Tag Archives: The Jerusalem Post

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.

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.

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.”

What does pro-Israel mean in the age of Trump?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

The term “pro-Israel” has become has become a lightning rod, due in part to President Donald Trump’s many self-described pro-Israel statements and actions, and the scorn many people have for just about anything he says or does.

Writing in Haaretz, Jonathan Tobin said, “Democrats and never-Trump former Republicans argue that even if you support the president’s policies, they are bad for Israel… the association with Trump is tarnishing the Jewish state… [yet] if Democrats are increasingly divided on Israel, this is a trend that long predates Trump and was largely weaponized by Barack Obama’s feud” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Iran nuclear deal.

Eight years ago, when asked what it meant to be pro-Israel, David Shipler, the former New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, said, “It seems obvious to say that being pro-Israel means supporting Israel’s survival, security and well-being as a just and prosperous society. Nobody would disagree.”

Is that definition of being pro-Israel obvious to most Jewish Americans today?

Twenty-five years ago, pro-Israel was clearly understood to mean that you supported Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, respecting the democratically elected government as the will of its people who put their children and themselves in harm’s way every day. Fifty years earlier, six million Jews were slaughtered, with Israel being the refuge of the tiny remnant that survived, along with 750,000 Jews ethnically cleansed from Arab lands. Israel’s six million was to be protected and defended by the Jewish Diaspora so a second Holocaust could never occur again.

That never meant that Israel was always right, but to be pro-Israel you believed Israel was right more than wrong, and certainly more moral than its neighbors, which imported European style antisemitism on top of their own anti-Jewish animus. That – combined with misogyny, authoritarianism and a profound lack of human rights – made Israel the clear choice for American sympathy across the political spectrum.

With the election of Barack Obama to the presidency and his stated goal to put “daylight” between America and Israel, the definition of what it meant to be pro-Israel was put under stress, as most American Jews overwhelmingly voted for Mr. Obama, as they have consistently voted for the Democratic Party in every election cycle. 

At the same time a new organization came on the scene that supported a more much critical attitude to Israel that was adopted by the new administration, hoping to re-define what it means to be pro-Israel. The primary focus of J Street changed the positive shared values and security-based “special relationship” to highlighting Israel’s occupation of the disputed territories, calling for punishing consequences for Israel’s intransigence.

This resonated with many young Jewish adults who were immersed in college campuses where intersectionality is the prevailing wind, Israel being the victimizer and the Palestinians being the innocent lamb. Although J Street and its college subsidiaries claimed they were in favor of a Jewish and democratic state and against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, it still provided forums for those who believe in BDS as the best method to pressure Israel to change its ways. 

WITH THIS, the foundation of what it meant to be pro-Israel for young as well as older Jews began to crumble.

This culminated in the Obama administration’s orchestration of the passage of UNSC Resolution 2334 that labeled any Israeli presence in West Bank (Judea and Samaria) a violation of international law. Being pro-Israel now meant that if you believe Israel has legal rights over the 1967 line, you are a supporter of an international crime against humanity. To Israel’s critics, everything about Israel is defined through the lens of its occupation of the disputed territories.

Enter Donald Trump, and the “pro-Israel” moniker became even more politicized, if that were possible, by challenging Jewish Democrats’ loyalty to the Jewish state. This occurred contemporaneously with the rise of the Democratic congresswomen who routinely crossed the line into anti-Zionism and antisemitism without incurring any consequences.

Trump’s “pro-Israel” support of Israel’s annexation of the Golan, extension of sovereignty to 30% of the West Bank, withdrawing support to the Palestinian Authority for supporting terrorists, have all been condemned by J Street as wrong and counter-productive. The organization’s advocacy, primarily in support of the Palestinian position, seems to have been re-invented into what it claims is an authentic 2020 pro-Israel position.

So what should define pro-Israel in 2020 across the political spectrum?

Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Being able to say the Land of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people.
  2. That the state of Israel is entitled to exist as a Jewish and democratic state without qualifiers.
  3. Respecting, even if not agreeing, with the outcomes of Israel’s elections
  4. Not supporting boycotts, divestment or sanctions in any form.
  5. Not allying with anti-Israel organizations that question Israel’s right to exist.
  6. If you are pro-peace but advocate in favor of the Palestinian narrative that Jews are not indigenous, the creation of the state is illegitimate, you cannot spin that as being pro-Israel.
  7. If you advocate for a binational state you are not pro-Israel.
  8. You are pro-Israel if you demand any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict include an “end of conflict agreement” that all claims are forever ended, including the Palestinian right of return.

This list is certainly open to debate, but the hope is that it can create a dialogue into what pro-Israel should mean in 2020 and beyond. Just because you are Jewish does not automatically give you higher standing or the claim that anything you advocate is pro-Israel.

Whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden prevails in the November election, the eventual winner’s positions and actions over the next four years will challenge the very definition of what “pro-Israel” means. The ever-expanding and contracting tent of who is within or outside the pro-Israel tent will challenge Jewish Americans and their supporters in Congress for the foreseeable future.

The writer is 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 has written in The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld, The Forward, i24, Israel Hayom and Defense News.

Are Beinart and Rogen the handwriting on the wall for Diaspora Jewry?

{Previously published by the JNS}

Much has been written about Peter Beinart’s recent article “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State” and Seth Rogen’s simplistic ill-informed podcast delegitimizing the State of Israel. When you are praised by the anti-Semitic Code Pink organization as Rogen was, you know you have crossed a line—whether intended or not—into the BDS anti-Israel world that claims Israel is the worst nation on earth, an ethnically cleansing illegitimate enterprise from its beginning. Rogen’s defenders claimed he apologized, except that he didn’t. “I did not apologize for what I said. I offered clarity.” That is the very definition of not apologizing. Blaming his childhood Jewish education for his adult ignorance is pathetic. The best he can say is that Israel has a right to exist.

The important question to ask regarding their outrageous statements is whether these are indicative of where the American Jewish Diaspora is headed.

Let’s be clear from the start. Criticism of the Jewish state is the national sport of Israelis and for Jewish Americans of all stripes. The false claim that those who support and defend the right of the Jewish state to live in peace and security are a non-thinking, biased group that never sees anything wrong with the actions of the Jewish state is simply false and a tactic of Israel critics to delegitimize those who support Israel, warts and all.

So let’s do a simple test to gain some insight into the potential staying power of American Jewry for the long term, at least in quantifying the number of future identifiable Jews. Honestly ask yourself what percentage of American Jews, who are not Orthodox or Zionists, will have grandchildren and great-grandchildren be Jewish beyond defining it as enjoying bagels and being proud to have an ancestry of one Jewish grandparent.

If we are honest, the answer isn’t pretty. Unless you are a Zionist or Orthodox, your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be further and further estranged from their past, beyond a spit test sent to you by ancestry.com or “23andme.”

Yes, there will still be some small number of Jews who continue to identify as Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist, and will fulfill the fine aspirations of each one of those denominations, but they will be far smaller in number. As a Conservative Jew, it’s painful for me to admit the truth.

The American-born Israeli novelist Hillel Halkin asked, “What binds American Jews together today? Most of us are secular; the religious bond is gone. Few of us speak Hebrew; the language bond is gone. What remains is the historical narrative of 80 generations and Israel, the realization of that dream and the spiritual and cultural light that radiates to the rest of the world. If we abandon Israel, we abandon our future. If Israel is gone, Jewish life will be gone in one or two generations. … If we forget that narrative, gone is our Jewishness. Throughout our history, the driving engine of survival has been the hope for returning to sovereignty in the birthplace of our history—Eretz Israel. The State of Israel is the culmination of this dream.”

Today’s young Jewish Americans don’t relate to Israel, as their cultural immersion from middle school through graduate school has painted Israel as the last illegitimate remnant of imperialism, which should be expunged for society to advance. If they care about their Judaism, it is overwhelmingly defined by tikkun olam, repairing the world—a lovely universalist concept that is an important part, but not in itself enough, to make one Jewish. If that is your primary identification with Judaism, you may be a wonderful person, but there is no compelling reason to pass your Jewish identity on. If you also see the Jewish state as anachronistic and militaristic—something that you cannot be associated with to live with your progressive ideology—then you take a step towards Beinart and Rogen.

This all sounds harsh, perhaps a little over the top. But to ignore the facts and reality of what is happening to liberal American Judaism, especially if you care about Judaism’s future in the diaspora, is to bury your head in the sand.

Since most American Jews will not become religious, much less Orthodox, and don’t identify in religious terms in the contemporary post-denominational era, the only sure way to have a continuation of Jewish identify in the Diaspora for the future is to connect to Israel in some way. If you are an atheist and a Zionist, you have a much better chance that your progeny will be meaningfully Jewish than if you are estranged or hostile to Israel and consider your Jewishness to consist of being a really nice person.

With an overwhelming intermarriage rate—and most American Jews uninterested in Judaism as a religion except for maybe a family Passover seder—then a re-engagement with Zionism may be the last hope for maintaining the Jewish census in America. This should begin by ending the false narrative of only seeing Israel through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and defining it completely by its “occupation” of the disputed territories. Otherwise, Peter Beinart and Seth Rogan are truly the handwriting on the wall for American Judaism.

Learn to love Israel on your own terms and pass it on to your children. It will preserve your 3,000-year-old heritage and legacy for future generations, with all its beauty and complexities.

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.”

Editorialized news reporting is worse now than the Bari Weiss controversy

In 2016, James Rutenberg, the media reporter for The New York Times, wrote, “You have to throw out the textbook [of] American journalism…. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, non-opinion journalist… by normal standards, untenable.” 

That was written in response to the nomination of Donald Trump. You can despise Trump for fabrications and divisiveness, but is throwing out journalistic standards the way forward?

For the uninitiated, this is known as “advocacy journalism” or “editorialized news reporting.” Opinion with the goal to convince is what is expected in an editorial or opinion piece, but it crosses a line when it is routinely found where news is supposed to be reported, and it is a profound danger to our democracy.

As Gerald Baker of The Wall Street Journal wrote regarding today’s news media, they are “more entrenched and [have] more enduring power to reshape the way we talk and think about politics than Mr. Trump does. We are facing nothing less than a concerted, sustained and comprehensive effort to re-educate Americans in service of a radical ideological agenda.”

Opinion writer and editor Bari Weiss’s resignation from the Times spotlighted the illiberalism and workplace intimidation at the paper of record. That should, in and of itself, frighten all fair-minded people, especially because her colleagues called her a “Nazi” and “racist” and accused her of not being progressive enough, writing as she did about antisemitism and Israel without the required level of self-loathing.

So, while Ms. Weiss’s description of a toxic environment in The New York Times’ opinion and editorial section is deplorable, the elephant in the room that must not be missed is the activist agenda of the news side of the paper, where like-minded writers and editors inject their high-minded opinions into their news stories. 

You see it in the headlines, choice of stories, the photos accompanying an article blatantly meant to influence you, and the placement of a story to advance their perception of right-minded thinking. These manipulations have been going on for decades, perpetuating a fraud upon the public who thought they could blindly trust their news sources to be unbiased.

This is in part the reason why many pro-Israel Times readers canceled their subscriptions over the past two decades. The Times has been fixated on Israel, with a disproportionate number of news, opinion and editorial pieces written in relation to the minuscule size of the country, most of a highly critical nature. The profound human rights abuses around the world, especially a stone’s throw from Israel, receive proportionally much less coverage.

Seventeen years ago, the Times created the position of a public editor to address the concerns of its readers. Its first editor wrote a column titled “Is ‘The New York Times’ a Liberal Paper?” His answer, “Of course it is.” 

Thank you for the honesty. Yet in 2017, the publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. eliminated the position, claiming it was not needed anymore in the age of social media. So much for critical self-examination.

SO IS news-journalism’s goal in the 21st century to inform the public as objectively as possible, despite acknowledging our innate biases, or is it OK to consciously write copy as a public relations agency would to create an impression in a news story that corresponds to the moral compass of the writers and their colleagues?

Weiss brought a fresh viewpoint to the opinion section of the Times, and was eager for a vigorous debate over the merits of her ideas. She didn’t expect intimidation, delegitimization, and rank illiberalism from her colleagues in both the news and opinion sections, who, like our so-delicate college kids, take offense at challenging ideas, demanding a safe space from any differing or uncomfortable thought.

I was not surprised by Weiss’s allegations. Over the years I have spoken to former and current editors and writers at both the news and opinion desks at the paper of record, who have told me that working at “The Gray Lady,” if you are perceived to be balanced or sympathetic to Israel, you are marginalized. These advocacy news writers were nurtured in universities where political diversity is absent, and where advocating for the victim and oppressed is their holier-than-thou mission.

In November I spoke to students at Berkeley who asked me what newspapers and media sources they should read to get a fair and well-rounded perspective. I told them they must read many sources, as almost all news departments are mission-oriented these days. More disturbing was that the students told me that in their classrooms they were afraid to express a point of view different from their professors, risking ostracism or a bad grade.

For some, the uproar over journalism is much ado about nothing. The new editor-in-chief of The Jewish Week, Andrew Silow-Caroll, who has taken a decidedly left turn in his opinions compared to his predecessor, Gary Rosenblatt. Silow-Caroll, in part in an attempt to attract younger readers, wrote a spirited defense of American journalism in the aftermath of the Bari Weiss affair. 

The New York Times’ opinion section is a singular, and highly influential, showplace of journalism, but it tends to overshadow the more typical work of the thousands of reporters, editors and broadcasters who are trying to provide us with the diet of information that is essential to a healthy, functioning democracy.” 

If only it were so.

Less generously, Silow-Caroll seems to blame Weiss for being thin-skinned. 

“She courted and welcomed controversy, and often her words and assignments seemed calculated to provoke exactly the reactions she now decries.” 

That is some spin, blaming the victim!

Ms. Weiss confronted the worst of progressive journalism at the prestigious New York Times, but she can hold her own. But it is the readers of the paper of record whom I worry about, as well as the students whose professors practice activism over academics, radicalizing the young people who are our future journalists, making them believe it is OK to put the stamp of your opinion in a news article. That is the greatest threat to our democracy.

Bottom line to news reporters: No matter how just your personal causes, to be respected as a true journalist, put facts in one place, opinion in another.

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/The Jerusalem Post, and has written for The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld, the Forward, and Defense News.

Why Palestinians can’t sign an end-of-conflict pact

Palestinian Arabs cannot sign an agreement that ends all claims and recognizes the right of a Jewish state to exist and live unmolested on land that was ever Muslim.

According to the usual international peace negotiators, everyone knows the end game to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, exactly what each party must concede for a final treaty. They say all that is needed is for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines with minor adjustments, with east Jerusalem as the capital of the new Palestinian state. If only Israel offered that, peace would reign.

But diplomats twist themselves into knots, finding ways to rationalize Palestinian intransigence, trying to explain away the fact that all those concessions were already offered to the Palestinian Authority in 2001 and 2008 and were soundly rejected. In 2008 the Israelis offered 94% of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) with land swaps to make up for the 6%, east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, while Israel even conceded giving up exclusive sovereignty of the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, and the City of David, not to mention billions in international investment in a new Palestinian state. The Palestinians only had to give up the right of return, sign “an end-of-conflict and end-of-claims” agreement for perpetuity and be demilitarized.

If the Palestinians’ goal was truly two states for two peoples, and they truly wanted an independent Palestinian state living side by side a Jewish state, as UNGA Resolution 181 called for, why has this conflict not been resolved?

A recent article in The Hill by Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, two veteran peace negotiators and advisers who should know better, referred to a “two-state solution” and a “viable two-state outcome” in their attack on the Trump peace plan. Those terms mean completely different things to the Palestinians than they do to Western negotiators.

To Palestinians, two states mean an Arab state in the West Bank and a binational state in Israel that will become Arab-ruled with time, because the Palestinians will never give up the right of return, as well documented in the new book The War of Return by Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf, a former Knesset member from the Center-Left Independence and Labor parties. The Palestinian demand is that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants in perpetuity have the right to move into Israel at any time of their choosing. In other words, this is the demographic destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.

Western negotiators and politicians of both American political parties have never fully understood or let on that they understood what the Palestinians really want, believing the answer to bridge the divide was leaving any documents between the parties ambiguous, so both could claim victory.

The only logical approach to truly ending this conflict is to write the most clear, unambiguous and specific documents, with every possible “i” dotted and “t” crossed, so no party can ever claim it still has outstanding issues in the future. Even contingencies should be included in the agreement, with a mechanism to respond to any violations.

Why?

Because Palestinian Arabs cannot at the present time sign an agreement that ends all claims and sign an end-of-conflict resolution that recognizes the right of a Jewish state to exist and live unmolested on land that was ever Muslim. I brought this up with president Bill Clinton in 2004, a man who truly gave his all to solve the conflict. Surprisingly, despite his sincere personal investment in the conflict, he didn’t seem to appreciate the essential importance of signing an end-of-conflict resolution, but he did tell me that prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak insisted upon it, as did Ehud Olmert in 2008. This is the eternal blind spot of Western negotiators and American presidents who seem to just want a deal signed, and inexplicably believe ambiguity will build trust. That was the failure of the Oslo Accords, giving away tangible assets for unfulfilled promises.

Western peacemakers have claimed without a credible basis that acknowledging the Palestinian right to return is just a needed gesture for Palestinian dignity, and say that the Palestinians will never take advantage of it, knowing that only a token number of refugees can be allowed. Just listen to what Palestinian leaders from Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas say, that vehemently contradicts this.

There is no international right for the return of refugees, certainly not descendants of refugees. In fact every other refugee in the world aided by the UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) is to be rehabilitated in the country where they received refuge. This is especially true for refugees from the 1948 War of Independence, who were active participants in the war to annihilate the Jewish inhabitants, joining five Arabs armies whose goal was the complete annihilation of the Jewish state. The most the pro-Palestinian world can argue is that UNGA Resolution 194 calls for the right of return. However as with all General Assembly resolutions it has absolutely no force of law.

If peacemakers truly want a sustainable peace, they have to acknowledge that Israel has legal rights over the 1949 armistice lines if an eventual deal includes land swaps. Just like with the refugee issue, if it is not completely spelled out, no matter what agreement is signed, Palestinians will always have a pretext to say Israel stole Palestinian land with land swaps, and once again, preach and prepare for a new war.

The pro-Palestinian Middle East Monitor said it the best. “Palestinians will continue to seek a just peace that will provide future generations with their birthright; their land will be returned, one way or another.” Naïve Westerners hear the words “just peace” and assume it means two states for two peoples. What it actually means is the unlimited right of return for every Palestinian forever to Israel, as no Palestinian government can give up an individual Palestinian descendant’s claim to be a displaced owner of what is now Israel.

The annexation debate has obscured the true paradigm of the conflict. The question is not if Israel annexes 30% of the West Bank, would it end the dream of a Palestinian state. The question to ask is, would the Palestinians accept the West Bank with land swaps that ensure Israel’s security, sign an end-of-conflict resolution and accept a Jewish state? The answer for the foreseeable future is no. This is not a territorial conflict or else this would have ended long ago.

If this hill for a comprehensive agreement is too high to climb at this time, so be it. What is needed is honesty, so a putative peace agreement is not just a recipe for fruitless concessions by Israel.

If all the Palestinians are capable of doing is negotiating a better status quo with more economic development and investment in exchange for nonviolence, then that should be the path for this generation.

The Trump peace plan or any other agreement will never have any staying power if it doesn’t include an end-of-conflict agreement, a recognition of two states for two peoples that clearly states that one of those states is Jewish, and an absolute end of any right for descendants of original Palestinian refugees to return to the State of Israel.

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.

Will annexation embolden Iran?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Could the ramifications of annexation reverberate from an exclusively Israeli-Palestinian issue, into one with regional implications that could lead to a large-scale war?

Does Israel’s extension of sovereignty (annexation) into the West Bank, in accord with the Trump peace plan, play into an Iranian strategy that has been looking for an opportune time to respond to Israel’s continuing attacks on its interests in Syria, and against its missile shipments transiting through Iraq?

Iran’s strategy in Syria in regard to Israel has not changed, biding its time, waiting for a better landscape when Israel will be internationally isolated, to finally respond to the hundreds of Israeli missile and air attacks against its assets and allies in Syria. It has 150,000 missiles under its control in Lebanon, targeting every Israeli city and Israel’s nuclear facility in Dimona.

With the extension of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank and the inevitable international condemnation, Iran’s patience may have been rewarded. It can hope for a new American administration that may not only relieve sanctions on Iran and rejoin the JCPOA, but may actually sanction Israel because of its annexation of the disputed territory in the West Bank.

Could the ramifications of annexation reverberate from an exclusively Israeli-Palestinian issue, into one with regional implications that could lead to a large-scale war?

Just as some in Israel believe now is the time to act and extend sovereignty, as the opportunity will not being there under a Biden administration, Iran may also calculate that if Biden becomes president and re-enters the JCPOA, there would then be the opportunity to take military action against Israel, believing Biden will not want to endanger a nuclear deal by siding with Israel.

Iran remembers that after the JCPOA went into effect, it paid no consequences for its continued support of terrorism, complicity in the Syrian genocide, increased human rights abuses against its own citizens, and accelerated development of long-range missiles. This was despite the Obama administration’s promises to the contrary. The administration chose instead to ignore these Iranian transgressions in the name of preserving the deal.

So would a Biden administration give Israel a black eye over annexation? Remember that after the surprise Egyptian and Syrian attack on Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, an audio recording of then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger said, “[The] best result would be if Israel came out a little ahead but got bloodied in the process.”

Are there any parallels to today? Kissinger’s Machiavellian strategy hoped to cower Israel by refusing to resupply it for a week under dire straits, hoping to make Israel less intransigent on territorial concessions in the future. If Israel has annexed land that Biden views as Palestinian, what kind of support can Israel expect if Iran unleashes Hezbollah against Israel?

The administration’s ear will be tuned to J Street, an organization highly critical of Israeli policy and that believes for Israel’s own good it needs to be taught a lesson.

Israel hoped its repeated air strikes and the American sanctions that have left the Iranian economy in shambles would force Iran to withdraw from Syria, unable to afford to continue to invest in Syria.

Unfortunately, revolutionary Islamist regimes don’t play by Western rules.

NOT ONLY is Iran still in Syria, but Russian promises that the Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah, and Shi’ite militias would not move into southern and eastern Syria to threaten Israel have been ignored, increasing the likelihood of more Israeli attacks and a potential war.

As Amos Yadlin, the head of INSS and former head of Israeli Military Intelligence, said, “The extensive attacks in Syria… show that the assessment that the Iranians are leaving Syria is a wish…. We must be prepared for the entire scope of possible responses from the Shi’ite axis, from missiles to cyber terrorism.”

Iran’s long-term strategy to encircle Israel is halfway home with effectively control of Syria and Lebanon today. The next significant domino to fall is the vulnerable Jordanian monarchy, whose collapse would result in a Syrian-style civil war between Iranian Shi’ite proxies and Sunni Islamists who will fight tooth and nail, destabilizing the region.

If Iran sees a limited window of opportunity to attack Israel while influential factions of America are furious with Israel over annexation, will it act on that?

The conventional wisdom is that Iran will wait until after the US presidential election to see if the unpredictable Trump wins, or if a more compliant Biden prevails. From an Iranian perspective, Israeli annexation and the international fallout against Israel will play into their hands, especially if Democrats control the Senate, House and executive branch, and work in concert with the United Nations.

In the international community, Belgium has telegraphed Western European wishes, asking for sanctions on Israel and recognition of Palestinian statehood even before Israel acts to extend sovereignty.

Behind the scenes Israel’s strongest allies against Iran will remain the conservative Gulf states – Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt – which all know that Iran is its primary threat but can’t say so publicly. They will do whatever they can to help Israel defeat Iran, annexation or not.

Their current not-so-secret intelligence and security cooperation with Israel could actually increase even after annexation, but unfortunately their anti-Israel public rhetoric will also increase with any Israeli annexation, in order to placate their citizenry, who have been fed a lifelong diet of blaming Israel for all their problems.

A Biden administration may not like Israel’s annexation. However, if it wants to keep a lid on a major war erupting between Israel and Iran, it will need to be out ahead of the issue. That means publicly warning Iran that if it initiates a war with Israel, likely perpetrated by its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, it will not only be held responsible, but the United States will be fully supportive of Israeli actions. That is the best chance to avoid war.

This will be a tough sell in 2021 because of the anger a Biden administration will have for Israel’s extension of sovereignty into the West Bank. The greater picture of keeping a lid on an explosive Middle East, though, should lead Biden, if elected, to bite his lower lip and stand with Israel against Iran when the inevitable northern war from Syria and Lebanon under the direction of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s direction occurs.

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.

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.