Tag Archives: MEPIN

The case for the status quo in Judea and Samaria

{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

Supporters of extending Israeli sovereignty to 30% of the West Bank claim this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to permanently create defensible borders and strategic depth with the blessing of an American administration. Like the Israeli Stockade and Watchtower settlements of the pre-State era that rose in a single night to create facts on the ground for future defensible borders, today’s annexation advocates believe that once built, the project cannot be undone. Maybe yes, or maybe no.

With polls showing former vice president Joe Biden in the lead in key electoral swing states that Trump needs to be re-elected, Middle East watchers have now begun to speculate on what a Biden presidency and a Democratic Senate might do in 2021, if Israel extends sovereignty to portions of the West Bank.

Would the result be American sanctions, a reduction of security cooperation, or decreased funding, to be used as leverage to change Israel’s position? Progressive critics of Israel including J Street will tell the president that it is for their own good to punish Israel, and that America must advocate for Palestinians as the victimized party. According to The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon, during the presidential debates, Biden said that the US has to “put pressure constantly” on Israel to move toward a two-state solution.

For perspective, Israel was never supposed to withdraw to indefensible lines that existed before the Six Day War. People forget that the goal in 1967 was meant by the Arabs to be a war of annihilation, a second Holocaust. Today that history falls on deaf ears, as Israel is simply seen by many as an occupying colonialist power that must accept an indefensible line as its permanent border.

Most people have no idea that the authors of UNSC Resolution 242, written after 1967, which was the basis for all peace initiatives, acknowledged that lines were to be redrawn so that Israel could live in security. What constitutes secure borders or strategic depth today is most definitely not a return to the lines of 1967.

If Israel extends sovereignty to the Jordan River Valley and major settlement blocs, the uproar will be great. The question is not whether Israel needs the Jordan River Valley for its ultimate security – it almost assuredly does – the question is rather, is this the most opportune time to do it? Security analysts know that Jordan may not be long for this world and Iran could be the big winner, effectively controlling Jordan as it more or less controls Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq today.

AS FOR the semantics between the terms “extending sovereignty” vs “annexation,” you cannot annex something that you have rights to based on an equally legitimate reading of international law that views the territory as disputed, because the last legal stakeholder was the now-defunct Ottoman Empire. Whether it is wise at this time for Israel to extend sovereignty is a different question.

AIPAC used to fight for any position the democratically elected government of Israel advocated whether from the Left or Right, but has now read the tea leaves and has given its blessing to those who want to criticize Israel for any annexation, even of the large settlement blocs that were part of land swaps in every previous peace offer. Political expediency trumps conscience for Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as he too has read those tea leaves and has refused to endorse his long-term pro-Israel colleague House Foreign affairs Chairmen Elliot Engle, who is in the fight for his political life against an opponent endorsed by AOC’s Justice Democrats.

Fast forward to a United Nations deliberation on Israel next year. What will President Biden and Vice President Susan Rice charge the US ambassador to the UN to say when the inevitable international condemnations against Israel begin, if it extends sovereignty to even to just the large blocs? Biden and Rice were actively involved when the Obama administration orchestrated the passage of UNSC Resolution 2334 in 2016 that labeled Israeli possession of a millimeter of territory over the 1967 line a war crime.

Which brings us back to whether it is wise for Israel to extend any sovereignty this summer?

The unsatisfying but prudent answer is that the status quo is the better strategy at this time. It’s up to Israel to determine its own fate, but American supporters of Israel have the obligation to share with their brethren the potential ramifications. The extension of sovereignty will weaken Israel’s security status because of a rupture in relations with America. A more prudent approach for those who want to extend sovereignty would be to see if Mr. Trump is re-elected and the Senate remains in Republican hands.

The Middle East is tense and unpredictable under normal conditions. The current economic crisis and political instability due to the pandemic has made the region a tinderbox. There is no need to ignite the US-Israel relations at this time. Israel still has all of its options in the future, while maintaining the current strategic depth and working relationship with the PA’s security that the status quo would maintain. Pragmatism isn’t pretty, but violence and diplomatic isolation are worse.

Timing is everything. The best choice is no annexation now, while revisiting the possibility in the future if events change.

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network). He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is the senior security editor for the Jerusalem Report/Jerusalem Post, and writes for The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld, and Defense News.

Kerry’s gift to Pompeo: The end of the Iran arms embargo this fall

In January 2016, the International Atomic Energy Agency certified that Iran had complied with all of its obligations under the JCPOA (nuclear deal). The Obama administration responded by saying, “That will ensure Iran’s nuclear program is and remains exclusively peaceful.” At that time, the White House assured Congress and the American people that the deal would apply only to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, not to any of its other nefarious activities.

To reassure the majority of the American public who were against cutting a deal with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, the White House said, “Sanctions on conventional weapons, WILL REMAIN IN PLACE UNDER THE IRAN DEAL,” according to the official White House website whitehouse.gov. “UNDER THE IRAN DEAL, THE US WILL ONLY LIFT NUCLEAR-RELATION SANCTIONS,” again in bold letters for emphasis.

Yet last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was forced to start a process to extend the arms embargo on Iran that is scheduled to end this October. Didn’t president Obama promise that the nuclear agreement was only about nuclear issues?

In one of the great sleight of hands for any executive branch, especially for an administration that claimed it was the most transparent in history, the White House purposely obscured the fact that the JCPOA and the accompanying United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231 – which were supposed to enshrine the JCPOA in international law – were not the same document, allowing both the US and Iran to maintain a fiction on what the Iran deal really meant and what would be respected.

So it comes as a shock to the American people that any future administration would need to deal with Iranian conventional weapons purchases that Obama seemingly promised would not be part of the nuclear deal.

None of this should be a surprise.

Back in 2015, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif and Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi made it clear that they viewed the two documents as completely different.

A MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) translation of Araghchi’s comments said, “We told them [the Americans] explicitly [if you insist on including these articles on the arms and missile embargoes in the JCPOA], there is no agreement, and we will not accept an agreement in which embargoes on weapons and missiles continue.”

MEMRI commented at the time, “The Iranian perspective regarding UNSCR 2231 hinges entirely on its non-binding nature. Iran deems only the JCPOA to be binding… Iran insisted on relegating disputed issues [arms embargo, ballistic missiles] to UNSCR 2231.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said after the agreement, “There is nothing in the JCPOA about missiles, defense and weapons. Those that exist are in [UN Security Council] Resolution 2231…. In this new resolution, restrictions have been proposed instead of sanctions. The export and import of weapons have been converted from a permanent ban to a five-year restriction.”

Yet former secretary of state John Kerry and chief negotiator Wendy Sherman somehow spun losing out on a long-term ban and accepting a five-year restriction on conventional arms sales as a success. They said if they didn’t accept ending the ban in five years, the whole nuclear agreement would have fallen apart.

So they blinked and we are now dealing with a terrorist state being able to purchase sophisticated weapons systems in less than six months. They capitulated by moving anything objectionable to the Iranians to an obscure Annex B in UNSCR 2231.

That is how the Obama administration could technically say the JCPOA only dealt with nuclear-related activities, while transferring contested issues that were not respected by the ayatollah and the Revolutionary Guards to UNSCR 2231.

FAST FORWARD to May 2020, and we are only months away from Iran being able to buy any conventional weapons with full international approval. They will also be able buy ballistic missiles in just two more years.

So now Secretary Pompeo, for US security interests, is trying to extend the conventional arms embargo by a surprising tactic, claiming the US still remains part of the UNSCR 2231, even though it withdrew from the JCPOA. That is a fine line to walk.

The Obama administration created the fiction that the JCPOA and UNSC 2231 were the same, while using their differences when convenient. So you cannot cry foul when Pompeo is doing the same thing. This was the deck handed to him by Kerry.

According to David Sanger, writing in The New York Times, the Trump administration is developing a “strategy to pressure the UNSC to extend an arms embargo on Tehran, or see far more stringent sanctions reimposed.”

The strategy asserts that the US is still a participant of UNSCR 2231 but “only for the purpose of invoking a snapback of preexisting [sanctions].”

This will be an uphill battle, as Russia, China, Germany and France will claim that since Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, he also withdrew from UNSCR 2231. They would all like to sell arms to Iran (especially Russia, for a much-needed cash infusion in the post-COVID-19 era), while sticking a thumb in the eye of Donald Trump.

They ignore that the arms will strengthen Iranian hegemonic expansionism that has been crucial in supporting the Syrian genocide, or the reality that today the Iranian controlled militias have turned Iraq into an Iranian puppet. The proponents of the Iran nuclear deal can’t blame Trump for Iran’s ability to buy arms this fall; that is their work, and it would have happened on the watch of any president.

Germany, France and the UK were part of the Obama chorus that not only sold the JCPOA as a way to stop the Iranian nuclear program, but as a way to incentivize Iran to return to the family of nations. They all reassured skeptics that this would moderate Iranian behavior.

Considering that just 10 days after the JCPOA agreement Iran sent terrorist mastermind Qasem Soleimani to Russia to create a plan to carve up Syria, you would think that these democracies would be hesitant to sell weapons to Iran. The only thing that will stop Germany and France would be Trump sanctioning those countries’ industries for doing business with Iran. If they think they can get away with arms sales to Iran without financial penalty, they will. The UK under Boris Johnson may resist.

Pompeo’s strategy is to claim the US is still part of UNSCR 2231 and to use that leverage to either extend the arms embargo with a new UNSCR, or force the Security Council to institute snapback sanctions against Iran. No matter what one thinks about the Iran deal, the question remains: How can democracies, in good conscience, support selling arms to the Islamic Republic this fall?

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network) who regularly briefs members of the Senate, House and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is senior security editor for The Jerusalem Report, and his work has appeared in The Hill, JNS, JTA, and Defense News.

Nixon goes to China, Trump spends trillions to save America

As the economic consequences of closing down the American, Israeli and world economies grow exponentially each day, with the potential for a worldwide depression lurking just around the corner, now may be the time to “see the forest through the trees,” acknowledging that the unprecedented economic remedies to save the world economy may not have been possible if the American leadership in 2020 were in the hands of a different person. This is not a political endorsement, but the lessons we learn today have echoes of the past. 

“Only Nixon could go to China” is a well-worn metaphor to explain how someone with a lifelong reputation for being a die-hard anti-communist could have gone to Communist China in 1972, opening relations with the world’s most populous nation that changed the course of the late 20th and early 21st century, and whose consequences we are still dealing with today. Israel had its Nixon in China moment in 1978 when the hawkish prime minister Menachem Begin made peace with Egypt and relinquished Israel’s territorial depth.

America in the spring of 2020 is having a “Trump Goes to China” moment that should be recognized for its importance, as it could not have occurred with so little congressional debate if the exact same actions taken by Trump and his secretary of the Treasury were those of a president of the Left. The planned enormous government expenditures designed to provide stability to the nation dwarf the most grandiose ideas FDR had during the Depression; the long-term consequences of this for the United States and the world are completely up in the air. A populist president from the Right who ran on shrinking the American government has, with so little difficulty, been able to implement this unprecedented burst of government expenditure. 

Now imagine if Hillary Clinton had won the election and tried to implement the exact same things that Trump and his economic team have accomplished in conjunction with Congress, as literally trillions of dollars were being printed and handed out to desperate Americans and corporations, all the while fighting with a Republican Senate, hoping to get such actions through Congress. Perhaps the circumstances are so scary that it would have all passed Congress as easily as for Trump, or maybe not.

For those who viscerally hate Trump or are “Never Trumpers,” they must realize that no matter how inarticulate the president is, or how many times he backtracks on impulsive statements, Donald Trump may ironically have been the right choice to have gotten this economic package passed so quickly.

THIS WILL not last. The hyperpolarization will return, and the president and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are already at it. There is much political rancor ahead, with the presidential election just over six months away.

But more importantly, America and the world have will have to decide when to slowly reopen the world’s economy to avoid a depression, and it is a certainty that no matter what Trump does, even if it would have been the exact same decision Clinton would have made, there will be media and political opponents accusing him of killing Americans, sacrificing lives for money.

In the US, commentators like Don Lemon of CNN are already trying to undermine the president’s message, arguing that his news station should not cover Trump’s daily press conferences.

There is plenty of time for politics and hatred down the road.  What we need now is to begin to plan an exit strategy to avoid a Depression.

We need:

1. to ramp up widespread testing for antibody immunity to assess herd immunity;

2. large-scale studies to determine how prevalent the virus is in the general public;

3. everyone wearing faceguards, as tens of millions are asymptomatic and could be spreading the virus;

4. to keep seniors and the immunocompromised indoors for another 3 months; and

5. to keep social distancing for another three months.

Our goal is to continue to decrease the rate of transmission of the virus so as not to overwhelm the healthcare systems. Upwards of 200 million people will be infected in the US, and millions in Israel. We can plausibly control whether those numbers occur over two months or over one year. Lives and our economies are hanging in the balance.

Nixon went to China, and Trump’s economic plan would make a socialist proud. Could Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decide to become an Anwar Sadat? Crazy things are happening.

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network), the senior editor for security at The Jerusalem Report, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a writer for The Hill. 

Sorry, but Bernie Sanders is No Zionist

Now that the Democratic Party nomination is completely up in the air, one must contemplate the real possibility that socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, who may have the most delegates going into this summer’s convention, could be the Democratic nominee and profoundly influence the Democratic Party’s platform. When I walked the halls of the Senate before 2016, Bernie was considered at most a marginal figure by both Democrats and Republicans. Today, he is close to being the standard-bearer of the party.

In response, some mainstream pro-Israel Democrats have formed the Democratic Majority for Israel to support the US-Israel alliance. They are concerned because Sanders wants to make military aid to Israel contingent on Israel acquiescing to Palestinian demands, while diverting aid from Israel to Gaza. They worry because weakening Israel hurts American national security interests. As liberals, they are concerned that Bernie remains silent while some of the people he supports, and who support him, traffic in antisemitic and anti-Zionist proposals and falsehoods.

To insulate Bernie from detractors who charge his associates dabble in anti-Israel rhetoric and use antisemites as advisers and surrogates to speak on his behalf, his PR people have been busily spinning his image and Jewish ancestry.

So let’s look at his record, associates and endorsements.

Let’s start with his unapologetic endorsement of British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. In 2019, 85% of British Jewry thought Corbyn was clearly antisemitic and spoke in support of terrorists.

Today the bar is awfully low to be considered pro-Israel or a Zionist.

An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Ted Rall spoke about Sanders’s “pro-Israel sentiments” that may be too much to bear for his anti-Israel progressive supporters because he supports Israel’s right to exist. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, only 3% of liberals support Israel over the Palestinians. Rall claims “by the most stringent progressive standards, Sanders has been a steadfast supporter of the Jewish state.”

Yet,  Sanders’s campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, and foreign policy adviser, Matt Duss, were accused of antisemitism while working for the progressive think-tank Center for American Progress, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.

His fervent supporters like Rep. Ilhan Omar, whom he allows to speak on his behalf, have long ago crossed the line into antisemitism with their views of the Jewish state. Omar’s antisemitism reaches beyond Israel into old time antisemitic tropes on Jewish power and money. Bernie is silent because nobody in his base would want him to call out a woman of color.

It is not far-fetched to think about Rep. Rashida Tlaib as the US ambassador to Israel, Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez as UN ambassador or Omar, with her two-years’ experience on the House Foreign Relations Committee, being nominated to be secretary of state or another position of influence in foreign policy. This is not a “team of rivals” with Bernie being the Zionist. It is a monolithic group of anti-Israel activists in a Sanders administration. And yes, he could win.

Furthering the myth of Zionist Bernie, Muhammad Shehada, writing in The Forward asked, “Why do Palestinians love Bernie Sanders? He reconciles our narrative with the Zionist one… Sanders is a proud Zionist. His courageous and principled acknowledgment of our trauma, and Israel’s responsibility for it, has made him exceptionally popular in Gaza; some Gazans call him ‘the most popular Jew after Moses.’ However, understanding the Palestinian narrative, even if based on some dubious facts, will be necessary if Israel and the Palestinians ever reach some understanding.”

SO IS THE new definition in 2020 of a Zionist someone who believes Israel has a right to exist? This is not necessarily as a Jewish state, but some state of Israel that would be fully “democratic,” with an unlimited right of return of the descendants of Palestinian refugees, making the Jewish population of Israel completely vulnerable to demographic destruction.

Living on a Communist kibbutz 60 years ago, being born to Jewish parents or having a Jewish last name does not make you pro-Israel. Being Jewish doesn’t give you greater legitimacy to be a critic of Israel.

Bernie unapologetically uses Omar, an antisemite and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions supporter, as an official spokesman, along with Linda Sarsour and Tlaib. Palestinian-American Tlaib compared the antisemitic BDS movement to the quintessential American event, the Boston Tea Party.

Bernie, there is an accepted definition of when anti-Israel rhetoric crosses over to antisemitism called the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, which is used by our State Department and 30 other nations. Omar, Sarsour, and Tlaib meet the test. Will you direct your State Department to not consider a double standard against Israel as antisemitism or will you appoint to senior positions those who claim “the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor?”

Let’s be clear, the definition of what makes someone pro-Israel is not confined to those who support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as progressive anti-Israel advocates claim. Only a plurality of Israelis support his Likud party. Anyone supporting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, while not characterizing it as apartheid, racist or fascist is certainly within the pro-Israel tent.

But “Jewish” groups that gravitate to Bernie, like IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, do fall far outside the tent as illiberal anti-Zionists who use their Jewish genes to claim a higher standing to defame Israel.

There is a world of difference between liberal Zionists, like the Democratic Majority for Israel, and progressive anti-Zionists. It is the choice between people like Democratic House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer and progressive darling Ilhan Omar.

So the question must be asked, can anyone who cares about the survival of the Jewish state and the US-Israel relationship, trust Sanders to change his spots and vote for him?

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the Senate, House, and their foreign policy advisers, as well White House advisers. He is the senior editor for security at ‘The Jerusalem Report;’ a columnist for ‘The Jerusalem Post;’ a contributor to The Hill, i24TV, JTA, The Defense Post, JNS, ‘The Forward’ and has appeared in RealClearWorld.

Trump Has Changed the Landscape of the Middle East

Love him or hate him, President Donald Trump has defied conventional wisdom in the Middle East, and yet the Sun still rises every day. Trump has shattered the long-standing myths of the Middle East that allowed the Palestinians to veto every proposal for the last 100 years. They remain the only “stateless” people who have rejected multiple offers of a state.

From the Soleimani assassination to the embassy move, to the recognition of the Golan and Jordan River Valley as Israeli security imperatives, to stopping American financial support of the Palestinian Authority which rewards terrorism in its “pay for slay” terrorism scheme, the Washington pundits and the mainstream media haven’t offered a single mea culpa for how wrong they have been so far in projecting dire consequences of these policy initiatives. They predicted catastrophe, and while violence will raise its ugly head in the unstable Middle East, the outcomes have not matched their predictions.

Naysayers who claim that the deal is unrealistic, too pro-Israel, and undermines Palestinian aspirations, totally miss the point of the importance of the Trump peace plan, whether or not its particulars are realized.


The initial support of Arab nations for the plan as a basis for negotiations is groundbreaking. Even Qatar, a refuge for the Muslim Brotherhood, didn’t reject the deal outright.

The comments of the two most important Sunni nations, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are encouraging. According to the Saudi Foreign Ministry, “In light of the announcement, the kingdom reiterates its support for all efforts aimed at reaching a just and comprehensive resolution to the Palestinian cause.”

According to the Federalist website, the “Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs applaud[ed] the US contribution ‘to the stability and security of the Middle East, ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.’”

Oman, Bahrain and the UAE even went so far in their support as to send delegates to the White House ceremony where Trump unveiled the plan with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side.

The Trump plan offers a map that shows exactly how the US administration envisions Israel’s final boundaries. This marks the first time any American Mideast plan has come with a map which pre-tackles some of the thorniest issues – including Jerusalem. And yet many of these Arab states did not immediately reject it or condemn it. On the contrary, their initial reaction was to urge the Palestinians to negotiate.

With the exception of Egypt, these Arab states do not officially recognize the State of Israel. Their first reaction was to support the plan which is tacit acceptance of the Jewish homeland.

It came as no surprise that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressed strong opposition and that the Arab League placated the outraged Abbas by seemingly back-peddling and officially rejecting the Trump plan. But it’s the first reaction that is more telling, and this move by the Arab League simply pays lip service to the Palestinians.


It’s an obligatory nod to those on the Arab street that may still support the cause. The theatrics will continue at the United Nations later next week when the United States will veto the perfunctory anti-Israel resolution.

BUT THE CRACKS are showing, and with time the Sunni Gulf states – which are fast losing patience with their Palestinian Arab brethren – will choose what is in their best interest to counter Iran. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

As expected, the king of Jordan, whose stability teeters on the edge of a cliff, needed to be critical of the plan to continue to survive. Privately he is ecstatic that the Jordan River Valley will be in Israeli hands, and that a Palestinian state won’t be on his border. No surprise that the anti-American, anti-Israel president of Turkey was against the deal.

The plan not only states the obvious – that Israel must control the Jordan River Valley, especially in light of Iranian expansionism – but furthermore that Israel must have military control of a Palestinian state, the lesson learned from the 2005 Israeli disengagement from Gaza, where the ceded territory became the terrorist enclave of Hamas. A Palestinian state in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) cannot be allowed to become a base for Iranian terrorism.

The pundits didn’t see the “Arab Winter” coming, and they didn’t foresee the possibility that Arab nations would not automatically take the Palestinian position on the Trump plan. Arab nations want to do business with Israel for their own self-interests, and need Israel as the most important regional ally against their most feared enemy, Iran. They are sick of Palestinian rejectionism, and know that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not what’s going to save them from Iran’s plans to overrun and control the region.

The onus to make peace is now on the Palestinians, whereas in the past peace deal attempts Israel was always the one pressured to concede more, in the vain hope the Palestinians would reciprocate.

Supporters of the Palestinians such as J Street, now appear much more pro-Palestinian than the Arab states, as they had nothing positive to say about the obvious essential Israeli security needs that were addressed by the Trump peace plan. While adhering to the Palestinian narrative, they continue to ignore decades of Palestinian rejectionism and statements of the illegitimacy of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, best expressed in their #PeaceSham campaign. They support and encourage the Palestinian counteroffer of “a thousand nos”.

If carefully handled, the administration’s out-of-the-box thinking may bear fruit in new opportunities that didn’t exist just a couple of years ago between Israel and Sunni Muslim States. Although the Middle East is still incredibly complex and problematic, and America cannot control the millennia-long tribal and religious hatreds, US and Israeli national security interests could be advanced in ways unimaginable until today. If this plan becomes a basis for negotiation, or more likely, the Palestinians reject the plan, they make themselves more irrelevant to their Sunni Arab brethren.

Too bad the Europeans with the exception of Boris Johnson of the UK are still delusional and allow the Palestinians Authority tail to wag the European Union dog, as they have now become the chief enabler of the corrupt Palestinian Authority to the enduring detriment of the Palestinian people.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, and the senior editor for security for the Jerusalem Report. Michelle Makori is the lead anchor and editor-in-chief at i24News in New York. She has worked as an anchor, reporter and producer for Bloomberg, CNN Money, CGTN, and SABC.

Where Do We Go from Here with Iran?

{Previously published in the JNS}

We need to look at the new possibilities and perils in the post-Soleimani era.

The assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the longtime commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has profoundly changed the playing field between the United States and Iran. For the first time since 1988—when U.S. President Ronald Reagan responded to Iranian provocations in the Straits of Hormuz by sinking Iranian warships and destroying two oil platforms—tangible consequences were imposed on the regime. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini and the IRGC are now forced to revisit their decades-long assumption that America would not respond militarily to its nefarious behavior, and the United States needs to develop a strategy to take advantage of its newfound leverage.

As former Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman and former director at the National Security Council Franklin Miller wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “deterrence works only if the threats are credible … his death is the first time the regime has lost something of value in its conflict with the United States.”

We cannot let the proportional response of Iran fool us. The foundational core of the regime remains revolutionary and expansionistic: Their goal remains ejecting the United States from the region and acquiring nuclear-weapons capabilities to become immune to regime change and dominate the region.

What is still open for debate and in American hands is how to manage this unrepentant tiger going forward, especially with all Democratic candidates pledging to return to 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) and remove U.S. President Donald Trump’s sanctions, while the president might decide to remove all troops from Iraq.

Critics are focused on the constitutionality of the targeted assassination. Yet they seem to have forgotten that the recent Iranian attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad itself was an act of war, directed by Soleimani. It can be argued the killing was or wasn’t strategically wise, but that Trump was well within his rights to make that decision.

As international-law expert Alan Baker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs said, “at any given moment, Soleimani was heavily involved in the planning and execution of massive acts of terror,” making him a legitimate target under international law

Trump used his post-assassination speech to emphasize that the Iranian nuclear program is still foremost in his mind. With foreign policy now at the center of partisan debates, how we deal with that reality going forward moves to the top of the list.

Steve Rabinowitz and Aaron Keyak, consultants to President Barack Obama in support of the nuclear deal, write “Obama’s will to reach across divides and engage with Iran also emboldened its moderates.”

Was Soleimani, the chief architect of Iran’s expansionist ambitions, more or less aggressive after the JCPOA, or did he perceive the president’s sanctions relief as appeasement, something to be taken advantage of? Let’s look at the facts.

Start with the claim that the JCPOA “emboldened its moderates,” i.e., to be more moderate. What is the definition of a moderate in Iran?

It must be remembered that the “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani was one of only six hard-line candidates out of more than 600 presidential aspirants to be allowed by Khameini to run in the “election.” So the definition of a moderate for the last administration was a hardline Islamist who appointed a smooth-talking English-speaking foreign minister who manipulated and charmed his way into the heart of former Secretary of State John Kerry. Worse, the Obama administration never imposed any of the promised consequences after the nuclear deal in regard to its missile development, expansionism, human-rights abuses or terrorism.

Soleimani and Khameini looked at the deal as a pathway to remove America from the region, and solidify their control of the Shi’ite Crescent from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon. Just 10 days after the deal was agreed to, Soleimani was in Moscow meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where they agreed to save Syrian President Bashar Assad. One of the sad legacies of the Obama administration was indirectly funding the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Syria by empowering Soleimani with billions in new financial resources.

Most importantly, it must be remembered that the JCPOA gave Iran—a terror state—the right to enrich uranium, which was completely unnecessary and unprecedented if they only wanted nuclear energy. They could do what every other non-nuclear state that uses nuclear energy does: import low-enriched uranium from the United States, China or Russia, under strict controls.

Going forward with Iran requires a re-evaluation of what was conceded. A new agreement must fix the “no inspections at military sites” provision, the most likely place for clandestine nuclear R&D that, according to my sources, became even more relevant after the Israelis stole Iran’s nuclear archive in Tehran, documenting previously unknown nuclear military sites that are still being studied as possible future targets.

We need to look at the new possibilities and perils in the post Soleimani era. Trump’s seemingly red line—the death of American—may have boxed him in. What happens if Iran mines the Strait of Hormuz, but no Americans are killed? It remains to be seen what the rules are to be.

The way forward—short of regime change by the Iranian people, which should be an American goal—is to lower the flames of confrontation in Iraq. Iran won’t stop making trouble in Iraq, as it wants it to become a vassal like Lebanon. American interests require a presence in Iraq with a small footprint, while reassuring the Iraqi Kurds that they don’t have to make a deal with Iran for survival.

Israel will continue to hit Iranian precision-guided missiles in Iraq being transited to militias in Syria and Lebanon. Will Iran use Israeli strikes that kill Iranians in Iraq as a pretext to attack American interests in Iraq?

If Trump has a second term, will he be comfortable with a small but effective American presence in the Middle East? And if a Democrat is our next president, will that administration move beyond the campaign rhetoric, and realize the JCPOA is comatose and unrevivable in its current form? Will they come to realize that a new Iran nuclear agreement that forever ends their nuclear-weapons program and incorporates constraints on their nefarious activities throughout the region is the only realistic choice for American security interests?

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.”

Unity Missing Ingredient for Success

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Time for Europe to Stand With the Iranian People

{Previously published in The JNS}

What will it take for the international community to realize that no amount of money, accommodation or deference will change the DNA of Iran’s leaders, who are bent on eradicating Israel, and the ascendency of Shi’ism over Sunnis and minority populations living in the Mideast?

In Tehran, the mullahs have blamed the recent protests in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon not on their own repressive regimes and proxies, but on foreign and Zionist interference.

The Iranian Supreme Leader speaking to his Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Basij henchmen, blamed the Iranian people’s protests on foreign interference, thanking the Iranian people for the “hard blow to global arrogance and Zionism, forcing them to retreat.”

How long will the Iranian scapegoating against the West and Zionists work, when their economy is in shambles and the people yearn for freedoms that are an anathema to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s revolutionary agenda?

Repressive regimes have long used scapegoating as the preferred method to blame anyone but themselves for their violence, lack of human rights and economic failures.

The revolutionary Islamist Iranian theocracy shares elements with every authoritarian regime that imprisons and kills its own people, deflecting attention with scapegoating, but unique to Iran is its religiously sanctioned dissimulation—i.e., taqiyya, a precautionary dissimulation or denial of religious belief and practice in the face of persecution.

You would think that Europeans who supposedly learned the lessons of fascism in the 20th century would be particularly sensitive to a vicious state-controlled secret police—in this case directly controlled by the Iranian Mullahs, the IRGC and the corrupt Iranian government.

Like the Nazis who diverted resources even during militarily challenging times in 1944 when they choose to ramp up their master plan to kill all the Jews of Europe, the Iranian regime today chooses to divert its resources to surround Israel and support its proxies for the destruction of the Jewish state, instead of economically helping their people. You can understand this only if you realize how central a foundational pillar of the Iranian revolution is the destruction of Israel.

Yet Western Europe, including France, England and Germany, which tout their humanitarian records, have supported and treated the Iranian regime as a legitimate government—not as the world’s leading state sponsor of terror—and have even enabled the world’s foremost Jew-haters a path to nuclear weapons.

The European Union recently rejected by vote a “Made in Israel” label for every Israeli good produced over the 1967 Green Line, much like Jewish products were labeled in the 1930s by Germany. The Irish are even in the process of criminalizing anyone who economically profits from goods made in Judea and Samaria (West Bank). Yet an additional six E.U. nations this week joined the INSTEX bartering system to bypass American sanctions on Iran.

When did it become the policy of European Western democracies to be on the side of suppression, jihadism and illiberalism, and against the yearning of a people for liberation from their authoritarian suppressors, or perversely favoring Iran economically over Israel, the only democracy in the region?

According to The New York Times, Iraqi protesters screaming “Out Iran” have burned the Iranian consulate in the holy city of Najaf Iraq “in an outburst of anger at Iran.”

The best way to support Iranian protesters is not only to support their legitimate protests, but also the protests of the Lebanese and Iraqi people against their governments, who are in large part controlled by Tehran. If the Lebanese and Iraqi people can effectively challenge their Iranian-controlled political parties and governments, then it would encourage the Iranian people to continue to demand a change of their government.

Now is the time to state the obvious: It would be in American and allied interests for the Iranian people to be in charge of their own destiny.

That will not happen until there is a change of regime in Tehran—something that is a dirty word in the international community. But regime change will come not from American boots on the ground, as the critics contend is the real goal, but from the Iranian people themselves, who need and deserve our public and vocal support to take control of their lives both for their benefit and ours.

Unlike Europe, the Trump administration has not taken the easy path of accommodation, appeasement and willful avoidance of facts, but has provided tangible consequences to the Iranian Republic. Not only has it withdrawn from the tragically flawed 2015 nuclear deal that guaranteed an Iranian pathway to nuclear weapons in the future, but has rhetorically stood side by side with today’s Iranian protesters in profound contra-distinction to the last administration’s policy of silence during the Iranian Green Revolution of 2009, when the regime seemed vulnerable.

What will it take for Europe to wake up and realize that no amount of money, accommodation or deference will change the structural DNA of Iran’s leaders, who are bent on the eradication of Israel, and the ascendency of Shi’ism over Sunnis and minority populations living in the Middle East?

Since the 100,000-plus missiles of Iranian-controlled Hezbollah in Lebanon do not threaten Paris, Berlin or London, they rationalize away the true nature of the regime. It helps that they, too, habitually see Israel in a negative light.

Iran is not a rational state actor in the Western sense. It is, however, an Islamist rational actor with a well-thought-out hegemonic agenda to destroy the Jewish state and dominate the Middle East as in the long-ago days of Persian imperialism. Iran is a dangerous combination of longing for the glory days of Persian domination of its neighbors, married to a unique Twelver Shi’ite Jihadist desire to capture Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.

Once the obvious conclusion is drawn that Iran cannot be changed or turned into a member of the international community in good standing, then strategies to deal with this reality can be created. The Iranian economy is on the ropes, and if only the Europeans would join the American sanction regime, the Iranian people could possibly take control of their destiny.

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.”

Amid Iraqi Protests, Kurdish Region Balances Iran’s IRGC

{article previously published in The Defense Post written by Seth J. Frantzman and Dr. Eric R. Mandel}

At the Black Tiger Base in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq the concerns of Kurdish Peshmerga who have spent five years fighting Islamic State have now turned to the rise of Iran-backed militias.

“ISIS is infiltrating these Sunni Arab areas where locals have a bad relationship with the Hashd al-Shaabi,” a local commander told us last month, referring to the largely Shiite militias who operate checkpoints and control parts of rural Iraq.

In the Kurdish autonomous region, a stable and prosperous part of Iraq that has been a key partner of the United States for decades, the increasing strength of Iran threatens to undermine years of work to support Iraq.

This is now clear amid the crescendo of protests in Baghdad and southern Iraq where protesters have targeted party offices of politicians linked to Iran and a heavy-handed crackdown has left more than 100 dead. Baghdad has followed the Tehran model of cutting of internet and targeting local media, while the autonomous Kurdistan region still has internet access.

This has larger ramifications. Iran increasingly wants to use Iraq as a springboard for regional ambitions. The head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said in early October that destroying Israel was an achievable goal, and Iraq has become a key conduit for Iran’s influence to carry out its plans. Iran’s ambassador to Iraq has threatened the U.S., saying Iran would not hesitate to target American forces in Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Iraqi President Barham Salih on September 23 where he emphasized the sovereignty of Iraq and efforts to increase regional stability. However, that stability is undermined by outside forces.

Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook also spoke at the Asia Society on the same day and warned of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps role in the Middle East. The IRGC’s role in Iraq is creating a carbon copy of itself through a group of paramilitary forces called the Popular Mobilization Units or Hashd al-Shaabi.

The PMU, raised to fight ISIS, has become an official paramilitary force with checkpoints and influence stretching across the country. Its deputy commander, sanctioned by the U.S. as a terrorist, wants the PMU to have his own air force.

In the Nineveh plains its units harass Christians, preventing them from thriving after ISIS. In Sinjar, Yazidis persecuted by ISIS cannot return because of the patchwork of militias. The PMU is likely behind a series of mortar and rocket attacks near U.S. forces that began in May as U.S.-Iran tensions increased. Members of these Iran-backed groups also attacked a Saudi oil field in May.

Two years after the liberation of Mosul and swaths of Iraq from ISIS, the Shiite militias are at a crossroads. They increasingly look like a carbon-copy of the IRGC, more powerful than Lebanon’s Hezbollah. As part of Iran’s network of IRGC-supported groups they are a key funnel for weapons across Iraq to Syria and Lebanon.

Washington has tended to naively confront Iranian influence in Baghdad by sinking funds into various mythological Iraqi nationalist leaders, from Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to Haider Abadi and Muqtada al-Sadr, all of whom ended up being closer to Iran than the U.S.

Maliki’s heavy-handed tactics against minorities fueled ISIS, Abadi called the Iran-backed militias the “hope” of Iraq and Sadr recently was summoned to Tehran to sit with IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.

We went to northern Iraq to speak with Kurdish Regional Government politicians, government ministers, Peshmerga generals and others about their region’s role today. It left a sobering impression.

The 2005 Iraqi Constitution guarantees the Kurdistan region a budget for its Peshmerga and civil servants but Baghdad has systematically cut those funds. The Kurdish fighters who helped defeat ISIS lack basic gear such as body armor, proper barracks, night-vision equipment, anti-armor and anti-drone systems.

We drove out to their front line where ISIS members could be seen with binoculars hiding in caves. The Peshmerga hold the top of Mount Qarachogh, around an hour’s drive southwest from the KRG capital of Erbil. The Iraqi army and PMU hold a line several kilometers away in the plains below, while ISIS still operates in small groups between them.

U.S. interests in Iraq are to keep the country from being a springboard for instability in the region. But those interests are also to keep Iran from swallowing the country as its “near abroad,” perfecting a Hezbollah model for carving out a state-within-a-state.

How do you balance Iraq’s version of the IRGC? The White House has used “maximum pressure” on Iran but wants to avoid war. Iraq is a perfect place to broaden that policy by extending sanctions, imposed in July, to more PMU units. At the same time, Washington should work directly with the KRG, ensuring greater support for the Peshmerga and for other institutions.

There is reticence in the U.S. for open-ended involvement in Iraq. Suppo

rting Kurdistan regional institutions is a force multiplier: They are openly seeking greater partnership with the U.S. and they are a key conduit to security in eastern Syria where the U.S. plays a key role.

Too often U.S. policymakers seem to take allies for granted while imagining that adversaries can be bought off or co-opted by carrots and appeasement. There’s no evidence this has worked.

Baghdad’s response to the protests shows its fragility. It’s time to try a different approach, because Iraq is a linchpin of security in the region. Partnering with the Kurdistan region has the added benefit of showing Baghdad the U.S. is serious about going around it so long as it empowers militias and squeezes Erbil.


Seth J. Frantzman is the author of ‘After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East‘ (Gefen Publishing 2019).

Dr. Eric Mandel is the founder and director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political and Information Network.