Tag Archives: The Jerusalem Post

Reevaluating America’s Foreign Policy for Iraq, Kurdistan and Syria

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

You can replace Afghanistan with Iraq, Kurdistan or Syria in the title and ask: Can they survive America’s exit, and does it serve America’s interests to hand them over to enemies of the West?

Americans are in no mood for new entanglements in the Middle East. The politically expedient choice for the US Congress and the president is to follow the nation’s mood – by not only avoiding any new potential areas of conflict arising with the aggressions of Iran and its proxies, but maybe by also abandoning allies who have worked side-by-side with American soldiers in Iraq and Syria against ISIS, leaving Afghanistan to the mercy of the Taliban, and forgetting their savage misogyny and its place as a safe haven where al Qaeda brewed its attacks on 9/11.

The Wall Street Journal’s Saturday Essay by Yaroslav Trofimov was titled, “Can the New Afghanistan Survive America’s Exit? An exhausted America, no longer determined to bring democracy to the Muslim world, just wants to leave.”

You can replace Afghanistan with Iraq, Kurdistan or Syria in the title and ask: Can they survive America’s exit, and does it serve America’s interests to hand them over to enemies of the West?

American foreign policy operates under a hundred-year-old construct based on the misguided belief that we must keep artificially constructed Middle East nation-states like Syria and Iraq whole, even when it flies in the face of reality – or of what is best for American interests or the people who live there.

Sixteen years ago, I recommended that Iraq be turned into three states, Sunni, Kurdish and the largest, Shi’ite. I was not alone. This was based on the obvious religious animosity, ethnic divisions and tribal nature of the country that had no historical antecedent, whose people value clan, tribe and religion rather than allegiance to the state itself.

The core American belief that dividing up Iraq or Syria is a bad idea because it will lead to failed states ignores the more plausible concept that, if put back together, it will not only be less sustainable as a whole state but, more consequentially, it may be more dangerous whole than divided – especially if the US abandons the region.

Today, the failed Iraqi state has been taken over by Iran, America’s most dangerous Middle East adversary, which not only has political parties allied with it in the Iraqi government but, more consequentially, controls the nation’s most powerful force: the Shi’ite militia al-Hashd al-Sha’bi, which has ethnically cleansed Sunni areas for an Iranian land corridor to the Mediterranean and answers only to the supreme leader and his Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. How does this serve American interests?

In 2006, Joe Biden, then the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – and Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations – penned an op-ed in The New York Times recommending Iraq be divided into three autonomous regions, “giving each ethno-religious group… room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.”

In 2015, president Barack Obama’s defense secretary Ash Carter, speaking before Congress, said that Iraq is so broken that maybe it shouldn’t be put back together: “The question [is] what if a multi-sectarian Iraq turns out not to be possible?”

In 2016, CIA director John Brennan said: “I don’t know whether or not Syria and Iraq can be put back together again. There’s been so much bloodletting, so much destruction.”

MOST AMERICANS have no knowledge that most of the nations of the Middle East are artificially constructed entities based on the interests of the French and British after the First World War, when they divided the region not according to its natural tribal divisions, but according to their own economic interests, forcing antagonistic groups to live together in authoritarian regimes.

It didn’t work, and we have rarely stopped to ask why we want to keep putting these broken nation-states back together. How does this serve American interests?

Iraq was a dysfunctional nation long before it collapsed after the 2003 US invasion. Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party repressed and terrorized the Sunni majority and the Kurdish North. After US president George H.W. Bush allowed Saddam to remain in power after America’s Gulf War in 1991, he took his vengeance out against the Shi’ites of the South and the Kurds of the North, who deserve as much as anyone to have their own independent state. He may not have had nuclear weapons in 2003, but he did use chemical weapons against his adversaries and still remained in power.

America, with good intentions, thought that all of the world’s people wanted Western style democracy, but soon learned that in the Middle East, other than Israel and the Kurds of northern Iraq, autocracy and Islam rule the day.

We live in a world where politicians are afraid to speak honestly to the American people for fear that they will lose their popularity and their ability to remain in office, especially those who seek our highest office.

Maybe it’s time for our political leaders to explain the world to our nation in something more than sound-bites and tweets that pollsters tell them will raise their numbers.

US President Donald Trump seems to believe that we should return to an isolationist strategy. That, despite his bellicose talk, is not very much different from Obama’s actions not to confront aggression even when justified. Obama’s great foreign policy fault was that he didn’t realize you couldn’t change the spots of the Iranian tiger; abandoning allies to realign with Iran; undermining American foreign policy by making America look unreliable to the world; and let everyone, friend and foe, come to see us as a paper tiger.

WHICH BRINGS US to America’s Kurdish allies in Syria and Iraq. These two Kurdish peoples share the same ethnicity but are very different. What they do share in common is that they were at the front lines of defeating Islamic State, helping the US achieve its primary strategy in the Middle East under both Obama and Trump. They also both live in states that are artificially constructed and, if put back together, will sow the seeds for more sectarian violence, pulling the US back to region it so wants to leave.

Now there is a call to withdraw American forces from both northern Syria and northern Iraq, abandoning important allies and forcing them, for their own survival, to make deals and to ally with America’s enemies. The Kurds of Iraq may have to cut a deal with Iran and the Iranian-controlled Iraqi government in Baghdad to survive, while the Syrian Kurds may have to work with their adversaries – the Syrian regime, Iran and Russia – in order not to be ethnically cleansed by Turkey. Millions of new Sunni refugees may flow from Syria to Turkey into Europe and onto our shores. How is this in America’s interest?

I recently interviewed American soldiers working with the Kurdistan military force, the Peshmerga, who are still fighting ISIS. Their unreserved clarity of purpose and their importance as American allies was striking – something Congress, the State Department and the president need to hear.

America’s chances for a new war in the Middle East are greatly increased by withdrawing from the Middle East; becoming isolationist as we did after the First World War, since we were totally unprepared when we were dragged into the Second World War.

A modest American presence remaining in Afghanistan, Syria, Kurdistan and Iraq creates leverage for American interests far beyond the small number of troops remaining in harm’s way.

We certainly cannot cure the ills of the Middle East, but our goal should be to strengthen our allies and lower the flames that would certainly erupt with an American withdrawal. America’s primary goal is not only to prevent the resurgence of ISIS, but – more importantly – to create a long-term strategy to stop Iranian expansionism that endangers not only our allies, but also the world at large. Sorry, Mr. Obama, the Iranian Islamist regime is a leopard that will not change its spots – no matter how many pallets of cash we give them.

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

Israel’s Self-Destructive PR Must Change in its Next Government

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Wouldn’t be great if Isrotel worked with StandWithUs like El Al, to empower their employees, helping them to realize they are the face of Israel.

American supporters of Israel have complained for years that Israel’s public relations, hasbara, has been ineffective, counter-productive, and its importance for strengthening the US-Israeli relationship unappreciated by Israelis as a core national security interest.

This all came to mind during a wonderful weekend wedding at one of Israel’s leading hotels, when I went to breakfast and the only newspaper available to read was the Haaretz/New York Times edition. This was not the first time this has happened to me in Israel.
Haaretz’s Hebrew-language readership is dwarfed by other Israeli print dailies, but you would never know that if you were a visiting American tourist or English-speaking journalist staying at some of Israel’s many fine hotels, reading the Haaretz English edition that is combined with The New York Times, another paper that has a long history of harshly critical views of Israeli policy.

Within Israel, the newspaper is widely known as being to the hard-left of the political spectrum, representative of a small segment of the Israeli population, although it is influential within Israeli academia and intelligentsia. It is a legitimate and important viewpoint, but not one representative of the majority of the Israeli people based upon election results and surveys over many years.

When an English-speaking journalist, organizational leader or businessperson visits Israel, if they receive only one critical viewpoint to start their day, does this matter? It does, and it is representative of the greater problem of Israel’s approach and investment in projecting a positive image, and explaining its policies to a world that is increasing hostile to its very right to exist.

There is little doubt that some of the news writers for Haaretz, not only its editorial and opinion-page journalists, are profoundly hostile to Israeli policy. When I brought this up with then chief political columnist, editorial writer and US bureau chief, Akiva Eldar, at his Haaretz office about 10 years ago, complaining that news articles shouldn’t be editorialized and should strive to present a factually balanced news story, he simply told me to go read another paper.

So when a hotel offers only Haaretz to its guests, it’s representative of a pervasive Israeli attitude that stretches from the halls of the Knesset to Israeli companies to the Prime Minister’s Office that they are indifferent or exasperated, that they need to continually plead to the world for understanding of their precarious situation.

But when you are a lonely democracy living in a very bad neighborhood, you’d better start caring.

Haaretz is a legitimate view of Israel but not the only one. If during your time in Israel when impressions are formed and this is the only newspaper you read, as it is for too many foreign journalists, it will present a distorted and biased view. In short, it feeds the echo chamber for those who see Israel responsible for all the problems of the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – a brutal, undemocratic, colonialist occupier.

BUT FOCUSING the blame for bad public relations on Israeli businesses is just the tip of the iceberg, as Israel’s government has slashed its investment into its Foreign Ministry that is tasked with explaining its case to America and to an unsympathetic world. Instead of expanding and increasing consulates in the United States, there are plans to close consulates.

This month Israel ordered most of its overseas embassies to stop work due to a “grave deficit” of its Foreign Ministry budget.
According to the Foreign Ministry, “The main effect is that during this sensitive time, when faced with diplomatic and strategic challenges… foremost among them the threat by Iran… and on the eve of a UN General Assembly – the Foreign Ministry and its missions abroad will be almost entirely paralyzed.”

This is insanity.

PM Netanyahu bears responsibility as he has overshadowed his own foreign ministers, when he has appointed them at all, choosing inexperienced lightweights, the most recent having made too many mistakes since filling the vacancy earlier this year.

Sometimes Israelis do get it, as when StandWithUs partnered with El Al pilots and flight attendants, helping them use their two-to-three day layovers overseas to educate people about the real Israel, sharing their personal stories.

Which brings us back to the wedding at one of Israel‘s best hotels owned by one of Israel’s leading hotel chains, Isrotel. The assistant manager told me that offering Haaretz was the way it has been for years. I explained why multiple viewpoints are important for their guests and for Israel’s hasbara, or public diplomacy.

The guests at the wedding included many distinguished young American and Europeans from the world of governments, business and NGO’S.

When they walked into the dining room and picked up their English-language newspaper, they were presented with a one-sided minority Israeli view, but most were completely unaware of this.

Wouldn’t be great if Isrotel worked with StandWithUs like El Al, to empower their employees, helping them to realize they are the face of Israel.

Israel is about to form a new coalition government. Whether it is led by incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu or Blue and White’s Benny Gantz, both need to realize that Israel’s security is not just in the hands of its very capable defense forces, but needs the help of all of its people, companies and government to present the real Israel in all its beauty and complexities.

It’s about time Israel started putting its best face forward with increased government expenditures for its Foreign Ministry overseas, and work in partnership with Israeli companies and their employees, who very often are the only face that the world sees representing Israel.

Criticism is great for the health of a democracy. Thank you Haaretz. But if you have only criticism reinforced by poor hasbara, then at the end of the day instead of debating Israeli policy with the world, you will continue to simply fight to explain why you have a right to exist at all.

The writer is the director of the Middle East Political Information Network who regularly briefs members of the 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.

A Year of Weaponized Words, Antisemitism, and Revisionist History

{Previously Published in The Jerusalem Post}

Another misused word directed at Israel is the charge of apartheid. Anyone opening up a real dictionary would see that the true meaning of the word has nothing to do with anything in Israel. 

A year ago I didn’t know that “it’s all about the Benjamins” was an antisemitic slur. I could never have predicted that a self-identified group of “Justice Democrats” who would call themselves “the Squad,” would become a virtual seminar in antisemitic rhetoric, and the voice of an intolerant intersectional movement that disparages anyone who crosses them as a racist, Islamophobic or a bigot.

The appropriation and distortion of words like concentration camps, apartheid, Nazi and martyr is bad enough coming from the Squad, but over the last year, the words have been weaponized and have become part of mainstream discourse, exemplified by the antisemite UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, some mainstream media outlets, Palestinian leadership and on college campuses where it flourishes in academia and in “social justice” movements.

Words are mightier than the sword, and in the history of Jew hatred, they have led to Inquisitions, Crusades, pogroms, discrimination, delegitimization, expulsions and the Holocaust.

This has been a big year for the misappropriation of the word martyr, whose meaning was twisted by PA President Mahmoud Abbas after the US Congress withdrew American taxpayer funds under the Taylor Force Law for those we call terrorists in a “Pay to Slay” scheme, but are called glorious martyrs by the Palestinian Authority. This month, Abbas said “We reject [the] designation of our martyrs as terrorists… they are ‘the most sacred thing we have.’” In what sick universe are suicide bombers, kidnappers and killers of children martyrs?

One member of the Squad opened their Orwellian vocabulary to misappropriate the word massacre to describe Israeli soldiers killing terrorists who were targeting Israeli civilians along the Gaza border, as a “massacre of protesters.”

Another misused word directed at Israel is the charge of apartheid. Anyone opening up a real dictionary would see that the true meaning of the word has nothing to do with anything in Israel, but since the term is so heinous, it has been appropriated as a tool to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist.

This year has been a big year for the term “dual loyalty.” Minnesota Justice Democrat Ilhan Omar charged Jewish legislators with dual loyalty, by “hav[ing] allegiance… to a foreign country [Israel].”

Democratic chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee Nita Lowey, who will be challenged by a Justice Democrat next year, confronted Omar’s antisemitic smear, reminding her “throughout history, Jews have been accused of dual loyalty, leading to discrimination and violence.”

US President Donald Trump also inappropriately used words evoking dual loyalty this summer, when he charged Jews who vote Democrat as being disloyal to Israel. As a supporter of Israel, he should have been more sensitive to those dangerous words with a history of too many antisemitic associations.

However, the most egregious abuse of words this summer was by the Squad’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Justice Democrat from New York, who shamelessly appropriated the words “never again” and “concentration camps” to advance her agenda against American immigration policy.

“The United States is running concentration camps on our southern border and that is exactly what they are,” said AOC.

When AOC uses the words “concentration camps” to describe border detention facilities, you have to be tone deaf or a Holocaust denying revisionist historian not to understand that to almost every person in the United States since the end of World War Two, the words “concentration camp” are identified with the Holocaust and genocidal death camps. Her goal was not to have a legitimate policy debate, but to demonize opponents with incendiary language.

Whatever one thinks about the conditions of detention facilities for illegal aliens and their children, it is a travesty to liken them to the Nazi concentration camps where people were used as slave labor, starved, beaten, raped, dehumanized and degraded – both Jews and other persecuted minorities – led like sheep to slaughter in an organized mass extermination. She and those who defend her use of the term concentration camps in this context insult the memory of those who were rounded up, deliberately treated as vermin and massacred in the Holocaust.

SOMETIMES, THE most dangerous words are the ones that are left out, distorting the context of a story. CAMERA reported that The New York Times and The Washington Post choose to inaccurately describe the organization that sponsored Omar and Tlaib’s trip to the disputed territories. The organization Miftah has a long history of antisemitic associations, but a Times editorial referred to it as “a Palestinian organization… that promotes ‘global awareness and knowledge of Palestinian realities.’” The Washington Post said Miftah is “headed by Palestinian lawmaker and longtime peace negotiator Hanan Ashrawi.”

So how could anybody take issue with a nonprofit run by a peacemaker, sponsoring a fact-finding trip to the Middle East?

New York Times columnist Bari Weiss wrote other words that the Times editorial board and The Washington Post refused to include, that Miftah is “an organization that has proudly praised female suicide bombers, and pushed the medieval blood libel,” which is alive and well in Ms. Tlaib’s Palestinian Arab society.

Even the term antisemitism is selectively used. For the Squad and its ilk, antisemitism is the realm of the Right. No one can deny that Jew hatred from the Right has a long history, and its contemporary white supremacist followers have committed despicable hate filled violence to this day.

However, the words that are left out, a form of political revisionism, is that on today’s college campus, antisemitism comes primarily from the Left. In Europe, according to a recent survey by the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights, Muslim and left-wing antisemitism was more prevalent especially against young European Jews.

Words matter.

With three months before the 2020 presidential year, we already have had more than our share of trivializing the Holocaust, weaponized words and mainstreaming of antisemitism through a media that is so fearful of not being politically correct that it seems to have lost its moral compass.

Let’s hold our presidential candidates, politicians, clergy, media and even our friends accountable for what they say and write.

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the Senate, House and their foreign policy advisors. He is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to i24TV, The Hill, JTA and The Forward.

What Freshman Members of Congress Should Learn on Their Trip to Israel

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

How does one reconcile this moral dilemma if you believe Israel has a right to exist as the home of the Jewish people but believe in two states for two peoples?

This year’s August congressional trip to Israel is different from previous years, as so much attention is focused on who is not joining, specifically the members of the pro-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) “Squad,” Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

However, most members who come to Israel do have an open mind and can grasp the difficulties that have thwarted decades of efforts at resolution of the conflict between Israel and its enemies, some who will not be satisfied until there is no Jewish state and no Western-oriented presence in the region.

Some say the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all about the occupation, and Israel for its own good should unilaterally withdraw to the pre-1967 lines, and that the Jews of all peoples, after centuries of oppression, should not be occupying another people’s land.

Yet if there is to be created an autonomous Palestinian state adjacent to Israel, is it reasonable to expect that missiles won’t be exploding in Tel Aviv, or that they won’t have to run their children into bomb shelters all the time everywhere in Israel?

Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005. Its reward was three wars launched from the coastal enclave and plenty of indignant international condemnation for Israel defending itself against forces launching missiles from school yards and hospitals, and digging tunnels under borders to sneak across and murder civilians.

Some advocate that the two peoples should have their own states based on the pre-1967 lines. Aside from the technicalities of armistice lines and borders, what if an objective analysis of Israel’s legitimate security concerns and the current pathology of the Palestinian leadership leads to the conclusion that the Palestinian Authority remains in power only because of the help it receives from Israel’s security forces? What if an Israeli withdrawal would likely lead to the creation of a “Hamastan” on the Jordan, a proxy of Iran backed with money and armaments?

How does one reconcile this moral dilemma if you believe Israel has a right to exist as the home of the Jewish people but believe in two states for two peoples?

Groups like J Street and their congressional supporters preach that the corrosive effect of occupation is worse than the security risk of withdrawal, finding a small group of former IDF officers to support their claim. All will be well if the cause of the conflict, the “illegal” occupation,” disappears.

If that were so, then how would one explain PA President Mahmoud Abbas walking out in 2007 when more than 100% of the disputed territory was offered with land swaps? In December 2018, Palestinian chief negotiator Saab Erekat confirmed that this was indeed the Israeli offer, and they turned it down.

If you are a congressional representative who prioritizes security considerations, the question to ask is: What do secure boundaries mean for Israel in the 21st century?

Those who advocate for a complete Israeli withdrawal minimize the importance of strategic depth in the age of missiles, as missiles fly over borders in a split second while Israel has the proven capabilities to intercept projectiles at a rate of 80%-90%, mitigating the need to have more territory. This argument rings hollow as territorial depth is essential for a country the size of New Jersey, 11 miles wide at its narrowest point.

The minimal Israeli mainstream security consensus, considering current logistics, is control of the Jordan River Valley, especially with Iran already having a military presence in Iraq and Syria, a demilitarized Palestinian state with defensible borders, and control of airspace.

Unfortunately, Palestinians were encouraged to become even more intransigent by former president Barack Obama’s parting gift to Israel in 2016, UN Security Council Resolution 2234, when the US abstained and joined for the first time with the UN claque of Israel-bashers.

It labeled any Israeli presence over the Green Line, including the vital Jordan River Valley and the Western Wall of the Jewish Temple, as illegal. This undermines the legitimacy of any land swaps, as Israel would be retaining, according to it, stolen land, a pretext for future conflict no matter what the Palestinians sign onto now. The only saving grace of 2234 is that it was adopted under the sixth chapter of the UN Charter, so it is considered a non-binding resolution. 

Suppose the Palestinians again remain intransigent. What would members of Congress who want an end to the occupation propose then?

Since the Palestinians will remain the perpetual righteous victims to the Squad, while Israel remains a Western colonial occupier, we can expect from some quarters more clamoring for BDS. Never mind that Israel is the only real democracy in the region with rights for all its citizens and the one steadfast ally of the US in the region. 

Israelis have enough on their plate with Iran threatening from the north, east and south, so the status quo, in spite of everyone’s distaste for the current situation, is the only logical choice until a durable Palestinian leadership is willing to sign an end of conflict agreement that credibly won’t endanger Israel’s existence as a Jewish State.

The writer is the director of Middle East Political and Information Network™ and a regular columnist to the Jerusalem Post and i24TV, and contributes to JNS, The Hill, the Forward, and JTA. MEPIN™ research analysis is read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, Knesset members, journalists and organizational leaders. 

SPOTLIGHT ON MOSHE ‘BOGIE’ YA’ALON

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

I had a long discussion this week with Moshe Ya’alon.

“Bogie” is a self-described defense hawk, whose strategic vision, especially regarding the dangers of Oslo and Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza, was prescient. When asked if he is on the Right or Left politically, he said he is not on either side, but only for what is right for Israel.

In 2015 when Ya’alon was still defense minister, I had the opportunity to speak with some members of the opposition parties, including Yesh Atid and the Zionist Union, about Ya’alon. The consensus said they might agree or disagree with his position on an issue, but they knew they could trust him to keep his word and be an honest partner.

He is not the most charismatic political leader, as he reminded me that modern democratic leaders don’t wear glasses and have much more hair than he does. He said Harry Truman was the last leader he can remember who wore glasses. His self-effacing personal warmth is clearly present in person, but less appreciable by those who have seen him only on TV.

He stands out in one respect that is as rare as hen’s teeth among politicians – honesty and integrity. Add to that a keen insight with a strong Jewish moral compass, and you have an unusual description of a political leader in the 21st century.


I have spoken with Ya’alon at length before, but never when he was the political leader of a party, now a joint party with Benny Gantz. So why did he choose to align himself with Gantz’s party, as there were other suitors for his talents and security credentials?

He said he surveyed the political landscape and was most comfortable with Gantz’s integrity, realizing it is not about who leads the top of the ticket, but what is best for the Israeli people. He said that anyone who challenges Netanyahu’s monarchy is portrayed as a leftist, an epithet he says the prime minister uses to delegitimize his adversaries.

Although senior to Gantz, who served under him in the IDF, Ya’alon has no trouble being No. 2, and would consider becoming defense minister again, if asked. He has publicly called for another popular former IDF chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, to join the team, but when pressed about other politicians joining, such as Yair Lapid, he preferred not to speculate.

It should be remembered that Ya’alon did coauthor an op-ed with Lapid last July titled “Will the West Cede the Golan Heights to a Psychopath?” It called on the US to begin the process of recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Recent polls have shown that if Gantz, Ya’alon, Ashkenazi and Lapid form a coalition, it could oust the long-reigning Likud grip on power, replacing Netanyahu, which up until now seemed unlikely.

Ya’alon came to the conclusion a couple of years ago that Netanyahu should resign, because of his interference in the government’s procurement of submarines and frigates from Germany. At first he didn’t understand why Netanyahu was bypassing the usual process for purchasing billions of dollars in armaments by not bringing it to the cabinet, but when he understood that there were serious conflicts of interests involving his associates, he asked Netanyahu to resign for the good of the country and the rule of law.

Although Netanyahu has a range of alleged corruption charges against him, Ya’alon spoke about the submarine case involving the German manufacturer ThyssenKrupp, and the allegation that Netanyahu’s personal attorney David Shimron used his relationship with the prime minister for financial gain. Police have claimed there is enough evidence to charge Shimron with money laundering. As for Netanyahu, Ya’alon has previously stated that there was no way that Netanyahu didn’t know.

Ya’alon choose to leave the Netanyahu government when he was replaced as defense minister rather than accept the offer to become foreign minister, which would have left him as the likely heir apparent, if the prime minister were to be forced to resign over his alleged corruption.

I asked Ya’alon if Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit would indict Netanyahu before the election; he said doesn’t know, but he did say that he trusts the attorney-general.

WE MOVED on to his true area of expertise, the security of the State of Israel.

When asked who is Israel’s No. 1 threat, he said Iran. On this he agrees with Netanyahu.

We first discussed the proposed American withdrawal from Syria, which he said was a poor decision. It is not so much about boots on the ground as it is the abandonment of the Kurds. He said that the previous American president, Barack Obama, who withdrew from the region (Iraq), was forced to return to fight ISIS, which was a consequence of that poor decision.

He said President Donald Trump should learn a lesson from his predecessor’s mistake. It is important for America to be involved in the region for its own interests. Ya’alon said, just look around: Except in Israel, all the governments in the region are under stress, from Amman to Cairo to Riyadh, and a withdrawal of American forces would destabilize the region.

When asked about the population transfer in southern Syria orchestrated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah, placing a permanent hostile force on Israel’s Syrian border, he responded by saying Israel has a very strong destructive power that has and will keep Iran in check. Up until now, it has not allowed advanced weapons or permanent Iranian bases to remain undamaged. A future defense minister Ya’alon would have to deal with a permanently entrenched Iranian presence in Syria.



Ya’alon took Netanyahu to task for his new strategy to publicly claim every Syrian strike with video as an open provocation that serves no purpose, but in fact removes the helpful façade of plausible deniability that had restrained Iranian and Syrian responses. He said this was done only for Netanyahu’s political advantage, not for Israel’s strategic benefit.

What about the new Russian S-300 antimissile system, which the Russians gave to Syria, after Syria mistakenly shot down a Russian aircraft – will the Russians use this system against Israel?

Ya’alon said the Russians and Israel are not on the same page in Syria; we are not even in the same book. However, they are a dominant power in control, with influence on Israel’s enemies. He said we have open lines of communication with them, and they have worked until now, hopefully also in the future.

So why did they give the S-300 missile system to the Syrians? According to Ya’alon, it is another card that Russia played that could be used against Israel for leverage in any future negotiations.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what about the collapse of security cooperation between Israel and the PA, due to the loss of American funding because of the Taylor Force Act, and the Palestinian fear that accepting American money opens them up to American lawsuits for complicity in terrorism?

According to Ya’alon, it is in the Palestinians’ interest, with or without funding, to continue the security coordination with Israel. If the Palestinians stop coordinating with Israeli security, they know that the likely outcome will be the same as what happened to them in Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal – a total Hamas takeover.

Right now Israel performs 70% of the security operations for the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria (West Bank), while the Palestinian security forces do 30% of the work. He says it is definitely a challenge for the cooperation to continue without funding, but on principle, terrorists and their families cannot be rewarded with funding, as it encourages and promotes more terrorism. He also had harsh words for UNRWA as a corrupt and complicit international organization.

I mentioned that American Jews want to know if he is for a two-state solution. Ya’alon said the two-state solution is something that is not possible at this time, because the Palestinians cannot even accept Israel’s right to exist. In the meantime, he would like to give them more autonomy, separate from them, and would consider giving up some additional territory, if it serves Israel’s purpose for calm, as long as it does not affect Israeli security.

What about the Qatari money to Hamas? He disagrees with Netanyahu’s approach of giving millions in a lump sum and trusting that international organizations will not let Hamas siphon off money for terrorism. Ya’alon says there is experience in transferring funds to banks that can be withdrawn only by noncombat civil servants with proper IDs, which he believes is a better although not perfect option to buy calm in Gaza.

WE NEXT touched on the relations between Israel and its Diaspora Jewish population, many of whom are critical of Israel. Ya’alon said we must be more tolerant of, and sensitive to, our Diaspora brothers’ Jewish religious practice, as Israel is the homeland of all the Jewish people.

What about Israel’s minority population, many whom call themselves Palestinian citizens of Israel, and whose narrative is now aligned with Palestinians of the West Bank?

Regarding Israeli Arabs, Ya’alon wants to integrate them more and says they would like that, but for the malevolent role their political leaders play, which he believes hurts their genuine aspirations to be part of the state. He wants these Palestinian citizens of Israel to be required to do civil service and believes most would want this, despite what their political leaders say.

As for domestic and socioeconomic issues, Ya’alon has previously spoken about leading the fight against racism and sexism in society, and has said the Nation-State Law should be nullified, as it has done damage to the country. 

What you see is what you get with Ya’alon: something refreshing in a world of cynicism, where one expects the worst of elected leaders.


The author is the director of the Middle East Political and Information Network and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.



AMERICAN JEWS AND THE UPCOMING ISRAELI ELECTION

But do American Jews know the difference between Bibi, Bogie, Benny and Bugie?

{Previously published by The Jerusalem Post}

Israelis will go to the polls this spring to cast their ballots for a myriad of competing parties, one of which will then be asked to try to stitch together an unruly coalition, highlighting how very democratic and disorderly Israel’s parliamentary system is. This is not necessarily the best system for a nation that is in a constant state of war.

American Jews of all stripes are also gearing up to support or demonize their preferred or hated candidates and parties. Actually, it is not so different from what Israelis do themselves. But in the age of US President Donald Trump, where Israelis generally appreciate his support if not his style, many American Jews viscerally hate anything he does, even if it’s something in their interest.

But do American Jews know the difference between Bibi, Bogie, Benny and Bugie? 

Leaving aside the funny nicknames, this is a deadly serious question as Americans want to weigh in on this pivotal election, while the growing Iranian menace threatens Israel from three sides, and Trump plans to announce a peace plan right after the election, which some in the know say might involve some difficult or even unacceptable demands on Israel.

What are the effects, in Israel, in the US, and the rest of the world, of the perceived opinions of American Jewry?

What could be worse for Israel’s international reputation than to have it perceived that the Jews of America on the whole believe the nation; the people of Israel are the intransient party and deserve to be punished?

Weighing in on the Israeli election from 8,000 kilometers away highlights the conflicting perspectives of the 21st century’s two largest Jewish populations.

If Israel is the home of the Jewish people, should American Jews deserve a voice, if not a vote, and be taken seriously? If American Jews don’t put their children in harm’s way, how much should their concerns be considered? After all, it is Israelis who have to live with the consequences.

Yossi Klein Halevi, in a Moment Magazine interview, said that the divide between the communities was inevitable. 

”Israelis live in the most dangerous… neighborhood in the world; American Jews live in the most hospitable environment that Jews have ever lived in… Too many American Jews speak of ending the occupation as if Israel were an island in the South Pacific… not a miniscule country surrounded by some of the most lethal terrorist groups in the world… For Israelis, the essential element is Jewish solidarity and self-protection. For American Jewish liberals, it’s empathy for the other, especially the oppressed.”

American Jews are overwhelming liberal, live in economic and physical security, and haven’t changed their political affiliations despite their changing socio-economic status over generations. Israelis, on the other hand, were much more liberal 25 years ago during the euphoric but illusory days after the Oslo Accord.

All that changed for Israelis with the Second Intifada, as they shifted to the center and right. Even after the Intifada subsided, those still hoping for a reasonable Palestinian partner were disabused of the idea when Abbas refused to even respond to Olmert’s offer of 100% of the disputed territory with land swaps.

American Jews who didn’t suffer the physical and emotional consequences of the Second Intifada didn’t shift their perspective, remaining convinced that this conflict is still simply about territory and an occupation, victimizer and victim. Today many still judge Israel as the primary intransient party, as though this is still 1995.

American Jews do not understand that for most Israelis, security will be their primary concern when they go to the ballot box, not pluralism, even if they abhor the disproportionate influence of ultra-Orthodoxy.

As important as socioeconomic issues are to Israelis – and they are – they take second place to life-and-death security concerns in a society where every citizen is supposed to serve in the armed forces. In America, 1.4% of women and 13.4% of men have ever served in the military, a humbling difference.

When Israelis go to vote, they must balance lives that respect their Jewish values, but can never forget they live in a neighborhood where the weak are slaughtered and the world turns a blind eye to genocide. That is the reality they live in, and which too many Americans ignore. It explains to some extent why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endured for so long.

Americans who are interested in the upcoming Israeli election will read about it in their own echo chambers that reinforce their pre-determined points of view, rarely challenging ourselves with different opinions, usually dismissing them because they come from non-trusted sources. 
American liberal Jews will read Haaretz and The New York Times, listen to NPR, watch MSMBC/ CNN and think they know what is really happening in the fistfight of the upcoming April election. Meanwhile, American conservatives will read National Review, the editorials of the Wall Street Journal, watch Fox and think they have all the answers.

From so far away, when American towns and cities are not in the crosshairs of Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah, it is easy to pontificate and give advice to Israelis, claiming your objective perspective and harsh medicine are needed for Israel’s benefit. Some even claim to be pro-Israel, rationalizing that boycotting products from Judea and Samaria (West Bank) is for Israel’s own benefit, while ignoring the incessant and unrelenting Jew hatred from Israel’s erstwhile peace partners.

This is the reality for far too many American Jews, who weigh in and think they know all about the Middle East. They tell me that this is what they have heard from their rabbis, who heard it first hand from Rabbis for Human Rights, or a speaker from J Street, an NGO that claims Israel is not a democracy, or have visited Ramallah with a trip organized by a group like Breaking the Silence, to listen to PA officials who claim it is all the occupation, not their incitement and kleptocracy.

Let’s be clear… Israel has thrown kerosene into the fire of civil relations between the communities by not figuring out some way to respect American Jewish religious denominations, allowing the ultra-Orthodox to disenfranchise the largest Diaspora Jewish community in the world. 

Israelis seem unaware that American Jewish organizations are vital for their security interests by educating members of Congress about the role of Israel as a bulwark of American national security.

Which brings us to the upcoming Israeli election.

Too many American Jews cannot differentiate between Netanyahu, his policies and the State of Israel. They wouldn’t say America doesn’t have a right exist because they hate Trump; we organize and vote for an alternative in the next election. 

But they are angry that the Israeli people have continued to support their current government, so they advocate “tough love” things like BDS that would do serious damage to the nation of Israel. 

When the world’s major forces decide whether or not to throw Israel under the bus, economically or militarily, it does matter what are perceived to be the voices of American Jewry, too often saying that Israel deserves or needs to be punished.

Netanyahu may lose, be indicted, or win, but Israel will remain the democratic nation of the Jewish people long after his political life expires. So to all American Jews across the political spectrum, if you don’t like an Israeli candidate or a government policy, please speak out loud and clear. But don’t mistake a party or candidate for Israel the country, joining those who want to delegitimize Israel the nation. 
Too many American Jews don’t seem to mind throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

The author is the director of Middle East Political and Information Network™ (MEPIN™), and is 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.

Will America Reevaluate Ties with Turkey as Part of Middle East Vision?

Will America Reevaluate Ties with Turkey as Part of Middle East Vision?

Does the administration also realize that Turkey under Erdogan is no different from the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology that Sisi overthrew?

America’s reinvigorated role in the Middle East,” laid out a new American vision in sharp contrast to President Barack Obama’s speech 10 years ago.

Pompeo described Obama’s vision as distancing America away from its traditional allies, Israel and the Sunni Gulf States, his goal being a path to a new relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran that culminated with the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Deal). Notably absent from Pompeo’s speech was any mention of Turkey as an American ally.

How significant this speech will be as a turning point in America’s engagement with its allies and adversaries in the region remains to be seen. According to the New York Times, Pompeo “vowed to increase the pressure until Iran halts… its ‘malign activities’ throughout the Mideast.” Critics have claimed the speech lacked details and was hyper-partisan.

Although National Security Advisor John Bolton and Pompeo mean what they say, it is ultimately the commander in chief who will decide American policy. One speech will not reassure America’s allies in the region, especially after the president decided to take the advice of President Erdogan of Turkey over his own foreign policy team regarding withdrawal of US troops from Syria.

The continued mixed messaging, even after Bolton said the Syrian policy had changed to a conditional withdrawal, has left allies unsure whether they can rely on US assurances in planning for their future security. Keeping your enemies guessing is a legitimate strategy, but it is unhelpful to do that to your allies and your own foreign policy advisers.

In his Cairo speech, Pompeo said, “We grossly underestimated the tenacity and viciousness of radical Islamism,” while praising Egyptian President Sisi for confronting this threat.

But this begs the question; does the administration also realize that Turkey under Erdogan is no different from the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology that Sisi overthrew?

Clearly, Iran is enemy number one for this administration, but how concerned is the President about Turkey’s nearly twenty-year Islamist rule that has been undermining our security interests?

As Tom Rogan wrote in the Washington Examiner, “Where Turkey was once a reliable Eurasian center for free trade, the rule of law and secular democracy, Erdogan has built an Islamist authoritarian state driven by corrupt patronage… At present, Turkey is extracting the benefits of its alliance with America without any responsibility.”

Trump Expected To Propose Weakening Obama-era Wetland Protections



Erdogan may feel immune to any consequences for his behavior, because he believes the United States needs Turkey as a counterweight to Syrian President Assad, and to reign in ISIS and al-Qaeda aligned militias.

SO DOES a president who values transactional negotiations see Erdogan as a friend, an enemy or something in between, a frenemy?


Erdogan’s public humiliation of Bolton and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Dunford, by canceling their scheduled meeting, was a slap in the face to America. Perhaps it should be the tipping point to re-evaluate the stability and reliability of the relationship.


Getting this relationship right is crucial for stability in the region. Turkey has the second largest armed force in NATO, houses a pivotal but not vital American air base in Incirlik, is a crucial part of the production line for America’s next generation F-35 fighter, yet still desires to purchase the Russian S-400 anti-missile system. If Turkey incorporates a Russian system into NATO defenses, this relationship’s status will rise to the level of a crisis for American security.

In theory, Turkey as a Sunni state should be helpful in confronting Iran, a Shi’ite state, that like Turkey harbors grandiose desires to control the whole Middle East. But Turkey has gotten into bed with Russia and Iran, whose primary goal is to undermine American interests. Turkey has also pledged to destroy America’s only true ally in Syria, the YPG Kurds.

Pompeo said, “President Trump has reversed our willful blindness to the danger of the (Iranian) regime and withdrew from the failed nuclear deal, with its false promises.”

The question going forward is, will the president end our “willful blindness” to the dangers of an Islamist Turkey?

Trump needs to tell Erdogan that it’s time for Turkey to choose which side it is on, and act accordingly.

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

Cautionary Tales: Sound Strategies in the Levant

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

What can Israelis and Americans learn from the past, even acknowledging that fighting the last war is a prescription for poor policy going forward?

Israeli elections are just four months away. Which Israeli politicians can be trusted to keep their word? Who will tell you the difficult truths that may upset your most cherished desire to live in peace with your neighbor? Learning from the past is a good way to begin.

In his memoir, In Defense of Israel, former defense minister Moshe Arens wrote that within days of turning over the Defense Ministry to newly elected prime minister Ehud Barak in 2000, he “preemptively” withdrew from southern Lebanon. “His betrayal of the SLA [South Lebanon Army] and the unilateral withdrawal of the IDF… was interpreted in the Arab world as a sign of weakness and brought on the Second Intifada… It did not bring an end to Hezbollah activity against Israel and was followed by the Second Lebanon War.”

At the turn of the millennium, war-weary Israelis had lost too many of their boys. They were without a clear plan of exit after 18 years of disappointments and failures, and the leadership hadn’t articulated a clear vision going forward. They expected the newly elected prime minister to fulfill his campaign promise and disengage from Lebanon, although not necessarily in the dark of night, abandoning friends to the wolves of Shi’ite Jihadism. The logic was, if Israel had no presence in Lebanon and there was were no territorial conflict with Hezbollah, then the world would take Israel’s side if hostilities, aggression, and terrorism again emanated from Israel’s northern border.

The best of intentions, the worst of results. 

Within short order Israel’s most decorated military hero was turned out of office and replaced by one of its most right-wing politicians, who contrary to his previous actions and rhetoric over the preceding 40 years, unilaterally withdrew from the mother of all quagmires, the Gaza Strip.

The best of intentions, the worst of results. What can Israelis and Americans learn from the past, even acknowledging that fighting the last war is a prescription for poor policy going forward?

Here is a primer: What do the following have in common? The withdrawal from Lebanon; the Gaza disengagement; abandoning Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria in favor of Iraq and Turkey; America’s withdrawal from Iraq, fulfilling Obama’s promise to bring US troops home; Israel inviting an unrepentant and defeated PLO into Gaza and the territories in its quest for a lasting peace; the American recommendation that Israel trade the Golan Heights to Hafez Assad for peace; trusting that Israel’s strong relationship with Iran in the ‘70s and with Turkey in the ‘90s would stand the test of time; trusting international promises to ensure Israel’s security in Lebanon in 2006 and Egypt in 1967; and believing the Arab Spring would lead to a more democratic and stable Middle East.
All were made or hoped for with the best of intentions, but at best, led to unpredictable, unexpected and usually much worse results than the previous status quo.

LET’S ANALYZE the results and see how well they matched up with well thought-out intentions and expectations from some of our leading politicians and thinkers.

1. An Iranian-controlled Hezbollah permanently entrenched in Lebanon with the Lebanese government beholden to a terrorist organization.

2. A permanent Hamas terrorist base with 2 million human shields in Gaza perpetually threatening hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians.

3. An Iraqi Kurdish nation – that was a loyal ally to America – feeling betrayed, which sent a message to American allies around the world that they too can be forsaken.

4. A loyal Syrian Kurdish army that lead the fight against Daesh, now abandoned and forced to make deals with America’s enemies; Russia, Iran and Syria.

[with]

5. A vacuum formed by president Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq after the surge of 2011 that helped create the Islamic State.

6. The marginalization of indigenous Palestinians post-Oslo with the imposition of Arafat’s corrupt and terrorist-oriented Palestine Liberation Organization that guaranteed the path to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be a much higher hill to climb.

7. An Arab Spring that quickly turned to winter; that abandoned a friendly, authoritarian dictator; that led not to democracy but instead empowered the leading center of anti-Western Islamism – the Muslim Brotherhood – while creating the conditions for the Syrian civil war and permanent Iranian entrenchment in the Levant

8. An impotent international force in Lebanon that has never stopped a single Iranian weapons delivery to Hezbollah.

ALL OF this brings us to the best of intentions of Commanders for Israel’s Security, former leading generals and members of the security establishment whose laudable goal is to extricate Israel from the Palestinians, but whose strategy is “not contingent upon the existence of a [Palestinian] partner

continued IDF control over the West Bank until a permanent status agreement is reached.” 
Is this possible or realistic?

The common expression of the Left is that you have to negotiate with your enemies. But what if your enemies won’t negotiate with you? Can you disengage or create a unilateral divorce and still remain secure, setting the stage for a lasting Palestinian peace?


The goal of a sustainable Jewish majority faithful to its democratic nature is consistent with the goal of the vast majority of both Israeli and Diaspora Jews. But is that possible when the vast majority of your Palestinian adversary overwhelmingly believes you have no right to exist as a Jewish entity in even a centimeter of the land, because the Jews are an illegitimate Western colonial outpost invading Dar al-Islam (lands that are irredeemably Muslim)?

How does one square the circle of lasting security, disengagement and legitimate Israeli rights beyond the Green Line with an adversary that won’t negotiate, who leads the BDS movement to delegitimize your very existence, and in this century turned down 100% of the “occupied” land with swaps, east Jerusalem as their capital, and continued Muslim control of the Temple Mount?

Strategists know the wrong formula in the Middle East is to appear weak and that poor policies are made of naiveté, abandoning allies, unilateral withdrawals without something tangible and lasting in return, and the dangers of trusting that relationships even with current allies will stand the test of time.

That is why Israel knows it must be self-sufficient and not rely for its security on the guarantees of other nations. This is part of the reason Israel is such a strong ally of America, not being asked to put its soldiers in harm’s way. This does not mean not having and creating new diplomatic relationships, but never relying upon them in the shifting sands of the Middle East as a core part of your survival. 

The best path forward as Israel embarks upon its election season is honesty and managing expectations with your constituents, and maintaining strength. This is what is respected in the Middle East. And if you want to empower and allow your Palestinian partners ever to concede anything even for a limited armistice, figure out a way for them to keep their honor (an insight of Micah Goodman in Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War), while never losing sight that you must remain in complete control of your security.

The writer is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™) and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post and i24TV.