman Ned Price said, We urge the Houthis to refrain from destabilizing actions.” I am sure they and their Iranian patrons are shaking in their boots. 

The message is clear to Iran: rejoin the JCPOA, and we will only challenge you rhetorically. In reality, we will turn a blind eye on your missile development, attacks on US allies, undermining Iraq, and your human rights behavior, from targeting gays and women who don’t toe the line, to assassinating your political opponents. Empty rhetorical warnings. Sounds like the Obama administration all over again. 

Just think of the chemical weapons red-line that Syria crossed and Obama blinked, undermining American credibility throughout the world. Biden’s resurrection of the Obama administration’s Middle East team sends at best mixed signals to Israel, while making our Gulf allies feel more vulnerable to abandonment. 

As the former director general of the Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs General Yossi Kuperwasser said, Iran doesn’t believe President Biden would put all military operations on the table. Iran is a good poker player and they know the current administration is bluffing.

BUT THE most prized Iranian Arab capital is Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Supreme Leader and his Shiite revolutionary regime’s primary desire is the Arabian peninsula where Mecca and Medina, the holiest cities in Islam are located, and it galls them that are under Sunni control. Shiite Iran believes, and with some justification, that Shiism has been delegitimized by Sunnis over the centuries. The Islamic Republic of Iran believes its destiny is to control the Middle East and beyond, based on a dangerous mix of modern political Islamism with ancient Persian imperialism.

Last year’s devastating cruise missile attacks against Saudi Arabia, emanating from Iranian-controlled proxies in Iraq and Yemen, exposed the soft underbelly of Saudi defenses. Despite its size and strategic depth, Saudi Arabia’s vastness is also a vulnerability where anti-missile and drone defense is a more complex challenge than in Israel, whose Achilles heel is the opposite, having too little strategic depth. 

The message Iran hears from America is that the US is distancing if not abandoning Saudi Arabia. Based on this assessment Iran is going to test American limits to see how far it can go before the US is forced to act and support its Sunni allies. Nothing makes this more explicit then when the administration repeatedly says the nuclear agreement is entirely separate from all of Iran’s other malevolent activity, and sanctions will be rescinded by simply returning to the JCPOA. 

Iran’s strategy is to increase their provocative behavior as a bargaining chip to gain leverage in negotiations with America. For example, Iran will be rewarded in negotiations for stopping Iranian-controlled attacks against Saudi Arabia, knowing that billions of dollars are on their way into the Supreme Leader’s and the Republican Guards’ coffers. They can always return to their aggressive behavior at a more opportune time when America is distracted with other foreign policy challenges. 

Saudi Arabia is a flawed ally seen by the Biden administration as murderers in light of the Khashoggi assassination. In the words of President Biden, it is a “pariah” nation. Yet its strategic location and the free flow of oil is still a Western priority for the stability of the world economy. 

The best way to change the Saudis’ human rights behavior and curb its nuclear ambitions in response to the JCPOA is to quietly pressure the Kingdom behind the scenes, with an implied threat of a distancing of relations if it doesn’t improve its behavior. However, the Biden administration’s public chastisements and public abandonment threats only embolden the Iranians, destabilizing the region by inviting Iran to take more risks against Saudi Arabia through their proxy network. And it will force Saudi Arabia to turn to China as their superpower friend, something not in America’s national security interest. The Chinese are already binding many of the region’s players through their Belt and Road economic initiative.                                                                                                                                                 
It was music to the Iranian Supreme Leaders’ ears when Biden said he “would make it very clear we were not going to … sell more weapons” to Saudi Arabia.” 

Biden has already snubbed the Crown Prince (MbS), stating that he will not speak with him directly, only his ailing father. But MbS is the de facto leader and will likely control Saudi Arabia for the next 50 years.  

But just as I would recommend that Biden speak to MbS, I even more strongly recommend that he talk directly to the only real power in Iran, the Supreme Leader. The claim that the Iranian President has independent decision-making power is ludicrous. It plays into their negotiating strategy, which they used brilliantly to their advantage from 2012-2015 with John Kerry, Robert Malley and Wendy Sherman. 

America’s goal for the Middle East is stability, not the virtually impossible resolution of it many age-old conflicts. The best path for American, Israeli, and allied national security interests is to encourage and nurture the Abraham Accords, which are the most effective non-kinetic counterweight to Iran at this time. 

Desperately trying to revive the current form of the JCPOA without concurrently prioritizing the normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia sends the wrong message to Iran. American weakness increases the chance for Iran to take aggressive actions and the possibility of Shiite control of Saudi Arabia in this generation. That is something not in American national security interests, unless we want to be pulled back into another Middle Eastern conflict.

The writer is the senior editor for security at The Jerusalem Report. He is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House of Representatives, and their foreign policy advisers. His work appears in The Hill, RealClearWorld, Defense News, JNS, Thinc., JTA, the Forward, Israel-Gulf Report, and Israel Hayom among others.

Normalizations Must Be Nurtured and Act as a Model for Other Nations

{Previously published in The Israel Gulf Report}

During a visit to Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Dubai two years ago, it became clear to me that the people and leadership of the Gulf States were not only amenable but anxious to develop relations with Israel, harboring no deep resentments. My group included two Israelis with dual citizenship, and when it was revealed they were Israelis, only cordial relations followed. But normalization still seemed a bridge too far to cross in the immediate future.

The magnitude and potential of the new ground-breaking normalization agreements with Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco, and Sudan, should not be taken for granted. Success is not inevitable, as all parties must take extreme care to nurture, maintain, and grow these relationships for regional stability, where predatory nations like Iran will be on the look-out for cracks in relationships to undo this process.

Critics have disparaged normalization as only transactional relationships, not based on interests that are long-lasting. What they fail to see is that almost all international diplomatic relationships are created and sustained not by the goodness of nation-states but with the expectation of mutual benefit to advance both nations’ interests. One exception was the American recognition of Israel in 1948, an almost entirely valued-based diplomatic recognition by President Truman, where his American State department made a strong case to throw Israel under the bus for Arab oil. 

Today’s new normalization agreements are essential for all of the parties’ economic interests and security benefits. First world economies like Dubai and Israel can quickly take advantage of each other’s expertise and access to the world. At the other end of the spectrum, Sudan got off the American terror watch list by recognizing Israel and would be smart to let Israel help advance its third world economy.

Muslim majority nations that don’t prioritize Islamism realize that Israel is a necessary addition not only for economic and security interests but also because it will help advance their relations with America, still the only democratic superpower in the world. Despite its Islamism, even Turkey has maintained strong economic ties with Israel, although Turkish President Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman Islamism and hegemonic goals outweigh the return to a normal relationship.

Today’s new normalization agreements are essential for all of the parties’ economic interests and security benefits. 

Once the taboo of making peace with Israel is not held hostage to Palestinian intransigence, other Muslim nations will follow. However, for normalizations to be long-lasting, they must include the people-to-people interactions that are now occurring with Bahrain and the UAE. It cannot just be the military-to-military or leadership-to-leadership relationships that define the cold peace between Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. 

The new normalization agreements should prompt the Egyptians and Jordanians not just to use Israel for their intelligence and security interests but to put their toe in the water to begin to end the endemic anti-Jewish rhetoric that permeates their government-controlled media, schools, and mosques. It will lead to a more sustainable relationship for their self-interests, based on human interactions between ordinary citizens to break down the barriers of hate. 

Turning Egyptian and Jordanian normalization with the Jewish state warm after years of demonization and scapegoating will require overcoming difficult obstacles and the need for American leadership. They must come to see that the coldness of the current “cold peace” is against their long-term survival. With the rise of political Islamism from Iran, Turkey, and Qatar, and the failing states in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria, moderate Muslim nations need Israel as much as Israel needs them. 

The nurturing of the seedlings of reconciliation and normalization could easily be disrupted from both within and outside their countries. At present, the fear of Iran is the glue that holds together the new relationships between the Gulf states and Israel, as well as the cold peace with Egypt and Jordan. But as with everything in the Middle East, new and unanticipated challenges will emerge that will require the creation of crisis teams to deal with all types of contingencies and threats so that the relationships can be kept on a sound footing. 

America is turning east to confront China, and Muslim nations know that they may be more self-reliant than in the past. Cruise missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and Shiite militias undermining fragile states like Iraq are likely to increase, bringing instability and the possibility of regional war ever closer. That is why the normalization process’ success is necessary for the stability of the moderate Sunni nations. They will need to work in concert with Israel when Iran decides to cross a line that could set the region on fire. 

Iran is in Israel’s backyard in the Golan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Gaza, while the Gulf states know that they are no match for Iran if the American military leaves the region. They will need to develop some publicly expressed security alignment with the most effective military force in Israel as a hazard warning to Iran.

Hopefully, President-elect Biden and his new foreign policy team will value the new diplomatic relationships and not neglect them simply because the Trump administration created them. I America wants to pivot east and minimize its footprint in the Middle East, it will need to nurture the new normalization while working to develop new ones. Putting their efforts into a return to Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution is the wrong path forward for Middle East stability at this time. And yes, transactional relationships are just fine as long as the people to people component is included. 

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House of Representatives, and their foreign policy advisers. He is Senior Editor for Security at The Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post. His work appears in The Hill, RealClearWorld, Defense News, JTA, JNS, Thinc., the Forward, and Israel Hayom, among others.

Do America’s Iran experts understand today’s Iran and its goals?

Ken Pollack, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute said, “For many years, I have assured people that it is easy to be an expert on Iran because there are really only two answers to any question… ‘I don’t know’ and ‘It depends’… Someday we may learn Iran’s true rationale and it may have nothing to do with anything that the United States or the West believes.”

This lesson in humility is in short supply today, especially among those advocating for President-elect Joe Biden to immediately rejoin the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal).

According to Politico, “A bipartisan coalition of former defense secretaries and diplomats is calling on Biden to swiftly rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.”

In the House of Representatives, the incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Greg Meeks, spearheaded a letter urging Biden to “rejoin the agreement,” which would in effect end sanctions, with “subsequent follow-on negotiations” to address any flaws in the original agreement.

Voluntarily giving up all of the leverage of the punishing sanctions, saying you expect reciprocity and fair play in return, would be equivalent to diplomatic malpractice.

BEFORE WE go headfirst back into an agreement with such profound national security implications for both America and Israel, wouldn’t it be wise for all of the experts, diplomats and politicians to take a deep breath and ask themselves, how much do my political views influence my recommendations? Responsibility dictates that all who weigh in, take the time and ask themselves challenging questions before “swiftly” rejoining what even supporters of the JCPOA call an imperfect deal.

1. Do you believe that rejoining the JCPOA will decrease Iran’s hegemonic ambitions, improve its human rights record, curtail its missile development or decrease its clandestine nuclear work?

2. Do you believe offering carrots such as ending sanctions will be reciprocated, knowing their malevolent behavior accelerated immediately after the JCPOA went into effect in 2015?

3. Do you believe pausing some of their nuclear activity in exchange for an unregulated Iranian nuclear weapons program in the future is a fair trade?

4. Will you call on Biden to impose crippling sanctions for their non-nuclear activities?

5. Do you believe the US will have any leverage for further negotiations if it relieves sanctions before renegotiating?

TO ANSWER any of these questions, you need to ask one more question: Is Iran of 2021 fundamentally different from the vision of Ayatollah Khomeini and the ideals which motivated the 1979 Iranian Revolution?  

Transparency is often in short supply in Iran, so it is anyone’s guess what is happening or what they think. One fatal flaw experts should disabuse themselves of is to believe that anyone other than the supreme leader can make significant decisions independently.

Once Ayatollah Khamenei passes, the extremist Revolutionary Guards’ influence will grow and the next supreme leader will be even more reliant on and under the influence of the Guards’ leadership.

Front-runners for supreme leader include Ebrahim Raisi, whose resume consists of the “mass executions of political prisoners” and the current ayatollah’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei, who was in charge of the crackdown of the Green Revolution in 2009 when millions took to the streets against the regime and were abandoned by President Obama in his hope for rapprochement with the regime.


Although the Iranian leadership’s priority is its survival, its core is revolutionary, which is often discounted by the experts. It views its Arab neighbors with condescension and believes that they should be subservient. The supreme leader’s decisions are based on religiosity and Shi’ite supremacy. Protracted negotiations are simply a tool used to mislead a gullible West and buy time, as they know the West is inpatient, while they strategize with a timeline in decades and centuries.

As Ken Pollack said, Iran’s goal is to dominate the region, promulgating a “philosophy of theocratic governance that he [Khamenei] believe[s] should be adopted by all Muslim nations, if not the entire world… to help them spark ‘Islamic’ revolutions of their own.”

According to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) of the supreme leader, a “second phase of the Islamic Revolution” will transform all of humanity into “a new Islamic civilization.”

EVEN THOUGH Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria are now under Tehran’s sway, experts still underappreciate Iran’s expansionist vision. For a religious nation, its ethics are suspect. It claims that it is against Islam having a nuclear weapon but for decades it has clandestinely been building its infrastructure while supporting terrorists of all stripes, including Sunnis, in its quest for dominance in the region.

Add to this a good dose of paranoia, some justified, and one questions how experts on Iran are comfortable granting them a glide path to a nuclear weapon in exchange for a temporary pause in accumulating nuclear material, without an American inspector ever allowed to visit a military nuclear site.

Some recommendations for our experts who are advising Biden:

Veteran Washington Post journalist David Ignatius says, “Sometimes in life, the best thing to do about a problem is nothing, at least initially. As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, that may be the best advice about the Middle East. Don’t hurry to restart nuclear negotiations with Iran. Setting that table will take a while, and our diplomacy should seek to stabilize the whole region – from Lebanon to Yemen – and not just revisit the Iranian nuclear file.”

WITH IRANIAN elections scheduled for 2021, the experts need to end the false distinction between Iranian good guys and bad guys, moderates vs. hardliners. President Hassan Rouhani was declared a moderate by the Obama administration and media, but in reality, he is the most moderate extremist in the Iranian leadership, as he is a true believer in the revolution’s goals.

He is an anti-American hardliner with a more moderate demeanor, who skillfully employs a foreign minister who hoodwinked an American secretary of state and his minions during the 2015 Iran negotiations.

Patience is the byword for the Biden Iran experts who are chomping at the bit to resurrect President Obama’s foreign policy legacy, blinded to the reality of Iranian leadership that will not fundamentally change and will continue to take advantage of Westerners who only see what they want to.

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate and House of Representatives and their foreign policy advisers. He is senior editor for security at The Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post. His work appears in The Hill, RealClearWorld, Defense News, JTA, JNS, Thinc., the Forward and Israel Hayom among others.

Analyzing Trump’s Middle East Peace

Chronicling latest attempt to untie Gordian knot of the ongoing conflict.

{Published previously by The Jerusalem Post}

Israel’s normalization of relations with Arab Gulf countries occurring before a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, previously presumed a prerequisite by the international community, now opens the door to new possibilities and a fresh approach to resolving the conflict, unencumbered by a Palestinian Authority veto.

As Aaron David Miller, a long-standing Middle East peace negotiator under many American presidents, said, the peace treaties “upended American thinking about the centrality of the Israel-Palestinian dispute long considered to be the core of the broader Arab-Israeli conflict.” The newly developing Arab relations with the Jewish state may now mean that President Donald Trump’s peace proposal, so disparaged by the international community, which failed to anticipate the possibility of such an Arab-Israeli rapprochement, may now deserve a new look. It offered a comprehensive plan and map that prioritized Israel’s security issues along with a contiguous Palestinian state on 70% of the land, albeit with bridges and tunnels. The proposal could form the basis for future negotiations if the PA prioritizes the economic advancement of its people over its desire to end the Jewish state.

Neville Teller’s new book is the first comprehensive examination of the Trump peace plan from its beginning in 2016 to its unveiling in January 2020, “set against the backdrop of a turbulent Middle East.” Any book that focuses on Trump will elicit a strong reaction even before the reader opens the first page. Teller bravely enters the lion’s den, chronicling the first three-plus years of the Trump administration’s attempt to untie the Gordian knot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Whether you think Trump is the most pro-Israel American ever, as the majority of Israeli Jews do, or you think his stopping Palestinian funding and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal are bad for America and Israel, as many progressive Americans do, his imprint on the region will reverberate for many years. Whether his peace plan will be seen as groundbreaking or irrelevant is not known.

During the tumultuous Trump years, there were so many policy decisions, some good, such as the US Embassy move to Jerusalem and some bad, such as his abandoning the Syrian Kurds. Therefore, reviewing his years in depth as Teller does is an important exercise in attempting to understand where the region may be headed, as the effects of his policies will echo well into the next administration.

What is fascinating in reading Teller’s excellent review of the region and the development of the Trump plan is how much we have already forgotten or perhaps never knew even occurred in the region since 2016. For that alone the book is worth reading. Teller presents a chronological history progressing toward the ultimate “Deal of the Century” while offering a historical record that will also be appreciated by serious students of the conflict.

WHAT THE Trump team realized and acted upon, but the preceding administrations refused to see, was the reality that the PA was incapable of signing an end of conflict agreement, including putting an end to the right of return for descendants of Palestinian refugees. So the thesis of the Trump team was to first turn to normalization between Israel and the Arab world to provide a cover for the Palestinian negotiators. The international community condemned the Trump plan because it did not follow their two-state formula, which had failed so many times before.

The book was written before Israel and the UAE and Bahrain normalized relations, but the signposts that the region was changing began when Trump moved the American embassy to Jerusalem and the Middle East didn’t implode. The Arab world barely reacted and the Palestinians didn’t launch another intifada.

As Teller writes, Trump wanted to be the one to solve the conflict by using his business experience as a guide, saying, “Deals are made when parties come together, they come to a table and they negotiate.” Trump’s strategy required an Arab buy-in, which is why his team spent the first few years repeatedly visiting the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan to lay the groundwork for the current normalization agreements and potential new relationships with Israel in the future. But the elephant in the room that motivated the Arab Muslim world to move on past the Palestinians was the shared common interest in thwarting Iran’s quest for hegemony and dominance in the region.

Teller presents the peace process evolution against the backdrop of the Syrian civil war, Iran’s malign influence in the region, and Saudi and Gulf state antagonism to Qatar, while incorporating all the players including Turkey, the PA and Hamas. He describes Trump’s approach to the Middle East as having “one firm objective – to confront Islamist extremism in the Middle East, and not wholly for its own sake, but as one vital element in a determined effort to broker an Arab-Israeli understanding leading to an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.” Interestingly, Teller says the Trump team “deliberately set no time limit on their enterprise, convinced that painstakingly slow consolidation of each small step along the way was the key to bringing their enterprise to a successful conclusion,” and understood correctly that the 1949 armistice line was not sacrosanct as a border, much less a defensible security line for Israel.

Neville Teller’s Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020 is a worthwhile read for anyone who cares about the Middle East, America and the US-Israel relationship. 

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, and senior editor for security at the Jerusalem Report/Jerusalem Post.

The Challenges for American and Israeli Democracy

{Previously published by the JNS}

The 2020 presidential election brought America’s fractured society into focus, as America is deciding whether to discard or restore its core societal values for the 21st century. Whereas Israeli Jews, from right to left, are overwhelmingly patriotic, American patriotism and exceptionalism have seemingly been stigmatized by the progressive left. Israelis will soon be going back to the polls, and the outcome will reflect where their society is headed. They are two democracies that share many similarities but also marked differences.

Was the Nov. 3 presidential election a referendum on the soul of the nation—a choice between either the stability of evolutionary change that has served America well for the last 250 years or a call for a revolution against an irretrievably flawed democracy?

Americans ask themselves what we stand for, what American freedom these days, and how to deal with disaffected minority populations?

These are just some of the questions Americans and other liberal democracies, including Israel, face in the age of rising populism, identity politics, right-wing extremism and far-left radicalism.

Israelis struggle to find the right balance between being both Jewish and democratic in a hostile environment, where their Palestinian neighbors and much of their Arab citizenry’s ultimate goal is eradicating the Jewish nature of the state. Can Israeli Jewish particularism be reconciled with 35 percent of its population that are either non- or anti-Zionist—i.e., Palestinian citizens of Israel and the anti-Zionist factions of the ultra-Orthodox?

Americans ask themselves if their universalist exceptionalism is still a beacon of light for democratic aspirations of people worldwide, as it has been since the end of World War II, or a fading light in the 21st century. For some of America’s left that defines the origins of the United States as born in the sin of 1619, when the first slaves came to Jamestown, our nation’s soul is irredeemably corrupted.

Although Joe Biden has become President-elect, he was not given an overwhelming mandate for radical change. His victory primarily was a rejection of President Donald Trump’s ad hominem attacks, fabrications and handling of the coronavirus epidemic, despite his economic policy victories and voice against an entrenched government bureaucracy. The relatively small electoral success was not a mandate to destroy America through grievance-based identity politics, as the “blue wave” never materialized. The U.S. House of Representatives became “redder,” the Senate is likely to stay in Republican hands, and former President Barack Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder failed in his attempt to turn even one state legislative body from red to blue.

Both Israel and the United States need vibrant democracies for their experiments in democratic governance to continue to succeed. America’s true compass is 1776 and the Republic’s universal ideals, even if it doesn’t always live up to them. Israel’s national compass began more than 3,000 years ago with modern Zionism taking root at the end of the 19th century and fully realized in 1948 with Israel’s birth.

For Israel to fulfill its national vision and express its democratic national soul, it must reconcile how to be fully Jewish while enabling its minority population not to feel disenfranchised. It is a Jewish ideal to welcome the stranger, but it’s hard in practice when the Arab minority continually accuses you of having stolen their land. Israeli reconciliation is magnitudes of order more difficult than fixing a divided America, as Palestinian citizens of Israel do not believe that Israel deserves to exist, while most American minorities want to be part of an improved America, not eliminate it.

Israel is challenged today by allegations of corruption against its prime minister and a dysfunctional parliamentary democratic system that relies on compromise in a toxic political environment, not so different from America’s political stalemate. The gridlock in Israel generated three inconclusive elections, with a fourth on the way. Benjamin Netanyahu has done so much for his country, moving it away from socialism, creating an environment for an innovative economy and normalizing relations with Arab neighbors. His legacy should be one of reconciliation, not division, even if it means stepping aside if that is the verdict of the Israeli electorate or judiciary. No individual is more significant than their nation, even if he or she seems indispensable. A peaceful transition of power was the great legacy of George Washington, who could have been king for life if he chose.

One idea for American democracy might be learned from Israel’s experience. In Israel, citizens from all walks of life are brought together, forming lifelong attachments through mandatory community or military service. In America, this could take the form of a year-long community project—bringing young people of different backgrounds together, working for a common good to feel part of a shared national project. In America, our national service model, whether mandatory or encouraged, could be created with bipartisan support, based on the words of John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for the country.”

Whether rich and poor, Israelis come together through their army service, which positively impacts their lives, and a society transformed for the better. Today, small numbers of Arab and ultra-Orthodox young people join the Israel Defense Forces to do public service. Still, the challenge is to create legislation for all 18-year-old Israelis to participate, bypassing the implacable ultra-Orthodox and Arab leadership who intimidate their young from joining in the national project. Quid pro quo, no national service means reduced government services and financial support—just a thought, as it is for Israelis to decide, not Americans.

Biden has an opportunity to bring the United States together or choose to listen to the rising voices of “Justice Democrats” who want vengeance, not reconciliation, and revolution, not evolution. American democracy needs moderation, respect and tolerance—things that are in short supply right now.

American and Israeli leaders come and go, but a nation’s democratic values are eternal.

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.”

Is it true that normalization doesn’t improve Israel’s existential problem?

{Previously published by the JNS}

Hadar Susskind, the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, penned an article in JTA titled, “Normalizing relations with the UAE does nothing to help fix Israel’s existential problems. … Frankly, we see little reason for celebration.” How sad, political and myopic a viewpoint. Even the progressive Haaretz newspaper called it a “historic signing.”

When I was in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai last year, accompanied by two Israelis, there was an enthusiasm for continuing the under-the-radar cooperation between these moderate Arab states and Israel for their mutual benefit. But the consensus view was that until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved, the relationship would be confined to an indefinite state of limbo. The Palestinian veto held sway in Arab capitals as it had since the infamous three “No’s” of the Khartoum Conference more than 50 years ago: No peace, no negotiation, no recognition of Israel.

After 72 years of saying no, some moderate and stable Arab states have begun to prioritize their own interests over the Palestinians, and with a remarkable and courageous step have decided to recognize Israel and normalize relations. How can one not celebrate the third and fourth Arab states, after Jordan and Egypt, to make peace with Israel with the likelihood of more on the way. Morocco, Oman, Sudan, Chad and Saudi Arabia are all on the flight path to normalization. If we were not in such a hyper-polarized political climate with a lightning rod of a president, these developments, if under a Barack Obama administration, would be placed on the fast track for a Nobel peace prize.

Yet Susskind looks through a lens that sees everything through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Israel as the intransigent party that has blinded him and his fellow travelers to the complex reality of the situation, completely ignoring the fact that peace has not been achieved because of the Palestinians. Their demand for an unconditional right of return of descendants of refugees, something Einat Wilf calls the “War of Return,” is a demand that has not been granted to any other refugee group and is minimized or ignored by progressive “peace” advocates. He says that the signing is happening as Israel “continues to entrench the occupation,” completely ignoring the quid pro quo for an agreement that suspended the extension of sovereignty into any new territory in the West Bank.

It cannot be repeated often enough that under Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority could have had a state with more than 100 percent of the territory of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) with land swaps and eastern Jerusalem as their capital. But because of its corruption, inability to sign an end of conflict agreement with Israel and contest with their rival Hamas to show who can more honor terrorists, the Palestinian people have become the real losers. That is why Israeli society has moved from the center-left during the Oslo years to the center-right today. Progressive voices like Susskind and Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street are magnified by like-minded mainstream American media and progressive groups, but they are unrepresentative of the vast majority of Israelis who have to live with the consequences of imposed solutions. There is something unseemly and condescending when one democratic nation tells another democratic nation what is in its best interests, especially when it deals with existential security issues.

The peace deals between Israel, UAE and Bahrain (and those to follow) are the best thing that could happen to the Palestinian people, but perhaps the worst thing for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. It is now up to the Palestinian people—the most subsidized people in the world—to end their grievance and victimization industry, and demand a new leadership that is more pragmatic. It needs a leadership that will prioritize the interests and well-being of their people, not letting the anti-Semitic ideology that permeates their mosques, textbooks and media to continue to ruin their chance to join their Arab brethren in the Gulf states in economic progress and the path to their own state. That begins by openly accepting a Jewish state in a territorial dimension that allows for its security.

Palestinians and their supporters, like Susskind, cannot remain blind to the reality of where the region is going, and that their Arab brothers will leave them behind as the intransigent player. If they care about Palestinians, then they will embrace these normalization deals as an opportunity to restart negotiations—something Abbas has avoided for years.

As far as an existential issue, while the Palestinians issue must be dealt with sooner or later, the true existential issue for Israel and the moderate Sunni world is Iran and its hegemonic ambitions. The Palestinians are not the primary issue for Arabs or for Israel’s immediate security, as evidenced by these treaties and the lack of outrage in the Arab world, except by the political Islamists in Tehran and Ankara.

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.”

For their survival, Saudis need to follow UAE’s lead

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

In the five-dimensional chess board of the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates’ announcement of normalization and formal ties with Israel is equivalent to moving your queen into position, checking your opponent.

As long-time peace negotiator Aaron David Miller of the Carnegie Endowment said, I “have to admit, it’s extremely clever… the UAE will say it’s prevented annexation; US prevents annexation too and gets a big breakthrough in Israel’s normalization with Arabs and Netanyahu gets an enormous win and is freed from the complications and traps of annexation… It’s a big win for all three.”

Palestinians quickly denounced the agreement, pointing out that Israel received this enormous prize of diplomatic ties for just delaying its extension of sovereignty in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), while Israel was not forced to give up any settlements over the 1949 armistice line that the Palestinians and much of the international community claim are illegal.

As Natan Sachs, director for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, said, “The losers… are the Palestinians. The impatience in the Gulf with the Palestinians now comes to full daylight. The Gulf won’t wait for them any longer, asking of Israel only to avoid declarations of a major change to the status quo.”

If US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his special adviser on international relations Avi Berkowitz orchestrated this deal behind the scenes, they deserve tremendous credit, something the international pundits have never offered them.

Marginalizing the Palestinians for their intransigence and for refusing to negotiate with Israel for years, is the best path to a settlement in the future.

According to Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an Iran sanctions expert, “This appears to be a decisive victory for the Kushner approach, where regional interests and regional peace win out over annexation.”

The UAE is likely the first among at least two other Gulf states (Bahrain and Oman) that will begin the process of normalization with Israel. They are not doing this because they have become Zionists overnight; the much more likely answer is that they want to position themselves well going forward as Iran will become more assertive in the coming years. To the Gulf states and Israel, Iran is a real and growing mutual threat.

If Trump is reelected, despite his claim that Iran will sign a new nuclear deal with him in just a month’s time, the more likely scenario – should Trump sticks to his guns and demands that the Islamic Republic truly end their nuclear project and their ability to enrich uranium – is that Iran will categorically reject it, which will lead to more American sanctions. This would also lead to Iran accelerating its nuclear program, shortening the breakout period for producing enough enriched uranium for a nuclear device.

If Democratic nominee Joe Biden is elected, he has made it clear he will rejoin the JCPOA and will end sanctions if Iran returns to compliance. Iran will jump with joy, getting an economic lifeline to save the regime, with enough new money to finance their hegemonic ambitions – endangering the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel. Remember that the JCPOA has no constraints on Iran’s missile development, human rights abuses, destabilization of neighboring countries or terrorist activates.

Both scenarios increase the risk of war, and the UAE and the other Gulf states, along with Jordan and Egypt, want to be on the side of Israel and America if a regional war with Iran is on the horizon.

Status quo may be the best option for Israel regarding the Palestinians, but not for the Gulf states. By making a move toward Israel now, it is a calculated risk that being aligned with the regional superpower Israel is the best chance to preserve their monarchies. The Iranian attack on Saudi oil facilities earlier this year opened the eyes of the Gulf leaders to their future if they are not aligned with the Americans and Israel.

Although the UAE has a formidable and professional air force, the Saudis, despite having hundreds of billions of dollars in weapons, are at best a mediocre fighting force, not a match for Iran. The Iranians, despite their antiquated conventional forces, have a sophisticated missile program, and the battle-tested Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps could bring the Saudis to their knees. Shi’ite Persian Iran wants control of Mecca and Medina, the holiest sites in Islam, taken away from Sunni Arab Saudi Arabia.

Mohammad Bin Salman, the crown prince and Saudi leader, knows and has been told by Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Kushner, and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien that he is in the crosshairs of Iran, and to survive he needs to get out of the closet and openly align with Israel. As Amos Yadlin, director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies said, Saudi Arabia will be closely watching this “trial balloon.”

Some will say that the conservative Wahabi monarchy is not capable of making such a step.  A couple of months ago, the same was said about the UAE.

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House, and their foreign policy advisers. He is the senior editor for security at the Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post, and is a contributor to i24TV, The Hill, RealClearWorld, JNS, JTA, Defense News and The Forward.