Tag Archives: Middle East

What to do about EU’s Pathological Relationship with Hezbollah

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Europeans have criticized US President Donald Trump for distancing America from her traditional allies in NATO, while favoring his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After relying on America for protection for over 70 years since the end of World War II, Europe is “now more worried about an America withdrawing from the transatlantic relationship than an overbearing superpower”, according to Richard Wike writing in the Atlantic.

Yet when European financial interests were threatened last year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized bipartisan congressional legislation that proposed increasing sanctions against Russia because it targeted the European- Russia Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in which German companies are invested.

The legislation toughened sanctions on Russia over its Ukrainian invasion. Mrs. Merkel’s doesn’t seem to realize that she lives in a glass house.

American critics of Europe have focused on European underfunding of their NATO obligation, spending under 2% of their GDP, below their promised commitment.
However equally as troubling to both Congress and the administration is Europe’s associations and protection of the American-designated terrorist organization Hezbollah that operates freely in Europe, raising funds while threatening American and allied interests. The Europeans stick their collective heads in the sand as multiple Hezbollah planned attacks on European soil have been foiled within the last few years.

European appeasement of Hezbollah begins and ends with their failure to designate its political wing as a terrorist organization, despite Hezbollah itself having no distinction between its terrorist and political entities.

For the past four decades Europe has had an unspoken arrangement with Arab terrorist organizations, that they won’t commit terror on their soil if they are allowed to raise funds and operate freely there.

Germany’s history of capitulating to terror is long and unflattering. Just one month after the Palestinian Black September massacre at the Munich Olympics, they released the remaining perpetrators of the attacks.

A Der Spiegel investigation of German government documents released forty years after the attacks said, “Despite the still-vivid images of masked terrorists on the balconies of the Olympic Village…there was already active but secret diplomatic communication between…
German representatives…talking to men like Abu Youssef, Ali Salameh and Amin al-Hindi, all of them masterminds of the Munich murders.”

In fact, Germany chose never to prosecute or even pursue the terrorists who murdered the unarmed Olympic athletes.

Today’s Hezbollah is yesterday’s Black September, except they are exponentially more powerful, literally control a country Lebanon, and are themselves directed controlled by the Iranian “supreme leader” and his Revolutionary Guards. According to the State Department, Iran is still designated as the number-one state sponsor of terrorism.

After the EU listed Hezbollah’s military but not its political wing as a terrorist entity in 2012, after they attacked a tourist bus in Bulgaria targeting Israeli civilians, the French foreign minister pledged, “there’s no question of accepting terrorist organizations in Europe.”

According to Mathew Levitt, a Washington Institute Counterterrorism and Intelligence expert, just three years after the attack “there is abundant evidence that Hezbollah is…engaging in terrorist activities in Europe.” Yet the EU continues to do business as usual with Hezbollah’s Iranian sponsors.

Far too many in Europe, especially Germany, fail to live up to their western values, favoring Iran over American interests, refusing to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.

Just a few weeks ago, an Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi was charged by German police with giving a high explosive bomb to an Iranian couple to detonate at an Iranian opposition rally outside of Paris.

How did the EU respond? According to Struan Stevenson writing in UPI, “ EU lawmakers on July 5 (one week later) approved plans for the European Investment Bank to do business with Iran… The EU appeasers seem to think that if you keep throwing steaks to the tiger it will become a vegetarian.”

So what needs to be done? America must fundamentally change its policy towards Lebanon and acknowledge the reality that differentiating Lebanon from Hezbollah at this point is as incoherent as differentiating the military and political wings of Hezbollah.

They are all one in the same, and America would be much more persuasive to Europe if it had a unified policy on Lebanon and Hezbollah.

Just as America viewed Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega as a narco-terrorist in the 1980’s and acted decisively, Hezbollah’s leadership needs to be viewed through the same prism. Hezbollah funds their terrorism through drugs and money laundering in Europe and South America, directly fueling the cocaine trade into the United States.

That is a primary reason why America and Europe need both to call Hezbollah what it is, an enemy terrorist organization.

According to former Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor, “The moment it is classed as such, its bank accounts, businesses and finances would be treated as illegal, and heavily sanctioned. Its members would be placed on no-flight lists, and law-enforcement agencies can then use more effective tools. Hezbollah’s “free-trade zone” would officially be closed…Less money means fewer weapons.”

As Hezbollah expert Emanuele Ottolenghi of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies writes, in foreign policy, “Latin America is an indispensable theater of operations for the criminal networks that generate much of Hezbollah’s revenue. Paraguay hosts a significant and growing money laundering operation connected to Hezbollah in the Triple Frontier, where Paraguay intersects with Argentina and Brazil.”

There is bipartisan consensus in the House of Representatives with the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Ed Royce a Republican, and ranking member Elliot Engel a Democrat, co-authoring legislation sanctioning individuals and businesses that are the lifeblood supporting Hezbollah’s illicit operations.

As for Europe’s unsavory relationship with Hezbollah, just as the address to do anything in Syria is Moscow, the address to stop Hezbollah resides in Europe with Angela Merkel.

Merkel cannot plead ignorance. The German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution figured there were nearly 1000 Hezbollah operatives and 300 Hamas members actively working within Germany.

German diplomats have claimed that Germany is resisting the US demand to outlaw Hezbollah because it will hurt Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The rationale to defend Hezbollah is becoming more flimsy all the time.

To make the point absolutely clear that Europe has no interest in reigning in Hezbollah, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Frederica Mogherini, justifies engaging with a terrorist entity like Hezbollah, because it allows for constructive engagement. This is the same person who defends Iran and actively undermines American interests by promoting Iranian trade, despite the direct complicity of Iran and Hezbollah in their ethnic cleansing of tens of thousands of Sunnis in Syria and Iraq to make way for a forced population transfer of Shi’ites controlled by Iran into Sunni areas, flying in the face of international law.

America needs to lead and demand that Europe will follow. As Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said, “This Administration will expose and disrupt Hizbollah and Iranian terror networks at every turn, including those with ties to the Central Bank of Iran.”

Your turn Chancellor Merkel.

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

Can Egypt be the Path to Peace for the Middle East?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

After the disaster of the Morsi regime, during which the MB tried to turn Egypt back to the dark ages, Egypt has now come to a fork in the road.

In the Middle East, what they say is not what they mean, and what they mean is not what they say.

According to The New York Times, U.S. President Donald Trump is “developing a strategy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would enlist Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and Egypt to break years of deadlock.”

It would behoove his new foreign policy team to reflect carefully on these words before forging ahead with Middle East diplomacy.

The key to any possible path to conflict resolution in this region is to understand the shifting web of “interests” that motivate the players on this chessboard in the sand.

During meetings in Egypt and Israel this past week, almost everyone I spoke with cautioned against over-reaching beyond what is possible for the region at this time.

The American abstention on UNSC Resolution 2334 has cast a dark cloud. For the first time ever, an Israeli presence over the 1949 armistice line is labeled an internationally recognized illegal act, with the blessing of the United States.

What I heard from those on the ground, including an international observer, is that 2334 will become a major obstacle to a two-state solution, the exact opposite of what the Obama administration claimed was their intent. “Counterproductive” is an understatement in assessing the damage it has done.

Far too many well-meaning intermediaries fail to understand the Middle East’s complexities, the staggering array of contradictory interests, often making little sense to Western eyes.

During meetings with the Egyptian foreign policy establishment I was asked to convey to Congress a number of their concerns.

1. Please explain that the 2013 overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood regime of president Mohammed Morsi was not a coup but a democratic revolution.

They insist it was a people’s revolution of 33 million in the streets demanding an end to Islamist suppression and economic incompetence. Although Morsi was elected in a fair election with a coalition of MB and Salafist voters representing 70% of the Egyptian electorate, officials repeatedly reminded me that today the MB would not receive more than 20% of the vote.

However I fear that if the current monthly inflation of 20% in Egypt continues, an Islamist coalition could win the next election, a potentially devastating blow to American security interests.

Egyptians of all stripes still cannot understand president Barack Obama’s hidden outreach to the MB before the “Arab Spring” of 2011, and his continued support of the Brotherhood, looking to them to be the moderating influence in the Islamist world.

2. Egyptians want Americans to understand that Islamic State (ISIS) in Sinai is under control, and that the more pressing concerns are the Libyan border and the internal Islamist threats to destabilize Egypt.

We need to understand that the ever-changing interests between Hamas, Egypt and the indigenous Beduin make Western strategic choices in the Sinai fraught with peril. Most outside observers believe that the situation in the Sinai is far from stable.

3. Egyptian officials want Congress to know that the Egyptian military is the strongest in the region and should be an important ally for America.

Yet according to the INSS’s Yitftah Shapir, Egypt has “embarked on an unprecedented break from its traditional military relations with the US,” turning to Russia, France and Germany. They seem to ignore that America already has in Israel a reliable ally that shares its Western democratic values.

However, Egypt does have an opportunity to make a case to challenge Turkey as America’s primary Muslim ally now that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned NATO’s eastern flank into an Islamist authoritarian state.

The unprecedented military, security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and Egypt are privately acknowledged, yet the Egyptian people are completely unaware of this cooperation as a matter of policy.

A leading Israeli expert on Egypt said that the Egyptian public opinion makers “hates our guts,” except for the highest government officials and the military, who cooperate against a common enemy. Transient interests should not be misunderstood as a change in the fundamental relationship.

An international official spoke about the endemic antisemitism in the Middle East, which is staggering in scale; remaining a convenient excuse to avoid normalizing relations until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. In the Middle East the terms “Jew” and “Israeli” are interchangeable.

After the disaster of the Morsi regime, during which the MB tried to turn Egypt back to the dark ages, Egypt has now come to a fork in the road.

For Egypt today there may be a small window of opportunity to change course and lead the Arab world into the 21st century for a more stable future.

Now that the MB leadership is in jail, the time has come for Egypt to slowly change the anti-Israel narrative in its state-controlled media.

Going forward, my advice to Egyptians is to bring other Sunni Arab nations who currently have secret relationships with Israel out into the open, as a way to advance the peace process.

Egypt strongly desires to strengthen its relationship with the US, and the answer is to broaden its relationship with Israel. Americans and Congress see the Middle East through their support of America’s most stable ally in the region. Strengthening the Israeli- Egyptian relationship is not a favor to Israel, but in Egyptian interests.

The excuse that Egypt cannot lead unless the Palestinians agree is the failed formula of the past. The Egyptian economy is on the ropes, and the path forward is in part through Israel.

The author is the founder and director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political and Information Network. He regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He just returned from his 15th annual seminar in the Middle East with Keshet Insight Seminar’s Yitzhak Sokoloff.

 

America Needs Unbiased Middle East Reporting for the 2016 Election

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

The American electorate has been ill served by politically skewed foreign news coverage that markets political advocacy as news.

Unbiased Middle East news coverage has become as rare as hen’s teeth.

This is especially important now that American leadership has declined and its word garners less respect from friends and enemies. Of more concern, both American presidential candidates are profoundly flawed. One believes she can play by a different set of rules, convinced that the dangerous Iran agreement puts a permanent “cap” on the Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The other, blurting out ignorance, playing on people’s fears, seems not to have the humility and willingness to give an ear to everyone’s concerns, or to have a prayer of bridging the gaps between parties with ingrained antagonisms.

And then there is the mainstream media. The term has become an epithet to the Right, and the Left is only too happy to ignore its bias. The American electorate has been ill served by politically skewed foreign news coverage that markets political advocacy as news.

During the 2014 Gaza war exposés by Richard Behar, formerly of BBC and CNN, and former AP editor Matti Friedman showed how mainstream news was compromised, peddling advocacy as balanced reporting.

Some of the evidence they presented included suppression of stories critical of the Palestinians; a New York Times reporter participating in boycott activism; and suppression of reporting regarding Palestinian rejection of Israel’s 2008 peace offer.

As Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post tweeted, “A dissection of the culture of ‘distaste for Israel’ among Western press… All too true, in my experience.”

I remember asking Akiva Eldar of Haaretz if he was troubled that the news articles in his paper were editorialized.

He told me that if I didn’t like it, I could read another paper.

Whatever happened to proudly unbiased news coverage instead of advocacy journalism? In the age of social media, the public thinks nothing of delegitimizing those with contrary views, or gathering their news only from like-minded echo chambers.

This is especially true of American Jews. A New York Times reader over the past few years would be totally unaware that opponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA , or the “Iran agreement”) could be anything but bloodthirsty war hawks.

So kudos go out to the new public editor of the Times, Liz Spayd. Just one month into her new job she confronted the elephant in the Times’ newsroom, posting an article titled, “Why Readers See the Times as Liberal.”

“Imagine a country where the greatest, most powerful newsroom in the free world was viewed not as a voice that speaks to all but as one that has taken sides.

Or has that already happened?” To all but the must obtuse, it has been an open secret for years that the views of the editorial pages of the Times have spilled over into the news coverage.

Whether in its choice of a politicized headline, a cropped photo leaving out the full story, or choosing to not report or bury in the inner pages a newsworthy story, it is an open secret that the “paper of record” approaches many stories from a progressive perspective.

Fine writers like David Sanger do show much more objectivity. However what has stuck with me was a conversation with a former editor of the Times and a current writer, who told me that if you come into the news or editorial room with anything close to a favorable opinion of Israel, you are immediately marginalized.

When Spayd asked the Times news journalists about the perceived bias, she was met unsurprisingly with “rolled eyes.” When she asked Dean Baquet, the executive news editor of the Times, about bias, he said for the most part there is not a “liberal cast.”

Earth to Baquet, we have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.

In social media, on cable television, and worst of all newspapers of record, a fraud is being perpetuated upon the public. Often only readers with exceptional knowledge of a particular subject can see how the facts are being manipulated.

As an example, I was reading a news column in the Times: “Delays threaten to undo Iranian deals for purchase of 200 jetliners.” The article found no space to express the number one reason Congress is wary of selling commercial planes to Iran, namely the use of those jetliners to supply the Syrian regime with weapons.

So my plea: get your news from multiple sources with different perspectives, sources that earn your trust, and encourage your friends, family and colleagues to do the same.

The author is the director MEPIN™ (mepinanalysis.org), read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

The 2016 agenda for the Middle East

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

2016 is shaping up to be one where America may contribute to human suffering, undermine its essential allies and make common cause with the world’s chief state sponsor of terrorism.

I recently returned from two days of meetings in Congress with senators, congressmen and foreign policy experts.

It’s easier to find an Israeli in Saudi Arabia then it is to find anyone in Congress willing to give a vigorous defense of the president’s Middle East strategy. The vacuums created by America’s hasty withdrawals have left the region in chaos.

Five reasons we have lost the trust of those who looked to us for stability in the region are:

1. The administration’s abandonment of the Iranian people during the Green Revolution of 2009, a potentially real Persian Spring, unlike the chimera of the Arab Spring.

2. The abandonment of American ally Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and the president’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood as a legitimate democratic movement. The administration could not differentiate between an election and democracy, or realize that the Brotherhood spawned Hamas and the leader of al-Qaida.

3. The public snubbing and creation of daylight between Israel and the US in 2009, sending a clear message to America’s other allies in the region that the US could abandon them too.

4. The administration’s abandonment of its own red lines on Syrian chemical weapons, indicating to America’s adversaries that our threats are hollow.

5. The abandonment of our president’s vow to see Syrian President Bashar Assad go makes America seem irresolute.

As Anshel Pfeffer wrote in Haaretz:

• Four years ago President Barack Obama announced that “Assad must go.”

• In December Secretary of State John Kerry said “The United States [is] not seeking…regime change [in Syria]”

• Last week White House press secretary Josh Earnest insisted that “our position hasn’t changed.”

So what are the dos and don’ts for 2016 for the US in the Middle East?

Regarding the Islamic State (IS): • Despite IS’s high-profile brutality and terrorism that may be our most immediate threat, in the long term, Iran’s desire for hegemony and nuclear weapons is still No. 1. A close second is the inevitable quest by others in the region for nuclear weapons in response to Iran.

• America needs to realize that even if IS is militarily defeated, this will not be the end of radical Sunni Islamism. The anti-Western militant Islamist mentality permeates much of the Sunni world, and will survive more than one lost battle.

• America needs to lead and pressure the Gulf Sunni Muslim states, Jordan and Egypt to create a real Sunni Arab coalition army of literally tens of thousands of troops to fight IS.

• Don’t think that a Sunni Arab army alone can effectively destroy IS. Only American leadership, including American troops, can make this happen.

• Create the long overdue no-fly zone and Syrian safe haven to stem the tide of refugees leaving Syria.

• Remember the words of ambassador Dennis Ross: “The priorities of the Arab leaders revolve around survival and security. [Their] domestic stability comes first.”

• Don’t forget that most of our Sunni allies are allies of shared interests, not shared values. They are on the whole misogynistic, homophobic, anti-Semitic and illiberal.

Regarding Syria:

• Do not empower or legitimize Assad; it only empowers Iran, Hezbollah and the Russians. They are not America’s friends. Degrade IS and Assad, in that order.

• Do not try and recreate a Syrian state along the Skyes-Picot borders. Humpty Dumpty cannot and should not be put back together.

Regarding Iran:

• Don’t be fooled and think that Iranian nuclear aspirations have been quelled by the JCPOA, the Iran Deal.

• In 2016, America must impose consequences on Iran when it breaks UNSC resolutions, as it did in performing illegal missile tests in October and December.

The president promised that the nuclear deal would not stop our sanctioning Iranian human rights abuses and terrorism. Hold him to his word.

Regarding Israel and the Palestinians:

• It is time to stop coddling Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and begin to publicly criticize the PA for its blatant anti-Semitic incitement and corruption, and failure to prepare the Palestinian people for compromise and acceptance of a Jewish state.

• America must return to its stance that Israel is its primary ally in the region.

• Remember that even America’s adversaries will respect the US for refusing to abandon its allies.

• In 2016, come to the realization that the path forward should include legitimizing Israeli building within existing settlement blocs that have been part of every American-endorsed land swap deal.

• Do not think that the Arab world’s priority is the Palestinians; it is not.

• Do not stop all PA funding, as Hamastan or worse could follow. Israeli security experts recommend we continue the funding.

• Don’t listen to progressive leaders like J Street’s Jeremy Ben Ami and his ilk, who want the president to bring an imposed solution for the conflict to “the UN Security Council for approval.”

Two terrorist threats that must not be forgotten in 2016:

• The terrorists’ quest for nuclear and radiologic materials, and the threat of a nuclear or non-nuclear EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) that could fry our electric grid.

Regarding the EU labeling of goods from over the Green Line: 

• Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that labeling Israeli produced goods from over the Green Line is not a boycott.

It is a boycott, and will inexorably lead to a boycott of all of Israel in the future.

• Do ratchet up the Congressional pressure on the EU with tangible consequences for its boycott of Israeli goods from over the armistice line. The Lowey, Roskam, Engel and Royce House Resolution denouncing the European Commission labeling guidelines on Israeli products from the West Bank was a good start.

Regarding the international community:

• The UN has become an anti-American organization with a majority of non-democratic tin-pot dictatorships that actively work against our foreign policy interests. We must abandon the notion that a UN vote is what gives the stamp of consensus of the civilized world for security decisions that put our safety, resources and soldiers on the line.

• Do not fund UNESCO, whose politicized anti-Israel agenda has compromised its humanitarian mission.

• America must realize which self-proclaimed human rights organizations and NGOs are in actuality vehicles for anti-American agendas.

• America must finally come to the realization that it is counterproductive to count descendants of the original Palestinian refugees as refugees, as mandated by UNWRA. This must end. America has the leverage, as it is the No. 1 financial supporter of UNWRA.

President Obama is unlikely to change course in 2016. So while Iran cyber-attacks America’s infrastructure and breaks UNSC resolutions on missile testing, the president still claims the Iran nuclear deal is a winner. And while the president still claims victory with a hollow UNSC resolution to end the regional war in Syria, the Syrian people remain cannon fodder for both IS and Assad.

With such a distorted view of reality, 2016 is shaping up to be one where America may contribute to human suffering, undermine its essential allies and make common cause with the world’s chief state sponsor of terrorism, Iran, in Syria, with the help of Hezbollah and Russia. After seven years, we have to say this is not naiveté; it is a deliberate strategy of executive overreach that flies in the face of American values and damages our national security interests.

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