Tag Archives: World News

America Needs to Impose Consequences for Working with Iran

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel and Seth J. Frantzman

{Previously published in the JNS}

Why do we allow the Iraqi and Lebanese governments to have it both ways, receiving American taxpayer dollars while simultaneously working with Iranian-controlled militias?

Speaking at the summit of United Against Nuclear Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not only outlined all of Iran’s malevolent behaviors—from “murdering and torturing their own people, to killing Americans from Lebanon to Iraq, to harboring Al-Qaeda” while “protecting, hiding and preserving their nuclear know-how”—more consequentially warned nations that we will “sanction every violation of sanctionable activity” when it comes to Iranian trespasses.

So why do we allow the Iraqi and Lebanese governments to have it both ways, receiving American taxpayer dollars while simultaneously working with Iranian-controlled militias?

President Donald Trump has touted his maximum economic pressure campaign against Iran and its main proxy Hezbollah, claiming that it is the best way to undermine Iran. He has also avoided a kinetic military response to Iran’s many provocations against international law, including their attacks against shipping in international waters, the high-jacking of a British oil tanker and the attack against two major Saudi oil facilities, which was called an “act of war” by Pompeo.

Yet when it comes to the Iraqi and Lebanese governments who work with Iranian-controlled militias, consequences are not imposed. The prevailing logic is that these nations are too weak, and if we put pressure on their fragile governments, we will push them into the arms of Iran.

The evidence suggests otherwise, being more akin to a failed strategy that must be re-evaluated if our goal is to create some distance between Iran and those nations for the long term, while making any headway into stopping Iran from completing its land corridor controlling Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, while threatening Jordan, Israel and our Gulf allies. Iran views this American policy towards Iraq and Lebanon as a sign of weakness—something to take advantage of.

So when U.S. Assistant Secretary for Terrorism Financing Marshall Billingslea met with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and told him that according to AFP, increased U.S. sanctions on Hezbollah “will not target groups who are only tied to Hezbollah politically,’ “easing concern that the groups political allies, including [Lebanese] President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and Berri’s Anal Movement could be targeted,” it leaves you scratching your head to understand the logic.

David Schenker, Washington’s Assistant Secretary of Near Eastern Affairs, said “in the future, we will designate … individuals in Lebanon who are aiding and assisting Hezbollah, regardless of what their sect or religion is.”

So why do Aoun’s and Berri’s groups get a pass?

This policy is both contradictory and a counterproductive strategy for America’s stated goal of applying maximum pressure on Iran. It is based on the same failed logic European nations employ that allows Hezbollah’s “political” operatives to fundraise on European soil, knowing full well that the money ends up supporting terror in the treasury of Hezbollah’s military wing, a designated terrorist organization.

Ending this disingenuous legal fiction in Europe should be a priority of American policy. We should not use it to give cover to Lebanese or Iraqi political parties, ending the false distinction between the political and military wings of Hezbollah, or of Iraqi’s Shi’ite militias and Shi’ite political parties.

In Iraq, America has allowed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-controlled Shi’ite militias to be incorporated into the Iraqi military without any protest or consequences. We don’t know if American economic pressure with the threat of withholding aid for the Iraqi government would have worked, but what we do know with certainty is that the Iraqi government and military are dominated by Iran, with those Iranian Shi’ite militias controlling vast swaths of Iraq and Syria, connecting them to the strongest Iranian militia: Hezbollah in Lebanon.

American strategists also know that if U.S. troops leave Iraq, the sectarian war is likely to be reignited sooner than later, which is part of the logic to not make waves with the Iranian entrenchment into the Iraqi military and government.

It should be remembered that Iran controls Hezbollah; they are for practical purposes one and the same. We should not differentiate the political world of the Supreme leader from the IRGC, and we shouldn’t play a game claiming that just because a terrorist organization like Hezbollah provides humanitarian services, you can separate its many tentacles. For a Western mind, separation of church and state is logical. In this part of the world, however, religion and state are intertwined, as are the military and political activates of the revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran, and its proxy Hezbollah.

The AFP said the United States “encourage(s) Lebanon to take the necessary steps to maintain distance” from Hezbollah.

The worst way to help Lebanon create separation from Hezbollah is to facilitate the continued cooperation of Lebanese Sunni, Druze and Christian political leaders, while not penalizing them for working with Hezbollah.

It is certainly true that Hezbollah is in charge of Lebanon with veto power for all important military decisions, despite some members of Congress pretending that the LAF and other political groups are somehow independent of Hezbollah’s heavy hand.

America has a misguided strategy for the Middle East, thinking that if it puts consequences on nations or political organizations that work with Iran or Hezbollah, it will push them into the arms of the Shi’ite theocracy.

It’s time to tell Baghdad that America won’t support your actions if you continue to get in bed with Iran, and in Lebanon, it’s time to do the same—first, by stopping U.S. military aid to the LAF and converting it to humanitarian aid unless they commit to tangibly distance themselves from Hezbollah and Iran. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it must start on that path.

The challenges and risks of this strategy are real, but worth the risk. In Iraq, we should tell Mahdi that America needs a reliable ally, so we are going to independently send weapons to the Kurdistan Peshmegar, who have stood with the United States for more than 25 years, and hold the Iraqi government accountable for not sending money Baghdad is constitutionally obligated to send to the Kurdistan government. In Lebanon, we must lay down a clear marker that working with Iran and Hezbollah in any form crosses the line, and that consequences will follow.

Americans don’t want their taxpayer dollars supporting terror, even indirectly, and aid to Iraq and Lebanon that doesn’t aim to separate those nations from the world’s leading state sponsor of terror is an indirect form of helping Iran.

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.”

Seth J. Frantzman is executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis. A former assistant professor of American Studies at Al-Quds University, he covers the Middle East for “The Jerusalem Post” and is a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of “After ISIS: How Defeating the Caliphate Changed the Middle East Forever.”

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.

Israel’s Self-Inflicted Black Eye

{Previously published in the JNS}

If Israel had better control of its foreign-policy public relations, lemonade could have been made out of lemons. Instead, the harsh critics of American mainstream media will now be able to depict Israel as being unable to tolerate criticism.

In the aftermath of Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s rejection of Israel’s offer for her to visit her ailing grandmother, which has completely exposed for all but the anti-Semite her real intentions, it’s important to step back and ask: Was Israel’s initial acceptance and then denial of the congresswomen’s visit to Israel a wise decision? What does it say about Israel’s public-relations strategies?

Brooke Goldstein of the Lawfare Project writing on Fox News said “Israel was wise to deny entry. … These freshmen Democratic congresswomen have built their brands on delegitimizing the Jewish state … (they) would have used a visit to Israel to give themselves an international platform to spew their hate.”

Her description of the congresswomen (Tlaib and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar) may be accurate, but denying them entry seemed unwise. Yes, they intentionally misled Israel regarding their dates of entry as part of a ploy to maximize their media coverage, and their presence would have been a circus for the international media who delight in anything that paints Israel in a bad light.

But denying entry after Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer had said that the women would be allowed to enter the country out of respect for the dignity of the office they hold—and not their personal views or policies they advocate—has for many Americans who do not fully understand the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict turned them into sympathetic figures, despite their odious views.

It has deflected attention from the spotlight that could have been focused on them during their visit, revealing a deep stain of anti-Semitism, and highlighting the frustrations of dealing with a Palestinian leadership under Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas that turned down more than 100 percent of the disputed land and eastern Jerusalem as its capital in 2007, which was confirmed last year by chief P.A. negotiator Saeb Erekat.

This would have been a perfect opportunity for Israel to make the case that this conflict is not a territorial issue for this generation of Palestinians, but that it’s still an existential issue to destroy the Jewish state entirely.

If Israel had better control of its foreign-policy public relations, lemonade could have been made out of lemons. Instead, the harsh critics of American mainstream media will now be able to depict Israel as being unable to tolerate criticism.

Would it have made a difference?

Gil Troy writing in The Jerusalem Post in 2017 asked if Israel’s bad PR is its own fault. He wrote, “We need Israeli policies that are good, not policies to make Israel look good. … We haven’t explained ourselves well, yet our efforts are doomed. Anti-Semitism, the world’s longest … hatred, persists no matter how brilliant our arguments. … Anti-Zionism grew … during the Oslo peace process, when Israel was conceding territory.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s advice to Israel to deny entry after Israel had said it would accept the two congresswomen was well-meant, but counterproductive. Israel should have politely rejected his advice, while thanking him for his extraordinary support of the Jewish state.

As Jonathan Tobin writing in JNS said, “This is a moment when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should have not only sought to establish a little distance between his government and the White House but also ignored the advice coming from the Twitter account of @realDonaldTrump. … Banning members of Congress, even anti-Semitic BDS supporters … is a grave mistake that will only help Israel’s foes.”

The president intentionally or not, interfered in Israeli politics during an election season, which will be counterproductive and a distraction from Israel’s real issues. This was an opportunity for Netanyahu to show some independence, while keeping the ever strained bipartisan U.S. support for Israel in Congress from being damaged.

As Herb Keinon of The Jerusalem Post wrote, “This will force Israel’s friends in the Democratic Party to condemn it, and it could impact on the positions presidential candidates will now take on Israel in the debates.”

The congresswomen’s trip was a no-win situation for Israel—a choice between bad or worse. However, Israel‘s vibrant democracy could have easily withstood these Israel-haters.

Was Israel’s action not to allow these women to visit Israel legal? Yes.

According to Professor Eugene Kontorovich  of the George Mason University School of Law, “As someone one who has argued that Israel should admit Omar and Tlaib, I must also say that the decision to bar them is legitimate. … Countries routinely deny visas to those with extremist views. The U.S. excludes people for ideologies fundamentally hostile to the U.S.”

But was it a wise decision? I think, on balance, not.

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 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. 

Israelis and Arabs Say One Thing in Public and Another Behind Closed Doors. Politicians and Pundits Need to Understand the Difference.

{Previously published in the JTA}

By the end of this year, my research and travels in the Middle East will have brought me through Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Kurdistan, as well as many visits to Capitol Hill.

What I’ve learned from security, defense and intelligence officials is this: When Israelis and Arabs talk off the record, what they say differs markedly from their public statements. America policymakers are too often unaware of what Israeli and Arab experts and official say behind closed doors, even to one another.

This may not come as much of a surprise, given the global diplomatic crisis that resulted from the 2010 Wikileak of diplomatic cables. But it does mean that the American public, not to mention elected officials, are often ignorant of the full breadth of information needed to understand the most important issues going on in the Middle East. 

As Jonathan Spyer, a leading Middle East analyst, told me after his most recent travels, “It’s very important for Western policymakers to be aware that leaderships and elites throughout the Arab world today find a great deal of common ground with Israel on the issues of the Iranian and Sunni Islamist threats.”

“To an increasing extent,” he continued, “they are also weary of Palestinian intransigence and see Israel as a model for successful development. Much of that, however, cannot be said openly by these leaders because this does not reflect the views of parts of the societies of the leaders in question, where Islamist and/or Arab nationalist sentiments continue to hold sway.”

Today, despite some public lip service to the Palestinian cause, the Sunni Arab world knows that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at most a “side issue.”

Incitement and scapegoating may have political advantages for authoritarian regimes, but it undermines forging people-to-people relationships and the acceptance of Israel as a permanent part of the Middle East.

I recently interviewed an Israeli military intelligence expert who had just returned from private meetings in Europe with Arab and EU officials. He told me that behind closed doors, their analysis of the Middle East, including Iran, is often light years away from the public rhetoric offered by European — and to a lesser extent, Arab Sunni government officials — to their citizens and the world at large. 

When politicians or pundits make foreign policy critiques, unaware of what is discussed privately between insiders in the Middle East, the public is misinformed.

Most Americans don’t realize that the conflicts of the Middle East are primarily tribal and religious in nature, and that the primary allegiance is not to modern states artificially constructed by the West 100 years ago, something Arabs and Israelis know all too well.

Too many Americans fail to realize this, but insiders know that if there were no Israel, the Shiites would still hate the Sunnis, Iran would still aspire to hegemony, Turkey would still be an unreliable NATO ally and Libya and Yemen would still be chaotic.

It is this American blind spot that attempts to recreate nation-states like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, and undermines America’s ability to foster stability in nations where rule of law and the primacy of clan don’t follow a Western path. 

Some European officials, who vociferously defend the Iran nuclear agreement publicly, privately acknowledge the dangers of the Iranian revolutionary theocracy that acts against their values, from the hanging of gays to the Iranian complicity in the Syrian genocide, the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis in Iraq and Syria and the population transfer of Shiite families from Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan into Syria.

Europeans have long tried to have it both ways, appeasing illiberal Middle Eastern states and actors in the hope that terrorism won’t land on its shores, while rhetorically taking a value-based foreign policy position that ignores the worst players in the region while saving all of their criticism for the only democracy that shares their values.

My own work in Congress over the years has consisted of private, off-the-record briefings. In private meetings, when you are trusted by members and their foreign policy aides, conversations of substance can take place. Ideas and observations that normally wouldn’t see the light of day are discussed, which hopefully translates into a better-informed and nuanced policy proposals. 

Quantifying the success of private meetings is sometimes hard to judge. But when a leading member of the Senate uses my notes to prepare himself before going on “Meet the Press,” or I am asked for ideas for new legislation or for my opinion regarding pending legislation, I consider that a measure of success.

Unfortunately, we Americans are in our own echo chambers, not challenging ourselves to see the merits of other uncomfortable positions, afraid to express contrary points of view if they don’t reflect our party’s talking points. In our conversations, whether in Washington or on social media, you are defined as evil if you challenge a politically correct narrative that undermines the alleged victims of Western perfidy.

It is common today to unfriend people whose viewpoints do not corroborate one’s own world view. Removing oneself from the opportunity to engage in dialogue that conflicts with one’s own perspective makes it easy to delegitimize any differing viewpoints and creates an increasingly more insular social media community.

In Washington, I was in a closed-door meeting in Congress when a legislative aide told me that the member agreed with my analysis regarding Palestinian intransigence, corruption and funding of terrorists, but he had advised the member not to publicly express that opinion — it would endanger the member’s chances of moving up to a leadership position because it challenged the party’s current narrative.

On both sides of the aisle, I have often tried to bring offices together to work on shared interests in the Middle East, and more times than not, politics wins over policy. We are reluctant to upset the simplistic echo chambers we have created.

It would be illuminating for American policymakers if they could hear what is said privately about the Middle East among intelligence, security and defense officials. 

Not making an attempt to understand the Middle East beyond the talking points of like-minded sources is a prescription for America to get dragged into another Middle East war in the not-too-distant future.

When the gap between public policy statements and a fully informed politician is wide, the chances for miscalculation leading to dangerous policy recommendations greatly increases. The pieces of the Middle East puzzle do not fit into a Western frame, and we ignore this at our peril.

Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. Mandel regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign policy advisers. He is a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to i24TV, The Hill and the Forward.

Hezbollah’s Largest Attack Tunnel and its Financial Supporters

{Previously published in the JNS}

The significance of the Hezbollah tunnel is clear. It is just one element of the multi-dimensional, long-term Iranian strategy to threaten and eventually destroy Israel, achieving in the process Iran’s hegemonic ambitions.

At the depth of a 25-story building underground near the quiet Israeli villages of Shtula and Zarit lies Hezbollah’s largest attack tunnel stretching 250 feet into Israeli territory, and at the other end traveling more than half a mile to emerge in a Lebanese home in the Shi’ite town of Ramyeh.

This is what I saw during a visit to Hezbollah’s most sophisticated “flagship” tunnel, arranged by the Israel Defense Forces’ Spokesperson office with my guide Lt. Col. (Res.) Sarit Zehavi, CEO of ALMA, a think tank that specializes in helping understand Israel’s challenges on its Iranian northern border with Lebanon and Syria.

There are at least six publicly acknowledged tunnels that have crossed into Israeli territory from Lebanon—all strategically poised for thousands of Hezbollah terrorists to simultaneously emerge near Israeli border towns on the Lebanese border, kidnapping, crippling, killing an untold number of Israeli civilians, while terrorizing the whole nation.

This was no amateur operation. The tunnel took years to build, and over the last decade, Iran and Hezbollah created an elite force (Radwan) whose sole purpose is to kill Jews on Israeli soil. The threat is real, especially after you see it with your own eyes.

And Iran, Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp will try again and again. They have tremendous patience, married to a fanatical Twelver Shi’ism ideology where Israel as a Jewish state must be destroyed in its entirety.

Who knows how many more tunnels are nearly complete but remain deep underground, just meters from the Israeli border on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line so Israel cannot find them, and which the U.N. peace-keeping force (UNIFIL) has displayed no interest in identifying?

Remember, UNIFIL’s primary mission is supposed to be to fulfill U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 to identify missiles coming into Lebanon for Hezbollah’s use. Of the nearly 150,000 missiles Hezbollah has accumulated since the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, UNIFIL have stopped or identified precisely zero missile transfers to Hezbollah. Not a single one.

In regard to the Hezbollah tunnels, the United Nations was grudgingly forced to acknowledge that Hezbollah tunnels crossed the Blue line into Israeli territory.

After a visit like this, my thoughts would normally focus first on how Israel can more effectively detect new tunnels on the Lebanese side of the border or how to prepare Israeli border towns to thwart an attack, but my thoughts went instead to the east, to Germany.

Today, there are nearly 1,000 Hezbollah fundraisers legally operating in Germany to raise money for a terrorist organization. Germany and most of the European Union, with the exception of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, differentiate between the military and political wings of Hezbollah, designating its military wing as terrorists but not its political wing. Hezbollah themselves has said that there is no difference or separation between their military and political wings.

Over the last few years, I have been trying to get this on the radar screen of Congress, its members I believe would be as outraged as when they found out that American taxpayer dollars supported Palestinian terrorists.

After the experiences of the 20th century, Germany should understand the hypocrisy involved in giving money to the non-military part of a regime intent on murder, Lebensraum and ethnic-cleansing.

The German parliament to its great credit recently differentiated itself from other European governments in another very important way to help fight against the delegitimization of Israel by passing legislation condemning the BDS movement as anti-Semitic. Yet they so far accept the idea that it’s decent to back the “political” organizers of Hezbollah because they also provide medical care, schools and social services for the local Shi’ite population from which they groom their militias to destroy the Jewish state.

With Hezbollah receiving fewer funds from Iran due to the effectiveness of U.S. sanctions despite European resistance to them, Hezbollah fundraising in Germany is a lifeline that must end if you care about subsidizing terror.

Germany and the rest of the European Union are trying to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal at any cost and are loath to antagonize Iran by designating Hezbollah altogether as a terrorist entity. Hezbollah is not independent of Iran; it is Iranian-controlled in its entirety. Germany needs to follow Britain’s lead; earlier this year, the United Kingdom broke from the European appeasement strategy to Iran and designated Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.

It is time for Germany and the European Union to stop aiding Hezbollah or pretending that parts of Hezbollah are not terrorists. Hezbollah has veto power in Lebanon and now controls vital agencies in the Lebanese government with large budgets to make sure the money continues to flow. American taxpayer dollars go to the Lebanese Armed Forces, who are forced to look away and sometimes work with Hezbollah.

The significance of the Hezbollah tunnel is clear. It is just one element, albeit a significant one, of the multi-dimensional, long-term Iranian strategy to threaten and eventually destroy Israel, achieving in the process Iran’s hegemonic ambitions.

However important the tunnels are, they cannot distract Israel from its most serious focus for survival, keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of the likes of the ayatollah, who would be happy to go down in history as the great warrior of God who laid waste to the Jewish nation in a fiery cataclysm.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. Dr. Mandel 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.”

The Question Israel’s Leaders Ask Every Day: Will Tomorrow be Too Late?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Critics of any pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities rightly claim that Israel cannot totally destroy the Iranian nuclear program. But that misses the point.

How far away is the day when Israelis and Americans will wake up and realize that it is too late to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program? This is not a new question. Seven years ago Jonathan Tobin writing in Commentary also asked, “Is it already too late to stop Iran?

Last week, I met with Israeli military, security and intelligence experts, and I asked if it is already too late to significantly affect the progress of the Iranian nuclear program with a pre-emptive strike, and the answer was always that it is not too late. But the caveat that followed was, the Americans can do it much more effectively than we can.

Critics of any pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities rightly claim that Israel cannot totally destroy the Iranian nuclear program. But that misses the point.

Delaying the program five or 10 years, which would be the case with an Israeli strike, could be game changing, especially in conjunction with continued cyberattacks and escalating American sanctions that undermine the support for the regime by the Iranian people, who are increasingly becoming economically harmed and blaming it on the Mullahs and their corrupt cronies.

We know that before the 2015 JCPOA deal, Iran was already technically capable of reaching the crucial 20% uranium enrichment level, and was within a just a few months of amassing enough 90% uranium for a nuclear weapon, even using obsolete and unpredictable IR-1 centrifuges.

So the question to ask now is, how much have Iran’s nuclear capabilities advanced over the last four years since the beginning of the JCPOA? How much closer are they to a nuclear breakout?

We know that the agreement allowed Iran to continue to develop advanced centrifuges that can enrich weapons-grade material in a significantly shorter amount of time than the older IR-1 centrifuges, reducing the critical time to produce enough fissile material to just a few months. These advanced centrifuges are also much smaller and harder to detect.

Additionally, Iran never accepted the Additional Protocol, a nuclear addendum that allowed international inspectors to visit military sites where they would likely be developing nuclear missile warhead production.

Already last year, David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, estimated that Iran could enrich enough material for a bomb in eight to 10 months. The deal’s supporters claimed that the agreement would not allow Iran to enrich enough uranium for a nuclear weapon for one year during the length of the agreement, something that is already probably untrue.

After Israel’s revelation of Iran’s nuclear archive, we now know without doubt that Iran planned to build a nuclear weapon, and still has the information and capabilities to accomplish this. This is not Saddam Hussein all over again.

Even if international inspectors wanted to visit a military faculty, the JCPOA gives them a month’s time to comply, more than enough time to clear away any evidence.

THE DAY Iran passes the threshold for creating a nuclear weapon, everything will change for Israel, the Sunni Gulf states, Turkey, the US and Europe, and the world will be a much more dangerous place. A nuclear arms race will begin in the Sunni world, dramatically increasing the potential dangers of a nuclear conflict in the future.

So can Israel, this late in the game, still effectively strike the Iranian program? The answer is yes – but again, the US can do it better.

Iran has a plan to make Israel think twice before attacking. According to former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror, now a Senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and a distinguished fellow at JINSA, Iran’s strategic plan – which is well underway – is to create a deterrence barrier around Israel, stretching from Lebanon to Syria to Iraq to the Gaza Strip, in order to threaten Israel with an overwhelming and devastating strike on its homeland, should Israel attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Is delaying their program five years worth the price Israel will pay if tens of thousands of missiles are unleashed, capable of hitting everywhere in the country, while the negative diplomatic fallout will be enormous, especially if Donald Trump is not US president?

Hillel Frisch of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies wrote “In both word and deed, Israel is firmly committed to its redlines. The reddest of all is that Israel will not permit Syria to be turned into a forward base for direct Iranian operations and a manufacturing center for precision-guided missiles.”

Which means the noose will only tighten around Israel, as the Iranian operating bases in Syria over time will eventually look more like Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Yet when I ask the Israeli experts if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the paper tiger that the Obama administration portrayed when a senior official called him chickens**t, the response was clear. If Bibi is convinced tomorrow is too late to stop a functioning Iranian nuclear weapon, he will indeed act today.

What will an Israeli attack on Iran look like?

Think out of the box. Not only cyberattacks and sophisticated strikes against known and presumed nuclear sites like Natanz, Fordow and the unnamed military sites conducting nuclear work, but targeting the lifeline of the Iranian economy – the port of Bandar Abbas, where almost all of Iranian commercial shipping trade transits, and Kharg Island, the location where Iran exports most of its fossil fuels.

An Israeli attack at Kharg or Bandar Abbas would make the impact of the current sanctions look like a popgun, and the survival of the regime would hang in the balance, as an economically devastated Iran will be imperiled from within.

If Israel does launch an attack on Iran, what would Israel look like the day after?

I remember visiting the North after the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Hospitals hit, hundreds of thousands of residents displaced to the South or living in steaming hot underground shelters and millions of Israelis throughout the country feeling vulnerable and angry.

Now imagine a hundred times worse, with the Dimona nuclear faculty in the South and Azrieli towers in central Tel Aviv in the crosshairs of Iran. The layers of Israel’s missile defense are remarkable but are incapable of stopping all the missiles heading for Israeli cities.

Time is not on Israel’s side, but when will tomorrow be too late?

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 and The Forward.

IS IT TOO LATE TO STOP IRAN’S PERMANENT PRESENCE IN SYRIA?

{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

Iran has invested tens of billions of dollars in Syria, and is not about to readily abandon this investment to Russian pressure.

 The national security advisers of Russia, the United States, and Israel are scheduled to meet in Jerusalem later this month for what former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro called a potential “game changer on pushing Iran’s military out of Syria.”
 

Russia has, with Iranian assistance, gained everything it set out to accomplish in Syria. It expanded its naval and air bases and elevated its international status, while diminishing and marginalizing America.
 

However, Russia, Israel and the United States may now share some common interest in keeping the Iranian regime from getting what it wants – a permanent presence in Syria. Moving forward, Iran may be more a headache than an asset for Russian interests. This month Russia expelled Iranian allied militia from the Russian naval base in Tartus on the Mediterranean coast of Syria.
 

Anyone who understands Iranian intentions and regime ideology knows Iran will not voluntarily leave Syria or Lebanon. Its desire to destroy Israel remains a foundational pillar of their version of Twelver Shi’ism, and their land bridge to the Mediterranean
accomplishes both their hegemonic ambitions and represents a major step in their strategy to threaten Israel from the north.

What would be the price Russia will demand to rein in or oust Iran from Syria, assuming they have enough leverage with Iran to do either?
 

According Yediot Aharonot, the Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat quoted “Western sources” claiming a quid pro quo is being discussed whereby the US and Israel would recognize the legitimacy of the Assad regime, and the US would remove some economic sanctions on Russia – and “in return, Russia will limit Iranian activity in Syria.”
 

The key word is “limit.” What does “limit” mean, and how enforceable would it be? And what would Russia expect in return?
 

Would they demand relaxation of the sanctions applied to Russia in response to their illegal occupation of Crimea and Ukraine, or would they require becoming a full partner in any new negotiations regarding Iran’s development of nuclear weapons? If it is the latter, then you may have the makings of a deal. In any case, Iran won’t be happy and will resist, and make the usual false promises and demands.
 

America should not consider waiving Russian sanctions unless every Iranian proxy is permanently removed from Syria. Last year the Russians promised to move Iran and its allies 50 miles from the Israeli border, and that Iran and its proxies would not be in the Quneitra and Daraa provinces bordering the Israeli side of the Golan. But as last week’s rocket attack on the Golan proves, the Russian promise was worthless.
 

Since at least 2017, Iran has helped Syria ethnically cleanse the country of its Sunnis, re-populating non-indigenous Shi’ites into southern Syria, providing them with Syrian citizenship and Syrian uniforms, and making them a stealth Iranian militia that may be impossible to remove.
 

According to Raja Abdulrahim and Benoit Faucon writing in the Wall Street Journal, for those Sunnis remaining in Syria, Iran is using “cash, food and public services in a hearts and minds campaign to cultivate loyalty, draw military recruits and win converts to the Shi’ite Muslim sect… to cement its influence in Syria.”
 

Iran has invested tens of billions of dollars in Syria, and is not about to readily abandon this investment to Russian pressure. Russia and Iran are not natural allies, and can easily become estranged as Iran’s Islamic fervor could encourage Muslims in the Caucuses to make problems for Russian rule.

AMERICA AND Israel should not fall for the deceptive maneuver of Iranian Revolutionary Guards withdrawing from Syria to Lebanon and Iraq. So long as the Shi’ite militias remain under the control of Iran, Hezbollah holds sway in Lebanon and Bashir Assad remains a puppet of the Iranians, Iran will effectively be in control on Israel’s doorstep to the north, with Iran eyeing when to destabilize Jordan and the territories.
 

Iran is clever and knows it can con the Europeans into believing that a token Syrian withdrawal is real. The Europeans eat up this nonsense of Iranian plausible deniability, just as they say with a straight face that they believe the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Agreement) will permanently end the Iranian nuclear program.
 

But is it realistic to aim to get Iran and all of its proxies completely out of Syria, short of a massive ground operation?

Probably not.
 

Should America and Israel take half a loaf and be happy if they can, with Russian help, remove the Iranian Revolutionary Guards from Syria, leaving the PMU (Popular Mobilization Units) and Hezbollah untouched?
 

What if the Russians could really enforce the 50-mile zone on the border, as they originally promised?
 

These half-measures would kick the can down the road, the easiest option for any politician and the most likely, but that would almost guarantee that Iran would never leave Syria under the current regime. That is why the ultimate answer short of a massive ground assault is regime change, preferably peaceful, by supporting the Iranian people’s inevitable next insurrection.
 

Israel has been mowing the grass in Syria for the last few years, targeting transfers of game-changing weaponry to Hezbollah, and more recently attacking Iranian weapons and drone factories. But just as in Gaza, it is unlikely to dislodge Iran and its proxies from the region unless one considers a massive ground operation and occupying territory for the long haul.
 

Israelis think of the Second Lebanon War and the divisive 18-year occupation of Lebanon and pause, just as Israelis have no desire to reoccupy Gaza again.
 

So, what are Israel’s options?
 

The easiest option is to just keep hitting Iranian targets while keeping the Russians in the loop. But this falls far short of the Israeli stated goal of having no Iranian or Iranian proxy presence in Syria.
 

With Israel in electoral chaos, putting off any significant action unless a critical mass of missiles starts flying from Syria is what is most likely to happen. Israel with the full support of its populace and the United States will strike Iran again and again in Syria, hoping that the unprecedented trilateral meeting of the United States, Russia, and Israel can at least rein in some Iranian gains, and buy more time.
 

Except that time is on Iran’s side.

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), and is a regular contributor to ‘The Jerusalem Post’ and i24 TV. MEPIN is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, 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.